Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Affirmative Actions: A short-short story about bioterrorism


Lee’s father worked horrendous hours in a restaurant. That, plus a desire to use his natural math and science ability to help humankind made Lee one of the few kids in high school who knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: a scientist. Lee even knew what he wanted to specialize in: infectious diseases, because a few of his relatives had died in China’s 1946 bubonic plague epidemic.

Fueled by that and by an angry, Type A personality, Lee worked with fervor to get top grades in high school and got into MIT. He continued to work tirelessly and got into U.C. Berkeley’s prestigious PhD program in infectious diseases and vaccinology. Again, working prodigiously, even sometimes frantically, he had three journal articles published before he finished his degree. And there was no dabbling. All three articles were on his specialization: mutated bioweapons and vaccine creation.

So it was no surprise that Lee landed a tenure-track professorship, although his options were constrained because his wife got a great job offer in Dallas. So he took a position at Texas State University at Bluffview. She reassured him, “Hey, that’s so close to Dallas’s international airport, that we can easily travel anywhere.”

Not surprisingly, Lee worked hard and well both at his teaching and his research and so when it came time for his tenure review, he was confident. Alas, two professors came up for tenure in his department that year and for budget and political reasons, only one could be granted tenure. It was granted to the other person whom Lee deemed "vastly inferior," whom he believed got tenure for “non-merit reasons.”

When a person doesn’t get tenure, they lose their job: It’s up or out. And so Lee was well aware that his career was likely doomed. There are very few tenurable professorships, especially for people whose gender and race is “overrepresented.” And because there are so many applicants wielding prestigious PhDs and even post-docs, he’d have a particularly hard time. He'd have to convince a university to hire someone who was denied tenure at the Texas State University at Bluffview.

During Lee’s final semester, in one of his various efforts to deflect his fury, he experimented in his lab with creating mutated bioweapons, not that he planned to use them but it somehow felt good, in the way that some kids play sports to let off steam. Indeed, by the end of the semester, Lee had created vials-full of airborne, highly communicable mutated virus. And just to be safe, he created a vial of vaccine.

After his final semester was over, Lee was no calmer. Indeed, his anger grew. It hurt when had to walk his possessions out past the office of the professor who had gotten what he deeply felt was his tenure position. And he got angrier and angrier as the fears about his job prospects were confirmed.

Then, one day, before leaving home for his usual errands, he injected himself with the vaccine. Next, as usual, he stopped for gas, he went to the supermarket, but then he added the short ride to Dallas’s international airport. He parked near the furthest shuttle-bus stop in the parking lot, taking his attaché case with him. When the full-sized bus arrived, he was first on and sat in the furthest back, least convenient seat so his release of the mutated bioweapon would be least likely to be noticed.

At each stop, the bus filled with more people. A minute before arriving at the terminal, he opened his attaché, its cover blocking anyone from seeing, and opened the Tupperware container, which released millions of the bioweapon viruses into the bus’s air. By the time the bus arrived at the terminal, all the passengers had breathed more than enough to become fatally infected and would then infect countless people in the terminal, on the plane, and in all the cities and towns, worldwide, they were flying to.

Lee walked with the others into the terminal, then turned around, waited for the shuttle bus, returned to his car and went home.

By the time, first symptoms appeared 10 days later, those 30 passengers had flown all over the world and with each sneeze or cough had released communicable bioweapon. Within a month, millions of people were infected. Because the virus had been mutated, there was no vaccine. So most of them died. Infectious disease specialists couldn’t even identify the outbreak’s origin because people in many locales all around the world showed symptoms at essentially the same time.
As stories of the deaths and potential Armageddon dominated all thought, Lee’s guilt grew and he told his wife that he was the cause. For a moment, her love for him made her hesitate but she then called the police, and he didn't try to stop her. 

I read this on YouTube. 

Afterword: I have consulted with a former CIA operative who said that this scenario is the type that “keeps the CIA up at night.” I am ignorant of how to manufacture or disperse bioweapons and deliberately have not even attempted here to guess how it could be done. So this story should pose no threat to the public, certainly far less than the hundreds of book-length novels--Amazon’s Goodreads alone lists a top 100--plus the many non-fiction books and articles that have been written about bioterrorism.

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