Tainted cure (the rememdium series book 1) (page 6)

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“May I answer this, Dr. Berning?”

Everett nodded at Dr. Flint, who’d been standing next to Dr. Thomas the entire time, and seemed eager to contribute. “Be my guest.”

Dr. Flint turned and addressed Dr. Thomas. “Great question and one the three of us discussed numerous times. Dr. Berning is the genius who came up with the idea to use transgenic bacteria. He tweaked the DNA to detect high levels of dopamine. Orgasmic release is not affected since the intensity of dopamine isn’t near the amounts triggered when narcotics enter the brain. When levels are normal, the bacteria remain dormant: an invisible coating overlaying the cells. However, when a particular level is reached, the bacteria then reanimates and forms a protective barrier around the neurotransmitters. Then enzymes are released to attack and destroy the excess dopamine, which is then eliminated from the body. When levels dip below a certain threshold, the bacteria returns to dormancy.”

“Fascinating,” Dr. Thomas remarked. “How long do you project the bacteria will remain adhered to the cells?”

Everett blinked twice, shocked by the question. As a physician, Dr. Thomas should already know the answer. “As with all bacteria introduced into the body, as long as the T-cells don’t create antibodies to destroy the bacteria—and no external antibiotics are administered—they will remain inside the host cells forever.”

Dr. Thomas handed the binder containing Everett’s notes to him. He’d been studying them ever since his arrival, focusing on the research before viewing the full results. “So, you’re saying this discovery is a permanent cure for addiction? What happens when the addict is confronted with drugs? Will the enhanced bacteria keep them from succumbing to temptation and ingesting them?”

Everett smiled, the question he’d been waiting for Dr. Thomas to ask finally on the table. “Allow me to demonstrate.”

Reaching inside Ultima’s cage, Everett deposited a fresh pile of pure heroin in the food dish. The mouse didn’t seem to notice. For dramatic effect, Everett grabbed the mouse by the tail and picked it up. He dropped Ultima on top of the heroin. The mouse scurried away to the opposite end of the cage without even a second glance at the drugs.

“See? No interest at all. Our hypothesis is the bacteria acts as a shield even when dormant, making the host uninterested in the drug.”

Dr. Thomas moved past Everett and snatched up the mouse. “I would like to see what happens when accidental ingestion occurs.”

Nodding in agreement, Everett picked up a syringe loaded with heroin. Taking Ultima from Dr. Thomas, he gave the mouse a small injection. The reaction was immediate. Ultima jerked, his tiny body rigid. Before Everett could deposit him back inside the cage, the mouse did the unthinkable: he vomited.

Dr. Thomas gasped, “What in the world? How is that even possible? Rodents don’t have the capability to emesis!”

Everett forced himself not to laugh. “And up until two days ago, there wasn’t a cure for addiction.”

The foursome fell silent while watching Ultima’s strange reaction. Once the mouse stopped vomiting, it returned to the far end of its cage and curled up into a ball.

Breaking the silence, Dr. Thomas whispered, “Had I not seen this with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. Okay, ladies and gentlemen. It’s time to move to the next level.”

“Are you saying we begin human trials already?” Dr. Riverside queried, the shock of the statement by Dr. Thomas seeping into his words. “If so, I must disagree. We have a lot of preliminary testing to complete first.”

Dr. Thomas held up a gnarled hand. “Recall who is running this show, Dr. Riverside. We are wasting precious time arguing about trivial things. Lives are being lost by the thousands as we speak. The sooner the better. Twenty-five test subjects have already been chosen. They will be here by tomorrow afternoon. So, I suggest you all make appropriate preparations and calculations necessary to begin human trials by the end of the week. Good work, all.”

All three watched Dr. Thomas turn and exit the lab. Each in shock, trying to grasp the magnitude of his instructions, it took them several seconds to regain their faculties.

“You heard the man. Time to sink or swim,” Dr. Flint said. “Dr. Berning, you start the calculations on body mass ratios for men and women. Dr. Riverside, come with me. We will start preparing the questionnaires and rooms for our guests.”

Everett’s mind spun at the news. “Human trials? Already? We aren’t prepared! I haven’t even finished all my notes, not to mention begun to fill out the investigational new drug application to submit to the CDER at the Food and Drug Administration! It will take, at a minimum, one month to complete! Even if I could extrapolate all the data necessary in record time, we still have to wait thirty days for the FDA to review the lab results before they give us permission to continue to clinical trials. This is preposterous!”

Dr. Flint bristled. “Dr. Berning, those issues are not what we need to be concerned about. I assure you, Dr. Thomas will handle governmental issues. You concentrate your efforts on the tasks given.”

“Guess the government gives more leeway to its own discoveries than corporations, huh?” Dr. Riverside interjected. “One of the perks of working for Uncle Sam, I suppose.”

Everett clamped his mouth shut as he watched his two colleagues leave the lab. His excitement waned as a sense of foreboding rolled around in his gut. Once alone, he muttered, “This isn’t right. Not right at all.”

 

READY TO ROLL - One Year Later - Tuesday - December 15th– 10:00 a.m.

Everett stared at the young woman seated across the table. Susan Richmond was twenty-four and a former methamphetamine addict since the age of fifteen. The last three years of her life prior to her arrival at the facility were spent living on the streets of Memphis, prostituting herself to feed her habit. Her arrest record was four pages long, consisting of drug charges, prostitution, and theft. After running away from home at seventeen, she lost contact with her family. During one of her court-ordered drug treatment stints, Susan reached out to her only living relative, her mother, only to discover she’d passed away six months prior. The sadness drove Susan to escape from the facility and seek out the drug that wiped out the overwhelming sorrow from her thoughts.

“How are you feeling today, Susan?”

“Fine. Ready to leave this dump.”

Everett stared at the girl. Susan had gained twenty pounds of toned, healthy muscle since her arrival almost twelve months ago. The pale, gaunt-faced wisp of a girl was gone, replaced by a healthy-looking young lady. Susan’s light brown hair was thick and shiny, her cheeks full and tinged with a hint of pink. He couldn’t help but smile at the transformation.

“As I mentioned yesterday, the clinical trial lasts a full year. Only one more week and then you’ll be free to go. You signed up for a year, remember?”

Susan huffed, a look of annoyance and distrust glistened behind dark, brown eyes. “I shouldn’t be held to agreements made when I was so strung out I barely remembered my own name. I mean, it’s not like I had much of a choice. The thug who brought me here scared the living shit out of me. One minute, I’m standing on the corner talking to a john. The next, I’m knocked unconscious and wake up in the back of a van, hogtied and gagged. When he yanked me out I saw the entrance to a cave, I thought I was a goner. To say I was terrified is an understatement. I signed on the dotted line only because I thought it would keep me alive.”

Unable to hide his disgust at the girl’s treatment, Everett reached across the table and patted her hand. “As I’ve stated many times before, I am sorry your journey here was so traumatic. Though it started out frightening, I believe it turned out well for you. Agree?”

Susan moved her arm away from Everett’s, shifting in the seat. “Yeah, now. Being clean and healthy hasn’t stopped the nightmares about my so-called journey here.” Susan sighed and took a drink of tea. “I suppose you will never understand, so I won’t even try to explain.”

“You’re right. I can only sympathize with your emotions since I haven’t experienced your situation. So, let’s get back to how you feel. Other than the nightmares, any other symptoms you need to report?”

Susan shook her head. “No. My appetite is fine. No headaches or cravings. No muscle cramps, body aches or fever. Other than being a bit antsy to leave here, I feel fine.”

“Excellent news. No interest at all in returning to the habits of your old life, correct?”

“None at all. Just the thought of even one hit makes me feel sick to my stomach. If I dwell on the idea too long, I actually throw up. Is that normal?”

Everett smiled. “Yes. The medication we administered to you is designed to trigger your brain to eschew any cravings for narcotics by making the recipient feel nauseated. As you are aware from earlier testing, if you ingest any type of drug, the reaction is quick and unpleasant.”

Susan crinkled her pert nose in disgust. “Yeah, haven’t puked that hard since I had food poisoning when I was twelve. This cure of yours is amazing. Miraculous, even. Sorry about being so bitchy earlier. I am grateful for what you’ve done for me. Really. It’s just…”

“You’re ready to start living your new life. I know. One more week, I promise.”

Susan’s eyes filled with tears while she stared at the cup on the table. “I really wish my mom was still alive. I caused her a lot of grief when I was using. All she ever wanted out of life was to see me clean. Now, it’s too late. Will it do me any good to ask again exactly what you gave me? Or where I am?”

“Only if your goal is to hear the same answer again,” Everett stood, gathering up the notebook and coffee mug. “But it’s not too late for you to start a new, drug-free lifestyle. I recall you mentioned in one of our earlier discussions you once considered being a nurse as your calling. Perhaps it is time to examine that desire closer. You will have plenty of cash to live off of for at least two years once you leave here.”

“Fifty thousand dollars for a year of my life is generous, no doubt. But living off that amount, after taxes, won’t stretch into two years. I’m afraid college is out of the question for me. I still have to get my GED.”

Everett paused at the door, feigning a look of shock. The moment he’d been waiting for to break the good news just presented itself. “Oh, did I forget to explain the college scholarship portion of your package?”

Susan’s mouth dropped open. “Come again?”

“Guess I neglected that section. Sorry. Yes, as a thank you for helping us, we’ve already secured a scholarship at Emory University in Atlanta. Barring any sudden side effects from your treatment, you are scheduled to begin classes at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing when the spring semester begins.”

“What? No way! I don’t even have my GED yet! I haven’t applied…and I can’t afford to live in Atlanta! I have nothing! No clothes, no car, and certainly no knowledge of the area! Are you just going to hand me all this and then dump me off? Alone? I’ll freak!”

Motioning for Susan to follow, Everett held the door open. “Susan, I assure you all has been taken care of. These perks are our way of thanking you for your time and service to the project. Think of it as one big eraser. Your old life is wiped away, and a door to the new one just opened. It’s as simple as that. And don’t worry, you won’t be alone.”

“I won’t?”

Everett stopped in front of a set of sealed doors. He unlocked them and ushered Susan inside. Twenty-four other heads turned to their direction, some smiling, some emotionless.

“Susan, I would like to introduce you to the other participants in our trials. Each of them have similar stories to your own, and their reactions to the formula are just as impressive. Diane here will be your roommate in Atlanta. She’s also enrolled in the nursing course.”

A tall, red-headed woman rose and walked across the concrete floor. She extended her hand to Susan. “Nice to meet you, Susan. I’m Diane Rogers. Come on, have a seat before you pass smooth out. I almost did when Dr. Berning brought me here earlier. Finding out you weren’t alone in all this is quite a jolt to the system, huh?”

“Jolt? Uh, try bolt of lightning to the brain.”

“Susan is our last guest to arrive, so please get acquainted with one another. Lunch will be served shortly. Oh, and congratulations on completing the program.”

Without another word, Everett exited the large meeting room as all the participants stood and began making introductions to the freaked-out Susan.

Lost in thought about finalizing reports, awash in the excitement at the knowledge they were only days away from announcing the cure to the general public, Everett never heard the footsteps behind him.

Until it was too late.