This lab had been their life for so long. Vacations had been planned around ongoing research; even the question of whether or not to have a baby had been put off, again and again, by the demands of Alex’s work. They had both believed it was worth it for so long. Was one act of ecoterrorism going to change all that?
John was suddenly very afraid that it was.
“I’m back here, John,” said Alex’s voice. It was soft, dull…dead. Heart still hammering, John turned his walk into a half jog, rounding the corner to find himself looking at the glass window onto the former hot room. Alex was standing in front of it, just like he had so many times before, but his shoulders were stooped. He looked defeated.
“Alex, you have to stop doing this to yourself.” John’s heartbeat slowed as he saw that his husband was unharmed. He walked the rest of the distance between them, stopping behind Alex and sliding his arms around the other man’s shoulders. “Come on. Come home with me.”
“I can’t.” Alex indicated the window. “Look.”
The hot room had been resealed after the break-in; maybe they couldn’t stop their home-brewed pathogens from getting out, but they could stop anything new from getting in. The rhesus monkeys and guinea pigs were back in their cages. Some were eating, some were sleeping; others were just going about their business, oblivious to the humans watching over them.
“I don’t understand.” John squinted, frowning at the glass. “What am I supposed to be seeing? They all look perfectly normal.”
“I’ve bathed them in every cold sample I could find, along with half a dozen flus and an airborne form of syphilis. One of the guinea pigs died, but the necropsy didn’t show any sign that it was either an infection or the cure that killed it. Sometimes guinea pigs just die.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand the problem. What’s wrong with your lab animals being healthy?”
Alexander Kellis pulled away from his husband, expression anguished as he turned to face him. “I can’t tell which ones have caught the cure and which haven’t. It’s undetectable in a living subject. After the break-in, we’re probably infected, too. And I don’t know what it will do in a human host. We weren’t ready.” He started to cry, looking very young and very old at the same time. “I may have just killed us all.”
“Oh, honey, no.” John gathered him close, making soothing noises…but his eyes were on the animals behind the glass. The perfectly healthy, perfectly normal animals. Suddenly, it seemed like he couldn’t look away.
* * *
Dr. Alexander Kellis has thus far refused to comment on the potential risks posed by his untested “cure for the common cold,” released three days ago by a group calling itself “The Mayday Army”…
June 18, 2014: Atlanta, Georgia
The best description for the atmosphere at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, was “tense.” Everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop, and had been waiting since reports first came in describing the so-called Mayday Army’s release of an experimental pathogen into the atmosphere. The tension only intensified when Dr. Alexander Kellis responded to requests for more information on the pathogen by supplying his research, which detailed, at length, the infectious nature of his hybridized creation.
One of the administrative assistants had probably put it best when she looked at the projected infection maps in horror and said, “If he’d been working with rabies or something, he would have just killed us all.”
If he was being completely honest with himself, Dr. William Matras wasn’t entirely sure that Alexander Kellis hadn’t just killed them all, entirely without intending to, entirely with the best of intentions. The proteins composing the capsid shell on Alpha-RC007 were ingeniously engineered, something that had been a good thing—increased stability, increased predictability in behavior—right up until the moment when the idiots in the Mayday Army broke the seals keeping the world and the virus apart. Now those same proteins made Alpha-RC007 extremely virulent, extremely contagious, and, worst of all, extremely difficult to detect in a living host. The lab animals they’d requested from Dr. Kellis’s lab in Reston were known to be infected, but showed almost no signs of illness; four out of five blood tests would come up negative for the presence of Alpha-RC007, only to have the fifth show a thriving infection. Alpha-RC007 hid. It could be spurred to reveal itself by introducing another infection into the host…and that was when Alpha-RC007 became truly terrifying.
Alpha-RC007 was engineered to cure the common cold, something it accomplished by setting itself up as a competing, and superior, infection. Once it was in the body, it simply never went away. The specific structure of its capsid shell somehow tricked the human immune system into believing that Alpha-RC007 was another form of helper cell—and, in a way, it was. Alpha-RC007 wanted to help. Watching it attack and envelop other viruses that entered the body was a chilling demonstration of perfect biological efficiency. Alpha-RC007 saw; Alpha-RC007 killed. Alpha-RC007 tolerated no other infections in the body.
What was going to happen the first time Alpha-RC007 decided the human immune system counted as an infection? No one knew, and the virus had thus far resisted any and all attempts to remove it from a living host. Unless a treatment could be found before Kellis’s creation decided to become hostile, Dr. Matras was very afraid that the entire world was going to learn just how vicious Alpha-RC007 could be.