Last updated 1st October, 2015
Gøran Örj was of average height for a Norwegian, but above average for the global population. He was nearer to forty than thirty, but his sparse, pale hair and deeply lined cheeks made him easily pass for a fifty-year-old man.
In his lab he wore a long white coat over high-waisted woolen trousers, and a thick woolen shirt. For close-up work and reading he wore bifocals that otherwise hung down from a leather cord around his neck.
His hands had long fingers, too long to be elegant, and with thin green surgical gloves stretched over them they looked like they belonged to a frog.
Delicately but methodically, Goran took a fresh subject from the delivery cart, lay it gently into a heating tray and unwrapped it from its plastic swaddling. Each meatball was a seamless, one litre hemisphere of lab-grown human flesh. Inside was a miniature heart, lungs and a proportional stomach; along with all the other organs and tubing that make up a human body though it had no brain and it had no bones.
A transparent hose protruded from its feed hole and another its waste hole – preinserted at the meat farm where it had been grown. He connected it to the tray's ports and then rested it fat-side down, blowhole at the top.
Goran waited for it to activate, the tray triggering the heart to start beating. A health status summary appeared on his screen. Blood pressure, temperature and biosphere all normal. He patted it gently as the lip of the blowhole began to contract and expand.
'There you go,' he said to it.
He rolled it gently, searching for a strong vein then took a canula from the table, pushing its fine metal fang through the skin of the meat until blood pushed back, showing that he was on target. He withdrew the needle and taped the tubing in place.
'Start recording,' he said. 'Subject appears healthy. Vital statistics normal. Strain G-118 attached.'
From a waist high helper bot at his side he took a beaker of greenish sludge. He lifted a breathing mask over his mouth before unscrewing the lid of the jar, setting it in the corner of the meatball tray and then covering the whole thing with a plastic bell jar that clipped around the sides.
With a tapped command into his tablet the bot extended an arm to collect the tray and ferry it to the far end of the room to park it in the next empty slot in seven tall racks of shelving, each filled with up to thirty identical poisoned terrariums and a lab-grown test subject.
'Gøran?' a gentle voice said in his ear. Lila, his wife of fifteen years.
He reached up with one of his froggy hands and adjusted his earbud.
'Yes, elskede?' he answered, simultaneously bringing up the box of her vital signs; LÖ-01. He had her pulse, heartbeat and brain activity all monitored like his test subjects. There were no alarming spikes he could see but the sedatives were wearing off.
'Are you at work?'
'You didn't wake me when you left.'
'I didn't want to disturb you.' As he spoke with her, herolled a new meatball from its wrappings and placed it on an empty tray before him.
'You should have woken me,' Lila said.
'I couldn't. You were sleeping so deeply. You need the rest.'
'It seems like resting is all I do.'
He sighed. 'I'm working as hard as I can.'
'I know,' her voice trailed off.
'It's okay, elskede. I'll be home soon. I'm finishing on the last subject now. I just need to complete my notes.'
'Wake me when you get home.'
'Yes, elskede. I will.'
He flicked his wife's vital signs to one side of the screen but kept the audio channel from the microphone above her bed open as he finished the last meatball and looked over the new panels that were tracking the health of the G strain subjects.
'I have prepared eight subjects with the new serum, a resequence formula I think will offer fertile territory to explore upon. Strains A through F have focused on immunising the body from CC. The G strain is my first attempt to resequence the body to adapt to the disease. We already do this with animals, only custom is stopping us doing it to ourselves. Today's eight are broad strokes. Exploratory. I won't know anything for week at least a week.'
Goran locked his tablet in the second drawer of his desk and stood up. At the exit he removed his lab coat and hung it on a row of empty hooks before pushing open the double doors and turning off the light.
He opened the only closed locker in the small antechamber and began dressing himself for the cold. Scarf, a camel hair waistcoat, a thick jumper and overcoat. He picked up his gloves and fur-lined hat, then moved towards the elevator and pressed its call button.
The air hummed with the yearning of its descent. Doctor Örj waited without moving until at last the scratched metal doors opened and he stepped inside, pushed the button for the ground floor and waited as the elevator hummed again.
It was an old box. Dented walls and a scuffed black rubber floor. Years worth of trolleys and boots had left their mark.
The doors opened on an empty reception room. He walked to the untended front desk and turned the clipboard towards himself. Every line on the page was him signing in at eight, signing out after six. He noted down his time of departure and returned the clipboard to its position.
The street outside was as still as a stopped heart. A road of snow powdered tarmac, lined by simple buildings of flat walls and angled rooftops. Bare armed trees clawed up to the open sky. It was nearly the time for the long night.
Windows were shuttered, some boarded over. Frost made the planks pale and grey. Few lights were on in the houses and most stores had closed indefinitely. Empty stores, stalled vehicles, all calcifying with snow. Only the grocery store beckoned for people to enter.
'Doctor Örj, how are you? How is Lila?' asked a short man in a bright flannel shirt.
'Hello Henri. We are both still here. Lila is in a lot of pain though. And you?'
'We are well. Thank you for asking.'
'Has anything come in worth buying? Do you have any fish?'
'It's your lucky day, doctor.' Henri turned around and took a large squat box from a stack of identical boxes. 'These just came in.'
'Thank you, but I can't afford all of that.'
'It costs nothing at all, doctor. This is from the government. Didn't you hear? They have nationalised all farming and industry. Today every family in Norway gets rations.'
'Is that so? I've been busy with my work.'
'You should turn the radio on once in a while. You'll miss the end of the world if you're not careful.' Henri burst into laughter. Goran picked up his box and moved to leave. The shopkeeper ran before him to open the door and quickly close it behind him.
'Take care, Doctor Örj.'