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Copyright © 2018 The Babak Govan Creative Company, LLC

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the copyright holder, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

For permission requests or other inquiries, please write to

[email protected]

Editorial assistance: Teja Watson, Lydia Bird, and Hillel Black. Thank you.

Author photograph: Avid Farahani

Cover art: Babak Govan

ISBN (Print) 978-1-54392-334-6 (Ebook) 978-1-54392-335-3

First Edition

Visit the author’s website at www.babakgovan.com

It is comforting to know that there will be another sunset, slow and lingering, with or without me to watch it.

—The Plainness of My Fall, Janice MacDonald

In 1606, English explorers set sail for the New World.On May 14, 1607, they founded Jamestown.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Avoid

Chapter 2: The Pier

Chapter 3: The Search For Someone

Chapter 4: Infestations

Chapter 5: Technology ≥ Isolation

Chapter 6: The Farm

Chapter 7: The Flood

Chapter 8: Labyrinth

Chapter 9: Psychosis

Chapter 10: My Dear Umbilical

Chapter 11: Watch Them Go By

Chapter 12: A Void

About the Author

I wish the sirens outside, signaling another mass death, to be the yelps of faraway seagulls. The concrete gates lock and quarantine the hospital, and although imprisoned for the fourth consecutive night, my schedule is the same as before the contamination tragedy.

It does not matter anymore. With the vaccine vials in my pocket now, we will soon escape.

Charts vine upwards along the walls and hallways, lurching onto the gutted chairs and powdery floor corners. The respirator is becoming unbearable and I wonder if it really works. But, we are parasites of hope. In my aching chair, I sit up among the charts to inspect Patient 34-665-78’s results.

My breath’s heat boomerangs back at me. Better than the odor of mildewed towels hovering over the laundry bin.

I think back to Friday morning, The Director facing away from me in his chair. “We just revised the Policies & Procedures last week and there’s already a new one?” I said, picking up the manual. “This one’s over seven hundred pages. How do they expect me to be a ‘subject expert’?”

He leaned back and I could see his hairline. “What can I help you with?”

“Robert, I came to see you because I still don’t think it’s a good idea to close the other pathology labs. They might be our only chance. Other species are surviving.”

He spun in his chair, stopped by his gold ring skidding along the glass overlay of his desk, carved certainly in a very old factory. “What do you know about that, Dr. Carrington? Do you also have opinions to share about our sexual-trimorphism research program?” He motioned with his fingers. “Provide your insights on the third sex.” He opened up the Time Calculator on his Organelle and then reached into a drawer to pull out a sealed syringe.

“You really don’t take me seriously?” I asked.

“That’s not the only reason. We have to raise our reviews.”

“We had five-star reviews last year. That’s exceptional care.”

“Not good enough anymore, just not good enough. People want eight-star reviews now. We can’t settle for five.”

“It’s bad enough that you’ve reduced my job from psychologist to untrained lab tech. At least consider that closing the labs is a terrible idea. Can’t you see what’s happening out there?”

“B, I had no one else to do the job.” He injected Botox from the syringe in between his brows.

“It’s Billy, not B.”

“There’s no time for that. I already said Dr. Carrington once. South Valley Hospital is a satellite, not a major research center. Your own lab is already a low priority. Plus, I’ve already secured transplants for my own family should they ever need them—and you should too.” He stopped injecting for a moment. “Heck, I know a few people who have done well enough without transplants.”

“You’re biased toward the exception. Millions are dying. We need all the grafts we can get right now. Robert, can you look at me?”

He moved to his seat’s edge and, like an orangutan, placed his knuckles on his knees to sit up. “They don’t pay me to think. They pay me to act.” His stare reminded me that we had been through this many times before.

I turned for the door.

“Hey.”

I turned halfway around, he shrugged his shoulders, and I realized that at least he was uncertain about letting the idea go.

Securing the slide on a new stage, I place my eyes on the ocular, power up, swivel the adjustment knobs, and there they are: Pseudomonas aeruginosa, rod-shaped bacteria in crystal violet, cultured from Patient 34-665-78’s lungs. I’m still getting used to saying Pseudomonas.

I watch the bacteria swarm and recoil like anemones in open air. The cells crouch in corners, forcing the unlucky to the perimeter. I wonder if something is watching us too.

After a few seconds, the clumps loosen and the cells swim freely again. For Patient 34-665-78, the antibiotic does not work. I mark the blood agar plate “resistant,” stack it in the Notify the Family bin, and shut down the microscope.

It’s 2:42 AM. I attempt a deep breath. In nine hours and eighteen minutes, I will reunite with Jasmine and Isabella in the foothills. Trusting it was effective, I injected my own vaccine as soon as I received it from The Director. Soon they will have theirs.

The television, sound off, flickers from the corner. I watch a commercial of a truck steering accidentally over an embankment. The caption “Dramatization: do not attempt this at home” bewilders me. The usual programming of bodies splattered across the world returns. I command my Organelle v463.2 to turn off the TV and, through the window, I see Chang leave his lab and walk exhaustedly down the hallway.

Before exiting the Clean Room to eat my sandwich, I store the Bunsen burner and inoculating loops in the cabinet below the centrifuge stand, then align the methylene-blue and crystal-violet stains beside bottles

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