PART 7, SECTION 3

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Chris pulled out onto the highway and headed straight toward the center of town. One Home Guard squad was standing around a fire in the supermarket parking lot, warming ration packets on the flames, but they didn't pay us any attention.

"I just really hope this uniform passes at the pharmacy." Chris patted the HG logo on his armband. "I'm on the wanted list, but I'm hoping they won't pay much attention to me if I'm wearing my old stuff." He took a deep breath. I didn't realize until now how scared he was. "We'll see" he said, exhaling. "Fingers crossed."

I hadn't expected that actually getting in would be a problem once we had the access card. Somehow, stupidly, I'd imagined that Chris would be able to just swipe the card, waltz right in, and take whatever he needed.

"Is the pharmacy pretty well guarded?" I asked. 

Chris laughed hollowly. "Even with that steel door they put in, they've started stationing an entire squad there. All kinds of meds are in short supply, from ibuprofen to chemo agents to TGV test applicators. And the Home Guard really doesn't want people getting their hands on any antibiotics."

"I don't get it," I said. "Isn't the whole purpose of the Home Guard's existence to eradicate the pathogen in the quarantine zone? Shouldn't they want people to have access to antibiotics if it fights the disease?"

"Not when the cocktail doesn't actually weaken the parasite." Chris glanced at me sardonically. "Guess we didn't tell you that little detail, did we? When I was testing the cocktail months ago on earlier strains, before we really knew what this thing was, we found out that it actually strengthens the parasite. It ends up selecting for stronger, longer-living larvae as the species adapts and becomes resistant to the antibiotics. It becomes a superbug. The longer the parasite lives, the longer the host stays viable, and the slower the disease's stages progress. With the right antibiotics, you could keep people in stage one for months, maybe even longer, someday. But that would mean giving the host a longer period of time to spread the pathogen on to someone else. The Home Guard just wants to wipe the whole thing out." 

"That's why they're only really interested in shooting people? Or burying them alive?" Suddenly I understood. "They don't care about curing anyone."

"There is no cure," Chris said somberly. "You can slow the disease, but only by strengthening it. You can't cure it, ever."

He reached into the back of the hearse and handed me a shotgun.

"It's all I have," he said. "I hope you won't need it, but keep the safety off."

I noticed Chris was wearing his pistol under his lab coat. I held the shotgun low and kept it pointed at the floor as we drew closer to the pharmacy. . .



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