Frozen Pandemic

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The next morning, Fresler has barely gotten his shirt over his head before there is a knock on the door of his and Sharon’s room.

Sharon opens the door. “Hello, William. Everything okay?”

“Yes, is Fresler here?”

“He’s in the bathroom. He’ll be right out.”

Fresler walks into the living room, towel-drying his wet hair. He stops when he sees William.

“Hi, Fresler, can we talk in private?”

“Sure, what’s it about?”

“We have the results of your parents’ blood tests,” says William in his steady, “business” voice—the one Fresler now associates with the stoic delivery of concerning or terrible news.

Fresler’s stomach flips, and he reaches for Sharon’s hand, letting the towel drop to the floor. “I want Sharon to listen,” he says.

“Sure, Fresler. The results were a bit surprising. First of all, both of your parents’ test results were completely normal. They showed no unusual genetic markers, and their blood type is O negative. We were able to easily classify their blood type.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. How can they both be normal?” Fresler looks to Sharon, though she’s just as puzzled. Her face steadies his heartbeat.

“You only need one parent to have your same blood type, Fresler.” William clears his throat. “I’m not sure how to tell you this, but… your mom is genetically related to you. Your father is not.”

Fresler falls into the nearest chair, replaying the words in hopes they’ll make some sort of sense. He looks up at William. “Are you sure?” he finally manages.

“Yes, which means that your genetic father is the reason why your blood type is something we can’t identify. Whoever he is, he’s also the reason you were immune from this virus.”

“How is that even possible? There’s no way my mom was with another man.” He thinks about his parents, the love they share. His mother would never cheat on his father. Nor would she hide something like this from Fresler. Scenarios start spinning through his mind. Was his mother attacked? Is he the product of a rape? Does his father know? The thoughts are too horrendous to be real, surely.

“Was your mother hospitalized around the time you would have been conceived?” William asks.

Fresler blinks. “Not that I’m aware of. Why?”

“It’s possible your mother was inseminated without her knowledge.”

Fresler grimaces, revolted. “That’s nuts. It doesn’t make any sense. Why would anyone do that? And why choose my mom, of all people?”

William shrugs. “I wish I knew.”

Something else occurs to Fresler, a memory from childhood tugging on his consciousness. “The message in the probe mentioned that there are three individuals like me. If my genetic father”—he chokes on the awkward phrase—“is unknown… is it possible the other two immune people are related to me?”

William nods, one eyebrow cocked. “Yes,” he says. “That’s certainly possible.”

Fresler takes a few torturous hours to process what he’s just learned and then decides to talk with his mother alone. He stops by his parents’ room and is relieved when Gladys tells him his dad is downstairs in the cafeteria. Probably eating a Rice Krispies treat, Fresler thinks, feeling a surge of affection for the man who raised him. The man he thought was his father. No—Lars is his father, in the ways that matter.

Glady’s smile fades the moment Fresler steps into the room. She sits on the bed and pats the place beside her.

“Mom,” says Fresler, taking a seat, “I know this will sound like a strange question, but was there anything unusual about my birth or your pregnancy with me?”

“Why on earth would you ask such a question?” Gladys pats his cheek, clucking her tongue.

“It’s hard to explain, but it has something to do with my blood type.”

“Is everything okay with you?” Gladys holds his wrists and scans him like she can spot the disease through his skin.

“Yes. I’m healthy as a horse, as always. Just tell me, Mom. Is there anything I should know?”

“Well, my pregnancy was considered normal, if geriatric, but…”

“What is it?” He leans forward.

“Fresler, you have to understand that your father and I tried for years to have a baby. We just assumed that it wasn’t in the cards for us. We thought about adopting, but we eventually decided against it. We had actually given up hope. Then, when I turned forty-four, I became pregnant with you. It was a miracle, really.”

“Did you have any medical procedures done around the time you conceived?”

Gladys looks puzzled. “No, not that I recall. You were conceived… naturally.” She blushes a little at that last part.

“Were you in the hospital around that time for any reason?”

“No.” Gladys says the word firmly, but then raises one finger with a frown. “Although now that you bring it up, that was around the time I had that odd fainting episode. Do you remember me telling you this story?”

Fresler shakes his head, feeling guilty for not remembering. He didn’t always pay attention to his mom’s stories, but now he will. “Vaguely. Can you tell me again what happened?”

“Your father and I were living in Iceland then. We loved the beautiful scenery. We were on a nature hike in the northern part of Iceland when it happened. Our tour guide took us to one of those volcanic caves. They have these beautiful lava rocks. It was truly amazing.” Gladys smiles dreamily. She loves recounting their time in Iceland. “The guide told us the boulders surrounding the entrance would levitate every so often, which we thought was ridiculous, of course.”

“Did you ever see the boulders levitate?” Fresler asks, restraining a snort. It wouldn’t be the craziest thing he’s heard lately.

“Of course not,” Gladys says through a chuckle.

“You mentioned a fainting episode?” prompts Fresler.

“Right… yes. I was walking through the entrance when, apparently, I passed out. I don’t remember anything, but your father found me lying on the ground.”

“Did Dad take you to a doctor?”

“I didn’t see any reason to go to a doctor. I felt fine. I just assumed I got lightheaded because I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day.” She looks past Fresler and smiles, lost in her memories. “I wasn’t the only one who had fainted at that cave.”

“Someone else fainted there too?” says Fresler, imagining people dropping like flies at the mouth of a cave.

“I’ve told you this story a million times.” His mother swats his arm playfully. “My good friend Glendoris Jakobson. She and her husband visited that same cave the following week, based on our recommendation. She fainted at the entrance. So did another person.”

Fresler’s heart picks up a trot. “Was the third person who fainted… female?”

“Yes, a friend of Glendoris’s. I met her a few times over the years.”

“Do you remember her name?”

Gladys pauses for a moment and stares up at the ceiling, trying to reach back into memories that have been buried for over thirty-six years. “I think it was Jalaine… Yes, that’s right. Jalaine Bjorkman. I haven’t heard from her in so long.”

“And were either one of those women pregnant around the same time as you?”

“Both of them! Glendoris and I laughed, because we were these two old ladies who became pregnant at the same time. I was forty-four and she was forty-seven.” Gladys sighs fondly. “You know their son, sweetie. Every year we visited them in the US, when we stayed in our cabin in Minnesota.”

“I know their son?”

“Of course you do. I can’t believe you don’t remember him. You and Erik would play at their lake house together.”

Fresler presses his hand to his forehead, the memory that tickled his brain this morning leaping into focus. “Erik! I remember hanging out with him when we vacationed. That’s the same Erik Jakobson?” Fresler feels embarrassed at not putting the pieces together himself.

Gladys rolls her eyes good-naturedly. “Yes, the same Erik Jakobson. Glendoris is the reason we visited the US in the first place. They moved to the States a few years after I had you. They bought a home in Minnesota. I remember the first year we visited them, we just fell in love with the beautiful rivers and lakes. That’s why we purchased our cabin there.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“Why is this so important?” asks Gladys.

“I’ll tell you later. You said we met the other women’s family… Jalaine Bjorkman?”

“They moved back to Sweden not long after she became pregnant with their daughter. But they visited the US when you were ten. I actually have a picture of the three of you together. It’s a remarkable photo.”

“What’s remarkable about it?” Fresler asks.

“How similar you all looked back then. Jumping off that dock, into the lake… you could easily have been triplets. I had to take a picture.” Gladys once again drifts away into her memories.

“What was the girl’s name, Jalaine’s daughter?”

She taps her lips with her finger. “Oh, I can’t remember. It was all so long ago.”

Fresler swallows his disappointment at this missing detail and kisses his mom on the cheek. “Thanks, Mom.” Then he rushes out of the room to find Sharon.

By the time Fresler finishes telling Sharon the story, his has goosebumps along his arms, and it isn’t from the air conditioning.

“Do you think your mother’s fainting episode had something to do with her pregnancy?” asks Sharon.

“I don’t know, but it is odd. She and my dad were trying to conceive for years. They had given up hope, and then all of a sudden, she gets pregnant in her forties. Don’t you find that odd?”

“Yes, but it doesn’t explain her getting pregnant with another man.”

Fresler puts both hands out as if handing Sharon a gift. “You don’t see the connection? There were three women who fainted at that cave, and all three became pregnant unexpectedly and at an advanced age. I wish I had access to the internet. I’d love to do some research on caves with levitating boulders in Iceland.”

“Your mother said she never saw levitating boulders. I know you want answers, but I don’t see how her fainting at the entrance of that cave has anything to do with her pregnancy. We may never find out what really happened.”

Fresler shakes his head at the room. “I want to visit this cave and check it out.”

“Fresler… we can’t just book a flight to Iceland,” says Sharon.

“True. Maybe I should talk to William.” Fresler puffs out a frustrated breath. He had hoped to bring the CDC director something more concrete than fainting spells and levitating boulders. “First, though, I need to talk with my dad about the blood test.”

Sharon blinks rapidly at Fresler. She gently places a hand on his forearm. “You’re going to tell your dad that he is not your biological father? Wow.

Fresler sighs at the ground. “Yes, I think he has a right to know.”

“That’s probably true.” Sharon kisses him on the cheek. “Good luck.”

Fresler walks down the stairs to the cafeteria and spots his dad sitting alone. His stomach tightens the moment he sees Lars, but he forces a warm smile onto his face.

“Hi, Dad. I see you’re enjoying the Rice Krispies treats.”

Lars picks up the sticky square and studies it. “Amazing… It’s just cereal and marshmallows… Something so simple, yet so delicious. Chewy goodness. Don’t you think?”

Fresler chuckles. “Yeah, Dad… Rice Krispies treats are amazing.”

“So, what can I do for you, son? Do you need to talk about something?”

“How’d you guess?”

“You have that look on your face.” Lars twists his lips into a parody of a smile. “You’ve always made this face when there was something serious going on. So, I know you’re not here to chat about the Rice Krispies treats.” Fresler’s dad finishes his snack and folds his hands on the table in front of him, waiting expectantly.

“Well…” Fresler begins, a little caught off-guard. “You’re right. I wanted to talk with you about your blood test.”

“Did the doctors find something wrong?” Lars lowers his voice.

“No, Dad. You’re fine. It’s more to do with… both of our blood tests, actually.” Fresler lets out a soft grunt of frustration. He has no idea how to start, and the thought of watching Lars’ face crumple in shock and pain turns his guts to sludge.

Lars offers a sympathetic smile and pats his hand. “I’ve been doing some thinking about all of this… your being immune and this vaccine, and I have to say, it all makes sense to me.”

Fresler chokes on his own saliva as he sucks in air too fast. “It does?” he coughs out, eyes watering.

Lars slams his back with a palm. “Yes. I think God chose you for this. Since you were a baby, I’ve known you were different. Special.”

Fresler scratches his chin, his breathing back to normal. “Different… how?”

“You were always so much more empathetic, kind-hearted, and compassionate than anyone I had ever known. And you were never sick. Not from anything. Not even a single cold or flu bug… nothing. In my book, that’s a miracle. I don’t think I ever really appreciated that until yesterday, when we learned about your blood being used as a vaccine. It all started to make sense. God chose you for this, Fresler.”

“I don’t think I was chosen, Dad.”

“You were, Fresler. And to think that I had a small part in all of this. That I helped create you and raise you. I have always been proud that you were my son. You’re so amazing.” Lars’ smile is bright enough to blind Fresler with tears, but he tries to keep his face cheery as Lars continues. “But to know that I had a small part in saving millions of lives… I can’t tell you how that makes me feel. I have led a very simple life. I’m just an accountant from Norway. I have never done anything remarkable, but this…” Lars’ eyes glisten in the overhead light. “I’m so proud to be your father.”

Fresler wipes away the tears that have formed in the corners of his eyes. “I love you, Dad. And I’m proud that you’re my father.”

Lars nods. “So, back to the blood test. You’re sure everything was normal?”

Fresler studies the familiar lines of his dad’s face. “Yes, everything was normal.” He can’t bring himself to tell his dad the truth. Not now. Maybe not ever.

“Fresler! There you are.” William’s booming voice reaches them well before his average stride brings him to their table. He looks between Fresler and Lars with interest. “Have you learned anything useful about—?”

Fresler jumps to his feet before William can spill any secrets. “Can we meet in private?”

“Of course. Let me loop in Rodney. We can use my office.” William steps away to contact the deputy director, nodding at Lars as he goes.

Fresler avoids Lars’ intense stare.

“Are you certain that everything is fine?” Lars asks.

“Yes, Dad.” Fresler smiles, even though he now knows his father can see right through him. “I’ll find you later, okay?” He follows William out of the room.

In William’s office, Fresler rushes through his mother’s story, never focusing too hard on William and Rodney for fear of what he’ll see in their expressions. He knows how the story sounds, but his intuition is screaming at him that the cave matters somehow.

“All three women fainted at the cave’s entrance,” Fresler finishes, “and all three women became unexpectedly pregnant.”

Rodney scowls. “I don’t see the connection. That’s coincidence, not causality.”

“The tour guide told them there were boulders by the cave entrance that would levitate at certain times,” Fresler repeats, silently begging them to get it … though he doesn’t really get it himself.

William and Rodney look at each other, but to Fresler’s relief, neither is smirking.

“Did your mother see the boulders levitating?” asks William slowly.

“No… but don’t you think it’s worth exploring further? Were there other women in Iceland who reported something similar, or just these three? Are there other places in the world where this has happened?”

William folds his hands atop the conference table. Thanks to this morphon, he’s learned that the world is a lot more mysterious than he’d imagined. Still—levitating boulders? Magical pregnancies? He’s not sure what to think.

“I doubt your mom’s fainting episode had anything to do with her pregnancy,” says Rodney, patting the table in Fresler’s general direction, like a guidance counselor at the end of his shift, quickly assuring an angsty teen his life is not ending. “Did she undergo any medical procedures around that time?”

“She told me she didn’t.”

“Forty-four is uncommon for a first pregnancy, but it’s not unheard-of,” Rodney goes on.

“My mother’s friend, Glendoris Jakobson, was forty-seven when she became pregnant. Even older than my mother, and even more rare for a successful pregnancy,” Fresler responds.

“I admit,” Rodney says with reluctance, “that is notable. What about the third woman?”

“Jalaine Bjorkman,” Fresler fills in. “She and her husband moved back to Sweden not long after their daughter was born.”

William sits up straighter. “Bjorkman… Where have I heard that name before?”

Rodney squints as he thinks. “The Bjorkmans moved to Sweden? I wonder…” His eyebrows rise toward his receding hairline. “The woman that developed the European vaccine is from Sweden. Karena Wilson. I wonder if Karena came into contact with Jalaine Bjorkman’s daughter, and that’s how she was able to develop a vaccine. There is no possible way that Karena could have developed a cure on her own, without one of the three immune individuals’ blood.”

“That’s a pretty big leap,” William says.

“It’s more of a connection than we’ve found thus far,” Rodney counters.

“That name… Bjorkman sounds familiar.” William logs into his computer and begins scrolling. “I saved an article a few years ago on my hard drive… I was fascinated by Karena’s research in nuclear fusion. Her research would have profoundly changed energy consumption on this planet.” William taps his mousepad. “Here it is. The article talks about Karena’s background.”

Rodney and Fresler watch without interrupting as William intently stares at his computer screen, scanning the article.

William’s eyes light up. “That’s it!” he says with a triumphant grin. “Karena Wilson, the woman that developed the vaccine—her maiden name is Bjorkman.”

The news jolts Fresler like an earthquake. He grips the edge of the conference table to steady himself.

“Karena must have discovered she was immune,” William muses, “and used her own blood to develop the cure.”

Rodney walks around William’s desk to see the computer screen for himself. As his eyes skim the page, he murmurs, “Karena Wilson is the daughter of Jalaine Bjorkman. She’s one of the three immune individuals.” He looks at Fresler. “You were right. The cave in Iceland is the key somehow.”

Fresler looks at William. “That means that Erik Jakobson has to be the third immune person.”

William tilts his head. “You know him well?”

“I used to. The Jakobsons moved to Minnesota not long after Erik was born. We would visit them each year. My parents owned a vacation home in northern Minnesota. That’s where Sharon and I were living when the pandemic struck.”

“That’s amazing. Do you know if Erik still lives in Minnesota?” asks Rodney.

“No, we didn’t keep in contact after the funeral.”

“Funeral?” William asks.

“His father passed away when Erik was a senior in high school. Not long after that, his mother committed suicide. It was very tragic.” Fresler pauses, thinking about the older couple, his parents’ friends. “Erik ended up going to the University of Minnesota. I followed him on Facebook, but he didn’t post often the past few years.”

“We need to track him down. Hopefully he is still living in Minnesota,” says Rodney.

“Did you ever meet Karena?” asks William.

“Yes, although I barely remember her. Their family would visit Erik’s family every so often. Glendoris and Jalaine were good friends. My mom told me that when I was ten, they visited us in Minnesota. She took a picture of the three of us together that summer. She said she was amazed by how similar we looked. I do remember how people would comment that Erik and I looked like brothers… except of course for the color of our hair. He has blond hair and, well…” Fresler runs a hand over his head. “Mine is red.”

William lowers his computer screen for a better view around the table. “We need to find out who is responsible for this virus. I’m now convinced that it starts with that cave in Iceland. I’m not sure how the cave relates to three women getting pregnant, but I suspect that learning who your biological father is, Fresler, will give us some important clues.”

Fresler’s head is spinning. He has two half-siblings. His father, whoever he is, may have caused a global pandemic. Some genes he’s got. “Do you think it’s possible that one person could be responsible for this virus?” he asks, a bitter taste in his mouth. “How could a single individual be so powerful—or so evil?”

“Who knows?” William shakes his head.

“Karena, Erik, and I must have that same unknown blood type. That would make us genetically related to someone or some group that purposely killed over eight billion people.” Fresler’s voice cracks. “What were they trying to achieve?”

“Unfortunately, their message didn’t say anything other than to find the three of you.” William hops to his feet, looking energized. “I will arrange a flight to Sweden,” he says, ticking off the to-do list on his fingers even as he creates it. “We need to talk with Karena, and then we need to visit this cave in Iceland.”

Rodney nods, the ghost of a grin pulling on his thin lips. “I’ll supervise the continued production of the vaccine.”

Fresler follows the two men to the office door, infected by their enthusiasm and sense of duty, but a wistful sadness stirs deep within him. He thinks about Sharon, and everything she and the others in their group have been through. He thinks about his Minnesota cabin, and his folding chair overlooking the rushing river. He thinks about how nice it would be to go home and live a simple, peaceful life. He and Sharon could take his parents with them. They could build another cabin on the property and all live in quiet comfort together.

It’s a pretty dream, but that’s all it is: a dream. Still, he can protect it and peek at it every now and then. It may be attainable … but not anytime soon. Right now, he is needed elsewhere.

Fresler catches William’s arm and looks him in the eye. “Tell me what you need from me,” he says. “Tell me what to do and where to go. I’m ready.”

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