7 Days in May
Sheena was flagging. She’d been staring at the electron microscope screen for what seemed like hours, studying the
virus she’d found in the samples taken from the cat and pony.
Taking a break, she made herself a cup of coffee and sat at the desk in front of the big screen, staring at the virus
again. It looked like a little ball of cabbage heads. Shaking her head at how pretty some of the deadliest viruses in the wor ld
could look, Sheena sighed.
There was no doubt in her mind that the cats that had attacked the pony were infected with the new strain of DNA
she and Mani had developed. She’d need to check a few things with him when he started work in the morning but the
evidence was overwhelming. Somehow the virus had got out into the general cat population.
The pony had expired from traumatic pneumothorax caused by penetrating trauma from a broken rib, but there was
also some evidence that the injuries inflicted by the cats may have taken place close to, or at, the time of death. Sheena
couldn’t be sure. However there was no evidence of any changes to the pony’s DNA as far as she could tell.
Sheena had listened to the news reports about the cinema incident and the deaths suffered by some of the rescue
services after the event, knowing that there had to be some connection. But what?
She had established that the cat vector was via mating and blood infection through contaminated bites, but what was
the vector killing people who hadn’t been attacked or been bitten by cats? The rescue service personnel for instance,
who’d had no contact with the cats, yet had still died?
Sheena rubbed her temples, trying to ignore the headache that was lurking in the background.
Think Sheena . . . think.
How could the virus spread without contact? And how had it altered to a virus that killed, rather than just engendering
feelings of intense rage in the subject?
Sheena was about to give up for the night and go home when she caught sight of the sterile tube lying next to the
keyboard. Picking it up, she stood with it in her hand, wondering if somehow that might help her find an answer.
No it was too simple, too much of a coincidence.
Sheena looked at the ceiling thinking back to a documentary she’d seen as a teenager. It had been about a zoonotic
disease that had swept Europe in the 14th Century, leaving millions dead; bubonic plague - the Black Death.
Quickly preparing a specimen, she set it in the carrier and closed the spectrum chamber. The X-ray images appeared
on the big computer screen and she leant forward excitedly, tapping on the keyboard to print out a hard copy of the image.
There it was, her dual-yCRO-DNA sequence, smack bang where it should be. Altering the image Sheena held her breath,
checking sequences in another computer database before nodding to herself. Yes there it was, but with a subtle change -
tiny but significant.
Forgetting her tiredness, Sheena’s fingers rattled over different keyboards as she dug into the hundreds of worldwide
databases she had access to. Time slipped by and before she knew it a hand was shaking her shoulder. She looked up into
the big brown eyes of Dr Mani Vasant.
“Sheena,” his said in his soft tones, “Have you been here all night?”
Sheena nodded, yawning as she shook herself awake. She pointed at the screen. “I’ve found it Mani. God, what have
Vasant pulled a seat over and plonked his large bottom on it, lines creasing his forehead as he stared at the image.
“What do you mean?”
“The vector Mani. It’s fleas. From the cats.”
“Whoa, what do you mean fleas? Fleas have nothing to do with our work here.”
“Look Mani,” Sheena pushed across her notes, pointing out the relevant details as she spoke. “The dual-yCRO-DNA
sequence passes into the fleas when they bite the cat. But here’s the difference,” her slim finger tapped the page. “The
sequence changes in the flea. See, right there.”
Vasant nodded, his face serious. “And the result?”
“Death,” Sheena said. “Within a couple of hours, probably sooner for those who’s immune system is in any way
compromised. The Black Death all over again and we put it out there.”
“Ctenocephalides felis,” Vasant muttered rubbing the back of his neck. “The common cat flea.”
“The one saving grace is that - for some reason I don’t yet fully understand - the flea dies if its temperature falls below
thirty-six degrees Celsius.”
“How do you know this?”
“I went out searching for a cat.”
“You did what?” Vasant’s voice echoed around the laboratory, causing Sheena to jump.
Holding up a placating hand she smiled. “I took an anaesthetising gun with me and wore a full decontamination suit.
I’m not a complete idiot you know.” Vasant looked at her as though he might disagree. “As soon as the host expires the
fleas lose their source of heat and die too. To get infected you usually have to have had physical contact with the host. But
. . .”
“But if the flea manages to find a new host before the critical temperature is reached, then it spreads the virus.” Vasant
agreed, nodding slowly. “I see.”