The basement levels of Cerus Industries looked like it had been converted into a makeshift hospital. Rows of beds had been wheeled in and stood between curtain walls that divided the large space into a series of corridors and cells. The CEO stood 2 stories up, surveying the maze beneath him, from a catwalk that ran around the edge of the room. His view was unimpeded except for the eight great columns which pierced the space, the only sign of the skyscraper above it.
As far as the man could tell only one third of the beds below were filled, their occupants quiet and still. A low chorus of beeping echoed in the massive space, reverberating off the tall walls and breaking around the supports. They were joined by small squeaks and clips from nurses' shoes as the white-clad persons hurried through the makeshift hallways or checked in on patients, all of it open to the man's sweeping vision.
His suit was immaculately put together, and his tired face could be attributed to the hour. The clock upstairs in the glass atrium had just struck 4 as the CEO passed, hurrying to the lower levels. A pair of eyes from below and their owner waved up to him, beckoning he join them.
He turned back from the catwalk's edge, opting to take the stairs over the elevator, not wanting to stand still in his unease. His creaking knees were the only betrayal of his age as he descended quick as he dared; it would not do for the employees to see him run, they might think that something was wrong. That was, if his presence did not already give that away.
The doctor who had called him in was waiting when he exited the small steel door to the lower level. From this angle, the curtains rose overhead and made the channels running through them claustrophobic. The man straightened his jacket.
"Mr. Santer, sir." The doctor greeted him with a curt nod of her head. She was middle aged, thick graying hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her tone was sharp, leaning towards clinical to avoid sounding strained. "I'm sorry to wake you so early, but it wasn't necessary to come in person."
The man waved off the apology. "I'm here to see this through." He stated. "Where are the rest of my patients?" When the call came that woke him a half hour earlier he hadn't waited to hear over the phone, he'd leaped straight out of bed. The day before he couldn't imagine something going wrong. Now that something had, he would be here until it was resolved.
"We released them six hours ago, sir, just after the first signs of trouble." The doctor motioned over the nearest nurse. He gave the CEO a worried look. She whispered something to him, and he vanished behind another curtain. "It's only those who reacted to the treatment that are left."
"It wasn't necessary to keep an eye on them too?" Marcus Santer began to move down the main aisle, peering into the linen cells as he passed. Each of the patients was still, equipped with a thick IV drip and a respirator. He quickened his pace, knees protesting every step. He ignored them. What was the point in growing old if his body stopped him from working?
The doctor hurried after him with pursed lips. "No sir. Without the initial reaction, they were in no further danger. There was a greater risk of panic if we kept them, and a greater risk of them inciting panic.
"What's wrong with the patients who were detained?" Santer stopped to read a man's chart. God, the man was a cop. "They can't all be asleep."
Doctor Walters took the chart back from the CEO and set it back in its place at the foot of the bed. "It's an induced coma." She explained. "They were experiencing something similar to suffocation, and, in this case, we found it to be the most effective management of the systems. Whatever is causing this is worsened by them being awake."
"What are you doing about it?" The doctor shifted on her feet.
"That's the thing sir. We're working on it as fast as we can, but so far we haven't identified whatever chemical's absence is causing the reaction. It's something we've never seen before."
"And are these patients stable in their current conditions?" Marcus Santer stopped and turned to face Doctor Walters. Behind him, he could hear the dim beeping of the police officer's respirator.
"No, sir." He sighed and put a hand to his head.
"How much time do we have?"
"24 hours at the most." He rubbed his temples.
"Then I won't get in your way." He motioned that she was released. "By every means doctor, proceed."