Twenty-one years old with only minutes to live.
The girl on the stretcher shakes at the heart of a storm of EMTs racing the gurney, a string of distressed relations running after. Certain death, a flash infection, quickly now to the quarantine room; there'll be more than one life at stake when hell breaks loose.
Halls, corners, a twirl through bleak doors and into a place with one door, no windows, and a bed for dying on. The young woman is lifted onto the plastic mattress. Her eyes are frantic, fixed on something horribly distant, her mouth clenches and gapes, her fingers shake themselves to blurs. Baby, baby, oh my baby. The dad is at her head, big hands clench the steel bedframe like the brink of hell, tears trickle openly into his beard as he struggles to speak to his dying child, a million minutes wouldn't be enough to say what he needs to and the doctor is saying there may be less than ten.
Three rooms distant the chest of the second victim heaves.
The mom is as shaken as the dad; she stands next to her husband, hands moving from her mouth to her eyes to her chest to one another. Three siblings watch big sister sweat and moan, the hands that stoked the campfire this morning are turning purple, the eyes that guided their raft are frosting over, the voice that screamed when fangs pierced her in the weeds is choked by the yellowy fluid that she coughs constantly like a fountain statue, pooling around her head, soaking her long black hair.
Three rooms distant the second victim has stopped breathing.
Syringes are plunged into her flesh, to ease the pain, the doctor says. Can't you do anything, the dad begs. No, the lubii virus has never been contained. Damn it, the mom repeats through clenched teeth, damn it, again and again. Safe to touch her? she croaks. We'll tell you when it's time, they say. Half a dozen hands extend, knuckles brush her cheek, fingers fall on her wrists, press her chest, stroke her hair. The stricken's eyes swivel sideways as through the vague veil of the dying she winces at her family and in that moment it almost kills them, in that moment they'd go with her if they could.
It was all too sudden.
Three rooms away what's left of the second victim
begins to rise.
The doctor warily watches the girl, hair tangled, still dressed in a cherry-red bathing suit and faux-jade ankle bracelet. Years of experience have taught him how not to watch the family. Now, he says softly, and the assistants take shoulders and hands and arms and lead the kids away. The parents' faces are the summation of paternal misery as they beg the doctors and the nurses and the powers for only a minute more, oh good god, she's our child, she's our child. The mom howls like an animal as she's pulled from the bedside, the dad causes a scuffle, he cries out to his eldest one last time, then the doors shut to the sound of silence and the tortured breathing of the young woman.
The doctors encircle the bed of the doomed. One opens a plastic divided container and raises a syringe to the light as one of the known Network's most deadly viruses courses through the veins below him, greedily devouring tissue like brushfire, preparing the body for the final phase of infection, to become a mindless reproduction of the vermin which passed on the symbiotic virus only hours before. More liquid bubbles up her tortured throat and over her teeth, several of which show signs of dropping from her mouth. The tell-tale mark of the finale of the hated lubii curse is coming on fast, the skin which has been lightening is now a thick milky film marbled with dark bloated veins and below the taunt skin of her abdomen dark clotted shapes twist and contort as her organs liquefy into colorless slime. Prepare the injection, he orders the one, and all others keep your distance. The creatures resulting from these cases immediately begin their own hunt for victims, they-
Several doctors enter the room to the turning of eyes. He changed faster than we expected, they say, don't wait any longer, it almost got a snap at Bill. Right. The doctor takes the syringe into his hand. The girl is deathly still, her entire body is distorted and translucent, the seams of the mattress are visible though her arms and legs. The needle sparkles.
Slowly, like the dripping of lava, the mouth gapes open
and draws breath. The doctor's hand quivers.
Color is flooding back, the face is elongating, the limbs are pushing off the bed. He shouts to his shocked assistants to get sedatives, get anesthetic, get back. What's happening, some ask, give her the shot, some shout. No! the doctor cries as the amorphous mass heaves from the bed to the floor, no, no, let her be, it's not happening right, don't you recognize what's happening-- it's not over!
Security joins the medics around the edge of the room as the obscene mess at its center kicks like a child in the womb. A limb breaches the mass, a curled talon straining towards electric light before snapping downwards, clawing frantically at the slime which only melts over it again and again until it punches out once more joined by a second limb. Go on, the doctor urges under his breath, go on, go on. The slime is pulling together now, a distinct shape is congealing, four limbs, an animal head, and a long tail lashes along the ground. Where an attractive young woman had been fifteen minutes ago there was now a dozen feet of badly mutated, half-formed former human collapsed on the tiles, forelimbs slipping pathetically at the ground and muzzle still drooling thick liquid.
The gathered remain in the shocked stillness of those witnessing a miracle. The doctor moves forward. He kneels some feet from the monster and looks into large and pearly white eyes. And we'd considered it myth only five years ago, he thinks, and in front of us today we have a second case. Slowly, the new glatni's eyes roll upwards and her head drops gently to the floor. A miracle. Her life will never be the same, she will never be the same, when she wakes up this will be one hell of a shocker, but she will, in fact, wake up.
By now some of the assistants have taken off running. Let me explain to the family, he says, pulling off his gloves as he steps to the door, get in contact with Drs. Velázquez and Destastiel immediately. And Montrey? one ventures. The others pause a moment to listen. The doctors first, he says slowly, looking once more over what he couldn't quite bring himself to call 'the girl' any longer, then the good senator, his own experience will be invaluable. If we here can just get her to her feet again he may in time come to help her find them.
An hour later Joanna Velázquez and Thomas Destastiel were presiding over the soundly-unconscious glatni's care and Senator Cornelius C. Montrey, just hours formerly the only known living person with glatnism, quietly hung up his office phone, staring vaguely ahead for several moments before dismissing his staff and walking out the door, long robes sweeping the marble behind him.
"Ah, Thomas, hello!"
"To what do I owe your call?"
"There was a lubii attack this morning outside Luck, if you hadn't already heard."
"In Luck? No, I hadn't."
"Yes, two victims, a fisherman and a young student, I am informed."
"Mercy on their souls, then. Never heard of a lubii being reported in Thurmun'dhl, it's such a developed area."
"It is disconcerting, yes. Needless to say the area has been evacuated."
"Caught the damned thing yet?"
"Afraid not. But there is an equally pressing matter at hand, my friend."
"No, Cornelius. I mean there is a surviving victim. As of some hours ago you became no longer the only member of your species."
"Her name is Nicole Dunn, she is in the room across the hall from myself as I speak, still a somewhat unformed muddle but passing steadily though the unconscious transformative period without a hitch. Dr. Velázquez is with us as well, she says the process has been remarkably similar to what she recalls of her experience with your good self. I of course was not present, but through my work with you I recognize familiar elements in her evolution already, although she does not much seem to resemble the glatnai we've come to know in you."
"Well I just, let me
One-in-a-million, you said!"
"Make that two. If it's of any significance, it did happen near Luck."
How long ago?"
"Infected about four o' clock this afternoon then ferried down the river- they were boating- before speeding to Draney Hospital, the young lady in terrible fever the entirety. By time they arrived there was little to do but quarantine and euthanize. However, of course."
"And she's still
"Yes. Joanna tells me you yourself spent the better part of two days-"
"In a miserable, half-conscious state of delirium-"
"Which is why she's been carefully sedated."
"If they'd only been as generous with me
"It has been five years since your own misadventure and technologies have improved, not to mention Dr. Velázquez was wisely hesitant to pump a medically unmapped creature full of what may have been tantamount to poison. Thanks to you, my dear guinea pig, we have a fair knowledge of what the glatni physiology reacts with, and against."
"And no one is more shocked, Tom, that you haven't flat-out killed me by now than I."
"To my point. Cornelius, you know what I'm going to ask of you."
"You've always held the opinion that your own mutation was a senseless, iniquitous misfiring of fate. This may finally be the chance to give your past suffering meaning, you may greatly smooth the road for another, provide support and empathy in a way that Joanna and I, and indeed her friends and family, could never do. She may be spared your mistakes, unlike you she will have a guide."
"I'm just, adjusting to the idea still
Good gods. Should I come down?"
"There won't be another train through Payne 'til late and even then it would be witching hour before you got to Draney, so no, I shouldn't think so. Joanna estimates the girl will still be out well into the day after the morrow, even then it should be her family that she wakes to. We will give you notice when we think they are ready for you, we will also pass on your enthusiasm to assist in any way. Penny will still be in Mocoa?"
"Pity, that, she might have been of considerable assistance."
"Don't think I can handle this on my own, do you?"
"I just feel-"
"She's more friendly than me, I know."
"Well, no. You are the big terrible senator from the capitol and high and mighty Aagiean aristocracy, so not unfriendly, just, imposing."
"Can't believe this is happening, Tom."
"I would imagine the sentiment is shared by a number at the moment, not least Miss Dunn herself once she comes to."
"I could sympathize with that."
"Exactly. Well. Since I find the notion of a spare doctor twiddling his thumbs in a busy hospital disgraceful, I'm due to lend my not-inconsiderable surgeon's skill with a patient or three tonight, I must be off. You will be alright?"
"Be a bit selfish to be thinking of my own discomfort first in this case, I'll be fine."
"Alright. Good evening to you, Cornelius."
"Good night, Tom."