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I'd love to get feedback on this story. You can download the full version at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/282529 or via my web site at http://www.nickjlancaster.com.

"Where did she come from?" inquired Doctor Qiang Cheng

He was referring to the young woman who lay on the hospital bed before him. In her right arm an intravenous line was supplying much needed saline, the patient was severely dehydrated. The woman was pretty, Cheng thought.

Meilen Song, the nurse that was checking the saline flow looked up. "She was found in her apartment in the Chaoyangmen district. Her employer was concerned when she did not arrive for work and so an employee was sent to her apartment. When he could not get a reply he called the police. The police called for an ambulance when they found her inside."

Doctor Cheng read the patient chart. "Doctor Li Tian? Hmm, where does she practice?"

"No Doctor Cheng, she is not a medical Doctor. She is a geologist. Her employer said she had recently returned from a trip to the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. She had called her supervisor, Ms Mai Gao to say she was returning early as she felt unwell. That was last week."

Cheng studied the chart further. The patient was dehydrated, but otherwise appeared well. She was currently sedated and he understood from talking to the nurse that when she was brought to the hospital she was distressed, talking in very strange broken Chinese. That was several hours ago and it was now quite late in the evening.

"Please let me know when she wakes up" Cheng hung the chart on the bed and left the room.

Beijing Harmony Hospital was considered a modern health care facility. It had been constructed for the Olympics and received significant funding even today. Doctor Cheng had worked there for six years and while he enjoyed his work, it had become a little routine. Still, he was near retirement and he intended for this hospital to be his last employer.

He headed to his office and decided that he would take the chance to nap on the sofa there. He did not usually work a night shift and while the ward was quiet this was a good time to catch up on his sleep. He lay down on the comfortable old furniture and closed his eyes.

The sofa had served him well, so well in fact that he'd had it packed up and shipped from his previous office. The furniture was overstuffed and covered in deep brown leather, there were probably hundreds of sofas like this one, but none welcomed him with the instant feeling of familiarity he experienced from the cushioned padding that had tailored and contoured to his body over the years.

Several hours later Cheng awoke shivering and his body ached as he tried to get up. He was sweating heavily, his medical knowledge knew he had a fever. "What the hell?" he groaned through his clenched teeth as he forced himself to stand through the deep pain in every muscle in his body.

He hobbled to his desk, every step, every movement causing an explosion of pain down his back and in his shoulders. He fell into the chair and slowly reached for his phone, before calling the nurses station. "This is Doctor Cheng, send someone please"

"Shi Doctor Cheng!" came the immediate reply

A few moments later a young nurse was in his office, she rushed over to his desk when she saw the condition of Cheng. Soon more nurses were present and Cheng was moved to a gurney and wheeled down a corridor, he watched the overhead lights zipping past his eyes as he was whisked to a treatment room. He was fascinated by the lights, almost hypnotized as they flew past. He noticed cracks in some ceiling tiles and some brown water damage in another, tiny details he'd never noticed in the years he'd walked along this corridor.

Cheng didn't remember much of the next couple of days. He was prodded and poked, he was rehydrated and his temperature taken and retaken. He didn't recall the different nurses who came to take his pulse, his temperature and his blood pressure. He didn't notice the card that appeared beside his bed from his coworkers or the small vase of flowers that were delivered from his children, both of whom worked in Hong Kong.

Eventually the fever broke and he opened his eyes. His senses slowly adjusted and he smelled the crisp, clean hospital sheets, so sterile and yet somehow so comforting to him as woke up.

Cheng turn his head slowly to one side. "What happened to me?" he asked the nurse who was sitting in a chair next to his bed reading a copy of Duzhe magazine.

"Doctor Cheng, you are awake! I am so happy. Wait please while I call Doctor Chee." The nurse walked over to the phone next to Cheng's bed, dialed and spoke "Doctor Chee, come please. He is awake!"

Within a few minutes Doctor Chee was there. Chee was a young man, but Cheng respected him.

"Doctor Cheng. I am so happy to see you awake. How do you feel?" Chee asked, smiling broadly.

"I feel like I slept for a week. Hand me some water please. What happened to me?"

Chee poured the senior doctor a small cup of water and handed it to him. "You had a fever Doctor Cheng. One of the nurses found you in your office two nights ago. You were burning up, we tried multiple remedies with no effect, in the end all we could do was keep you hydrated. The fever has broken!"

"Yes, the fever has broken. I am awake, but why? What caused this fever? What of the girl I saw, the one from Chaoyangmen? The geologist?"

"She too is awake, but I do not think you caught this fever from her Doctor. She is being treated by psychiatric doctors, she has had some type of breakdown I think. She seems unable to communicate in any meaningful way. She speaks but makes no sense, yet we know she is an intelligent young woman."

"Speaks but makes no sense? The woman was dehydrated, I assume this was caused by something? A fever? Did you check, did you test her blood or ask her?"

"We did try to speak with her Doctor Cheng, but her answers make no sense. We have also drawn blood and we ran a viral antigen test of course, we found antigens, but they are of a kind we do not recognize."

"Did you test my blood?" Cheng was nervous to hear the answer

"Of course, the results will be here today I expect. I will call the lab". Chee went to the phone and dialed. Cheng couldn't hear the conversation.

Chee hung up and turned to Cheng. "Doctor Cheng, there is something. Your blood test, it shows the same antigens as our female patient. But, Doctor Cheng, you have no reason, we have no reason to believe there is anything more here than a new flu strain or some other rather harmless virus"

Cheng considered this for a moment. "Harmless? Harmless! Doctor Chee, you told me this woman, this patient has suffered a breakdown? What caused this breakdown?" Cheng was angry, perhaps it was his many years in medicine, but it seemed so logical to him that a part of the puzzle was missing.

"Doctor Cheng, please, calm down. You are fine. Your fever has gone, your faculties are clearly intact. Whatever has affected this woman is not related to this virus. Please, calm down."

"Doctor Chee if you tell me to calm down one more time" he stopped himself, before continuing "What of the nurse that examined her with me, nurse Song? Where is she?"

"I do not know that nurse, I will check at the nurses station."

"Please do Doctor Chee, then I will calm down"

Chee picked up the phone again and dialed the nurses' station. Once more Cheng could not hear the conversation as Chee almost whispered into the phone.

"Nurse Song has not reported to work, but I am sure this is no cause for alarm Doctor Cheng. We will send someone to her residence of course, but no cause for alarm"

The ambulance that was sent to nurse Song's residence sped through the streets of Beijing, it's siren wailing to warn the variety of vehicles in its path that it was coming. It took just a few minutes to reach its destination, a trip that would normally take much longer in the confusion of the city road system.

Two paramedics ran from the vehicle toward the apartment building, finding no answer on the entry intercom system the driver quickly forced his way inside. Song's apartment was on the 15th floor, the elevator ride seemed to take much longer than it should.

At her apartment door now, the driver hammered his fist. "Miss Song? Miss Song? This is Chang He from Harmony hospital, I am a paramedic. Miss Song, we are concerned for your health, can you please come to the door?"

There was no response from the apartment. Chang hammered the door again. "Miss Song? Please, I will have to come in if you do not answer the door, I do not want to break your door!"

He counted to thirty, then backed up against the wall behind him, before throwing himself shoulder first into the door. It immediately opened with little resistance, causing Chang to fall through and onto the floor inside.

Chang stood and was immediately aware of the rancid smell of human waste, then as his eyes adjusted to the light inside he saw a woman lying on the sofa, she was covered in filth, her eyes were wide open and staring directly at him.

The woman pushed herself up and suddenly ran toward Chang, her fingers scratching at his face. She was screaming at him, he couldn't understand what she was saying though, random words, half sentences, none of it made sense. Chang's partner pulled Song off him and restrained her.

"Miss Song! Please! We are here to help you, we were sent by the hospital" he could see the words had no effect on the woman, her wide eyes stared with hatred, she spat at him and then continued to scream.

Chang opened the medical pack his partner had carried and removed a small syringe that he filled with Fentanyl. While his partner held her, Chang quickly found a vein and injected the woman, within a few minutes Song had stopped fighting, her eyes rolled back and her body went limp. They carefully laid her down on the sofa.

"What the hell is wrong with her?" Chang's partner asked.

"I don't know Wen, I don't know. I've never seen this. I've seen crazy people, but she wasn't crazy she was mad, like an animal, did you hear what she was saying? Could you understand her?"

"I couldn't understand her, she was screaming, sometimes it sounded like she was trying to call for help, then I thought she said something about a bird, then she was screaming about a car. She must be high on something, maybe she was taking opioids from work? We should get her to the hospital, they'll want to see her. You stay here and I'll get the stretcher from the van."

Later that day Doctor Chee examined Meilen Song. He was confused and concerned. He now had two patients that had interacted with Li Tian. Tian and Doctor Cheng had blood results that showed increased antigens, but symptomatically were quite different. He was waiting for the blood test for Meilen Song, but he suspected that it too would show these antigens.

Chee was feeling unwell. He thought he had the start of a fever and had self-medicated ibuprofen. He feared he too was now infected with whatever this virus was. He didn't know whether he should call the Ministry of Health. If he was wrong and he wasted their time it would effectively end his medical career, but if he were right and he didn't call them, this could be much more serious.

He heard shouting behind him and turned around. Running down the corridor toward him were several men in camouflage clothing carrying QBZ-95 assault rifles, each man wore a gas mask. Chee was stunned at the sight and frozen to the spot.

The soldiers reached him and one of them examined Chee's identification badge. "Dr Chee, by order of the Ministry of Health of the People's Republic of China, this building is under quarantine. You are to come with me."

"How long have you known about this virus Dr Chee?" the question was asked by some faceless man in another room that Chee presumed was watching him. He had been placed in a small room furnished with a chair and a table, the room was in the basement of the hospital, an area usually reserved for the morgue and coroner, biological waste disposal, all the things a hospital did that they didn't want the public to see. Chee's hands were restrained with what looked like plastic zip ties, each hand fastened to an arm of the chair.

"Virus? I didn't know it even was a virus, I suspected it might be a viral infection today, but I had no proof, just a suspicion"

"Your delay in reporting this incident to the Ministry is very serious Dr Chee. Many lives have been put at risk because of your inaction. If it were not for the loyalty of one of your nursing staff we would have not known about this. Why did you not alert the Ministry?" the voice wasn't angry, but there was a definite implied authority in it, this person knew he controlled everything in the room, owned everything.

"I was going to report it! I was going to call and report it. I was waiting for the blood work on nurse Song. I did not want to waste the time of the Ministry!"

"Waste time? Time has been wasted! Perhaps too much time. Who knows how many others have been exposed to the virus because of you! You are a disgrace to your profession and a disgrace to the People's Republic of China."

The door to the room opened and a man entered in a biohazard suit, not a single piece of his skin was exposed, even the air he was breathing came from a self-contained oxygen cylinder. The man was carrying a pistol.

"What is this? What are you doing?" Chee screamed at the faceless questioner. There was no response.

The man in the suit walked behind Chee and he strained his head to look behind, to see what the man was doing. He heard a sound that he recognized immediately as the slide on the pistol being pulled back and released.

"Wait! I can help you! I can help you treat the infected, I can work on a cure, help with studying the virus!"

The voice returned "Dr Chee, you do not understand, you are indeed going to help us. Until now we had not been able to study the virus in the incubation period, we have only seen patients who had already been through the fever. Your fever is just starting"

Chee felt relieved, they needed him to study, even if he were a lab rat he would be alive.

"Kill him. Then have his body transported to the laboratory" the voice commanded

"No!" Chee screamed, but his executioner had already begun squeezing the trigger on the type 54 pistol. The 90 grain 7.62mm bullet entered Chee's back at a velocity of just under 1,400 feet per second. It efficiently twisted and tumbled it's way through his spinal column, sending splinters of bone and cartilage into his heart, before it exited his chest cavity, impacted the wall and dropped to the floor. Chee was dead.

***

Chee's body was transported to a government facility for examination by Dr Wang, the lead researcher for the Ministry.

Wang was excited. Today he would get his first opportunity to examine a body where the virus was in the incubation stage, before the patient would have entered the slow spiral of cellular destruction that would ultimately lead to their death. He didn't question why his patient had a very apparent gunshot wound, although his autopsy notes included a reference to the significant damage exhibited to the thoracic spine.

Chee's body had been washed and shaved. Several x-rays had been taken and samples of blood, urine and spinal fluid were already stored and being examined elsewhere.

Wang picked up a scalpel and made a cut from behind one ear, across the crown of Chee's head and ended behind the other ear. The cut was deep, made with a steady precision and in a decisive movement, like an artist moving a brush across canvas.

Chee's skin was then pulled forward and down over his face, exposing the front of the skull. The same action was then made on the skin at the back, exposing the entire top of the skull.

Next Wang picked up an electric saw and made several cuts around Chee's cranium, his years of experience ensured the saw cut deep enough to penetrate the skull but not so deep as to damage the brain. He then lifted the top of the skull away, causing a vacuum like sucking noise.

Wang quickly cut through the spinal cord and lifted the brain from it's housing. He carefully weighed it, then placed it in a storage jar filled with preservative fluid.

That afternoon Wang examined the brain. He had previously examined the dead subjects the Ministry had provided him. Now, as Wang concentrated on the microscope, he saw the same neuritic plaques, abnormal clusters of dead and dying nerve cells in the brain. The only difference was that this patient had far fewer dead cells.

He was familiar with this type of brain infection, but it was usually seen in patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease. He had never seen it as a result of viral infection. Through continued study he was able to formulate a pattern for the virus.

Later that day Wang began a presentation of his findings to his superiors at the Ministry.

"Doctor Wang, your report please" the senior official sat behind a long desk with five other officials. Each man was advanced in years, these were people who had served the Party all their lives.

Wang began "The mechanics of this uniquely evil virus are quite terrifying. Once infected the incubation period is on average three days. It begins with a mild fever and from that point on the carrier is highly infectious, able to spread the contagion by an unguarded cough or a simple touch. I cannot stress this point enough Sir, the virus is highly contagious and extremely resilient. For example, a sweaty hand can leave a viable infectious colony on a door handle for several days."

Wang paused, allowing the officials an opportunity to ask questions.

"Continue doctor"

"Yes, of course. This virus attacks the brain and quite rapidly causes confusion, irritability and aggression, trouble with language, long-term memory loss and eventually death around nine days later. We have no cure for the virus. We have no inoculation. We are defenseless against it. The only way to defeat the virus is to quarantine the infected it and allow it to burn itself out."

"You are saying doctor Wang, that we are powerless against this virus?"

"I am saying exactly that Sir"

"Thank-you for your report Doctor Wang. A driver will return you to your office. Good bye"

"But, don't you want to discuss my report?" Wang was shocked, he had expected a prolonged analysis of his findings, he had expected questions.

"Good bye Doctor"

Wang bowed and left the room. As promised a driver was waiting outside for him.

The officials waited for the door to close, then one of them spoke.

"So, Wang tells us there is no cure, no prevention. He confirms what others have told us. It is clear, for the Republic to survive we must sacrifice some for the greater good of the many"

"Agreed" spoke another committee member. "But, we must also be careful. We must not let the West know we are weakened, we must handle this discretely."

The others nodded.

The first member spoke again "Give the order to demolish Harmony hospital, then make it clear to our generals that they are to react quickly and decisively to additional outbreaks, using whatever means is necessary."

"What should we do with the patients inside the hospital Sir?"

"As I just told you, demolish it"
 

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