- —Dr. Kevin Christie realizes the virus killing children throughout the U.S. is not the flu he discovered, "Talking Hurts"
The Stearns Flu is a type of flu occurring in bats first discovered by the scientist Dr. Michael Stearns of the Chicago City College. His work in creating a vaccine and cure for the virus won him an award, though he always worried that the virus could spark a deadly pandemic if it ever spread to humans. It is the distinguished by its unusual T-shaped rash on the forehead of its victims.
Stearn's fears seemingly come true when news reports begin airing of a mysterious flu that is killing children throughout the United States. Stearns's wife, Colleen, sees a T-shaped rash on the forehead one of one the children infected with the flu on a news broadcast and points it out to Stearns. She suggests that Stearns apply to receive a blood sample of the infected children. Stearns is wary, as his work has become seemingly unappreciated and his requests for funding and samples ignored, but nevertheless decides to give it a try.
Stearns is surprised to find his request approved and upon receiving the sample quickly gets to work. He tests the sample and discovers that the virus is indeed his flu. He excitedly tells the news to Colleen, who tells him to remain calm and use his leverage with the dean of the college to set up a meeting with Dr. Kevin Christie, whose company Christie Labs holds the rights to manufacture and distribute the vaccine.
Stearns gets his meeting, but it does not go as he hoped. Kevin Christie suggests fast-tracking an Emergency Use Authorization for Stearns's vaccine and cure, but Stearns is wary, wanting to run more tests. Christie suggests that Stearns is upset about the lack of recognition that he's received and things go sour from there, with Christie ultimately dismissing Stearns and telling him they'll find another way to get the authorization. Aggravated, Stearns decides to take action on his own. He heads straight to the St. Louis Hotzone, an epicenter of the flu outbreak, hoping to bluff his way and test his vaccine. His first plan fails, but he is ultimately allowed entrance along with Dale Warwick, another scientist who says that his daughter, Charlotte may be inside and infected by the flu.
Unknown to Stearns, all of this is a plot orchestrated by Kevin Christie and his secretive group, the Harvest, part of a plot called the Undoing. They pull a fast one on Stearns, having him supposedly test his cure on Charlotte, but switching her out with her twin, Lily. Stearns is led to believe that his cure works perfectly and goes before a crowd, advocating for the release of his vaccine, as they know that the flu is 100% fatal without it.
Not the flu
Stearns's efforts in promoting the cure bring him to the attention of a group of like-minded individuals who have been seeking out a conspiracy in the pages of the manuscript for comic called Utopia, the conclusion to the comic Dystopia. They manage to piece together that the flu outbreak they've been seeing on the news is part of the conspiracy, but still lack key information. They discover that Stearns once spent time in the same insane asylum as the father of Jessica Hyde, a key figure in both comics and the primary member of their group. They decide to pay him a visit.
Meanwhile, Christie begins to uncover the conspiracy as well, but is silenced by his wife, Colleen, who is revealed to be a sleeper agent of the Harvest. She unleashes a plot called Operation Fun in which she forces him to get on the phone and advocate for his vaccine, lest it be revealed that he has supposedly been stockpiling years of snuff porn on his laptop. Before he can get very far along, however, Hyde and the others break into the house and begin interrogating him. When he reveals what Colleen told him, Hyde turns her attention to her instead and Collen fights her before ultimately being killed by Alice, another member of their group. Hyde then turns back to Hyde and begins torturing him, but he finally convinces them that he is on their side, revealing that he discovered that the flu is being spread via a traveling petting zoo. The group travels to the petting zoo's current location and torches the place, claiming a single rabbit. They then take it back to Stearns's lab and he tests it, where he discovers that whatever virus it's carrying, it is definitely not his flu.