"Bob! Can you come in? I think we've got a bad one here." The intercom burped as it fell silent. My immediate boss had asked me to see him. However, a request from him was an order. I locked up a couple of confidential documents and left for his office.
His secretary waved me through and I entered his inner sanctum. " Come in, Bob. Come in. Sit down and look through this."
Let me stop at this point and tell you about myself. My name is Robert Norton and I work for the CDC. That is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has had many names since its inception during World War 2 when its main function was the control of malaria. Since then it has become the only repository of the smallpox virus in the Western World, the only other being in the Russian Federation.
Nowadays, the CDC concerns itself with all diseases, as well as other debilitating conditions. Bio-terrorism is also on our collective mind.
The folder that I was reading described five cases of a new disease, so new that as yet it had no name. In each case the patient described the initial symptoms a mild stomach ache, which was generally ignored. As the ache developed into a pain, it caused the patient to seek out medical help. It appeared that by then it was too late.
Blood toxicology revealed nothing. Even under an electron microscope there was no trace of unknown bodies; no trace of an unknown virus. My boss was twitching. It was a sure sign that he was worried.
"You notice where these cases occurred, Bob?" The table in the report listed the location of the deceased patients. They were as widely spaced as it was possible to be. "There's no 'Patient Zero' to give us a clue how this started. We've sent out a warning bulletin to the medical community. And now twelve new cases have been reported. You saw how the first five cases ended?"
"Yes, I did". The patients had died in agony. Their autopsies were surprising, but definitely unhelpful. How could they be? When the victims were opened up their organs had all turned to rock. Calcified, perhaps I should say.
"Your task, Bob... ," he started (he had once been a fan of Mission Impossible) "is to take a couple of your staff and make a thorough comparison of these patients' details. See if there is any common factor at all."
Three weeks and thirty more deceased patients later, we were still no further forward. My team had trebled and I was tied up in the office trying to make sense of their reports. Ethnicity and life-style, such as diet, drinking and smoking seemed to have no similarity among the victims.
There did, however, seem to be some correlation between the disease and the larger centers of population. However that link was somewhat tenuous and it was not possible to say at that moment that the link was significant.
All this time, the death toll was mounting, making my normally phlegmatic superiors at the CDC show some signs of stress and even of hysteria. Weeks passed and the attempts to solve this epidemic became more frantic and increasingly bizarre. Almost any idea was followed up, however irrelevant it seemed.