“Doctor Boltzmann, you stated that there has been significant progress in the development of a treatment of the Zombie Virus,” asked the Associate Press reporter in the front row. “Is this a cure or potential cure or is this simply a way to make the patient docile with drugs?”
“We prefer to call the condition Sudden Derangement Syndrome or SDS,” I said. “But to answer your question—Yes, we have made significant progress in the development of a cure. How far we are to complete cure and final drug product is hard to say.” As the nation's Surgeon General, I had just finished my prepared statement on the national progress of the Zombie Virus research. Now came the hard part. I had to answer detailed questions from aggressive reporters in the press conference. I kept telling myself to act confident and at ease as that will project to the public. I was well aware that the press conference was being televised live and streamed live over the Internet.
“The majority of the country is deeply concerned about becoming infected,” asked a Washington Post reporter. “Has there been any progress in creating a Zombie Virus vaccine?”
“Yes,” I lied. “Again, it's hard to estimate how far we are to having a final workable SDS vaccine that can be made available to the public.”
I fielded their concerned, probing questions for 15 minutes more. Then I said I had to check on the recent research trials. My hands were shaking as I left the room and I felt like I could use a drink. I was supposed to answer questions for 30 minutes, but I didn't feel I could hold it together for another minute. How long could I continue to give meaningless updates to the media before they realized that we were many months or maybe years away from a cure or a vaccine? Retreating to my waiting car, I eased my thin, lanky frame into the back seat and told my driver to quickly take me back to my research lab.
The Zombie Virus came out of nowhere. About 6 months ago, people all over the world started getting sudden symptoms of derangement or madness. Infected people would suddenly speak in nonsense syllables. Then they would leave whatever they were doing and slowly walk to the center of a city or town. Once there, the crazies stood in a group of other infected people and refused to respond attempts to talk to them. A news journalist reported that infected people appeared to be under someone else's control and called them zombies. The label stuck. Now every city and town had a group of zombies standing around in groups at the center of town. CNN had a live feed of the growing hoard of zombies in New York City. The local station here at Washington DC showed a mob on the National Mall. I knew during the black plague years, ancient Europe lost a third of the population. I couldn't help but wonder if our modern civilization could function if one third of our population went crazy. The current estimate was that 15% of the world population was infected with the Zombie Virus. The number I used in my press conference was 5%.
Our research showed that the Zombie Virus spread by the air as it piggy backed on the common cold bacteria. It is almost impossible to detect, but it is there in the cold virus. Two weeks ago, I made the mistake of telling the public that the virus spread through the air. Now most of the public were staying in their homes terrified that they would catch the disease. In recent weeks, there were daily incidents of vigilantes shooting infected zombies in an attempt to stop the spread of the infection. A development that the media hadn't picked up on yet was that in the last two days, there was a frightening exponential increase in the infection rate.
Arriving at the lab, I hurried out of the parking lot and brushed past security. As I entered the large sterile high tech lab, I felt safely insulated from the outside world. I am a man who is much more comfortable dealing with cold facts, numbers, and research trials than dealing with people—much less inquisitive, probing reporters. I nodded a brief hello to Dr. Chan and Dr. Curran, my two top researchers, and ducked into my office and turned on my computer.
“Nothing new on the Zombie Virus from trial X102,” Dr. Curran said as she poked her head in my office. I nodded an acknowledgment. I had always found Dr. Curran attractive, but I was always much too shy and introverted to figure out how to approach her. Maybe after this is all over and if she liked me...but today I was too busy and focused to think about her and forced her out of my mind.
Leaning forward in my chair, I hopefully browsed the shared research website for results from the labs across the country. University and pharmaceutical labs across the country had formed an ad hoc internet group and shared all research trials and results with each other on a shared website. Finding no new updates or positives from the website, I tromped out of the office and turned my attention to the research trials of my lab and my 20 fellow researchers.
I found Chan at his lab table. His thick framed glasses were stuck on the top of his head as nearsighted old man was documenting something.
“How did formula X103 work?” I inquired.
“Well...In the latest trial on the test chimpanzee, the primate immediately fell into a grand mall seizure and died 5 minutes later.”
“Did the drug work at all?” I asked.
“It appears that the drug cleared up approximately 25% of the Zombie Virus.”
“That's progress.” I said hopefully.
I eagerly picked up Chan's notes on the experiment and started to read the details when I noticed movement behind me. Looking up, I was shocked to see Dr. Curran walk past us with a blank stare on her face—her pretty eyes were now devoid of conscious thought.
“GHKKKK ZCCCR SSYYYYWW,” she mumbled as he slowly walked to the outside door. The Zombie Virus had gotten her. Horrified at the sight of someone I cared for being infected and walking out the lab door, I considered having the security guards physically detain her. For some reason, I froze and did nothing and let her walk out of the lab—mindlessly following some mysterious, abnormal inner commands in her head. For a moment, all work in the lab stopped as researchers watched in silence as Dr. Curran's walked out the lab front door.
“Let's get back to work. When we find the cure, we can bring all our loved ones and friends back from the zombie state,” I said—surprising myself at my display of leadership.
I looked around the large room. A quick head count showed we still had 19 researchers. Looking for answers or clues to the answers, I started to read the notes on X103 again when Dr. Chan interrupted my thoughts.
“The president is on the phone for you on line one,” he said.
“OK.” I set his notes on the lab table and hurried to back to my office and picked up line one. A presidential aide was there informing me of the call. After several seconds, the president came on the line.
“Dr. Boltzmann, this is President Warren.”
“Where is President O'Malley?” I said.
“He is incapacitated and unable to perform his duties. I took the oath of office an hour ago. I would like you to stop using chimpanzee test subjects. I think it's time to start using actual human test subjects to test SDS cures.”
“Yes. I understand.” I knew the president was right. The infection was increasing at an exponential rate.
We redoubled our efforts and feverishly worked all night. We made progress in producing a drug that was more powerful in killing off the virus. But all our trials also showed our experimental drugs were also lethal to humans. We lost 15 researchers to the Zombie Virus that night. At dawn, there were only five of us left. The unspoken frightened thoughts of everybody were, “who will be next?” At 7:00 AM, I took a break and checked the shared website and my email. I found a disturbing message in my email.
Doctor Boltzmann, my name is Dr. Jeff Stoddard. I'm the director of NASA. I am writing to you as I am unable to reach the Whitehouse anymore. Your research has been forwarded to me. Your profile of the SDS virus fits something we found on the old Apollo moon rocks. Our research shows that the extreme cold of space doesn't kill viruses. It makes microbes dormant. We now believe we unwittingly brought the frozen virus from the moon. Also, as of two hours ago, we have detected several large alien spacecraft entering earth orbit. I don't know what this means to national security, but I am very concerned. Please forward this message to the Whitehouse if you can reach them. God help us.
Finally I saw the big picture and the infamous plot. Moving the virus microbes from the frozen moon environment to the warm earth activated the virus. When the virus piggy backed on a cold virus, it infected anyone on the planet who had a cold.
“Good gosh, the first Apollo landing was in 1969!” I thought. Because of the extremely long incubation period of the virus, anybody on earth who ever had a cold since 1969 would be a carrier of the virus. Also the infection becoming active appeared to be timed with the coming of alien spacecraft. The logical purpose of the virus had to be to immobilize the human race before an alien race invaded.
In a daze, I left my office to find Dr. Chan. I found him seated behind a terminal. Glancing around the now empty lab, I saw we were the only ones left.
“Dr. Chan, I think we're too late.”
“GHKKKK ZCCCR SSYYYYWW,” he said with a blank stare on his face.
I turned away and shuffled back to my office. I sat down at my desk and wondered when I would finally catch the Zombie Virus. Surely it was only a matter of time. I turned on the TV set to see any news from CNN and found static. Changing the channel several times, I managed to find a live feed from the National Mall. A flying saucer-shaped alien spacecraft was descending on the national mall. The large group of zombies moved back to make space for the spaceship to land. They appeared to be cheering and greeting the landing spacecraft.
I turned off the TV. Slowly wandering out into the empty lab, I turned off the lab lights and briefly pondered our apocalyptic future. We Homo Sapiens have ruled the planet for 200,000 years.
“I hope our new masters will be benevolent,” I said to the empty room.
Non-fiction note: On November 19, 1969, Apollo 12 made a precision moon landing 535 feet from the Surveyor 3 robot lander, which had landed 2 years earlier. As part of an experiment to see how parts degrade under the moon's extreme conditions, Astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean sawed off the camera from the Surveyor and brought it back to earth. When scientists analyzed the camera part in a clean room, they found a colony of the common cold bacteria (Streptococcus Mitis) inside the camera. It was initially thought that one of the workers who originally built the Surveyor had spread the bacteria onto the robot lander and the bacteria had survived the harsh vacuum of space and 2 years exposure to the moon's extreme conditions. In 2011, new research cast much doubt on this conclusion and speculated that the bacteria may have come from contamination from someone after Apollo 12 returned to earth. The issue remains controversial. If disease bacteria can survive the extreme cold and radiation of space, it opens up frightening possibilities. The common cold is certainly not dangerous to human life. But what about frozen disease microbes from places other than earth?