"The Andropov Syndrome"

by J. B. Tilton


Captain Avery Paxil put on the vest he wore every day of his life. All around him other men and women were getting dressed. Many were already dressed and were just now strapping on their side arms.

"Hey, Avery," said a first lieutenant three lockers down, "did you check the duty roster yet? We got Section Twelve today."

"Yeah, I know, Jack," said Paxil. "Make sure you take your vest this time. That's a rough neighborhood."

"I know, I know," said Jackson Taylor, Avery's partner. "I'll be wearing it today, don't worry."

Avery and Jack had been partners for the last five years. They were also best friends. They had attended West Point together and upon graduation had both been assigned to Sector Seven; what used to be called Arizona.

"Paxil," called out a major, sticking his head into the locker room, "the colonel wants to see you before you go out on your shift."

"Okay, major," said Avery. "I'll be right there."

"Uh oh," said a blonde female to Avery's left. "Sounds like you screwed up. The colonel doesn't usually see anyone before shift unless it's important."

"Hey," said Jack, "maybe they discovered who your father was? You are an orphan after all?"

"Very funny," said Avery. "That describes half the force. As I recall, you didn't know who your mother or father was. As least I know about my mother. You're the one who's a total bastard."

"Oh, you're really funny today," said Jack.

Most of the men and women just laughed at the two. Since the plague had reached world wide epidemic proportions, many people grew up not knowing their parents. At least half of the police force was made up of people whose' parents had died when they were still babies.

Avery walked into Lieutenant Colonel Griffon Conner's office. Conner was the commander for sections one through twenty of Sector Seven. Being a relatively uninhabited region of the country, Sector Seven only had one hundred sectors.

"Captain Avery Paxil reports as ordered, sir," said Avery, saluting as he stood in front of the colonels' desk. Another man, wearing the rank of major and a medical insignia, sat in a chair in Conner's office. He was currently looking through a file.

"Stand easy, Captain," said Conner. "This is Major Thomas Goldberg of the medical division."

"Dr. Goldberg, if you don't mind," said Goldberg. "I'm a medical doctor first. I only wear the uniform to humor them."

"Anyway," said Conner, "Dr. Goldberg is here to see you. It won't take but a few minutes and then you can get to your shift."

"Yes, sir," said Avery. He sat down in a chair next to the doctor. Griffin and Avery's adopted father, Marcus, had been old friends. When Avery had requested admission to West Point, Griffin had sponsored him.

"Captain," began the doctor, "the medical division is starting an experimental program. We have high hopes that it will help us make some advancement against fighting the syndrome. You have been selected as one possible candidate for this program."

"I don't understand, sir," said Avery. "I haven't shown any symptoms. How could I be of any use?"

"Well," said Goldberg, "as I'm sure you're aware, most people exhibit their first symptoms sometime between the ages of three and seven years. Others don't exhibit the symptoms 'till a few years later. Some few, like you, don't exhibit any symptoms until they are well into their twenties. You are twenty six as I understand."

"Yes, sir," said Avery. "I was born March 12, 2027."

"Let's see," said Goldberg, looking through the file, "biological mother died at sixteen just after giving birth. Biological father unknown. Marcus and Lisa Marie Paxil adopted you. Graduated West Point in 2049 with honors and a bachelors in criminal law enforcement."

"Yes, sir," said Avery. "I'd always wanted to be cop as long as I can remember. Colonel Conner sponsored my application."

"So I see," said Goldberg. "And a special commendation in 2050 for apprehending Nicolas Andropov III. That's extremely commendable."

"Just doing my job, sir," said Avery.

"Still," said Goldberg, "Andropov was a known cop killer. No one would have blamed you if you hadn't brought him in alive."

"Those weren't my orders," said Avery. "We were told to bring him in alive. No matter what the cost. Believe me, I was tempted to kill him."

"I believe you," said Goldberg. He removed a card from his pocket. "If you agree to participate, I'd like you to be at this address in two weeks. It will take about two days and then you can return to duty."

"So this isn't an order, sir?" asked Avery.

"No," said Goldberg. "It is totally voluntary. You may refuse if you wish, but I assure you it is the most important study we've ever done. It's just possible we might find a cure for the syndrome with volunteers like you."

"What will be involved, sir?" asked Avery.

"First," said Goldberg, "you'll be given a thorough physical. We'll take tissue samples for analysis. After they have been analyzed, you'll be put on a medication regiment. To see how you respond. Then we'll analyze the results."

"Very well, sir," said Avery. "I'll be there."

"Good, good," said Goldberg. "I'll tell them to expect you. Well, Colonel, I'd better be going. I still have a couple of candidates to contact. Avery, I'll see you in two weeks."

Goldberg collected his briefcase and left the office. Conner congratulated Avery for volunteering, then told him to return to duty. Avery went out to join Jack on their patrol.

"What did the old man want?" asked Jack as they drove around the city.

"I'm volunteering for a medical experiment," said Avery. "They said it might help find a cure for the syndrome."

"Really?" asked Jack. "Wonder why they chose you?"

"Just luck of the draw, I suppose," said Avery. Suddenly he saw a figure dart past the window of an apparently abandoned building.

"Jack," said Avery, "go around the block. I just saw someone back there."

Jack swung the police car around and stopped short of the building. He took out his sidearm and checked to make sure the setting was on stun.

"I'll take the back," said Avery. "My guess is it's probably a terminal hiding out from the medical authorities."

"Probably," said Jack. "When will they learn that once they enter the fourth stage, there's nothing else that can be done for them? They're better off in one of the treatment facilities."

Avery and Jack got out of the car. Jack moved to the front of the building while Avery moved around back. The building appeared to have once been a restaurant of sorts. Probably a fast food place Avery had seen in some of the old videos.

The back door was open and showed signs of recently being forced. Avery took out his sidearm and looked inside. Someone was obviously staying here. And from the looks of things, they had been there for a while.

Cautiously, Avery stepped inside and turned on his wrist light. Most of the building was boarded up and without the light he would have been totally blind. He scanned around the first room, and then moved to the next one.

"Avery," said Jack over their two-way communicators, "I think they're in one of the rooms upstairs. I just heard movement up there."

"Roger," said Avery. He moved to the stairs. Jack would be taking the front stairs. With the person on the second floor, there would be no place for them to go.

Avery reached the second floor and looked around. Several doors lined the hallway and he could see the front stairs at the end of the hall. He moved to the first room and pushed the door open with his foot.

It was unremarkable. Most of the furniture had been removed long ago and the closet door was missing. It was empty except for a thick layer of dust that covered everything. Avery moved on and began to check the next room. As he did, he saw Jack moving down from the opposite end of the hallway, checking the rooms at that end.

Avery had just checked the fourth room and glanced down the hallway. Jack was looking inside one of the rooms at his end when a figure stepped out of the room across the hall from him. The figure had some sort of weapon in his hand and aimed it at Jack.

"Jack, down," shouted Avery. He brought his sidearm to bear as Jack suddenly dropped to the floor. The figure fired the weapon and a horrendous explosion rocked the building. Avery fired, and a blue beam shot out from his sidearm, striking the figure.

The figure fell back against the doorframe, and then slumped to the floor. The weapon fell from his hands as Jack rolled over, bringing his own sidearm up. Seeing the figure lying unconscious on the floor, he looked over and saw Avery moving down the hall.

The med techs checked Jack over and said he was okay. As Colonel Conners was talking to him, Avery came over holding the weapon the man had.

"He's a terminal, alright," said Conners. "The techs say he probably suffering from brain damage because of the syndrome. Probably didn't take his meds like he was supposed to. Not very common but not unheard of either. He probably won't last more than a couple of weeks. What have you got there, Avery?"

Avery handed the weapon to Conners. Avery had never seen a weapon like it before. From the sound it made, he couldn't see how it could be useful. The minute you used it, everyone would know you were there.

"I'll be," said Conner. "I haven't seen one of these in about twenty years. I didn't know there were still any around."

"What is it?" asked Jack.

"It's called a pump action shotgun," said Conner, pumping the handle and ejecting a shell. "You were very lucky, Taylor. This thing could have taken your head clean off."

"I've heard about those," said Avery. "They use some kind of powder. And they're noisy as hell. But I also understand they are very deadly."

"That they are," said Conners. "Back before the new millennium, they were all over the place. Even private citizens had them."

"That's a frightening thought," said Jack. "Private citizens with weapons."

"Well," said Conners, "the old constitution allowed it. I'll see that this thing is destroyed immediately so it doesn't hurt anyone else."

"I also found these," said Avery, handing two packs of cigarettes to Conners.

"Contraband," said Conners. "Haven't seen these in a while. Even the black marketers are finding it harder and harder to unload these. Anything else?'

"Nothing of consequence," said Avery. "Except for half a pound of what looks like coffee. The real stuff, not that synthetic stuff we get."

"Well," said Conners, "why don't you take the coffee to your mom? I know she likes it. And we'll just have to end up destroying it anyway."

"Are you sure?" asked Avery. "We're supposed to turn all contraband over to our superiors for disposition."

"Which you have," said Conners. "And I've instructed you how to dispose of it. Don't worry about it. Half a pound isn't going to hurt anyone. Go on. Your mother will enjoy it, I know."

"Okay," said Avery, shoving the bag into the car. "I'll be sure and let her know you sent it."

"Thanks," said Conner. "Now, you two need to get back out on patrol. Curfew is coming up and you know there are always a few who get caught out after it. Just be careful. Giving people a courtesy ride home after curfew is okay, but a few would like nothing better than to get in your car so they can take you out."

"We're always careful, sir," said Jack. "Most of them are just kids. Nothing to worry about."

"Okay," said Conners. "Avery, tell your mom I might stop by tomorrow night."

"Will do, sir," said Avery.

He and Jack got back into their car and began to drive through their section making sure everything was peaceful. Their car hummed quietly as they passed people hurriedly moving through the streets. At each corner a yellow light began to flash indicating it was only an hour until curfew.

The perpetual cloud cover was always threatening rain, but it rarely rained. Neither Avery nor Jack could remember having ever seen the sun. The medicine needed to treat the billions infected with the syndrome caused massive amounts of toxic smoke to be pumped into the air. While the air was toxic, lack of the medicine would have caused millions to die every day that would otherwise have lived.

The inside of the patrol car was hermetically sealed against the atmosphere. It contained it's own oxygen supply; enough for three full days, even though each shift was only eight hours long. The time Avery and Jack spent in the atmosphere could easily be countered by the medicine they took each day.

"Too many people out without portable respirators," said Jack.

"Recharging can be expensive," said Avery. "I heard that some scientist over in Section 23 is close to being able to produce oxygen."

"I've been hearing that all my life," said Jack. "I think it's one of those urban legends you used to hear about."

"Yeah, I know," said Avery. "Still, the price of recharging is going up every day. We don't have to worry about it. The service takes care of our recharging. But those poor people out there. Many don't have a choice."

"I know," said Jack. "I was looking at an old video the other day. It was something called 'Lone Wolf' or something like that. You know they actually showed trees in it?"

"Really?" said Avery. "Most of the old videos were destroyed years ago. Where did you get a copy of one of those?"

"An uncle of mine has some," said Jack. "He's very frugal about loaning them out, though. I happened to be at his house when he wanted to watch one. I wonder what it was like to actually see a forest?"

"Probably the same as seeing the sun," said Avery. "Neither of us will ever have to worry about that, though. This cloud cover just gets thicker every day."

"I was watching the news before shift," said Jack, "They said they were having some success with a new drug. If it works as well as they think, they can reduce the amount of medication everyone has to take. That should allow the factories to work less."

"Well," said Avery, looking at his watch, "it's almost shift change. Let's get back to the station. I promised mom I'd stop by after I got off tonight. I haven't been by in over a week. You know how she worries."

"Yeah," said Jack. "Tell you what. I'll drop you off. I got a date in that part of town tonight anyway."

"Thanks," said Avery.

As they drove back to the station, Avery thought about his meeting with the medical division in two weeks. Maybe, if the medical regime worked for him, they could use it on the general populace. Then some of these poor souls might have it a little easier.