Gary left work on this particular day feeling rather pooped. It was normal to feel tired, but he felt a bit more tired than usual. It must have been the exhausting Calahan project. ‘I’ll get home, drink some Nyquil or something, and go to bed. Nothing works wonders like lots of sleep.’
He arrived home after some near-misses, nearly nodding off in traffic. He made it into the driveway, and stumbled into the house. His wife looked at him oddly.
“Have you been drinking or something, Hon?”
“No, of course not. I caught some kind of bug. Don’t know where or how. I’ve got to lay down, Peg.”
Peg hurried over to her husband, concerned. She felt his forehead.
“You are burning up. Time to doctor you some. Sit on the couch and let me get you some Alka-Selzer.”
“It’s not my stomach, Peg. Just my head, body, and all over I guess…” said Gary, sighing and lying back on the couch. He couldn’t believe how lousy he felt in such a short time.
Inside his body, the foreign invaders were scoring impressive gains against his immune system. His ordinary white blood cells were no match for the aggressive strain of bacteria, which had been contracted just hours earlier in the company cafeteria. Some combination of temperature, cleaning fluids, and stray radiation had mutated a few hundred of these marauders. Now they were almost unstoppable. Almost.
As Gary’s immune system was being decimated, and his fever spiking rapidly, conditions were set for a special area of Gary’s skeletal system to begin producing the body’s ultimate defense. A super-white cell. It was only when conditions were dire enough, that the body dedicated its remaining reserves of strength to producing these super-defenders. His pulse weakened, blood withdrew from his extremities, and other bodily functions slowed to a crawl, as massive bodily resources were tasked to producing thousands of these powerful cells.
The super-cells went on the attack in his bloodstream. They killed hordes of the invading bacteria, ingesting them and using the results to make more super-cells. Soon, Gary’s condition improved dramatically. His fever dropped, he felt better.
“Wow, I guess that nap did me a lot of good. Peg? What time is it, anyway?” said Gary, who then retrieved his cellphone and glanced at the time. 8:00PM. He had been out awhile. Still woozy and a bit queasy, he decided to lay back down a moment. But he soon felt better. ‘ Wow – maybe this is the 12-hour flu, then. I can only hope.’
Peg hollered up from the basement, “I’m down here. Just doing some laundry. How are you, Gary?”
“Well, much better, now, thank goodness.”
The super-cells finished their mopping-up, and then Gary’s body shifted back to normal operation. The assembly line for the blood cells, deep in his bone marrow, shut down. A few remained in his bloodstream.
As Gary walked from his car to the office building where he worked the next morning, he felt chipper. That bug he had contracted had gone away, and he had even eaten a late meal before bedtime. And a big breakfast this morning. Yep, today was going to be better. Even the Calahan project didn’t seem too scarey today. He looked up at the morning sun shining. Even the weather was nice.
The Sun was emitting more radiation than usual this day, since it was near solar maximum. The bursts of strong radiation travelled 93 million miles, and penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere with such force that a few thousand energetic particles made it all the way into Gary’s face, into his bloodstream, and into the DNA of a couple of those patrolling Super-cells. Their strands of RNA were scrambled, and they were triggered into a frenzy of reproduction.
Gary did have a good day that day, and the next few. After that, he began to feel tired again. But the diagnosis of Leukemia was not made until a month later. By then it was too late.
© Mike Wilson
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