Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 17

She turned to squarely face the mayor’s image.

“Sir, you have to sign the emergency finding that I drafted.” Without so much as a glance at the attorney, she held a palm up to silence his exasperated objection before he could even begin. “With that authority, I can organize emergency services, the PD, and begin a coordination effort with the major city players. We can use the already afflicted and recover something from their loss by harvesting their infected tissue to make vaccine. Every day we wait takes us closer to a precipice beyond which lies eternal night.”

The mayor squinted, chewing his lip. Her absolute conviction could not be doubted. He looked around the room, and the face of each person in the meeting revealed that everyone was visibly evaluating one of mankind’s oldest compromises.

Maybe the ends justify the means…

However, the mayor also understood liability. Early in his career a mentor had cautioned him to praise publicly and criticize privately. The converse was true of taking on a liability, even one with a huge payoff.

“We aren’t going to start murdering sick people to save our own skins,” he said, forcefully and authoritatively. The mayor looked directly at his head of OEM.

“Joanna, your plan isn’t acceptable. Our citizens are not ‘harvestable.’ Call me direct,” he continued, then looked off-screen. “Break this down.”

Joanna smiled inwardly.

She was a fan of theater. And she already knew that she was going to get whatever she needed.

* * *

The audience of senior police officers was already restive, chafing at the unaccustomed security precautions mandated before they could file into the large city conference hall. Only the seniormost NYC cops, down to the precinct captain and lieutenant level and who were also personally vetted by Dominguez, had been allowed in. No support staff had been permitted to accompany anyone.

The preliminaries had been uncharacteristically brief.

“The following is not for release outside this room.” The deputy chief got to the heart of the matter. “During the two weeks since the infection was initially recognized and reported by the CDC, we have recorded thirty-two sworn officers and fourteen additional police department personnel who have been infected and already exhibit stage two H7D3 symptoms. Of these only three remain alive, the remainder having died during efforts to restrain them.

“Despite the adoption of more liberal rules of engagement for confirmed and suspected cases of H7D3, a further three hundred and sixty-eight department personnel–of which two hundred and fifteen are sworn officers–have been exposed. All appear to have stage one symptoms and are in isolation. Of particular note, when the disease is transmitted into an open wound, the onset of symptoms can progress atypically and very rapidly. Several officers have developed stage two symptoms without first presenting flu characteristics and have attacked and infected additional officers and emergency workers.”

Murmurs greeted the summary. Dominguez glanced around the gathered senior officers. More than a few faces were pale contrasts to the dark navy uniforms they wore. However, he was ready for his role.

“Further, we have a large number of officers taking sick leave,” the official continued. “Despite injunctions and penalties, the percentage of officers taking sick leave and not returning to duty is over eight percent. This figure, added to the known and suspected cases, approaches ten percent of our total officer corps. Since most of the absences and losses are from patrol officers in active precincts, the impact on patrol density and call service interval is significantly greater than the raw numbers suggest.”

“When do we get the promised equipment?” An anonymous voice in the back called out. “Our guys are dying, or worse, because we don’t have biteproof equipment!”

Several more voices, safely anonymous in the large auditorium, rose above the hubbub, expressing violent agreement. One hard case, a Brooklyn accented speaker, added what was on everyone’s mind.

“When are we gonna get a vaccine! No vaccine, no cops!”

Even louder yells, clearly in agreement, greeted this sentiment. And this, from senior leadership.

The deputy chief tried to quell the group, holding his hands up and trying to talk over the crowd. Another figure stepped up to the microphone, and placed a keyed megaphone in front of the mic.

Loud, painful squeals of feedback overrode even the most determined protest, and the room quickly subsided enough that the next speaker could make herself heard.

Joanna Kohn gestured to the deputy chief, the “may I?” intent quite clear. He ceded the podium, mixture of annoyance and relief visibly warring on his face.

She wore a dove gray suit, the severely cut trousers sporting creases sharp enough to shave a police recruit. The matching but plain top was without ornamentation, save for small gold OEM flashes winking from each side of the high Mandarin jacket collar.

Despite the audible undercurrent of side conversations, Kohn began.

“Gentlemen, ladies, officers–my name is Director Kohn,” she said. “For those who are not acquainted with me, I run the New York City Office of Emergency Management. I have the beginnings of a solution to procure a vaccine and protect all critical city staff. Do. I. Have. Your. Attention?”

By the time she had reached the word “critical,” the conference hall was nearly still enough that you could hear a pin drop.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes,'” Kohn said, smiling faintly. “I have information that you need in order to understand and commit to the next steps. First, I worked with Deputy Chief of Police Hammond to ensure that this meeting was tiled. Second, the chief himself is conducting a public press conference to divert attention from this assembly. Finally, I am in possession of an emergency finding, signed by the mayor, granting the OEM executive and controlling authority to take such measures as are required to expedite the fight against the virus. Therefore I shall speak plainly. We can make our own vaccine and protect first ourselves, and then our city.”

Questions rose from the audience thickly enough to make comprehension a challenge, but the feeling in the room had shifted, subtly.

“I cannot quite make out individual speakers,” Kohn said. “I will endeavor to answer your questions, if you can put them to me professionally.”

That was his prearranged cue. Dominguez quickly rose to his feet and stepped into the aisle, so he would be recognizable both to the audience and to Kohn.

“My name is Dominguez,” Ding called out sharply. “I run One and I’ll ask the question that I think we all have, Director. What’s your plan and just how are we going to make vaccine?”

He looked around the room, which was full of other senior cops craning their necks to see who had asked what they were all thinking.

“Christ on a crutch knows that we need it, and now.”

He remained standing among loud murmurs of assent.

“Captain Dominguez, thank you,” Kohn said, smiling calmly. She laid her hands on the side of the podium. One index finger began to tap, beating out rhythm of her words. “I will summarize my plan and explain the steps: As some of you might know, there are multiple ways to create vaccine…”

Kohn outlined the various scenarios including the attenuated vaccine methods without specifically referring to where to find the materials.

“We have a process,” Kohn concluded, “that can eventually mass produce radiologically attenuated H7D3 vaccine with an optimally incidental exposure rate of under one percent of the inoculated adult population. Therefore, my plan is for the Office of Emergency Management, in cooperation with select staff from the police department and other city agencies, to recruit the necessary talent, lease the necessary hardware and facilities and collect the raw material needed to immediately prototype a vaccine.”

Joanna paused and glanced around the room, stopping when her eyes rested on Dominguez.

“And where are we going to get live virus in quantity, Madam Director?” Ding asked.

“There is only one readily available source of higher order primates in the City, Captain,” Kohn replied, dropping her hands. “Fortunately, a large number of them are available at the Afflicted Care Centers.”

Now you could hear a pin drop.