* * *
Nurse Mitchell unwound the tape sealing her gloves to the sleeves of her isolation suit. She scowled as water and inert chemicals dripped from her sleeve into her glove.
What a pain in the ass! She thought.
It wasn’t that she thought the isolation suits or chemical wash-down after breaching the airlock between the treatment room and the research lab wasn’t necessary, she just wished she didn’t have to endure it every time the doctor had some new hair-brained scheme to cure the patient. Her shift was almost over for the day and she was looking forward to enjoying a weekend with no responsibilities. She cussed as her undershirt got stuck in her zippered pants.
“Kelvin, give me a hand here.”
A nervous tech peeked over a monitor at his station. “Is it safe?”
Mitchell frowned. “How long have you been here?”
“My shift started at zero-seven-hundred, Ma’am.”
“No, not your shift.” Mitchell sighed. “How long have you been at this facility?”
“Oh.” Kelvin paused. “Three weeks.”
“You aren’t an American, right?”
“No, Ma’am.” Kelvin beamed. “I requested assignment here as soon as I graduated from medical corps.”
Mitchell furrowed her brow and chewed on the inside of her cheek. “Why the hell would you volunteer to come here?”
“Outside of this research facility, North America is in ruins.”
Mitchell shuddered recalling the newscasts of planes plunging into the ocean after countries refused to allow possibly infected planes to land. She had a friend on a plane en route to the Philippines, when China declared the plane an enemy combatant and scrambled jets to shoot it down.
“But,” she asked, “why come to the hot zone?”
Kelvin leaned back in his chair. “I’ve trained to be an infectious disease researcher. This thing could spell the end of humanity as we know it.” He licked his lips and leaned forward, almost conspiratorially. “The black plague? Ebola? Even Malaria are all insignificant compared to this thing.” He retrieved a scalpel and walked it to Nurse Mitchell.
“You haven’t answered my question.”
Kelvin nodded and made his way back to his desk before continuing. “Outside of the hot zone, there’s no way to study it. You remember how it was.”
Mitchell remembered the indignation as China sent troops to burn any remnant of the plane or its passengers after her friend’s plane was shot down. The United Nations backed European countries in the blockade of any persons attempting to leave North America. The U.N. headquarters in New York were declared lost and a new base of operations was set up in Sweden.
She nodded as she deftly used the scalpel to free her shirt from the errant zipper. “You want hands on instead of reading reports in Sweden?” She tossed her mangled pants into a biohazard bin and dropped the scalpel into a sharps container. “You realize you can never leave this country, right?” She stuck a finger through the hole in her undershirt and shook her head in disgust.
Kelvin shrugged and returned to his monitor. Russian and Chinese ships patrolled the west coast with orders to sink any ship or plane attempting to leave North America. England and India had matching orders along the eastern coast – all sanctioned by the United Nations. This facility would be Kelvin’s last.
“I appreciate you coming here, Kelvin.” Freed of her isolation gear, Mitchell crossed the striped zone and rummaged through a drawer recessed into the wall.
“What I don’t understand…” Kelvin allowed the sentence to fade as he thought better than to finish it.
“How a diet pill turned into a virus that’s killed us all?”
“This country hasn’t been free in decades. The corporations and government have had their hands in each others’ pockets since the seventies.”
“But the F.D.A. was created to keep dangerous drugs off the market.”
Mitchell chuckled. “With enough money, anyone can be bought. Legislation? It’s for sale to the highest bidder.”
Kelvin didn’t respond, so Mitchell continued. “A conglomerate we aren’t allowed to name wasn’t happy just stealing farms with their crops or using chemicals to make food that lasts decades. They discovered a chemical that turbo charged the metabolism. They poured, literally, trillions of dollars into getting their drug to market.” Mitchell closed the drawer with a thud. “Hell, it was illegal to even question if the drug was safe.”
Kelvin nodded. “And there was an obesity epidemic.”
Mitchell smiled. “And a skinny-jeans fad.”
Kelvin frowned. “Not funny.”
“What wasn’t funny was advertising a poison that changed your genetic makeup and turned you into an eating machine. People couldn’t consume enough calories and their own bodies started breaking down bone and muscle until it starved itself and went dormant.” Mitchell sighed.
Kelvin finished her brief history lesson. “They thought it was done until the victim’s blood sugar spiked, reactivating the virus.”
“Indeed. Then this thing mutated and became airborne. Almost half a trillion people died.” She looked back to the isolation lab and to the withered figure sleeping in the bed, machines and cameras monitored every aspect of him. “Or at least they wish they’d died.” She bent over and retrieved a device the doctor had requested. “Here it is!” She waived the piece of equipment at Kelvin.
Kelvin smiled and offered a sympathetic nod.
Mitchell dressed in a new isolation suit. She painstakingly wound the tape to seal the gaps in her suit. She increased the pressure from her rebreather and stepped into a hot shower, watching for bubbles forming on her suit. The entire process made her sweat. She would take a break after entering the isolation lab to allow her breathing and temperature to normalize.
Had she not been sweating from the hot shower, she might’ve noticed the expanding wetness on her undershirt. Had she not been in a hurry to get the equipment back into the lab before her shift was over, she might have noticed the torn thread from her undershirt sandwiched between layers of tape creating an intermittent gap.