Microscopes to Telescopes
Location: Area 51
Test case was a partial success. Participant A12 is now functioning as designed with minimal side effects, consisting of temporary stiffness and initial memory loss. Participant A13 is functioning with the same initial stiffness. Major side effects include permanent amnesia and inhibition of muscular faculties. Participant A14-
Renee Dean exited out of the report and tossed the data pad onto her desk, unable to read any more. Her stomach twisted with unease and she reached for her mug of coffee, taking a few small sips.
It didn’t help much; after all, she knew full well that nothing would. Nothing could change what they were doing, despite the extensive report she had provided the government with prior to the test case.
Renee wanted to curse but she noticed Dr. Tripp passing behind her so she bit back the words that threatened to spew out of her mouth. Foul language irritated the woman and she was in no mood for a confrontation.
But one year! One year of her life she had spent analyzing and reanalyzing the compatibility of nerve cells with the proposed treatment. And the half a dozen plane flights to medical institutes across the nation to read hundreds of medical journals discussing the issue. She had even petitioned the government to provide her with a three million dollar grant to conduct her own, specialized research in one of the most technologically advanced labs in the world.
And then there were all the headaches, the nights spent in the lab till she finally crashed on her work stool at five in the morning. That wasn’t even speaking of all the things she could have been doing with her time instead.
But no, despite her negative conclusions and strong recommendations to hold off on the human testing until a chemical component could be developed to counteract or alter the dendrites of the nerve cells, making them compatible with treatment, the government pushed forward.
Renee wasn’t the type of person to be bitter, especially since she was a government consultant and not the project manager. It wasn’t her shot to call. And so if the test had been successful, she would have swallowed her pride and accepted the good news with as much grace as she could muster.
However it wasn’t a success, no matter what the report labeled it. Permanent amnesia in even one of the test subjects was not even a ‘major side effect’; it was a disaster! Normally, she would have rested assured that the government would shelf the research for now. But their labeling of the test outcome as a ‘partial’ success ominously hinted that they may not yet be finished.
Swiveling in her chair, Renee fixed a polite expression on her face and looked at Katrina expectantly. “Yes?”
“I have a call for you on line two,” the office assistant informed her, tugging at her too-tight sweater.
“Thank you,” she responded, reaching for the screen controls. “And can you shut the door?” But the woman had already left.
Renee heaved a sigh. This was the third office assistant the Baltimore branch of Zenith Consulting Services had hired in the past six months and they’d yet to find anyone qualified. She switched on the screen mounted on the opposite wall and accepted the call.
“Good evening, doctor.”
Renee shook her head hopelessly at the white-blond figure before her. No matter the occasion, he always greeted her as ‘doctor’. And every time, that same greeting sent her stomach fluttering. “Good evening, Erik.”
“How are things in the city?” Erik asked, as usual, as he unbuttoned his lab coat and laid it gently on what looked like a black table.
As much as she wanted to unload all of her frustrations, and, and downright concerns onto him, she refrained herself. The man looked even more tired than he usually did, his crystal blue eyes rimmed in circles of gray.
“You know, the usual,” Renee said with a shrug. “Just a lot of work. Endless stacks of reports to review.”
“Usual?” He asked bemusedly.
Though she knew he didn’t believe her façade, she attempted once more to distract him from a subject she didn’t think she could speak of without screaming. “Your usual is a lot more exciting than my usual.
Erik raised an eyebrow but didn’t push the issue and question her further. “Not always. After nine hours of staring into a microscope, it all begins to look the same.”
Renee gave him a pointed look. “Don’t give me that. I don’t think all the chemical research you’ve been conducting and the medicines you’ve been developing can be classified as boring.”
“Can, can we not talk about work?” Rubbing his forehead with his hand, he took a deep breath. “Have you seen Taylor lately?”
Erik wasn’t just tired. When he was sleep-deprived, he became quiet and only slightly moody. But now… he was somewhat irritable. Something was wrong. And besides, why would he ask about Taylor? He didn’t like her sister. Though he didn’t ever say anything like that, she noticed his cool withdrawal from the conversation whenever Taylor arrived.
She realized she still hadn’t responded. “No, not really. She’s been working a lot, started her position as a manager.”
Renee cocked her head at him in bewilderment. “Taylor. My sister. You just asked about her.”
“I’m sorry, Renee, I just have a lot-” He stopped as someone in the room handed him a sheet of paper. After a moment, his mouth opened slightly and his face whitened. “Can I call you later? I’m so sorry.”
There was a click and then the screen became blank. She could only stare dumbfounded at the blackness, a mixture of annoyance and concern filling her. But the more she thought about his behavior, any irritation was swallowed up by worry. Erik didn’t act like this without reason.
“Dr. Dean, did you want me to finish the report?”
Renee didn’t even glance up from the microscope. “Yes.” Maneuvering the control stick, she changed her focus to a new quadrant. Either she counted incorrectly or there wasn’t a single mitochondria in any of these cells. It was bizarre, and, and disturbing.
“And Dr. Dean?”
She sighed as the interruption made her lose her count for what felt the tenth time today. “What?” She snapped as she removed her eye goggles and set them down on the lab table.
“There’s a meeting in the conference room,” Katrina said casually. “Immediately.”
Strange. The only meetings they ever had were ones she knew about several weeks in advance. But they were never anything so impromptu. She wryly wondered whether the government was suing Zenith Consulting Services because she somehow didn’t adequately explain to them the dangers of their testing.
However, the moment she stepped through the glass double doors and then sat down, her stomach began churning. There was a packet in front of every doctor, each stamped with a bright red “Classified. Program Eyes Only.”
Dr. Rosen barely waited for everyone to get settle before he stood up. “H9B2. If you’ll open your packets, you can read it for yourself. But right now the government is pressing for immediacy.”
The government was pressing for immediacy? Renee felt her mouth go dry. It couldn’t be about the testing; that wasn’t possible. After all they began testing only four days ago.”
“-an extremely lethal and air-born virus. The virus remains dormant for up to a week, after which the victim begins to show symptoms. It was brought onto Earth a year ago by the U.S.S. Bentley, where one of the crew contracted it on one of the inner rim planets. Somehow it penetrated the vac-suit. But they managed to contain the virus; the only ones affected were those onboard.”
“If they contained it, why are we worrying about it now?” Dr. Valdez interjected.
Dr. Rosen pushed his glasses farther up his nose. “They never knew which planet it came from, and there were still two exploratory vessels in the region that would eventually make their way to Earth.”
“But the United States screens all inbound ships from our off-planet docking station before they’re allowed to land,” Dr. Tripp commented. “It shouldn’t be an issue.”
“Not all nations adhere to the same strict standards as the United States. But regardless, in its dormant stage, the virus is nearly impossible to detect. Within seven days, the victim could have traveled to a hundred stores and infected a thousand people.”
“What are you saying?” Renee finally couldn’t help but ask.
Dr. Rosen touched his glasses again, even though they hadn’t slid down his nose. “I’m saying it’s here. The H9B2 is on Earth.”
Renee caught her breath. She had expected something bad but nothing like this.
“The government has been researching for the past year, trying to find a cure or treatment that might destroy it. But they’ve found nothing,” Dr. Rosen took a deep breath. “The only option is to run.”
What was the man saying? Run a triathlon? Run to the store?
“The government is prepared to commence a strategic evacuation of the entire nation to the one inner rim planet they know isn’t contaminated with the virus.”
Dr. Tripp shook her head, her silky dark hair falling into her face. “That isn’t possible. We have yet to discover a planet that can support human life.”
“Human life,” Dr. Rosen corrected. “The government has developed a high risk procedure…treatment that essentially infuses chemically altered metals into the bloodstream. These metals are compatible with biological cells and fuse together. And Zenith Consulting Services happens to be one of only a dozen labs equipped with the staff and facilities to administer this treatment.”
Renee’s heart stopped. She couldn’t think. High risk procedure…. Fusion of metals and biological cells...
She had spent the last year of her life researching the adverse neural effects of a treatment. A treatment that was the only hope of the human race.
Renee blinked. One week ago, she could never have imagined that she would have injected over three hundred people with a metallurgical-chemical treatment and then sent them to be shut into vac-tubes to be transported to a different planet. One week ago, she wouldn’t have imagined that she would have to be injected with the same treatment and then shipped off to some planet labeled ‘B’ in a vessel that once transported power to millions of homes.
The days and nights had run together into one long blur. She hadn’t seen the sun in at least four days and she didn’t even know if she had the energy to lift her arm and administer the treatment even once more. It was all too impossible to fathom, and even if she could’ve fathomed it, she hadn’t been given a moment alone to think.
And Erik… she hadn’t been allowed to call him. She hadn’t been able to see his beautiful blue eyes and hear his voice-
“Dr. Dean, please lie down.”
Her heart thumping wildly, she slowly lowered herself onto one of the tables.
“Doctor, I have an incoming call, a Doctor Erik Kopaka, for Renee Dean. Can she take it?”
Renee sat up in a flash. “Dr. Valdez, a moment?”
Dr. Valdez hesitated as his fingers worked to attach a foot-long needle to an IV.
“Please, Antonio?” Renee would have begged. She would have done anything to be able to speak with Erik.
A surge of adrenaline course through her body and she snatched the portable call-screen away and flipped it on. “Erik?”
Erik appeared, his white-blond hair disheveled and his eyes mirroring the exhaustion she felt. “Hello, doctor.”
Still, the same greeting. Renee wanted to cry. But she managed a smile. “Hello, sir. I, I assume they’ve been using your lab for the administrations as well.”
“Renee…” Erik had never looked so distressed.
He squeezed his hands together. “I did it. I developed the treatment.”
Renee heard the words, but they didn’t yet click in her mind. That couldn’t be right. Erik would have told her about the virus. He wouldn’t have kept it from her.
“I couldn’t tell a soul. Our, our conversations are always monitored. They wanted to avoid a panic.” Cool, calm Erik was falling in pieces. “I’m sorry, Renee. I’m sorry.”
Her stomach twisted into horrible knots as she watched a tear slide down his cheek. No, she couldn’t lose him. She couldn’t. “It’s not your fault.”
“I’m sorry,” he repeated.
“Stop it!” She couldn’t stop her own tears from coming. Though she heard Dr. Valdez re-enter the room she didn’t care. “I, I love you.”
Erik wiped the single tear aside, but the heartache in his eyes didn’t leave. “I love you, too, doctor.”
Name: U.S.S. Baltimore Zone Power (B.Z. Power)