writing

Plagues and other Problems

In a fit of insanity (yes, I know, those are common around here) I signed up for an 8:00 am lab. On the other campus. Which requires an hour drive to get to. So!

I will try to post later today, after I’m home from that part, before the next part, and definitely before the last part, because I also agreed to work a gig tonight, which just goes to show that those fits are far too frequent.

In the meantime, the first bit of the novel in progress, because I don’t know what else to post to amuse you all at the moment.

Plague War

She was up to her elbows in someone else’s blood when the call came in. She was used to being up to her elbows in her own blood, since she cultured it practically by the vat these days to incubate the virus in. But to have her hands inside a dying woman, trying like mad to keep the blood in, was new for Mirabeth. It was of course, this damn field work. In the lab she could maintain a proper detachment. Out here, you got attached to people, and then when they got shot, you did wholly unsanitary things like showing your fingers into a spurting artery and screaming for help while you were being splashed with the blood of a person who you had only known for a short time.

The call was becoming rather insistent now, and very annoying. The buzzing of the implanted receiver rattled her jaw, and she knew from experience it would give her a headache if she didn’t answer it soon. She had gotten the implant so she could make and receive calls while her hands were busy, and she had learned to regret it.

Tonguing the button below her left bicuspid, she snapped into the empty air in front of her, “What now? I can’t talk now!”

“But you are talking to me.” His voice on the other end of the line was smooth as always, and she refused to let his caramel tones sway her.

“Isobel has been shot, and the medics are coming, but I don’t know…” Mirabeth looked down at the woman who was lying on her stomach, unmoving.

“What?” His shout rattled her head again. She wished she could move the receiver away from her ear, but it was all internal. “What happened? Are you safe? Where is the virus?”

Of course that was his greatest concern, the stock of virus. His big investment. Without her, it would never pay out, but he would think of that in a moment and be concerned for her.

“I don’t know what happened. We were in the market, and then there was shooting…” Mirabeth looked around her, at the dusty street she was kneeling in. The sun beating down on her hat had gone from an enervating heat to a background datum she was no longer processing on conscious level. The smell of the food on the overturned carts mingled with other, less pleasant smells. There were other bodies, some of them still moving. It was eerily quiet, but the shooters had gone. She had never even really seen them. “It was all very random.”

He was quiet for a long moment, and she guessed he was doing a search. “There’s chatter on the local emergency services net,” he supplied for her. “They are still waiting to make sure the terrorists, as they are calling them, are gone before sending in the medics.”

“Oh.” Mirabeth didn’t think Isobel had that long. She looked, reluctantly, down at the woman again. They hadn’t been friends, but it might have become a friendship. Mira had had few enough of those in her life. The blood was still sluggishly oozing out of Isobel’s wounds. While too much of that was bad, it did mean her heart was still beating.

He said something stupid. “You’re a doctor…”

She cut him off, “I’m not that kind of doctor, as you well know. I don’t even like people. I’d be terrible with patients. Anything larger than a yeast and I lose interest.”

“I’m sorry. Mira, they are sending the medics in. I broke into their communications and pinpointed your location for them.”

He could do that, she knew. Part of the implant was a sophisticated tracking device. She wasn’t supposed to know about it, but when she had looked up the specs, she had discovered that and filed it in her mental list of reasons not to trust her employer any further than she could throw him, and he was half a meter taller than she was. At the moment she was going to let it pass, his slip up and the annoyance she felt. Help was on the way.

She looked back down at her hands, holding the other woman’s gaping abdomen closed by sheer force of will at the moment. “I’ll call you back. My hands are full right now.”

Clicking the implant hadn’t the impact of slamming a door in his face, but Mira would take it at this second. She had a sinking feeling he would find a way to take her insolence out of her hide, and that somehow he knew something about this “terrorist” attack.

Isobel’s death was the first thing that made Mirabeth think freedom might be an option. The scientist hadn’t lied to her boss. She didn’t know medicine. But she knew that the cessation of a heartbeat was followed very quickly by a chain reaction in the body. Isobel’s electrical system could keep firing her brain neural system for another two minutes. Then that would stop, and there was no return from that frontier. Mirabeth sat on her heels, propping her wrists on her bent knees in a futile attempt to keep her bloody hands from soaking her already bloody pants.

It took her a long time to form a thought. Like forcing molasses through a filter, her brain just wasn’t going anywhere quickly. But it did, in those moments between Isobel’s death and the arrival of the medic team, finally trickle in to her that she was free. She could use this opportunity to turn her back on her mistakes and perhaps even remedy them. Mirabeth had no illusions about her long-term future. She had been working on a highly illegal project, and she was about to turn herself over to the police.

The sirens penetrated her consciousness and snapped her back into action. She crouched over the body… Isobel had been her keeper, not her friend, but not a cruel one. Mirabeth took several items from her pockets. The electro-gun she left. That would be a strike against her when the cops showed up, if she were carrying a weapon. But the blank ID card would go unnoticed, and was unlikely that her employer, off planet as he was currently, would be able to reach the lab before she could.

Even if the cops decided she was in shock and lying, as long as they let her loose in 24 hours, she would still be able to reach the lab. It wouldn’t be easy to destroy the virus on her own, but it could be done. What worried Mirabeth most of all, now that her brain had gotten back up to speed, was that this attack might trigger her employer to speed up his own plans.

Mirabeth knew what she had been working on. She knew in theory what the effect her work would have on a human body. She had absolutely no desire to see it, en masse. Her bloody hands were shaking, now, and she still held them away from herself while she stood and walked toward the two medics. She shook her head at them, and they slowed from a jog to a walk.

“Are you injured, Ma’am?” The female set down her bag and held out her hands to Mirabeth. The man continued to Isobel, kneeling beside the still form. Mirabeth turned away, letting the medic take her wrist.

“No, I’m fine… My… Isobel took the worst of it.”

“You’re bleeding.” The medic led Mirabeth to the back of the ambulance. “You’re lucky someone called it in, most of the injuries are at the other end of the market and we wouldn’t have gotten over here for a while.”

“I’m fine.” Mirabeth let herself be pushed to sit while the woman pored over her. “I need to speak to a policeman.”

“You need to come with us to the hospital first.” The man came up, shaking his head. “I can see you tried to save her.” He looked at Mirabeth with soft eyes. “Don’t feel guilty, please. There were a lot of wounds, and her femoral artery…” He shrugged.

Mirabeth nodded. “I had to try.”

“Ready? I’m Jane, by the way, and this is Kyle.” The female medic helped Mirabeth into the back of the ambulance, and started to bandage her arm and neck. Mirabeth just closed her eyes, feeling the swaying as the ground-effect vehicle lifted on the cushion of air and started off. She felt an odd combination of hysterical laughter and tears bubbling up. These people were so calm and collected, and she was being treated like an innocent victim. I’m not innocent, she thought. I can never go back to innocent.