Nema What? Flash Fiction Freebie.

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Now, here’s the story:

 

Nema What?

 

 

It had already been an exceptionally long day when the door rattled with a knock and Captain Bombadil strode through the opening. DeMarsalis’ stomach did a little flip, as it always did, when this Poindexter doofus came within sight. Not that the man was ignorant, far from it, but he had the social skills of an abused hamster on meth.

“General, I really need to talk to you right now, and you didn’t answer my email.”

“When did you send it, Captain?”

“At least seven minutes ago, Sir.”

Knowing that even a really great rump-chewing wouldn’t change anything for this young man, the General decided just to get it over with and go home to drink a lot of bourbon before he grilled a steak.

“Well, I must have missed it with the conference call with the Vice President. They’re super funny about getting a final update before the 1600 press conference at 1600. Isn’t that funny? The address and the time of the daily briefing are the same. We could hold our USAMRIID press conference at 1425, but since we don’t do press briefings, and nobody would remember the time and be early or late, I guess it would be a waste of time to speculate. Don’t you think?”

The Captain just gawked. The General just smiled. It was too much fun toying with the kid. 

“Go ahead, Captain, spill your guts. But only metaphorically.”

“It’s the virus. We found something new and it’s awful. Nematodes.”

DeMarsalis, wrote the word on his tablet, pondered it for a moment, and said, “Nematodes, Captain?”

“Yes. You probably have heard of them, very small insects. One of the most common creatures on the planet. We use them for research.”

BANG! The hand-slap on the desk focused the Captain instantly.

“Listen, you moron, I was peering into an electron microscope when you were just  about ready to learn how to read. So, yeah, I know what a Nematode is. Don’t ever think that because I have stars on my shoulders that I wasn’t a scientist for a long, damned time. Now, what about them, and I presume you mean COVID-19?”

Shaken, Captain Bombadil stuttered a bit and then spit it out, “It’s more like COVID-20, Sir. We see an almost identical gene sequence, but there’s a few things in a different order. And, it’s what it does that’s so horrible. It does all the respiratory damage of “19” but then it goes a step further with the nematodes.”

DeMarsalis knew it was going to be like pulling teeth unless he got this done quickly.

“Give me the whole impact that the new variant has on the host, especially in relationship to Nematodes.”

A gleeful look crossed the Captain’s face: it was Nerd Time!

“My apologies, General. It’s just that I’m very excited about this. I missed my yoga class to keep working on it. Mind and body are very important right now, and – sorry.

“It seems that the transmission is the same for all variants. Droplet, surface contamination, food borne in rare instances.  It’s the impact this variant has on nematodes in the body that is so hideous.”

The Captain paused, reached into a pocket and pulled out an energy drink. Snapping the tab, he downed all 16 ounces, crushed the can, and placed it in a plastic bag which promptly vanished into the same pocket. 

“In subjects with any kind of infestation of the nematodes, it supercharges them. As you know, we use nematodes for a lot of gene sequencing testing because they are so plentiful. We know those little devils very well. It appears that the Chinese do the same thing.”

General DeMarsalis frowned. Everyone used the damned things. The research his people did was defensive in nature. They had to figure out how to weaponize any discoveries to fight them, but they never did production modeling. It was strictly to see if it could be used against the United States, and then find a solution to the problem. But nematodes?

The Captain saw the puzzled look on the General’s face. “They explode sir. If the host has them, round worm and so forth, the virus follows its course, messes up the airways, and then there is a logarithmic growth in the nematode population. It’s like something out of the movie Alien.”

Now he had the General’s attention.

“Cut to the chase, Captain. Do you have some study? A picture? A count? I mean, how much damage could they do, and why would a COVID variant spark this?”

“I have all of the above, General. It is our opinion, based on the unique sequencing of the RNA, that these virus strands were weaponized in Wuhan and were not released until they saw how well the rest of it was going. This one will jump species as well. The studies show a leap of host population counts over ten to the four-hundredth factor. The host, if they survive the lung portion of the illness, finds themselves as nothing but a feeding body for the nematodes – who are encouraged by this strand of nematode rna in the virus – and they basically eat up the host. They’ll spill from all orifices, and if the patient hasn’t been hospitalized, with regular blood drawings to detect the sudden increase, they burst like a soap bubble. It’s quite spectacular in a clinical sense.”

“Out. Get out of my office. That isn’t even possible.”

“Sir, I sent you the video in my email. Please look at it before you kick me out. I’m serious. This is really hitting farming and rural families hardest, and they produce most of the food in the nation. Cattle and sheep are also dying in huge numbers. We just didn’t know the link until a few hours ago.”

The General, who had been a doctor in a field hospital during a conflict long ago, keyed up the video and watched. It was taken in a hospital not far from his home. He watched for less than a minute, and pulled his wastebasket out from under the desk, emptying his stomach into the bin. Any thought of a steak and drunk were gone for a long time to come.

“What can we do?”

“Nothing, General. We’ve put the supercomputer on it thanks to NSA having some spare time. But the answer is that we continue the other treatments and hope that a new screening for nematodes can help us isolate these patients before they blow up. It completely ruins the facility where they are being treated, and it’s a devil to clean up.”

“Nothing?”

“Strangely, just the prophylaxis we usually use for parasitic infestation. But screening for it is so hard. You can’t just have them tested on a farm 10 miles from nowhere. I hope you’ll bring this to the President. We have to warn rural doctors before it gets totally out of control. And, I guess, every doctor – anyone who goes barefoot, or eats contaminated vegetables is likely to have some kind of nematode.”

The General picked up the green phone on his desk, and put his card into the encryption slot. He stopped, set the phone down, and looked at the young officer in front of him.

“Don’t your parents live on a farm in Wisconsin?”

“Yessir, just outside Greenwood.”

“Are they okay?”

“No sir. They died this morning while I was working on this. My sister and her family as well. They all farm dairy.”

The General’s somber face was right out of Easter Island. “Go back to your lab. I have to call the President. But when I go to the White House, I want you with me. So put on a clean uniform, and no smuggling cans in your pockets. It makes the Secret Service nervous.”

It was the hardest call he ever made. 

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Nema What? Flash Fiction Freebie. — 2 Comments