Devolution (A medpunk story)

Another challenge over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds. Good fun. This med-punk came to mind as soon as I read the challenge. Don’t know if it strictly fits, but what the hey!

Hanging back alongside the edge of a building, Angie watched the group weakly struggling through the street. Against the curfew, they were making their way to the Wellness Clinic several streets over. They wavered, their movements feeble. These would be an easy target.

Swinging her legs over the peeling picket fence, she approached on silent feet, trying not to alert them. The dots were prepped and adhered to her fingertips, the stronger adhesive on the other side.

Darting forward, she stuck one to the trailing elderly woman’s neck, and moving on, to the small boy, one to his trailing arm. A cry escaped the older woman and Angie was out of time. She leapt between the man and woman at the front, a touch light as a feather on each arm.

With a spurt of energy, she darted into another alley, hearing a congested grumble from the man at the head of the group. It was not long before his pursuing footsteps faded; all the group were too sick to put up too much of a fight.

It was a relief; Angie was going to need all her energy for the long hours remaining in her mission of compassion and survival.

“The fear,” he’d whispered to them, “the fear my darlings.” His wracking cough had spluttered out then, held back . “They were sold a terror, a portent of death, which they believed with their whole hearts. They were misled.”

Angie had looked over to Veronika then, at the deepening lines and dark circles around her eyes. Her husband Natane, an immunologist who had been part of the underground for more than a quarter-century, was dying of a complication of the eaglepox virus. In the time before the Devolution, Veronika had been a doctor and researcher, which she had kept up in their hidden civilisation.

When the chicken-pox virus had suddenly evolved, it’s virulence remaining the same but adopting the increased risk of the death of its smallpox cousin, the world was decimated. The innocuous name of chicken just didn’t reflect the danger. A presenter from the US had jokingly called in eaglepox and the name had stuck.

With the Devolution, and the hunting down and imprisoning of the scientific and medical professionals, there was no one left able to help the movement address the disease. Vitamin C was upped, fresh produce found in every home, but still people died in their thousands.

The underground survived, largely unscathed because of Natane and Veronika. But how would they protect others and stop it evolving again?

Natane had died before they had the answer. It was Angie who discovered the old dermal patches. Soaking them in a combination of antivirals and the vaccine, they could save the population of their town, and connect with others of the underground to help spread the cure. They found a recipe for a strong adhesive that meant the dots would adhere long enough to deliver the optimum dose.

They’d all committed; but it meant a huge danger. They would have to access to groups of people. They would have to take it to the streets.

Angie and her sister Clare ended up in the paediatric wing of the Wellness Clinic, where patients spilled haphazardly into corridors and out on to the street. And still they came, the children listless and afebrile.

The head nurse, as she called herself, bustled about with alcohol hand wipes and containers of pre-prepared vitamin enriched drinks. “We need all the assistance we can get with this outbreak. Even with the curfew, we are still getting more and more cases.” She paused to touch the forehead of a young girl curled up on her father’s lap, shivering, the angry red welts harsh against the pale forehead.

“So sad,” she murmured to the girls. “So many of them not taking care of themselves.”

Angie and Clare fanned out, distributing the tiny dots to small hands and feet, pressing them against the arms of distraught parents as they comforted them.  At midday, the wards quietened, exhausted families slumped against any available surface with their children. Angie broke off, into the intensive care ward. Her stomach roiled seeing the children wasting from the virus, their poor little bodies covered in open sores. She checked their pulse, smiling wanly at the parents at the bedside.

At the end of her round,  the shadowed overhang of a door bearing a hand-painted sign declaring it Neonatology presented itself to Angie. Looking about the eerily silent ward, Angie could see no watchers, and took a chance. Ducking through the door, she entered the ward.

Lights were low, and it took a second for her eyes to adjust. The nurses turned their eyes towards to her for a moment, before seeing the volunteer badge on her scrubs. Many of the parents were asleep, exhausted. Making sure to use the alcohol, she would drop a tiny dot to a toe or heel, and brush the parent as she left them a drink.

She reached the last room where a pair of twins rested, entwined. Otherwise she was alone. She stepped forward, her eyes on the tiny miniature people. She snaked a hand in, her dots delivered.

“What are you doing?”

Angie turned to see a young woman, her mouth hard and tight. Her sweats were stained and her eyes smudged with tiredness.

“I’m Angie, a volunteer.” She turned her back on the mother, pretending to stare into the humidicrib, and swallowed. “Your little ones are so perfect.”

“You have no right.” The woman moved up next to Angie, eyes blazing. “Get out.”

Angie ducked her head, hands in her pockets, seeking another dot. She offered her hand. “I apologise. I’ll leave now.”

The woman looked at her hand coldly. Angie shrugged and offered her a drink, a dot prepped and ready on her fingertip. As she took it, Angie had to manoeuvre awkwardly to make sure it stuck. A puzzled look crossed the woman’s face and Angie quickly backed out and away.

She crossed back into the paediatric ward, leaving her cart tucked out of the way. She rounded through the different areas, looking for Clare. Angie spotted her in a corridor not far from the main entrance, squatting next to a mother with three little girls.

As she walked towards her sister, she heard the hiss, “Her.”

Angie’s arms were grabbed roughly from behind, tears smarting with the cruel grip, and she was frogmarched down the corridor. “We’ve got you, bioterrorist.”

Angie saw Clare’s terrified stare and shook her head imperceptibly. She’d been caught and Clare needed to get back to tell the others.

Angie’s knees shook as she walked. She’d been around long enough to know that the people caught never came back. Since the Devolution, the Alterna never let the truth get out.


** Just in case anyone is curious, transdermal patches for vaccine delivery could be in our future.**

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