One for the road – fast fiction ~Title/genre/subject by AfroCelt~
“CRAP,” Jon shouted as he ran. The shuttle to the main campus was leaving in less than a minute and he was still putting his presentation together. Jon reached up and pressed the button on the intercom and waiting for the beeps.
“Mark, can you and Jeanette hold the shuttle for another five minutes. I need to gather up the supplies for my presentation.”
“I don’t know Jon,” Jeanette’s sultry voice echoed through the small speaker. “I mean, yeah, the presentation will fall flat without you. But I don’t want to get in trouble for being late.”
“Jeanette, listen… I don’t want to be in trouble either, but if I don’t get all the stuff in order the trouble we’re in will be worse than it would be for just being late,” Jon argued.
“Hmmph,” Jeanette sighed. “We’ll hold the shuttle Jon, but for everyone who complains, we’ll send them your way.”
“Oh thanks Jeanette, seriously… Thank you.”
Jon went back to bustling around in his laboratory, throwing things into a box and rolling up large pieces of paper. After a final quick look around the lab, Jon picked up a small glass box with specimens in it and gingerly placed it on top of the box. With that, he headed to the shuttle port, carefully carrying the box and papers. He made it on the shuttle, and got to hear the complaints and admonishments from his co-workers. Jon sat down carefully, his face scarlet, he spent the time while departure was being prepped shifting the box contents around so they didn’t break or fall over. The flight over was unremarkable, and when they landed, the control at the main campus was testy from their late arrival. Once again Jon had to make apologies, and he carried his box down the hall. As he neared the the conference hall, one of the previous presenters ran out and knocked Jon over. His box went flying and by the time he regathered everything he was much later than he expected to be.
“I apologize for my tardiness director,” Jon said as he set up his presentation. As he placed the vials and specimen boxes in the center of the table and busied himself with finishing the set up one of the directors moved to look at a vial.
“Please be careful Director Malachi,” said Jon. “If just one drop of that virus got out, the whole compound would be infected, and we’d have to bomb the place to kill it off.”
The director pulled his hand away quickly and in the process, his sleeve got caught on the box and pulled the whole set over, breaking a few of the vials. Jon stared dumbfounded as the viruses mixed on the table, and quickly began evaporating. The directors stood and stared between Malachi, the evaporating liquid, and Jon.
Jon ran over to the door and pressed the Emergency button, and heard the klaxon blare through the large compound. Jon stared at the directors sadly.
“Well then, it’s time for you all to go to your suites and manage your last rites, directions to the rest of the compounds, and any other personal businesses. Only myself and a few others have been inoculated against these strains and gone through the quarantine lock.”
The directors stumbled back to their quarters while Jon stood there, staring at his now lost hard work. He paced around the room, then went to the small trash can in the corner and threw up. When he stood, wiping his mouth, he began to laugh. His laughter started small, moved to hysterics and ended as suddenly as it started. Breathing heavily, Jon walked to the intercom and pressed the buttons to summon the shuttle bay.
“Jeanette, Mark, either of you there,” Jon asked.
“I’m here,” Mark answered, the klaxon blaring in the background.
“Listen, run into the detox tent there and press in 52B-3J1. I’ll be there and need you to take me back to the outlying estates so I can monitor the compound.”
“You got it Jon, I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
Jon turned the intercom system off and walked to the control panel. He activated the sequences needed for complete lock down and monitoring, and made sure that his password was the only one able to change anything and then walked back to the shuttle bay. He saw Mark hopping on the balls of his feet, waiting, while the other people finished lock down procedure.
“We leaving the compound Jon? I don’t see how, the bays are all locked,” Mark whispered when Jon got beside him.
“Did you enter the code into the detox chamber and follow the instructions,” Jon asked, ignoring the question.
“Well yeah, even though waiting for two minutes seemed to take forever, i stood in there for an extra 15 seconds to be sure.”
“Good. Actually, perfect,” Jon smiled. “Let me get out of these clothes and go through the sanitizer, while you take the ship to the med lock, Ok?” Jon watched as Mark walked off and started removing all of his clothes. When he got to the chamber, he dumped his clothes in the incinerator and walked through the sanitizing shower. The chemicals and hot water stung, but when he made it into the sterile bay he saw the ship and a baffled Mark waiting for him. He grabbed a coat and stepped into the bay.
“Listen man, my code won’t open the door. We can’t leave.”
“Take a run though the shower there, and burn your clothes. I’ll have us ready to leave when you’re back.”
“JON, are you listening to a word I say here,” Mark yelled.
“Yes, I am. And I can get us out of here. And I know what’s happening, I ran the scenario so many times. Listen, I’m scared, but I’m holding things together, you need to do it too.”
Mark nodded and stripped and ran into the sanitizer shower. Jon could hear Mark screaming, and wondered numbly why things happened this way. As his mind was wandering, Mike came staggering out of the shower and grabbed a coat similar to the one Jon was wearing. As Mike staggered into the shuttle, Jon watched him with a blank expression.
“Jon, did you clear the ship to leave yet?
“Hmm? Oh, No…. Hold on,” Jon said, snapping out of his daze. He punched some buttons, and spoke a few quiet words into the console of the shuttle and the bay doors opened to the setting sun. Jon stared at the sunlight and smiled slightly, then his face fell. He looked down at Mike and sighed.
“We need to get out of here and back to my lab Mike, it’s urgent. I only have half of the antigen done for those viruses, and since they’re both so virile, i don’t know if I’ll be able to calculate the mutations fast enough to save anyone.”
Mike just stared at Jon in disbelief for a moment, then concentrated on the docking procedures. As the ship touched down, Mike looked up again at Jon.
“Jon, do i have the virus too,” he asked quietly.
“It’s quite possible, yes. You got an antibody that would shut down any functions of the virus for only a short time, maybe another 30 minutes, and from there you’ll have to go into the quarantine tube in my lab so I can monitor you, and the rest of the people in the main compound. I can only hope that you’re safe and healthy though.”
“If i have it, is it going to hurt?”
“Yes,” answered Jon, looking away from his friend.
“Am i going to die?”
“I hope not.”
“Oh,” said Mike while staring at his hands.
“Comon, we need to get you in the quarantine area in my lab, the faster we get there the safer everyone is, including yourself,” Jon said, putting on a forced smile.
Mike stood up and left the ship, following behind Jon, his numb expression matching Jon’s almost completely. Jon turned once, to look at his friend, but unable to think of anything to say, they marched on. The lab and office were close, and the small outlying campus was deserted. Everyone had gone in for their meetings, meals, and nightly rest. Jon sealed the lab, then sealed Mike in a room attached to the lab. He summoned dinner and clothes by the work drones that were left for those who needed to work through a rest cycle. When everything arrived, Jon sent it over through the locking tube system. He set the machines and computers to analyze everything in the room with Jon, and then pulled up a chair to sit by his friend after he had pulled his clothes on.
The machines whirred, and the computer occasionally beeped. Jon checked the updates on his small portable pad. So far, things were looking good for Mike, but the main compound was fading fast. The two viruses had mutated into one singular virus. The strengths of both were evident, and some of the weaknesses were diminished. When checking on the Directors, especially Director Malachi, the computer picked up less brain waves than should have been present. Drastically so, yet the hindrances and pain receptors seemed to also be dulled as was evident from all the bruises, scrapes, and cuts. He also seemed to have some sort of strength boost, and apparently one of the viruses activated a few retroviruses in the system, because he was breaking out in large boils and a few black patches had appeared. Some of the employees from in the bays had only just started the mutation, their skin covered with bruises and small wounds, but their brains were still high functioning. Jon flipped the wall screen on so he and Mike could watch together. Mike couldn’t understand what the constant scrolling under the smaller viewing windows meant, but he could see the progression. Jon scanned the quarantine area again to see if the virus had cropped up, and had the computer reanalyze the air in the directors chambers. When the statistics came back, both men stared in horror. Mike had the virus, and it had started attacking his immune system. The directors were almost brain dead, shambling around their rooms, violently attacking anything they came into contact with. Jon typed instructions into the computer, ran a few calculations, and then set the computer to work, trying to get some kind of effective antigen or quick producing genetic key that could block further progression of the virus.
Mike watched the progress of the people in the compound as the computers gathered and stored the data. Jon on the other hand spent that same time in calculations and deep thought. As the virus progressed in Mike, Jon kept running tests. After 15 exhausting hours, the men slept, and were awoken to another alarm. The local security group had decided to investigate the lock down of the main compound and broke into the area. Mike and Jon watched in horror as the beasts that were once human shambled from their rooms and suites. The infected fell upon those who invaded, letting little take them down but the complete severance of their spinal cord at the base of the skull. That took the soldiers quite a few casualties and injuries to find out. Jon accessed the intercom system when he saw a small group of soldiers huddled by one on the screen.
“Hey… Hey there… What force are you from,” Jon asked, startling a few of the soldiers.
“We’re from the 42nd, that’s stationed two compounds over. When the emergency warning was triggered we were sent,” one of the men answered.
“I’m sorry to say that your presence is what doomed you.”
“What do you mean,” another soldier demanded, shoving the first man out of the way.
“A totally lethal set of viruses was accidentally released into the compound, and it was closed on medical lock down. You broke in and caused a breach. Aside from the fact that you are now infected too, the airborne infection is now spreading to the rest of the world.”
Mike began to seize in the quarantine room and Jon turned his attention to his friend for a moment. The intercom speaker flared to life with the sound of rapid gunfire and screams. When Jon looked back to the screen where the soldiers stood, he only saw a bloody smear, and a few of the infected clumsily feeding on the shredded flesh.
Jon looked over at his friend who lay on the small and uncomfortable cot with his eyes closed. After a moment Mike opened his eyes.
“Jon,” Mike coughed. “You have to get out of here… Take your data, because before… you know it, the whole planet will be infected… Set the natural defense system. I know you know the code for it… even though you’re not supposed to.”
“I,” Jon said.
“Set it for 2 days, and put a land lock on. I can set that up, the only shuttle that…. will be able to leave will be the one we… came here on. Give me control on the data pad… Hurry… I feel my mind… slipping.”
Jon hit some keys and the pad near Mike’s hand flared to life. Mike feverishly pressed some buttons, spoke a few commands, and pressed a few long series of codes in. When the typing was complete, Mike collapsed back onto the bed.
“Done,” he gasped.
Jon stared at Mike and then began setting up the self destruct of the human zone of the planet. The whole process took less than thirty minutes. Jon occasionally glanced up to see his friend either in the middle of a seizure, or laying terribly still on the cot.
“Jon,” Mike asked. “Kill me now… Please… This pain is too much… I don’t want to… be like them… I… I want to die…. with some dignity left.”
Jon stared for a long moment, then nodded. He pressed the button that sent first a knockout gas into the chamber, then finally a fairly painless gas to asphyxiate his friend while he slept. Jon watched the process with tears in his eyes, then he set the computer to store the gathered information onto his portable drives. While the computer was transferring data, he turned his attention back to the wall screen and watched as a few soldiers escaped back to their shuttle, only to find it land locked, and they ran on foot, trying to reach another compound. The infected that had been following them perused clumsily. Jon turned away from the screens and went to his desk drawer. In there was hidden a small bottle. He cracked the seal on it’s lid, and lifted the bottle to the sky.
“One for the road,” Jon muttered, tossing back the liquid in a single gulp. He looked at the bottle in his hand, and then let it fall to the ground as he picked up his portable memory port and headed toward the shuttle to his freedom.