Issue #12

The case of Virus 9

S and C sat silently across from each other at the table.
‘There’s no way around it’, said S, removing her glasses and cleaning the lenses with a handkerchief. ‘We’ve got a problem.’
‘There must be an explanation. For Christ's sake! The treatment was approved by the board and successful in 95% of trials. They can’t be related.’
‘All of the participants in those trials died within five years. You’re telling me that doesn’t make you suspicious?’
‘No it doesn’t. The stat department only sent the results up to us this morning. They haven’t even been published yet. We don’t even know if they’re foolproof. It’s not impossible that they made a mistake.’
‘Maybe ten years ago we could blame this on bad statistics C, but not now. I ran the raw data through my own computer this morning. It’s concrete work.’
C ran a hand through his hair and back down his face. ‘I see…’                                                                      

The coffee machine burbled.
‘Guess what I watched last night.’ Y stood beside the coffee machine and filled his cup as S joined him.
‘Hmmm…I’m too tired for guessing. Just tell me what you watched?’
Crime thriller six.’
‘That was my dad’s favourite’, said S, filling a cup of coffee.
‘You should consider watching it again. They’ve updated the setting.’ Y smiled weakly, ‘Though the characters are still the same of course.’
S sipped her coffee and nodded. ‘I’ve tried talking to the entertainment department about releasing one of the films they’ve been sitting on for years. Unfortunately, they’re rather stubborn.’
‘There are other films?’
‘Yep, most people seem to be fine with standardised films we’ve had for years, but there are a few people who are protesting for new material. I assume the film department created them as a last measure, in case of an emergency.’
‘I don’t suppose you’d be able to get me access to any of them.’
S laughed. ‘I’m afraid not. Unless the whole country starts asking for them, I don’t think anyone will see those films anytime soon.’
Y’s shoulders sank. ‘Well that’s disappointing. I’m going to need new material someday. I’m pretty sure I’ve thought of every alternate ending for Crime thriller six in existence.’
‘Oh really?’
‘Definitely, I’ve even thought of an ending where the main character doesn’t die.’
‘But I thought that was the entire ending’.
Y’s face lit-up. ‘Perhaps, but there’s more than one way of looking at it.’
‘Okay, okay. Don’t patronise me. What’s your theory?’
Y took a long drink from his cup. ‘You remember the cousin, right?’
S raised one eyebrow. ‘Of course.’
‘Well, if you watch the last half-hour closely you’ll notice the cousin isn’t there when the main character dies at the wedding.’
‘What’s significant about that?’
‘Nothing, unless you believe the main character actually didn’t die and that, instead, he ran off with the cousin after the wedding.’
‘But the rival gang member shoots the main character at the wedding?’
Y’s smile grew. ‘Maybe, but do you ever see the body to prove the main character is dead? You just assume he’s dead because you don’t see him for the rest of the ending, but there’s nothing that disproves the idea the main character isn’t sunning himself on a beach somewhere.’
S suddenly grew quiet.
‘What do you think?’ asked Y triumphantly.
‘I think you’re a genius,’ said S, before running out of the cafeteria and back to the meeting room, spilling her coffee on her way.

C was sitting at the meeting table when S entered the room.
‘What is it?’ said C as S sat down, cleaning her glasses.
‘I know what’s wrong with the patients.’
‘Well, that was quick. Have you solved any of our other problems?’ C would have continued mocking S, but he saw the serious look on her face. ‘Okay, I’m listening. What’s the solution?’
S measured her words, slowly. ‘What if the cure doesn’t work?’ Immediately S saw the reaction in C that she expected.
‘Is that a joke? This organisation spent billions on that research. There were countless test trials, both human and animal. Christ, you’ve seen the data: it works. 99% of viral cells are wiped out of existence within an hour of administering a single dose.’
‘Maybe you’re right. Maybe the drug works fine, but ask yourself this: how do you know the virus is gone after the treatment?’
C looked fit to burst. ‘What do you mean by that? There’s not a single viral cell in sight. That’s how we know. What other conclusion could you draw from that?’
S remained calm. ‘Try looking at it this way: maybe the virus cells only appear dead because that’s the simplest explanation. And the only explanation we want to believe.’
‘That’s awfully high-minded. What’s your explanation then?’
‘I don’t think the viral cells are dead at all. I think the cure just pushes them from one part of the body to another, somewhere we haven’t looked yet.’
C turned from the table and began pacing up and down the room. ‘If what you say is true, this is big trouble: big, big trouble.’
S was still thinking. ‘There must be somewhere we haven’t looked, somewhere we didn’t expect to find anything.’
‘That’s impossible’, said C. ‘Every patient undergoes a full brain scan before we confirm that they’re cured.’
‘Why don’t we scan anywhere else?’
C looked at the S in the eye. ‘We don’t need to scan anywhere else. Virus 9 only affects brain tissue. You know that. Finding it elsewhere would be like contracting Alzheimer’s in your feet.’
‘Stranger things have happened in the human body. Do you think we understand Virus 9 well enough to rule-out otherwise?’
C was sweating. ‘I’m not letting you do it S.’
‘You don’t have a choice. I’m going down to St Andrew’s hospital right now, whether you want me to or not.’

The CFT scanner passed silently over the patient. S stood beside C in the control room nearby, waiting impatiently.
‘You won’t find anything S. This whole thing is pointless, not to mention expensive.’
‘We’ll wait and see,’ was all S replied.
When the scanner stopped moving, the patient was told they could leave and did so quietly.
‘Shouldn’t they stay?’ asked S. ‘If we find anything they’ll want to know about it.’
‘We’ll break it to her later if we do find something,’ replied C, though S wasn’t entirely convinced. However, before she could say anything, the patient’s results appeared on a screen in front of them.
‘Christ almighty,’ said S. ‘There it is, behind the eighth vertebrae, clear as day.’
‘I guess you were right after all’ said C.
S watched C lean forward and turn off the power to the computer and the screen.
‘What are you doing!’ said S. ‘Now we’ll have to scan her again.’
‘No we won’t,’ said C. ‘This is going to stay hidden for as long as it can.’ He stepped aside as two men shouldered past him and entered the office. While S was dragged away, he tried to apologise as best he could, but he couldn’t find the right words to express what he knew: a flawed treatment makes more money than a cure.

Harry Keenan