Nathan palmed the glass vial in his coat pocket and as he changed clothes, he slid the vial into the hidden pocket built into the heel of his street shoes while carefully keeping his back to the security camera. He hung up his lab coat and inwardly groaned when Jana, a microbiologist working on Dr. Hanson’s team, glanced his direction. She caught up with him before he could take the three steps needed to reach the lobby door.
“Are you leaving already, Nathan? The party has just started.”
Nathan’s lips thinned. “What exactly are we celebrating, the potential end of human life on this planet?”
Jana blinked twice and her eyes sharpened. “The best way to defend ourselves against such possible weapons is to develop them first. Now our research can change directions; now we can develop vaccines and cures. I know you’ve been looking forward to that phase of the project.”
Many people in the room raised their glasses above their heads and shouted, “Huzzah!” Jana belatedly raised her own glass and returned the shout.
“I think they spent too much time at the renaissance festival last weekend.” Nathan sighed and met Janna’s eyes, and for a moment, he forgot what he was going to say when he realized how beautiful they were. He swallowed and cleared his throat. “I do look forward to the next phase, but I just cannot in good conscience celebrate the existence of such a dreadful weapon.”
Jana rested a reassuring arm on Nathan’s forearm. “This is an international project, and there are labs around the planet celebrating our success this very moment, but I understand your worries. The Z-day virus would turn millions into mindlessly raging cannibals in weeks. It’s our job now to make sure it never happens.”
Nathan nodded as a nearby telephone rang, and when Jana turned away to answer it, he took the opportunity to slip out the door. Fearing that Jana might follow and try to persuade him to stay longer, he walked quickly away from the research building. He allowed himself a quick glance back as he took a right on Heights Street and another glace as he took a left on Trench. He let out a long, slow sigh of relief when he saw that no one was following.
He eyed the tall buildings to his right and left as he walked and ground his teeth. It just made no sense. Why would you put such a dangerous research facility in the middle of a populated city? Why wasn’t this project located deep under a mountain in New Mexico? There could be only two answers, either his superiors were idiots or someone actually hoped for a security breach or accident. He’d made up his mind long ago to give them their breach, just not in a way they expected.
Sweat stung his right eye as he walked under the arch at the city park entrance. A large pool and fountain in the center of the park shot streams of water a dozen feet into the air. People crowded around soaking their feet and wading through it to escape the heat of the day. As he sat at the edge of the pool, a little girl, no more than three years old with blonde hair, grinned at him, and he gave her a wink just before she turned to splash a nearby playmate.
His heartbeat quickened as he pulled off his shoes and put his feet into the cool water. He glanced nervously from bystander to bystander as he retrieved the glass vial from the heel of his shoe. Water was not the best medium for transmitting a virus, but he had helped design this strain and he knew that it had enough resilience to find a host. It was extremely contagious and once released there would be no way to stop it from spreading.
A stream of water splattered against his face stirring him from his thoughts, and he turned to see the little blonde girl holding a water gun. He smiled as the mother chided the child and pried the water gun from her hand. He popped the top off the vial with this thumb, and a second later, he poured its contents into the pool.
Nathan spent the rest of the afternoon watching the children filling water guns and spitting streams of water at each other with their mouths, silently counting how many were exposing themselves. Someone sat down beside him and he flinched.
Jana let out a resigned sigh as she dropped her feet into the pool. “You did it didn’t you?”
The skin between Nathan’s eyebrows wrinkled and he stammered. “I…I’m afraid that I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“They locked down the lab right after you left. When I answered the phone, security was frantically screaming in my ear that no one was to be allowed to leave.”
Nathan sighed. “It’s too late.”
“The police are looking for you.”
“They’ll find me right here.”
Jana glanced at the people playing in the pool. “So, this is the end of the world?”
Nathan barked a laugh. “Ha! Not by a long shot.”
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t release the Z-day virus.” He held up the empty vial for Jana to see the identification numbers. “This is the strain we created by accident. Instead of destroying the prefrontal cortex and stimulating the amygdala, this version will stimulate the prefrontal cortex and soothe the amygdala.”
Jana let out a sigh of relief and relaxed. “So, the human race just received a contagious bump in intellectual capacity and emotional maturity.”
Nathan put his arm around Jana. “You see, it’s not the end of the world; it’s just the end of the world as we know it.”
Eddie D. Moore travels extensively for work, and he spends much of that time listening to audio books. The rest of the time is spent dreaming of stories to write and he spends the weekends writing them. His stories have been published by Jouth Webzine, The Flash Fiction Press, Every Day Fiction, Theme of Absence, Devolution Z, and Fantasia Divinity Magazine. Find more on his blog: https://eddiedmoore.wordpress.com/.
Image by Jonathan Chen