William Doonan

I write books and stories.

MedicineLand: Chapter Fourteen

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Adam began the day just as he had every day for the past month and a half, sitting at the simulator controls and staring at the spinning molecule on the screen.   “And how are you today, sweet baby?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” said Peter Westlake through the intercom.

“I was talking to the molecule.” Adam stared through the double-thick Plexiglas panel that separated the technical station from the chem lab.  Westlake was already wearing the hazmat rig.

“I know,” said Westlake.  “What are we doing today?”

“Beats me.  This one is a real bitch.  Do we have a name for it?”


“What’s the SN for?”

“Snack Happy.”

“That’s too cute.  Let’s give it a name, like Howard.”

Westlake shook his head.  “My son’s name is Howard.  Let’s call it Magic Molecule.”

Adam shrugged.  “Remind me again – why do we want to put this Magic Molecule in a cookie?”

“It will be both delicious and powerfully adddictive,” Westlake said.  “You won’t be able to eat just one.  Seriously.  And it’s going in a snack cake, not a cookie.”

“I feel better about myself already.”  Adam sat back.  “Let’s do this differently.  Come back in here.”

“I’m already suited up.”

“Then suit down.  We need to think this through.”

Westlake switched off the ventilator, lowered the glass dome over the table, and moved into the airlock where he took off his mask and hazard suit.  He opened the second door and took a seat in front of the screen.  “What now?”

Adam keyed in the command for real time and watched the molecule spin as it normally did, only to fragment at sixteen seconds.  “Now its collapsing at sixteen instead of seventeen.  We’ve lost a second.”

“Seventeen seconds is the average,” Westlake said.  “I’ve seen them blow at nine.”

Adam walked to the window.  He tried to find his car in the crowded lot but soon gave up.  “We have several interlocked problems here.  The first is stability.  The second is environmental tolerance; it has to behave at room temperature, and the third is toxicity.”

“That’s a big third.”

“We need a better substrate,” Adam said, half to himself.  “That could get us by one and two.  If we could find the right substrate, we could bind it, and if we had the right binding agent, we could attenuate the toxicity.”

Westlake chuckled.  “Problem is, this baby doesn’t seem to bind with anything.”

“Everything binds with something,” Adam said slowly.  “This is a complex molecule, it has lots of facets and one of those facets is going to be attracted to something.  We just haven’t found it yet.  Baking soda?”

“Non-energetic but it won’t bind.”

“Baking soda diluted in sucrose.”

Westlake shook his head.  “Baking soda and sucrose react.”

“Ethyl alcohol.”

“Alcohol isn’t fat soluble.  No good.”

Adam turned slowly.  “Most,” he said.


“Most alcohol isn’t fat soluble.  Do this.”  He motioned for Westlake to sit at the keyboard.  “Try coding for methyl alcohol.”

Westlake brought up the chemical component database.  “We don’t have a simulation for methyl.  It’s volatile and flammable and thus not normally used in food products.  So we don’t have a macro”

“Then build one.”  Adam found a chemical reference book.  “Here, put in these components.”

Westlake keyed in the chemical signature.  “Why methanol?”

“I remember reading somewhere that it reacted to bone marrow, turned into jelly.  I think it was one of those mountaineering expeditions on Everest or somewhere in the 1950s.  They used it as a fuel.”

“All alcohol is flammable, but it’s still toxic.  Makes you go blind.”

“Bind it,” Adam said, “try the simulation.  Methanol is present in trace amounts in Vodka; doesn’t make you go blind.  All we need is a trace.  Run it.”

Westlake keyed in the sequence as Adam watched the methanol molecule attach.

“That’s it,” Adam said excitedly.

“No it’s not.  Ethyl attaches too, it just degrades faster.”

“Two contacts,” Adam said as the molecules aligned.  “Now three.  There’s four and five.”

Westlake shook his head.  “That’s just simulated binding; doesn’t mean that  it’s stable.”

“OK, do a real-time simulation.”

The molecules attached within three seconds.  Adam held his breath, saw that Westlake was doing the same.  Sixty seconds had passed and the macromolecule remained stable.

“I’m going to make you my number one bitch.”  Adam smiled at the screen.  “OK, run it again and age it one minute per second.”

Westlake ran the sequence and the molecule remained stable.

“Go to one year per second,” said Adam.   He watched in silence as the years passed, the molecule fraying forty-three seconds later.

“Forty-three years,” Westlake exclaimed.

“Unreal,” said Adam, “now get back in there and suit up.  Can you make this?”

“We don’t have any methanol on hand.  I’ll have to run over to supplies.”

“Good.  What time do the mice eat?”


“What time to the mice eat?”

“Hell if I know.  Call Denise, but we’re not anywhere near ready for live trials.”

“I just want to find out.”  Adam called Denise Rosen in the animal testing lab as Westlake left the room, and asked the question.  “Then bring me one mouse at four.  They’ll be hungry again at four, right, that’s just before dinner.  Bring me one.  One female.  Thanks.”

He spent the better part of the day researching methanol additives in food and beverages, then checked testing for toxicity levels.  He found a winery in Napa that was shut down when the Chardonnay tested above FDA limits.  After lunch he entered the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms data file on illegal distillation facilities in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Maryland, and noted the different chemical components of East Coast moonshine.  “I’m going to have to try that one day,” he told himself.  “I’ll bet it kicks like a horse.”

He waited impatiently with Westlake.  It was nearly four-thirty when Denise Rosen arrived with a small plastic cage.

“This requires approval,” she said.  “You need authorization paperwork before live testing.”

“Right,” Adam said, taking the cage from her and placing it on the work table.  “This isn’t really a live test, OK?  This one got away.  I’m just lonely at home.  I don’t get sex, and I don’t have friends, so I was thinking of getting a pet.  This mouse will do just fine, that’s how we explain it should anyone ask.”

“I could get fired for this,” she said.

Adam ignored her, took the vial from Westlake and squeezed four drops of the liquid onto two food pellets in the little tray.  “Here you go, girl,” he said, sliding the tray into the cage.

The mouse began eating immediately.  She finished the pellets in under a minute, looked around for more, and then drank from the water bottle.  She ran a quick circle around the cage, froze, and vomited.  Then she seized and died.

“Well that sucks,” Adam said.

“That looked like a heart attack to me,” said Westlake.

“I can autopsy,” said Denise, “but it looked like a heart attack to me too.”

Adam sat and drummed his fingers on the table.  “Somehow we managed to increase toxicity,” he said, “but at least she didn’t go blind.”


Written by williamdoonan

December 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

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