The second story in this series is about a virus, that if it existed, could cause widespread infection among the general populace, more so than any virus now combined, thanks to some special characteristics it has.
General Jeffrey Landau walked into the bioweapons lab. “Good morning gentlemen,” he said to the scientists, who stood at attention at their desks.
“Good morning General,” A man walked up. He looked about forty, had a receding hairline, and wore horned rimmed glasses. “Dr. Stronholme.” He shook hands with the general. “I’m the Project Director of the Viral Warfare project. I sent you the brief about the latest developments regarding the supervirus, which you expressed interest in seeing?”
“Yes, I would love to see it.”
“Technically, you can’t see a virus, Sir,” Stronholme stifled an insubordinate giggle, “But I can show you the progress we’ve made with it. I’ll explain as we walk to the containment facility.”
“As per instructions, we’ve been developing various biological weapons as alternatives to nuclear and ballistic weaponry, conventional devices of war,” Dr. Stronholme began. “We began exploring ways of modifying a current strain of virus that could cause widespread infection quickly. There are certain factors that hamper a virus’s ability to cause an epidemic. For example, a virus cannot kill its host too quickly, otherwise the host would die before it could act as a vector to infect more hosts. Yet, it has to be strong enough to fight against the immune system of a perfectly healthy human. This is just one of the many factors we considered. Our bacteriologists and virologists have been studying epidemics and pandemics in history, such as the bubonic plague in the 17th century, SARS, and the avian and swine flu pandemics that occurred a decade ago.
“Particular to the last two outbreaks,” Stronholme continued, “we realised that a cross-species virus had a huge potential to cause widespread outbreak among people, as we come into contact with animal life, as farmers, food consumers, and when we interact with both domesticated and wild animals. But not just between two species; H1N1 only spread from pigs to other pigs and to humans, but did not transmit from human to human. If you could create a virus that was truly multiplatform – able to spread to all species of life, by acquiring genetic data of another species and evolving quickly so it can infect other species, then we would truly have a pandemic on our hands.” Stronholme chuckled.
“The reason why such an infectious virus has not emerged, is because viruses take time to evolve and assimilate new genetic code. It’s a one trick pony most of the time, unable to do other tricks. So,” the doctor paused, “We took it into our own hands to teach the virus how to infect other species.
“So, beginning with a sample of influenza virus as our ‘student’, we force-fed it the genetic code of different species every single day. We taught it dog, we taught it cat, we taught it flies, we taught it rats.”
“How many species has it acquired so far?” Landau asked.
“Currently, twenty-one thousand, seven hundred and sixty-three different species,” Stronholme recited from memory. “We chose the most common ones. Not only that, we imbued it with genes that encouraged adaptability and transformation, so it could easily evolve to be able to infect other species, when necessary. In short, we’ve taught it how to learn by itself as well.”
“Impressive,” said the general. “Has the virus’s capabilities been tested?”
“We experimented its ability with cross-species infection by putting all the different animals that we’ve taught it in a room. Healthy specimens. Then we injected one of the animals with the virus. Within days, they were all dead. We incinerated the entire block to prevent contamination.
“To test human to human and animal to human transmission…a bit trickier. Got to obtain subjects willing to be infected, yes? Or if not willing, at least justifiably allowed to be infected. Furthermore, to do so would be an ethics violation.”
They reached a door, on a which a sign read,”BIOHAZARD – Wear Containment Suits Before Proceeding”. They put on their Hazmat suits in the antechamber before walking further in.
“So, how did you test human transmission?” Landau asked, some impatience in his voice.
“We’re attempting to obtain a permit to test it on people who are on death row. They’re going to have to die anyway, so why not be human guinea pigs for us?” the doctor mused. “It would help us greatly if you would lend us your support in acquiring these death row inmates.”
They walked towards a glass cabinet. “There it is.” he gestured at a vial containing a small quantity of agar. “Like I said, you can’t see it, but I can show you the photos and videos from the experiments conducted – ”
General Landau cleared his throat, interrupting the doctor. “This project…is starting to sound too dangerous. Being able to infect anything and anyone..I think I will have to shut it down.”
“No, you can’t!” Stronholme cried. “Years and years of research and work! You can’t just pull the plug. You can’t!”
“I can, actually,” General Landau said dryly. “It stops right this very minute. We’ll contain this facility and transfer all of you to another department. I will go back to my office and make the necessary arrangements.” He walked back to the exit.
Dr. Stronholme stopped the lab technicians from following him. “Let’s not assist him with the decontamination procedures, shall we?” his voice trembling with rage. “We have yet to test the virus in the wild.”
Later that night, Landau lay beside his wife.
“Y’know, today I was talking with this scientist. A mad one. He created a virus that could infect any animal, and jump across to any other species, just like that! And he did so without informing us. Insubordinate.”
“What did you do?” his wife asked.
“I shut down his project. I was already kind enough not to fire him, but simply to transfer him to another project. He wouldn’t be head scientist for that though. Hopefully he learns not to start any crackpot schemes without consulting his higher-ups again.
“Can you imagine the ramifications of such a virus?” Landau continued. “Just one man, or one creature, needs to walk out of his lab, infected by that super influenza virus, and that’s it. That man or animal will just spread it to other creatures, then on to other creatures, until all the animals in the world are infected, and needless to say, all humans. Mankind would be finished as we know it.”
“What a thought.” his wife shuddered. “I think you did the right thing, Jeff. Had the scientist created a cure for the virus yet?”
“He didn’t mention creating a vaccine. Probably not. When I shut it down, they were finding ways to obtain human test subjects. Honey, it’s been a long day. Let’s sleep.”
General Jeffrey Landau rested his head on his pillow. He turned on his side, let out a small cough, and went to sleep.
I am not too pleased with this story. It had a strong premise, but I was unable to find a suitable setting for it. The story ended up being set pre-apocalypse, and the oops! moment of all apocalyptical accidents in this particular story is a bit weak. I also had no idea how to end it. I had a few options, but most of them seemed rather implausible, so I ran with this one.
Feedback and comments are welcome, as always.