Authors: C.M. Fick
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
When the Dead Rise Series 1
By C.M. Fick
Copyright 2015 C.M. Fick.
Volume 1: Patient Zero
Cliff Holbrook was the lead scientist in the R&D department of Synergy Pharmaceuticals, located in San Antonio, Texas. His current project was a top-secret military study of the application of the synthesized drug, Obsepire, derived from a theoretical study of Congenital Insensitivity to Pain, otherwise known as CIP. The goal of the project was to block the pain receptors in a soldier's brain so they had the ability to complete a mission despite the condition of their bodies. Unfortunately, the scientists working on the project had several setbacks. After they'd administered the drug to the subjects, they discovered the human body wouldn't metabolize it. In one hundred percent of the subjects, it passed harmlessly through the body leaving behind no trace of the inhibitor - that was until the powers-that-be brought Cliff onto the project. After much research, he decided that using a virus as the delivery vehicle would be the most effective way of getting the body to accept the inhibitor.
Cliff's theory started with the Varicella Zoster virus, known to cause shingles and chickenpox in humans. When this combination alone didn't produce the long-term, full body results the military was looking for, Cliff went back to the drawing board, adding a second strain which would allow the altered Varicella Zoster virus to travel to the brain: Meningitis. The theory behind adding the second strain was that the first strain of Varicella would hold the synthesized drug and the second strain of viral Meningitis would transport the pain inhibitor to the brainstem where it could take hold and deliver the payload.
The subject would then be kept in quarantine for two weeks while their system fought off the viral infection created by the Meningitis, and for the drug Obsepire to alter the brains receptors permanently. Cliff knew the dangers of their experiments, but with a new mortgage and a child on the way, he was more concerned with the bonus he'd receive once Obsepire completed the first wave of successful human trials. And so, Cliff ignorantly continued his work. If he'd known what he was creating, he may have been more careful - or perhaps tried to convince Synergy of the dangers of manipulating nature. But of course, Cliff didn't know until it was too late to stop the spread of the disease, which reanimated the dead and brought on the end of civilization as we know it.
The night the end of the world began, was much like any other night for Cliff. He'd finished the last of his notes on the successful delivery and effects of Obsepire on the primate test subjects and was putting away the samples when someone burst into his lab behind him.
"Cliff!" The man barked making Cliff jump.
Startled by the intrusion, the test tube Cliff had been holding slipped from his fingers, shattering on the floor at his feet. He sighed as he thought about the work that went into creating that small sample and turned to face his boss. "Yes sir?"
Hugo Farner stood in the lab's doorway with bright red coloring his puffy cheeks. He was a round man with round glasses and a mostly bald head, making him look, to Cliff, a little like the dough boy in a suit. "I was expecting your report on my desk before three," Hugo barked, his face growing redder with each passing moment.
Cliff's shoulders slumped as the countless late nights weighed down on him. He didn't need a lecture from Hugo; he'd been working as quickly as the process allowed and still it wasn't fast enough for the department head. "The report is printing." Cliff waved his hand towards the whirring machine where the printed pages already created a small pile. "I needed to verify some of the results before giving you my final report." Cliff rubbed his hands over his sore eyes before finally admitting. "I believe we're ready for human trials."
Hugo seemed to deflate all at once, his anger replaced by surprise, quickly followed by the gleam of greed in his eyes. "So it's done?" he asked, finally moving from the doorway, into Cliff's small lab. He pulled the printed pages from the paper tray and began to scan the report on Obsepire's progress.
"Yes," Cliff sighed again, this time in relief. "The subjects are fully recovered and the drug has the desired effect of blocking any pain." Cliff waved to the room off his lab where his three primate test-subjects lived.
"I'm happy to hear of your progress and look forward to reading your report in full tomorrow morning." Hugo clapped Cliff on the back, all traces of his anger gone. By completing Obsepire, Cliff had ensured the military contract with Synergy would be ongoing and very profitable for both parties. Hugo hummed happily to himself as he waddled from the room, leaving Cliff to clean up the mess on the floor.
Cliff's mind wandered as he plucked the largest pieces of the broke test tube from the floor. He thought about how his bonus would pay off their new mortgage and allow a small nest-egg for Cliff and his pregnant wife, Helena. He thought about Helena's quickly approaching due date, and how excited he was to see the birth of his little girl. He thought about the promotion that he'd receive once Obsepire was in full production, about the pay raise that would accompany his new position.
Cliff's mind was on everything but the mess he was cleaning up, so when a sliver of glass pierced his skin and a small drop of blood welled on his fingertip, he pulled it out without a second thought. Cliff disposed of the trash in the incinerator and left for home.
Cliff had a hard time pulling himself from his bed the following morning. He had an odd neck ache and felt as if he were coming down with the flu. Not wanting to pass his illness onto Helena, he skipped breakfast and headed straight to work. He stopped by Hugo's office on the way to his lab and the men shared a congratulatory drink - it didn't matter that it was only nine in the morning; they were both about to become insanely wealthy men.
After his congratulatory drink with Hugo, Cliff made his way back to his office to begin the tedious process of creating several new cultures of virus-altered Obsepire. He needed to replace the specimens lost the night before in order to move forward with human trials, but the ache in his neck persisted, distracting him from his work. Finally deciding he'd worked hard enough, Cliff went back to Hugo's office to inform his boss he'd be taking the remainder of the day off.
"What can I help you with Cliff?" Hugo spoke without looking up from the papers on his desk.
"I just wanted to let you know I wasn't feeling well and am going to head home before it gets worse." Cliff mumbled, feeling a sudden chill. His whole body ached and he'd begun having terrible dizzy spells that the walk from his office exacerbated. The only thing keeping Cliff upright was the thought of his nice warm bed waiting for him at home.
"Of course," Hugo waved his hand without glancing up from his paperwork. "I wouldn't want something to happen to the man who saved the company." Hugo finally looked up at Cliff with a wide grin, which faltered as he finally took in Cliff's state. "Are you okay to get home on your own?" Hugo asked with sudden concern. He got up from his desk, helping Cliff into a nearby chair.
"I don't know what's come over me." Cliff scrubbed his face with his hands, trying to wake up his senses.
"When did this start?" Hugo asked as he poured Cliff a glass of water.
"Just this morning." Cliff nodded his thanks when Hugo extended the glass to him. He tried to raise the water to his lips with shaking hands, but the glass slipped from his weak fingers, crashing to the floor and spilling the water all over Hugo's expensive rug. The room tilted and spun around Cliff as he fought to remain conscious.
"Cliff, are you okay?" Hugo sounded panicked, but Cliff couldn't determine where the large man stood, the room was spinning too rapidly.
"Hugo, I..." Cliff was about to explain about last night's accident and the possibility of infection, but a wave of nausea washed over him. His body shook with the chills as bile rose in his throat. The room continued to spin.
"Cliff?" He heard the anxiety in Hugo's voice as he shook Cliff's shoulder; the motion intensifying the spins. Hugo's voice shook with panic, "Cliff answer me."
Cliff felt his body pitch forward followed by the feel of cool wet carpet beneath his burning face. The last thing he heard was Hugo calling for the paramedics.
Cliff awoke in a white sterile room, confused by his surroundings. After several moments of studying the room around him, he realized he was in Synergy's basement quarantine unit. Cliff remembered seeing a room, similar to the one he was in, in the basement of the pharmaceutical company on his initial tour of the facilities. Then he'd been on the outside looking in. Panic blossomed within Cliff's chest. How long had he been unconscious for? To block the rising panic, Cliff turned his attention to his body. In a clinical manner, he noted that the extreme fatigue was still present along with the stiffness in his neck; his whole body ached and his head throbbed. The dizziness was absent, but Cliff suspected that if he stood, the world would begin spinning again. He was also having a hard time breathing and was thankful for the oxygen tube he felt pressed against his upper lip.
The sound of shuffling fabric drew Cliff's eyes to the side of the room where he saw two technicians in biohazard suits, standing at a table filled with lab paraphernalia. They had their backs turned to Cliff.
"What am I doing here?" Cliff rasped, only now realizing how dry his throat was.
Both technicians started and turned simultaneously, staring at Cliff in disbelief.
"You've been infected with a form of meningitis we've never seen before," the first technician spoke in an educated tone. "The director of your department requested that you be quarantined until we can determine whether or not the virus is communicable, and if it is, how it's transmitted."
Every employee who worked at Synergy knew of the quarantine protocols. Hell, they'd all had to sign a release form stating that, should a contagion infect an employee, Synergy had the right and duty to the public to ensure the contagion was contained within their facilities.
What's going to happen to me?
Cliff shuddered knowing there was nothing he could do but allow the technicians to perform their tests. Once he'd been cleared to go home, there would be yet another confidentiality form to sign, but at least Cliff would be able to get on with his life - he just had to wait out the viral infection.
"What did they tell my wife?" Cliff asked, silently calculating how many weeks he'd be stuck in quarantine compared to Helena's due date. She still had a month and a half before the baby was due, but everyone knew babies came out when they were ready - not necessarily when their parents were.
"We are unsure," the second technician answered, coming over to Cliff's side. He unzipped the hood of his suit and removed his respirator to monitor the machines beeping along with Cliff's body. "Just before you awoke, we determined the contagion is not air-born." Cliff sighed, but realized his relief was premature when the tech continued, "We still have yet to determine its communicability. We do not know how long you will be ill or if your body will be able to fight off the virus and until then, we cannot tell your wife anything specific."
Cliff froze at the technicians words. If his body would be able to fight off the virus? What would happen to him if it didn't? Was he going to die? Was he going to end up a lab rat, stuck in Synergy's basement? Could they even do that?
Cliff's heart thundered in his ears at the prospect of dying from something he'd engineered. Couldn't they give him anything to counteract the virus? Cliff shook his head - the very reason why he'd used the viral form of meningitis was that the body had to fight off the virus, making it stronger while allowing the Obsepire time to do what it was designed for. Antibiotics, if he'd used the bacterial form, could have corrupted the Obsepire making the viral form so much more efficient - even with the two week recovery time from the meningitis.
"I need to speak to Hugo," Cliff finally said. If anyone had answers for him it would be his superior. He needed to know what restrictions he was contractually under and what those limitations would allow him to divulge to those working his case. He wanted to explain what he'd created and its effects, assuring the techs that he would recover.
"Mr. Farner is unavailable," the technician said coldly, turning back to his microscope.
Cliff pushed himself into an upright position, swinging his feet to the cool tiled floor beneath his bed. "That is unacceptable. I deserve answers. I need to make sure my wife's okay and that she knows I'm safe. She's having a baby..." Cliff's head spun as he stepped towards the technicians, but he couldn't give up - he needed to know his wife hadn't picked up the virus from him. The first technician moved to the inner door of the room and without concern, pressed a small round button beside it.
The door swung open and two large men in white scrubs and latex gloves marched in, picked Cliff up under his arms, and dragged him back to the bed; the techs went back to their microscopes. One man secured Cliff's arms and legs with restraints while the other held him down. He bucked, he kicked, he screamed obscenities but nothing fazed the men - until the one holding him down let his arm get a little too close. Cliff lashed out with his teeth, as they were his only remaining defence, sinking them into the man's tender skin.
The man howled, but held Cliff firm. "You crazy son of a bitch," he growled before looking over his shoulder to speak to his partner. "Are you almost done? I have to go get this sterilized before my immune systems' compromised."