Almost a year had passed since the virus had penetrated the bio-shield. At first, the effects had been negligible: mild, but persistent respiratory infections which were no more annoying than a bad cold and some recurring bouts of blurry vision. In the last few months though, things had taken a sudden and drastic turn for the worse. A third of the colony was now dead from lung cancer or about to die of it, with almost another third blind from malignant eye neoplasia. Nobody knew how it happened, but as the bio-shields designer and chief engineer, responsibility for it fell squarely on Elias Kahn’s shoulders. Those shoulders slumped in sadness as he watched the vibrant colors from Thykos triple sunset splash across Enos Lake. This was the last time he would see this striking phenomenon. The colony could not operate with the number of people now left with their lives and eyesight intact, and the retrieval ship would arrive in a few hours to transport both living and dead back to earth.
Elias went back to his office and continued listlessly gathering up and boxing his files and what few personal possessions he kept there. He didn’t know what would happen when he got back to earth, but assumed, with the catastrophic failure of the bio-shield, his career was over. What weighed most heavily on him though, even hovering over his sleep with haunting nightmares in which the eyes of the blind and the dead spoke silent pleas for help, was that it wasn’t just this one colony that had been placed at risk; there were eleven others strewn across this sector, all on planets with similar terrain, mineralogy, and atmospheric conditions as Thyko, and all depending on his bio-shield for protection. Thyko had been the first established colony, and if this one had been breached by a cancer-causing virus due to some still, undetected flaw, they all stood to undergo the same fate.
In the time that he’d been investigating the situation, he found nothing to explain the weakness in the shield. The bio-sphere, designed to shield the colony from everything short of a nuclear explosion, should have been impenetrable. How the virus, grimly named by the news media on earth “Madam Death”, got in, and why some people were not affected by it in the slightest, while others took ill and now lay dead, dying, or disabled, remained an enigma.
He sat down at the electron microscope and took one more long look at Madam Death. Since he had not been able to find answers by examining the shield, he had, in the last few weeks, concentrated his attention on the virus itself, with the help of Aaron Garber, the colony’s biologist, hoping to unlock its secrets. Imperceptible to the naked eye, the magnified view of it always momentarily startled him each time he looked down through the lens at it. It was a strange, feral looking organism: spider shaped, writhing, and with an almost palpable malevolence to it. Intensive analysis of it by both him and Garber had brought them no closer to knowing how it got in.
The only bright spot looming on the outskirts of this disaster was that back on earth, Lei-Rose Pharmaceuticals was on the doorstep of formulating a cure for it. A number of death row inmates, who had exhausted all their appeals and were close to their execution dates, agreed to be exposed to the virus using samples sent from Thyko. In exchange, they would have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment if, through the use of the experimental cure, they survived and recovered. If they died, there would instead be a large financial payout to their families in recompense for their giving their lives to forward this vital, scientific research.
The tests done on the prisoners showed great promise, but the outcome was inconsistent. It would take a massive effort to perfect the results and rapidly produce the quantity of it needed. To that end, a multi-million dollar government contract was struck with Lei-rose to finish the formulation, then mass produce it so it could be transported to the other sector colonies before it was too late. The colony projects were arguably the most important ever undertaken for mankind in the last 200 years and needed to be salvaged at all costs.
If any Pharmaceutical company could pull it off though, it was this one. Over the last 50 years, there had been 32 new strains of deadly influenza, plus other viral illnesses which had plagued man, and Lei-Rose was able to, one for one, produce workable cures and preventative vaccines. Now, once again, they were going to step up to the plate with Madam Death.
Elias remembered something, sat bolt upright, then took off at a dead run for the infirmary. He rummaged through a cabinet until he found something called GF-4.
Earlier scout missions to Thyko exposed a physical problem with some people on adjusting to shifting gravitational forces on the planet. GF-4 was the cure for this. It was a multi-layered time-release capsule taken one time after arriving at a colony station by anyone who needed it. Over many months, each layer would release medicine that handled the ill effects of the gravity shifts. The final layer contained a substance that locked in a permanent immunity to it. This would occur about 10 months after ingesting it, which was just about the time the virus hit Thyko. Elias had recalled the now-deceased colony’s doctor, Angie Forrester, telling him in passing that almost two thirds of the people who came to Thyko ended up needing GF-4, including herself. Elias never took it, nor did the fully healthy Aaron Garber.
Elias took one of the tablets, neatly dissected it down to its final layer, and placed the contents under the electron microscope. The spidery shape of Madam Death swam into view.
GF-4 did not cost the government a penny. It was given to all the colony ships, as each in its turn left earth, as a gesture of good will by Lei-Rose Pharmaceuticals and as a thank you for past paying contracts. This was their “gift” to the colonies project, and its own guarantee, as with many of its previous vaccines, of another hefty government contract landing in its lap, when it took its long since developed cure for Madam Death out of its deep-storage freezers to save the day.
Two years later
Shortly after Elias had presented the evidence that the source of the cancer-causing virus was contained in the GF-4 itself, and the information first broke in the media, a couple of high-level insiders at Lei-Rose Pharmaceuticals hastily scrambled to turn states evidence in exchange for reduced sentences.
Their information, with corroborating documentation, expounded on how 24 separate viruses had been created by Lea-Rose and released on an unsuspecting population over the years.
When Lei-Rose Pharmaceuticals was liquidated, and all its assets seized, its multi-billion dollar coffers went to fund 20 additional colonies. Elias Kahn is the senior engineer and overseer of this heroic, human effort. They will ultimately end up saving more lives, and future generations on earth, then Lei-Rose, in all it’s black greed, was ever able to take.