Authors: Greg Curtis
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2013
The clinic room was sterile in every sense of the word. While there was no chance of any bacteria having survived on the sparkling white tiles of the floor or the lustrous white laminate walls, there was also no chance of any human warmth surviving there either. It had no personality. No colour – literally. Nothing of any real interest. Even the air stank of antiseptic without the benefit of the usual fake floral bouquets found in hospitals.
But that was as it was meant to be Will supposed. And at least the chair was comfortable. A nice leather recliner that would have been more than welcome in his tawdry student flat. Except for the colour of course. It too was sterile white.
The only things that really stood out against the tyranny of white were the ring of machines surrounding him which had patches of colour here and there, the faces of Doctor Millen and his assistants, and the little flashes of colour on the various monitors as they displayed his vitals. It might have helped if the medical staff weren't all wearing white full length lab coats done up tight. But they were probably worn for reasons of sterility as well. Either that or to blend in with the walls.
But why the need for so much white? That was the thing he didn't understand. It was over the top and then some. Sure, it was a clinic and medical settings seemed to go for the white look. But it wasn’t as if it was a surgery. He wasn't about to be cut open. It was a simple injection. It could be done in a field with a plastic needle and an iodine swab.
Still, when there was ten thousand dollars riding on the procedure he guessed he could live with a little white.
He could even live with the utter seriousness of the doctor as he went about his business. Doctor Millen was probably the perfect example of what a doctor was supposed to look like. Middle aged with his hair just starting to turn grey. Tall and thin. Immaculately dressed – even if he had covered those expensive clothes with a spotless white medical robe. And with a face that spoke of both solemnity and sobriety. Po faced as his mother would have called him. Humourless was perhaps a kinder word. Will had once made the mistake of asking the doc why his name was Millen and not MacMillen and had been informed in that dry monotone of his that he was the son of no one. It hadn't been a joke. Will had to wonder if a smile had ever cracked those lips. Maybe though that was as it should be. Especially when the doc was hovering over him asking questions. That had to be better than him looking nervous.
Now I do have to ask you one more time. You are sure you're ready to do this? You can pull out at any time you know.”
That had to be the tenth time the doctor had asked him that and Will was getting tired of it. After all, how many times could he ask the same thing?
He was. In the end it was ten thousand dollars for no real risk, a few days lounging around in a clinic being monitored, and if the doctor was right the chance that he would come out of it a little bit better. That was the purpose of the research. To see if they could genetically alter people so they would gain a stronger immune system. Maybe the fact that what they were doing couldn't be undone was a small worry. It had made him think twice before putting his name down on the piece of paper. But in the end that was why they were paying him ten thousand dollars. And he needed the money.
Besides, he was the seventh person to have had this done to them. Six people had gone before, and all of them were alive and well. Three of them were alive and well and with better immune systems. And three of them were alive and well and in exactly the same place they had been before. The dose hadn't worked on them. But all of them were alive and well. And none had had any serious side effects. In fact none had had any at all as he understood it.
“All right.” The doctor took the needle from its tray, uncapped it and injected the contents into the little plastic spigot connected to the IV bag. Then he turned the little wheel that allowed the contents of the drip to feed into Will's bloodstream.
“Now you shouldn't feel anything at all Mr. Simons. There may be a little fever over the next few days, but it'll be minor and we'll be watching you closely for all that time. And of course we'll be doing a lot of tests.”
So, Will guessed, he would be a human pincushion for the next five days. But still it was ten thousand dollars!
The doctor went on like that for quite a while, talking about what was going to happen to him over the next five days, and everything he would be expected to do. Most of that was of course to lie in a hospital bed and be regularly bled. And all of it was stuff he knew. It had been in the copious piles of notes he had been given before being allowed to sign up for the trial. As the doctor spoke Will sat there in the leather armchair, supposedly listening but really letting his thoughts spin a little. Ten thousand dollars was a lot of money after all. It would pay off a lot of bills. Make a dent in his student loan. Maybe even let him gas up the car a few more times. And as for the other stuff he simply didn't care. Fever he could deal with. Besides, the doctor had said it would be minor. The rest was so unlikely as to be not worth thinking about.
In fact the only time he'd really reconsidered participating in the trial was when the doctor had told him it was a virus he would be injected with. But his alarm had been short lived. Apparently it wasn't the sort of virus that caused people to become ill. All it was was a way of carrying some genes they'd extracted from someone else who was immune to a lot of illnesses, and put them in him.
Still, he did watch the IV bag a little as it slowly emptied of its clear liquid. It looked like water, and in fact he was told it was mostly only saline – salt water. That couldn't hurt him could it?
He watched the machines too as they recorded his vitals. Listened to the heartbeat monitor pinging away steadily. Studied the technician sitting at the computer across the room checking on his results, and idly wondered why the guy sported a pony tail. It didn't seem that professional. Will then returned his attention to the clock on the far wall and wondered how time could go so slowly. He even watched the nurse as she stood there with a stethoscope around her neck, doing absolutely nothing and looking somewhat bored. Actually he watched her most of all. She was quite fit.
He quite liked her long dark hair. Of course maybe that might have something to do with the fact that he was still hurting after being dumped only a week or so before by his long-time girlfriend. More than dumped, he had been tossed aside like a used tissue when Laurel had run off with her lab partner, Martin. It had come completely out of the blue. One minute he had been happy, life had been going along sweetly and he had even been thinking of putting together some money and buying a ring. In fact he'd thought that some of the ten grand from the trial could go toward it. The next she was gone. He had simply been informed by Laurel that she didn't love him any more. That he wasn't the man for her. That there was another. A better man. By which he suspected she meant a richer one. One with prospects.
Apparently Martin was quite wealthy. Wealthy enough that he could afford to live on “The Hill” as it was called in one of the swankier graduate apartments. Wealthy enough that Martin would never have to volunteer for medical research trials. He came from a wealthy family, and when he finished his business degree he'd be moving into the family business. Accounting so he understood. Laurel had even kicked her old flatmate out and had moved Martin into the flat with her. He guessed she saw marriage, a white picket fence, two kids and a dog, and a membership at an exclusive country club in her future, and she wanted to make sure it happened. A broke history student just didn't cut it. And while Will was doing his best to deal with his dumping in a civilised manner, he really didn't want to see another honey blonde. There was something to be said for dark hair.
Twenty minutes later the bag was empty and the doctor unhooked him, telling him something about it all having gone very well. Though from what Will remembered from the reading material they'd given him, it would be twenty four hours at least before there was any sign of the treatment working. And three days before they would have definitive proof. It would take twenty eight minutes before even the first blood cell in his body had absorbed the new DNA and another twenty before it had replicated. How they could tell him that he didn't know. But he believed them.
“So what now?”
Will asked the question because it was beginning to look as though the plan was to just stand around doing nothing and he didn't like that. Now that it was done and the stuff was in his bloodstream he really just wanted to go to the private room he'd been promised and get back to work on his thesis. His laptop and books were already there waiting for him. That was the other reason he'd liked this project. Five days in a hospital room where he had nothing to do except work on it. No annoying flatmates, loud parties, tellies blaring, or having to cook and clean. No more Mark and Richard annoying him while he was trying to work. He had a thesis to write, and while they were good friends they just didn't seem to get that. And ten thousand dollars? That was a blessing.
“Now we wait. At least a couple of hours.”
Will sighed. It was as he'd feared. Hours of sitting around being bored. And though he was tempted, he couldn't even ask for a cup of coffee. Not for five days anyway. Something about stimulants and blood pressure so he'd been told. That was going to be hard.
But at least they weren't going to be asking him any more questions. He'd been growing tired of them. Especially the stupid ones. So he had a tattoo – so what? It was just one and it was small and old. He'd got it six and a bit years ago when he'd first arrived at the university and begun his classes. All it said was “Fiat Lux” the Latin for “Let There Be Light”, the university's motto. He'd been so proud. But still the doctor had been absolutely fascinated by it for some reason. There had been innumerable questions, swabs taken and even an x-ray. Why?
They'd asked about his date, time and place of birth – which had seemed a little extreme. But then they'd gone completely over the top by asking about his parents. Not just their medical histories but also their lives. What could they possibly have to do with anything?
And while he understood that they might be concerned about things like sexually transmitted diseases – and in fact they had done tests – some of the questions they'd asked had been more about his sexual morality than anything medical. It had been a very personal interview.
Still, it was done, the money was as good as in his bank account, and for the time being he was free to do nothing. Or perhaps to ask some questions of his own.
“So doctor, this guy they got the genes from, he's completely resistant to disease?”
Will decided to ask the question since there was nothing else to do for the next hour or so anyway. Maybe he should have thought to ask earlier, but he wasn't really that interested. Disease wasn't a huge risk to anyone these days. If you got sick you saw a doctor and he cured you. It was simply the reality of life in the twenty first century. There were exceptions like AIDS but he wasn't stupid enough to put himself at risk.
“So I understand. At least to common illnesses.”
‘So he understood?’ As in he didn't know? That did not strike Will as good. Why did the man not know about the donor? Should he ask? Will wasn't sure. On the one hand it seemed like a perfectly reasonable question. But on the other it could sound like a criticism. And they hadn't paid him his money yet.
In the end Will decided not to ask. There seemed little point in upsetting anyone. So he returned to his silent contemplation and let the long minutes crawl by.
Could the second hand of the clock really be moving so slowly? It actually seemed to be slowing down as he watched it.
Ten fifty one. The second hand on the clock finally hit the twelve and he knew that the first twenty eight minutes had passed. The drug, the gene loaded virus had now infected his first cell. That was a big thing he guessed. But it didn't feel big. It didn't feel any different to the minute before. But then had he really expected it to? The whole point of the experiment, at least for him, was that it was safe. It wasn't really a drug test. It wasn't even that radical a technology. Gene therapy was something they'd done before, it was just that it was usually used to treat sick people. And it had always been safe. The only thing that was different in this case was that he was fit and healthy to start with. They were using it to make him a little bit fitter and healthier. There was no risk.
Will wondered if he should say something. But he guessed not since no one looked particularly interested. Not in him anyway. Only in the machines. Even the doctor was staring away into the distance, a bored look on his face. Cutting edge research clearly wasn't as exciting as it was supposed to be.