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Twin beams of polarized light radiated from the metal ceiling, their pale glow illuminating the two men working below. The men wore surgical gowns, gloves, and caps, with protective masks covering their noses and mouths. The only sound was the air rushing through the recycling vents on the grated floor. The shadows flickered with colors from the electronic instruments racked on the metal walls.

The men sat at a table arrayed with test tube racks, slide boxes, and culture dishes. A microscope occupied the space in front of them, with a centrifuge and ice chest off to the side.

One of the men placed a glass slide on the scope’s viewing platform. He leaned forward and peered through the twin eyepieces, his gloved hand slowly turning the focus knob. He stiffened, his eyes trained on the unexpected filament of protein floating on the sea of dead blood.

“You have something?”

The man ignored his colleague and continued turning the knob, his eyes fixed on the bronze strand.

Dr. Nihalla leaned closer. “Mr. Frankton?”

Karl slumped on the stool, his bloodshot eyes glaring at the microscope. He plucked the slide off the scope’s viewing platform and handed it to Nihalla. “Eyelash, sorry.”

Nihalla raised the slide to the light and squinted at the amber fluid trapped inside the slide’s transparent seal, and at the red “84” scribbled beside it. He frowned and snatched the lash with a tweezers before placing the slide in its white-plastic box.

Karl glanced at the box. “That’s it?”

“Yes, last one.” Nihalla closed the box and applied a tape seal. He slipped an insulated glove over his right hand and reached for the ice chest. When he lifted the lid, a rush of white vapor spilled down the chest onto the table. The vapor crept across the table like a freed spirit before disappearing into the conditioned air.

Nihalla’s frown deepened as he lowered the box into the ice chest. “Maybe I missed something.”


“When I checked the spinals.”

Karl gave him a puzzled look. “We both checked the spinals. Everything normal. No anomalies.”

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