Whirling machines maintained a constant tune, chiming like a sad lullaby from a person in threshold consciousness. Panic oozed in on a dozen medical staff cramped up in the hospital boardroom. It was dimly lit with one bulb continuously flickering in one corner. It created a strobe effect that streaked across the room, lighting up their faces every now and again. Some were still wearing their surgical gloves and face masks.
Dr Sam Levine walked in hurriedly, his lab coat fluttering behind him as he came to a standstill. He appeared insufficiently dressed, clad in loose jeans, a banded sweater and running shoes. He had clearly picked the first item he saw when he dashed here.
“Kate, what happened?” he interrogated, his voice tainted with restlessness. His glasses sat crookedly ante rounded eyes, on thick nose, but he didn’t care. Drops of sweat were creeping down his face, and his eyes flushed red with anxiety.
“We don’t know yet, Sir, but he was dropped off an hour ago. We have already secured him in the Sensory Deprivation Pod,” Kate said, her voice a quiver in infirmity. Kate Duncan was Levine’s assistant, and he had been working with her for the past ten years. A Glenview Medical Institute graduate, she joined Spectrum Bio-Medical Technologies (S.B.M.T) as an intern; the now esteemed facility that dealt with mutation, infectious-disease outbreaks and cadaver cloning.
Levine founded S.B.M.T following advancements in human transmutation, bio-robotics and cloning. Scientists world over were venturing into artificial farming of human tissue, and technology firms were racking in millions selling clones to the rich, and ‘highest bidders’.
“Has he been sedated?” he inquired, breaking the silence in a room that had fallen to a dark spell.
“Yes we did,” Kate responded, fidgeting stiffly in her chair. “We also gave him a shot of TCP 4,” she continued, trying to compose herself in her retort.
“OK, very well! Make sure no one goes into Quarantine Block X. Secure all other entries and exits, but maintain one. Make sure the Vacuum Suction Chamber is setup at the entrance. Only Level 1 personnel are to be granted access. That means it’s me and this team only, no one else.”
“But Sir, we…” Kate cut in, but Sam rebuffed her instantly.
“That is an order, Kate, and it isn’t up for discussion,” he said, with a mild frown contoured across his face. He removed his glasses and gave them an evocative wipe. His eyelids were still pregnant with sleep.
Block X was at the far end of the Research Building; a secluded section hoarding horrors awaiting to be unleashed. The main corridor doors were made of tempered glass glaziers, held tightly shut every time. Quarantine costumes lined up both sides of the wall in the corridor.
“Dr Levine, what could be this urgent that you had to call me after midnight?” a 3D hologram image spoke from Sam’s desk. It represented a sturdy man in an expensive suit, his red silky tie superb even in the holographic laser simulation. His face appeared tanned, skin rubbed down to a smooth shine.
“Unfortunately we have a major problem, Sir,” Sam muttered, sounding out of words, and rather, beleaguered.
“Couldn’t this wait until the morning?” the voice barked through the speaker system, its’ virtual reality soundwaves vibrating simultaneously.
“I’m afraid not, Sir.” Sam seemed to be losing his patience, yet he assumed an astute pose. “We are currently holding a patient in our Quarantine Block X, and the patient carries the Specimen B13 virus.” His hand involuntarily wiped his forehead as he spoke.
He paused in hesitation, enigmatically gathering his words.
“It is a hybrid virus that targets major human Cranial Nerves, including Oculomotor, Vagus and Acoustic Nerves. If a patient doesn’t receive the required antidote in time, it transmutes into a deadly strain, disturbing key brain and body functionality. The patient gradually mutates into something else. A phantasm!”
Silence permeated throughout the entire room, except for an insignificant beeping sound from the server room.
“I thought that that virus was wiped out. What happened?”
“Yes it was, but experiments were still being conducted outside our portfo…”
“Who signed it off?”
“It was the President, Sir,” Sam countered.
“Oh! Right.” The hologram’s voice sounded mystified, yet deep in thought trying to digest everything. “Sam, you need to contain this. I don’t know how, and I don’t care.” The man’s tone was stern.
“I understand Sir, but our problem is bigger than that.” Dr Levine sunk back into apprehension, his lips dry and flaky from all the terror running through his body. “The patient that we are holding is Professor David Nkosi, Sir.” The words escaped his mouth without caution, further drying his lips as they left his vocal cavity.
“Dr Levine, why is that a bigger problem than the one we already have?”
“Specimen B13 is a hybrid of the HIV/AIDS virus, Sir, and he is the only one who has the antidote to it,” he said, gaping into nothingness.
“Oh my God!” The voice sounded terrified. Shaken, to be precise.
Professor Nkosi had been part of the team that invented Specimen B13. It was after the HIV/AIDS virus had been eradicated globally. It was created while both men were working at a Secret Government Medical Wing at Baragwanath Hospital two decades ago.
Along the way, they fell apart, forcing Sam to establish S.B.M.T in the hope of serving humanity and finding antidotes for epidemics around the world. David then formed a pharmaceutical fraternity. His mission revolved around the advancement of hybrid viruses and creating byzantine chemical concoctions for profit.
Sam slumped back into his chair in a deep sigh, removing his glasses and wiping his face with the back of his hand. He could feel his blood congealing in his veins, with a crushing sense of feebleness consuming him. He could not believe that after all these years, his work was now threatened by a virus strain he helped to create.
The room turned cold. Nothing seemed alive, except for the constant beeping sound from the computer room. He buried his head into his hands in defeat, his lab coat shrouding his body as if to comfort him.
Kate walked in, wearing a quarantine costume. He lifted his hand without looking up, motioning her to stop. She froze in her step like Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt in Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Sam, I need you to fix this,” the voice erupted fiercely. “Otherwise this will be the end of humanity as we know it.” A computer interface sound came back, and the 3D holographic simulation disappeared into the display portal before any formal goodbyes.
Back in Block X, Professor Nkosi lay motionless in the isolation pod, his body bound with leather restraints that were biting into his limbs. His skin was pale, blood vessels strewn all over his body like tributaries in the Okavango. You could almost see his blood flowing up and down.
“Why did you do this, David?” Sam questioned, peeking through the glass panel into the sensory pod. He was now wearing a quarantine costume too, with Kate and other Level 1 staff around him.
“You shouldn’t have left me Sam,” David said, coming to, with a feigned grin on his face, revealing a set of rugged teeth. His eyes were drenched with scorn as he stared at Dr Levine. He tried smiling, yet his body was too feeble to stretch a muscle. “We could have done this together, you and me.” He let out a choked giggle, which sounded more like a broken down tractor short of gas.
“You have put the whole world in danger,” Dr Levine exclaimed. “We worked tirelessly for years to control this and…”
“Oh Sam! Save your disgraceful whining for worthy pitiful ears. It’s done, and I am the only one who holds the antidote to Specimen B13. Unless I’m paid $100 billion, I’m unleashing my subjects into the world, and trust me, there’s hundreds of us out there. You cannot end this!” Nkosi boasted, his voice dripping diabolic disdain.
Sam looked around him in bewilderment, and all the other staff had their eyes drilling into his. He could tell David wasn’t bluffing. He was knocking on deaths’ door yet he still had the guts to negotiate for ransom. He ordered everyone out of the quarantine block and locked it down.
Kate followed him to his office, walking guardedly behind him like a shepherd shielding his sheep. They both looked somnolent; burdened with a yoke greater than S.B.M.T.
“What are we going to do Sir?” Kate asked, allowing her question to percolate into Dr Levine’s vague soul. He was a leaf in storm; a soldier void of a sword. This is it, he thought to himself. This is the end of it all? His hand trembled against the cold telephone receiver. He cleared his throat as it rang in his ear, letting out a rueful breath of despair.
“Good Morning, Mr President.”