Langley, Virginia, USA. The narrator meets with Bob Archer, director of the CIA. Archer says that before the war, most people thought that the CIA was omniscient and all-powerful, which were myths that the CIA was happy to encourage. In reality, they didn’t have that kind of power or funding. He says that China knew they were being surveilled by the CIA and would never be able to hide their “Health and Safety” sweeps, so they just lied that they were sweeping for dissidents after the Taiwan Strait incident. It worked, and the CIA focused all their energy on the Taiwan Strait, even ignoring zombie outbreaks in other parts of the world.
China’s government was so bent upon hiding its zombie outbreak from the rest of the world that they caused a political crisis in Taiwan and used it to distract the CIA. This seems like so much wasted energy on its part, especially since its hostility to the rest of the world also led to a growing crisis within its own borders. The fact that China’s sleight of hand actually worked in throwing the CIA off its scent also shows that the CIA wasn’t very efficient.
Archer says that one reason for the CIA’s inefficacy were the “reforms” pushed on the agency by the administration. The agency had been ordered “to justify a political agenda,” but had been blamed for their actions “when that agenda became a political liability.” As a result, most of their best agents had quit. Archer confesses that he’d had suspicions about the outbreak, but had been warned that if he brought it up, there’d be trouble for him. And sure enough, he’d spoken about it to a superior, and had immediately been transferred to Buenos Aires. Right after, Israel had announced its plans for “Voluntary Quarantine.”
The CIA—and, by extension, American citizens—had been victims of the U.S. government’s politicking. The work environment under that administration had been so frustrating that many of the CIA’s best agents had quit, which might explain why Paul Knight, too, was “former” CIA. Archer recognized the zombie problem to be a real crisis but had been punished for bringing it up. This shows that the administration was shortsighted, and selfishly, much like China, wanted to deny a problem that might make it seem weak.
The narrator asks Archer if he’d heard of the Warmbrunn-Knight report, and Archer says he knows of it now, but that the original copy that Knight had personally delivered to the director had been found in a clerk’s desk in the San Antonio FBI office, years after the Great Panic.
The higher-ups had not only ignored the Warmbrunn-Knight report but had buried it in some obscure location to ensure that no one read it or paid it any attention. It seems like such a tragedy in hindsight since it might have averted the crisis and the war.
Vaalajarvi, Finland. It is spring, and the zombies who had frozen in winter begin to reanimate. The UN’s Northern Force performs their annual “Sweep and Clear” under Travis D’Ambrosia.
Even years after the end of the war, zombies are still thawing and reanimating, so the danger hasn’t completely passed. However, now, the U.N. and the rest of the world seems to be on top of the problem.
The narrator says that the general sounds sad as he says that they certainly let the American people down, and he wants them to understand why it happened. He says the chairman of the Joint Chiefs wanted to know how to proceed if the Israelis were indeed right, and all the military professionals present had volunteered their ideas. D’Ambrosia read the Warmbrunn-Knight Report much later, two years after the Great Panic, and found that its ideas were very similar to the ones the Joint Chiefs had proposed to the White House. Phase One of the plan was to place Alpha Teams into infested areas, so they could investigate and eliminate any threats, and the White House loved this idea.
Interestingly, the Joint Chiefs had proposed ideas that were very similar to the Warmbrunn-Knight Report as soon as the Israelis announced their quarantine. This shows that they were taking the threat seriously and had strong ideas to combat it. The White House approved of “Phase One” of their suggestions, probably because it was simple to carry out this step.
However, Phase Two of the plan was never enacted because it required money and public support. The people of America were tired of fighting, having just emerged from a bloody conflict, and there was a shortage of people volunteering to fight. D’Ambrosia says that the country was “too weak and vulnerable” to stop the zombies. He adds that the American system is “the best in the world,” but that “it must be protected, and defended, and it must never again be so abused.”
D'Ambrosia brings up the point that in order to enact measures to keep the public safe, the government and the army needed public support as well. They were sure they wouldn’t get this as the populace was suffering from war fatigue. Clearly, they hadn’t realized how serious the zombie menace would be and therefore didn’t press the points with their electorate. And yet, America is a democracy and its people are partly to blame to for the problem getting out of hand.
Vostok Station: Antarctica. Breckenridge “Breck” Scott has leased this remote outpost from the Russian government. It takes a month to reach it over land, and it is also extremely cold, which is why Scott likes it. The narrator meets him in “The Dome,” a reinforced, geodesic greenhouse that is one of the many changes that Scott has made to the outpost.
Scott clearly has enough money to set up a comfortable abode for himself in Antarctica, which begins to point to the way that he selfishly profited off of the zombie crisis.
Scott tells the narrator that the only valid rule about economics is that “fear is the most valuable commodity in the universe.” He believes that “Fear sells,” since it is the most primal of human emotions and people buy products to assuage their fears of aging, loneliness, poverty, and so on. He says that when he first heard of the outbreaks, it was still being called African rabies, and he immediately saw a business opportunity. He came up with the idea of marketing a vaccine for rabies that one could take as a preventative. He had a lot of contacts in the biomed industry and in Congress, which helped him to push forward with this idea quickly.
Scott’s first thought at the zombie outbreak was that he could exploit it as a business opportunity by preying on people’s fears. He latched onto a technicality—the fact that the disease was called “African rabies”—and used this to run with his idea to falsely advertise a rabies vaccine as a cure for the zombie virus, fully knowing that it wasn’t. He was abetted by his “contacts,” other immoral people like him who used their position and power to con the American people.
The narrator wonders how Scott made it past the FDA, and Scott says the FDA used to be a joke. Also, he says the administration at the time was very friendly to businesses, and the president hurried Scott’s plan along because they were desperate for something to calm a panicking nation. The president’s approval ratings were very high after he championed Scott’s vaccine that he said would be “big protection” for the people.
The U.S president in the early years of the zombie crisis seems to have been more concerned about his approval ratings than about solving the very real problem his nation was facing. Like Scott, he, too, seems inhumanly selfish.
The narrator asks Scott if he knew that the vaccine wouldn’t work, and Scott says he knew it would work against rabies, and everyone was calling the illness “African rabies.” The narrator wants to know if the vaccine was ever tested on a victim, and Scott said it didn’t need to be, just as the flu shot wasn’t tested to see if it was effective against a particular strain. The narrator protests about the damage caused by this virus, and Scott says that no one expected it to be as bad as it was. He says that “Technically, [they] never lied. Technically, [they] never did anything wrong.”
When the narrator asks Scott pointblank if he was aware the vaccine was a hoax, Scott’s answers are cunning and evasive. He insists that he “technically” didn’t lie—implying that he was well aware of their lies and carefully packaged the vaccine to con a terrified populace.
The narrator says that if someone discovered that it wasn’t rabies, Scott would have gotten in trouble. But Scott says the doctors, the FDA, and the Congress were all in on it and stood to gain a lot from it. After his vaccine, Phalanx, hit the market, Scott’s company made more money from selling other stuff like air purifiers, even though the virus wasn’t airborne.
While Scott was the mastermind behind Phalanx, he was aided by a nexus of people in power who also stood to profit from this vaccine hoax. This is why he was confident that he wouldn’t be outed and punished—too many powerful heads would roll if he got in trouble, so he knew they’d make sure he was safe.
The narrator asks Scott if he takes no responsibility for what transpired, and Scott insists on his innocence. He says that if the narrator is looking for someone to blame, he should blame the person who first called it “rabies,” or the naïve public who chose to buy Phalanx. Scott concludes by admitting that he might meet some of these “dumb shits” in hell, and hopes they won’t ask him for a refund.
Scott shows absolutely no remorse for his actions, even after witnessing the level of death and destruction caused by the zombie crisis and war. He easily shifts blame for the crisis onto those who named the virus, and even onto those who purchased it out of fear and desperation. He knows that many of these ended up getting infected—despite being vaccinated with Phalanx—and he mocks them for their gullibility in trusting the vaccine. The narrator portrays Scott as one of the most despicable characters in the novel.
Amarillo, Texas, USA. Grover Carlson collects dung to fuel his town’s bioconversion plant. He used to be the former White House chief of staff. He tells the narrator that he had of course seen the “Knight-WarnJews report” and had read it three months before Israel had announced their quarantine. He had personally briefed the President about it, but every administration got alarming reports each week and couldn’t afford to pay them much attention.
Immediately, Carlson defends his decision to ignore the Warmbrunn-Knight Report (derogatorily calling it the WarnJews report, revealing himself to be a racist). In hindsight, it is tragic to note that the U.S. government was in possession of the report so early in the crisis—three months before Israel announced their quarantine—and that the entire problem could have been a relatively simple one if handled responsibly then.
The national security adviser didn’t think the threat was at all important, so they had agreed on some solutions, like the Alpha teams. Carlson also says that they had pushed Phalanx through the FDA. The narrator points out that Phalanx didn’t work, and Carlson says they were grateful for a placebo that would calm people down since a real cure would have taken time and resources they didn’t possess. Carlson says that conceding the danger of the situation would have been bad politics, especially since it was an election year.
Carlson implies that he understood the danger of the situation, but he also knew that worrying people might cost him votes. So, he gave them the Alpha teams, which seemed like a good solution to him because it was simple and not because he believed it would fix the problem, and lied to them about Phalanx. He focused only on placating his electorate and retaining their votes—even at the cost of their lives.
The narrator asks if they ever tried to “solve the problem,” and Carlson says that most problems—like poverty and crime—cannot be solved and that one can only make them manageable. He says that he wanted his potential voters to be happy, and the narrator points out that those who didn’t vote for him were neglected and outbreaks in their areas were ignored. The narrator asks if he wasn’t nervous that he’d be outed by the media, and Carlson says that networks were owned by corporations that would lose a lot if the market collapsed again. He says that “real Americans” paid no attention to alternative media outlets like the “PBS-NPR fringe minority.”
Carlson gives the narrator evasive, philosophical answers when asked if he ever tried to solve the problem. Clearly, people did “solve the problem” of the zombies later, even after it had grown into a much more unwieldy one than what Carlson’s government had initially faced. Carlson’s villainy was such that he ignored outbreaks that were outside his voters’ areas—he had no problem sacrificing the people who didn’t vote for him. All through this, he was confident that the media would be too cowardly to out him and suffer the market collapse that would have inevitably followed. Motivated by greed and a hankering for power, people like Carlson caused the zombie crisis to get out of hand.
The narrator asks whether the administration’s position on the matter was that they “gave this problem the amount of attention […] it deserved,” and Carlson agrees. The narrator wants to know if the government thought the Alpha teams were enough to manage the problem even though they’d been warned that it was “a global catastrophe in the making.” Carlson heaps dung into his cart as he angrily tells the narrator to “Grow up.”
While the narrator had stated in the introduction that he would be a minimal and nonjudgmental presence in the book, it is clear from his questions that Carlson’s villainy upsets him. The narrator tries to get him to admit that he made a huge and cruel mistake. Carlson gets angry at this line of questioning, but refuses to admit any wrongdoing, showing that he still has no regrets about his mistakes that cost millions of lives.
Troy, Montana, USA. The narrator says that according to the brochure, this neighborhood is the “New Community” for the “New America.” Based on the Israeli model, the houses rest on stilts and are accessed by retractable staircases, and have other safety features like thick steel gates. Troy’s developer and mayor is Mary Jo Miller, who tells the narrator that before the zombies, she was worried about things like car payments and the crack in her swimming pool. Her life was busy with these everyday concerns. She says she barely watched the news.
While the two previous interviews revealed how people in power exploited the American people at a time of crisis, this interview shows that the American public was so self-involved and focused on petty concerns that they, too, must be held responsible for the crisis getting out of hand. While Miller admits to being so preoccupied with her shallow concerns that she paid no attention to news about the outbreak, the narrator describes her as being an important contributor in post-war America. It seems like she has been very changed by her experiences.
One night, Miller was loading the dishwasher when a zombie broke a sliding glass door and walked into their house in San Diego. She remembers that it smelled like the beach. Miller knew that her husband Tim was having an affair, but at that moment, the “lies fell away” and he placed himself between the zombie and his family. She heard her daughter scream and ran to her room to see that a second zombie had grabbed her by her hair. Miller can no longer remember exactly what she did, but the kids say she tore its head off. Right after, Tim appeared and threw her the keys to the car, asking her to get the kids out. He disappeared into the backyard and she could hear him shoot at something as she drove away.
When the zombies attacked the Miller family, the parents comprehended the level of danger they were facing and went on the offensive to save the kids. The worries and concerns they had before that moment melted away as they immediately understood that everything had changed, and that they, too, must change to survive their new reality. Miller tore a zombie’s head off, while Tim sacrificed his life to save his family—their actions were a huge shift from the comfort of their self-absorbed suburban lives, and once again highlights the novel’s idea that people who adapt to change are better-equipped at handling this crisis (and, perhaps, crises in general.) Miller recalls that the zombie smelled like the beach, which suggests that it probably walked out of the sea and into their neighborhood, bringing to mind Televaldi’s interview in which he mentioned that some smugglers dumped their infected cargo into the ocean, unaware or unconcerned of the danger it would present in other parts of the world.