Set many years before the events in Above Ground (in fact, around the same time as Belonging), this story will give you a few clues about the origins of the infected/human divide.
The bodyguards, satisfied with their inspection, retreated into the hallway, leaving the office door wide open and taking up their stereotypical stance: legs akimbo, hands clasped by their belt within easy reach of their guns.
They were not his bodyguards. Precision Horizons had more than enough safety measures in place to make a human’s heavy-handed fumbling entirely unnecessary. But by now Edric was used to their brusqueness.
He stood and walked over to the side table, where a kettle of just-boiled water was waiting. He brewed two cups of tea, one black, for himself, and one with a dash of milk, his every movement under heavy scrutiny. He took the sugar, added a teaspoon to both teas. The bodyguards made no move to stop him. They were very thorough men, but—and here Edric allowed himself a small, secret smile—not thorough enough.
As he was placing the two mugs on his desk, someone knocked on his door. Rufus stood just beyond the threshold, briefcase in hand, wearing his usual sharp black suit. His black-framed glasses were pushed up high on his nose, doing little to hide the smallness of his eyes and the lines etched deeply around the corners of his mouth.
Rufus looked old—older than when they had last met—his hairline receding sharply, his eyebrows a little thin. His cheeks had begun to sag, and it seemed only the tight set of his lips kept them from sagging further. He looked, all in all, like a stern grandfather, dressed up for some important event.
Despite his outwardly harmless appearance, Rufus was not a man to be messed with, but, then again, neither was he.
Edric waved him in. “Rufus, to what do I owe this honour?”
“This is no courtesy visit, Doctor. I’m here in my official capacity.”
Edric shook his hand, then gestured for the other man to take a seat. “Very well,” he said, sinking into his chair. Two could play that game. “What can I do for you, Prime Minister?”
“You can tell me what Precision Horizon’s mission is.”
“That is common knowledge, Prime Minister, hardly worth a visit in person. We are an organisation researching for the betterment of mankind.”
“And what, exactly, does that entail?”
“Ah.” Edric placed his elbows on his desk, steepled his fingers together. “That is something I cannot divulge. I’m sure you’re aware of the relevant confidentiality laws.”
Rufus shook off his reply irritably. “The number of reported cases is growing. The media is working the public into a frenzy. I need to have something to tell them.” And then, with some effort, his face smoothed into placid, friendly lines. “Perhaps we could come to some agreement? For old times’ sake? The Treasury will spare no expense for a cure…”
“I’m afraid there is no cure, Prime Minister. Evolution must simply take its course.” He took a sip of his tea, surreptitiously eyeing the untouched mug across from him.
There was a long, heavy silence. Rufus swallowed heavily, pulled a handkerchief out of his suit pocket and mopped his brow. “Then you leave me with no choice.”
He took his briefcase off of the floor, rested it gently across his knees. Edric slipped a hand under his desk, fingertip resting on the hidden button that would shoot tranquillisers into his guest. When Rufus pulled out a few documents and reclosed the briefcase, Edric relaxed.
“And what choice would that be?” he asked as Rufus replaced the briefcase on the floor.
“I am doing what every world leader must,” Rufus said, grim. He placed the documents on the desk, the word ‘contract’ big and bold in the header. “I am appealing to Precision Horizons, requesting that you open your doors to the general public, for the common good and continued prosperity of our country.”
Edric pushed the documents away without looking. “I apologise, but we are not equipped to handle a mass influx of people.”
It clearly wasn’t the expected response. Rufus stiffened. “This . . . this epidemic is your fault,” he snapped, his voice hard and cold. “It is therefore your responsibility to protect those still uninfected. I’m sure you will find the terms more than palatable.” And then he smiled, not his cheerful public smile, but a vicious little expression. “And the penalties more than disagreeable.”
Edric returned the smile with one of his own. “Even if I allow the general public access to the underground quarters, I cannot promise they’ll remain uninfected. Our underground facilities were not built for quarantine purposes.”
Ah! Rufus’ left eye was twitching. He was nervous. He reached for his tea—finally!—and took several long sips, stalling for time. “Are you insinuating that Precision Horizon’s quarters will provide no protection from a situation of their own making?”
“Of course not, Prime Minister. Just that we are not infallible.” Edric spread his arms out expansively. “But we could have several security measures installed. For exampe, we could arrange blood tests for every individual seeking to enter the compound.”
Rufus nodded at the documents. “It’s one of the conditions, clause seventeen if I’m not mistaken.” He drank more of his tea. It was half-empty now.
Edric picked up the documents, gave them a cursory glance. “This extends to all PH outposts in all countries?”
“In all those listed on page thirteen. They’ve already extended individual appeals to the respective heads of PH in their countries.”
He waved a hand dismissively as he leafed through the pages. “None of them will sign without my consent.” There were twenty-four pages total, the last five dedicated entirely to boilerplate clauses in incomprehensible legalese. “My lawyers will need a month to review this.”
“You have two weeks. Evacuation will begin in a month’s time, and your facilities will need restructuring before then. We’ve already contracted someone to do the works – the details are in the contract.”
“How very… confident of you.” Edric tossed the contract onto his desk.
Rufus’ lips thinned. “As said, the penalties for non-compliance are more than convincing.” He set his mug down. It was empty.
“Very well.” Edric stood, and Rufus followed suit. “ I’ll have my lawyers read through the contract and give you my response as soon as possible.”
Rufus shook his hand. “By all means, send in your response at your earliest convenience.” His tone was dry. “Thanks for the tea. Over-brewed, as always.”
Edric shrugged. “It’s best to be strong in times like this, wouldn’t you agree?”
Rufus paused at the doorway, looked back, and for a fleeting moment seemed so vulnerable that Edric wished they were children again, and friends. “Edric . . . there’s really no cure?”
“No, Rufus. I’m sorry.”
Rufus bit his lip, nodded curtly. He strode away without another word, his bodyguards in tight formation around him, his back a stiff line of worry. It couldn’t be helped, even though Rufus had nothing to worry about. He was immune to the virus now; Edric had made sure of it.
Edric sat back down and took another sip of his lukewarm tea, smiling down at the contents fondly.