A strange, fatal hemorrhagic disease is killing housecats in Camarillo, California. Veterinarian Vera Barnett suspects that the illness originated in the lab of her lover, molecular biologist Noah Chamberlin, who has been investigating a hereditary feline disease at a nearby university. The infection soon appears in nearby cities and, not long after, all over the world. Senior epidemiologist Angelo Kraakmo, is assigned to investigate. The cause turns out to be a new virus. Angelo names the disease feline hemorrhagic fever, FHF for short. It did not originate in Camarillo. Newspapers report FHF mortality figures on their front pages. Rodentborne diseases become epidemic. Cat-oriented businesses suffer severe economic losses. Vera, Noah and Angelo work together to find a cure. By the time eighty percent of the world's cats have perished, scientists question whether the species can survive. Will Felis catus become extinct? What are the consequences of the demise of a species that has lived intimately with humans for twelve thousand years? How will the disappearance of our feline companions affect the human population?
|Publisher:||Toplink Publishing, LLC|
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World without Cats
By Bonham Richards
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Bonham Richards
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Chapter OneMarch 2020 1,099,500,000
Associate Professor Noah Chamberlin donned his gray sweats for a morning jog. As he was beginning his warm-up routine, his pocket phone sounded the "Hallelujah Chorus." Noah directed an angry glare at the device. Who the hell calls at six thirty in the morning? He opened the phone to find Gary McKeever's agitated visage. Gary was his sole grad student. Uh-oh, something's seriously wrong.
"Hi, Gary, What's up?"
"Morning, Dr. C. Sorry to start your day on a negative note, but we've got a big problem."
Noah sighed. "You didn't prepare the culture."
"No, no, the culture is fine," Gary replied. "The problem is that the cats are gone."
"What are you talking about?" Is Gary setting me up for some kind of joke?
"Yup, someone broke into the lab during the night and snatched them. It was those animal-liberation nuts."
Noah was silent for several seconds. "They broke both locks?" he asked hoarsely.
"No, they must have had keys ..."
"Is Alicia in yet?" Noah asked. He wondered if the laboratory technician might have seen anyone with the cats.
"No, she doesn't come in till nine."
Noah was silent. His heart raced. "Right," he rasped. "I'll get there as soon as I can. Go ahead and notify the campus police."
"Yeah, I already did. They should be here soon."
Noah had awakened fifteen minutes earlier, anticipating the clock's alarm by seconds. He'd lain, silently marveling at the precision of his own biological clock. Bastette had pursued her morning ritual, nudging his leg and then carefully negotiating her way toward the head of the bed. The cat's whiskers had tickled Noah's chin as she'd settled down on his chest.
Now Noah had a crisis to deal with—a big one. He mulled over what he'd planned for the morning. Run, shower, breakfast, bike to the university, prepare lecture on protein synthesis ... he heard the flap-flap of Bastette's private door as she went out to explore the backyard. Noah stared at the floor. Always one step forward, two steps back ... He considered skipping the run. Drawing back the bedroom drapes, Noah regarded a damp but quietly beautiful scene. Even the morning mist couldn't quite mask the vibrant reds, purples, and pinks of the bougainvilleas along the rear wall. He spied Bastette calmly grooming herself beneath a tall pine. A crow strutted across the yard, every now and then picking up a tidbit from the earth. The cat and crow eyed each other, but neither made a move. Noah smiled. The cat had learned long ago not to tangle with birds her size or larger. Noah laughed out loud. Shit! I'm not going to let this get to me. It'll take time, but I'll replace the cats.
He hurried out the front door and jogged at a comfortable pace. As he ran, he mulled over the experiment he had planned for the afternoon. It's going to take several hours to set up so I better start right after the institute faculty meeting. Gary had mentioned on the phone that the bacterial culture was ready, and therefore, everything was set—except, of course, all the cats were gone. Well, cats aren't needed for today's experiment.
When he stepped into the shower the needle spray drummed away all thoughts of world affairs, faculty meetings, experiments, and even the cat theft. For a few moments there was no universe outside the relaxing confines of the shower.
He fed Bastette and bolted a quick breakfast himself. Because of the drizzle, Noah decided against the Sirrus twelve-speed. He threw his attaché case into the old Ford Focus and climbed in.
Driving south toward the university, Noah's thoughts turned again to research. He recalled when, as a graduate student at Cal, he'd first read about macroerythrocytic feline anemia, or MEFA, a hereditary disease in cats that resulted from a mutation in a hemoglobin gene. He had immediately grasped that the mutation provided an ideal means to test the ability of recombinant DNA to cure a genetic disease.
His two-year post-doc with Jean-Paul Cuisance at the University of Massachusetts had prepared him well for his future research. The old Frenchman was not only a master at recombinant DNA technology but also a terrific teacher. Nevertheless, Cuisance urged Noah not to use cats as experimental animals.
"There are too many legal restrictions on use of cats for research," Professor Cuisance admonished one day as the two scientists fussed over a PCR apparatus.
"I know, I know," Noah had responded, "but the potential for saving lives and relieving suffering makes the challenge and the paperwork worth it."
Cuisance had pointed a micropipet at Noah as if it were a weapon, making jabbing motions as he spoke. "If the authorities don't stop you, the animal rights fanatics will."
"Those people break the law," Noah replied with a shrill tone. "Do you expect me to avoid worthwhile research because of the acts of a few criminals?"
Cuisance stared at Noah. Noah had seen that the old man was becoming frustrated. He'd resigned himself to the invective that was now to come. Cuisance was silent a moment. "Let's talk about that." He motioned Noah to sit on a lab stool and sat down next to him. Noah had been unprepared for the calm tone of the professor's voice.
"Back in 2001," Cuisance began, "a veterinarian at NYU was forced to quit his job because he was using cats to investigate AIDS in drug users."
Noah frowned. "Why should he have had to quit?"
"Ah, I'll tell you why. The animal-rights fanatics picketed the university and called him a cat-killer and other names. They threatened him and his family and performed acts of vandalism against the university. Finally, in order to protect his wife and children, he walked out, the research unfinished."
Noah shook his head. "Wow. That's incredible. I didn't realize those lunatics had such power."
"Well, they do. Other scientists have been attacked since then. Some have stopped using animals, others have defied the crazies. They're fanatics. Fanatics don't give up. Wouldn't you quit your job to protect your family if it came to that?"
Noah shrugged. "I don't know. I've never thought about it." They'd continued to argue, neither convincing the other.
As he neared the university, Noah spotted Alicia Diaz making her way on foot toward the campus. He pulled up beside her.
"Hop in. I think we're headed to the same place."
Alicia laughed. "I guess we are."
"How come you're on foot?"
"Car's in the shop. It should be ready this afternoon."
Noah turned to Alicia. "Gary phoned me a while ago. Apparently, all our cats have been stolen."
"What?" Alicia cried out. "You're kidding." She was silent a moment. "You're not kidding."
"Did you see anyone suspicious-looking in or around the lab yesterday?"
"No, not that I recall."
"Gary said that it was animal-liberation activists. They left their calling card."
"What are we going to do?"
"I don't know."
He steered the Focus into the University's main drive and headed for the institute.
"Could you let me out here, Dr. C?" Alicia asked. "I've got to run over to the personnel office. I'll see you up in the lab."
Noah spotted Gary's old, but well-preserved, Honda Civic in the parking lot. Gary had earned a BS with honors as a biology major at Stanford. Shortly after Noah had joined the institute's faculty, the tall, lanky young man had exploded into Noah's office, introduced himself, and exclaimed, "I've been reading your papers on feline hemoglobins, and I'd like to do graduate research in your lab if you have the room."
Noah remembered that he had laughed. "I certainly have room. You would be my first graduate student. I'm kind of new here myself."
Gary had enthusiastically repeated his desire to come to Camarillo and study at Cal State, Channel Islands under Noah's sponsorship. Now, three years later, the brilliant student was beginning his doctoral dissertation.
He walked toward the building with foreboding. Maybe today's experiment would succeed, but how could he then proceed without cats to experiment with? He caught sight of the quotation on the lintel over the glass doors.
There is nothing too little for so little a creature as man. It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.
James Boswell The Life of Samuel Johnson
I hope so, he thought. He exited the elevator on the seventh floor and walked rapidly down the hallway toward his office. A group of undergraduate biochemistry students was clustered around his bulletin board where, the day before, he had posted their exam scores. They parted to let him through.
"Dr. Chamberlin, may I see you about my exam?" asked a teen who carried a stuffed backpack over one shoulder. Noah recognized the young man as a student near the bottom of the class. His stomach churned. He hated these post-exam sessions with students more concerned with grades than with biochemistry.
"Yes, of course," he answered. "Come in and make an appointment."
"Please, couldn't I just see you now while I'm here?"
"Well, I have some work to ... oh, all right, come in."
The lad pleaded that he was a pre-med, and he absolutely had to pass this course or he wouldn't get into med school. Noah did not voice his thought—anyone who can't pass this course doesn't belong in med school. He handled the student as best he could, and the young man left the office only slightly mollified.
Noah headed down the hall to the lab. He greeted Gary, who awaited him at the door. The normally even-tempered youth looked uncharacteristically flushed and somewhat out of breath. His blond hair, usually neatly combed, was disheveled.
"This really sucks," Gary said. "How am I going to finish my project?"
Noah ignored the question. "We should probably disinfect the laboratory," he said. "The intruders may have brought in contamination." He fumbled nervously for his keys.
"Here, I've got it," Gary offered as he stretched out the retractable keychain clipped to his belt.
They entered the lab and donned the lab coats that were hanging by the door.
Noah made for the cat room. Inside, all the cage doors stood open, and not one of the thirty cats remained. The full implication of the theft now hit him. He felt dizzy. He went back into the outer lab, where Gary was already busy swabbing down the work tables with disinfectant. Noah looked up at the chalkboard and read the neatly printed message: "ANIMAL RESEARCH IS SCIENTIFIC FRAUD – CLAWS"
Noah was aware that the so-called Cat-Lovers Animal Welfare Society had been implicated in vandalism of research labs throughout the country. He grabbed a bottle of disinfectant and started to assist with the clean-up. Shortly afterward, two security officers in starched tan uniforms, one male and one female, made their appearance. After they entered the lab, Noah politely advised them not to touch anything.
"Oh ... okay." replied the burly, dark-haired man whose badge identified him as Perkins.
The officers inspected the cat room and outer lab.
"No sign of forced entry," noted Perkins. "They must have had a key."
The woman with him, Officer Blount, took copious notes on a digital notepad. She informed Noah that there had been a rash of animal-liberation incidents at university laboratories around the state recently, and that rarely were any of the animals ever seen again. When they were finished, the inspectors departed, leaving Noah to ponder his immediate course of action.
"I have to get ready for biochem," Noah said. Crisis or not, his course had to go on. "We'll go ahead with our experiment this afternoon," he mentioned as he left the lab. "We may as well continue with our work until the cats are returned."
Noah scrubbed his hands at the sink and splashed cold water on his face. He wandered back to his office, sat down at his desk, and opened his notebook to protein synthesis. He tried to focus on the topic—ribosomal assembly—but couldn't stop obsessing about the theft of the cats. He put his head in his hands, and his thoughts returned to the student protests of the prior August—protests that had delayed his research by three months. Lost in thought, he remained thus until student voices in the hallway signaled that he was going to be late for his lecture.
Chapter TwoJuly 2019 1,100,000,000
Gary McKeever reclined on his sofa, analyzing a difficult paper on plasmid vectors. He was unaware of Jane's approach behind him until she slid her arms over his chest.
Gary flinched, dropping his e-reader. "Damn!"
"I'm sorry. Forgot how absorbed you get when you're studying," she whispered in his ear. "How about a hike up Sycamore Canyon tomorrow? It's Saturday, you know. I'll pack a lunch, and we can relax on the beach afterward."
Gary took off his glasses and rubbed his brow. "Sounds good." He turned and picked up the e-reader, kissing Jane on the cheek as he returned to it.
"We should leave early in the morning," she said, "so we'll be able to finish hiking before the heat of the day. I'll phone Dr. Barnett to make sure she doesn't need me tomorrow."
Gary turned and, with an amalgam of aesthetic and biological appreciation, watched Jane's shapely figure retreat to the kitchen. Her blond hair was uncharacteristically mussed. That's my fault, he figured, probably happened when I kissed her after dinner. He wished she didn't have to work part-time for the veterinarian. Jane should concentrate on her courses, he mused. She barely has enough time to work on her English-lit term paper. Every time I ask her to move in with me, she says she isn't ready for such a big step. Gary shook his head. Why does she spend so much time driving to her parent's home in Ventura. What is it, fifteen miles one way? He returned to his reading and began typing notes into his laptop.
"Gary," Jane called from the kitchen, "do you mind if I ask Anneke to join us tomorrow?"
"No, not at all." Anneke was Jane's closest female friend. Gary had met her just the previous week when the three of them had attended a Mozart concert at the university. All he knew about her was that she was a computer-science major, an animal lover, and a strict vegetarian. He got up and walked to the kitchen. "Tell her to get here early. I'll drive." He saw that Jane was assembling tuna sandwiches. "I thought Anneke was a vegan."
"She is," said Jane, "but she's not real strict. Anneke eats fish. She says fish aren't sentient creatures like mammals, and that it's important to consume omega-3 fatty acids."
Anneke arrived at seven thirty the next morning, and, after coffee, juice, and muffins, the three set out in Gary's Honda. "Thanks for letting me tag along," Anneke said from the back seat.
"Hey, no problem," Gary replied. "Glad to have you."
Sycamore Canyon was located in the Santa Monica Mountains; the trailhead was near the ocean. Gary pulled the car into the parking area by the beach, and the three of them set out up the path in silence. Gary didn't find Anneke particularly attractive. Too skinny for my taste. She should do something with her hair—a ponytail doesn't work for her; even her wire-frame glasses aren't stylish.
"Aooo," Jane cried out.
Gary stopped. "What?"
"Nothing," Jane said, "just a lizard that caught me by surprise."
Gary chuckled. "Forget the lizards and watch out for rattlesnakes instead. They're active at this time of year."
"There are rattlesnakes here?" asked Anneke. "If I had known that, I would have thought twice about coming."
Gary replied, "Just stay on the path, and you probably won't meet up with one. There are coyotes and mountain lions in these mountains too, but they aren't likely to approach a group of people." He wondered how a woman who's supposed to be an animal-lover could be so uneasy near wild animals.
"I'm from Chicago," said Anneke. "We don't have wild animals like that in Illinois."
"No, but you've got wolves, don't you?" said Gary. "And bears? I guess Californians have a different perspective than Midwesterners. You guys want to rest?" he asked as they came to a large, flat rock.
"Sure," said Jane.
Gary passed around a canteen of water.
Anneke took a swig, passed it to Jane, and turned to Gary. "I guess we're safe as long as we have a strong guy like you to protect us." She smiled.
"Hey!" Jane cried out. "Stop flirting with my boyfriend."
Although he knew Jane was joking, Gary felt a flush spread over his face.
"I was just kidding around," said Anneke. "I didn't mean anything by it."
Excerpted from World without Cats by Bonham Richards Copyright © 2012 by Bonham Richards. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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