Chapter 15 - Light At The End Of The Tunnel
The Centre of Infectious Disease Surveillance and Control was based in Northwest London in an otherwise unassuming suburb called Colindale. The set of buildings are drab and nondescript, brown-grey public utilitarian buildings; whoever designed then understood ugly and used it to best effect. Few knew what lay within; the sign at the entrance merely said: Public Health England. The message is as nondescript as the building, not indicating the serious of the activities within. Even the acronym for the department, CIDSC is unmemorable. Unlike the USA, who really know how to name their departments to be remembered, this acronym has none of the cache of the CDC. The only memorable acronym the UK has is COBRA, and even then few know what COBRA is actually about. That is the UK way; everything important is always low key.
Doctor Andrea McLean sat at her desk, mulling over the latest test results. She now had a good understanding of the science the crazy Doctor Peter Ericson had undertaken. Her scientific brain couldn’t help itself but be overwhelmed with what the madman had achieved - all of it in secret. On top of that the logistical scale of his achievements was undoubtedly awesome; maybe it took a dedicated madman to achieve so much in what must have been such little time, although no-one would ever know for sure; he had completely disappeared.
What she did know was that even using all the resources of all the worldwide acronyms she could muster, it would take decades to unpick the massive scale of so far un-pickable DNA meshing that had been done. Andrea almost respected him for his brilliance. He had used a parasitic organism that could occupy and control a new host at virtually any point in its lifecycle. For those not in the know, this meant that the lifecycle could not be disrupted at a single point to stop its aggressive progress; it had to be completely destroyed. More than anything she wished she had access to the lunatic brain that invented it; that might have made all the difference.
She sighed and reached into the large desk draw to her right and withdrew a bottle of The Macallan twelve year old malt. It was her one and only vice and it was normally reserved to celebrate successes in the lab, because that usually meant she had saved lives. Today she used it to commiserate; the fact that she used a plastic cup made it all the more apropos.
After two more large shots of whisky she stood up, by a little unsteady on her feet and looked out of the window, watching the people below, the not so empty vessels, home to the cuckoos within. Cuckoos, that is what she would call the infected from now on; she knew that they weren’t human, they merely feigned being the entity they once were.
There was a knock on her office door. Lost in thought she jumped a little due to the combined effect of lack of sleep and whisky. She turned around. Professor Gannt walked in, his usual arrogant self now dissipated into a husk of his former self - at least he was still human. In spite of their extra caution three laboratory workers had succumbed to this parasite. As a result the unlucky workers had one final duty to perform for mankind and that was to become subjects of research, and the stress of that situation, dissecting and experimenting on your former colleagues, was proving too much for the old man. On top of that the once bustling building complex was almost completely deserted, with only three of the team left, not counting the two in this office.
“I have never felt so tired,” he began before spying the whisky bottle. “May I?”
Andrea found another plastic cup and poured him a generous measure. Sipping it, he savoured the warmth as it flowed warmly down his throat.
“Maybe this is all that is left,” he said, looking at the clear, amber fluid in the white plastic cup. He put it down but remained standing.
“I can’t get in touch with anyone, anywhere,” Andrea complained. “The Internet is still up but no-one is responding to me. I’ve tried phoning, texting, pretty much every bloody thing, but with no luck.” She flopped down in her chair again.
“Why don’t you go home, see if you can get to your someone special?” Gannt suggested. Her face darkened at the thought.
“I don’t have anyone. Not anymore,” she replied flatly.
Rather than enquire too closely, he merely put a hand on her arm and smiled gently.
“I’m going back to my office. I need to think.”
Andrea poured herself another strong one and swallowed it in a single gulp. She swayed a little.
Opening the door the professor fell backwards into the room, crying out in surprise. One of the researchers, one she recognised but didn’t know the name of, was upon him in an instant. Dark creatures darted through the researcher’s hair and across his coat. Slugs poured from his mouth onto the face of the professor who screamed in horror as he recognised his inexorable demise. Another person burst into the room and made for Angela, grabbing at her hand before she could react in her inebriated state.
She felt the tingle as the microbial parasites entered her flesh. Knowing the outcome of this encounter she chose not to resist as the slugs crawled up her skin and pushed at the corners of her mouth. She’d been a fan of The Walking Dead - she loved debating the pros and cons of the storyline, but always swore that she didn’t want to be part of that vicious and unrelenting world of chaos and death. This was the best way. She waited. She waited for the slugs to enter her mouth, crawl over her body, enter where they could. She hoped simply that it would be relatively painless and over quickly.
She flopped to the floor as she succumbed to the inevitable.
After about half an hour she awoke. Staring up at the ceiling she wondered if this was what it was like to be a cuckoo. Feeling no pain, a numbness cocooning her brain, she lay motionless wondering what was next. She didn’t feel dead, but she didn’t feel alive either. She could still smell whisky on her breath. That couldn’t be, she realised; she knew the olfactory neurons were one of the first areas to be suborned by the invading parasite. Taking over the olfactory system was the first step the parasite took on its way to usurping the complete limbic system, that part of the brain that was you, from your emotions to your long term memories.
If that was the case then she shouldn’t be able to smell whisky - at least that conclusion was what she understood her research to have shown her. On top of that, her brain seemed to be functioning normally. She tried to move her hands and found she could. What the hell, she wondered? She turned her head slowly surveying the office. No-one was there. Sitting up she continued to look around, confused. Unsticking a desiccated slug from her right cheek she threw it away as if it might still bite. She checked her body for bite marks, holes; she checked her mouth to see if there was anything residing within. Putting her hand to her stomach she felt for movement, resisting the urge to imagine the unimaginable, the psychosomatic. Nothing. For a moment she felt hope, then fear, then hope again. How was this possible?
She saw the mostly empty bottle on the table, then rubbed her tongue around inside her mouth; it was dry and her head still a little giddy. Alcohol. Was it really that simple to stop infection dead in its tracks? She had felt the typical tingling sensation you are supposed to feel when being invaded by the pesky little schistosomes, so she knew she should be gone, have become a cuckoo.
She rushed over to the door and locked it. She needed time to think - now she really wanted to survive.