Science Fiction

THE LAST PLAGUE

By

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Synopsis

Hope is the physician’s secret weapon, the hidden ingredient in any prescription.

Research pathologist Dr. Avicenna “Avit” Arceneaux is a hot mess with glaring potential. A trained surgeon, he investigates the dead. But harvested clones carry no weight... with one exception. Avit’s status makes him a perfect match for General Story Patout’s genetic alteration experiment.

When Avit performs a stat autopsy in the early hours for General Patout, he locks horns with chaos in a white lab coat. Patout is a mad scientist, obsessed with exploring the limits of medicine, no matter the costs. His first unintended consequence kills eighty percent of the world population, but he's just getting started.

Avit autopsies a young soldier who received Patout’s Panacea vaccine, which promises functional immortality, and he finds a glitch, a big one...

The dead soldier rotted from the inside out.

Avit reports to Patout, who forces him into the genetic alteration study. Suddenly, Avit, the lone survivor of his medical research team, is the only person who knows the ticking time bomb in Patout’s plan to conquer the world and... the military is after him.

What if your most cherished dream comes true when all hope is gone?

ALL LIFE

"It doesn't matter what he does, he will never amount to anything." 

Albert Einstein's teacher to Einstein's father, 1895


Harsh lights flooded a draped corpse on the stainless steel table, but Dr. Avicenna Arceneaux interacted well with dead people. A stat autopsy in the early hours was an oxymoron, just a blip at the beginning of Avit’s epic day.

“Who died?” Avit downed the last of his coffee and pitched the cup into the recycle bin.

“Who didn’t?” Mathieu, a massive man of indeterminate age, yawned as he arranged surgical instruments on a nearby cart. “How does a grunt rate this kind of attention?”

“Must have some secrets.” Avit was a hot mess of glaring potential but the opaque half-moon scar at the apex of his cheekbone and his biomimetic artificial eyes were always the off put. The gun metal gray discs, transparent enough to show the ladar sensors operating within, recorded measurements, charted, and compared against normal findings within a matter of seconds. His technical ocular prosthetics were incredibly efficient, but made him appear cool, detached.

“Let’s see.” Avit activated the remote drone and pulled back the drape. 

Snapping on exam gloves and rubber aprons, the men took their positions on opposite sides of the table. Moving quickly and efficiently, they comprised a well-oiled team born from long practice.  

Mathieu rolled the body first to one side then the other while Avit inspected the body, searching for the mechanism of death.

“Caucasian male, twenty-four to twenty-eight years of age.”  Avit lifted the man’s arms and manipulated through the folds of his skin before riffing through hair follicles. “No stigmata of injury.”  

Avit took a scalpel in hand and, raising his elbow to bear down, he sliced through the corpse’s chest wall. Two diagonal incisions and one straight line down the middle. Next, he used serrated scissors to cut through the cartilage of the sternum.

Mathieu handed Avit a spreader to pry the chest wall open and stepped back. Lifting a basin, he stood ready to receive the internal organs. 

"Wait... Is this corpse fresh?" Avit held the spreader frozen in mid-air and leaned forward, creating a long, lean shadow over the body, as he peered into the chest cavity. Something was wrong. He sounded breathless and a little confused.

"Earlier this evening, sir." Mathieu had received the remains from the Emergency Department a short time ago.

"Are you sure?" Avit placed the used spreader on the cart and stepped away from the table. "Take a look." 

Mathieu moved closer. He never really knew what he was looking at when Avit invited him to do this. Corpses always looked like a mess of dead shit to him, but Avit was patient and proceeded like this was some sort of valuable teaching moment.

"There's evidence of advanced necrosis. Massive hemorrhage... I've never seen anything like it." Avit was the only person Mathieu knew who could make the fact that he had never seen something like this before sound like a good thing.

Mathieu took a look. Gnarly.

“And the age? Twenty-eight to thirty-two? No way. This guy can't be that young. He looks ancient." Moving back to the body, Avit fished around the chest cavity with his scalpel to dislodge and unfasten the major organs.

"Hold the organs and prepare for frozen section." Avit yawned and stripped off his bloody gloves. “The Surgeon General will want all the details.” 

"You got it. I'll finish up." Mathieu obeyed orders and initiated clean-up. 

"Wake me when you have the sections ready." Avit yanked off his rubber apron. 

Sir, don’t you have to go home?” Mathieu bagged and labeled the internal organs.

“They’ll have to wait. I want to look at the slides first.” Climbing onto an empty adjoining autopsy table and using a folded sheet as a pillow, Avit laid down. 

"But what do you think? What'd the guy die of?" Mathieu neatly closed the incisions, sewing the flaps of skin together before cleaning the body. 

"He rotted.” Avit lifted his head to look at Mathieu. “From the inside out." 

Mathieu was amazed at how quickly Avit fell asleep. He literally passed out. 

With clean-up and tissue preparation, Mathieu pressed on, but first, he found a warm blanket to throw on top of his friend.


It was still early morning, not quite seven, when Avit arrived at the threshold of the high rise apartment he shared with his parents, Dr. Augustine "Gus" Arceneaux and Delphine. He stood at the door a few minutes to prepare himself to meet what he must.

Unlocking the door with his handprint, he pushed into the cluttered apartment crammed with dusty memorabilia, old framed photos, and Victorian antiques.

Delphine and Gus were a century plus couple. Avit had only returned to the apartment to prepare them for the routine of their day. 

Delphine scowled and refused to look at Avit as he opened the front door.

He removed his shoes and lab coat before he stepped into the sanitizer.

"You're late. Your mother's been waiting for her breakfast." Gus admonished Avit who exited the sanitizer.

 Avit forced a smile. He learned long ago not to try to argue or explain.

"Dad, why don’t you walk today? Will you give it a try?" Avit encouraged activity. He always made the same suggestions.

"I will if I remember." Gus winked at Avit.

"I'll take that as a no." Avit had a hard time accepting the familiar response. "But it would do you a world of good."

Avit hurried to fit the vital sign monitors, adjust the feeding apparatus, and check the assisted breathing devices attached to their special assist chairs. He was running late. He needed to get back to the hospital.

With one additional errand to run before returning to the path lab, he worried that it might take longer than he projected. He was never late for work.

He loaded the feeding mix into each parent’s nourishing reservoirs and programmed the holographic projection screen to entertain them during the day and into the evening until he returned home.

"Rub my legs. They're sore." Delphine twitched her legs from under a light blanket.

"Walking would help your circulation." Avit knelt in front of his mother.

At 2050, the half century mark, death and sex were major societal priorities. Defying one and prolonging the other were the chief goals of governmental research and funding. 

For the past two years, Avit had served as research pathologist on the Panacea Vaccine team. The team's assignment, to create a vaccine that would alleviate chronic illness, played a pivotal role in the obsessive search for the fountain of youth.

As he massaged the muscles in his mother's lower legs, Avit noticed a small orange clay pot in the trash can beside her chair. He retrieved the curio and literally felt a sinking feeling in his chest.

"Mom, I've asked before. Please don't throw this away." He held the clay pot in front of his mother.

"But it reminds me of Florida. And that makes me so sad." Delphine went after Avit like a shark to blood in the water. "I don't understand why we can't have our reception in Hawaii. That makes me angry."

Avit questioned how his mother could remember Florida sinking into oblivion and nothing about volcanoes toasting Hawaii.

"Our hundredth wedding anniversary." Delphine clasped her hands together in pure delight. "Let's fly. I'm ready."

"I've already explained. There's no going to Hawaii. A destination reception would be too complicated, but the holographic simulation at the reception will be an island theme. I think you'll enjoy it." Avit stood and placed the clay pot high on a nearby bookshelf.

"You know I had my heart set on it." Delphine's euphoric response cooled as quickly as it appeared.

Today, the Panacea vaccine would be distributed in a highly publicized inoculation drive, an effort coordinated and lauded as a necessary first step toward a single global government with medicine as the unifying link.

But Avit wasn't entirely convinced that functional immortality looming as a real option on an already contentious, competitive, and overly crowded planet was such a brilliant idea.  

"I want to go to Hawaii." Delphine swatted at Avit's leg. He didn’t see her hand until it connected with his knee. He staggered to recover.

"That's just not possible. Have a good day." Avit waved on his way out. Even if the islands still existed, he couldn't imagine the logistics of traveling with his parents. The thought was enough to give him hives.


Angling through a packed crowd riding a dense population accelerator, which was little more than a glorified moving sidewalk, Avit offered a polite flurry of "excuse me" and "sorry" which sounded like a repetitive Greek chorus but sufficed to cover most of the disapproval and aggravation engendered by his haste.

Mid-century society moved en masse and at average speed. Individual considerations of time and convenience were viewed as egocentric and generally frowned upon.

Weaving through the crowd, Avit expected a signal from his internal positioning device any second to alert him to the entrance of "Immortal Matrimony Wedding Consultants." He spotted the animated virtual sign for the business dancing in airspace a half-block ahead.

Dodging people and personal assists for the elderly, Avit passed a young boy holding a sky blue balloon by a string. He smiled at the child and thumped the balloon with his finger.

As the boy looked up at Avit, his reciprocating smile bleached into a chary tight line and he clutched his guardian with both hands.

Accustomed to this "normal" reaction, Avit did not take offense. He understood that he looked strange. 

A double pulse from his positioning app jarred Avit back to the location of the Marriage Consultant office. He missed the entrance. Avit’s perspective and periphery vision took longer to pin down than natural eyes, so Avit was notoriously bad at sports and had to be careful in certain situations such as negotiating crowds and traffic. Situations like this. The business entrance was far behind him. Avit turned and fought like a salmon swimming upstream to get back to Immortal Matrimony.


About the author

A native of New Orleans and a former dancer with Houston Ballet, Dawn C Crouch holds a degree in Political Science, earned while teaching ballet at the University of Houston. THE LAST PLAGUE is an eerily prescient tale about the expectations and weaponization of medicine in a future society. ... view profile

Published on July 28, 2020

70000 words

Genre: Science Fiction

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