What Lies Ahead
Chapter 8

Jawarski’s visit rattled me enough that I couldn’t get my head back into the work on my desk, so I decided to head out for the day.

I made a stopover at the new lab space for Mom and Alex. I knew they weren’t up and running yet as I had just looked at an invoice for equipment they needed, but I wanted to see what they were doing. While we had talked about her work, I never saw Mom’s old lab or what she really did during the day.

What I did not expect to see was Vicki getting into her car in the parking lot.

“Surprised to see you here,” I said as I walked up to her.

“My dad had to go do something, and I needed to get out of the house. Being cooped up there is really starting to drive me crazy.”

“I get that, but I’m also surprised you are here. Why not go hang out with Zoe or Tami?”

“They had a late practice, and I was kind of curious what Alex and Mrs. Bell were doing here, so I thought I would come take a look.”

“Funny, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Want to come in with me?”

“Nah,” she said, shaking her head, “I need to get going. I’ll see you later.”

“Ok, well, tell your dad I am going to come get you on Friday so you can hang out with us.”

I gave her a kiss and then watched her get in her car and drive off. Her explanation for being here made sense in general, although she had never shown much interest in Alex or Mom’s work before. But who knows, people will do all kinds of things when they’re bored.

Alex was standing in the front entry way when I walked in, and had been watching me talk to Vicki out in the parking lot.

“Hey, Alex,” I said seeing her there.

“Hey. Ready for your tour?” she asked.

“Yep. Is Mom around?”

“No, she went to talk to a rep about some more equipment we need.”

“Thanks for showing Vicki around. She was pretty bored. I hope she didn’t bug you too much.”

“No, she was fine. There isn’t much I can do at the moment. So let’s get started. This is, of course, the reception area.”

Which it obviously was, with a couple of couches and a desk near the door leading into the rest of the suite.

“You’re going to have a secretary?”

“More like part secretary and part office manager. Angela pointed out it was a good idea to have a gate keeper, especially considering the, umm, sensitive nature of what we are going to be working on here. Plus, there is more clerical work in a lab like this than you would think. Organizing reports, ordering supplies, stuff like that.”

I hadn’t considered that, but she had a point.

Beyond the reception area were two offices for Alex and Mom, already with the basic office furniture in place.

Next were two fairly large separate rooms, with large glass windows so you could look into them from the hallway. One had several long metal tables in the middle, which were currently empty, and five small work stations scattered along the walls between rows of cabinets.

The other room had the same long metal tables, and that was it. More interesting was the keypad lock on that room, and an intercom on the wall next to the door. There was a small room with another door leading into the lab that acted like a pass through room, with a large vent on the ceiling of that room.

“What’s that room for?” I asked.

“It is for working with pathogens and things we wouldn’t want to let out of the lab. While we won’t ever be certified, since we don’t want that much scrutiny in our work, we have set it up to match requirements for a BSL-three lab.”

“BSL-three?”

“Bio-Safety Level. It’s the standard safety precautions for dealing with harmful biological agents. Level one is for the least dangerous pathogens like non-pathogenic E. Coli. Stuff that can be deadly, but can be avoided with basic safety procedures.”

“Level two is for diseases that are harmful to humans, but are generally not aerosol. This includes pathogenic bacteria and diseases like HIV.”

“Level three, which we have here, is for working with serious and lethal diseases that can be contracted through inhalation. Stuff like Yellow Fever, Tuberculosis, and SARS is worked on in a level three lab.”

“What’s with the little pass-through room?” I asked.

“You have to have one set of doors closed, which electronically lock, before you can open the other. The vent creates a negative pressure and pulls everything into a special medical filtration system, which we are having installed next week. We will have bio safety cabinets where all the work actually happens. Those are also coming in next week.”

“Do you think we’ll need something like that?”

“Maybe. I still have a lot of tests I want to do. The hospital here in town doesn’t have a BSL-three lab, so I was limited in what I could throw against your blood sample. I also want to see what it does to break down the more virulent diseases.”

“You’re not worried about having that kind of stuff here?”

“Not really. We are following strict safety protocols; plus, I am nearly certain at this point that the change Angela and I have gone through makes us immune to these diseases already. I really wish I could test your blood against some of the real bad boys, like Lassa or Marburg, but you can’t work on that stuff outside of a certified BSL-four lab, which we won’t be able to set up. Those BSL-four labs that are around require a paper trail we wouldn’t want.”

“What about that other lab. What’s with all the work stations?”

“For lab techs, and research assistants.”

“You’re going to have assistants?”

“You didn’t imagine Angela and I would be able to do all this by ourselves.”

“Honestly ... I kinda did.”

“Well, we do need some help. So we will have a small staff to assist us.”

The rest of the tour led through the back mechanical areas, which were larger than I expected. Alex explained that the room was needed for the sterilization and filtration equipment, both to meet compliance for a lab and because it was best to be safe when doing medical research.

I was pretty impressed with the whole setup. I’m not sure what was in my head when I suggested their setting this business up, but it hadn’t been something this size.

I got home from the lab to find Vicki’s car in the driveway. When she said she had to leave the lab, I had assumed she meant she was going back home.

Walking in I found all four girls plus Tina at the big table we had bought for the dining room.

“This is a surprise,” I said, dropping my backpack into a vacant chair. “I thought you were headed back home.”

“I wasn’t sure,” Vicki said. “I didn’t know if we would be ready to talk to you today or not. But Emily and Tina got a lot done while the rest of us were out, and managed to finish up our presentation.”

“Presentation?” I asked.

“You said you wanted us to figure out what to do with New Life,” Zoe said. “So we did.”

“New Life?”

“One of the things you said we needed was a name. Well, we’re trying to give people a step up right? It sounded good to us. We’ve already talked to Jonathan and he made sure there wasn’t a charity with that name already, and took care of everything to set it up.”

“I like it,” I said as I slid into a chair. “Go for it. I’m all ears.”

“Ok,” Tami said, “You said our goal was to help people and get the world ready for ... us. That we needed to win people’s hearts and minds for our group, before anyone learned exactly what you were.”

“More importantly than that, I want us to help people. That comes first. Everything else is icing,” I interjected.

“Right,” she continued, “so we first wanted to highlight the areas where we needed to help people. And we needed to make it modular, so that once we had the kinks worked out of the first setup; we could expand into new cities easily.”

“Setup?” I asked.

“We’ll get there in a minute. So, we found four areas we thought could best help people. The first is with work training and placement. Getting people jobs ultimately fixes all the other problems, and is the longest lasting fix. Second is providing some form of medical care. Third is food, both free and low cost depending on the person’s situation. And fourth is housing.”

“Ok,” I said. “That list makes sense I guess, but break it down for me. How do you plan on doing each of those?”

“We have some ideas on that, but just keep in mind some of this is a work in progress. The first is training and placement. This one will take money. We can leverage your company, and, if you and the rest of your partners agree, maybe reach out to companies you do business with.”

“That’s only going to go so far,” I pointed out. “I’m happy to do it, and I’m betting Ted will be with me on that, but there are only so many jobs that are available, and most of those require specialized skills. Some of the out of work people will, of course, have those skills, but a lot won’t. You need to look into ways to find employment for people that might only have graduated high school, and for people that never finished.”

“Training programs will of course, help. I’m not sure if this will work, but it’s something for you to look into. Talk to employers and find out what skills they need the most. Focus on places that need trained, but not necessarily educated employees. If we work with them it might increase our chances of finding places for people.”

“My big concern is, this isn’t new stuff. The government and charitable groups do this, to varying degrees of success, and they haven’t put a dent in the homeless population.”

“That’s because most of those programs are focused on re-training,” Zoe countered. “They are targeting people looking for work and the ‘actively’ unemployed and not so much on the homeless population, who have mostly given up by that point.

“There is something else you need to consider,” a voice said from the doorway. We all turned to find Mom leaning on the door frame.

“For some of the people we find to help – people down on their luck, helping with job hunting or retraining so they can get a job will do wonders, but it won’t work for everyone. There is a segment of the homeless population that is, sadly, unemployable, either from mental health issues or substance abuse problems.”

“That’s where our second area comes in,” Zoe said, “providing free clinics and health care. Beyond basic clinic services, this will include setting up connections with mental health facilities and substance abuse programs.”

“Another program that will cost a good deal of money,” I pointed out.

“Not as much as you might think,” Tami said. “Yeah, it won’t be cheap, but we talked to a lot of free clinics already operating around the country, and we think this will be cheaper than our training program ideas. We will need to do some legwork to get doctors and other medical staff to volunteer, but it’s doable.”

“Ok, I stand corrected,” I said.

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Story tagged with:
Coming of Age /