In June 2022, after 127 failures, the small group of researchers at PHASA — the new Public Health and Safety Administration, which was formed in early 2021 after the new president was sworn in, believed they were successful.
They were a diverse trio who had been spending at least 12 hours a day together for over a year, each taking turns being frustrated by the repeated test failures, as they kept the steadily increasing death count updated daily on a small white board that was visible from any point in their cramped laboratory.
Dr. Annie (Anika) Anand looked at the results for the fifth time before she allowed herself to lie her head down on top of the pile of results and sob quietly, which was her own method for allowing joy to course throughout her system.
At first, it went unnoticed, as both Drs. Roberto Turati and Kacelah White were huddled together brainstorming on the next batch of formulas they might put together, fully expecting, although not wanting, another negative result from the previous testing, as this was getting pretty consistent for them, and each day, they would continue to build each other up, to keep on going with their efforts.
Robbie and Kacey, as they fondly referred to each other, almost simultaneously stopped their own discussion as they became aware of the gentle sobbing coming from Annie’s corner of the lab, and both put down their papers and slowly headed over to see how they could help her. Over the past year, this was something they each took turns doing, which bonded them together in ways that were both special and to each of them, in some manner sacred, as part of their commitment to this project.
Each of them reached out gently and put a hand on Annie’s shoulders, to just let her know they were there. Annie took a few deep breaths and then a gentle shudder that they all felt, as she sat up and almost in a whisper, shared,
Charlie Benedict’s nature could always be summed up in a single word. Protective. He was a large man who long ago learned to keep the smile that so desperately wanted to emerge on his face well hidden in what many others thought of as a constant scowl of anger. He was also protective of letting others know how much joy he had in keeping his charges safe. Especially when those he was keeping safe were the stars who were bringing joy and happiness to others. He believed that was his fate, his job, and he not only accepted it fully, but also loved it. Only those close to him, and there were only a few, knew this. He learned this as an offensive tackle in high school and at the Division 3 college he attended, and some of his teammates from those days were among those few.
Long after college, and after law school, he was surprised when Phil McKay, who was the quarterback on his college team reached out and suggested that he apply for a job at The Treasury Department, or more exactly on the Secret Service.
Now he was on duty, outside the oval office and checking the daily schedule for the president and wondering how busy a day it might turn into. The service had a code name, as usual for the president. This president was “The Janitor.” After all he was left in charge of cleaning up the mess of the previous occupant of that room.
Charlie spent most of his time worrying about the janitor. This President was the oldest person to ever enter that office and the country’s and world’s situation over the past year and a half, although in some ways improved, in many ways continued to challenge almost all of society as there really was no old normal to return to. He could almost see the janitor age daily, right before his eyes.
Charlie was finding it harder and harder to find his smile behind his scowl.
This time, there were no rules. The “VIRUS,” no matter which name it was given, and called out with different spellings and abbreviations confounded the scientists, the academics, the empiricists as well as all the social prognosticators and overly repetitive and unoriginal media pundits.
It came so fast and found the world and certainly the U.S. so unprepared and, in such denial, that the entire social fabric was ripped apart with jagged edges in so many places.
Attempts at repair of this social fabric continued to have mixed results which just fed the ongoing beasts of the conflicting media giants, all while the death count continued its monotonic rise.
Politics was once defined as the ability to get people to do what you want them to do, and even in the face of this new world of daily death counts numbering in the hundreds of thousands, there was apparently no agreement that this was a bad thing. People across the US could not agree what they wanted to do, and no matter what path was followed, there was always a side effect that became criticized by one or more groups.
The hope of immunity was not clearly reliable, and so far, no one understood why. Physical distancing was still the only sure way to keep the transmission rate under any sort of control, but the hottest part of the “new” economy was the various fashionable designs of the full body covering PPE — personal protective equipment with full fishbowl helmets and breathing tanks that made most of the people who wore them look like extras from some 1950s B level sci fi flick. These were not your father’s HAZMAT suits but they did provide protection for those moving about openly.
As it turned out, it was by far the best way to get the schools everywhere back open, and it seemed to work. The political battle to provide funding for these suits to all students was fierce, but after the election it did succeed.
Recess was the time to refill the air tanks as the eating kiosks kept everyone within a safe distance. Everyone, teachers, staff and students needed their “uniforms” in the new world. Some local governments mandated that the head shields be clear and see though, while others were more laissez-faire about it, and we had Darth Vaders and Madolorians walking through the streets and schools.
There were still folks with their cloth masks, but the social scientists were quickly recognizing how this was the beginning of a new stratification of the masses.
The government was in total support of these antiviral suits (AVS’s) as it put people back to work and out on the streets. Restaurants were still struggling in finding ways to survive and make money as many creative solutions were tried out, with varying levels of success. The leaders thought this was clearly the best decision and if there was to be any downsides later, they would deal with it then. This is often what most elected leaders get to do. It usually seems a good idea at the time.
The party was so much quieter than those of the previous New Year’s Eve parties. Annie thought there were a variety of reasons, but as she caught the scene on the large video screen above the mantel, and saw the ball dropping until the numbers for 2020 lit up, she knew her quietness was due to her awareness of the reports of a new virus appearing in a section of China. She always had these unsettling feelings when she heard and read these reports as she wondered if this might be the one.
Robbie and Kacey came over with their own glasses of champagne and wished her a Happy New Year, as she snapped back to the present moment and joined them in a toast to safety and progress and a hope for sanity in their workplace.
The three of them have been working together for the past seven years, both in and out of government labs and even with their different journeys and backgrounds, found each other to be a team that followed that different drum but with their combined perseverance, would often make breakthroughs that surprised everyone, including themselves. At this time, they were back in the Big Pharm world, working on a variety of experimental research on one of Annie’s pet projects on anti-proteins, with no specific goals or targets in mind. Basic research once again, that just might be useful in some future that was not at all clear to them. It was interesting and exciting, but without the target, it seemed to lack a sense of urgency, and they each knew it. They also knew that could change without notice.
Annie sipped at her drink and asked them if they heard of the new virus in China and they both nodded. Robbie asked her if she knew any more about it, as she shook her head.
“I wonder if this is the one,” Annie offered.
Kacey quietly responded, “You always think the new one is the one.”
“You’re right, I do. That’s why I keep trying to think about what to do if it is,” she responded with the smile they all knew and held them together as a team.
“Do you think the “blanket” will work, if it is the one?” Robbie asked her.
“Well, we can hope so,” Annie shared, “but it is just a research concept now, and I sure hope we don’t have to test it out too soon. We are nowhere near far enough along to know what we are playing with. We just might be playing with fire.”
The three shared good nights and wishes for a Happy New Year as each of them looked forward to being able to have one of those days they could just sleep in.
The Vice President was actively engaged with Vic Samms, the head of PHASA, as they were each Monday and Thursday morning to review the status of all the projects. Short of a new major emergency, they usually went in order, with the latest natural disasters and weather emergencies first, followed by any issues uncovered by the massive infrastructure activities, that would not be normally covered within that department but Vic was always totally thorough and would not stay within his supposed boundaries, the health status of the Department of Defense and all first responders across the country, which were reported daily to PHASA, the latest data on the VIRUS, including deaths, hospitalization and hot spots. Once this was done, they moved to a quick update on all the ongoing active immunization and test activities and the research work being done, with a comment on how promising each was. On these days, they allowed two hours, although there were only a few times they were able to finish in that span.
Samms always finished with a hopeful note, reminding the VP that they will find a way out of this, and as she thanked him with her broad smile, she worried how to summarize these two hours for the 30 minutes she had with the President each day, and which piece of data would need his own intervention, and which spark of hope she could offer him with the proper recommendation whether he could then share it with the country and keep his credibility. She was totally aware that the buck did not stop with her, but in this administration about eighty-five cents of that buck actually did. She felt the weight of this responsibility and was glad that Samms, in only a year had managed to not only create PHASA but showed the hands-on leadership to fix so much of the mess that they all found once they took over the reins of government. Even the nights when she had time to sleep, very few turned out to be restful, as no matter what they did, there was no way to eradicate the VIRUS, and the word normal no longer seemed to have any meaning. Each time she met the president, she had to tell him there was no answer yet. This became harder each day.
The political failure in 2020 was massive. The warnings were there, coming from many resources but never taken to heed. The ongoing investigations of what was going at the time, notwithstanding, the VIRUS has shown itself to be different than any encountered before. On the positive side, there are a number of therapeutic drugs that reduce the damage, but make no mistake, the goal of eliminating both the damage and the VIRUS itself have, to date, been elusive.
The various vaccine trials have worked up to a point, and the scientists are still evaluating why, and the molecular level people keep getting surprised by the nature of the protein spikes that seem to be able to aggressively attach to more than just the ACE2 receptors that was originally discovered. There are many hypotheses coming forward as that these spike proteins appear to be malleable and can twist themselves — which is mind boggling and the academics are hastily working on new theories on how this can happen — to attach to many different cell receptors and find multiple paths into their new human hosts. The target is not only the respiratory system, but impacts blood cells, and there now seems to be brain damage be reported. Immunity gained by having had a first infection seems not to be guaranteed either immediately or over time. There is presently even speculation that people who have tested positive, even having antibodies appear to have some type of timebomb now in them. Some people are showing symptoms, already known that come from the virus occurring long after an initial non-symptomatic infection. Once again, no one really understands how all this is happening.
Some of the leading companies in various industries are now focusing on creating full divisions, or taking some of their special abilities, in becoming parts of the AVS supply chain.
It is not surprising that Apple has jumped into a lead here, but what has been a bit of a surprise is this has been the leading reason why Apple has at long last purchased Tesla, as the synergy of the technologies and manufacturing capacity appeared to be their fastest path to a high degree of integration. They were already on the path to wearable technology, so becoming a vendor of AVS was a natural jump for them. Needless to say, Samsung in Korea was doing the same thing, but the commitment to keep the entire supply chain in the US has provided Apple tax credits they just could not refuse, as this became the heart, if not the soul, of rebuilding the economy.
Even though Apple would not call them iSuits, there was a significant part of the population who would. Whether you wanted an iSuit or an AVS, the demand was growing each day, another example of history repeating. Some of the comedians remarked that since Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino resembled a spaceship, it is not a surprise that the streets are filling up with spacemen.
Samms was intrigued when he saw the message that the team at Project Hellfire wanted to talk to him. He knew they were one of the many research groups that he brought into PHASA and over the years, was always impressed by the directness, even the somewhat organized outlandishness of some of the ideas of Dr. Anand and her team. His operating principal in creating the pandemic division of PHASA was he would support multiple “boutique” teams as long as they convinced him they were both serious and committed. He found that some of the brightest people staffed these small teams and he was impressed how they persevered through the many results that most would think were failures, but these folks always considered them of great value and amazing opportunities to learn something new and valuable. He never liked to jump ahead of the facts but wondered if this team got “lucky.”
On his way over to the to meet with the team he remembered when he first met the three docs who were so different and yet so connected, and how the leader, Dr. Anand explained why she wanted to name the project Hellfire. He still smiled as he recalled the story she shared.
Dr. Anand at first smiled, and then broke into a laugh when he asked her about the name she wanted to use for the project.
Annie began, “Well, our biggest fear is that a new virus appears that we have never seen, that is highly transmissible, possibly even between different species, in more than one manner, and we cannot identify who carries it, and it kills a vast percentage of the human population before we have a chance to do anything about it. Right?”
Samms looked at her and then to the others, Robbie and Kacey, who were quietly watching the conversation and responded, “That certainly is one of my biggest fears, yes, yes, for sure.” He knew he was being led down a path but that was something he learned a long time ago when working with so many brilliant people. He was quite good at knowing when to follow and when to lead.
Annie continued, “I have to admit that the entire idea was a bit alcohol induced that happened during my last year in medical school at a party, to celebrate a semester break. I was pretty beat after the last round of tests and like most of my classmates, we were all ready to just unwind as we knew it would just get harder next semester, so we only had this one night.”
Robbie jumped in, “I remember a few nights like that.”
“Me too, I can’t forget them no matter how hard I try,” Kacey laughingly added.
“Yeah, I think all docs have had them,” Annie responded. “I was drinking a lot, and did I mention those brownies we had, when someone put on that old crazy song with the volume way, way up. You must know it, that Arthur Brown guy, and it starts out with him screaming — now remember I was already pretty wasted by then — I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE, AND I BRING YOU…FIRE — and all I could see was people burning but from the inside out. You know like the heat was in them first, like they were being cooked in a microwave, but it was not radio waves inside them, it was viruses invading their bodies and teaching their cells how to eat themselves from the inside out. I heard an inner voice say, Annie, you cannot let that happen. Then the screaming music continued, Fire, I’ll take you to burn, Fire, I’ll take you to learn, and that voice told me, Annie,you will learn, you will learn, kept echoing in my mind and then I blacked out. It took me a while, but that night set the direction for most of my career.”
Samms remembered some of his own crazy nights before he asked, “I love this story, but I still do not get how you got from there to here.”
Kacey jumped in now, “When we all started to work together, what was it, about seven years ago, Robbie and I heard this story and we started doing what we do best, which is brainstorming an idea, and let it go anywhere it takes us. We threw out the idea that a virus was traveling down a fuse and sparking as it goes and would blow up when the fuse ended inside a living being. We thought that we never really know about these viruses until they get inside that being and cause damage, when Robbie came up with the idea.”
“I did, didn’t I,” Robbie jumped in now. “If I saw a fuse sparking on the floor, I said I would grab a towel, a sheet, a blanket, just about anything to cover that burning fuse to put the fire out.”
Back to Annie, “We all just stared at each other then. I was the first to ask out loud how can we put a blanket over the virus and put out the fire before it creates the damage inside of us. Off and on we have brainstormed about this until you came along and offered us to come here to PHASA to see if we could find a way.”
Vic Samms did not know what to expect when he arrived at Project Hellfire, but as he entered the lab the answer was displayed on a large poster. The two words on it made him smile. All it said was,
“Benedict, you’re good to go, head to the Cabinet room with the nurse,” Charlie heard and was familiar with the morning’s task. Each day’s routine began with the rapid antibody test, for what it was worth, they still did not have anything better. He was working with the temperature monitoring nurse who would scan each representative of the myriad departments who would be attending today. He did not fully understand how the distancing rules were being applied within the meeting as there were still too many people there to keep 6 feet apart. However, the stop after his, one of his colleague’s did help each person don their N99 respirator and face shield. These were White House issued, tracked by serial number and person, and sterilized after each use. He remembered how crazy the media went when these photos showed up, but so far it kept everyone safe, especially the President, and that was what was important to him, his own personal Prime Directive he thought.
Charlie fully understood that the use of the masks was primarily to keep people from spreading their own droplets more than blocking the reception of them. He still wondered why most people did not fully get this as part of their own responsibility. Charlie himself was once a spreader as he was asymptomatic back in 2020 when he first got the virus. Once they started the daily rapid testing, he found it surprising to learn that he actually got this virus multiple times as they tracked his antibody count begin to reduce, and then multiple times, suddenly spike again.
It still seemed important to have these meetings in person, even if it redefined what the old term, face-to-face meant, when each person appeared like a human body with a bug’s head sitting on their shoulders. He was hearing a rumor that future meetings might actually require each attendee to be wearing an AVS. He knew that he just got these for his kids, and the military branches were starting to buy large quantities of them. He thought photos of this type of meeting would turn into massive ads, but still thought that this is something his job needed to prepare for. This job required constant adaptation and he was glad he could deal with this stress. Mostly.
Charlie’s imperceptible smile was reserved for only a few of the attendees as they came through his checkpoint. Only he knew this as no one could see as it was blocked by his own respirator. One was for his old classmate, Phil McKay, who was now working at PHASA as Vic Samm’s Chief of Staff, as both passed through the checkpoint. He remembered how Phil was able to turn busted plays into big gains, and sincerely hoped that he could still do this. The country, even the world so needed this now.
Charlie had no idea that this would be the last time he would be on duty during a meeting like this.
“I’ve never seen Kacey driven to this level,” Robbie told Annie.
Annie was finishing the last of her salad and replied, “My sense is that she has taken this personally as the virus has so devastated the black community and some of her own family. She has lost her grandmother and a number of aunts and uncles. We know how much we want to solve this problem, but I agree, Kacey has taken it to another level.
Kacey was rushing over with her own salad, pulled up a chair, and let out a huge breath.
“I’ve got a new idea I want to run by you guys. I think I know how to get the “blanket” out to everyone. This one is pretty wild, even for me,” she said with a broad grin on her face.
Annie and Robbie were excited to see this grin that has been missing for some time and they both leaned in to listen to her.
“I kept getting wound around the axle,” she circled her hands round and round in her usual demonstrative talking manner, “and was trying to just list the different issues that were in front of us on both the anti-protein’s short viability and how in the world we would be able to distribute it in a world that includes not only anti-vaxers, and anti-science peeps, that if we cannot reach them, could provide a huge challenge to reaching herd immunity. It has been totally Nobel worthy that your bio-molecular engineering has been able to create the “blanket” that can totally smother the virus before it can even attach to their cellular targets, and expand into a person’s system and create the havoc we have all been experiencing these past 4 years. Our anti-protein, is really a short lived pseudo-antibody that, that if I continue with my car analogy, acts as a radiator flush to grab hold of the gunk, although in this case, a very specifically focused “gunk” and eliminate cleanly from the body before it can do any damage to all the working parts. The problem we have so far with it, is that these anti proteins, APs, are pretty short lived as we know, lasting somewhere between 24–48 hours. So clearly a vaccine is not the answer here.”
Robbie jumped in, “Right Kacey, we really have 3 different opportunities that we have been working at. Can we stop the virus in the tracks before it attached to a cell, and takes it over, do we have a therapeutic drug that can reduce the impact of the massive invasion, and resulting inflammation of the uncontrolled natural antibody response, that limits the damage done, or can we have the body be prepared with the proper antibodies before the virus is introduced to also limit the damage. So far there is some success with the therapeutic and the vaccines, but they have both exhibited some limitations, in that long-term physical damages can be limited but not eliminated.”
Annie was not totally surprised by Robbie’s interruption with something they all knew, and in her quiet but leader manner, just added, “So true, Robbie, go on Kacey, what do you have for us here?”
Once again, Kacey drew in a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
“I think we can make the AP into a few different forms, like supplements, additives and edibles and then create an environment — a marketplace — where these are easily and cheaply self-replenishable. We have the expertise here to do the first part, but we will need the right help to build it into everything worldwide.” Kacey, at last, could draw in another breath.
There was a hush as the trio of brilliant people digested another brilliant idea.
Annie took this all in and knew that Samms could handle all of Kacey’s concerns. He has always been able to do these things.
Phil McKay was wondering what Samms was learning today, and what next task was going to be added to his pile. Luckily, he lived for these challenges and had the track record showing he could meet them. He was aware Vic was spending the day checking out a number of the project teams and around 5 PM got a text that just told him that Vic wanted to meet at the office around 7. The text also instructed him to catch up with the file on Project Hellfire.
Phil thought that as usual, his job was always one of both detailed planning and immediate improvisation. No doubt today will be no different. He was deep into reading the Hellfire file when Vic showed up.
Phil was both deeply listening and intensely working through possible paths simultaneously. He did not need to know the details of the bio-molecular engineering, at least at this moment, but he absolutely did need to work through how many companies he wanted to engage with for the manufacturing of supplements, additives and edibles; which of the economist resources to investigate the cost/price issues and options; how to get the FDA involved and where he could manage the trials in minimum times; which marketing folks he could bring on board; but mostly how he could keep all of this secret while it is going on. This was just one of the projects that were chasing the elusive goal of “getting back to normal,” if this still had meaning, and there was no value of letting this leak out before they were certain.
“Can I have a week?” Phil asked
Vic was pleased, but did not let it show, “Yes, but no more than that,” he replied. “I’ll need to make a decision of what we may have here and whether we have anything that I can share with the boss. We all underrated that our relationship with time is tenuous.”
Phil grabbed another cup of coffee and got right to it. It was only 9 PM, so there was still plenty of time in this already long day.
Charlie did not understand why his boss told him he was going to be temporarily reassigned. Before he could even let his emotions bubble fully up, his boss told him it was a special request by the Chief of Staff at PHASA, Phil McKay. He loved where he was, but he did owe this all to Phil, and wondered what it was all about. Charlie silently repeated his old mantra to himself, Awake, Aware, Alert, Accepting, Protecting. This always calmed him down when he could feel the stress rising. Awake, Aware, Alert, Accepting, Protecting. He grabbed his things and headed over to PHASA. He kept repeating the mantra, and in his car, it was no longer silent.
For most of his life, Charlie, although standing 6’3” and weighing in the vicinity of 300 pounds was somehow able to not be the most visible person in the room. The old offensive tackle just needed to block anyone from reaching who and what he was protecting. Quietly, effectively, but most often invisibly. No fanfare, just the self-acceptance that his job was well done. Now Phil was asking him to change this. Phil needed to keep everything quite secret at this time, and his plan was to have Charlie as a very visible image of the government’s chief enforcer if anyone dare speak or leak about was being planned. Charlie doubted that this could work, but he did owe Phil so much and Phil never asked for anything before. Phil told him not to worry as he would do most of the talking and Charlie just needed to keep that scowl on his face when he participated in the multitude of video calls and meetings, and nod and agree with Phil when invited. Amazingly, he discovered that this all seemed to be pretty effective as he even got to place some of the calls just by himself to check in on their weekly efforts, including their own security.
The human trials were going to be challenging to say the least, and maybe even impossible, Annie thought. There was no issue with the first phase regarding safety, and the animal tests were fully positive here. The APs flushed completely through the body in about 3 days, and they either trapped the virus gunk if it was present, or so far appeared harmless to any of the test critters.
However, for the efficacy tests, they had to introduce the virus to otherwise healthy animals to see if it would be effective. They did also have positive results with their test animals, which was the data Annie reviewed and believed they had something. That was what she reported to Samms, and now Phil McKay had come to the lab to discuss what she thought about different options bringing in healthy human volunteers that they would have to take the APs, the “blanket” on a daily basis and then introduce the virus to them. First and foremost, they agreed that the ethical issue was immense, and at least for brainstorming, they had to, at least for the moment, set that aside.
Phil, Annie, Robbie and Kacey had 2 flip charts that started to fill up. The first was the populations that needed to be tested, and the second was the population they might be able to test. Robbie was standing with the marker and writing furiously as the ideas rang out.
Babies, infants, nursery schools, and then all schools were listed. People of all ages, races, weights, heights. They were going down the track that there was still more they didn’t know than what they did know. The first chart was filling up quickly as the needs were covering everyone and everywhere.
The second chart, the one filled with the ethical dilemma was slower and more thoughtfully discussed, even though it was not the perfect brainstorming methodology, needed to be done, to keep them all somewhat sane here.
Medical workers, nursing homes, hospitals, military, paid volunteers, private schools, prisons. They continued to discuss the baby steps of trial sizes that would allow them to feel comfortable they can go to larger numbers with “acceptable” risk, and then spent over an hour talking about how to define what that was. The only answer that they could agree on is that everyone involved needed to be volunteers and understand the risk. Whether they were being paid for this or not was outside their medical recommendation but might be required to get to most of the populations they wanted to test. They also understood that they might not be able to get to all of the populations they desired and would think more about that for future discussions.
Phil had what he needed for the time being, thanked them and headed to his car. He did not have much time and knew what his next steps were. He was on the phone before he opened the car door.
It was another hot August 2020, and the AVS beachwear was becoming more and more prevalent as people wanted to get back to playing even in their UV protecting fishbowl helmets and portable air packs. Some brave, or perhaps foolish souls, took them off for an ocean swim, even if no lifeguards were present. That was just one of the many occupations that seemed to disappear.
Samms, Phil and the Hellfire team, including Charlie, were getting ready for the meeting. Labor Day had passed, and the country was still trying to achieve full employment. Each one of them has in effect, tasted their own medicine. They all volunteered to be part of the testing from day one. They knew the risks, but also believed in what they created. It was Samms idea, and it did not take him long to get everyone to agree. It wasn’t that the new normal was that bad, but Samms was used to making big bets, and this was his biggest. He was satisfied that it was working so far and was now willing to double down and meet with the President.
Each of them chose a different method to take the AP. Annie took the supplements. Two in the morning and two more each night. She was glad they came as tablets that could melt under your tongue. Robbie was fond of the powdered version that he added to his morning juice, this was unflavored and the once a day dose worked better for him. Kacey chose the gummies, feeling that this would be a better solution for not only her people but for children everywhere. After all, she reasoned with herself, a spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down.
They each knew the risk and Charlie actually led them to the exposure cell and he, the protector, went in first. They were uncovered and sprayed at, and afterwards every few hours for the next week they had blood drawn and all of their urine and bowel movements were kept and analyzed. Their anxiety was through the roof, and they really got no work done, but physically they were well. The first set of swab tests saw the virus, just when it was administered, and analyzed to see the amount present. Within 8 hours the amount dropped by 80% and was gone within 24 hours. The gunk was found in both their urine and bowel movements. In addition, it was found that the few virus particles that made successful entry into cells and were able to replicate the new “gunk” as they were now referring to it was captured by the ongoing meds that were disguised as supplements. It did appear that the AP, the “blanket” was working as they hoped. By day three their anxiety, not gone, was reduced, and they started to be able to review the data from all the other test subjects.
The results were similar across the military, the prisons, the workers at nursing home facilities were also helping indirectly in seeming to reduce the carrier population, and the various paid volunteers. They did not have children well tested yet, as that ethical question still seemed too large to overcome, but the adult population was well covered. So far, so good as they prepared for the next step.
The President, weary as usual, actually froze and yelled “Stop!” as he saw them each start to enter the room without any respirators on. This was automatic and Samms had to exercise some incredible machinations to be able to get the team this far without them. The surgeon general and the president’s personal physician as well as the VP were there, with their respirators on, but they were all brought into the plan. Samms was betting big on this one. Charlie was able to engage his bosses at the Service also, with just a little bit of Samms’ help.
The Surgeon General, the VP and the others present started to take off their respirators as the weary President sat down and waved them all into the room. He slowly took off his own respirator, with the help of his personal physician and just stared at each of them, one at a time, very, very slowly.
“You did it…” he said, more of a question that a statement.
Samms stood up, and swept his arm pointing to the Hellfire team and replied, “Yes sir, these people did!”
Some people like the old joke that “normal is just a setting on the dryer.”
Even one year after that White House meeting, the country, and the world was still in the process of drying out. There was no doubt that there was a constantly evolving notion of normal, almost to the sense the word no longer had any meaning.
Some people so loved their AVS’s they became fashion statements even though they were fully taking one of the AP options into their daily diets, and no longer needed for personal protection. Phil McKay’s efforts with the Big Pharma and Food suppliers, and the President’s Executive Order that all AP supplies and derivatives could only be sold as a generic diet supplement rather than a drug. Phil managed to get the original formulas from the Hellfire team patented in record time, and free licenses were offered to anyone who would market it at a small cost plus model, and the government would purchase and distribute to all who asked, with no questions asked. The different companies making the AP let their marketeers have the freedom to name their offerings, and so many different groups would argue over their favorites. Maybe this was the biggest sign of “back to normal.”
It is always interesting to note who gets credit when in effect, the entire world was saved
The President certainly was getting a great deal of credit, which as a politician he always was able to both accept and deflect simultaneously. The world was shocked when at Thanksgiving in 2023 he made an announcement that he would not be running for a second term. Behind the scenes, it was Vic Samms who convinced him it was the right thing to do and to endorse the VP in her efforts to gain the nomination for the next election.
The President also honored the Hellfire team as Drs. Anand, Turati and White received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and their 15 minutes of fame, which they were all thankful for, but they preferred to just get back to the lab.
Charlie made the decision to leave the Secret Service and work full time for Phil McKay and found that this job allowed him to smile many times each day, no matter what challenges occurred, and there was not a day without many of them.
For most people everywhere in the world things were getting better, and the idea of change and hope was now, once again, permeating society. Jobs returned, businesses returned, and the governments in the world were discovering that the old normal was not exactly what they wanted to return to and agreed there was so much to do. The old media that previously had sowed so much division was not totally gone, but certainly was losing its popularity. This might be the best part of a new normal.
“How scared were you?” Robbie asked.
Kayce grabbed the marker and on the flip chart tore of the page and on a fresh sheet wrote in giant letters
Annie laughed, “Well stated, me too!”
Robbie looked at them and said, “We really did not have a choice, did we?”
“Of course, we did,” was Kacey’s immediate response. “Samms was pretty persuasive, that’s true, but the choice was ours.” Robbie nodded and looked at Annie.
Annie looked back at Robbie, then at Kacey and then once again back at Robbie.
“Let’s not fool ourselves, or each other. On our own, we probably would not have done it this way, without Vic urging us and convincing us the bet was worthwhile. We had no idea what we were doing and what the risk was. Some say we saved the world and we even have these medals. It makes me feel like I am one of the characters in the Wizard of Oz to show how brave and how smart and how compassionate we are. That was never in the requirements of our job descriptions then and I do not believe that they are in there now.”
Robbie took this in and ever so slowly came back with a question to her, “Annie, you don’t think this was the big one, do you?”
Annie responded, “Do you?”
Kacey stood up and said, “OK, then let’s just get back to work.”