The Lab: The Cleanse Begins

The Lab: The Cleanse Begins

by J. Saint James


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781481705066
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 01/11/2013
Pages: 140
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.33(d)

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Copyright © 2013 J. Saint James
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4817-0506-6

Chapter One

Cardinal Jusaunt rose from his armchair to answer the chiming phone. A tall, thin specter, the hem of his scarlet robe swished over the marble floor of the St. Martha's Palace (Domus Sanctae Marthae) Vatican City suite. The spartan rooms were dimly lit, the narrow metal window shutters closed against the sweltering afternoon heat, blocking a spectacular view of the duomo of St. Peter's Basilica. The instrument he picked up from his desk looked like an ordinary cell phone, but it wasn't. It only received scrambled transmissions from the home world.

Opening the phone, he automatically said, "Pronto, Jusaunt qui."

A familiar grim voice said, "This is Jazznos. A code 10 has been ordered for Lab Site E."

No pleasantries. No preamble. He knew his supervisor on Vesta wasn't joking; Jazznos never joked, at least not with Jusaunt. The sudden spastic contraction between his two stomachs made him regret the two-hour five-course human lunch he'd eaten earlier.

"A cleansing?" he said, unable to hide his shock. "Which cities?"

"All of them," Jazznos replied without hesitation. "This is a full cleanse. Global sterilization. All experimental subjects must be liquidated. Lab Site E is being retasked."

"May I ask the reason for this decision?"

Jusaunt listened in silence to the terse explanation, which was entirely economic; the funding had apparently been withdrawn. After Jazznos transferred the assignment's time line to Jusaunt, the call ended as abruptly as it began. Staring at the phone, Jusaunt felt a strange numbness creep into his hands. He had never participated in a full cleanse code 10 before. On legs suddenly stiff at the knees, he crossed the room.

When he flung back the louvered shutters, it was like opening the door of a blast furnace. The heat slammed his hollow cheeks and stole his breath away. Across the wide piazza, the great and holy duomo shimmered in rising waves of heat—a thing of beauty, a representation of the human mind and heart and yearnings, a result of millennia of painstakingly accumulated knowledge. But its value was only in the eye of the beholder. To the pigeons and rats who would inherit the basilica and all the other mileposts of human civilization, they might as well have been piles of dirt and rock.

For a few seconds he was sure he was going to vomit, but then the feeling passed. He closed the shutters, returned to his desk, and used an earthly cell phone to call Chicago. The time difference made it two in the morning there, but he knew Father Angelo would pick up when he saw the caller ID.

He did so on the fifth ring. "Your Eminence," Father Angelo said groggily. "How can I be of service?"

"Are you sitting down, Father?"

"I'm sitting on the bed, Your Eminence."

"We have been ordered to conduct a full code 10. I repeat, a full code 10."

Jusaunt listened to the silence on the other end of the line for a moment and then continued, his own heart pounding. "We must have a complete shutdown in forty-five days and an evacuation of all staff five days after that. The code 10 procedure begins ten days later. As you can imagine, I have much to do. Please spread the word throughout the network and explain the time line."

"Of course, Your Eminence," Father Angelo said. "Is there anything else I can do?"

"Emphasize to the others the need for discretion. We have ample time to get our affairs in order before the evacuation. There is no need for panic. We must do nothing to raise the suspicions of the population. That they might discover what we are planning and turn on us is the only risk we face. Again, discretion—not speed—is the priority."

"Yes, yes, of course," Father Angelo said. "I will make that clear to everyone."

"Keep me updated on your progress, and if there are any problems that require my input, do not hesitate to contact me at once," Jusaunt said. Then he hung up the phone.

Relief spread over Dr. Tamor's bony face. On her Home Lab flat screen microscope monitor, red stained oblongs popped one after another. It was like a field of flowers blossoming in a sped-up video, only this wasn't sped up. And the flowers weren't flowers at all. In real time, antibodies produced by the latest trial vaccine were invading a culture of deadly bacilli, making them swell and swell until their cell membranes burst.

"It's taken five years, but I think we have a winner, Jay," she told her lab tech. "We're still a long way from production and distribution, but this development is most promising."

"It will give the settlers their first hope of ever returning to their homes," Jay said.

Dr. Tamor nodded. After the outbreak of a mutated variant of the bubonic plague, all migration to Area 493 had been stopped, and the survivors had been quarantined in makeshift camps to protect the rest of Planet Vesta's population. The Home Lab had been working in conjunction with several field lab sites to develop a viable vaccine. The sample on the screen had come from Lab Site E—on Earth. The other lab sites were on Jupiter and Mars, known as Lab Sites J and M, respectively. Lab Site E was located at the University of Chicago. The natives working at the lab sites didn't know their planets were labs and that they were essentially lab rats. The native populations didn't even know Vesta existed. The labs were owned and controlled by the Home Lab, which was part of the university system, and all were under her direct supervision.

An elderly male with flowing white hair rushed into the lab.

Dr. Tamor could tell by the chair of the Research Oversight Board's expression that all was not well. "What's wrong, Patmose?" she asked.

"The Lab Site E is being shut down," he replied.

"What! Why?" she asked.

"The funding has run out," Patmose said.

"Are you joking? I thought we had secured funding for the next two research cycles."

"No," he said, "the financial consortium has withdrawn support for the current project, claiming that there has been no significant progress in finding a solution. Apparently it expected a much quicker return on investment. And it gets worse, I'm afraid." Patmose shook his head and said, "The university has agreed with the backers that Lab Site E is too contaminated for an immediate retasking and that this is the time to give it a full code 10. They want a clean slate."

"Unbelievably bad timing," Dr. Tamor said angrily. "Look at the monitor."

"What exactly am I looking at?" Patmose asked.

"The Lab Site E team has just made a major breakthrough," she said. "Those shapeless, stationary blobs are dead bacilli. We are on the verge of having a viable vaccine for the plague in Area 493."

"I wish I'd known that yesterday," Patmose said ruefully.

"The results just became apparent."

"The funding for Lab Site E is gone," he said. "The university has already made the decision, but there is one last chance ..."

"A final hearing before the full council?" Dr. Tamor said. "That hasn't happened yet?"

"No, but under the circumstances, the hearing is being treated as a mere formality. The code 10 for Lab Site E has already been ordered. Lab evacuation in fifty days, planetary cleanse in sixty days."

"When is the final hearing?" Dr. Tamor asked.

"In one week," Patmose replied. "I am on your side, Doctor, but the risk of contamination is real. If the natives find out the planet they call home is nothing more than lab for us and that research contamination spreads uncontrolled throughout the site, there will be no way to stop the cleansing. We need to find allies to help us on Earth."

Dr. Tamor fully understood. The consequences of such Contamination on a small scale could result in biased, questionable, or erroneous test results. Large scale it could mean global revolt and retaliation by the native population. "I agree. We need to recruit deceptors on Earth," she said. "They could diffuse any contamination with misinformation before it can get out of control."

"Spoken like a true conspirator," Patmose said. "We will start things rolling here with an appeal to the council. How long before the new vaccine can be distributed?"

"We need at least another two years. A few weeks to fine-tune the final formula and then eighteen to twenty-four months for testing and native human clinical trials."

"If this vaccine works," Patmose said, "it will relieve the overcrowding on this side of the planet, as well as open up new resources. I only wish we could have found it sooner. The five failed attempts to colonize Area 493 cost so many lives and created so much suffering for the survivors. Considering the public relations upside and the profits to be made, I think I can sell the board and backers on a viable cure for the Area 493 plague. Who is the current project leader at Lab Site E?"

"Dr. Alexis Fox, a native human immunologist who has developed successful vaccines for various contagious, infectious, and epidemic diseases," Dr. Tamor said.

Patmose looked surprised. "You mean Leathern Fox's daughter?" he said.

"Yes," Tamor replied without emotion.

"Have you heard from him lately? I mean, since your promotion to research lead?"

"No," Dr. Tamor said. "I have not had contact with him for thirty years."

"Well, perhaps you will get to know his daughter through this project," Patmose said.

"Do you think we can secure new financial support with only a week until the hearing?" Dr. Tamor asked.

"Yes, I do. Zachor, my fellow Research Oversight Board member, has a vast network of investor contacts. He may not be the best researcher, but as a fund-raiser he is beyond compare. As long as we don't ask too many questions about where the funding is coming from, he is definitely our man."

Chapter Two

Standing in the sweltering shade of his tent entrance, Dr. Jacob Stone watched his research assistant scramble toward him. Looking like a blond monkey in T-shirt and shorts, the young man picked his way over the jumbled gray rock piles at the bottom of the ancient gorge. The African sun beat down mercilessly on the desolate landscape, so hot that it was difficult to draw a full breath without feeling discomfort. Attacking a seam in the canyon wall with hand tools and brushes, the other diggers were students seeking course credit for study abroad and older volunteers who were anthropological hobbyists. All had covered heads, wearing either hats or do-rags they could soak in water. They shouldn't have been working at that time of day, but the window of opportunity was closing, and the job was unfinished.

In his hand, Dr. Stone held a two-inch-long fragment of fossilized bone roughly cylindrical in shape, about an inch in diameter, and with jagged points at either end. The marrow was deeply eroded. It looked like a section of hominid ulna near the right wrist. Its exact age and whether it was humanoid or not remained unresolved, but the discovery had allowed the University of Chicago anthropologist to focus the dig in a narrow section of strata where other perhaps larger fragments from the same individual were likely deposited.

Dr. Stone had come a long way from the Texas oil field where he found his first artifact at age thirteen while walking with his father. When they had reported the discovery to the University of Texas, a follow-up investigation had ensued. It turned out that the drill site, which had been owned by his father's oil company, was actually an ancient Native American burial ground. The University of Texas had successfully petitioned to declare the area an historical archeology site. His father had been more annoyed than impressed by the spectacular find. Over the years he had indulged Jacob's "strange hobby," but even when it had become Jacob's profession, his father had never really understood it.

Over the next quarter of a century, Jacob had followed with interest the research produced by the Texas site. One recently published journal article in particular had caught his attention. Studies conducted with a new DNA technology on samples from the site had indicated a previously unidentified genetic haplogroup, an unequivocal marker that could be used to track human migration and origins. Dr. Stone had taken a closer look at genetic drift and migration theories, some of which he found credible, but most of which were borderline cryptomythology. Ultimately, this line of thought had led to the African expedition. He and his research team were digging in strata the same age as the Texas site, looking for a humanoid specimen and, when they found it, the presence or absence of the DNA marker. Either way, Stone knew it would be a groundbreaking evolutionary discovery, and it offered the possibility of establishing a new genetic link between the two continents.

The team had been in Africa for months now, enduring the heat, the lack of sanitary facilities, the sleeping conditions, the flying bugs and scorpions, and the poor excuses for food and entertainment. The layers of sedimentary rock where they had uncovered the first fragment was rapidly petering out, as was the research funding. He knew their stay couldn't be stretched much longer without geometrically increasing the hardship. Though his father was an oil tycoon, he couldn't bring himself to ask for help. That would be too humiliating—an admission, hat in hand, that anthropology was still just a "hobby."

"Dr. Stone!" Tommy hurried up to him, his face and T-shirt stained with sweat and streaked with rock dust. "Dr. Stone, look! Look at this!" He held out a cloth-wrapped parcel.

Dr. Stone carefully set it down on the camp table and unwrapped it, revealing a thin mottled honey-brown curve of bone, a cranium with partial occipital arch. Clearly hominid and strata dated within the target range of ten thousand to fifteen thousand years.

His hands began to tremble. "Oh, my God ..."

"And there's more to come," Tommy said. "We've exposed at least half a jawbone with five intact teeth. The others are extracting it now."

"Everything photographed in situ?"

"Of course."

"We're out of here, Tommy. Dammit, we're going home."

"Yee-haw!" the grad student exclaimed, pumping his fist in the air. "No more fieldwork for this puppy. No more Africa. Not ever! From now on, it's going to be lab coats, air conditioning, hot showers, and Thai takeout whenever I want it."

"Go tell the others we'll be breaking camp as soon as we have secured the artifacts and I can get us on a shuttle flight to Dar es Salaam."

As Tommy rushed away to spread the good news, Dr. Stone used his satellite phone to call the Tanzanian air transport service and arrange their flight out in two days.

His next call was to Chicago. The woman who answered said, "This is Dr. Alexis Fox."

"It's Jacob. I knew you'd still be up."

"Are you okay? Is everything okay?" she asked, her voice filled with concern.

"Better than okay, Alex. It's fantastic. I'll tell you everything when I get home. We'll be back in the States in four or five days. I'll text you an update on flight information when I have it locked down. I've missed you so much."

"Gee, I've missed you a little too."

Jacob stared up at the bedroom ceiling with a naked Dr. Fox cuddled against him, one long leg flung across his thighs and her beautiful face resting on his bare chest. "We've been together for years, Alexis. When are we getting married?" he asked playfully.

"We're already married," she said.

"We are? Did I miss something? Was I asleep? Did you drug me and call in a judge?"

"No, sweetie," Alexis said. "We're married to our work, and you know it. I'm your mistress. Your petrified bones and pottery shards are your wife. We can't even make a commitment to live together."

"You're right." Jacob said, unable to keep from smiling. "I'm just your bit of stuff on the side. So tell me about your husband. Anything new and exciting on the contagious communicable disease front?"

"Another lab won the race for an HIV vaccine, so that line of inquiry has been shut down," she said. "Sister Marie and I have been working together on what appears to be a new strain of bubonic plague. The projected lethality is off the charts; even with available treatments, mortality is close to ninety percent. Because of that it has become our highest priority case. Sister Marie has been a great addition to the team; she's a first-class immunologist, but we've hit a wall. And the progress we've made on a vaccine for the latest avian flu strain apparently isn't enough to pull our feet out of the fire. It's looking like the lab will be shut down if we don't manage to crack the code of this Yersinia pestis variant."


Excerpted from THE LAB: THE CLEANSE BEGINS by J. SAINT JAMES Copyright © 2013 by J. Saint James. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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