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Pandemic   By: (1916-1986)

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Generally, human beings don't do totally useless things consistently and widely. So maybe there is something to it

"We call it Thurston's Disease for two perfectly good reasons," Dr. Walter Kramer said. "He discovered it and he was the first to die of it." The doctor fumbled fruitlessly through the pockets of his lab coat. "Now where the devil did I put those matches?"

"Are these what you're looking for?" the trim blonde in the gray seersucker uniform asked. She picked a small box of wooden safety matches from the littered lab table beside her and handed them to him.

"Ah," Kramer said. "Thanks. Things have a habit of getting lost around here."

"I can believe that," she said as she eyed the frenzied disorder around her. Her boss wasn't much better than his laboratory, she decided as she watched him strike a match against the side of the box and apply the flame to the charred bowl of his pipe. His long dark face became half obscured behind a cloud of bluish smoke as he puffed furiously. He looked like a lean untidy devil recently escaped from hell with his thick brows, green eyes and lank black hair highlighted intermittently by the leaping flame of the match. He certainly didn't look like a pathologist. She wondered if she was going to like working with him, and shook her head imperceptibly. Possibly, but not probably. It might be difficult being cooped up here with him day after day. Well, she could always quit if things got too tough. At least there was that consolation.

He draped his lean body across a lab stool and leaned his elbows on its back. There was a faint smile on his face as he eyed her quizzically. "You're new," he said. "Not just to this lab but to the Institute."


She nodded. "I am, but how did you know?"

"Thurston's Disease. Everyone in the Institute knows that name for the plague, but few outsiders do." He smiled sardonically. "Virus pneumonic plague that's a better term for public use. After all, what good does it do to advertise a doctor's stupidity?"

She eyed him curiously. " De mortuis? " she asked.

He nodded. "That's about it. We may condemn our own, but we don't like laymen doing it. And besides, Thurston had good intentions. He never dreamed this would happen."

"The road to hell, so I hear, is paved with good intentions."

"Undoubtedly," Kramer said dryly. "Incidentally, did you apply for this job or were you assigned?"

"I applied."

"Someone should have warned you I dislike clich├ęs," he said. He paused a moment and eyed her curiously. "Just why did you apply?" he asked. "Why are you imprisoning yourself in a sealed laboratory which you won't leave as long as you work here. You know, of course, what the conditions are. Unless you resign or are carried out feet first you will remain here ... have you considered what such an imprisonment means?"

"I considered it," she said, "and it doesn't make any difference. I have no ties outside and I thought I could help. I've had training. I was a nurse before I was married."



Kramer nodded. There were plenty of widows and widowers outside. Too many. But it wasn't much worse than in the Institute where, despite precautions, Thurston's disease took its toll of life.

"Did they tell you this place is called the suicide section?" he asked.

She nodded.

"Weren't you frightened?"

"Of dying? Hardly. Too many people are doing it nowadays."

He grimaced, looking more satanic than ever. "You have a point," he admitted, "but it isn't a good one. Young people should be afraid of dying."

"You're not."

"I'm not young. I'm thirty five, and besides, this is my business. I've been looking at death for eleven years. I'm immune."

"I haven't your experience," she admitted, "but I have your attitude."

"What's your name?" Kramer said.

"Barton, Mary Barton."

"Hm m m. Well, Mary I can't turn you down. I need you. But I could wish you had taken some other job... Continue reading book >>

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