Second Chance Epidemic by Steve Davis

Second Chance Epidemic by Steve Davis

Southwest Fertility Clinic, Chandigar, India

            Pulling the top of her sari almost immodestly open, the early greying woman opened the suburban clinic’s glass front door. A wall of hot air struck her in the doorway. She resolutely pushed on. Briskly passing the reception desk she traded morning smiles with the two student nurses pulling duty there. In the short hallway she stopped only long enough to check the wall monitor. Already 36 degrees. A/C repair needed calling again.

            Quickly resuming motion, she swept in a doorway.

            A half dozen young women looked up expectantly from the spotlessly clean little room’s well-worn chairs. She politely motioned her patients to give her a moment. Stepping behind the curtain into the examining area she slipped out her smart. With a causal tilt of her hand it switched on, staff initial reports flowing up its tiny screen. All the women this morning had the same symptomology. She wrinkled her brow at that. Tilting the screen nearly level, she slowed the reports. Still studying them she pulled back the curtain.

            “Mahen? I believe you are first?” she called out. A short haired woman in her late twenties almost sprang from her chair and past the curtain.

            “Excuse, but I am having a problem, doctor Khare. That is, my husband and I. Nearly three months of trying now on the fertility drugs and I have not conceived. Yet your assistant’s tests say my husband and I are both quite healthy. Well, I am having flu today I think. But this delay in becoming pregnant. We have tried to be patient but are losing hope,” the woman explained rapid fire. The doctor nodded gently.

            “Yes, yes. I am afraid I must push your patience a bit farther, Mahen. Another exam,” Khare politely asked.

            Five more patients and exams later, the doctor stepped back out into the hallway. She stopped in front of the reception desk. When they saw her expression the nurses went quite. She kept her voice low. “We’ve got a Public, I think. Notify the health ministry. I just examined six patients and they all appear sterilized,” she told them. One of the nurses, a new student, looked shocked. “But I gave one a full med myself, doctor. Nothing like that came up.”

            The older woman shook her head. “Not your fault. Really. I only caught because I decided to do a sterility specific. Six women coming in with the same set of complaints is more than odd. This is very sad. Hopefully the ministry will quickly track down the source of their tragedies.”

Port administration office, Accra, Ivory Coast

            Accra’s chief customs officer glared up at the faded colors shirt wearing and disturbingly sweaty gentleman in front of him as if the young man was already convicted of something. Out the window beside them the busy West Africa port shone in the late afternoon sun. As the uniformed local watched, the red headed man nervously shifted from foot to foot. The official shook his head and softened his approach.

            “You simply must leave, doctor. We cannot have a disgraced foreign medico working here. A year ago, at the end of the Coronavirus, perhaps. No one cared about background difficulties. But our surviving medicos are now of a mind to “clean things up”. Make everything a bit more professional. And I gather they don’t like you on a personal level either,” the seated official said almost sympathetically. The tanned man facing him grimaced as if pinched.

            “But I’ve been completely professional ever since I got here. Completely. Come on, sir. Those problems are behind me. I really want to just practice. You can see by my record, not a single patient complaint. Better than some of… never mind. And I’m dug in here. Got the greatest little house down by the beach,” the tall but boyish faced medico implored. But the official’s expression didn’t change.

            “Twelve hours. I’m sorry, that’s all I can give you, doctor Reyes. Then you must be on a plane out. Even so, the medicos are going to yell at me a bit. They want you already gone. You really do know how to offend. Not good at fitting in, I gather,” the seated man commented. Reyes frowned as if about to argue the point. Instead, he turned toward the window.

            He suddenly looked lost.

            “I need the sun here. Long as it’s blazing out I feel up. It keeps me okay,” he said half to himself.

National Health Center, Bethesda, Maryland

            Spotting an empty seat a few steps into the crowded conference room the short, retro long haired, woman headed straight for it. Around the room phones, e-glasses and buds were beeping and blinking and hurriedly being switched to silent or put away. She kept her e-shades on. As the thirtyish woman squeezed into the seat the people on either side recognized her and started to make extra room. Homeland Security’s brown-haired top official in the building politely smiled not to bother.

            Up front a young staffer in a ruffled white shirt abruptly started.

            “Looks like this one is wild fast. Fortunately, it’s not killing people. Whatever it is. As of this morning we haven’t figured out if we’re looking at another, bizarrely benign, version of Covid-19, or even if it’s reaching epidemic,” he told them. From the rear of the room, her back defensively against the wall, a small woman with severely cut cloud white hair spoke up.

            “Eight cities in India, maybe Yokohama in Japan and several more in Europe. Yeah, it’s an epidemic. Maybe the start of pandemic. It’s leaping countries, using air travelers just like the C. Just this time it’s sterility instead of mortality,” she insisted.

            Up front an older man in a noticeably more expensive shirt stepped beside the staffer. He seemed almost bored.

            “This looks more total than disease vectors can carry. In fact, the Indian incidence rate is so high that our diagnostic AIs suggest a mass chemical spill there. That’s just what they say,” he responded.

            From off to the HomeSec rep’s left somebody in a business suit raised a hand.

            “Unless it’s not spreading like earliers. Not just one-on-one, or even close quarters general contact. Just -” he searched for words. “- through the air like smoke.” Around the room several people looked scared. The shades wearing rep raised her hand.

            “Talisa Hanny, Homeland Security liaison. Could this be worse than Covid-19? I mean in terms of how many people get it. Is that a real possibility?” she asked. Then waited. From the back the older researcher almost barked a reply.

            “Real as a bullet!”

            Hanny frowned. “Covid-19 hit five countries the first few weeks, right? Then it took off for real. We barely got it under control last year. Something faster than that could rip through all our health networks,” she cautioned.

            The man up front shook his head confidently. “The world is a little better prepared this time, uh, miss Hanny. Covid-19 got our act together. The networks are already being activated. I mean, we’re in a much better position than last time, thank goodness.”

            Hanny’s face tightened, suppressing a reply. The young staffer resumed the presentation; a series of graphs and projections, plus streaming from SeeUsNow.

            Hanny looked up. The insistent woman from rear of the room was standing in the aisle right beside her. Wearing an uncomfortably stiff looking pantsuit the short researcher locked eyes with the rep. Just behind her a tall intern age male assistant stood shadow silent. “Too slow, Hanny. Some diseases may start fast and level off, but this one is absolutely panic different. I can feel it. You’ve got to get your superiors to get WHO focused on this now,” she pressed. Hanny tried polite.

            “Anything I can do to speed things up?” she asked. The older woman leaned in and gave her a rock firm look.

            “Yell. Loudly. Scare them wide awake,” she advised bluntly. Hanny nodded slightly at that.

            “I’m tempted. Whatever this thing is, it’s breaking out in several places at once. But I’ve never found trying to panic people into action the fastest way to get results. And this isn’t exactly a deadly disease. Not quite “God risk” serious yet,” she said. From the aisle the researcher gave her an up and down glance like an instant med exam.

            “Women of childbearing age losing any chance of ever having kids for the rest of their lives. How serious is that to you personally?” she added pointedly.

            Hanny’s face tightened again.

Accra International

            “Morning flights Cancelled,” blinked over and over on the overhead arrivals/departures board. Near the front of the crowd vainly watching it in main terminal, Reyes turned away in disgust. On the wall beside him a hastily lettered cardboard sign stated the obvious; “Airport temporarily sealed for Medical Emergency”.

            Reyes impatiently slipped his phone out of a shirt pocket. The transparent little card, thin as a credit card and all screen, lit up with brightly sharp icons. He started to say a name, then looked around. Tapping virtual, he silently dialed. The U.S. embassy’s eagle graphic came up. A voice clip, minus video, immediately played. “All mailboxes are full.”

            Complaining under his breath, Reyes tried another number. The local consul, a harried young man in a blue tee came on. “Yes, sir. Stay in place. We’re arranging for food, water, family communications and access to physical banks. Well, setting up arrangements. Trying to. Call us back in a few hours, okay?” the young official suggested. With a retro Cardi B sign off wail the call dropped.

            Reyes shook his head in frustration.

            He tried the hospital next. It’s visual also seemed down this morning. A particularly high-pitched male voice answered. Reyes let out a relieved breath.

            “Jenn? Oh man I’m glad I got you. I’m stuck here at the airport. They’ve stopped the lot of us. No flights in or out. They’ve even sealed the airport entrances. Stupid. Or at least that’s what it feels like standing here.” Around him the main terminal seemed more crowded than earlier, families getting loud and phones coming out.

            “So you are well, Keith? The television says there are many sick. That it’s popping up all over, following the busiest air travel routes,” the reedy voice told him. Reyes hunched over the phone.

            “Really? That’s a fast spread. Have any info on exactly what “it” is? I haven’t checked news today,” the doctor admitted.

            “Yes. CNN says health officials think maybe women are getting it only. Something about sterility. Lots of women saying that on SeeUsNow. CNN is always so far behind. And lots of confirmed cases across Asia and Europe,” his associate replied. Reyes nodded to no one.

            “That explains sealing the airport I suppose. Incoming passengers and the rest of us have commingled. Health ministry is taking no chances. Overreaction, but…” He switched subjects.

            “I need a favor. A very big one this time,” he said.

            “All your favors have been big since you got here. And I do not remember ever receiving in return,” his co-worker pointed out.

            “Then I owe you a lot of favors, Jenn. I admit it. But please, I really need help here. Being stuck inside is the last thing I can handle right now. You’ve got to come down and get me. Tell them it’s an emergency at hospital,” Reyes pleaded. The other man let the request hang a moment.

            “You could learn to have more patience, Keith. It’s a problem with you,” he observed with a bit of weariness. The call disconnected. Reyes frantically started to redial. A voice beside him startled him.

            “You are a doctor? My daughter has a fever. See, she’s sitting over there. Can you help?” a woman in a local orange print wraparound asked, waving her hand toward a crowded bench. An unsmiling girl of about fifteen looked directly back.

            With a sigh he waded through people to the bench. A practiced professional smile flitted across his face as he reached her. Asking the girl’s name he checked her forehead temperature with his phone app. Then asked how she felt. As he listened intently, the mother added her own monologue about their recent situation. After taking the girl’s pulse Reyes stepped back and put an almost bland face back on.

            “Yes, her temperature is slightly elevated. But her pulse is fairly normal considering we’re in a rather crowded and noisy airport. Her discomfort appears mild. And it’s been a day since she first felt ill? I don’t believe she’s got anything acute. But I would advise getting tested at clinic. Well, as soon as they let us out of here,” he concluded. Then started to move away.

            Hesitating, he turned back to the mother. “You say you just arrived home? And routed through Orly?” he asked her. She nodded, wide-eyed. He frowned. “Was anyone around you coughing? Anyone nearby?” he went on. She shook her head no. He squinted. “Odder question, but did either of you happen to touch anyone directly? Say, hand contact at customs or boarding?” The mother thought a moment, then nodded no again. He absently mumbled thanks.

            As he walked away he slipped the phone back out.

Bethesda

            Her boss seated on her left, Hanny visibly resisted the urge to stare out the window that direction. The inviting autumn scene outside the meeting room clashed with the meeting’s seriousness. On the large screen behind them a display of the world flashed red with confirmed cases in dozens of countries.

            To her right at the table an obviously eager young med from CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine was having a hard time staying quiet. From the back of the group facing them a knot of other department feds glared at the two men seated at a table in the middle of the room. The targets of their anger sat facing front and stonily ignoring each other. Hanny’s boss gave the two a long look, then began.

            “It’s already out of control. The news stories only hint at how bad. Our contacts have been reporting all night with more cases. It’s popping up in almost every country, just showed up in India first. But it’s probably been spreading undetected for weeks,” he told them. Taking the cue, Hanny tapped her phone. Behind them red arrows began pointing from the Indian epicenter to cities across Asia, Europe and the Americas.

            “Over four and a half million estimated infected as of this morning,” her boss added flatly.

            “That isn’t possible,” one of the two suits facing him said softly. Beside Hanny, the hyper CDC med looked expectantly at her, then leaned forward.

            “There is some good news. Great news really. We fully genomed the pathogen. It’s really two things attached to each other. The carrier is a flu virus strain. Well, a real kicker of a strain. But the other half is a commercial gene-mod called Xenoprocc. We think probably somebody on Xenoprocc picked up the virus and the two somehow mashed. Of course, how the virus is replicating Xenoprocc is a huge unanswered question,” he added excitedly.

            At the middle table one of the men – “VP for Drug Research, HethMorgan Pharmaceuticals” – on his nametag, stiffened. The other corp, a “Gochen Medicals” exec, looked relieved.

            Hanny’s boss nodded.

            “There’s virtually total infection in affected areas. Almost everyone who’s examined. And the transmission rate is faster than… it’s unprecedented. So our virus finding explains a lot. A very aggressive virus is about the only thing travels this fast. A really active strain just might be able to do what we’re seeing,” he confirmed.

            “And how many of these poor women are –,” the Gochen exec spoke up. The CDCer nodded.

            “Spot testing shows all are permanently sterilized,” he replied evenly.

            At the table the HethMorgan exec straightened up.

            “This is important, all right. Xenoprocc isn’t an experimental or anything. It’s an entirely tested product. A long-term birth control vaccine. In any permutation it shouldn’t … it’s as safe a biologic as anyone makes,” he assured them, spreading his hands.

            “But if it turns out that Xenoprocc is somehow involved, we will of course do everything we can to come up with a vaccine,” he smoothly offered.

            Beside him the Gochen rep made a disgusted face. “The public won’t stand for the same company that caused this horror also reaping huge profits from putting it out. They simply won’t tolerate that. They’ll want to see your company appropriately punished, not rewarded,” he warned. Hanny’s boss suddenly looked tired.

            “Please. That’s a matter for legal. What we desperately need right now is a fix. A fast way to stop this thing. And your cooperation, both of your companies, will be viewed highly positively,” he promised. But the two corp rivals were already loudly starting to trade accusations. Hanny quietly broke in.

            “Practically everybody is going to get it. Including almost all females of childbearing age in the world.”

            The room went silent. From the back a deep voice broke the silence. “So what’s the plan? What do you want us to do? Surgical masks? Bigger quarantines?” a large fed asked. Hanny made a loose “why not” gesture with her hand.

            “Masks aren’t really effective outside of closed environments like hospitals. Quarantines may slow things a bit, sure. But no matter what we do the odds are against us,” she said flatly.

Port of Miami, Florida

            Hundreds of cruise ship passengers crowded the international arrival complex. Walking through them, small groups of armed and bored looking National Guard troops idly gazed out at the ocean. Along the west wall a row of doctors and Red Cross volunteers manned tables with colorful “Welcome Travelers!” banners still strung overhead.

            At a line of passengers queuing there, one of the volunteers looked up to see a family carrying enough baggage for an expedition. The father gave her a glare.

            “An officer onboard told us two days but just now somebody on Barkzz predicted sixteen. We can’t stay here sixteen days! We’re just visiting Miami. My wife and I have business waiting back in Houston. You can’t keep us that long,” the man complained. The volunteer eyed him back.

            “That’s what a mandatory quarantine is, sir. It’s mandatory. They’re doing this at all the airports too. I’m sorry but we’re all going to have to stay in the dock complex awhile. Hopefully the shortest time possible,” she told him.

            Overhead a speaker repeated that passengers should keep their luggage with them at all times. The family turned and stomped off. Glancing at the man beside her the dissed volunteer sighed loudly.

            “This is the kind of stuff we gamed about with County last month. Now that it’s really happening… it’s so much harder,” she admitted.

            He shrugged. “Reality always is.”

Accra International

            People outside were busy selling fruit through a small window to the passengers in main terminal. That welcome breach in quarantine had started in the morning. As Reyes watched, the soldiers inside with the crowd joined in buying food. Still, no one was being allowed out.

            He was losing it. Pacing, breathing shallowly, he radiated restlessness. His finger obsessively kept pressing his smart’s “clear” icon. A glint of brightness off to his lift stopped his pacing. He turned and looked. Down a side corridor sunlight was bathing people by a window, their faces almost shining. He hurriedly pushed his way there. When the light hit his face his shoulders relaxed down.

            Breathing calmer, Reyes made another call. A woman his age with hair big enough to fill most of the screen came on looking surprised. Then she smiled recognition. His screen ID’d her as well. “Shauntel Silvers, CDC admin staff,” highlighted below her face. The two quickly got to it. She told him about the virus/Xenoprocc hybrid and he asked about the new virus’s symptomology. She read off the known’s so far.

            “Mild fever?” he repeated. He turned and looked over at the crowded benches in the middle of the terminal. The girl and her mother were wedged together on one. On the phone Silvers was getting things up off her desk.

            “I’m trying to leave work in a few minutes to pick up the kids, Keith. Their school’s closing at least for the week. All the schools are. On the way here this morning the grocery stores were all crammed, people buying out food, there’s even lines of cars forming around charge stations,” she explained.

            “People are nervous, stocking up. Pharmacies and online med suppliers are doing massive business. Everybody trying to beat the virus so they don’t get the sterility that comes with it,” she told him. Reyes shook his head.

            “Almost everybody gets the flu, Shauntel. The symptoms are often slight enough to go unnoticed, but you can’t really stop any virus, it’s too clever. It’s outmaneuvered everyone who’s tried since back in the twentieth. But this Xenoprocc gene-mod, maybe when it’s protein unfolding -? I assume your bosses are already on that,” he quizzed her.

            “They’ve scooped up all the space on the servers. Using every byte,” she confirmed.

            “Anything promising?” he asked.

            “Nothing,” she said with a sigh. He nodded.

            “Stay Live? I know a few other people who might want to look at the problem. Some of our crew from before I got thrown out. And I’ve got nothing else taking up me time right now,” he said softly.

            “Sure,” she agreed. Her image stayed on and moved to a corner of his screen.

            Reyes called up another name. When the Shanghai embryologist came on she had nothing positive to share either.

            “The infection numbers are shooting up, K. It’s running very fast, very contagious. You don’t want to know the projections. It’s officially a pandemic now,” the today orange and pink haired young researcher warned him.

            “And the attendant sterility?” he asked.

            “The ovaries are permanently shut down. Instant menopause,” she said with a tone of finality. He looked back glumly.

            “There are always some people who fight off virus,” he repeated the weak argument.

            “Can’t fight off the Xenoprocc that rides in on it. It’s molecularly certain, like a bullet,” she shot down that faint hope. With a practiced twist of her hand she snapped off a corner of her blue tinted smart, newest model, and clipped the tiny camera to her blouse. On Reyes’ screen a spot windowed from that view.

            She was walking as she talked. Brick and glass labs passed by, hundreds of square meters of research space, shimmering rooms filled with people and equipment. Reyes tried to put on a didn’t care face. “Nice place,” he said nonchalantly. She cracked a smile “The intern has become the master,” she quipped back. They agreed to share whatever else they found out about the new disease. A groupfile popped onscreen.

            As he started another call Reyes noticed the headline window change. “Travel ban for affected countries,” upgraded to “Travel ban for affected regions.” Asia and northern Europe were now on lockdown.

National Health Center, second floor

            Her tall shadow kept pace beside her, talking. “Trying to contact a doctor, as out of the box goof as you can get. Chatter is that he’s hosting a tightshare about the pandemic with some of his former classmates. They’ve started a pretty active attack on the problem. You said to look for people doing that. Uh, he interned briefly last year at your old department at Miami General,” he told the white-haired researcher. She stopped abruptly. Her eyes widened.

            “Yes, that guy,” he said quietly.

Accra

            The airport loudspeaker blared another unintelligible advisory. Few of the stranded passengers and families listened.

            Reyes didn’t even bother looking up from the wall of windows covering his screen. Several tiny faces on it were talking at once and multiple files were transferring. Center screen displayed a graphics of the protein folding they were all working. With nothing but idle time, Reyes stared total concentration at the developing graphic.

            A new call whistled. He impatiently took it. A brown-haired woman around thirty smiled smoothly out at him.

            “Hello, doctor Reyes. I’m Talisa Hanny, HS. A particularly insistent lady just suggested contacting you. She calls you and the people you’re collaborating with “a virus to fight a virus.” Have a minute?” the image asked. He looked around. Along the far wall some people were already lying down and trying to go to sleep.

            “Yes. I believe I’ve got quite a few,” he answered.

            “Great. I wanted to talk to you about the new virus,” Hanny said simply. Reyes looked surprised.

            “You’re calling for my input on that? Well. This is a shock.”

            “Are you willing to help?” the official politely pressed. Reyes sighed.

            “I’m still a medico, yes. And I know the details about Xenoprocc and everything. A few people I know have been Liveing about that. It’s just that HS probably won’t go for whatever our take on this turns out to be. It really won’t,” he stated.

            “I don’t know, doctor. We’re trying every angle we can. Starting with coming up with a flu shot, of course,” she informed him. He suppressed most of a grimace.

            “Right. Attack the vector. Fine. Fine. That’s what I’d expect from the health agencies. Hope it works. But people have been trying to do that a with whole zoo of flus for decades now. Great work, but it only partially works and it takes so much time. At least try something else too. Something faster. That’s all I ever tried to do back in med school. Maybe I got a little too eager to show…” he reluctantly admitted.

            “You falsified results, doctor. You made up half your findings out of practically thin air and posted them online as fact,” Hanny pointed out.

            “And by the way, what are you doing practicing medicine at all? I don’t see any residency completion in your file,” she said, reading along the bottom of her smart with a frown. Reyes hurriedly spoke up.

            “Jumped around a lot at school. You know how it goes. But I picked up a ton of med credits before they…And when I got here there was a somewhat severe shortage of health care workers,” he responded defensively. From the screen Hanny hard eyed him

Something else on her screen grabbed her attention.

“Going to have to call you back, docto – , mister Reyes. Some of our more accredited researchers here are reporting possible progress. Thank you for your time,” she absently finished, dropping the call.

Reyes started to get her back. Instead he tiredly straightened up. For the first time in hours he looked up and noticed the people around him in the corridor. Their appearance and behavior were painfully easy to read. Sweating, body aches, fatigue, dry throats and nasal congestion.

He sighed and bent over the smart again.

The protein graphic hadn’t changed for a while. It was starting to smell like a deadend. Reyes motioned with his hand and backed the image out. The virus’s whole molecular mass filled center screen. Not really focusing on anything in particularly, his gaze drifted to one side of the virus surface.

He stared a dozen blinks. Then over at the other side. His eyes traveled back and forth, widening. With a motion of his hand the image rotated. A moment later, as people passing by gingerly stepped around him, he began talking rapid pace with a multitude of tiny faces.

Accra

When the HS official called back she looked feverish.

            Reyes eagerly began talking before she had a chance to speak.

            “We’ve come up with something. The virus strain and HethMorgan’s product fit together at just one spot. It’s on a receptor point that an earlier flu strain didn’t have. And we’re got plenty of that old strain stored in study labs. So. Mass produce and release the old flu all over the globe,” he said in almost one breath. When the ill HS rep frowned “what?”, Reye rushed on.

            “The earlier flu has a huge advantage over flu/Xenoprocc. It doesn’t have to carry around the Xenoprocc’s mass and use resources to replicate it. It can quickly out-breed our new disease into oblivion,” he added enthusiastically. But Hanny seemed shocked.

            “Seriously? You’re talking about mass releasing another flu virus on the world? Just suggesting that to my superiors would probably get me dismissed. Doing it… If it didn’t work then that’d be it for my career. Plus probable criminal charges, of course,” she icily told him. Reyes didn’t seem overly concerned about her fate.

            “Yes. But isn’t that chance better than doing nothing? And we’re pretty confident this will work. Now if your people will only get on it. Everybody seems so stuck, talking and talking instead of doing. Corona all over again,” he complained.

            Onscreen the tired looking official visibly struggled. “Unfortunately true. But aside from roughly a thousand other problems, sir, even if this did work to prevent further infections it wouldn’t help the two billion or so women like myself who now find ourselves sterile,” she told him.

            Toneless, a doctor delivering bad news, Reyes agreed. “No, and I’m sorry big time about that,” he said. Hanny waved the issue aside.

            “So. You and your friends’ big idea is to intentionally infect everyone in the world with this almost identical virus? Why does that sound like playing with fire?” she asked. Her eyes momentarily closed in flu fatigue.

            “There are risks,” Reyes admitted lightly. Hanny stared at him with red eyes.

            “I see why you were dropped, Reyes. No. I don’t think we’ll be spreading versions of disease. Thank you for your time.” She started to end the call. Reyes hurriedly interrupted.

            “Why won’t it work,” he challenged.

            That seemed to re-engage her.

            “You’re not just a risk taker, Reyes. You’re the guy at the blackjack table who gets high cards and then asks for one more card. Wild, undisciplined, gambling,” Hanny typed him. She leaned back as if seeing something for the first time.

            “This is what a whole generation brought up on social media has brought us. Shoddy gossiping, a million conspiracy posts and now people like you trying to play doctor,” she complained. Then went silent so long Reyes started to plead again. But she cut him off.

            “Alright. Give me your collaborative’s solution file and stay connected. I’m going to call my boss and show him. It’s hard to think right now – my head feels like a balloon – but I’ll let him see what you’ve got,” she said in a voice almost too faint to hear.

            “If this does work… We’ll know in weeks. A lot of things will change, including your status. You’ll probably come out a hero,” Hanny told him. He looked surprised at the thought.

            “I’m not interested in that. Well, not very much. But I would appreciate any help getting me out of this airport. Maybe staying in Accra. I’m having some difficulties with that,” he understated.

Chandigar

            The A/C running smoothly this morning, Khare allowed herself a relaxed pace to the reception desk.

            The petite young woman behind the desk smiled but apologized profusely.

            “Thank you for coming in so early, doctor. So sorry. I just didn’t know what to do. The waiting room for surgery is already full. So many patients wanting embryos implanted,” she explained. The grey-haired medico in front of her smiled back, checking her own smart.

            “Yes, I see. Going to have our hands full today, aren’t we? Glad to see all our nurses are here early too. We’re going to need them,” the clinic head predicted. The student behind the desk glanced down at a screen.

            “Hospital called an hour ago and asked for more spares for implantation. Made it sound quite urgent,” she told the older medico. Khare shook her head in wonder.

            “So odd. A few weeks ago we threw ours away or froze them. People wanted to end multiple pregnancies or have just boys. We disposed of all the extra embryos the fertility drugs caused,” she marveled to the receptionist.

            “Now every birth is being celebrated. All the spares that would have been destroyed. Each has many women between your age and mine waiting and hoping to receive it. Another chance for us all. And when this “Xeno-Gen” passes and women start having children naturally again… Maybe some of that attitude will survive,” the doctor speculated hopefully. From across the desk the new nurse vigorously nodded agreement.            

“At least no more of that “boys only” nonsense,” she commented firmly.

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