Authors: Brian Andrews
Copyright Â© 2012 by Brian Hittle
This is a work of fiction. The scientific, legal, and medical references contained herein were extensively researched and are based on fact. However, the names, characters, businesses, and incidents are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.
Printed in the United States of America
Association for Molecular Pathology
United States Patent and Trademark Office & Myriad Genetics
(Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, July 2011)
“While the process of (gene) extraction is no doubt difficult, and may itself be patentable, the isolated genes are not materially different from the native genes . . . merely isolating the products of nature by extracting them from their natural location and making those alterations attendant to their extraction does not give the extractor the right to patent the products themselves.
In that respect, extracting a gene is akin to snapping a leaf from a tree . . . plucking the leaf would not turn it into a human-made invention.”
Excerpts from the dissenting opinion of Circuit Judge William Bryson, after being overruled two to one in favor of permitting companies to continue patenting genes.
HE HOSPITAL GOWN
he wore was faded and weightless. After hundreds of washings, it was more tissue paper than cloth. Yellow bruises from daily blood draws blotted his forearms like dried coffee stains on paper. Beneath his bare feet, the cold gray linoleum greedily sipped the warmth from his body. Goose flesh stood up on his skin. He ignored all of this. Concerns of the body were not his priority at the moment. He had a job to do, and they would be coming for him soon.
He had sensed a progression of late. A subtle shift in the daily rounds, an unfamiliar urgency in the air. He knew his window of opportunity was closing. They were getting close now, and it was imperative he act before it was too late.
After five months in quarantine, he had not lost focus. Patience was the only compass that could navigate him out of these most impossible of circumstances. Even with his body at its weakest, his spirit had won the hearts of those who tended to him. One of the nurses had even taken to routinely loosening the bindings meant to confine him to his bed each night.
Alone in the darkened laboratory room, he stood in front of a stainless steel refrigerator. He took a deep breath and pulled open the door. A pale fluorescent light flickered on, accompanied by a rush of cold air that made him shiver. His six-foot frame cast a distorted, hulking shadow on the wall behind him. Accompanying it was a motley cast of eerie charactersâchrome and steel monstersâthat paraded as innocuous laboratory equipment during the day.
He squinted, his eyes adjusting to the light, and began to survey the contents of the refrigerator. On the middle shelf were dozens of glass vials, some filled with blood, some filled with exotic microbial cocktails, and others filled with experimental biopharmaceuticals, all neatly arranged in plastic trays. With mechanical precision, he searched the inventory, lifting vial after vial, scanning each label and then returning the container to its place.
P-10, P-12, P-36, P-47 . . . P-65. Jackpot.
The row contained ten P-65 vials filled with blood. He paused; it was twice the quantity he had anticipated. The flimsy hospital pants he wore did not have pockets, and it would be impossible to carry such a load. Still, he couldn't afford to leave anything behind.
He cringed. The other way would be safer. Disgusting, but safer. After removing the rubber stopper, he raised the first vial of purplered liquid to his lips.
He gagged as the cold, viscous fluid coated his tongue and throat. The taste was metallic, primal, terrible. Robotically, he repeated the drill. After the sixth vial, his stomach protested and sent a repugnant belch rolling up his esophagus. For an instant, he was afraid he would not be able to finish, but then he reminded himself of the price of failure and pressed on.
After gulping down sample number ten, he returned his attention to the fridge. He needed information. Proof. First, he located a vial of cloudy liquid labeled
. Whatever it was, he recognized it as the substance they had injected him with five days ago. Carefully, he removed this vial from the tray. He resumed scanning the shelves, until a vial labeled
AAV-564: P-65 Transgene Trial 12
caught his eye. It sounded important, and it had his patient number on it. He smiled and removed it from the rack. The rest he would destroy.
The overhead lights flickered on.
“PATIENT-65âPUT DOWN THE SAMPLE,” a voice blasted over a loudspeaker. “REMAIN WHERE YOU ARE.”
Wild-eyed, he turned to the door. No one was there. Then he saw the tiny camera mounted in the far upper corner of the room. It was pointed directly at him.
He cursed and grabbed a roll of gauze tape off a nearby metal tray. Working quickly, he strapped the two glass vials to the inside of his pant leg with two wraps of tape around his thigh. Then, staring defiantly at the camera lens, he smashed all the remaining vials of the refined product on the floor.
The megaphone voice exploded behind him, ahead of him, everywhere.
“PATIENT-65, STOP. REMAIN WHERE YOU ARE.”
He ignored the command. All that mattered now was executing the escape sequence. He bolted out the door. He was in Corridor B, sprinting to reach the stairwell at the end of Corridor C. He had conducted dry runs several times during the last two weeks, always in the dark, and always in less than the fourteen minutes that the night-watch rotation afforded him. Forty-five minutes earlier, he had prepped the stairwell without detection. Everything was in place.
“WARNINGâCONTAINMENT BREACH ON LEVEL FOUR. LOCK DOWN LEVEL FOUR. ALL PERSONNEL DON BIO-HAZARD SUITS,” the megaphone voice commanded over loudspeakers throughout the building. “IMMOBILIZE PATIENT-65.”
The combination of the freshly waxed corridor and his bare feet afforded him superb traction for runningâevery footstep connecting with a smack. As he fled, the building began to close in on him. Like falling dominoes, magnetic door locks engaged down the length of the corridor, lagging his position by a mere half second. Without breaking stride, he plowed into the double doors at the end of Corridor B. The right door gave way easily, smashing loudly into its doorstop. But the left door traveled only a few inches before abruptly springing back with a thud. On the other side, a red-haired man in a white lab coat collapsed into a heap, cupped his hands over his bloody nose, and howled in pain. Patient-65 leapt over him and charged toward the stairwell at the end of Corridor C.
Ahead of him, a lone orderly appeared. Crouched like a wrestler at the ready, the young man took up a position in the middle of the hall, blocking his way. He heard the swinging doors crash open behind him, followed by another yelp from the red-haired man. Multiple pairs of footsteps now echoed in the corridor. He glanced over his shoulder, sacrificing a stride. Two men wearing yellow biohazard suits with ventilators were in pursuit.
Teeth clenched, he ran straight toward the crouching orderly. The instant before the collision, he dropped his right shoulder and drove it squarely into the man's chest. His momentum sent them both to the ground. He almost managed to somersault free, but the orderly grabbed a fistful of his hair with one hand, a fold of his gown with the other, and pulled him back.
He straddled the orderly's chest and grabbed the hand clutching his gown. He peeled the fingers free and bent back the wrist. The orderly groaned and responded by yanking down on his hair. Hard. Fury erupted in him, and he forced the other man's arm backward past the shoulder. The orderly shrieked in agony as his wrist and elbow gave way. Ligaments popped. Bones cracked.
He jumped to his feet. The quicker of the two pursuing yellow-suits was already upon him, lunging for his waist. He felt his hospital gown pull taut against his chest, rip, and then give way completely. The diving yellow-suit tumbled to the ground, tripping his partner in the process. Without a backward glance, he raced toward the stairwell, his shredded hospital gown falling to the floor behind him.
A horde of footsteps echoed in Corridor C. It sounded as though every employee in the building was converging on his position. He smiled. Escaping from a place like this was a game of one versus manyâsuccess would depend on timing, confusion, and crowd control.
Despite their uniforms and short haircuts, the security staff was decidedly nonmilitary. They were unpolished, like hired hands, and Patient-65 had come to question their proficiency and gumption. He predicted that a real crisis would send everyone flying blindly toward the action, like moths to a flame. He wanted them to convergeâas many guards as possibleâright here, right now, to the third floor.
Because he was going to leave them all behind.
He burst through the door into the stairwell and breathed a sigh of relief. They were still there: eight flat bedsheets, taken from the laundry bin outside his room each night between 23:04 and 23:09, while the beds were being stripped in the two rooms adjacent to his own. The makeshift thirty-foot rope of knotted, folded cotton was exactly where he had left it, coiled neatly on the landing with one end tied to the metal railing.
He wrapped the free end of the sheet-rope around his right arm, about his chest, under his armpit, and then around the same arm yet again. He snugged it tight and took a deep breath. Then, he jumped.
The door slammed open behind him. The leader of the swarm of yellow suits lunged for his legs, but Patient-65 was already airborne, catapulting over the handrail. One by one they rushed to the edge and peered down at the pale, half-naked form plummeting into the dark. Starched white bedsheets ruffled and flapped as he made the otherwise silent three-story plunge.