Author's note: this is a fictional take on a virus based on a real genetic condition called Progeria. The author acknowledges those who suffer from the condition, in any and all of its levels of severity, and wants to express that this story is not an accurate depiction, nor demeaning, of those diagnosed with the condition. The author also acknowledges that this story does not accurately depict, nor demean, any Vietnam War veteran living or not.
If Claire Patterson was alive today, he would be pardoned. Why would I say this? Because half the world wants to arrest me, and the other half wants me dead, and all because I held what I perceived to be the Fountain of Youth in the palm of my hand.
My name is Doctor Blake Plakkim, and I am... sorry, I was a virologist. I did not graduate at the top of my class, but my knowledge in the fields of biology, specifically microbes and viral strains, was indispensable. Still, it was a wait for an internship, and I only got one because several others didn't show up due to illnesses (ironic, yet poetic). The corporation that finally accepted me (which will remain anonymous, as I don't want to dispose of all my potential chips) had state-of-the-art lab equipment, tools beyond what many modern-world hospitals utilize, and also featured a documentation department rivaled only by the Library of Congress; that department was where I started my fool's journey.
For nine months, I had to grunt my way through labeling and dating cases throughout the world of viral strains from the major common cold the the more rarer, and potentially more deadly, mutated variations of Marburg. During that time, I took on the extra hours, and I committed favors for a few higher-ups (who will also remain anonymous). You could say that I sold my soul to a few devils, but those labs were too good to pass up! And I finally got into the main lab! The computers, the chemicals, the tools, the boards, the models – I felt like I had gone to Heaven. Again, ironic yet poetic.
A couple years had gone by, and we were still working with diseases that, though dangerous and handled with care, weren't garnering the interests of the higher-ups; even my excitement of finally getting to actually work in the “virologist suite” had petered out a few months prior, and we had been stuck in the mundane atmosphere that was supposed to stay in the documentation room where it belonged. The only way we were ever going to turn any heads was with either a whole new virus, which could be done in any corporate or even government lab, or finding a cure for something like the common cold (which still eluded us even with this advanced technology), or even Marseillesvirus. Rare diseases break the monotony of the work day, and what we recently got from two hosts of an unexplained condition had us buzzing with anticipation.
A couple samples, one from each host, was given to us; the first host had died from an accident (which was not elaborated upon for “family discretion” reasons), and the bundle of now-dead cells with the traces of the viral strain offered almost no answers. Surprisingly, the second host willingly submitted himself to this very corporation; my request to interview him were initially denied due to plausible dangers that come from an unknown variant, which makes sense as we are better off safe than sorry. I scraped what I could from the dead cell sample, and then switched over to the recently donated cluster. It was during my study of this particular variant that my life, and the lives of countless millions, changed.
As stated before, the dead host's dead sample didn't offer much, even though the crazy-straw appearance of the strains did draw attention. But the second sample yielded something spectacular; the virus behaved like the WO virus, basically drilling into the human cells. Instead of tearing apart the cell like a normal virus, it actually was working overtime to preserve the cells and keep then functioning. The metabolisms taking place, which broke down the cells over time, were being reversed – the cells were being healed! I felt that this was the greatest discovery since splitting the atom, and I just had to try and get that interview!
Another favor was carried out, and the word was given for me to talk with the second host, code-named “Todd” for anonymity. For security's sake, it was in a windowless room, with only one door that swings in and mechanically locks from the outside, and has cameras embedded into the corners to prevent tampering. For safety's sake, I had to wear a full HazMat suit and carry two wireless microphones, transmitting both our voices to a computer to record every word spoken down to the last whisper. I introduced myself and told the host he would be referred by his code-name, which he understood. To shorten the hour-long interview, I will say this: he told me that, despite appearing in his late-twenties, he was seventy years old.
Impossible! Actually, what I said was more expletive, but Todd explained: he knew the dead man, code-named Mort (yes, laugh it up), and both served in Vietnam. When the war appeared to not turn in the American's favor, the government tried an experimental strike with a biological agent, a weaponized version of Progeria (a symptom that causes rapid aging). Todd and Mort, along with their squad, delivered the payload near the border separating the southern half of the country from the north, where a concentration of Viet Cong and their Northern allies were converging. Given the danger, they had to bring the weapon on foot, put it near the encampment, set it and get out. Before they could leave the area, though, an airstrike came upon them, and the area became a scene out of Dante's Inferno.
Todd explained that he didn't know the exact details, only that both he and Mort survived and were quarantined until the end of the war. After many tests, of which no information was shared to the soldiers beyond a clearance of health, they were honorably discharged. They went their separate ways, Todd got married and started a yard business, and then he started noticing something strange. A severe accident had left his arm reportedly irreparable; one week later, his arm was working again and even the scars were gone! As if that wasn't enough, he noticed that certain lines on his face had lessened, even vanished; he can't recall when he had wrinkles.
The virus, manipulated from a genetic disorder, not only failed as a weapon, but it worked backwards from the desired effect! These two men were the closest to the weapon when the airstrike happened, and were the only ones effected; the strain had literally embedded itself into their genetics, and was reversing the metabolisms that broke cells down over time, thereby de-aging the hosts! I did it! I turned the heads, I garnered the attention, and I had begun a new age of discovery! I was consumed with my excitement that the doubt hit harder than it should; how was I going to apply this? Potentially, this virus could save lives literally at death's doorstep, but how were we going to extract it? The answer came sooner than I realized; according to some of my seniors, permission was given from the host to take and utilize the strain. I wanted to hear it from Todd's mouth, but the denial came with the confounding reason that Todd was being moved again. I was given samples, and I had my new goal established.
Two years, seventeen-thousand hours working from the lab to the conference room to even the documentation room, and only enough sleep to function for the next day had culminated in what we all though was the triumph of the century. With the medical treatment proclaimed “Iuventus”, Latin for “of the youth”, the elderly could basically buy themselves more time, the severely injured would heal from all wounds, and prescription drugs would become irrelevant. The feedback was positive for the next two years, and our company enjoyed the profits and the fame, and I was elevated to be the voice of this discovery, lifted to the spotlight and heard around the world as the appraised doctor of a new age!
We received the first wave of problems from within our home town.
In Murphy's Law, anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and our mistake was not accounting for all of anything. In our push to rejuvenate and heal the body, we didn't take into account that all organic things not only age, but push through obstacles that try to slow down or even stop aging. The telomeres, the protein at the end of the chromosomes, went into a reactive overdrive after eighteen months of the viral application; as if that wasn't enough, the white blood cells started attacking the cells where the telomeres reacted the strongest, possibly identifying such as a form of cancer. A great illness befell the victim, followed a short time later by death via complications. Reflecting on this, one must ask if this was what the government tried using to end a war?
That doesn't matter now; after the first wave, more reports came from several countries, most notably from the Middle East and several African nations, followed by angry reports from Central and South America. Within a few months, the death toll had reached two billion, all attributed to our treatment, and since I was the elevated voice of the facility, my name went around with a great curse; I was labeled “Doctor Plague”, and charged with just about every single crime from fraudulence and conspiracy of destabilizing a nation or two (or a few dozen) to mass manslaughter and even murder. I was not safe in my own country, which was working on a warrant for my arrest for what the Senate called “abuse of medical knowledge and power for monetary gain”. The higher-ups, all of whom I had provided everything they had ever asked for, turned me away, and even one stated that all they did was open the door when I asked it of them, and I was to take responsibility for walking through it. The nerve of these brutes, leaving me out to dry! I even suspected that permission was never given from Todd, wherever he is – the only man who could help prove my innocence, and he was probably in the same place as Mort.
I already submitted my resignation, pulled my money and any other resources that I could get, closed my accounts, and spent my last day at the facility wiping down any surface that might have my fingerprints. I sold my car and most of my property, while donating so much out of a need to hurry; I had to get into hiding! According to the last few allies I had left, there were bounties being carried out from Brunei, Laos, the Netherlands, Brazil, and South Africa to end my life. Meanwhile, so many other nations were blasting the mainstream news about how I should pay for all the damage that the “medicine” had done.
This will be the last you hear from me. I will be on foot, I will be avoiding cities as much as possible, there will be no contact with family or friends, and I will be taking my copies of my work with me if only to understand better what I have done wrong; I cannot undo the damage that I have done but, perhaps, I can figure out how to fix this mess. Or I could figure out how to make the cure work...
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You definitely need to make this the start of a series so we can all see what happens next.
You know, I think I will. Thanks for the feedback, and thanks again for reading!
You’re welcome. What is the thing in your profile image?
Veigar, from League of Legends. It's not my art.
Cool anyway though. Working on anything for the new prompts?
I have a couple ideas. But I don't want to spoil anything yet. I might give another shot at horror.
Yes, I reckon there’s the makings of a MUCH longer story here…. Go for it!
You might be right; I'll look into seeing if I can expand upon it. Thanks again for reading the story and providing feedback!
What a brilliant story you've written 👏 🙌 I loved it. I can tell you put a great deal of thought into the sequence of the story. You also created plenty of suspense and conflict by applying medical obstacles and unanticipated consequences that could come up in such a situation. If you ever decide to expand the story into a longer work later on, I'd love to read it.
Hey, thanks for the feedback as well as taking the time to read the story!
Really enjoying seeing all the new inventions/discoveries that are invented for this quote! Thanks for a great story!
You're welcome! And thanks for commenting!