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“NOVAAA!”

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 track of.

When I give the order, Tria pours out varying portions of chemical substances from navy blue PI (Pharmagen Inc.) bottles into small fiberglass cups.


5mL Cholinase
8mL Doparin
3.5mL Aricept


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.

“Perform bio-diagnostics.”

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 a minute, she’s done.

“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 work.


5mL Dexamine
10mL Collatox
2 tab. Asadrix
2 eggs
1 slice toast


******

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.

Ground Floor: Administration
L1: Publicity
L2: Marketing
L3: Distribution
L4: Research
L5: Development
L6: Classified

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 never speak of their work.

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 blankness.

My footsteps echo as I walk down a hall to the 8th scanner. It processes my identity and lets me into the MQ4 Lab.

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 as if he overdosed on Collatox.


(Prescribe: 3mL Delaxetin)


“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 requested.”

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 eyes.

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.


(Prescribe: 4mL Demoxetine)


“…and for your outstanding work in MQ4, we’re offering a promotion to Department X.”

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 perfected medicines of the age.”

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, smelling fouler than the last.

“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.

“I…I’m afraid I don’t know.”

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.


(Prescribe: 7mL Emetrol)


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 MQ4?”

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 every limb.

“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 syringe.

“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 its surface, and I recognize my Tria.

“Tria #8463, terminate your patient. This command is effective immediately.”


(100mL Mortex, oral)


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


(30mL Dementalin, intravenous)


and everything is black.



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