It was cold. It was dimly lit. It smelled of antiseptic and cleaning solution and, under all of that, decay. It was a laboratory that held all kinds of memories for Dr. Theodore Sullivan; memories of struggle, of hopes dashed against the rocks, of frustration and confusion and anger and the desire to just give up and walk away.
But, right now, it was the most hope-filled room in the world to him.
Dr. Sullivan called out from the makeshift lab. “Rose, can you come here for a minute?”
Rosemarie Fuller, who had been a physician's assistant before the end of the world, entered the room. She found Dr. Sullivan peering into a high-powered microscope, a set of slides on the table beside him. “What is it, Ted?” she asked as she approached him.
“Tell me what you see in this sequence.” He then replaced the slide on the stage and allowed Rose to take his place at the table. She leaned down, peering into the stereo microscope.
“I see several cells which show signs of infection,” Rose looked up from the microscope. “Is there something else I should be seeing?”
“Patience, Rose,” Dr. Sullivan replied. “Now take a look at this one.” He raised the microscope's objective lens, removed the slide and, after checking the next one, placed it on the stage. “Take a look at this one and tell me what you see.”
Rose again leaned down. After a minute of adjusting and looking, she again stood up. “This looks like a slightly less infected cell cluster. What are you getting at, Ted? Just tell me, already, because I've got work to do.”
Despite her having come to work in the labs in the Pisgah Safe Zone, Rose wasn't big on mysteries. Her job was to help find a cure, not spend time on understanding its origins. That was a mystery for people with the luxury of time. And with the amount of work to be done, the last thing she felt like doing was playing twenty questions with Ted.
“Damn, you're in a mood today,” Dr. Sullivan replied sarcastically, trying to lighten the mood. He again raised the objective and swapped out the slide, this time with the one from the bottom of his stack.
“There. Take a look at this one and tell me what you see.”
As Rose leaned in, Dr. Sullivan took the other slides and put a few of them on the stages of the other three microscopes in the room and then peered into each.
He'd barely adjusted the focus on the second one when Rose stood up. A cautious look on her face gave a hint of what she was thinking.
A little formality crept into her voice. “Are these slides out of order, doctor?” she asked Sullivan.
“No, they're not. The first one was taken from test subject 129G prior to injection with formula AV717. The other slides were taken at 20 minute intervals for several hours afterward.”
The look of caution stayed on her face. But her eyes started to fill with tears, betraying her hope.
“Rose, I think we've found the cure.”
Dr. Sullivan and his team weren't the best at what they were doing. Hell, more than half of them weren't even experts in the field of virology. They were a team put together due to circumstances. Sullivan had experience in the field which is why he lead them. The others were statisticians, biochemists, nurses and from other fields.
But the end of the world doesn't give you the luxury of putting together an A-Team in order to find a cure. Instead you have to work with what's available, in more ways than one. The team wasn't the best or the brightest. The facilities weren't state of the art. Instead they were the ones that survived using what was left behind. Their ability to collaborate with other teams was limited. But it at least enabled them to work, which is what mattered most.
And work they did. Day and night. For years. Since the end of the world came to stay. And their work was finally going to pay off, they hoped. The human race was losing the battle against an enemy whose ranks grew with every one of their deathes. And it wouldn't be too many more years before the enemy had achieves total victory.
The pressure to find a cure is what drove Dr. Sullivan and his team. And it's what drove a few of them over the edge. Sure, they were all survivors of some sort. But that survival didn't give everybody the ability to endure the aftermath.
But not everybody who survives a tragedy wants to live with that victory. Sometimes it's the sense of loss of those who died. Sometimes it's the guilt over those who could have been saved. It's the could haves, should haves and would haves that can lead a person who was lucky enough to survive the first wave to end their lucky streak at some other point.
Dr. Sullivan had lost three of his research colleagues in the intervening seven years since the plague. All of them had lost their will to continue or saw their work as ultimately futile. Especially when it was discovered that everybody, except for the rare few, had already been infected. The enemy had infiltrated the world and was slowly and relentlessly turning the tide in its own favor.
It was one of those three that ultimately lead the team to their first big breakthrough. And it was that event that helped them to isolate the means by which the virus restarted the basic systems of the body. Like a small operating system image, it was able to get certain parts of the body running again. Just enough to allow the virus to propagate itself.
That discovery lead to a rapid series of hypotheses and experiments that proved successful in not only breaking down and understanding the virus, but also in finding a cure for it. A cure that not only stopped the virus from working on the dead, but also from affecting the living. A cure that could bring humanity back from the brink.
Now they just needed to find a way to mass produce and distribute the cure. It was indeed a breakthrough, but they needed to act to use it before it was too late.