This is the twenty-third part of a fiction serial, in 736 words.
It was easy enough to quickly plug Eileen’s airline back into her suit before people appeared outside of the sealed room, and gestured through the glass that Jimmy should stay where he was. Immediately, he heard the sound of a very loud extractor fan in the ceiling overhead, and another alarm sounding, different to the one that had gone off when he had pressed the red button.
Two people showed up in full protective clothing, and one held a printed card up to the window, for him to read.
DO NOT REMOVE ANY PART OF YOUR SUIT OR DISCONNECT YOUR AIRLINE
WHEN IT IS SAFE FOR US TO ENTER WE WILL DO SO.
Although it felt like a long time before the outer door opened, it was probably only a matter of minutes. Both alarms were silenced, and he could hear them talking through the helmets of their suits. “James, disconnect your airline and follow us. Do not touch anything. Do you have any difficulty breathing? Are your eyes watering? Do you have any congestion in your mouth or nose? Don’t try to speak, just nod or shake your head”.
Jimmy shook his head in reply to all the questions, and they beckoned him to follow them. As they left the area, others went in to look at Eileen’s body, and also to retrieve the cage containing the dead monkey.
Following them at some distance, he was shown along a corridor and directed into a room. It contained showers. One of the men spoke to him. “Walk into the shower and stand still, we will operate the control. He did as he was told, standing under the running water for a very long time, so it seemed.
Then the first man gave him a thumbs-up, and said “Okay, remove the suit slowly, we will help you”. Jimmy stripped off the protective clothing with their help, leaving him standing in his own shirt and trousers that he had been wearing underneath.
After that he had to follow them down another corridor, to where a doctor and nurse wearing protective clothing gave him a full examination, including taking blood for a blood test.
A full hour after leaving the room where Eileen had died, he was allowed to dress properly, and taken to see a man he had never met. The sign on his door read ‘Contamination Officer’. The man seemed remarkably relaxed. “Sit down, James. I’m happy to see you appear to be unaffected by this tragic accident. There will be a full investigation of course, there always is. But meanwhile you are of course aware that you are not to discuss this with anyone outside of your department?” Jimmy nodded, trying his best to look suitably shell-shocked by the whole experience.
Leaning forward, the man asked him, “What do you recall of what happened in there?” He had no recording device or notebook, so it seemed to him that this was all a very long way from being official. He told the man that he and Eileen had plugged in the airlines of their suits as she was going to demonstrate the new form of chlorine gas by showing him how quickly it killed a monkey. The next thing he knew, she was on the floor, and he had pressed the alarm as he had been shown to do on Tuesday.
As the man was nodding to his replies, someone else came in and handed him a file. It only contained one page of type.
“Well, James. Your blood test is fine, and you do not seem to have been affected in the least. We are working on the theory that Eileen’s suit was somehow compromised. It doesn’t take much, a weak seam, or a loose connection in her airline. And it happens quite often. Well, not that often, but it happens. It’s a tragedy of course, but we are all aware of the dangers of working in this environment. If the head of department thinks it is necessary, he may take a statement from you later, for the formal enquiry. Meanwhile, you should go and get your things, and head home. Try to put this behind you, and have a relaxing weekend. I sincerely hope this hasn’t upset you too much, or put you off working here?”
Jimmy shook his head, and told the man it had made him more determined to make a difference.