Twelve pairs of worried eyes stared at Laboratory One Supervisor Bruce. His charges wanted answers, and reassurance. He had precious little of one, and none of the other.
My word, they look like clones, he thought to himself, clone drones. Personal Protective Equipment covered them from the toes of their safety shoes to their hooded heads, the team of twelve rendered anonymous by identical isolation coveralls, gloves, respirators, and safety goggles.
These could almost be robots I’m addressing, Bruce thought, the thought galvanizing him for the message he needed to deliver. Continued confidence in leadership was the theme, staying committed to the task at hand. He would need to walk a tightrope between convincing the team that their workplace remained secure, while addressing the “accident” that resulted in the current exposure. That was challenge enough. In addition, he needed to dispel the rumor that the vaccinations they’d been regularly subjected to were not protective, but that they were being inoculated for the sake of research. He was a centrifuge, was Supervisor Bruce, commissioned to spin the situation round and round, separate fact from fiction and convince this group that the one was indeed the other. He needed to keep the dozen workers contained and cooperative. Was it already too late? He wondered.
“Our work,” he addressed the silent group, “Your work, continues to be invaluable in our war against the pandemic. Global Pharmaceutical thanks you and your families for your sacrifice and loyalty.” Bruce saw no positive reaction. The murmur going through those gathered was decidedly dissatisfied. He wasn’t reaching them.
“Quiet down, people,” Bruce said, reminding himself that they were indeed people. “I know that all of you have devoted yourself to this work. You have left behind wives and husbands, children… pets, in order to be part of what we have accomplished. Global owes a debt of gratitude to you, Terry… Cole… Kathryn…” He nodded pointedly at each one, as best as he could tell. “Every one of you are appreciated. And every one of you are heroes!” He paused for the cheering and applause that never came. Rather, the nervous chattering among his charges was worrisome. It was time to address their worries. Maybe they needed reminding, too, that they all knew the risks from the beginning. They’d known that combining two killers, monkey pox and coronavirus, was dangerous, even foolhardy, and could lead exactly to this result.
“There’s concerns, I understand, of an outbreak here at Laboratory One.” He did his best to make his voice sound dismissive, as if he were addressing a silly rumor. Their silent staring was creeping him out, and his voice trembled just enough to betray him. The chattering began anew.
“I have good news and bad news?” It came out as a question, adding unintended candor. “Our lab… Your lab… You! Have succeeded!” It echoed a bit in the suddenly silent space. It felt even colder now, the chilly laboratory that had been on lockdown for the past forty-eight hours. The place that many of them would probably never leave.
“We have achieved hybridization, as our directive has been, of monkey pox and coronavirus. We have duplicated right here what will undoubtedly be the next terror to pop up out there.” He pointed vaguely to indicate the outside world. “We all know how disastrous that would be without our efforts. We are just in the nick of time to save mankind!” There was not the excitement and celebration he would have liked. Bruce forged forward. “Because if we can build it? We can break it!” He slammed his fist on the console in front of him, startlingly violent. The twelve-person team recoiled as one with a hiss, then moved forward again, closer than before.
Bruce hushed his voice to calm them, remind them that he was in the same boat, though he was not. He had never been inoculated with the laboratory-created “Frankenvirus” that was coursing through their bloodstreams. They had been infected, with his consent, and without their knowledge, by their own creation. “We will all go down in history, as the ones that ended the Monkey/Corona Pox plague.”
“The bad news, and it is minor…” Bruce waited for the echo of the collective gasp to dissolve. “We,” his voice cracked as he uttered the misnomer, “We have had a bit of an infection here.” He held his hands out to quiet his crew. “Not only is it contained, but it is also close to being eradicated. We will soon have a cure for the Monkey/Corona Pox. Obviously, you,” the switch from “we” a Freudian slip that did not escape notice, “Will be the first to have the cure administered. First you, and then the whole world!”
Bruce was losing them. They were looking at each other and conspiring, he could hear it in the angry clamor. Maybe some humor would diffuse the tension in the chilly air.
“So, people! We have just a bit more work to do, and, you know…worst-case scenario? We’ll have to fill the snack machine with bananas!” He laughed and laughed alone. “Banana bread! Banana cookies! Banana cake!” His laugh was ten percent hilarity, the remainder hysteria. His audience was not amused.
When had they gotten so close, he wondered? The whole group was nearly pressing up against him now, and he wasn’t anticipating high fives or congratulatory hugs.
“Wait! Wait!” Bruce caught his breath. “Banana…. Banana… Moon pies! For everyone!”
And that was the beginning of an unhappy end. The advancing mutineers lunged as one. Twelve sets of safety glasses clattered, flung to the floor. Twelve gowns shredded; a dozen pairs of gloves were discarded.
It is too late, Laboratory One Supervisor Bruce thought, as twelve pairs of monkey paws grabbed hold of him, not gently.