The Autumn Plague
(excerpt from the book)
Karen Radford Treanor
© Copyright 2020 by Karen Radford Treanor
Callan leaves his ivory tower and learns to live in the new and
frightening real world is the theme of “The Autumn Plague”.
is in his laboratory in Warrenton,Virginia, with what’s left of
his staff, hoping against hope to find a quick answer to the plague
that is killing people at an ever-increasing rate. The
. . ."John, it's Victor, from Vector," the heavily accented voice said through the speakerphone.
"That always sounds like it ought to be the opening of a spy drama, maybe a James Bond movie," Callan laughed.
"Well, I can't waste my breath saying 'State Research Centre for Virology and Biotechnology, Koltsova' forty times a day," chuckled the Russian.
"Long time no see. What's up?" asked Callan.
"Death and destruction all around, otherwise, nothing too bad." said the Russian. "Perhaps that would be to overstate the problem, but things are not as we might wish them lately, is it not so?"
"That's putting it mildly. We've had our first street riot here, bunch of people decided the Flu was a case of genocide in the making. Thank God they were talked down before things reached critical mass. What are you working on at Vector, or shouldn't I ask?
"Probably what you are working on there in Virginia. You by now have the blood type and nanobacteria connection, as do we, but unless you're keeping something back, you don't have a cure yet. I called because my wife is a meteorologist, I think you may remember her, Magda?"
"Of course. She and I had a contest to see who could find the most animals in the cumulus one summer day during your last visit. I think she cheated, I never could see that giraffe,"
"Well, this is more serious. Magda and I were talking about how these nanobacteria are getting into people and what they have to do with the deaths. Magda said she knew nothing about biology, but she thought she knew how the little creatures were getting around."
"Does this have to do with those oil spills in the South Atlantic?" Callan asked, waving through his window to Kamala and Karl, indicating they should come in and hear this.
"Yes. After the spills were seeded with the trillions of bacteria, there were two severe storms. Magda believes the storms could have swept up billions of the nanobes, far enough up into the stratosphere to get into the jetstream, and from there, all over the world."
"That was one of Giles's theories, it's interesting that Magda came up with it independently."
"There's more to it. She wondered if, while in the stratosphere, the nanobes might have been altered in some way, perhaps by the strong ultra-violet light at those elevations. If something happened to change the bacteria's biochemistry, when they began to fall back to earth they'd be different. What went up may have indeed been harmless. But what fell back could well be a mutant which has in some way developed an attraction for human heme. It would therefore be a waste of time to seek a vector, because there isn't one in the classical epidemiological sense. The very air is the vector; it's the 'Typhoid Mary'. "
"Then why hasn't everyone fallen down dead at once? Why just some people?" Callan asked.
Victor considered this for a moment, then said "Nanobacteria have a very long breeding cycle, as you know. It may be that over the next few days we will see a trigonometrical jump in deaths as the blood of each person who's breathed in the nanobes reaches saturation point. You know what our tabloid newspapers have named this thing? 'The Silent Death'. Very apt, more descriptive than Nanjing Flu."
"More descriptive, yes, also more chilling. As long as we call it flu, it looks curable," Callan said.
"It may be that the process that leads to the rapid death can't begin until there's a certain concentration of nanobes. What causes death may be some byproduct of the creatures, acting on the hemoglobin," Kamala put in.
"Or perhaps reacting with Protein S or one of the other clotting factors," Karl added, pulling a pad of paper towards him and sketching a quick Venn Diagram, its interlocking circles labelled with scribbles that might mean something to him but looked like Mongolian to Callan.
"Those are both good thoughts, I'll get some of my people to, as you say, kick it around?"
"And I'll pass it on to the clearing house at NDIC as well. The more people we have looking at theories, the sooner we'll get this sorted out," Callan said. "Or would you rather do it, get the glory for Vector?"
"Who has time for glory these days? You pass it on." There was a second's silence. "You know this is probably all just wasted effort, do you not, John? As soon as we learned of the blood type involvement, I knew that we were pissing in the Neva." Victor Ilych Volkov sounded resigned but not particularly depressed. "This will go on until all the type A’s and O’s are gone, and then it will die out. And then the people who have been saying, 'Oh, how wonderful it must have been in the old days when the air was clean and the forests grew to the horizon', then they will find out. I am almost sorry I shall not be around to see wolves once more in the suburbs of St. Petersburg."
" 'There is a remedy for everything but death, a hope for everything but wickedness,' " Kamala said. "That's from our scriptures. I believe it, and so I will continue to work until I find an answer or I am dead." She left the room. Karl, looking a little woebegone, followed her.
Callan looked at the silent speakerphone. "I'm hoping Kamala's right and you're wrong. But I think I won't bother getting that new car I was considering."
"Better to get a new tent, a rifle, and some good boots," Volkov laughed. "When the people finally learn what's happening, they will come after us. Always there must be a scapegoat, John Petrovich; always someone must be made to pay. I would start growing a beard now, I think. And I would keep some old clothes handy, smelly old clothes. No one bothers with beggars. Goodbye, John."
"Au 'voir, Victor." Callan said. For a long moment he sat at his desk, looking into the middle distance, seeing nothing. With a sigh he began to tap a message into his computer for transmission to NDIC. The theories Magda and Kamala and Karl had suggested were way out in left field, but they deserved investigation. He felt drained of ideas at the moment, but perhaps another scientist would be able to make something of this. Hitting 'send', he sat back, drank the last few swallows of cold coffee, and began going over the mortality figures again.
Callan lost himself in the figures he was manipulating, sure that somehow, some way, they could be made to give up their meaning. He had plotted the course of epidemics all over the world, he had tracked back through seemingly impenetrable tangles to find the index cases, he had twice come up with drugs that had stopped unstoppable viruses. Surely this new problem would yield in its turn!
He was about to buzz Mindy for a double black when the door from the lab opened. Looking up, he saw all the staff gathered behind Kamala, who picked up the television remote control without a word and punched the 'on' button.
Even before Dan Rather said anything, Callan knew what he would hear. . . .
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