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There is a hole in his suit. The size of a quarter, there is a hole in his one-piece positive pressure suit. The life support system notices the amount of air escaping from the hole and sounds the alarm. There is not supposed to be a hole.
He cannot see anything through the thick black condensation collecting on his visor. It is raining in his helmet. Droplets of tar threaten to tickle him as they suffocate the competing sounds of the alarm and his heartbeat. He wants to scream. He is melting. Everything is pulsating out of the hole like blood out of a severed artery. He screams.
The room responds to the abrupt cease in delta brain waves and the lights go from off to dim as his eyes snap open. He was dreaming. The I.D. card on the perfectly rectangular table next to his bed calms him as it reminds him that he is not actually melting.
A glossy thumbnail of his face stares back at me; the smile is too wide. Glancing behind at the bedside display, I see the word “Tachycardia” in parenthesis next to my heart rate. I remove the probes from my bald head and chest. I disconnect and drag myself the few feet across the tile floor to take a shower. I’m the only one here who uses his room shower.
In addition to being equipped with three decontamination showers, this facility is equipped with five domestic showers - one for each resident. From above, the facility looks like a pitchfork, with a lab in each its three sharp prongs. The walls, floors, and ceilings of the facility are constructed to form a sealed internal shell which facilitates fumigation and is both animal and insect-proof. There are a total of four windows, all shatterproof. Our engineer has put in a few other devices to prevent us and everyone else in the country from dying.
Coming out of the shower, I can only assume I know what time it is. There aren’t any clocks.
Time of day isn’t important anyway.
I put on my lab coat. It’s not important either; the suit is the more useful piece of equipment. The resident surgeon thinks we wear lab coats to remind ourselves that we started off in the cure business.
We started working on a new project last week. We get projects from all over; The U.S. Government, the Red Cross, the CDC. This time it’s a private company. We deal with these all the time, but they can’t print money like the government can, so we have to keep our eye on them.
Besides the business tension, the other reason we keep our eye on private companies is because they don’t ask for cures. Biological weapons are currently our most popular request.
We don’t know what kind of product this company wants yet, but they’ve already sent us a silver suitcase full of money, secret agent style. They must really want to corner the market, because we’re already moving at a faster pace than usual. Even so, because it’s such a new disease, we’ll have to study it a while before we start playing with it.
Mortis Memoria. That’s what we’re calling it.
Not very contagious, it’s only killed fifteen people in some village in Japan. We don’t know how it gets in the bloodstream, but once it does, it beats around until it latches onto the blood-brain barrier, then the real fun begins. It travels to the hippocampus and then starts growing. It kills a brain cell, divides, and moves on, jumping between neural connections. We don’t know how fast it can travel, but we think it depends on how fast you think, once it’s gotten in. The only real symptom is irreparable memory loss and then you’re dead. You don’t even get to see your life flash before your eyes because you won’t remember it.
We picked up the bodies from ground zero yesterday, so that means today is autopsy day. We’re giving them the works; a burger with everything - not as tasty as it sounds. After some number of bodies, I’m almost tired enough to lie down on the table with the subject. But I don’t. I can’t.
I prep for a shower.
The door to the room slides open automatically and I sink into my reasonably soft bed. My skin is still red and sore from the decontamination, and the endorphins help lull me to sleep.
He is underwater. He can tell it is water because of how slow he’s breathing. The flash of silver scales catches his attention. A fish swims up to him at eye level and they examine each other. It is a staring contest. When he blinks the fish is gone. He turns to look and sees it speeding away leaving behind an inky black trail that starts at the back of his head. He goes up for air.
The delta brain wave pattern stops. He wakes up in the dark. He forgot to put on his probes.
The probes were the woman’s idea; it’s hard for the room to monitor for disease otherwise. Besides the bedside display they are the only reminder that the room is not just a room. After we started working with deadlier diseases, we made sure it could also serve as a quarantine or an incinerator.
I try to push thoughts of incineration out of my mind.
Work is moving impossibly fast. We’ve just recently found that the compounds involved in brain cell death are similar to those produced by the Foxglove plant. We finished initial testing of the bodies and discovered that the disease is also carried in tears and spinal fluid, making it a little more contagious than we first thought it was. Our only setback so far is the malfunctioning robotic arm in one of the labs; the engineer is working on it.
The facility heads tell me that we’re ready to move on to the active stage, working face to face with it in a lab.
I don the one piece positive pressure suit. It’s basically a casket with sleeves, a window and a ventilator. Putting it on always makes me feel like an astronaut. There are two suits in the room, but we usually work alone – less human error that way.
Once we became a little more familiar with the disease, the company informed us that they planned on marketing it as a product, something that you could sell with a commercial. I wouldn’t be surprised if they called it something stupid, like “MemorEx.” At least when you’re making weapons, it’s you making the money, not some corporation targeting people too lazy to lobotomize themselves.
I’m studying the effects of the disease on rat neurons before we move on to human test subjects. After testing a few samples, I’m already tired. I can’t remember how many I’ve seen swell up and explode. I look up at the clock to see how much time has passed.
Then I remember that we don’t have clocks.
Without fully knowing why, I get a stab of panic. It bolts straight from my head into my stomach.
Out of instinct, I start to perform the self-diagnostic tests they teach you when you start dealing with neurotoxins.
I can’t remember past the second test.
There is something wrong with me.
I head for the door. In the next room there are two racks, an empty one and one holding a suit similar to the one I’m wearing. This thing is like a coffin. I tear at it for half a minute before finally getting it off.
A door to my left opens automatically.
In the next room there is a panel on the wall and a heavy door without a handle which I remember to be the exit. I press the panel. A shower above my head spits pain at me. I get a jolt of surprise and adrenaline. In a panic, I randomly hit the wall behind me and a door opens.
There is a crumpled yellow thing on the floor and another hung on a rack. I run through another door opened to a pure white room.
There is no way out. There is a panel on the tabletop nearest me. I don’t know what it does, but I cross my fingers. Hoping that there is not another pain shower somewhere, I press the panel. The robotic arm springs to life and strikes me on the side of the head.
Black. He is falling.
He hits the floor.
It hurts. A lot.
I feel my skin tight around my flesh. It is white, like an envelope. Where am I being sent? My postage won’t stop bleeding.
I forget, why am I dying again? How long has it been?
What should I do? Who am I asking? God?
Should I pray? Where is the tunnel with the light at the end? Where is the crowd of dead relatives? Can I get a hint?
"Hi God, It's me. Call me back when you get the chance."
I read somewhere that you hallucinate when you die. Something about the release of a chemical DMT, whatever that is, in the brain. Where's my hallucination?
Should I feel sad? There's plenty I haven't done. I've never even used a pogo stick before.
Should I feel content? I've made it this far without dying.
I lived a good enough life. I was a nice enough guy, I think.
I know I shouldn't feel happy.
I suppose how I feel doesn't matter.
What about my last words?
Nope, can't think of any. Plus I don’t think I have the strength to speak.
What about my funeral? Who's invited?
I can't feel anything.
That's a good thing, right?
The lights in here are starting to turn blue.
My nose is running. I taste iron.
Is this that hallucination thing?
The corners of my eyes are leaking.
There’s an alarm sounding.
I might get to ride that pogo stick after all.