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An agonized shriek rouses me from sleep, and all at once I am scrambling for my robe
and slippers. I rush across the hall and wrench open the door at the end. An elderly woman,
bloody-eyed and crouching on all fours greets me with another ear-piercing wail.
“Mom?” She clutches her chest and I rush to her side. “What is it, Mom?”
“Everything is…hurting…” She grabs a fistful of my robe. “Please, make it stop.”
“Okay, okay Mom, I’m here. It’ll be alright, Tria will get you all fixed up.”
When Mom got sick, Pharmagen lent us Tria, or Triple A (Autonomous Android Assitant)
to make sure she takes the right doses of all her medications, since there are so many to keep
When I give the order, Tria pours out varying portions of chemical substances from navy
blue PI (Pharmagen Inc.) bottles into small fiberglass cups.
The slight clinking and multicolored liquids give her the air of a mad scientist as she sets
them neatly at Mom’s feet. A cocktail of drugs. After she’s finished, I issue another command.
Not only does Tria organize Mom’s medicine, she also monitors her health with the help
of a small microchip inserted into a pill Mom had to ingest to halt the spread of her disease. After
“Bio-diagnosis completed. All levels are normal.”
Thank God. No, thank Pharmagen. A surge of pride for my company overwhelms me as I
think of what we’ve achieved for the world of medicine.
I grab a couple of PI bottles from the pantry and prepare breakfast before heading off to
At Pharmagen’s silver chrome entrance, I wait patiently as a retinal scan verifies my
identity. The doors open, and I step into the atrium and make my way to an elevator. Nearby, a
sleek, glass-plated blue sign summarizes the departments on each floor.
Nobody knows what they do in Level 6, but the speculation’s extensive. We call it
Department X, and there’s a quiet sense of mystery surrounding its black-coated employees, who
I enter the lift and punch in 5—Development. The doors seal and reopen after a few short
seconds to reveal another lobby with winding corridors. The walls are a sterile white, completely
pristine except for occasional silver protrusions—retinal scanners—that break up the dense
My footsteps echo as I walk down a hall to the 8th scanner. It processes my identity and
MQ4 is the current virus for which we are developing a cure. Nobody knows how exactly
the virus came about, but the fact is it’s one of the most prevalent and deadly today. As one of the
lead bioengineers of this project, I spearhead all of the important work concerning MQ4. It is
also my personal vendetta—MQ4 is the virus that has plagued my mother for the past five years.
I would give anything to find a cure. As such, I work the longest and hardest of everyone, and
every morning, I am always the first to arrive.
Today, though, that appears not to be the case.
As I walk through the doors, a man in a black suit meets me. From the furrow in his brow
and the way he checks a small black watch—is it a watch? I can’t tell—on his right wrist, he’s
waited a long time. He is tall and stern, with peppered hair and a stiff, unforgiving jaw that looks
“Can I help you?” I venture to ask.
He gives me a hard look, piercing me with slate-black eyes. Pulling out a clear blue
badge, he says, “Nova Taylor, I am Chief Engle Flitch from Department X. Your presence is
And suddenly, I’m in the lift again, ascending again, in a blank corridor again with
Flitch’s hand gripping my shoulder, as if to keep me from running.
“Ms. Taylor—” he begins, as he performs the retinal scan and my fear sheds into
curiosity, and I tune him out. This is the mystery department, the one we’ve all wondered about
for years, I think, and when we walk in the room, I drink as much as I can through expectant
To my disappointment, the lab is very similar to ours. The same work stations, the same
quantum computers, the same furnishings even down to the blue swivel chairs. But, something’s
different, something’s not quite right, and as I catch a slightly strange whiff wafting through the
air, a slight wave of nausea overcomes me.
“…and for your outstanding work in MQ4, we’re offering a promotion to Department
I snap out of my reverie as his words finally come through. A promotion?
“There’ll be a significant pay-raise, of course. And all of Pharmagen’s products will be
available to you and your family, expense-free.”
I consider it. “What exactly would I be doing?”
He cocks his head to the side. “Please, follow me.”
His hands behind his back, black watch glinting distractingly from his wrist, he strides
across the room, and I trail behind.
“Pharmagen used to be one of many pharmaceutical companies. Big ones, and smaller
ones, that produced ‘generic’ drugs at a much lower cost. Pharmagen, like any true
entrepreneurial company, wanted to be the best. It put billions of dollars into developing the most
He gestures to a collection of PI drugs and chemicals on a desk.
“Pharmagen patented the best drugs, monopolizing the global health industry. Amgen,
Nanotech, Biopharm—they couldn’t compete. We knocked out our rivals, and nearly eradicated
all disease in developed countries in the process.”
He pauses a short second at the work desks of the black-coated employees.
“But that was the problem. If there was no disease, what would be our next blockbuster
drug? Sure, we had cosmetics and minor products, but what would the future hold if medicine no
longer treated diseases, but merely maintained wellness? Our profits would plunge. After a
while, funding grew short, and development stagnated.”
He looks back at me, and his eyes are contemplative as we move into the next room,
“The top engineers put their minds together and thought. They came up with a brilliant
idea…Can you think of what they did, Ms. Taylor?”
His question catches me off guard, and between that and the slightly dizzying smells that
seem to saturate the lab, I’m feeling fully disoriented.
His lip curls. “They, Pharmagen’s brilliant engineers, would create the need for their own
drugs. They would be both the question…and the answer. The greatest diseases of the century—
PBV, the Pox, LMNT—hidden in innocent pills, all born here, in this very lab.”
We stop again at another station, and the stench is thick and heavy.
“What is this place?” I choke out, retching slightly.
His voice is quiet and measured when he replies. “This is where we test our creations.” I
glimpse piles of animal flesh and fur before I have to turn away, and I realize that this is the
cause for the putrid odor. All of a sudden, I feel weak and light-headed.
Flitch notices my reaction, and continues in his carefully-soft voice. “Another engineer,
much like yourself, was the creator of the MQ4 virus. It was her fourth version of MQ, the only
one that lasted long enough in patients to keep them coming back again and again.”
At this, I inhale sharply, my senses clear again. “You…created
He glances back at me. “Yes. It’s one of our proudest achievements. ” His tone, which is
sharp and cold—icicle words—stokes a flame of anger inside me.
Rigid and incensed, I spit, “I will…never…
help the people who poisoned my mother.”
Flitch turns around, slowly, deliberately. He sets his feet squarely apart and folds his
gloved hands behind his back, poised and placid. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” he says calmly.
“Is this your final answer? Think carefully before you reply.”
I nod, and a split second later there are more men in suits at my side, grabbing me by my
“What are you doing?!” I scream.
“You are no longer an asset to this company.” To my attackers, “Give her double the
prescribed amount of Dementalin. Make sure she remembers nothing.”
They roll up my sleeve on my right arm, and in the corner of my eye I see one wielding a
“What? No, you can’t do this, you can’t do this—!”
Ignoring me, Flitch taps what I thought was a watch on his wrist. A hologram rises from
“Tria #8463, terminate your patient. This command is effective immediately.”
He shoots me a smile, the first one he’s cracked since we’ve met, and it is crooked and
filled with malice. In the same soft, oily voice, he says, “We don’t want any loose ends, now do
we? That mother of yours won’t be needing you any more, Ms. Taylor.”
“No….Mom!” I thrash and kick, but their grip is firm, they are too strong…
And then I feel a slight prick on my exposed arm
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