biohazard suit’s bulky gloves made it hard for Dr. Lillith Watkins to program
the car’s destination. But the Racal
suit, with its self-contained oxygen tanks, was necessary in this part of
Boston. Mahn’s disease had been
detected in this, the industrial sector.
a junior researcher at the Center for Disease Control, was here to check the
quarantine and disinfection of a computer assembly plant. It had been shut down when ninety-six of its
workers were diagnosed with the disease.
of Mahn’s had taken the lives of thousands in Moscow, London, and Paris. It was Lillith’s job to make sure the
disease didn’t get a foothold in the United States.
van rounded the corner and the three-story plant loomed into view. It was tented with blue-green plastic, like
a house about to be fumigated.
Stenciled in white lettering was the name of the company: Davis
pulled to a stop in front of the factory and popped open the van’s cargo
George Danvers and Isabetta Schneza, also in biohazard suits, climbed out of
the back of the van and unloaded the wipes and the squat air sampler that would
detect viral particles.
the virus was not detected, the owners could petition the CDC to lift the
and Schneza were easy to distinguish, despite the suits, Danvers stood a head
taller than the five-foot-two Schneza.
Their names were written in large block letters down their arms.
paused in the unloading and looked at the tented building. How had Dr. Henreid Mahn felt knowing his
name had become synonymous with death?
She’d read the CDC bulletins that proved the origin of pathogen was
Mahn’s research on a cure for hemophilia.
With the best of intentions, Mahn had created a disease that swept
across Europe and Asia.
on,” Danvers said, “the sooner we start, the sooner we finish.”
kept her eyes on the factory. “Did you
see the morning news?”
hefted another box of sample wipes out of the van. “About Mahn? Yeah. What I can’t believe is they let the shooter
get that close. I mean, Mahn was gunned
down on the courthouse steps, you’d think there’d be better security at the
shook her head. “Such a waste.” She helped Schneza attach filters to the air
sampler. They rolled it to the front
door. Lillith verified the door was
locked, then she tapped in the alarm deactivation code.
pushed in the air sampler, and Danvers and Lillith carried in the boxes of
wipes. Once they were inside, Lillith checked
the building’s alarm display.
frowned. A window was open.
waved Danvers over. She pointed out the
red icon on the display and shouted through the muffling layers of her helmet’s
faceplate. “There’s a window open on
the second floor. I’m going to
looked up from the sniffer’s console.
“You want one of us to go with you?”
shook her head. “It’s probably a
malfunction, or someone forgot and left it open. I’ll stay in radio contact.”
She pointed to the microphone built into her helmet.
nodded, and resumed programming the sniffer to sample the air.
lumbered up the stairs, not trusting the elevator. Getting trapped in a level-four biohazard region was not
something she wanted to do.
the stairs was challenging in her Racal biohazard armor. It was built like a space suit, complete
with its own air source. It was kept at
positive pressure so that, in the event of a leak, air flowed out instead of
into the suit. Safe, but the inflated
arms and legs were cumbersome.
she took another step, Lillith heard a high-pitched sound. Lillith stopped, her foot resting on the
next step, mouth open, her whole body listening. There it was again. A
high keening, like a baby’s cry.
Impossible. Unless...there was an open window. But who would break into a factory
quarantined with a deadly disease? It
must be the wind against the plastic sheeting.
sound came again.
back of Lillith’s neck prickled. She
pressed the radio button on her chest.
“I’m hearing a strange sound, a wailing. Going to investigate.”
what’s your loc-”
cut off the radio. Going on a wild
goose chase was bad enough, taking someone along to witness your embarrassment
would be worse.
emerged from the stairwell into a long hallway with doors on either side. Light filtered in from a window set into the
near end of the hall.
peeked through one of the glass doors and saw a large room. Along the walls were counters strewn with
partially constructed computer systems.
Boxes of memory, processors, and motherboards were organized on shelves
above the workbenches.
Computers specialized in custom machines and repair of antique computers. Each machine was hand-built. It was a niche market. The company employed one hundred and twenty
workers, most of them semi-skilled assemblers.
sound came from further down the hall.
Lillith walked softly, ears pricked.
There was little natural light in this interior hallway, so she turned
on her chest light. The wide-angle beam
lit up her path.
the end of the hallway was a pair of bathrooms, male and female, separated by a
water cooler. She continued past. There were several more workrooms on either
side of the hallway, before it terminated in a door marked: “obsolete
sound came from the other side of the door.
This close she could hear it rise and fall as if forming words.
tried the door handle. The noise
breath caught in her throat. Lillith’s
hand hovered over the radio. Caution
warred with the desire not to look foolish.
It could still be the wind, stopping by coincidence at the moment she
touched the door.
tried the handle again and discovered it was locked. Damn.
Lillith tapped the radio button on her chest.
“I think I’ve found something. I
need to get through a locked interior door to be sure.”
careful,” said Danvers, “one puncture and you’ll be quarantined in the slammer
for a month...or worse”
was a palm-pad mounted onto the wall next to the door. Lillith typed the alarm deactivation code
into the panel underneath, but the door stayed locked. The palm-pad was useless, it wouldn’t
recognize Lillith’s print and the point was moot because of her suit’s thick gloves.
knocked on the door and shouted, “Can you open this from the inside? I’m here to help.”
All of Lillith’s
senses were alive. She tasted the tang
of sweat when she licked her lips. The
dim hallway seemed brighter and each sound made her jump. Was there someone in there, or had she
imagined it all?
radioed, “Where are you?”
gave him the directions. She looked in
one of the side workrooms for a crowbar or something to pry the door open
with. Her eyes fell on an empty server
rack. She pulled out one of the slats
that held the servers in place. Going
back to the hallway, she slid it between the door and the jam. For an agonizing moment she jostled it up
and down without success, then the door’s weak interior lock gave way.
pushed the door open slowly. “Anyone in
room beyond was dark, lit only by a clestory window high above. When her eyes adjusted, she saw computer
parts piled on the floor. There were
cases, motherboards, network cards, all in different heaps.
whimper from the far corner of the room was cut short. Had a puppy gotten trapped in here? Perhaps one of the workers had left it
behind when the building was quarantined.
Lillith imagined the poor animal trapped in this dark room without food
or water for the past week. The thought
twisted her stomach.
boy,” she cooed. “It’s going to be all
turned the corner around a pile of old CRT monitors. Something flashed in her vision and bounced with a jolt off her
helmet’s faceplate, scoring the plastic.
As it skittered under a shelf, Lillith saw the gray metal housing of a
blinked. Her neck ached from snapping
sideways with the blow. Lillith checked
her suit’s display. It was intact. She turned the beam of her light in the
direction the power supply had come from.
she imagined had prepared her for this.
A boy and girl, so alike they could be twins, were manacled to the metal
shelving lining the far wall.
were gaunt and dressed only in the tattered remains of T-shirts advertising
motherboards and molecular memory. Five
feet away, the shell of an old CRT monitor had been used as a toilet.
girl lay glassy-eyed on the floor, her face was covered with the red boils
symptomatic of Mahn’s disease.
boy crouched over her, his face tight with anger and pain. He grabbed another power supply from the
shelf and drew back to throw.
held up her hands. “Easy. Easy now.
I’m here to help.” She looked at
the girl lying on the floor. “How long
has she been sick?”
going on?” Danvers asked over the radio, “I heard something fall.”
back,” Lillith answered. “I’ve found
scared and I think more people would only frighten them. Call for a quarantine ambulance. They’re both dehydrated and
malnourished. The girl exhibits
symptoms of Mahn’s.”
did they--” Danvers began
“Later. Right now I want to get them stabilized.”
backtracked to the water cooler she had seen in the hallway. Lillith filled two disposable cellulose cups
and went back into the room.
she returned, The boy eyed her warily, but licked his lips at the sight of the
knelt and held out one of the cups out to him.
boy took it as if the water were gold; all his being concentrated on not
spilling a drop.
surprised Lillith, instead of drinking himself, he dipped his finger in and
dribbled water onto the lips of his sister.
he repeated this; the girl’s cracked tongue licked the drops. Only then did he sip.
handed him the second cup, and he looked at her with open-mouthed surprise.
welled in Lillith’s eyes. What had
these children endured that a cup of water could generate such raw gratitude?
need the medical kit from the van,” Lillith radioed. “Can one of you bring it?
Just leave it outside the door.
I don’t want to scare them.”
do,” Danvers radioed back.
minute later, the boy tensed. He raised
a power supply and glared at the door.
waited outside the door, holding the medical kit. “The ambulance should be here in thirty minutes, there’s an
accident blocking I-93. How bad are
shook her head. “Bad. Their ankles are handcuffed to the
shelving. It looks like whoever did
that, just left them here when the building was closed.” She looked away from Danvers’s gaze. “I hope the bastard’s dead.”
got another cup of water and hefted the medical bag.
the boy drank, Lillith knelt and examined his sister.
girl’s pupils did not contract when Lillith shone a penlight in either
eye. Unable to take a pulse through
bulky gloves, Lillith turned the gain on the electronic stethoscope up and
listened. The girl’s pulse was
moaned and writhed when Lillith touched her.
The girl’s skin had a jaundiced cast and Lillith saw more of the
characteristic boils on the girl’s calves.
was the final stages of the disease, the virus, intended to cure hemophiliacs,
caused excessive clotting. The girl’s
blood was sticking in her veins, piling up under her skin. In the final stages, a clot would reach her
brain and cause a stroke, or seize her heart.
the girl called out. “Idy!”
boy pushed Lillith aside and put his forehead to the girl’s. He cooed nonsense syllables until the girl
hushed. “Help,” he said, looking up at
Lillith. His bright blue eyes glittered
with tears. “Help her,” he sobbed. To his sister, he wailed, “Don’t leave me.”
boy’s voice was high and pure. Like a
tenor in a boy’s choir. The contrast
between the innocence of his eyes and the conditions he’d been subjected to
were a knife in Lillith’s heart.
girl began to seize: her body trembled and her head knocked against the ground.
boy’s eyes widened and he backed away, his mouth working soundlessly.
pulled the girl’s head onto her lap so it wouldn’t pound against the
floor. With a clumsy glove she stroked
the child’s hair. It was pale and fine,
like spun gold.
were no anticonvulsants in the first-aid kit.
There was nothing she could do but comfort the girl and ride out the
murmured encouragements. “It’ll be all
right. Easy now. I’m here.”
All but the last were lies.
Tears flowed down Lillith’s face.
girl had once been beautiful; she shared the startling glacial-blue eyes of her
brother, and her pale skin was porcelain fine.
High cheekbones in an oval face hinted at Norwegian ancestry for her and
boy crept closer and put his cheek against the trembling girl’s stomach.
stroked his head as well. The children
looked eight years old, or perhaps ten if privation had stunted their
growth. So young to have lived through
so much horror.
long minutes, the seizure stopped.
Lillith checked the girl’s heartbeat.
boy clutched his sister and cried.
considered CPR. But how could she
perform respiration through her suit?
The medical kit from the van was only a first-aid kit intended to patch
up abrasions and dispense cold medication and aspirin. It didn’t include a
defibrillator or a breathless resuscitator.
hadn’t brought medical equipment--this was supposed to be a routine check of an
considered taking her suit off to administer CPR. But the girl was infected with Mahn’s, which had a
ninety-eight--percent mortality rate.
Doing so would be suicide.
helpless and cowardly, Lillith decided not to try. The girl had at most a few days to live. Why pound her back into life just to have
her suffer and die again in a hospital?
boy touched his sister’s chest. He
looked up, stricken, into Lillith’s face.
“Help her!” he screamed.
shook her head. “There’s nothing I can
do. She’s gone.”
boy’s eyes widened. He shook his
sister, clutched her to his chest, and wailed.
His howl of anguish rose and fell, sending shivers down Lillith’s back. The sound was inhuman.
whole body shook with crying. “No, no,
no,” he repeated.
pulled him into her bulky arms. Through
layers of plastic and Kevlar, she hugged him tightly until the quarantine
ambulance came and took him away.
The boy, who
gave his name as Idaho Davis, was found to be immune to Mahn’s disease. He was sent to live in a foster home in
Cambridge, Massachusetts. Lillith
checked on him from time-to-time through governmental channels. His grades were deplorable, but there was a
bright spot. One teacher noted an
aptitude for computer science. The boy
ran away from his foster home when he was fourteen. There were no further records.
this agreement shall impose a renewable moratorium of five years on viral
engineering, as this technology presents a clear and present health
hazard. The penalty for infraction
shall be no less than twenty years imprisonment, and may be a capital offense
in some nations.
--Beijing Treaty, 2013