Spoiled by the erstwhile sublime environment of the New Guinean rain forest from whence they were “harvested”, the half-dozen bandicoots huddled miserably in a filthy cage. Their captor, himself a ratty-looking specimen of a human, arranged for the illicit transport of the marsupials to the Mercer Laboratory in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. His part in this unholy affair ended, the little man grabbed the proffered yellow envelope, presumably stuffed with cash, and scurried away.
Dr. Tunesi used his boot to nudge the somnolent porter / pilot / guide. “Wake up! Let’s get this show on the road.”
The portly pilot grunted, struggled to his feet and snatched the cage up into his arms. “Phew! These little critters stink!”
Impatiently, Dr. Tunesi gestured the pilot toward the waiting turboprop. This was going to be a long flight home.
Jane tromped out of the level 4 decontamination chamber, livid. “Do you mind telling me what was your purpose in bring back only six? Three of them have already died and we haven’t even begun to replicate the Rickettsia genome in sufficient quantities to ensure transplantation in the rotavirus!”
Dr. Tunesi smiled condescendingly before replying, “Dear Jane, I’ve already gotten what I need. Thanks so much for examining the patients. Take the rest of the day off.”
The phone rang. Jane, whimpering weakly, rolled over toward the nightstand to pick up. “Hello?”
“How are you feeling, Jane?” It was Dr. Tunesi.
“Perhaps you should take some medication. I need you here.”
“Listen, I’ll send a car around. Just be ready.”
“I can barely move, Thomas.”
Impatiently, now: “Jane! This is not the time to be thinking of yourself! We are on the verge of a massive break-through!”
Changing tactics, Dr. Tunesi tried to cajole Jane, but it was no use. She simply refused to budge.
“Very well, then. I’ll have to get Victor. He will use the corresponding chains to speed up the cycles considerably.”
That was the magic phrase. With a sudden burst of jealous energy, Jane sat up and whispered fiercely into the phone, “Damn you! Don’t you dare let that cretin anywhere near my research! He doesn’t have a clue which end of a strand is up! Send the car. I’ll get ready.”
Jane was puzzled. When she arrived, she had expected Dr. Tunesi to be in the laboratory setting up for the latest trial. Yet the lab was dark. Turning on the lights, she was horrified to find that the place had been cleaned out. Not a single piece of equipment remained. The door to the decontamination chamber was, uncharacteristically, ajar. Coughing violently, Jane slowly spun around, trying to make sense of this incongruous scene.
“Ah, there you are!” Dr. Tunesi walked in briskly. “Are you ready?”
“Ready? Ready for what? Where is everything?”
With a quick deft jab, Dr. Tunesi plunged a syringe into Jane’s neck. “Right here.”
Victor knew his suspicions were confirmed as he observed Thomas and Jane shuffling oddly together down the darkened corridor toward the exit. Victor had camped out for six hours in his office, terrified of being discovered. But he had to find out if those two were hell-bent on executing some dramatic plot involving the disease-ridden bandicoots they had smuggled into the lab.
Doing his own independent investigation, Victor theorized that Dr. Tunesi and Jane had found a way to synthesize pure toxins extracted from the bacterium Coxiella burnetti. With his usual dark humor, Victor had taken to referring to C. burnetti is “Carol Burnett”. But, only to himself. He wasn’t ready to go public with his suspicions. He needed proof. He needed some toxin.
Jane came to and tried unsuccessfully to sit up. As she became more alert, she realized that she was strapped to a gurney. A pain in her chest made her look down. She stared stupidly at the catheter snaking from under her exposed left breast, trailing along the gurney to about where her waist was, before dropping out of sight toward the floor. The bright red fluid of oxygenated blood burbled its way through the tube. The sight of so much blood made Jane swoon with nausea.
When she came to a second time, the catheter was gone. Dr. Tunesi stared down at her, almost kindly.
“Where am I?” Jane stammered. “What have you done?”
“Come now, Jane. You’re a smart girl. Figure it out.” Dr. Tunesi turned away slightly to grab a syringe filled with a clear liquid.
Jane’s eyes were dancing about in fear. Her mental gears were only half engaged but she suddenly gasped, “Ohhh!”
Laughing delightedly, Dr. Tunesi turned back toward her, nodding knowingly. “It would have taken months to extract the Rickettsia through PCR. The phosphodiester bonds kept breaking down from the heat of your accelerated process. The only way to get enough DNA was the slow way – through a much larger and hardier host.”
“Now,” Dr. Tunesi continued, “I have enough material to jump-start the rotaviral replication phase. In two weeks, I’ll be able to extract the toxin and auction it off to the highest bidder!”
Jane, recognizing the finality of this situation, nevertheless flared up in indignation. “Whatever happened to ‘we’, Thomas? Without my contribution, your grand scheme would still just be the delusion of a xenophobic American bigot!”
Dr. Tunesi snarled, “You little strumpet! I taught you everything you know! We could have done great things together! But I need nothing from you anymore. With the money I get from this little project, I can buy my own island and set up a new laboratory! I’ll be free to do my research, unfettered by the political flacks from ASHG.”
“So? This is about revenge, Thomas? Are you still bitter because they made you recant your so-called discovery? That research was flawed and you know it!”
“Real science is never tidy, Jane. You know that. My findings were justly confirmed by Billings, Drummond and Foster! They were coerced into backing down because the world isn’t ready for human cloning!”
Victor shut off the tape recorder and, as quickly and as quietly as possible, eased his way out of the mad doctor’s examining room, which was adjacent to the little operating theater where Jane was being held captive. He knew he couldn’t save her. His only hope was to get these delirious ramblings into the hands of the authorities.
Coughing violently, he slipped out into the night air, jumped into his van and sped off toward Martha Jefferson Hospital.
Copyright © 2018 by Mitchell Allen
Originally appeared on CreativeCopyChallenge #106.