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  1. foxbrains

    foxbrains Member

    Oct 16, 2007
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    The Orange Suitcase

    Discussion in '"Consequences" Short Story Contest' started by foxbrains, Jun 9, 2008.

    The Orange Suitcase (4014 Words) By Foxbrains

    The shabby orange suitcase sat by the corner of the basement room / lab that Todd was calling home. It was starting to show wear from its worldly travels. In the back of his mind, Todd knew it was really silly to keep carrying the suitcase with him. Part of it was history, and research. Part of it was nostalgia. The orange suitcase was his wife and daughter’s idea. It was a scrapbook chronicling the life of her their hero. It was the only remnants of his wife and daughter that he had left.

    He had been in this location for two weeks, well hidden, but not well hidden enough. He knew that eventually this spot too would be found, and he would be forced to grab his microscope and his orange suitcase, and look for a new place to call home.

    Todd stared at his hands. They were toughened, calloused hands. The hands of a construction worker or an auto mechanic, not the hands of a once highly sought after surgeon. It seemed like forever since he picked up a scalpel. It seemed like a long time since his highly trained hands and mind were used for the good of others instead of just for his own survival. In reality it had been only three years, three long years where Todd watched his friends and his family slowly turn on him. Some even died because of what he had let happen. As far as he knew his wife and daughter were still alive, but he could neither confirm nor deny that this was the case. None of the others really mattered anymore. All that mattered was that he would try till his last dying breath to undo what he had done, what he let happen. He hoped that he might see his family again, He hoped that he could fix what had happened, but the reality was that he might not be able to do it alone.

    Ten years ago, when Todd finished his MD/PhD he was sought after by every hospital he applied to, he was sought after by pharmaceutical companies that he had never heard of, he was considered to be amongst the greatest minds of the century, and he was only 28 years old.

    Before taking any job offers, he decided to explore the rain forests. He took a three month position with Doctors Without Borders on the outskirts of the Amazon Rain forest. In addition to learning about the plight of the locals, and helping to build hospitals, and trying to help make a difference, Todd took to his hobby of collecting biological samples. He sampled tree barks from hundreds of different trees, he collected leaf samples from hundreds of different plants, he even took soil samples from anywhere he went.

    It was one particular tree bark sample that lead to his meteoric rise in the medical and scientific communities. It was the microbes that ravaged this particular sample that would help Todd to make the discovery that had wiped one of the world’s greatest public health crises off the planet.

    When he first made the discovery it was after months of sorting through the samples he had collected. They were all meticulously catalogued, their specific location down to the latitude and longitude were recorded. Each sample was tested for potential medicinal properties. And then through pure serendipity he found it. He found a microbe that had displayed properties that had never been seen before.

    He wrote scientific journal articles about these particular microbes. They displayed the properties of interferon (an HIV inhibitor), they displayed the properties of Prozac and lithium (mood altering mediations), and they displayed the properties of a whole spectrum of the greatest medications of the time. He deduced that the properties the microbes exhibited were all dependant on two things, temperature at which they were synthesized, and temperature at which they were stored and administered. The articles were all very specific, they detailed the studies he performed, they discussed the temperatures in detail.

    Within 24 hours of the initial discovery, his face was seen on every news program. His face was on the front page of the worlds most respected newspapers, and within a week he was a bona fide magazine cover boy.

    He met his wife, Chase when she interviewed him for a story in "Popular Mechanics," and like everything else with Todd it was a whirlwind romance. With in six months of their initial meeting they were married. Within a year of their marriage, little Samantha was on her way. All the while, Todd was trying to make sure that his research was complete, he tried to make sure that the company he worked for understood that there was far more research that needed to be done. This was however the time of biotechnology start-ups that were always one blockbuster drug away from the mainstream and incredible profits for their investors, and they were also one failed study away from bankruptcy.

    He was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times dubbed him as the "New Boy Wonder" Both Time and Newsweek named him "Man of the Year." It didn’t take long for Todd to start believing the press, he was smart, he was good looking, and he was about to save the world; it didn’t take long for him to see the dollar signs and allow his integrity to be eroded. He held on for as long as he could, he ran as many studies as he could as quickly as possible, but the public was crying out for this vaccine to become available to the masses. Worst of all he was tired, he wanted to see his family, and he didn’t see any down sides to this vaccine. He was also being paid very well to not tell anyone of his concerns.

    Todd tried to convince himself that the money was not a bribe. It was not a way to keep him quiet about his concerns. He convinced himself that the fact that he could provide anything and everything for his wife and daughter made it all OK. He also convinced himself that he could protect his family from his discovery.

    Within 3 yeas of the discovery, the government of a small African nation with an 80 percent AIDS rate was selected to be the location for the human trials. The worlds governments were all willing to not only volunteer their populations for the studies, but also to pay small KeyTeck industries for the right to do so. Even the United Nations volunteered to allow normal medical research laws to be waved for this very important vaccine to be released to the world. As the research progressed, it was becoming increasingly easier to convince himself that he had done nothing wrong. There were no overt side effects. There was nothing to be concerned about.

    On Little Samantha’s fifth birthday, the revolutionary vaccine, AntyHIV was released, KeyTeck industries stock went through the roof, and Todd became wealthier than his wildest imagination. Todd almost became wealthy enough to believe that the world was a better place because of AntyHIV. He also became wealthy enough to believe that if there were any side effects that the worlds leaders would make the connections and stop the vaccine’s distribution.

    The most well read article in the orange suitcase was the article in Parade magazine. His face was on the cover, and it was released on the day the vaccine was approved unanimously in every country on the planet. It was also Samantha’s favorite article. It was one of the few articles that she could fully read and understand. It began with a simple question. It was a silly bubblegum type question. America wanted to know what Todd felt was the hardest time in his life. It was very simple to say that Medical school, internships and residency was the most difficult time he had ever spent. It was fun to explain that getting a PhD in engineering and a medical degree was 8 years of sleepless nights, more reading and research than he ever could have imagined, and he saw more blood during his residency than he thought a doctor should ever see. He happily explained that it was those very tough 8 years that convinced him to spend the three months in the Amazon rainforest that made all of this possible. The article also asked about the family. That is why it was Todd’s favorite article to look at. It reminded him of a time when his life and his wife and daughters lives were full of promise and happiness.

    Today, a mere three years later, those answers were not only trivial, but in fact an ironic joke. That was a walk in the park by comparison to the tough times that he was going through now. Todd was spending his nights running from place to place, a wanted fugitive, and his days desperately searching for an answer, and a cure for this madness that he had inflicted on the population.

    Todd was adamant that he would not take his own vaccine. At first nobody questioned him, they all figured that he had been exposed to so much of the material that his blood would not need any more to protect him. He implored his friends and family to also avoid the vaccine. He knew in the back of his mind, that although he took the money to keep his mouth shut about the testing that he felt was neglected, that there were still no documented issues with the vaccine. He knew that even though he took the money, there wasn’t anything to be afraid of. He also knew that he was able to protect his family from the vaccine.

    It was easy at first. The vaccine was only required of certain groups, groups that would be at risk for AIDS, like healthcare workers, prisoners, foreign aid workers that worked in countries with particularly high AIDS rates. His friends and family did not fall into any of these categories. But as time progressed, it became more difficult, you could not leave the country unless you were vaccinated, you could not enter the country unless you were vaccinated. As time progressed, the government required the vaccination, people who could not prove that they were vaccinated were vaccinated again.

    It was these people who were revaccinated that started to show the first signs that something was wrong. Extreme paranoia, followed by extreme violence often followed. These isolated events were explained away as being a result of some history of mental illness that these individuals always had. The Paranoia was explained as being a natural response to the government officials questioning their vaccination status. The violence was explained as a normal response to being detained and run through the delays involved with government issues.

    Todd saw the signs, but nobody listened to him when he explained why all of this was really happening. Whenever he tried to raise the issues he was reminded of the deal he made. He was reminded that he was legally not able to talk about the vaccine. It was the threats against his beloved wife, Chase, and daughter, Samantha that compelled him to keep his mouth shut.

    Todd diligently worked with the scientists at KeyTeck to develop a blood test to check for levels of the vaccine in the blood stream. He mistakenly thought that maybe the side effects would only be seen with an overdose of the vaccine. He thought that maybe he could prevent the side effects from arising if he could just make sure that nobody was overdosed with the vaccine. This prevented people from getting too high of a dose of the vaccine, but it took away his ability to forge documentation that proved he and his family had been vaccinated.

    Soon he was seeing documented evidence of reactions to the vaccine, even in people who were only vaccinated once, and who were given the correct dose of the vaccine. Most of the reactions were minor, in some cases people became nicer, in some cases they became too nice. In some cases it was violence, but since the reactions were so different, AntyHIV was never linked as the cause. And the threats kept him from helping the medical community to find the connection. Nobody asked the right questions so nobody ever made any of the connections.

    Still Todd and his family were OK, nobody dared to question whether they had been vaccinated or not. Still Samantha kept her scrapbook in the orange suitcase. Se liked the color Orange, Todd never had the heart to explain the irony of orange being a universal color for biohazards.

    As the vaccine essentially wiped AIDS off the planet, the laws of the country changed. Soon it was required that every man, woman, and child be vaccinated with AntyHIV. Soon it was a law that held the penaty of imprisonment if one was not vaccinated. Unfortunately Samantha was the first in Todd’s family to be vaccinated. The school she was attending was randomly selected to verify compliance with the new laws that forced the entire population to be vaccinated. When her blood test came back as negative for the vaccine, they tested her again. When it came back negative a total of three times, she was vaccinated and then Todd was notified.

    When Chase went to pick up Samantha at school, she was not even questioned about her vaccination status. She presented the documentation stating that both she and Samantha had been vaccinated. Chase convinced the school officials that there must have been some kind of mistake, with Samantha’s records. The two of them went home to meet Todd.

    It was becoming a more distant memory with every narrow escape that Todd made, but he remembered the discussion, that he and Chase had.

    "We cannot afford to both be arrested for not being vaccinated." Chase said. We cannot have Samantha orphaned.

    "We need to hide it a little longer. I am working on something that will take care of the side effects. As long as we can avoid being tested, we will all be OK." Said Todd as he tried to figure out a way to defeat the blood test.

    "What if we get tested?" asked Chase. "I don’t know how long we can keep the government officials away with our documentation. If you hadn’t invented that damned blood test, Samantha might still be Ok" She said in frustration.

    "Lets hope that Samantha doesn’t show the signs. Lets hope that Samantha will be OK." Said Todd as he blinked away tears

    Within three weeks, not only had Samantha shown the side effects, but the police were knocking at the door demanding that Chase be tested. When her tests came back as negative three times, she was vaccinated, and a Warrant went out for Todd’s arrest.

    Chase was able to warn him, and so it began. He first an to his parent’s house, but that was one of the first places that the police looked for him. Not only did he narrowly escape capture at the moment, but his parents were forced to be vaccinated.

    As he ran from the authorities, Todd watched as the world around him erupted into unsurpassed violence. Civil wars were breaking out on a daily basis. Terrorist attacks were on the rise. Innocent people were dying just because of the color of their skin, or the language they spoke, or because they looked at someone the wrong way. The people who had become more paranoid turned the people that became increasingly nicer into slaves. The anger, and violence in the world were only outpaced by the amount of paranoia that was running rampant in the world. The worlds leaders would not meet with each other. They were afraid that any meeting was only a plot for an assassination and an overthrow of their government. Ever country was afraid it was going to be invaded by its neighbors. Very few people were spared the paranoia that eventually lead to the death of at least thirty percent of the population. The lucky ones died by their own hands in a moment of helpless lucidity. People who thought they were protecting themselves killed others. And still others just died as an aftereffect of the drug, their hearts just gave out or their brains just hemorrhaged. It was not a pleasant way for anyone to end their lives.

    Todd kept running, every now and again he found a small band of non vaccinated people who were trying to fight off those that were destroying society. He was never able to stay in one place for too long as his face was so well known.

    One night while he was asleep in his car, under a bridge in a desolate part of the country, it occurred to him, the bark. The microbes did not adversely affect the bark that they lived on. There must be some way to inhibit the microbes with something like the bark.

    Al it took was a few moments on Google earth to discover that the part of the Amazon that he found the tree in had been developed. The tree was gone, the soil was gone, it would be almost impossible to find that bark again.

    Quickly Todd went on a search to find out if the tree was found anywhere else on the planet. He found one sample in a rare specimens file that listed the Smithsonian institute as its location. The fat that the specimen was in the Smithsonian gave Todd some hope that others had made the connections that he had made, and that others were in fact trying to solve the issues with the vaccine.

    His journey to Washington DC would begin at sundown. It was somewhat ironic that his only hope to cure the population again was in the one place where it would be the most guarded. It was in the one place where the laws that caused him to be in hiding were drawn up.

    There was a small scar under Todd’s left eye that was slightly infected. These new scars on his face were both a blessing and a curse. They had made him a little harder to recognize but they also made using a microscope a bit more painful. They had happened in a narrow escape some six months earlier when Todd was hit by a car while trying to run from the authorities. It was his narrowest escape yet, and also his most painful. As he pulled the shards of glass from his forehead, he briefly thought about just giving up, about letting himself get caught and hoping that he could convince the authorities to listen to him, maybe even help him to find the cure. But then he glanced at the shabby orange suitcase, and knew that he was doing this in the hopes of saving Chase and Samantha.

    When he arrived in Washington DC, it was easier to get into the Smithsonian than he thought. He dressed as a tourist, and walked in the front door. He passed thorough security without anyone even remotely recognizing him; a hungry guard at lunchtime was easy to fool.

    Finding the sample was a bit tougher. First he had to sneak into the research portion of the museum. Then he had to find the correct sample. There were over ten thousand samples within the archives of the Smithsonian, and they were not as well documented and filed as the samples Todd kept at KeyTeck. He also had to do this while people were working in the museum, and he couldn’t ask anyone for help, This was one place where a few scars would not disguise him from people who noy only knew who he was, some of them thought he was a hero and others thought he gave scientific research a bad name.

    After several hours of looking, Todd finally found the samples location, but the sample was gone. It was listed as being on loan to the Museum of Natural History in New York City.

    Unbeknownst to Todd, when he looked up the sample in the mainframe, it set off a beacon. The authorities now knew that someone was looking for this sample. When the mainframe alerted the primary researcher in the arboretum division that someone was looking for this particular sample, he notified the authorities. They immediately scanned the surveillance tapes and made a positive ID on Todd.

    The authorities had set a trap, a trap that had been used to catch man an underground researcher. A trap that they hoped would eventually catch Todd. The instructions were to allow him to leave the building. In fact the instructions also guaranteed him safe passage to New York City. When he got to the Museum of Natural history, he carefully and quietly entered the museum. I took only a matter of minutes to find the sample, and to get it under a microscope. Within a matter of minutes after that Todd extracted a small sample of the vaccine that he kept in a vial around his neck. He took a few drops of the vaccine and put it in contact with thin shavings of the bark, where he found that it immediately held the microbes in check. It actually lulled them into an equilibrium. It was immediately obvious to Todd that in his initial analysis of the microbes, he neglected to take their home environment into account. The research that he did at different temperatures affected their medicinal properties as far as how much and how quickly they reacted. The secret was not in the microbes, but in fact in the interaction between them and their environment, the bark. The temperature was only relevant in that it affected their reaction speeds. Now all he had to do was get someone who was not being adversely affected by the vaccine to believe him. He quickly called several news stations and told them who he was. He told them that he would surrender himself to the authorities as soon as he made a statement. . He had hoped that the mass media attention would get the info to someone who would listen and be able to help.

    Todd started his press conference on the steps, by calling out to Chase and Samantha. "To Chase, my Wife, and Samantha, my daughter, I hope that you are still out there somewhere. I think I found the key to turning this all around. No matter what happens, I love you. To the Scientific community, I found the key. It lies in the environment" a single shot rang out.

    The next morning, the headline read "A Single Shot Kills the Man who Might have saved the world… Again" The story went on to say:

    Todd Wilhelm was murdered on the steps of the Museum of Natural History in New York City. A single shot pierced his larynx as he began to explain how to solve the violence that had broken out worldwide not long after his revolutionary vaccine stopped the spread of AIDs and eradicated the disease from the world. At first he was hailed as a hero, but soon he was a fugitive as he tried to resolve the problems that he had caused. It is hoped that someone who heard the press conference can figure out what he meant when he was speaking as he was killed. It is hoped that someone can figure out what he was doing in the Museum of Natural History before the press conference. Reports are that the key is in the environment. After spending several years secretly trying to resolve the violence that appears to have been a side affect of his vaccine, Todd Wilhelm may have found the root of the problem, but instead he is now dead at the age of 38, a visionary, a scientist, and a father. It remains to be seen how history will remember him.
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