Now the hard part begins.

We wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Jimmy calls daily to inform us that both Maggie and Anndie are hard at work, but that they don’t have anything to tell us yet.

In the meantime, the mild tremors have given way to more severe ones.  The guys continue to search the Web at every opportunity for additional clues they can pass to Maggie, but these sessions grow shorter every day.  Their condition is definitely not on the upswing; they’re getting weaker, more tired, and worst of all, more dispirited.

Deborah thinks about trying L-Dopa, but considering what her last experiment had wrought, she’s nervous about it.  I concur.  Parkinson’s, which has similar symptoms, is manifested in a small part of the brain, the substantia nigra, and the only way to conclude if that were the case would be to take CT scans, which we don’t have access to.  Deborah ‘borrowed’ a lot of things, but I don’t think that was something she could have easily gotten away with, even if it were movable.

Sari asks Deborah if there is nothing she can do.  Deborah is unwilling to go beyond pain meds and fluids.  This angers Sari greatly, but she bites back on her tongue.  She has John’s best interests at heart, and she wouldn’t do anything that would knowingly put him at risk.  That goes for the others as well.  It’s her frustration talking, and we all share it.  Devi comes and spells us at times, and is getting more nervous as the days tick by.  Her husband is due back in four days.  She will have a lot of explaining to do.  I don’t envy her.  I suspect her husband is a kindly sort, at least from all the descriptions I’ve heard of him, and he would be willing to help anyone in any way he could, but this is far over the line.

I find myself taking more breaks.  I’ve gotten acquainted with Devi’s young son and played a few games of backgammon with him.  He’s a delightful child.  It makes my heart ache all the more; I’m going to be a grandmother for the second time soon.  Who knows if I’ll ever meet my second grandchild, or ever see my first one again.  Will I see my son graduate from college?  Just when he seems to be getting back on track, I’m totally thrown off it.

Sari, John, Mel and I all play bridge, but both John and Mel grow frustrated with the game quickly as a diversion.  Bridge requires concentration, and it also requires that you be able to hang on to your cards.  This is something that within a few days, they are no longer able to do.  The six of us do play some poker in numerous variations, but even this is difficult.  Devi sent down a Playstation to divert Deborah and Ringo, but Ringo can’t work the controls, and he’s furious.   Sari spends much time reading to John.  He seems to listen with only half an ear.  Deborah talks to Ringo about the bot they’re building, but he doesn’t seem interested.

Trying to engage Mel in much of anything isn’t working.  The ballgame was on.  Not a terrific game as far as action, but the Orioles did win, and he barely commented on the whole thing.  That’s not the Mel I know and love.

On the fifth night, once we’ve got the guys asleep, the three of us gather in the room off to the side.  We’re as miserable as they are.

“I used to think I was a good doctor,”  Deborah says, her tone well beyond mournful.

“I’m sure you can still filet with the best of them,”  Sari tries to encourage her.

“I think we’ve read everything out there available on C. botulinum, and you know what?  I still don’t have a clue.  Plus, it’s modified, so who knows what’s dangerous to it and what’s not?”

“There are no known treatments for botulism.”  Deborah and I, and Sari I’m sure, have seen a few cases of it.  Always fatal.  Not a pretty way to die--of course, there are no pretty ways to die.  Life is always the goal.  I’m trying to keep my spirits up but it’s getting rougher with each passing hour.

“I know Maggie, and she probably hasn’t slept since we first called her, that’s just the way she is,” Deborah continues.  “But like she said, she’s trying to compress ten years of work into...however long it takes, it’s too long.”

“They can’t die.  They won’t.”  Sari is in charge of pumping us up, this hour.  Next hour, who knows?

I’ll reserve judgment and hang on to hope.


Sari has offered to keep watch tonight, so Deborah and I settle in for a nap.  We watch the clock, but have no real feel for what time is like on the outside anymore.  I feel disoriented.  Very disconnected.  I can only imagine what Mel and the guys are going through.  The only connection with the outside world we have anymore are our trips upstairs to visit with Devi.  Today I went up for awhile.  She had a friend visiting, and while I found the sight of another human heartening, I had nearly forgotten how to communicate with the outside world.  It was very strange, to say the least.

My dreams are very odd, too.  I won’t bore anyone with the descriptions; suffice to say that they’re nothing like what I ever had before.  Therefore, I think I’m dreaming when Sari bursts into the room, throwing on the light.

“Deborah?  Mel.  Wake up.  Jimmy’s on the phone, and he’s got Maggie and Anndie.  They need to speak with you right away.”

Oh, let it be good news.  Of any sort.

“Put it on speaker.  The guys should hear it as well.”

“Hi, it’s me,”  Jimmy’s voice comes on.  “Here’s Dr. Rose.”

“Maggie.  Tell me you have something.”  Deborah’s voice is more pleading than ordering.

“Okay.”  Maggie sounds more than fearful.  “Here’s what I found.  Some of the genes on two chromosomes of Clobot were altered.  They appear to be the genes that would ordinarily cause rapid death in poisoning.”

“Go on,”  Deborah urges her.

“Remember, I’m saying that this appears to be the case.  I’ve only done a few in vitro assays.”

“You couldn’t make a mouse model or something?”  I ask her.

“A knockout would take me months to design, and even longer to breed, if it could be done successfully.  I don’t know how rapidly this would happen, but I’m not taking any chances.  The eventual results will be paralysis and death.”

The guys are very awake now.  We each stay near our respective others, all holding each other’s hands, clinging to life and hope.

“What I am taking a chance with is this.  The toxin was inserted via an adenovirus.  I found traces of it in the plasmids.  So what I did was take an adenovirus and insert a modified assay into the gene.  It appeared to turn off.”

“Do you think...this could be a potential therapy?”  Deborah wants to cut to the chase, as usual.

“It’s my best guess.  That’s what you told me to do.”  Maggie is clearly very nervous about this.

“So what do we do?”

“I’ll prepare a serum for you to inject your patients with.  Then Jimmy and Anndie will drive back there.  Remember, I can’t guarantee it will work.  I can’t even guarantee it won’t kill you.”

“But you can guarantee the toxin will eventually kill us,” John says thoughtfully, if anxiously.

“Yes.”  Maggie’s response is soft and sad.

“Got any idea what the side effects might be?”  Deborah asked.

“I had to use a fairly virulent strain of virus to insert it and make it turn off.  Chances are they’ll get pretty sick.  Although I don’t know for sure.  A lot of things would factor into it, and we’re all operating on incomplete information.”

Deborah turns to them.  “You understand all this?”

Everyone nods.

“We’ll do it.”

“I’m sending all my documentation with Jimmy and Anndie.  I can’t keep it here.”

“No, that’s a good idea,”  Mel agrees.

“But...please don’t destroy it.”

“We won’t,”  John promises, and I know that boy’ll keep it.

“If this is what you think it is--and I think you’re right, because there’d be no reason to do this other than as a weapon--then we may someday need the data.  But--you understand.”

“Maggie, we owe you.”

“Don’t say that yet.”

“How long will it take you to make the serum?”

“A few more hours.  Then they’ll be on their way.”

Once again, we wait.  And hope.

Our lives as we have come to know them.


Devi’s been alerted to the impending arrival of Jimmy and Anndie, who will be driving yet another rental car under yet another false name.

“We gotta get hold of Hector,”  Ringo tells Mel and John.

“And who would Hector be?”  I inquire.

“Only the best document forger in the DC area.  Probably in the world.  Why do we need to call him?”  Mel asks.

“In case we need fakes for the ladies.”

“Already thought of that,”  Mel says.  I shudder.  “We’ll have Jimmy get them out of the safe.”

“Besides, if we call him, we’ll freak him out,”  John adds.  “I’m guessing he was at the funeral.”

“Yeah, never knew we had so many friends till we saw it on TV,”  Ringo mutters.

“They just miss our business, that’s all.  Manny at Spies R Us never had better customers,” Mel reminds him.

“Wonder if Cho from the cheesesteak place was there?”  Ringo stares at the ceiling.

“Considering all the business we gave him, he should have been.  And everyone from Malnati’s and Hugo’s.”  Mel suddenly looks wistful.  “You know, if we...if we get through all this...we’re not going to be able to stick around here.”

I’ve thought about it a lot, but hearing him say it, my heart sinks and I feel my eyes fill up.  This is for real.

John stares at Sari meaningfully and sadly.  “You know that means you and Deborah and Mel, too.  And Jimmy.  And probably Anndie.”

“We don’t have any fakes for the Miller girl,”  Mel reminds us.

“Jimmy’s gonna have to take care of that one, Hector’ll help him out,”  Ringo says.  “God, I’m homesick already.”

Deborah looks as if she’s about to cry, but straightens her back.  “Let’s take it one step at a time.”

Meaning, let’s make sure you men live to be homesick.  Right now, that would be the best of all possible options.


During the next twelve hours, everyone is restless and fitful.  We all read up on the gene modification that Maggie has done--at least to get a general sense, as there is no specific information available till the serum and lab notes arrive.  One thing I can say for all present: we’re scared out of our minds.

“First one genetic experiment, then another.  I’m not sure which is worse,”  Sari says when we head upstairs to have lunch with Devi.  “I’m really worried about this, Mel.”

“Worried doesn’t even begin to cover it, dear.”

“Deborah’s a wreck.”

“She’s not exactly in her element.”

“I’m wondering what our element is anymore.”

“That remains to be seen.”


Jimmy and Anndie arrive while we’re watching--of all the Godawful things that one could watch on TV--Blind Date.  All right, so some of what goes on in the bubbles above the players’ heads is mildly amusing.
Sari comments that you couldn’t even call it reality TV, it’s so far removed from any reality that we know of.

“Ooh, I love this show,”  Anndie says, trying to sound upbeat, but you can tell the poor child has been without sleep, and is horribly stressed.  I think she aged ten years in the time she was in Atlanta.

“Yeah, it’s kinda fun,”  Jimmy admits.

I snap off the TV.  “Do you have everything?”

“Were you followed?”  Mel demands, his voice trying to show his edge, but the fact is, he’s very weak, and his speech is becoming impeded by the tremors.

“If I was, they were real good ‘cause I couldn’t see anyone anywhere chasing us down.  And we had different rental cars all over the place, different names like you told me,”  Jimmy says, seeking approval for only putting his neck on the line.

“I’m gonna use the ladies’,” Anndie says.

Jimmy hands Deborah a small Igloo cooler, the kind you’d carry your lunch to work in.  “Everything’s here. Dr. Rose is real worried, she wants you to call her and let her know what’s up.  I gave her one of the scramblers.  Told her to toss it out and get the disposable ones like you get at 7-11.”

“Hey, you didn’t fuck up after all,”  Ringo remarks, but his eyes demonstrate a little admiration.

Deborah and John have popped the CD-ROM that Maggie must have burned for us into the computer.  They study the information in silence.  I’m worried when I see them both growing more anxious as they scroll down.

“So Jimmy boy,”  Mel is trying to lighten the mood, “did you and Miss Anndie--”

“She’s a real nice girl,”  Jimmy says, blushing.  “Real nice.”

He’s about to say more when Anndie reappears.  Deborah looks up.  “Okay, I have the instructions.”  She lets her eyes land on everyone in the room.  “Wish I could say nothing bad’s gonna happen.  It might not.  But it might.” She’s near tears, and she’s really having to force herself into clinical mode.  “Anndie?  You need to help me get the injections ready.”

“Okay.” Anndie’s voice is small and mournful.  Jimmy pats her on the shoulder and tells her, it’s gonna be okay. I doubt very much she believes that.

Me, I want to believe.  I so want to believe.


“What kind of injection?”  I ask as Deborah prepares the solution.

“Intramuscular is Maggie’s best guess.  She recommends getting them in the ass.”

I chuckle despite my anxiety.

“They’re going to hate that.”

“Let’s hope it’s all they have to hate. “  She lifts her head to meet my eyes. Gone is the competent, rather aggressive surgeon I’ve come to know.  She looks like a frightened ten year old, her green eyes wide.

“I’m scared, too,”  I tell her, and she nods in acknowledgment.

She takes a deep breath.  “You ready?”


“Me, neither.”  She stands up.  “Let’s do it.”

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