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"Then our contagion's host will have
to be at least that old, too.."

"Insectoidal?" Jamie guessed.

"We ruled that out. No bites on half the
victims, remember?" Steven sighed.

MacPherson was undaunted.
"The Lopez house is deeply inside
city limits on the edge of the mountains.
No animals crawling in from the forest would
go unnoticed there."


"Too inefficient a metabolism for a retroviral
infection. It would never survive in them."
Taylor said, "I've tried on computer models."

Jamie frowned.. "Their dogs and cats,
and pigs and chickens were sacrificed by
investigators. Couldn't have been them,
they were all clean.."

"Those animals are also young species.
None older than a few hundred thousand
years. Domesticated genetic lines. They
can't be our hosts."

Dr. Brackett had finished a toxicology
series on Marco's blood samples and
looked up when Dr. Taylor and Dr.
Macpherson showed up in front of
his work station. "Any progress..?"
he asked.

"Retrovirus.. Zoonotically transmitted.
Our unknown is showing marked Shepherd's
Crook pleomorphism and resistance to
enzymatic lipase breakdown.."

Dr. Brackett's eyes squinted and he blinked
in reaction. "A retrovirus? I thought those
were extinct and found only in the fossil

"Not for some.." Jamie admitted. "The genus
is rare, but can still be found in the wild.
Just like the Listeria strain of cyanobacteria
is still found in Yellowstone's hotsprings. That
is living despite it being continually poisoned
by our now oxygen rich atmosphere.."

"Let me take a look at it.." Kel said.

Taylor and MacPherson held out their
hands to him to sit at the stool before the
microscope. "Be my guest.." Taylor
sighed. Then he pulled off his biocontamination
hood. "We don't need these anymore..
This one can't reinfect anyone
without an animal host.."

Jamie concurred, shedding her biosuit
too. "Totally true.."

"Then the quarantine is unnecessary?"
Dr. Brackett said.

"Completely doctor.." Steven told Kel.
"Only body fluid precautions are necessary.
Like you would do for any hepatitis or meningitis
patient in one of your wards. Anyone healthy
would be able to easily fight this off."

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"Marco wasn't healthy and so he got infected."
Kel realized. "Most likely because he was
burning his candles at both ends helping out
his mother and working fires here. Roy did  
tell us that no one has gotten a lot of
sleep for the last four days.."

"Most certainly.." Jamie agreed. "And we hadn't
been able to see these spirals and hooks until
now, because when we got to the boy,
he was already dead too long to present them
clearly, except in the one splenic blood sample
the forensic doctors managed to obtain.
Your fireman's blood slide, has just made
our problem crystal clear doctor.."
Brackett caught a site of the deadly,
yet ancient retrovirus on the slide. He
clearly saw the purple staining of the
enzyme lipase chemical that Steven
had added earlier, but the tiny
contagion stubbornly held together in
its spiralled stringed, oddly hooked shape.
"Frightening. This germ is technically
not alive here. But you're telling me
that it can still reproduce?"

Jamie nodded, agreeing with the hospital
doctor. "Ummhmm. Just by latching
onto any cellular RNA and telling it to
make more retroviral capsules, with its
own RNA, instead of normal stem cells."

"Then what causes the symptoms and
the fever and the bleeding?" Dr. Brackett
wanted to know.

Jamie said. "I have always hypothesized to
my superiors that retroviruses have a piggyback
contagion living in symbosis inside the spore
capsule. Each, separated from the other, is harmless,
but together in combination..."

"Deadly and fast.." Dr. Brackett agreed.
Dr. Brackett lifted a handy talkie
wrapped in plastic on the table.

  It was linked to both the triage center
outside and to the CDC team working
in the firehouse backyard.
##This is Kelly Brackett inside
Station 51. I'm lifting the quarantine.
There's proof positive on further non

Dr. MacPherson lifted her own. ##Confirming
the order Atlanta base. We're in the clear.
Bodily fluid protocols restrictions only..##

"How long will it take your people to
use these slide images to identify the
organism?" Kel said.

"Only as long as it takes to take a polaroid slide
image here and transmit it over TV satellite
to the CDC.. Our specialists will peg this in
within minutes if we've seen it before.."

"Then do it.. "

Jamie started laughing..

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"What's so funny doctor?" he asked.

"I just learned the best way to do that
doctor and it's even faster than our finest


"Use the reporters." she said. "They'll spread
those images like wildfire. And the CDC will get
them seconds after they air.."

"Are you crazy? What about the panic that
would cause doctor?" Steven said.

"What..." she said dismissively. "You mean the
earthquake hasn't already accomplished that?
We can just label these pictures X Case Influenza and
they'll be none the wiser.."

Steven started to snicker too. "Heh. Clever

"I'm afraid I don't understand.." Kel Brackett
said at their amused expressions.

"X Case is CDC code for "identify and confirm this".
Doctor Brackett. The word Influenza is bogus.
Jamie wants to add that to make any viewers
think we have just the flu in here to settle them

Kel smiled too. "I'll go along with that.."

"I'll get right on it.." Jamie said.
Soon, she had a polaroid of the slide
showing the retroorganism stains and
was jogging out the kitchen to
head through the garage and the waiting
press milling about outside for the
ten o'clock news broadcast about to
go on the air.

A minute later, she was back.

Dr. Brackett turned back to
Steven Taylor.."Uh, doctor, in your
theory, what's the best way to treat
retroviral hemorrhagic fevers?"
"Aggressive fluid management. I've
tested Idouroxidine, an anti-tumor
medication, against bacteriophage of
this virulence...and I've had good
results.." Steven suggested.

Jamie immediately countered.
"That's against bacteriophage
Taylor, not retroviruses. No one's
ever seen an active retroviral
epidemic before.."

Brackett silenced her with a growl.
"Not until now.. I'm willing to try
anything.. Marco Lopez's too
unstable to wait any longer on
a solution.. Even if it's just a temporary
one.. He and seven others in Mexico
are counting on us to help them now.
Even if it's just a shot in the dark!"

Jamie sighed, but let her colleague
continue advising Dr. Brackett.

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