The Envelope

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
a rural pathologist unwillingly gains knowledge of an event that may jeopardize human existence- immediately and catastrophically.

Submitted: July 16, 2017

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Submitted: July 16, 2017

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The Envelope

Part I -To My Surprise

 

This happened when I was a Medical Examiner in the rural county of Mississippi…

I woke up to the sound of the basement lights flickering. Guess that’s another night of falling asleep at work. My Ex-Wife as much as a witch that she was might have had a point,

she always said “If you keep sleeping there you are gonna end up a stiff yourself.”

My rebuttal was always “I am the only highly qualified pathologist in Snaptrap, MS therefore I am always overworked.” Or at least that was my excuse, in reality I preferred the cold of the basement lab. It had a soothing effect on me, compared to her red hot beaming judgmental eyes. In the morgue I can somewhat attain some peace with my so called stiffs.

 

The clock on the wall read 6:34 am, time to get my arthritic self ready for the day. My one and only morning elixir is rust colored morning coffee, medicine hasn’t found a better lubricant yet. In the break room stands a half empty pot with the familiar color of used motor oil. I lean over the counter with the pot in hand rejuvenating myself. My brain starts picking up speed and it clicks that today is Friday, unfortunately. I have the next two days off as per order from our benevolent leader Chief of Medicine Dr. Dearling. An aged man, from a time where familiar greetings were genuine.

 

He came down from his office to personally recommend that I start taking my weekends off, he goes in full breast “go see a ball game, relax a little maybe you will meet a young lady friend. You’re always working that’s no way to live there sonny. Especially after last year’s case you deserve some time to yourself.” I sat behind my desk listening to his drivel, it sounded like static from an old CRT TV to me. After several more minutes of this he finally performed his signature half-turn smile and started to walk out. He grabbed the door knob and paused “You wouldn’t want to end up a stiff here yourself?” he exclaimed in a half jest manner. I smiled, my mouth began to formulate the words of my reply but I stopped mid breath, because I knew that they would not change his opinion. So I continued smiling until Dr. Dearling was behind my office door.

 

What most people don’t seem to understand is that being surrounded by cold steel and 50 degree refrigerated air is where I relax. Out in the world things are warm and moving, that in my experience always leads to trouble.

 

It was 7:36 am now, Jackie should be in soon with today’s autopsy orders. Jackie is 26 and fresh out of medical school. Till this day I don’t understand why a slim, charming, slightly too cheery for my taste young girl would want to be stuck here with me in the middle of nowhere MS. She always stands out in the morgue with her fire red hair, it’s as if she is the only living creature in here contrasted against the black and blue of her environment which is always threatening to put that light out.(NOT SURE WHAT THIS MEANS) Nevertheless day in and day out she persists in a joyous fashion.

 

As I finished the pot and walk over to the morgue from the corner of my eye I noticed that the door to my office was ajar. Strange, I make sure to always lock it due to the confidential files, probably forgot in my haze last night. Part of me wanted to go to lock the door for safety but I immediately disregarded that idea due to if I do come near it(NEED TO EDIT) I might have to clean up the mess that is my office, which I rather not do.

 

I enter the morgue there are 3 new stiffs already tagged. “Only three” I think to myself, “Should be an easy day then”. I always look at the hypothetical cause of death. A sort of filtering process that has developed over the years. There are only two categories, natural causes or self-induced death. Let’s just say that to nobodies surprise the latter has a higher incidence rate.

First file reads “Myocardial Infarction due to Left Anterior Descending occlusion.” I glanced over at the body, stiff(?) easily has to be over 300 lbs. Goes under the self-induced. Second file reads, “Motor Vehicle Accident Patient passed due to internal bleeding.” I glanced over to the alcohol level further down the chart, states 356 mg/dL unfortunately. Third case, “aneurysm of medial communicating artery.” Must have been a swift painless death, that’s always a gift. Two out of three, I feel like a casino manager where the odds are always in my favor win or lose. Yet I don’t feel any richer. I used what I learned in year II pathology at Carey to rank the order.

 

Jackie strolls in at 8:15 am, vibrant coffee mug in hand. She carries a brisk in her step that youth and innocence allows itself. “Good Morning” she said with a joyful expression. I replied with a nod of the head as usual. Morning pleasantries have never been a strong suit of mine.

 

I spot a manila folder clenched in her arms, must be the orders for the day. She approached me handing off the folder, “I’ll be right back and then good to get started”. I prefer to work alone when I am getting to know a stiff’s life, but recently the department thought that it would be “beneficial” to have a student learning from my experience. I was hesitant of the arrangement others usually just get in the way. To my surprise though the curiosity that youthfulness can afford can be refreshing to my order of things.

 

Work always has been my reprieve from the chaotic nature of my rumblings thoughts. It instills cold order. A formula to uncover the truth. Any secret that you took with you is my job to expose. I look at my current stiff wondering what he could be hiding and how well he hid it. Jackie walks in with her fire red hair hidden behind a surgical garments. We begin the procedure, as my hands get busy my mind quiets down. I feel as in this moment there is no future, no troubles.

 

I look up at the overhanging clock, it reads 1:26pm. I take my gloves and gesture at Jackie to finish up which she does without a word. A silent agreement we formed early on due to the realization that communication isn’t a strong suit of mine.

 

I sit down in my office chair letting the old indentations absorb my body. My eyes start closing then something catches the corner of my sight. An envelope slid between the keys of my computer keyboard. With red lettering the cover clearly states “DON’T PANIC”. My eyes immediately are wide open and heart skips to 30 beats (DID YOU MEAN SHIFTS?) per minute higher. I knew that I didn’t leave my door open this morning, somebody must have been in here. Unfortunately, morgues don’t have internal security cameras so I had no way to see if somebody was. “Hey Jackie, have you been in my office last night?” I yelled out. “No, Dr. Hatins” she replied. The thought of someone being in here without my whereabouts sent a chill down my spine.

 

I reach over to grab the envelope, it’s not sealed with a single folded piece of paper inside. I open the note it read “31.3062 latitude, -89.2925 longitude, August 17th, 1:42 AM”. Those are coordinates and Aug 17this tomorrow morning. As I sit there dumbfounded at what I am looking at, Jackie pops her head “Everything alright Dr. Hatins? You look(SOUNDED?) a little spooked”. Without any sign of distress I reply “Yes, Jackie thanks for checking up, just a misunderstanding on my part.”

Gotcha, well let me know if I can help with anything”. She is such a good soul, till this day I am stumped as to why she chose to be down here with me and some stiffs. With a warm heart like hers she could have been upstairs making sure people don’t come down here.

 

I look back at the clock reading 1:50 PM. I got 12 hours before whatever is in this note occurs. I have to go investigate this, guess Dr. Dearling will get his wish after all. Let’s hope I come back (COMEBACK AT ALL OR COME BACK IN TIME FOR SOMETHING?).

I finish on the last stiff, disappointed as usual. Death has a time and place but human nature loves getting on the express train to meet it early like an overzealous first date. Clock reads 10:46 PM. That letter has been on my mind the whole day not even the stiffs have helped to quiet it down. Something about the hand writing seemed familiar I just couldn’t place it before. I went into my office to take another look at it. The note is hand written in black ink by someone with poor penmanship, written on standard printer paper. I checked the flip side and there were no indentations that usually occur when something is written on. Either this was written with a light pressure or some other means of printing in a handwriting style. The letters are written perfectly in line with no abnormal spacing. This must have been a well-planned and thought out before it was created. Nevertheless, I feel as if I am missing an obvious clue. I hold up the letter to the light expecting a watermark, but to no avail. As I put down the paper on I notice that the “T” in august has a familiar twirl to it.

 

I get a cold feeling, a realization that I don’t want to admit. Hand shaking I reach over for a pen and copy in my own handwriting the message. The two line look identical in style. Mine is more disorganized and rushed but the style of writing is mine. How is that possible?! I jerk up knocking over my chair. Shock over takes me, have I completely lost it? I have no recollection of writing this. Impossible, I have always been proud of my logical and stable mind. I might be cynical but I’ve never lost my faculties. I notice that I am tachycardic and hyperventilating. I quickly reach into my desk and grab a pill of Alprazolam. Dr. Gonzalez gave them to me during my last yearly checkup. Said “You’re so high strung Merrill, let me write you a script just in case you have an episode”. I didn’t feel like fighting him on his statement and just accepted it knowing I’d never take one. It wasn’t such a foolish idea now. I picked up the chair already feeling more collected. Without even acknowledging the (REST OF THE?) possibilities that this envelope entails, I shove it into my breast pocket of my coat and storm out. I have an hour drive ahead of me.

 

It’s 1:35 am as I arrive to the coordinates. I look around but there is nothing here. Just a two lane road out in the back roads. I must be deeply disturbed following some random note into the night in Sandtrap, Mississippi. Seems like a good way to get myself shot. I get out of my car to take a better view of the surroundings. My right arm starts shaking again the Alprazolam must be wearing off plus my high cortisol levels aren’t helping with my nerves. The paroxysmal thing is that I have no idea why I am nervous there is nothing around but trees for miles, not even a passing by car this late at night. My wrist watch reads 1:42 am. Nothing happens, I take a breath of relief. I really must be getting over worked. Maybe what Dr. Dearling said has some merit. I open my car door with the intent of going home and opening a beer. As I was about to sit down the sound of screeching tires followed by a thunder clap of metal being crushed screams towards me. I immediately jump to attention, the sound came from around the bend of the road. I jump into my car and speed off(TOWARDS IT?) to see if somebody is injured , it has to be a horrible car accident. As I pull up around the corner the sight of two flipped over 18 wheeler trucks aflame seemed like a scene from an action movie. Upon closer examination there are men running around who seem to be in military uniforms. Must have been a transport convoy of some sort, but so late at night?

 

I cranked down my window as I approached there were two semi-trucks on their side, both engines a blaze. Glass and blood everywhere. The contents of the truck seemed to have spilled out. They looked like massive bio-hazard containment vessels. There are some soldiers that are lying motionless on the floor and others that are running around frantically. Hoping to grab the attention of a soldier seeing if they need medical assistance. A young kid no older than 20 shouting “keep it moving” towards me. I yell out “I am a doctor, I can help”. To no avail,(RECENTLY USED THIS PHRASE – MAYBE FIND ANOTHER) the soldier kept shouting “Please keep moving sir” in a stern tone of voice but his body showing the clear signs of panic.

 

Strange that they didn’t want my help. Might have been some top secret cargo that they didn’t want me to see, who knows. The panic of the situation subsided, and it dawned on me that I witnessed that accident on purpose, somebody knew that this will occur and wanted me here. Once this realization dawned (HIT?) me the right tremor in my arm came back in double force. How in the hell did that letter know that was going to happen? The facts that I know: unknown letter with time and location in what possibly is my own handwriting, foreknowledge of an unpredictable event. There are only two clear options it was staged meaning that all those men got hurt due to malicious intent or somehow these events were predicted. I am of scientific nature but right now I’d believe in the tooth fairy with a smoking addiction over what just happened.

 

Part II – A Discovery

 

My alarm blared at 5:45 am but I was already wide awake in bed. Its welcoming to sleep at home once in a while, makes me think I am younger than I actually am. My apartment overlooks a cheap 24/7 Chinese restaurant with white neon lights in the front reading “Crem Sum Gy”. The light is always on and penetrates every wall of my apartment, probably why I got such a good deal on it. I stood by the window with my coffee mug filled with yesterday’s cold coffee glaring blindly onto the silent streets outside trying not to acknowledge what has transpired within the last 24 hours. Was it possible it was all dream? Maybe Dr. Dearling was right and I do need to take it easy. 2 years ago I would have (MAYBE AT THE WORLD FREQUENTLY SO IT DOESN’T SOUND LIKE YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT THAT NIGHT) never slept in the morgue but now it is a normal occurrence.

 

I start to feel more steady on my feet as I reach the bottom of my coffee cup. I walk into the kitchen to place it into the sink as I hear my phone ring. The caller ID reads “Snaptrap General Hospital”. Great its probably some ER attending that forgot to set up a DDX. I pick up the line and I hear a panicked nurse blab “Hello, Dr. Hatins I know it’s your day off but you are needed at the morgue immediately”. I ask her “What is the situation”? She replies “All I know is that there was a military vehicles accident and we got 5 of the soldiers admitted in the ER and 2 of them passed away even though they were stabilized. My right arm starts shaking. A deep unsettling feeling starts to sink into the pit of my stomach. This means that last night wasn’t a dream, it actually happened. I replied with a shaky voice “OK nurse, I will be there as soon as I can”. I grab my scrubs storming out of the apartment thinking how in the bloody hell was last night true(TRUE OR REAL?).

 

The elevator door to the morgue opened and there I was immediately greeted by two soldiers who were blocking my way in. The taller blond one turns to me and ask for my identification in a tone of voice that can only be acquired from years of being berated. “Identification, sir.” I show him my ID badge and he quickly glances back at me confirming. “Colonel Davis is expecting you, this way”. What is a Colonel doing in my morgue? It can’t be because he knew I was at the accident site last night. I never got a chance to give out my name. I entered through the double doors instantly being greeted by Jackie’s distressed facial expression sitting in a chair shaking with fright and another man I have never seen before whom I am guessing is this Colonel Davis. He look in his mid 40’s, salt and pepper hair, cleanly shaven with a perfectly ironed uniform. His composure displayed a demand for full attention no matter the subject matter or person. Before I could open my mouth in retort of the invasion of soldiers into my morgue I was interrupted. “Is there somewhere we can speak privately Dr. Hatins?” said the Colonel. I let go of the air I built up in my lungs to combat him and replied “Yes, please follow me to my office”.

 

“Please feel free to sit Colonel” I said. Without word he remained standing with his hands folded behind his back. “Dr. Hatins, I don’t know how much information you were given, but I have a request form from my commanding officer, Brigadier General Cunnings, that you perform the autopsy on the two lieutenants that were admitted earlier today. In addition, these cases have been marked Top Secret. You have been granted provisional clearance until you complete your work. I have spoken to your (MISSING WORD?) Dr. Dearling to (INSTEAD OF TO – WHO HAS AGREED TO) give you full autonomy and the clear your case load for the time being. You will have two sergeants, which I believe you have met, outside the elevator guarding and restricting access to you throughout this procedure.”

 

A way of relief slightly overruns me due to there being no mention of me at the site of the accident but then another curiosity arises. “Colonel is there a particular reason I was chosen for this task?” “You are the only pathologist within the Snaptrap area that has enough experience to deal with these cases” said the Colonel. How unfortunate for me then. “What if I need to order labs or look up findings, how shall I go about that with the soldiers blocking the exit?” I asked. “The two sergeants posted outside will provide you with all resources required” he replied. On that last word he turned around, leaving my office as he opened the door his last statement was “We request that you have the results within the next 8 hours”.

 

As I was about to ask for the patient records he slammed the door shut. I heard the clacking of his boots nearing the elevator, some indistinguishable speak followed by a loud resounding “yes, sir”. I got out of my office and rushed to Jackie who was still in her chair frightened. She projected panicked confusion without saying a word. I come closer to her grabbing her shoulder I ask “Hey, Jackie you alright?” She looks up at me and with a quivering lip she stutters her answer “Umm yes Doctor, they just told me to give you these and to leave. I am not allowed to assist you today, I am sorry.” I immediately replied “Hey now you got nothing to worry about this is just a special military request it will be all over by tomorrow, why don’t you go home take the day off.” She gets up “OK doctor thank you, here are the case files and there is a level 4 bio-hazard warning placed on the bodies. They didn’t tell em (US?) why”. She walks off with her head down hugging herself. Poor girl, those men had no right to scare her like that.

 

My attention immediately shifted to the level 4 bio-hazard warning. That’s only used for highly contagious infections. Could this be due to the large biological containment vessel I saw this morning?

Sitting here guessing isn’t going to give me any answers. Let’s open up these cases, maybe I can glean what actually happened. Both soldiers are in their 20’s. Presented to ED from a motor vehicle accident. Both sustained abrasions sprained ribs and contusions. Their CBC/Chem 7 was normal. Neither patients suffered blood loss or fractures. Four hours post admission both patients developed thrombocytopenia followed by low grade fever. Everything else was insignificant. Both patients received donor platelets and were monitored. Shortly after, the platelet count kept decreasing and fever rose to 39.6 degrees Celsius. Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC) was suspected, appropriate measures were executed unfortunately to no avail and both patients passed around 7 am this morning. The pre-autopsy etiology was thought to be septic shock from an unknown infectious agent. On the side margin I spotted a hand written note by the attending “military posted (RIGHT WORD?) with patients with complete lock down, request nobody but I administer care”.

 

I finished reading the file, seeing that both patients were previously healthy and they did not receive any major trauma from the accident that only leaves the possibility that whatever was in those vessel must have caused this. Wonderful, now I have two class 4 stiffs that may still harbor a rapidly acting contagion. Let’s hope my lab can contain whatever this is, because if this got out it wouldn’t be fun at all. Wish Jackie was here to assist things always go smoother with her here not that I’ll ever admit that to her. When she left she was so distraught and the unknown etiology of this infection makes me think it’s probably a good thing she isn’t here. I took off my coat before stepping to scrub up making sure the envelope was still inside the breast pocket, if anybody know I was there I would have to answers questions I don’t have the answers to.

 

I knew it was going to be frustrating working in a bio containment suit. I haven’t done anything like this since residency. The doubled gloves and visor deprived me of vital sensory input, it also slowed down my movements tremendously. Since the lab wasn’t equipped with the modern tech I had to carry a 25lb respiratory unit on my back that needed refilling every 75 minutes. I wholly expected this to take 2-3 time longer than normal. I looked over to the clock it read 10:43 am.

 

3:57 pm, it took me about 6 hours to complete two stiff work ups, those suits really did slow me down. According to my preliminary findings the stiffs both died from a DIC reaction caused by septic shock. The only factor that stands out is that the onset and death occurred so rapidly. I obtained a culture, it came back Gram negative but I couldn’t identify it through microscope. The morphology was unlike I have ever seen before. It reminded me of mycoplasma but it had peptidoglycan membrane. As I walked outside the lab, the puppet like sergeant approached me with military stride and asked “Dr. Hatings have you completed your exams?” I replied “I have some preliminary findings but nothing conclusive yet, it will require further testing. I cultured a bacteria from both the patients and will need to send it to the Center for Disease Control to grow (CAN THEY REALLY DO THAT IN 8 HOURS) and analyze it.” I could see a small level of discomfort cross the sergeants face. He had a cold stoic face, just like the colonel, but with less age lines. As soon as I mentioned a possible infectious agent his pupils widened as if (AS IF? IT WAS.) his flight or fight response was active. I wonder if he knows what it really is. Nevertheless he held his composure and said “I will summon Colonel Davis immediately and will have to ask you to forfeit all samples that you have attained from your autopsies.” “Sergeant that is unacceptable I won’t be able to reach a diagnosis without my samples!” I replied. Without a shred of respect (MAYBE WORD EMPATHY INSTEAD) he stated “Colonel Davis will be here shortly to explain all following procedures. Please await his arrival in your office.” Before I could emit a single voice of rebuttal he turned around and went back to his post. As infuriating as it is to be told what to do this gives me some extra time with the data to do some digging.

 

I sat in my chair thinking about how the hell I got myself into this situation. If I had not gotten that letter and had not been at the crash site, would they have chosen me to be the pathologist? A stranger question is; would that accident have happened without me being there? I stared across the room to where my coat hung, realizing that the jacket had slightly shifted from where I placed it. A wave of panic washed over me. Have the soldiers seen my letter? Am I being told to stay put because they think I am a suspect in the cause of the accident? I reach into the breast pocket of the jacket and found the envelope there as I left it. I pulled it out to make sure the letter was still in the envelope. The front still has the friendly letter in bold saying “DON’T PANIC” written on it. I unfold the top flap to pull out the piece of paper as I unfold it my heart turns cold, as if an engine has just been turned over. The writing in the letter has changed. It’s not coordinates anymore, it has a sentence written in the same size and style as the previous entry. It read “Glanders, don’t let the 3 survivors leave the hospital.” I put down the letter with a shaky hand completely dumbfounded on how this came to be. What or who is Glanders? How does the letter know about the 3 survivors? Nobody could have written this, the whole morgue is on lock down. The letters knowledge of the 3 survivors is one thing, but what is Glanders is that the name of one of the patients or some fact that I’ve never heard of. I got into my chair and pulled up the current patient registrar and typed in Glanders with zero results. Interesting so it isn’t a person, then it has to be some sort of medical fact. I opened up the online medical archive and typed in Glanders, 3 results appeared.

 

A case file from 1935, bacterial microorganism entry and a historic CDC warning. I opened the case file. It was in a format that I have never seen before. Honestly surprised that we even have such an old file digitally cataloged. It states the patients age of 42 and sex male. List generic symptoms and cause of death determined to be pneumonia leading to pulmonary failure. Next, I clicked on the bacterial analysis which was from 1972. It stated that the bacteria is a Gram-negative called Burkholderia Mallei, it’s usually an equestrian infection but it crosses over into human population in rare occasions. It causes nodular lesions in the lungs with ulcerating lesions in the upper respiratory tract and has antibiotic resistance and death which occured 3 days post infection with no treatment. Common name for infection is Glanders.

 

Can this be the infection that killed those two men? I didn’t find any lung nodules on the autopsy though, and both men perished within 12 hours of exposure. Could the government have modified the bacteria to increase its virulence factor? The last entry in the search output is the historic CDC warning. First dispatched in 1945, “B. Mallei, dangerous pathogen report all cases to CDC. Addendum in 1978, all international travels to Soviet Union controlled countries may have been exposed to pathogen. Quarantine possible infected individuals and await CDC orders.” There must have been some strong strain in the USSR or is it possible that it was modified as some sort of cold war weapon. It could be likely that the US had their own biological warfare program and also created a weaponized strain.

 

So the facts lead to the possibiliy that I might be harboring two stiffs with a cold war weaponized bacterial pathogen that some letter forewarned me about. Maybe Dr. Dearling had a point after all. I must be going mental. I soon realized that the letter also mentioned that there were 3 soldiers that I had to contain. It must have spoken about the survivors of the accident upstairs. I immediately picked up the phone and dialed the nurse’s station in the ICU. On the other line a southern female accented answered “Nurse Betty speaking”. “Nurse this is Dr. Hatins from pathology, have the 3 soldiers been discharged yet?” “The care of the soldiers was transferred over to the military physician, last I heard they were transferred out by military EMT around 11 in the morning.” My heart rate jumped 100 bpm twice in one day due to what a nurse has told me. They have got to be infected with the agent still. “Thanks” I said to the nurse as I slammed the phone. Damn it, I have to find and quarantine those men. This has got to be what the letter warned me about. I can’t let this come to fruition. It’s not too late, I just have to get in touch with Colonel Davis.

 

Part III- White Lights

 

Knock Knock Knock resounds on my office door, without allowing me a chance to question it the door is swung open with Colonel Davis behind it. Now him being here in front of me all pent up energy for action disappears and only fear is left. (EDIT) What if I wasn’t supposed to figure out what the cause of death was, could it have been a test to see if I am hiding something? How am I supposed to explain my knowledge where there are clearly steps missing? I didn’t have the cultures analyzed. I wasn’t able to identify the organism on the microscope. An unknown letter from lord knows who or what, warned me of what is occurring. How on earth am I supposed to explain that to him? I slowly stood up to meet the Colonels gaze at eye level as dread for what may happen to me slowly crawled into every gyri and sulcus.

 

“Hello, Dr. Hatins, do you have the results of the autopsy?” the colonel asked. “Yes, well sort of, I have made some preliminary findings but nothing conclusive yet.” I replied. This time he helped himself to a seat in front of my desk. “Well, Colonel Davis this sure wasn’t an easy case especially under such a time and resource constriction.” He acknowledged my hardship with the same superficial smile a retail clerk gives you. “Both men were in the same motor vehicle accident but from my analysis that is not the factor that contributed to their demise.” I watched his face closely to see if there would be some clues given from his body language as to what he is expecting me to say. Reading him however was impossible. I continued “Upon further investigation it seemed that somehow these men suffered from the same exact infection that overtook their body and caused them to go into organ failure.” His face still stoic as a statue. “I was able to obtain a sample of the organism from each body but couldn’t identify anything significant. I was going to send the sample for analysis but your men wouldn’t allow me to until your arrival.” He finally said “I see, well doctor thank you for all your assistance. We will collect all your data, samples and the bodies from you momentarily.” He stood up extended his hand produced the fake salesman smile again “You did a great service to your country, thank you Dr. Hatins.” As he turns around and grabs the door knob on his way to leave I jump up and blabber “Glanders!” The colonel stops mid twist slowly lets go of the knob and faces me. His gratuitous smile now gone and in its stead a cold piercing glare is prominent, the kind you receive when you’re on the wrong side of the interrogation table. He speaks in a clear slow tone “Can you please repeat yourself doctor?” My courage had immediately disappeared as I put myself back into my seat “I said I think it’s Glanders, sir.” Davis came closer to my desk but did not sit down this time. “Can you please explain to me what Glanders is doctor and how you came to this conclusion?” I knew that he knew what I was talking about, he was testing to determine how much I really know. “Yes of course, it’s an infectious lethal bacteria that kills its victims quickly. It was happenstance that I was able to deduce this hypothesis.” “I see” said the colonel with a long pause in between his words. “So this was just your professional opinion?” I could see ___ (MISSING WORD) in his body lessen to a degree. “Well doctor, seems to me that you really have outdone yourself. I think you should accompany me back to base.”

 

My heart was beating so loudly that I could have sworn the colonel heard it. Now due to my big mouth there was no way I would be getting out of this easy. We went outside, both sergeants following behind in unison. It was already dark outside, the whole day flew by while I was working. Colonel Davis signaled over a military Humvee to approach. As it gets near the colonel turns around and says “I do apologize for this doctor but I will have to blindfold you.” I didn’t have a chance to voice an opinion on the matter as one of the sergeants placed a black cloth bag over my head and walked me into the rear seat of the Humvee. I have never been in a military vehicle before. I always imagined that they were crude but did not expect how much. The seats stiff as wooden boards and it felt as if instead of having a suspension the vehicle was put on stilts that allowed every bump to resonate throughout it. I attempted to time my travel but it was to no avail, the noise and worry took over any concentration that I could muster. The only thing on my mind was how I would explain this. I could have easily said nothing and would have been left alone. This all started due to that darn forsaken letter. How on the earth did I get it and what was it? I have been so busy with the stiffs I haven’t really had time to think everything out. At no point was the morgue occupied by anyone but Jackie and the soldiers, and no way Jackie had anything to do with this. That means it was impossible for it to be placed there by a person. The only logical explanation must be that I am losing my mind. Full blown split personality disorder. In the midst of my self blame I it occurred to me that the letter was still in my breast pocket. If they find it I have no possible way to explain it or deny it as its written in my handwriting. I slowly move my right hand over to my chest to feel for the contours of the envelope to see if it really is there as the vehicle’s breaks screech as it comes to a halt.

 

“We have arrived Dr. Hatins.” Colonel Davis States. The blindfold was kept on me as I was led out of the Humvee and into what can only be a scientific facility of sorts. All science buildings always have the same distinctive cleaning solution smell. After a short walk, I was stopped and turned around and the blindfold was removed. What I saw was a basic freight elevator with metal walls and a fence lift gate. The two sergeant were standing behind me with their weapons drawn but pointed down. Guess they are making sure there isn’t any “Funny Business”. Davis without looking at me states “Doctor, we are taking you to meet with our lead scientist on this Glanders situation. He is expecting you.” The elevator stopped at subbasement 9. As the doors opened, a white fluorescent light engulfed the dark elevator slightly blinding me. Everything was white from ceiling to floor and completely spotless. The colonel stepped forward and I was shoved by the sergeant on the left to move forward. Colonel Davis stopped in front of a white door with a sign that read “SB9X” on it. “This is Doctor Costair’s laboratory. We will have you sign a confidentiality agreement on your way out but just as a warning you will be prosecuted under military law not civilian due to having provisional top secret clearance if anything is to occur.” He leaned over, turned the knob and signaled me to walk inside. As I did, the door was shut behind me.

 

“Oh, please come in Dr. Hatins” a voice shouted across the room. It had a fluffy and kind characteristic behind it, reminiscent of the nutty professor from that Eddie Murphy movie. When the voice grew closer, my suspicions were confirmed. In front of me stood a middle aged white man with a lab coat with a BMI above what it should have been. In my morgue his autopsy would most probably be routine. “I am Doctor Costair pleasure to make your acquaintance. My apologies for the colonel he can be quiet a stiff sometimes.” I chuckled in response but not to Costair’s joke but to his unknowing of comparing the colonel to what I refer to my patients as. He continued “I was elated to hear that you were coming after knowing that you performed an autopsy on the infected individuals. We have never had human trials so all your information is brand new to us.” I was dumbfounded by how this man was excited in a childlike manner about something so deadly. Sensing my confusion, Costair replied “Oh doctor please don’t take me for a brute, I have the utmost worry about the possible damages and loss of life that has occurred in our little accident, it’s just it is so rare to see any one of our experiments field tested.” He gasped for air mid-sentence and continued “From the preliminary reports from Colonel Davis it states that you were able to figure out our base organism. That’s incredible you must be an extraordinary pathologist.” I never reacted well to praise it always felt unwarranted and disingenuous. “Well, I wouldn’t say that, let’s just say I got lucky” I replied. He laughed in retort to my statement “You might say you got lucky, Doctor Hatins, but we have spent large sums of government money and years of biological modifications to ensure that it wouldn’t be recognizable yet you did it in under 8 hours. Therefore, please share your findings and ideas I am eager to hear them.”

 

“It was a perplexing case, two men post MVC presented with mild trauma which developed spontaneously to septic shock, the culture only shown gram negative characteristics but apart from that no other major identifiable features were found. No endo or exotoxins were found in the blood stream. The bacteria caused the patients to go into DIC which had an acute onset, leading inevitably to their death even with supportive treatment. Then there were 3 other men that came in with the two deceased but they displayed no signs or symptoms of illness and from my recollection were transferred into military care. That’s all I have.” the last sentence being a lie. “I see” said Costair. He started rubbing his chin in puzzlement. After a few moments he said “Well, you see here Dr. Hatins, the strange thing about your report is that our design of pathogenesis was supposed to be late onset. The idea behind this pathogen was to create carriers with minimal initial symptoms which would spread the bacteria amongst the population then after a weeks time massive hemorrhage due to multiple clotting signaling failure.” He started passing in the lab looking down “I told the director that until field tests occurred I would never really know how it truly worked but they never listen you know?” As he continued to pace the room his chin slowly rose up and his eyes widened. Panic started to invade his body. This caught my attention immediately. What could he be thinking? He finally stopped looked at me with horror Umm doctor you previously stated that the other 3 men that were taken into our facilities earlier today displayed no symptoms, is that correct?”. Perplexed as to why he would ask me this again I replied “Why yes, I wasn’t the attending physician and due to the military restrictions I wasn’t privy to their medical charts but yes they were cleared.” “AHHHHH” screamed Dr. Costair. “Then there is a chance that the pathogen did work as intended on those men and they are carriers. A cough or sneeze will easily transfer it. I need to quarantine these men immediately!” He ran over to the phone dialed 3 numbers, someone answered immediately. “This is Doctor Costair from research station 7X I need to speak to the physician on duty immediately.” Less than 2 minutes go by and he gets a reply. “This is Doctor Costair , I am issuing a Code 42 on 3 soldiers that you received from a civilian hospital transfer today. Oh they did?” His voice slowly builds up from a tremor to a full stammer. “And umm where could they be now? They were discharged with relocation orders? OK, contact the commanding officer immediately and tell them about the Code 42.” His hands shake as he puts down the phone and like a contagious yawn my right arm starts shaking too. Perspiration builds up on his forehead, his eyes darting side to side as of not knowing what action of a multitude to take first. I ask “What’s the problem?” He looks up at me breathing heavily “The 3 men, they have been discharged from the hospital with a clean bill of health. Then they got immediate relocation orders. They must have been in contact with dozens of people by now.” Slowly the realization was dawning on me that there is a possibility that the pathogen worked on those 3 men as it was designed to. Chills start to crawl down my back, both hands covered in sweat. I grabbed Doctor Costair by the shoulder and with what was left of my courage ask him “There has to be something we can do, we can’t allow this to spread millions will be killed in a manner of weeks!” He stares right at me with his eyes filling up with tears “ I...I ordered the return but… but it could be too late.” his voice drifts off with his last word as if he has completely shut down all mental faculties. I stood back in disbelief thinking of how I was told to stop the soldiers but I failed. I was forewarned about this entire disaster step by step and did nothing to stop it. Why me? Why was I selected for this? I felt completely paralyzed by my own failure, lost in self-doubt and distaste for myself. There were no further actions to take the spread has begun and we were too late to stop it. One thought lingered as a spider’s silk holds on in a storm. It was of the envelope. I reached into my pocket taking it out expecting to see the bold red letters reading “DON’T PANIC” on the cover but it has been replaced with the same lettering but the ‘don’t’ disappeared leaving only “PANIC”. I open it and remove the letter hoping for another piece of advice a way out of this situation. I unfold it to see that it has new writing on it “Failure #8, pre-event warning unsuccessful. Program: Time revision attempt #9 initiated. Don’t blame yourself Marrell.” Dumbfounded and beaten I see that Dr. Costair is looking at my envelope the first person apart from me to know of its existence. He asked “What do you have there?”

I look at him as if I was in confessional, “I am sorry, I knew all along and I couldn’t stop it. It’s all my fault. But don’t you worry, they said they will try again.”


© Copyright 2017 Daniel Dvoskin. All rights reserved.

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