River Of Night – Snippet 30

There were nods around the table. He looked up towards the head chair. Joanna smiled warmly at him.

“Ah – we moved to the local pharmacy next,” Rune said, hurrying to consult his notes. “It was already looted, but we recovered several kilos of drugs for evaluation and possible retention. I couldn’t be sure, but it appeared that their compounding facility had been modified for vaccine production. Some of the equipment as well as the remains in the refrigeration units were consistent with an ad hoc vaccine lab.”

“Remains?” asked Christine.

“The evidence was consistent with the presence of human spinal tissue in various stages of processing.” he answered.

“Did you find vaccine?” Joanna said, suddenly very focused.

“The building had no power of course, but despite the condition of the remaining material, the setup strongly suggested that the lab was abandoned before production was at any scale,” he carefully replied, before continuing. “I also grabbed some reference books. We located two more survivors who elected to return with us. They’re in General Processing now.”

Rune referred to the large semi permanent tent where recent arrivals were temporarily billeted as they were evaluated for health, skills and needs.

“One dental hygienist and her teenage son,” he said, concluding his report.

“Is she familiar with the operation of dental x-ray equipment?” asked Joanna. “That could become key, no?”

“We have the detailed process for creating attenuated vaccine,” answered the former bank intel chief. “We still lack the specialized supplies, equipment and the expertise to create it safely. And of course, there is no certain way to test vaccine, if we could make it. In theory, a sufficiently advanced dental x-ray machine could meter radiation precisely enough to work, but it requires maintenance, calibration…”

“You are right, Paul,” Joanna said, waving the issue away. “A challenge for a difference day. Still, well done on the personnel rescue. How do the pharmacological recovery efforts proceed?”

“I looked at drugs and equipment that Paul’s team recovered, Ms. Kohn,” said Scott Schweizer. The former OEM analyst had grown his beard out, and he affected a beaded chin braid that bobbed as he respectfully nodded. “Much of the lab equipment was clearly in use for illegal narcotics. Some of the precursors might have value. Most of the other salvage duplicates what we already have. However, one new item is a supply of Cipro. It’s an excellent broad spectrum antibiotic and it isn’t too temperature sensitive. We can use that to treat the new townies who have symptoms consistent with dysentery.”

Joanna thought about that. She liked asking questions. If nothing else, it kept other people reacting to her. And occasionally she learned something.

“Dysentery is quite serious, is it not?” she asked. “I seem to recall that it can be deadly if untreated. Highly communicable too, no?”

“Yes, ma’am,” answered Schweizer. “It spreads via contaminated water, usually as a result of poor latrine discipline, a failure to properly sterilize potable water or exercise personal hygiene. In the nineteenth century dysentery killed millions. We’re living in conditions not unlike that time period.”

“So how do we head that off?” Joanna asked, slightly alarmed. “Everyone has to be convinced that safety measures against this disease are for the good of all. Paul, as head of our security, what do you recommend?”

“I agree that the risk of disease is potentially serious, so we need to continue to enforce basic camp sanitation.” Paul said. Joanna could tell that he hadn’t anticipated this question. “Um, the kitchen staff have to ensure that all drinking and cooking water is brought to a rolling boil for ten minutes and that all utensils be likewise cleaned. Maybe people who are found slacking on the rules have to perform extra guard duty, or perhaps contribute to projects for the Improvements Group?”

Non-skilled survivors as well as everyone not on critical duty took turns expanding the cultivated area or raising the height of the earthen palisade. It was back-breaking labor on scant calories.

“Could someone actually die from dysentery, Scott?” Joanna said, letting her eyes grow a little wide as she glanced around the table, stopping at Paul. “If it can be lethal, then perhaps the measures to encourage mutual safety should have some… bite? There are security implications, are there not?”

“I’ll think it over and have some options for you soon, Joanna,” Paul answered uneasily. “It is really just a matter of education.”

“Thank you, Paul,” Joanna said, favoring him with another smile. “Speaking of which, is the Education Committee ready for their update?”

“Good morning, Coordinator Kohn,” said Christine, beginning her own report. “The Education Committee has outlined a general curriculum for our school age survivors. While we don’t have text books, we do have adults skilled in many important areas now important to our survival. The absence of conventional educational infrastructure actually presents an opportunity to bypass some of the hierarchical, promotion based grade levels of mass education in favor of a customized approach that can address the needs of every child, individually.”

“Wait a moment,” Paul said, interrupting. “There are a couple of elementary schools full of books and other supplies. As few kids as we have, it wouldn’t be a problem to–“

“Thank you, Paul,” Joanna said, cutting him off smoothly. “I would like to hear the rest of Christine’s suggestions. We are just outlining some possibilities, after all.”

“And Christine, dear,” Joanna said, turning back to the original speaker. “Thank you for the courtesy, but I am only the Acting Coordinator, until we have a chance to establish something less… field expedient. Please, finish what you were saying.”

“As I was saying…” Christine said, shooting Paul an icy look. “We can tailor outreach for each school age child. We don’t have to repeat the errors of the old system.”

“I could not agree with you more,” breathed Joanna. “These fresh ideas make me eager to start as soon as possible, once the idea is more developed and reviewed by the Executive Committee in detail.”

“Um, don’t you think that the parents should be involved?” said Paul, interjecting again. “After all, these are their children we’re talking about, aren’t they.”

“Of course,” Joanna said, soothingly. “But in a sense, they are all our children, whom we must protect and succor if we are to raise a new civilization. As few as there are, perhaps they should reflect more than just the values of happenstance parents. But, before that, we will need a safe way to inoculate them against the still lethal virus.”

Cutting off further debate, Joanna opened a new topic.

“Kendra, what do you have for our Research report?”

“Good afternoon Acting Coordinator Kohn,” Kendra said, sparing a smile for Christine who was just seating herself again. “We’re lucky that the salvage parties located Ms. Warmbier, the dental hygienist. She’s aware of several clinics which may have the model of X-ray machine which might be adapted to vaccine production. Paul’s school and pharmacy sweeps located much of the initial laboratory equipment that we need but there is still some hardware outstanding, notably a medical grade centrifuge.”

“Once we have that, can we proceed?” Joanna asked, steepling her fingers.

“No, not really,” Kendra replied. “We really need a laboratory scientist with a background in virology, a filter medium and a means to test the vaccine, once we produce it. Even if we can match the bank’s quality, it’s still an attenuated live virus vaccine, not suitable for younger children. Much more time will be required to produce a killed vaccine, and for that we will need proper growth mediums, even more precision filtration, viral growth enzymes and other items.”

The meeting went on for another hour as details about vaccine production for both attenuated and killed vaccine were explained. By the close of the meeting, Joanna successfully maneuvered Paul into agreeing to search explicitly for a lab tech and an M.D. He had looked a little uncomfortable but Joanna felt that was more of an advantage than it was a potential problem.

She liked her men a little uncomfortable. It was quite acceptable.