Code Orange by Caroline Cooney
3Q 4P J/S
Mitty prides himself on doing as little as he can in school. It’s not that he can’t do the work. It’s just that he doesn’t see the point. So when his advanced biology teacher assigns a term paper on an infectious disease, Mitty has no intention of doing any research for it. He figures he’ll grab a few facts off the Internet, paste them into a document, and he’ll be done. He actually forgets all about the assignment until the week before it’s due. That’s when he gets a punch right in the solar plexus: if he doesn’t get a passing grade on this paper, they’re going to kick him out of the class. Mitty could care less about advanced biology, but he cares a LOT that it’s his only class with Olivia. So he figures he’d better knuckle down and get some work done on the paper. And he means to. Really, he does. But it’s the weekend, so he deserves a day or two of rest, doesn’t he? By the time Mitty decides to get to work, it’s late on Sunday. He’s staying at his family’s place in the boondocks of Connecticut, and he realizes he hasn’t brought a thing with him for research. The library is closed and there isn’t a bookstore for miles around. And he needs books, since his bio teacher is waaay out of touch with the real world and won’t let them use the Internet. Mitty remembers that his mother just brought home a load of old books from an auction where they were selling off stuff from some old doctor’s house. Luckily for Mitty, the doctor had a couple of books on infectious diseases. As he starts to page through one of them, he finds a sealed envelope marked “VM – 1902” tucked between two of the pages. Inside it are a couple of scab-type things. The books are so dusty, Mitty starts to sneeze. One of the scabs crumbles in his fingers, disintegrating into dust.
It isn’t until a day or two later that Mitty realizes what he held in his hands: VM=variola major, otherwise known as smallpox, one of the most infectious diseases ever known to mankind. Millions died in agony from it. When Mitty sneezed, the scab that crumbled almost certainly got into his lungs. What if it contained active virus? What if he’s a walking time bomb, passing smallpox on to everyone he knows, including his parents and Olivia? Should he tell someone? But what if he’s not infected? He’ll look like a fool. What if he is infected and someone else finds out? What if that someone wants to infect thousands of people?