(Thursday, March 23, 2053)
The face of a brunette reporter had taken over the TV screen and began recapping the news report flooding every network in the Mediterranean.
"The city of Athens has been knocked on its knees in the wake of what was intended to be a scientific miracle: RESPIRAX™ was developed two years ago by Cavros LabWorks. Owned and run by drug analysts Nikolaos and Alexander Cavros, the pharmaceutical company's reputation in the medical field has been surging for the last 20 months. Since January of this year, several cases of illness have been linked to the drug and it has since been pulled off regional markets. To combat the dispersal of this medication, teams of pharmacists and chemists worldwide have been conducting extensive research in order to procure an antidote for those already affected by Respirax. Doctors are urging citizens to discontinue purchase and the use of this drug,"
The reporter's eyes moved over the teleprompter's cues seamlessly, showing nothing but a distant professionalism on her face and an empty authority in her voice.
"Since the outbreak of negative symptoms associated with their product has occurred, neither of the Cavros brothers has been available for contact, and all funding for programs conducted at the Cavros LabWorks has been indefinitely terminated. From Athens, this is Alessandra Barbas."
Nikolaos Cavros stared through the commercial that was now captivating the television screen and looked at his brother pointedly. People were starting to worry now that the media had grabbed a story that would last for a while; nothing brought more viewers than fear and the need to be informed. Whatever the mystery illness was, its symptoms didn't seem very serious or life threatening at first. Now they were displaying themselves more frequently and severely in each new case that cropped up. He and his brother had been subconsciously playing God, like many in medicine, and it was only a matter of time before the public's vague worry and the media overkill mutated anxiety into anger and violence.
"Maybe we should leave the country, try to get a grant at a lab in America, try to work up an antidote to undo this thing," he suggested again as his brother Alexander tossed his car keys into a dish on the table and ran a hand across his face.
The only reply Nikolaos got was a yawn. He knew Alex didn't want to get back into an argument that he had no solution for, and until they found it, Alex wouldn't hear anything about running. Leaving the country and its citizens now would be seen as an act of cowardice and would irreversibly destroy what little fragments of their scientific reputation that were left. Plus, we weren't raised quitters, Alex would say. He couldn't deny, though, the feeling that something ominous was building, like a crackling charge in the air that comes before a storm. There had been no deaths thus far; only a few extreme cases needed hospitalization. Just months ago, they believed they had cured the common cold. There hadn't been any symptoms.
"It has to get worse before it gets better, Nik." He was trying to use the old family nickname to lighten the mood that he created, saw it was stifling his effort and kept talking. "The people trusted us when we put this thing on the market and they're looking to us now, they're trusting us to see it through. And we will. We're doctors, we heal what's been broken." The TV began blasting a particularly obnoxious commercial. Nikolaos shut it off and walked out of the room.
Unlike Nikolaos, Alex had other things to occupy his mind and keep his mood optimistic. Alex had been dating one of the program's interning trial subjects since last spring. Alex could never help but mix business with pleasure, but this time even he was surprised at his own handiwork. Corynn was clever, modest, and wasn't shaken by much (including the lame attempts at pick-up lines that Alex threw at her once over a company party). She had even stayed loyal to him once things started going downhill, staying late at the lab to help him research enzymes and antidotes. Apparently things were stable in their relationship despite the company's flop. Between the failed attempts to assuage his brother, sitting sideline to his brother's romance and trying to develop an antidote and problems with his own family, Nikolaos couldn't stop the ache in his head from torturing him.
(Sunday, September 14)
"There are hundreds of people left in Greece, Alex, hundreds, the number of survivors left is still dropping, and you want me to stay here with you? I lasted four months here but too many people are dying…or, uh, leaving," Corynn said as she tossed another suitcase in her trunk and ran back up to her apartment. She held the cellular phone to her ear with her shoulder as she jogged up the stairs and dodged a glance from another of her building's remaining tenants. "I can't make excuses for much longer. I'm gonna try to go up north where the effects weren't as bad. Alex, you can't ask me to stay, I hate the idea of you here to begin with. Please." She carted another suitcase back down and shoved it in her car. "Call me as soon as you get this, Alex. I love you." She went around to the driver's side of the car and slumped inside, her nerves just about shot. She leaned over to grab a half-empty bottle of water and jumped; there was a man standing outside the passenger side of her car.
"Nikolaos?" she wondered, trying to bring her heart rate back down to normal as she rolled down the window. She felt awkward talking to him while sitting, hanging out of the passenger side of the car. "Has Alex been home? Did he send you?" she asked eagerly, hoping that was his reason for being here.
"Yeah." he replied. Corynn couldn't tell which question he was answering, and it seemed like he did it on purpose. He was looking at her, prompting her to get out of the car to talk to him.
"I'm about to head out…for groceries," she lied lamely, trying to convince him to at least come back later. Unless it really was important. But he probably would have told me by now if something was wrong with his brother. Her sense of priority almost overpowered her curiosity. She had a plane ticket to Zürich and almost nothing left to leave behind. But she was running a few minutes late already, what harm could wasting a few more do? She sheepishly killed the ignition and tried embraced the solid tension hanging in the air.
"All the way to Zürich for groceries? The milk will spoil."
She was surprised at having been caught in her lie, and felt twice as guilty for telling it. He must have seen the tickets on the seat. "I'm headed north."
"Zürich is indeed north of Greece; good to see the scientist has her geography down pat."
"I'm headed north until things calm down. It feels like most people have already up and left, I figure I'll probably follow them."
"Most people…but not all of them," he mused tonelessly.
"You're right, most people are leaving. Yet, here you are, on your comeback tour."
The tension had morphed her statement into an accusation and she apologized with her eyes instead of her mouth, mentally pleading that he steer the conversation back to stable ground.
Her message seemed to have been conveyed and there was little besides the ambient noise of the community and a dull ringing bouncing around in Corynn's ears. She turned to glance inside her car at the water bottle, the liquid inside it undoubtedly warm by now, and licked her lips. She entertained the idea of reaching in and drinking some anyway, because it was a warm afternoon and the physical labor of packing her car up seemed to have taken a lot out of her. She turned her head back to where Nikolaos had been standing and instead found him beside her, leaning against her car like she now was.
"I'm here to finish what I started. What we started," he amended. That was a surprise to her, honesty wasn't uncommon from him but opening up to someone unfamiliar in his life was not part of the Cavros protocol. He was looking her right in the eye, challenging her to ask more prying questions about his reasons for coming and going.
The ringing in her ears gave up its reign in her mind and gave way to a sudden feeling of vertigo. She decided his forceful gaze was the cause of it and her eyes trailed down his arm, to where his hand rested hidden in his pocket. Not just resting in the pocket, but resting on something in the pocket. A cigarette case, maybe. A cellphone.
Corynn's ears felt like they were going to pop, like they do over bridges or on mountainsides. She was thinking that even boiling water would do the job for the next few minutes. She hopped up quickly off the side of the car and got into the car, glancing back at him before reaching for the bottle. Still wary of eye contact, she looked at his pocket again as he happened to be taking his hand out of it. She figured a good distraction would be to try to learn about the man by learning about his belongings.
Not a cellphone was Corynn's last conscious thought until fear and dehydration put her mind on autopilot and she slumped forward into the car, unconscious.