The raging fire spun around and around his head burning his skin, before spiralling around him and crushing his whole body like a boa constrictor. As he became a mass of burning pulp, balance abandoned him and he melted, flowing onto the floor and forming a puddle. The devil’s had come. They had come to him now. Their rage showed no respite. The air around him froze. He re-discovered his arms an legs and pulled them close to his body, hugging them to find the suddenly absent warmth. But they were made of ice, he couldn’t move them anymore and they offered no comfort. He shivered on the floor, unable to stop. They poked red hot spears into his frozen side and he screamed.
“Mercy!” he cried out loud. “Mercy me. I deh repent…merc-y…” his cries descended into sobs as his body threw his limbs out into a star shape on the floor suddenly. His spine arched backwards and his jaw locked open. The pressure under his skin rose and rose and rose. The air was forced out of his lungs and he couldn’t breathe. He was held there rigid on his back, his body locked to the floor with weights. The darkness at the edge of his vision began to creep inwards and he felt the mercy of unconsciousness embracing him. Then suddenly he was released. He shrivelled, gasping for air and drained of his energy.
He coughed blood.
There was banging on the door.
“You ai safe Raie? What deh cry!?” came the panicked voice on the other side of the door.
“Stay you.” he croaked. “Stay you Taui. Devil’s here. Devil’s in me. Here’s no good for you.” His brother was outside. He had to keep the devil’s away from his family. He must find the priest and he musn’t let the devil’s use his eyes to see his family. Not his family too.
The banging on the door became stronger. Each smash hit him hard in the head, pulping another part of his brain every time. Why was there banging? His brother was trying to break in. That couldn’t happen.
“No brother! Stay you!” he cried in panic. He welled the dregs of his strength up within himself and dragged himself up onto his feet using the table. As he braced himself with his arm, his arm slipped and knocked a food pack to the floor spreading it everywhere.
The frame shattered, the door flew open and his brother was standing in the door way.
“Raie! What de cry?” he said, uncertain suddenly now he saw Raie inside the room.
“No! Get back Taui!” shouted Raie. He had to shut the door , the devil’s could not be allowed to see his brother or he would be lost too. He grabbed for everything he had left within him and threw himself toward the door. As his hand grabbed it to push it shut, his foot missed the floor and he fell forward. His brother grabbed the door and kept it open while his body twisted as he fell. His head struck the frame before his body hit the floor.
Then there was darkness.
His dreams swirled. He surfed the fires of hell without being burnt. He faced the devil’s that surrounded him and he prevailed. He was the future and he was the past. He was everything and it was good. Then he was pulled down in to the depths of the darkness, and forced toward the light.
Anna looked down the line of isolation tanks in the hospital and sighed with the weight of an age and experience far beyond her years. She had arrived on Isa IV four months ago as part of a six month rotation of volunteers. When she heard about the crisis she had signed up with a corporate initiative within 3 days but it took a year to have her application processed and accepted. She had finished her medical studies only two years before with a specialism in the virology of the Isa system and was desperate to get out there to see what she had studied in the field. She had been fascinated by the history of Isa IV when she was young. Earth had lost contact with the colony during the Last World War and failed to re-establish it again for 235 years. Obviously the corporations had arrived to reclaim their long lost worlds not long after that and had found fairly significant resistance from a planet that had been developing its own post-technological society for five generations. The new society had suffered when Earth had first gone dark from a lack of resources, food, and local knowledge. A black market for technology had lead to warring factions in the two temporary cities which in turn lead to a disconnected diaspora of scared citizens escaping to try their luck in the wilderness. From a planet of desperation and crime though arose a phoenix of human survival.
A returning corporate government had now been sitting on the planet for 85 years and still really had no reach and no control over the incredible world.
The 24 isolation tanks had been installed by the first teams just over a year beforehand. The silver metal beds sat on a curved pedestal and a were covered by a glass dome that mirrored the shape of the base. On top of the dome like a crown was mounted the IMI and monitoring equipment required by the doctors to treat their patients without sharing in their tiny prisons of safety. She walked down the aisle formed between two rows of tanks which they had installed in the local hospital. It was a long dead and decaying dropship from the first settlers. It had been repaired and upgraded over the years by the Isans, but it was a dirty shell of a facility and they had been overrun when the Mensha C virus had gone epidemic. The PPE suit she wore had been getting heavier while she had been here. The volunteers were on a strict rotation because their bodies adapted to the lighter gravity on Isa reasonably quickly. Her muscles were already wasting away with their lack of use and the suit was starting to feel the same as it had on earth during training. It was hot here too.
Anna looked into the domes on her left and right as she passed. These people had been saved, the tanks were keeping them unconscious and they looked calm and peaceful. Dr. Creole and his team had developed a cure and a vaccine for the virus within 3 months of being on the planet by developing and manufacturing an adenovirus vector based on a naturally occurring Isan viral enemy of Mensha. These people had been treated and were being monitored during their bodies’ natural recovery. They just lay there, safe in their protection bubbles while their body was a hive of activity. After three days in the tanks, they would be discharged back into the world.
The difficulty with the control of the epidemic had not been so much of a medical challenge. Medical facilities on Isa had been overrun at first, but some of the more switched on medical professionals here (none of whom Anna seemed to have met as yet) had identified the epidemic quickly and the corporation had sent aid. The problem was cultural. Ninety percent of the population of the planet did not recognise the government here and 60% of those towns or tribes or social territories or whatever you wanted to call them had been quite happily using a medical system of outdated pre-abandonment technology or prayer or magic or hallucinogenic tree roots for generations now. Corporate teams had arrived on the planet and moved quickly, spreading to all the communities of Isa IV a great deal faster than the virus had in order to gather data. The first thing the locals saw was a group of foreign ‘heathens’ who came into their community with their magic tricks and strange languages and then left behind them a trail of dead. These advanced study teams were military scientists and they had collected data for Dr. Creole and his team with a haste that had led directly to the cure for the disease but had destroyed all trust between the corporate doctors and the population. This was inflamed by a strict policy of not administering care to any patients who didn’t want it, as was ethical.
The tide had turned now, 15 months after the outbreak. Outside this hospital, which was one of hundreds of local setups throughout the single continent of Isa IV, a diagnosis ward had been tacked on to the building, like a canvas conservatory, through which all patients passed. The patients were first and foremost tested for Mensha, and then all sent through to a treatment ward where an extensive corporation enforced interview was held. They were interrogated on a whole host of personal details and profiling data before having the cure or the vaccine administered. The government was using the opportunity to engage with a planet wide census. Mensha patients were either hallucinating or unconscious during this process. The worst part though was a lot of these patients had not come into the hospital with Mensha. She had watched a child with what she suspected was a ruptured spleen getting interviewed and treated for Mensha whilst doubled over and wincing in pain for just less than half an hour. It wasn’t ideal. The number of patients now re-emerging from the other side of their hospitals with a clean bill of health had started to win over the hearts and minds of the Isans though. That and a planet wide awareness campaign.
She sighed again, and slid open the door to the treatment ward, stepped forward into the chaos that so contrasted the calm of the recovery room behind her. She turned and closed it securely behind her. There were 4 fellow volunteers in the ward. Each was in a separate bay in their PPE, interviewing and treating patients often surrounded by panicked family and friends. Two of the patients were unconscious while her colleagues were interviewing the people who had brought the patient in. One patient had lock jaw, and Dr. Jasti was trying to extract information from him it would seem using a pen an paper and one patient had been strapped down and was screaming at an invisible spectre. Anna was unable to stop herself from sighing again as she tried to block out the noise of her fellow medical professionals trying to extract medical histories in an accented mixture of English and Chinese that they were picking up as they went along.
She stepped into her bay, pulled out her terminal and logged onto the system, notifying the diagnosis ward she was ready for patients. The triage nurse came through half a minute later in her PPE followed by the standard entourage of an unconscious patient on a bed, two Isan ordelies protected by flimsy cotton masks and whoever had brought this poor soul in. In this case a timid looking man with a small beard looking at his feet.
“Morning Dr. Schnieler. How ya feeling?” The nurse was new, and her consistently bright personality had been keeping Anna’s spirits up.
“Yeah Grace I’m good how are you.” she replied.
“Ah man I still can’t believe how much lighter this suit is here. S’not so bad at all ya know.” Anna’s suit suddenly seemed a lot heavier again. But the bushy-tailed tone made her smile.
“What’ve we got first then?”
“This here,” the nursed gestured to the patient who was being wheeled into the bay “is Raie. This is his brother Taui.” she gestured to the timid man who was interacting quietly with the ordelies who were listening intently. “He says Raie has been suffering from fits and hallucinations that fit with the symptoms and has been unconscious for three hours now. He insists he hasn’t had a bump on the head, but we’ve stitched up a small laceration on the left side just above his ear.”
“Thanks Grace.” Anna dismissed her. The ordelies were strapping the patient to the bed very carefully. “I don’t think that’ll be…sorry…you neh want for that.” she said to the ordelies, trying her best with the dialect she had been practicing. It was almost just accented English more than a dialect in this territory, but she still couldn’t get the hang of it. They both looked at her and ignored her, finished the strapping and followed the nurse back out of the room. Today was a day for sighing, she did so again.
“Taui. You deh Taui yes? Come Taui sit, we talk.” she invited. Taui shuffled back and forth on his feet, then pulled the chair she gestured to a little further from her and, without taking his eyes off his feet, sat down.
She pulled out her terminal and brought up the interview form. First question.
“This you brother Taui? This Raie?” she asked. She paused. Nothing. “Taui? You wit me?”
“He gan kill me. He say them doctors deh bad.” Confidence had found him and Taui looked up sharply, she saw deep set fear in his eyes. The patient stirred but didn’t wake.
“No Taui, I ai no devil. I come here and I deh help Isa. I deh help you. Promise.” Anna pulled over her kit. “Look Taui close.” She pulled out the BAU first. “These my tools, this one look for ill. It tell me where ill is. I poke you, I press here and then screen deh tell me ill or no ill.” She put the unit down and picked up two autoshots. “Then if ill, I deh push this red one on you skin, and you better, three days. If no ill, same green one and you no get ill. No fear here, no pain.”
Taui looked at the autoshots. “Look I close?” she let him handle the autoshots. “Just push, and done?”
“Yeah. No more ill.” She smilled at him as warmly as she could muster. Taui was distracted as Raie stirred again and started to grunt. He was starting to regain consciousness. Taui turned back to her again.
“I ai no scared of doctors, but he deh say no. You do him now. He is awake, he deh make trouble. You do him now.” Taui was growing tense. Anna realised he hadn’t been scared of her, he had been scared of his brother.
“No Taui, we won’t do nothing out his say-so. You, me, him, we talk. He good. Three days, he good.” She could see he was growing more nervous as Raie started to wake up. Something about his apprehension nagged at her instincts, but she retained that professional calm tone she had practiced for so many years.
The patient’s chest suddenly arched upward with a sharp intake of breath. The roar started as a grumble in the back of his throat and crescendoed to a bloodcurdling noise as he slowly sat up, his head and neck catching up with his chest. His eyes opened when his breath ran out. They darted left and right, up and down. A conscious realisation descended over him in slow motion. The two ordelies stepped back onto the ward responding to the noise and looked over nervously.
Anna waved them away, but they stayed by the door and whispered to each other.
“Raie. I Anna, you safe here. You good, you hospital.” she reached out her hands towards him with what she thought was a reassuring gesture.
He turned his head to her sharply, his eyes were so bloodshot they appeared red.
“DEVIL! YOU NO TAKE ME DEVIL!” Raie followed with a roar as he tried to raise his arms and when he felt the strapping, he strained against it with the roar. The ordelies began to rush over, but before they could arrive, Raie broke the strap from the bed with the arm furthest from Anna.
“No brother! No! Be still.” Taui dived in towards the bed. Anna tried to back away to let the ordelies in, but got caught in her suit. Raie spun his fist across towards her and it struck her faceplate disintegrating the glass and knocking her off the chair and onto her back. The ordelies arrived and held the screaming patient down while the contamination alarms went off in the ward reacting to Anna’s suits damaged faceplate.
“No brother! Be still.” Taui protested.
“YOU DEH BRING ME HERE! YOU NAH BROTHER! YOU DEVIL TOO!” Raie was like a wild animal, the ordelies struggled to restrain his one free arm and it got free and a punch glanced off one of their cheeks. He took it in his stride and they regained control, but they couldn’t hold the incensed man down for long.
Anna came to her senses as staff in PPE rushed into the ward. She reacted quickly. She crawled back toward the bed, pulled herself to her feet and grabbed a sedative autoshot out of her kit. She saw Raie’s bare leg, still restrained, stepped behind the orderley and forced the shot into his thigh. Raie became drowsy quickly and the room became calm almost as quickly as it had all erupted. He looked up at his brother.
“Why brother? Why you deh kill me?” he mumbled, still restrained by the two orderlies. Taui reached down to the red autoshot and before anyone could stop him, shoved it into Raie’s neck.
“I ai saving you brother. I deh see you, not long.” he said to Raie as he faded into unconsciousness open mouthed and trying to scream.
Anna stepped out of the hospital. She had her pack and was making her way to the port to get the transport back to the corporation deep space transport. It took her a few seconds to recognise the two men who waited outside for her.
“Doctor, we hear you leaving, go home.” Taui greeted her.
“That’s right Taui, you good? Who this then?” Anna smiled. Raie who stood next to his brother looking at his shoes, not in a dissimilar way to Taui when he had entered the treatment ward a month earlier. He looked up slowly. Then back down again.
“We come…we come so I deh say thank you doctor.” He looked up and caught her eye. “You deh save me.” They turned and walked away together. Taui turned to smile at her as they went. She sighed.