Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 05

There was a brief pause as the audience looked at him and one another.

Bateman spoke up.

“Tom, are you saying this is a man-made disease?”

Smith looked his boss in the eye, and then scanned the room.

“Rich, I’ve exercised our options for the services of a few epidemiologists and virologists, and the first is due in the office soon.” The tall security chief replied, his voice confident. “I’ll be speaking to him shortly. I expect to be able to answer your question more definitively then. However, at this time, with the information and analysis we have right now, what I’m saying is that this very strongly appears to be an artificial event. A bio-attack by a previously unknown pathogen which has been spread worldwide.”

He took another deep breath because he could already sense that he wasn’t reaching this audience, and that made him angry.

“But that doesn’t matter. As we have seen before, there are three predictors for success for organizations that weather or even thrive during a crisis. One–have a plan. Two–access to intelligence. Three–move first. We’ve already expended capital to complete the first two. What we’re discussing now is whether or not we want to invest in the final step.”

“It’s a pretty expensive final step that you’re proposing, Tom,” Depine said. “As you say, we don’t have complete information yet, and the government isn’t saying anything. There’s barely any mention online or in the news.”

“Look Brad–here’s the bottom line,” Tom replied. “Ensuring that we’re the first mover is Plan Zeus. Access to assets will rely upon exercising the options early in the news cycle. We can get them now, if we work fast and spend the weekend closing deals. I can’t guarantee that we can get them next week. If we wait till we have one hundred percent confirmation, we won’t get these assets at all and we’ll need another plan.”

Bateman cut the exchange short, shooting a quelling look at fat accountant and his tall head of security.

“Thanks, Tom.”

Surveying the room in turn, Bateman addressed the entire group.

“We’ve both a quorum of the Operating Committee and most of the executive board in the room or on the call. Can I get sense of how many in either group feel that they have enough information to exercise Plan Zeus options now?”

Tom looked around as well. There were a few hands up, but nothing like a majority, despite a few affirmative comments on the phone speaker.

“Thank you,” Bateman said. He turned to his right and addressed the Chief Risk Officer, a Swiss national and former armor officer known for his calculating nature and casual association with morals.

“Otto, I’d like your global team, including Tom, to warm up alternate trading floors in all regions and stress test all the data pipes within the next day. Overtime for contractors is authorized.”

He looked at the VTC camera and continued.

“Right–two things: internal and external,” Bateman said. “Internally, everyone prep their teams to work the weekend. Monday, I’m directing that we establish readiness to move fifty percent of our trading operations to the alternate sites on one hour notice. That means bringing luggage to work and it means we’ll need to have thousands of hotel beds for an indefinite period. On Monday, we’ll also brief the possibility of social distancing rules for all staff. Purell stations on every floor of our towers and refresh all employees in your divisions on the ‘work-from-home’ protocols. Externally, I want Global Markets to recheck their existing workup on industries potentially affected by a pandemic so we’ll be ready to adjust our market position at start of business Monday. I also want the heavy industrials, metals and cereals teams reading what Markets and the business intel team put out on an ongoing basis.”

He looked directly at Tom.

“Tom, excellent brief. Tell your team that they did good work. Please keep all us updated and call me personally if there are critical developments. We can reconvene if there is new solid data, so everyone keep your phones with you and your admins aware of your location. Meeting adjourned.”

* * *

Dr. Dave Curry was normally unflappable when it came to disease. He particularly enjoyed competing with his equally bloody-minded fellow virologists. There was a rotating award held by the scientist who could think up the most unlikely and fatal disease with the most ridiculous imaginary symptoms while still remaining epidemiologically possible. His personal favorite was the hunchbacked duck plague that would compel sufferers to crouch-walk everywhere while honking and quacking before dying of stroke. After showing that it lay within the realm of medical possibility, Curry had been the proud holder of the award, a gray plush neuron doll.

No one even tried to joke about a straight-up zombie plague. It was just too cliché to be competitive.

The chartered G6 that picked him up from Mexico City had in-flight Internet, so he was able to stay hooked into the exploding dialogue among the global community of scientists. They had woken up this Friday to the ultimate cliché.

Zombie plague it was.

One of the nice things about his consulting contract with BotA was that they respected his ability enough not to screw around with commercial travel. As a result, instead of fighting the traffic at Kennedy, the G6 greased the runway at the northern New Jersey Fixed Base of Operations, or FBO, where billionaires made their entry and exits from Manhattan.

The black Mercedes that collected him from the FBO also had Internet.

The information stream kept worsening.

Twenty-five minutes later the car pulled through the chicanes and antivehicle barriers into the BotA lot under the Wall Street tower. He still hadn’t found any good news to share.

Whisked upstairs in a private elevator car, he was asked to leave his electronics behind and was offered a wall locker for his mobile phone and notebook PC. Finished, he found some very intent people waiting in a conference room equipped with anechoic tiles on the walls and a peculiarly thick door. Smith, and a few others he recognized from a previous investigation on a biotech startup, rose from their chairs.

Tom Smith shook Curry’s hand.

“Dr. Curry, thank you for coming so rapidly.”

“Well, you do ask the most interesting questions,” drawled Curry. “This one is a doozy.” He looked around.

“Nice room.”

“This get together, all subsequent meetings and any data that we generate is being held very closely at this time,” Tom said, smiling faintly. “So, I’m taking advantage of one of our ‘deal’ rooms. Harder to snoop and fewer distractions. You’re the first of our experts to make it here, so let me introduce you to the team.”

After the usual impossible to memorize exchange of names around the room, Tom led off. Though they had already spoken a few times, Smith started at the beginning, mostly for the benefit of his staff in the room who were hearing information for the first time.

“Dr. Curry, you know that we’re monitoring the emergence of a potentially new pathogen that appears to have manifested on three continents within a single day. We’re seeing conflicting reports in some places. What can you tell us?”

“Right off, let me apologize for mah accent.” Curry had anticipated the easy questions. “Grew up in the South, and it’s never rubbed off. But, to your statement, this disease isn’t on three continents. Between Wednesday morning, when some of the international labs upgraded their level of concern for what appeared to be a nasty, but still manageable seasonal flu, and this moment, I have read credible reports that there are cases with congruent symptoms on every continent save Antarctica.”

Murmurs spread around the room.

“We have been aware of the unusual symptom pattern for about a week,” Curry continued. “Nationally, UCLA had led the way in gathering preliminary information, largely due to their information hooks into Asia and Oceania. However, the amount of educated guesswork is still pretty high. The disease appears to have at least two stages, the first of which includes traditional, and in some cases lethal flu symptoms, and a second set, which are erratic and very confusing but so far, not directly lethal to the actual infected persons.”

Everyone was taking notes and several members of the audience were quietly exchanging asides.

“Next, and please note that the following figures involve a lot of speculation and extrapolation from scarce data, but it seems that about five percent of the cases result in death during the early stages of the disease.” The virologist held up one finger. “As you no doubt recognize, that’s a high mortality rate, but I need to emphasize that this is based on a relatively small case count, which can badly skew analysis. My immediate circle of professional contacts, as well as nearly every other specialist in the field, are working to refine the numbers.”

Smith hushed the buzzing in the room.

“Dr. Curry, can you explain you statement regarding ‘erratic and confusing but not lethal’ symptoms? Do you mean that the patients are uncooperative?”

“That would be an understatement,” Curry replied. “Where we can document symptoms, now that there are a few videos available, the second stage features a completely dissociative, violent sociopathy, rendering patients untreatable and unmanageable unless they are completely immobilized. This occurs in at least half the suspected cases.”

Tom looked over at Paul and raised his eyebrows.

“…severe anhedonia, aggression and instantaneous aphasia,” Paul said aloud.

“Well yes, exactly,” Curry said, appearing startled at Paul’s ready grasp of the lingo. “But remember, the law of small numbers applies. A few cases can appear to dramatically change the curve. These statistics are very, very preliminary.”

Tom grimaced.

“What can you tell us about communicability?” he asked.

“The disease appears to be highly communicable,” replied the academic. “We don’t know with certainty, but there are several cases where all forms of transmission appear to be ruled out except for airborne spread. We are confident that the disease is droplet borne and transmissible via bites.”

This time Paul spoke over the chatter around the table.

“Doctor, when you say ‘transmissible via bites’ are you referring to family pets and the like?”

“No. I mean transmissible via bites from people.” Curry looked over the top of his glasses at the intel specialist. “As in, if a symptomatic victim bites a nurse, then that nurse may develop symptoms within hours, which as far as we can tell is much faster than other vectors. In known bite cases, the second set of symptoms took anywhere from hours to days to manifest, but it skipped the flu component entirely.”

A voice from down the table said it for everyone.

“Like zombie bites? Are we talking about fucking zombies?”

Curry winced, then nudged his glasses upwards so that he could rub the bridge of his nose.

“Yes. Ah mean just like ‘fucking zombies.'”

This time it took Smith longer to quell the hubbub.