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Seth Robinson

I’ve never gotten used to the liquid breakfast, but it’s the only way to get all the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and steroids you need for a healthy body — and a half-way healthy mind — without an all-day IV. My father was basically held together with spackle and Band-Aids by the time he hit fifty. He was forever complaining about his bad knee, swollen prostate and herniated discs. I just noticed my first grey hair, so the shakes work, but eating through a straw doesn’t have the charm of pancakes.

I can’t remember the last time I had pancakes.

I watched as all those essentials liquified into a pinky-orange goo. The blender stopped, and I realised the door buzzer was going.

‘Mornin’, Doc. It’s Ollie.’

‘Come on up.’

I unlocked the door and Ollie came in, unshouldering her industrial, liquid nitrogen cool pack. There was a pistol on her hip.

‘That’s new.’

‘Courier got stabbed right around the corner from here. Supply is running thin, hijackings are going up. You should probably start carrying too.’

I carried pepper spray, but I’d never thought about getting a gun.

‘I’ll keep that in mind.’

She shrugged and opened up her bag, fanning away the nitrogen fog. ‘I’ve got measles, whooping cough, cholera, heps A through C, and pigeon lung.’

‘Pigeon lung?’

‘Apparently it’s on the rise.’

‘Does it have good shelf life?’

‘Ninety days.’

‘I’ll take everything, thanks. I’ll make the transfer now.’


She started unloading, and I got my tablet out to make payment. ‘Can you get me some HPV boosters and some more tetanus?’

‘HPV is easy. I’ll have to get back to you on tetanus.’

I glanced up at my new stock on the bench. ‘Ollie, there aren’t any seals on the measles.’

‘They came from my usual source. HG approved, they just haven’t been tagged yet.’

‘You know I can’t take them. I’ll lose my A-Class if I do. You got any tagged? I’m out of measles and I’m seeing a new client this morning.’

‘Sorry Doc, like I said, pipelines are at a trickle these days. These were all I could get.’

‘I’ll go by the market. I’ve already transferred the funds, give me a credit?’


The market was already buzzing. There were rows upon rows of Vax stands, both Health General regulated and not, their vials either sealed with that all-important red sticker, or bootlegged. The vast majority of unregulated Vax’s were fine. Usually, they came from the same factory and just got pulled into distribution before going through quality control. It made them cheaper — affordable even — for all the people who didn’t have VaxPlans.

It used to be that vaccines lasted for years. Some of them even covered you for a lifetime, but then the bugs evolved along with our morning regimens and medical treatments, and while we developed a suite of vaccines for everything from Chlamydia to Cancer, the coverage they offered shifted from years to months, or even weeks.

There was a stand-up ahead with the red neon of the HG needle-tick, where I knew the vendor.

‘Morning, Doc! Long time no see. How can I help you?’

‘Morning, Len. I’m after Measles?’

‘We’re low on sealed. I’ve only got two. We’re stretched thin at the moment.’

‘So, I’ve heard. I’ll take them both.’


It took me two trains and another hour to reach Tower Town. Normally, it took half that time, but the market detour cost me. It was a geographical separation I thought about a lot. Even if I could afford to live in the Towers, I would be too far removed from the markets and the local courier routes. That was really what the denizens of Tower Town were paying for when they hired a Booster, A-grade supply and a doctor who was willing to commute.

Eighty per cent of my clients lived in Tower Town, so I was a familiar face for the guard in the lobby. He smiled as I waved my A-Class at him.

‘Good to see you, Doc. Are you here for Mr Yeoman?’

‘Not until this afternoon. This morning I’m seeing a Ms Mary Wilcox. She’s a new client.’

‘Perfect, just sign in please.’

I crossed the lobby to the elevators. Every surface was white marble and gleaming chrome, with real ferns positioned for strategic splashes of colour. The guards’ uniforms were grey on white, so they melted into the marble room. It was an intentional chameleon effect. They were ever present, but nearly invisible.

The guard punched the button for me, and I rode the elevator up to the 127th floor — the highest up the tower I’d been — to the home of Ms Mary Wilcox.

‘Ms Wilcox,’ I called out gently. ‘I’m here for our ten o’clock.’ I glanced down at my watch. It was ten on the dot, and a minor miracle that I managed to make it in time.

‘Of course, please come in.’

I navigated around a wall and into the main living space, where there was a sunken sitting area with a gas fireplace and windows on three sides. It was in an Art Deco style, with real wood furniture, and a view that was absolutely breathtaking. The entire city spread out below, its grid of roads and train lines like a concrete chessboard.

‘It’s quite something, isn’t it?’ The woman on the couch was slender bordering on underweight, but her skin was smooth and rosy and her eyes were bright. She was wearing a linen shift dress that looked easy and relaxed but probably cost more than my apartment. ‘I can lose whole days looking that way. Please, take a seat.’

I joined her in the pit and opened up my bag. ‘Ms Wilcox, it’s a pleasure to meet you.’

‘Mary. And the pleasure is all mine.’

‘Mary, then. So, we’re doing the standard package?’


I prepped the first of my syringes and readied a Band-Aid.

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t bring any lollipops today.’

It was an old joke, but it always got a smile.

‘I suppose at my age I should be kind to my teeth,’ she flashed a perfectly maintained set of veneers as the needle sunk into her arm. ‘I suppose that’s not something you worry about, is it, Doctor? You’re young, in your prime. Do you mind if I ask how old you are?’

I drew the needle out and set it in the plastic tray.

‘Other arm, please. And, no, I don’t mind. I’m fifty-six.’

‘And you don’t look a day over thirty,’ Ms Wilcox turned and offered me her other arm. ‘I know you’re not going to ask how old I am, but I’m going to tell you anyway. It’s my birthday in a few weeks. I’ll be 104.’

I would have said a fit sixty.

‘Happy Birthday, and congratulations. Triple digits. Do you have any advice?’

‘Oh, nothing I imagine you don’t know already, Doctor. Don’t smoke.’

I chuckled. It’d been at least ten years since you could get cigarettes on the black market. Twenty since they were legal.

‘Your boosters are all done, now I just need to stay and observe you for fifteen minutes, to make sure you don’t have any kind of reaction.’

‘Would you like a cup of coffee while we wait?’


‘How do you take it?’

‘Black is great, thanks.’

I set about packing up. A housekeeper appeared a moment later, bearing twin coffee cups on a tray. I had no idea how my order had been communicated, but these were the sort of minor miracles I’d come to expect in Tower Town. I always said yes to offered coffee, otherwise these fifteen-minute windows could be painfully awkward.

It meant I was always over-caffeinated.

‘You came highly recommended.’ Mary said.

‘I have some wonderful clients.’

‘Yes, most of my neighbours it seems. When I put the word out that I was looking for a new Booster, they were lining up to sing your praises.’

I had trouble imagining the people of Tower Town lining up for anything.

‘That’s wonderful to hear,’ something twigged for me then. ‘May I ask why you were looking for a new Booster? Was there an issue with a previous doctor? Anything I should be aware of?’

‘And smart too, good. No, I’ve not previously engaged a Booster. I suppose you’ve heard of WilVax?’

‘Why yes, I just used their vaccines on you,’ I got it then. ‘Wilcox. WilVax is your company?’

‘Yes, I started the company with my late husband. He focused on the science, I took care of the business. We’ve been fortunate.’

‘And I suppose you have some sort of company doctor whose been taking care of you then?’


‘Can I ask why the change?’

‘I was hoping you would.’ The timer chimed, and I set my cup aside. ‘Do you have to go now, or can you stay a few more minutes?’ She asked.

I glanced at my watch. I had another appointment on the 80th floor, but I had time. I always left a buffer, and speaking to Mary Wilcox was certainly more interesting than waiting in the hallway.

‘I have a few minutes.’

She smiled. ‘I wonder, Doctor. Have you ever heard of InfiniVax™?’

‘I don’t think so, no…’.

Mary Wilcox’s eyes sparkled.

‘Not by name, perhaps, but I would hazard a guess you’re familiar with the concept.’

‘I’ve heard rumours.’

It was an urban legend that had been around for years, that the drug companies had developed a single-dose, full-coverage vaccine. One super shot, no more sickness, disease, death. It was the Holy Grail of medicine.

‘Do you believe them?’

‘It would be a miraculous discovery. Though given the challenges…’ I shrugged.

‘If it did come about, it would probably put both of us out of business.’ She said.

‘Well yes, that’s true.’

‘You’re not bothered by that?’ she asked.

‘Honestly, no. There are other ways I could spend my time. We’ll always need doctors, I could go set broken bones in an ER.’

‘Interesting.’ Mary paused, and drummed her fingernails on the porcelain cup. ‘Would you believe me if I told you that we’d done it?’

Inwardly, I was screaming, but I was trying to keep it together and maintain my professional demeanour.

‘It would change… everything.’

‘That’s not a no. So, smart, and a believer. You’re quite the find, Doctor.’

‘So, it’s true?’

‘My husband had a protégé, a Doctor Ashbourne. He seems to have cracked it. So far we’re at twelve-months coverage without issue.’ She smiled. ‘Remember, Doctor, that everything I’m telling you here is covered under doctor-patient confidentiality.’

‘Why y-yes. Of course,’ it was my first stutter, the excitement was too much.

‘It hasn’t received HG approval yet. But as you can imagine, we have some interested parties. Many of them are on your client list.’

And suddenly it all made sense.

‘You want me to distribute?’

Her eyes lit up.


‘If it’s not HG approved, then I can’t, I’d lose my A-Class.’

‘Doctor, I’m asking you to be part of the biggest medical breakthrough in history.’


My appointment with Mr Yeoman passed in a daze. We exchanged pleasantries, I gave him his smallpox booster, and then I smiled and nodded through a diatribe about the immorality of internet bloggers banding together to manipulate stock prices. The whole time I was there, one word was echoing through my head.

InfiniVax™. InfiniVax™. InfiniVax™.

Mary Wilcox had set up an appointment with Dr Ashbourne, so as soon as I was done with Mr Yeoman I jumped back on the train to the CBD. If InfiniVax™ was real, it was a fix for the leak in our fountain of youth. It could end the plagues and pandemics, and lift millions — maybe billions — of people out of poverty.

The WilVax building was just around the corner from the train station. I smiled and waved my ID at a guard, who escorted me to an elevator and sent me up to the sixth floor, where I met Dr Ashbourne.

‘Doctor,’ he said.

‘Doctor,’ I replied.

Ashbourne was on the slight side. He had thinning, red-brown hair and a compensating beard. His face was heavily lined, and his grey eyes looked tired. It was a little surprising, when Mary Wilcox referred to him as her husband’s protégé I’d imagined someone younger. He impressed me as one of those rare men who wore his real age.

‘Come through, please,’ he led me into an airlock, and then the lab. There was an office space to one side, with a couple of chairs and a desk. ‘Take a seat.’

‘Thank you,’ I couldn’t hold it back. ‘Is it true?’

Ashbourne’s eyebrows climbed up towards his receding hairline. ‘Yes, it is.’

‘That’s incredible!’

‘It is,’ a smile tickled the corner of his mouth. ‘Sometimes, I have trouble believing it myself.’

‘Can you tell me how you —’

‘I’m afraid that’s all proprietary. You wouldn’t believe the paperwork legal had us fill out. I basically can’t tell you anything about it, just that it works. I’m not even supposed to say its name.’

‘Oh, I already know. Ms Wilcox said.’

‘Just don’t say it out loud. I’m going to give you a cool bag and a list. As far as you’re concerned, it’s just another day on the job.’

‘I take it the patients all know what they’re receiving?’

‘They do. They’ve been on this waiting list for quite some time. I think they’ll all be excited to see you,’ he stood. ‘Well, I suppose I should get you your bag, and you can get on the road.’


‘There’s no time like the present.’


I supposed this would be my last visit to the home of Gail Poulos. She wouldn’t be a client after this. Nor would Mr Yeoman, Mr Browning, Ms Dale, Mr and Mrs Li, Mr and Mrs Stallard, the list went on.

Unlike most of my clients, Gail Poulos didn’t live in Tower Town. She had a grand Victorian manor, right on the park. It was walking distance from my own apartment, so rather than catching a train to my first InfiniVax™ appointment, I took a nice stroll, soaking up the sun as couriers zipped past, and young families walked their dogs and babies. When I reached her house, I buzzed and spoke into the intercom.

‘Good Evening, Ms Poulos.’

‘Doctor? I didn’t realise we had an appointment?’

‘I’m here for your general wellness consultation?’

When Ashbourne gave me that code phrase I cringed. It was a string of vague, nonsense syllables.

‘Of course, please come in.’

The gate clicked open and I followed the garden path up to the front door, where Ms Poulos greeted me. All of this took place under the watchful eye of a dozen CCTV cameras. If anyone ever looked at the camera footage or the visitors’ log, my showing up with this shot would just be the last in a long list of visits.

‘I didn’t realise it would be you coming today, Doctor.’

‘I was just approached by the company.’

‘Well, it’s nice to have a familiar face.’

Ms Poulos escorted me to the lounge room. She was a spry ninety-five, quick and graceful on her feet. ‘I can’t believe that this is the last one these I’m ever going to get.’

‘It’s a marvel of modern medicine,’ I said. ‘Truly.’


An eye-watering amount of money landed in my account that night. I supposed for most of my clients it might not be much, but for me, it was retirement money. The phone rang a few minutes later. The caller ID read ‘Secure Line’.



I recognised Ashbourne’s voice and smiled.


‘I take it your first appointment went well?’

‘It did, the patient was happy. No complaints at all. It’s hard to believe that I won’t need to see her again.’

‘Well, this is still technically a clinical trial. There may need to be some kind of follow-up.’

‘Of course.’

‘And you received your consultancy fee?’

‘I did, thank you. It was…’ I wasn’t sure how to describe it.

‘Yes, the company takes a generous position when it comes to remuneration. You’ll receive a deposit of that amount for each dose you administer.’

‘I’m sorry, for each dose?’


I’d thought it was a one-off payment. The muscles in my jaw had stopped working.

‘I take it from your silence that you find this agreeable?’

‘I… uh. Yes… yes…’

‘Good. Well, you have your list for this week. They aren’t formal appointment times, but the clients will be waiting for you on the day. We wanted to allow some flexibility for travel. You’ll contact me if there are any issues?’

‘Yes, of course. Thank you, Doctor.’


I caught the first train of the morning back to Tower Town and was there — coffee in hand — to watch the sun creep up from behind the row of skyscrapers. They shifted from purple-black on gold to shining silver on blue in a matter of minutes. Looking up at them, it was hard to believe people lived there. It was even harder to believe that I’d been up there, that I was on my way up there now. They seemed so disconnected from everything around me.

I supposed that was kind of the point.

I made my way through the lobby, going through the motions of check-in, then I rode the elevator up to see the next name on the list: Mr Browning.

Mr Browning’s apartment on forty-three was only a quarter of the floor, unlike the palatial Wilcox residence, but the gilded foyer was still enough to remind me that my annual salary was probably on par with what Mr Browning’s ‘lunch money’.

Mr Browning was a gnome of a man, with solarium-toned skin and a waxy, hairless scalp. He’d always reminded me of a potato. It was an unkind comparison, but he was a rather unkind man, so I allowed myself.

‘Doc. You’re here. It’s early.’

‘My apologies, Mr Browning. I have quite a tight schedule today, and I understand you’re eager for your general wellness consultation.’

Browning scowled. It took him a lot longer to figure it out than Ms Poulos.

‘Come on then.’

I set up on the coffee table while Browning made a fuss of taking off his robe.

‘Well, it’s about time they came out with this one, hey Doc?’

‘It’s truly a wonder. You must be very pleased.’

He grunted. ‘Have you had it?’

I shook my head. I realised I‘d been so awed by the situation, the idea hadn’t even occurred to me.

‘Not yet. I believe there’s a significant waiting list. Of course, I’ll be eager to roll up my sleeve as soon as it’s available.’

‘But it’s all been tested? It works?’

‘I understand the results have been very impressive. Twelve months coverage so far, and counting.’

‘Better get on with it then.’

I sunk the needle into Browning’s arm and pressed the plunger on his first — and last — dose of InfiniVax™.


The numbers in my bank account climbed, and the names on my list dwindled. It seemed all of my platinum needle clients were somehow connected to Mary Wilcox and had worked their way into the InfiniVax™ trial.

I was in the lab, watching Ashbourne load my case when a thought occurred to me. ‘How long until we get HG approval? Surely, we’ve got plenty of data from the trial? It’s been three months.’

‘I suppose we should expect preliminary results soon. We’ll have to get some of the clients in for bloodwork. I’ll let you know.’

‘Of course.’

I took my case and left without any more chat. Ashbourne was already busy with something at his desk.

I didn’t have any more appointments that day, and there was something about the buzz of the markets that was beckoning. I thought back on that moment in Mary Wilcox’s apartment — seeing the sprawl of the city below — and realised I wanted to be part of that, even if it was only for a minute. I’d been disconnected for weeks… no, months now.

I got off the train and wandered around the block to the main gate, squeezing to get passed the line for the HotDoc. There was a sign in the window for fifty per cent off whooping cough shots. Someone behind me coughed and I flinched. Old habits.

It occurred to me that I should have spoken to Ashbourne about being included in the trial. I’d been maintaining my usual regimen, but now that the initial stages were winding up, I wondered if I could slide into the second phase.

It would be quite nice, being invincible.

I wandered into the market proper and looked out at the throngs of people packed in amongst the stalls. It was all too tight, everyone brushing up against each other, breathing on each other. The whole thing was a breeding ground for infection. Ironic, given the purpose of the stalls.

Soon, it wouldn’t need to be here. I imagined what it would be like when the vials in my cool bag were at every, single one of these stalls. The lines would thin out, then dry up completely. Eventually, the whole market would disappear. The people would be able to afford food, and clothes, instead of spending eighty per cent of what they made on health insurance and cut-rate shots.

‘Hey, Doc.’

I turned. ‘Ollie, great to see you!’

‘Is it? I was starting to think you might be going with a different supplier?’

‘I’ve just been taking some time off,’ I smiled. I knew she meant it as a joke, but I still wanted to defuse the situation. She was packing, after all.

‘And now you’re getting back in? Or are you just sight-seeing?’

‘The latter.’

‘I probably would have gone down to the river or something, but, whatever works for you,’ she winked. ‘I gotta run. People and places, you know. But give me a call sometime.’


I watched her leave, then started the trip home, my thirst for human chaos quenched.


Red and blue lights strobed up ahead. There was an ambulance pulled up onto the bike path, a police car stopped alongside. The EMTs were wheeling a gurney out from a house I knew well. The figure on top was covered with a synthetic blue sheet.

Ms Poulos.

My own mental alarm bells joined the flashing lights. I spun on my heel, pulled my phone from my pocket, and dialled Ashbourne.

You’ve reached Dr Maurice Ashbourne. I’m afraid I’m unable to take your call at the moment, but if you leave your name and number, I will endeavour to return your call as soon as is practical.’


I hurried back to the train station and got on the first express for Tower Town.  My skin felt like it was three sizes too small and charged with static. When the train finally arrived, I barely managed to stop myself from sprinting all the way from the station to the Towers.

There were three ambulances parked outside, twice that many police cars. The red, white and blue flashes bathed the entire plaza. I saw another gurney coming out of the doors, only this time the patient was visible, Mr Browning, with a foil blanket pulled up to his chin and an oxygen mask over his face. We made eye contact, and I saw him struggle under the foil. I wheeled around before the accusation came and ran back to the station, redialling Ashbourne. I got his voicemail again.

‘Ashbourne — you fuck! Call me back!’

I hung up, and was about to get on the train when another thought hit me. I reached for my phone once more.

‘Hey, Doc.’

‘Ollie, hey. Tell me, can you get tester kits?’


The lights were off at the WilVax lab, the soft glow of computer screens the only illumination. Ashbourne was sitting with his feet on his desk, a coffee cup resting on his stomach. He watched silently as I tipped the cool bag and spilled the vials across his desk.

‘They’re saline.’ I said through gritted teeth.

Ashbourne’s eyes were glassy. His gaze was distant. He’d taken something.

‘You figured it out… I thought you would sooner. But greed… is a hell of a blinder.’

I melted down into the seat. Skipping through the stages of grief. Anger, moving quickly through to acceptance. My A-Class, was gone. What else? Prison, probably.

He was right. I should have tested the vials, but I didn’t question it. The money was part of it. Looking at the numbers in my account was a bit like looking at the sun, but it wasn’t just that. It was my ego. It was the rush I got from being on the inside. Greed, yes, maybe. Ambition, definitely.

‘Who was it?’ He asked.

‘Ms Poulos. I saw them wheeling her body out. Then I went to Tower Town and saw them bringing Mr Browning out with an oxygen mask.’

He nodded. The motion was sloppy, like he was losing control of his muscles. I wondered if a shot of adrenaline might save him, but I doubted it. Ashbourne had been planning this for a long time.

‘Wilcox died yesterday. Pneumonia. I managed to keep it quiet. The board agreed. It’s not a good look when the head of a vaccine company dies of something so preventable. Of course, most of them will be getting sick now. Same as all the others on your list.’

‘You murdered her. You murdered all of them.’

‘No. They stopped taking their other medications, their other boosters. Their ignorance killed them.’

‘Why did you do it?’

He put a great deal of effort into looking at me then.

‘The youngest… on your list was ninety years old, Doctor. Most of them… were their hundreds.’

‘What, so you were thinning the herd? You think they deserved to die?’

‘No… I did it, because… they were never going to share it. These were the richest… The platinum needle club, like you call them. We… we had the chance to change the world… to do something good, and these corrupt fucking centenarians wanted to keep it… fuck the people. Immortality was only ever meant for the rich.’

He moved to set his coffee cup down on the desk, but he spilled it. The liquid spread amongst the vials of saline, and I smelled something sickly sweet and chemical beneath the coffee.

‘Did it ever work?’ I asked.

‘Science… doesn’t lie… the reports were… real.’

‘You showed Wilcox, and then just had me administer the saline. Because it was an unofficial trial, it was easy for you to switch them out.’

He nodded. ‘And now… it’s your chance. Green lids.’ He pointed at the nearest fridge. There was a rack of vials on the top shelf, marked and separated from all the others. Everything else in the fridge was red. ‘Test them. Share them. Change the world,’ Ashbourne sagged back in his chair and took one last ragged breath. ‘Doctor.’

Ashbourne was gone.


I got up and went to the fridge. The vials were there, clear liquid, slightly foggy. They looked the same as the saline, but I could use Ollie’s testing kit and find out.

Then what?

I could take them to the HG and get them approved. Run a proper trial, get the treatment into hospitals and HotDocs all over the country.

All over the world.

I held the tray of vials in my hands, and my eyes drifted back to Ashbourne. The way he looked now, it was possible to believe he’d just fallen asleep at his desk, washed away by a wave of fatigue that’s caught up with him after too many long nights in the lab.

He’d been crushed under the weight of a world that refused to be changed. If this was the fate that was waiting for a man as brilliant as Ashbourne — the man who made the greatest scientific discovery in human history — I wondered what the fuck I could do?

My hands shook, and for a moment I thought about setting the vials back in the fridge. I imagined tipping them out on the surface of the desk and watching their precious formula blending with the spilled coffee, the clear liquid swirling amongst the dark, displacing it and painting a beautiful abstract of waste and death on the desktop.

I could turn around and walk away, and disappear into the mass of humanity out there on the street. An anonymous member of the many. It would do about as much good as trying to go through the system. Wilcox and the platinum needle club were gone, but there would be others.

There were sirens in the distance. A soft chirp, growing steadily louder. They stirred me from my indecision. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone.

‘Hey, Doc.’

‘Hey, Ollie. You know, I have something you might be interested in.’

Seth Robinson is an award-winning writer, podcaster, producer, and emerging academic. He is the author of Welcome to Bellevue (2020) the first full-length novel in Grattan Street Press’s original fiction collection. His work has been featured in publications such as Everything All at Once (The Ultimo Prize Anthology), Resilience (The Mascara Literary Review 15th anniversary collection), Aurealis Magazine, Kill Your Darlings, Meniscus, [untitled], Intermissions (the GSP Flash Fiction Anthology), and the University of Sydney Anthology, among others. You can find out more about Seth and his work at

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