“Wait.” Brüks held up his hand. “Start over. How did it — I mean, if it wasn’t viral epilepsy, how—”
“Viral something,” Li crowed. “Viral zombieism.”
Ventilator sounds filled in the sudden silence.
“Bullshit,” Brüks said softly.
“Oh he didn’t do it deliberately the larva was just collateral. Some evildoer cooked up a basement bug but he got the fine-tuning wrong. Virus likes baby brains way better than grown-up brains right? All that growth metabolism all that neural pruning everything moves faster so they give it to mommy and she gives it to daddy but it really takes off when mommy kisses baby goodnight. Goes through baby’s brain faster’n flesh-eating. Wake up next morning the little fucker’s already seizing and it’s lucky for them it’s their canary in the coal mine, they go down to Emerg and get cleaned out just in time. But too late for little Siri Keeton’s left hemisphere had to scrape it out like a rotten coconut.”
“Jesus,” Brüks whispered.
“Turned out okay though better’n before like I say. Stormtroopers have really good medical plans. Replacement hemisphere big improvement. Made him the man for the mission.”
“What a fucking horrible thing to do to a kid.”
“If you can’t grow the code stay out of the incubator. Fucker probably did it himself to God knows how many others that’s what they do.”
Brüks had seen the footage, of course: civilian hordes reduced to walking brainstems as a trillion bits of capsid code homed in on the telltale biochemistry of conscious thought. This wasn’t the precise surgical excision of cognitive inefficiency, these weren’t the Military’s reversible supersoldiers or Valerie’s programmed bodyguards. This was consciousness and intellect chewed away from cortex to hypothalamus, Humanity reduced to fight/flight/fuck. These were people turned back into reptiles.
It was also a hell of an effective strategy for anyone on a budget: cheap, contagious, terrifyingly effective. If you were caught in some panicking crowd you could never be sure whether the person pushing from behind was trying to rape you, or bash in your skull, or just get the fuck out of the zone. If you were above the crowd all your state-of-the-art telemetry would never tell the undone from the undead; not even Cusper tech could pick out the fractional chill of a zombie brain inside its skull, not from a distance, not through a wall or a roof, not in the middle of a riot. All you could do was seal off the area and pray you could keep upwind until the guys with the napalm showed up.
They had special squads for that in India, Brüks had heard. People with off switches in their heads, fighting fire with fire.
They were really good at their jobs.