Evolution by R. A. Partain

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"Pain is good. Pain means I'm still alive. Pain means I'm still me."

The last few weeks of research were fuzzy. Bits and pieces of memories flashed through his head. Level four biohazard lab benches. Plastic vials of virus infected tissues. His post-doc, Jane, bent over a microscope. Dead monkeys. No, mutated monkeys. Horribly disfigured and in pain. James shook his head as though to rid himself of the memory. The effort hurt.

They say great discoveries are stumbled upon and it's the great scientists who recognize the importance, the meaning behind the results. Under that definition, Dr. James Finnley qualified as a great scientist. James didn't know who ‘they' were or why they didn't mention that sometimes important discoveries killed the scientist. He couldn't die before someone else knew, before the silent threat was revealed.

Dr. James Finnely, virologist, sat with elbows on knees and head in hands on the small cot in his lab. Every breath hurt, every movement painful. Even the blue hospital scrubs he wore, irritated his skin. But it didn't matter, there was so much more work to do and he was the only one to do it.

For safety reasons, he had evacuated the building. Not such an unthinkable request from the head virologist at Cytech, Inc. When the deadliest viruses are being studied under one roof, people are prepared for potential hazards. But this was different, this was worse, this was deadlier.

He rose and put a slide under the microscope. Monkey heart tissue, but it wasn't. The cells all contained two nuclei, one normal, and one...odd. Instead of being dense with DNA and proteins, it was a matrix, like a honeycomb. This sample was from a monkey 12 hours after exposure. Are these what his heart cells looked like? It was 14 hours from his own exposure.

He removed the slide and put under another slide with heart tissue from a monkey after 18 hours. There was only one nuclei in each cell, but it was the odd one. And the cell itself was different, hexagonal, instead of amorphous.

He flipped back in his lab book to the day it happened, a rather innocuous accident really. A freezer malfunction caused the tubes of stored virus to warm from their deep freeze. As the air in the tube expanded they burst creating aerosols of the viruses. The invisible virus ‘soup' spread to the entire freezer room, then the adjacent lab, and eventually to the monkey population. It was days before the extent of the damage was known. By then it was too late. Viruses, are tricky and sneaky and masters of survival.

What was hard to believe was that a new virus (is that even the correct term now?) was created. When a single cell was infected with all the different viruses, the host cell's DNA was transformed. The cells nucleus split. Its like the virus used the DNA as a template, copying and incorporating it, then spitting out the extra proteins and unused DNA into a fairly normal-looking nucleus. But the cell also had the viral DNA nucleus and that's the one that started to take over cell shape and function.

"James?" Startled, James dropped the microscope slide.

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