Romancing the Cure by Iona Strom

Chapter One

Iforced my eyes to focus on the sample in my hand and scratched at the ever-present itch behind my right ear. Number ninety-seven of one-hundred test tubes for which I’ve added the new serum to the strand of DNA floating inside. Three more to go to fill up the centrifuge, and then I could take a break while the machine did its part.

I give the contents a swirl, checked the label for a second time, made a mark on my sample list to document that I’d added the serum. That would mark the gene sequence and prove my theory that chromosome-10 was the strand adversely affected when exposed to the cure and mutating the virus into something much more deadly. Ready to be spun into separate particles out of the sample’s solution, I placed the tube into an empty hole and moved on to the next.

Laboratory work was always tedious. Every sample, every experiment must be flawless; otherwise, the results are tainted and useless. If I’ve learned anything from my ten years at DynaGen, it’s that my boss hates waste of any kind. Time being the worst of all. Luckily, I’m meticulous, to a fault. I might be slower than my colleagues, but I pride myself on never making mistakes. No wasted time equals no experimental setbacks.

Dr. Ivy Cronus is my name; OCD is my game. My obsession with perfection has worked wonders for my career. My personal life, not so much.

Then again, what personal life? I have no one outside the lab and barely anyone inside the lab, aside from my assistant, Sarah. Even then, we rarely talk about anything outside of work. I wouldn’t have much to contribute to a personal conversation anyway.

No husband, no boyfriend, no love interest of any kind —unless I could count the dark stranger that’s been haunting my dreams ever since I got assigned this new gig. I don’t even have a pet. The few men I’ve dated claim I’m cold, that the only thing I love is my work.

Maybe they’re right but loving my work shouldn’t make me a bad person. I never promised any of those men anything. They were the ones to approach me, to ask me out. Not the other way around. If they found me lacking, then that’s their problem. Not mine.

I added the serum to sample number one hundred with my dropper, swirled the test tube, checked the label, marked it off my list, added it to the last empty hole in the centrifuge, and closed the lid. I set my timer and dropped it inside the pocket of my lab coat.

The whirring of the machine spinning at high velocity calmed me. For some strange reason, the tinkling of glass stirring rods against beakers and the soft humming of laboratory machines has always sounded like home.

I smiled, taking a deep breath from the soothing effects, and wandered out of the lab, through the decontamination room where the encapsulated suit I was wearing was blasted with decon foam to kill any contaminates. Once done, I peeled off the suit, ensuring it stayed inside out, and tossed it in the hazmat bin for incineration. I donned my lab coat and made my way out into the chill of the sterile hallway.

Down two doors, I swiped my ID card and enter my personal breakroom. Outfitted like an efficiency apartment, I put on a pot of herbal tea. I’m the only employee at the lab with their own living quarters, giving me full access to the lab, day and night. I don’t know why I even bothered with an apartment; I haven’t been there in months. Not since the government approached DynaGen to discover why the cure for coronavirus works for some but is a death sentence for others.

An intriguing mystery secretly handed off to me to solve. I, more than anyone, have a vested interest in the answer. Both my parents contracted the virus. They were having only mild symptoms when they were approached by the CDC to be the first group of infected to receive the inoculation that was supposed to rid them of the virus while giving them immunity.

My parents were among the lucky few chosen to try the drug first. In less than a day, both of them were hooked up to respirators in the ICU, and within another twenty-four hours, I was making dual funeral arrangements.

Only a few hundred had been administered the cure for coronavirus, with fifty percent surviving the effects. When the sugar had turned to shit, no one had a clue as to why.

The deaths were covered up, hiding the epic mistake from the world until more could be learned. It just didn’t make any sense as to why the cure worked on some while in others, it mutated into a super-virus, leaving behind a genetic anomaly that couldn’t be accounted for.

Word was beginning to spread that a cure had been found. Someone had leaked information to the press. The world was on the verge of an uproar, people demanding answers. Demanding a vaccine. The CDC was now in a race to beat the clock.

We’d worn masks, social distanced, worked from home. Nothing had slowed the spread of the virus, so the world reverted back to what it was pre-Covid. We had proven to ourselves that there was nothing we could do to prevent the pandemic no matter what precautions were implemented. Might as well resume as normal a life as possible. You were either going to catch it or not.

More studies had been done on the tissue samples collected from the dead. A small piece of those same samples was currently spinning in the centrifuge. The only thing that added up pointed to genetics.

That’s where I came in. The study of the human genome is my area of expertise. Out of twenty pairs of chromosomes, I’d narrowed down the anomaly to chromosome 10. In that specific chromosomal pair, I found a segment on the DNA strand that coded for a protein capable of binding with molecules from the cure, energizing the coronavirus into a super-virus. The only thing I had left to figure out was how the molecules were binding.

The super-virus was shocking in its efficiency to mutate and kill its host. The bodies of the dead had been handled carefully as to not spread the super-virus as it was even more contagious than the original virus.

The eyes of the CDC had turned to DynaGen to solve the genetic piece of the puzzle. To discover how and why the virus would mutate in some to become a super-virus, they could correct the cure and meet the world's expectations.

My work was more important now than ever before.

The shrill whistle on my teapot was a scream in the silent room. I whirled around, snatched the steaming pot from the burner, and poured the liquid over my waiting tea bag.

I bobbed the bag by the string and rubbed tired eyes. Blurry eyed, I rapidly blink at the digital clock over my small stove to clear my vision. 2:00. I’m guessing that’s a.m. since I’m the only soul here.

A yawn takes over my face, my jaw cracking from the effort. I’m in desperate need of sleep, but I’m so close to solving a piece of the mystery that I don’t want to stop now.

I headed back toward the lab with my teacup and swiped my ID that leads into my office, which was nothing more than a glass cube with a desk that overlooked the lab. I took a seat and rested my head in my hand. I pulled the timer from my pocket. The centrifuge still had plenty of time to tick off. I’ll just lay my head on the desk for a few minutes. Get in a power nap.

Maybe I’ll even be lucky enough to find my dream lover behind closed eyelids. It'd been a long day, and I could use an orgasm to let off a little steam. I always seemed to wake up feeling refreshed with renewed insight when I spent some dreamtime with my fantasy man.