Of all the responses, of all the possible ways that Than mo thought his colleagues would react to him breaking the news of an incurable global pandemic, that CENTRAL was stalling for time at the potential cost of human life, that the four of them would most likely be left to deal with an incoming flood of patients and may also succumb to the disease with possibly no hope of rescue other than a bag-and-tag operation to be tossed into a bunker to chill, a half-interested “Really” was not on the top 10 list of expected reactions. Hell, it wasn’t even in the top 50, and it made the preceding 5 minutes where Than mo heroically burst into the break room to break earth-shattering news to his compatriots all the more… awkward.
“Uh. Yeah. Really-really.” Than mo said, the wind in his sails deflating from the lack of… well, anything coming from his team.
“I mean, it explains a lot.” Laverne said, taking a sip of her coffee. “Mail was getting harder and harder to get, thought it odd that all delivery services went on strike at once.”
“Mmm.” James added, rapping his knuckles against the table as he connected his own dots. “That’s also why my week leave was turned down. Not a staffing shortage at all.”
Laverne responded with a noncommital “ah”, and then resumed some small talk with Dr. Silver. Than mo stood at the doorway for a few more moments before wandering over to the table and taking a seat. “Well I think a potential extinction level event for the human species on this planet is important.”
Dr. Silver sighed a bit and then shrugged. “I mean, it is – we’re not saying it’s not, but what the hell do we do about it? You already poked the bear, you’ve already got some high-tier gear coming in, and the marching orders basically equated to ‘shelter in place’. When we have our patient surge, hmm.”
“-We just make a pack of otter pops, ship ‘em back to central?” James suggested, and was met with a ‘not bad’ half-nod from the doctor. “We assign a couple fabricators or fab shops to build more cryopods as we run through them, CENTRAL then picks up our patients, and then it’s someone else’s problem.”
“This feels… wrong. I don’t know how, but it just does.” Than mo murmured, resting his chin in his hand. “First big medical thing on an exoplanet and my part to play in it is to shove unconscious people into a gel bag and stack them in an ice truck?”
“To be honest, Than mo, yes.” Dr. Silver said, looking at his companion. “We’re four people servicing thirty thousand, at least. This medical thing, as you put it, could not have come at a worst time; we’re not established but we’re the first point of contact, we have no backup, we have no remote staff to call on for this surge, we’re screwed. All we can do is play triage, but on a grand scale.” Dr. Silver gave another noncommittal shrug. “We might have to bring some of the xenos on in order to help with patient flow, but outside that we do what we can do. It sounds like Dust hits people differently, right?”
“Well, yeah, from what I’m assuming – we’re not seeing anything now, but that trickle could become a flood.”
“Certainly, but it’s not going to be all of them at once.” Laverne commented, bringing herself back into the conversation. “Even if we’re peaking at a couple hundred a day, that’s something we could handle if we bring in some of our trained staff. It absolutely helps that all we’re going to be doing is stabilizing people and then putting them in cryo – so what, that’s… 20, 30 minutes per patient, and stabilization will include sedation?”
Than mo started to run some math in his head. “So… that’s mostly just seeing if people code out while we’re preparing them than anything else. Slap a life vest on them and have them count to 100, basically.”
“Given that’s all we’re doing, how many do you think you can monitor at a time?” Dr. Silver asked, scribbling some notes on his tablet.
“…50, tops. I’d still do walk-throughs and check connections, but I’d feel comfortable saying 50 at a time, at absolute most.”
“So 50 from you, let’s just say 50 from each of us as well – 200 at any given time, every 30 minutes, at best. Assuming nothing goes wrong-” Dr. Silver’s thoughts were interrupted by four sets of knuckles tapping against the tabletop, and he continued without skipping a beat. “-that’s 400 per hour, or 4,800 per surge shift. Assuming every single human comes in to see just us, we’d get through the entire population footprint of mankind in our area in what. 6 days? 7? Assuming we get no help whatsoever, of course.”
“I… I mean, that’s it?” Than mo said after a few moments of thinking. “Just… that’s it.”
Dr. Silver turned, leaning back in his chair to look at the human-sized entrance to the human break room. Covering a majority of the opening with a look of slight concern was Dr. Solid, twisting his torso in a way that would make any performer of Cirque du Soleil feel inadequate. “[Sorry, I just wanted to poke my head in so to speak and let you know we’ve had two more human patients come in. We’ve stabilized them, but they should be added to your rounds. Is there something I can help with?]”
“Actually, this does prove to be a problem.” Than mo said, pointing at the Jornissian doctor who pointed at himself in confusion.
“[I assure you, Than mo, I mean no harm in-]”
“No, I mean. Sorry Dr. Solid, I mean – ah. The Mothership… um.” Than mo sputtered to a stop as he attempted to figure out a way to say something without saying it. “We… well we do need to keep it mum, don’t we?”
“Oh.” James said, suddenly connecting the dots once more. “Yeah, that’s… that’s going to be absolutely fucking impossible to hide, especially if we keep getting patients presenting with the same problems.”
“They won’t like us spilling the beans.” Laverne added with a sigh. “But they haven’t exactly shared how to sweep this under the rug, and soon it’ll be impossible to do so.”
“[I feel like I did come in and interrupt your conversation – for that, I’m sorry.]” Dr. Solid said, dipping his head even further down while keeping his eyes focused on the table of humans. “[Please excuse me.]”
The humans shared a look between themselves for a brief moment, before Dr. Silver scootched back his chair. “Um. No, actually, you…probably need to be in on this. A lot of you do; who’s here that’s human triage rated?”
“[Including myself, everyone from group A and C. Bravo team is not on duty.]” Dr. Solid responded, sliding his body backwards into the hallway to “crouch” down. “[What seems to be going on?]”
“Can you have everyone meet us in the mailroom? Our package should have arrived by now, right Than mo?” Dr. Silver said, standing up.
“Yeah, I think so.” Than mo replied, leaning back in his chair feeling totally overwhelmed and how underwhelming this emergency was turning out to be. “Regardless, it’s probably a good place to keep things under wraps.”
“[I am incredibly confused as to what’s going on.]” Dr. Solid said, scratching under his jaw. “[If you can please explain to me what you need, I’d be happy to get everyone together.]”
Laverne finished her now lukewarm coffee in one gulp, spiking the ceramic mug into the tile floor with a loud crash. “We’re going to commit treason.”
= = = = = = = = = = =
It landed with all the ceremony, pomp and circumstance that millions of years of evolution afforded it’s people; which is to say, the wayward terrorbeast landed on the ground in front of the hospital triage entrance with a pomf and general confusion. Shaking loose a small cloud of Dust It – and by It I mean Bench the right honorable and good Moth – tilted it’s antenna forward.
It had taken Bench many hours to cut down the territory where his grab went, and there were others of his kin who were searching for their own grabs. Some were lucky and found their grabs and grabbed them, as is proper. Others – like until just now, himself – found himself in the wrong places, bumping against the clear sky walls, or even getting the water spray from the not-grabs that were nearby and had very delicious plants and clothing that they weren’t eating.
Bench did not know why the not-grabs had so much food that they didn’t eat, but he didn’t question it. He didn’t question many things, as there was one overarching drive in his slightly scrambled mind:
His grab was near. He needed to grab his grab.
Bench the moth slowly walked forward on his tri-pronged segmented legs, the slightly manicured gripping feet splaying against the concrete as he neared the automatic doors – where the feeling told him to continue. As he approached the pressure mat those same feet dug into suddenly soft memoryfoam; the sensation was new, and quite welcome, and Bench ended up spending a few moments outside the hospital kneading the mat much like a cat. This was apparently enough for the sensors in the mat to trigger, and thanks to processes far beyond the terrorbeast’s reckoning, the door slid open with a soft beep.
Bench stood there, antenna swaying as the air changed. The sunlight-shielded sliding doors welcoming the tamed animal inside.
Bench, not comprehending such complex things as “cause and effect” decided to wait, antenna swaying in the breeze. It was his grab, he felt it so close, so surely his grab would come out and then he would grab and they would fly again.
The sliding doors closed, and the wind changed, and the feeling lessened.
Bench was not happy at this change in developments, and began to do what most Terrorbeasts (and toddlers) would do in this situation: slam his forefeet into the ground and make angry moth noises.
The sensors in the mat tripped again, and the door swayed open again, and the feeling came back, and Bench calmed down and waited. This process would end up repeating itself for another 5 or 6 rounds until the only person – well, “person” – who was not getting a top-secret debriefing left in the human medical wing decided to put a stop to it.
The doors slid open and Bench’s antenna peered forward and it had the feeling but there was also something else.
“MEDIBOT.” MEDIBOT so helpfully said, standing at the edge of the doorway to welcome the new visitor.
“?ööööö?” Bench cooed at the new visitor, not sensing… much of anything, to be brutally honest. Sure, he saw the thing that made welcome noises at him, but, there was not a sense to it.
Bench weighed in his mind the wise words of the roombot and slowly made his way inside, MEDIBOT making sure to stay a respectful distance away from the semi-wild animal as it walked unchecked into the human wing of the hospital. Instantly Bench’s antenna was assaulted with so much feeling, so much information – grabs, there were many grabs here, some he knew and some he did not but he knew his grab was right…. There.
Bench turned and started to walk towards his grab, antenna gently caressing and tapping against the walls and currents of air, mutlifaceted compound eyes staring unblinking at the alien surroundings. Gently, he nosed forward past a privacy curtain, his antenna picking up very strong-
“MEDIBOT.” MEDIBOT quipped, and somewhere on some planet a laughtrack played unprompted. Out of MEDIBOT’s chest a screen popped open, asking for visitation information.
Bench, not knowing what any of this was or meant, but seeing the false fire so close to him, reached out an antenna to see if it was real false fire or false false fire and therefore real, useful fire.
“MEDIBOT.” MEDIBOT commented, as Bench’s antenna pressed against the tablet, registering as a human signature. And as an aside, before you say how unlikely any of that is have you seen a doctor’s handwriting?
Scribbles are scribbles, so it all counts.
“MEDIBOT.” MEDIBOT chided, letting the terrorbeast know the visitation rules and regulations. “MEDIBOT.” MEDIBOT reached forward and pulled the privacy curtain away, showing Bench’s grab laying comatose on the human medical bed. Juan lay there, silent but alive, multiple machines breathing for him, filtering his blood, scrubbing his spinal fluid – pretty much living for him, in an attempt to figure out what, if anything would help reverse his situation. Banks of injectable medicine lined either side of the bed, all controlled by a master AI that sat at the foot, constantly monitoring and administering medications in changes so minute no human could hope to be so exact. All of these things flowed into Juan through what the medical community colloquially called a “Life Vest”, a separate and stand-alone wearable ICU that physically attached to the patient and kept them alive for transfers from bed to bed or ward to ward without any loss of treatment time, or life. It had it’s own smaller bank of medication, it could filter out both air and blood, and it was powered with both an on-board solid salt battery as well as wireless ambient power harvesting.
It was truly a marvel of modern human engineering and paranoia, and it’s nuances were totally lost on Bench the Terrorbeast as he deftly, silently climbed over the bed railing to stand over his grab. The vest was nothing to him, except…
…well, it was awfully close to a flight harness, and it did have great handholds for Bench to grab…
…so he did just that. Gently he cradled his grab in his forearms, disconnecting hoses and wires, turning him over and pushing him against his soft body. Bench stood on the bed, various alarms going off around him, and felt somehow more complete. More whole. He had grabbed his grab; he had done the thing he set out to do.
And then he had absolutely no idea what to do next.
= = = = = = =
“No, I don’t know – he suddenly cratered-”
The human medical team was mostly through their treasonous briefing of what was going on, what was in the fancy boxes that had just arrived, and what they were going to be expecting in the next few days and weeks when suddenly James’ tablet started to scream at him. They sprang into action, bolting down the hallway to the ICU ward, James trying to give a status update while running at full-tilt.
It was a mixed success.
“Wh-what the fuck happened?!” Dr. Silver yelled, rounding the corner first and diving into the crashbar.
“I DON’T KNOW. He just suddenly cratered – everything all sorts of fucked-” James panted, lagging behind. “Jesus, we don’t have a heartbeat on him, or O2, or anything-”
Skidding against the linoleum floor, Dr. Silver burst into the shared ICU room. “MEDIBOT.” MEDIBOT exclaimed, surprised at all the commotion.
“NOT NOW, MEDIBOT.” Dr. Silver yelled, and was immediately greeted with a loud, low “?öööööööööö?”. With a dramatic flair, Bench spread his wings – the other grabs were threatening his grab, and he just grabbed his grab!
With a mighty flap, Bench gained a couple feet of clearance before smacking into the drop ceiling above, knocking ceiling tiles askew. Without the ability to go up, the answer was obviously to go out.
With another mighty flap – and with the comatose, limp body of Juan hanging below, Bench lurched forward-
-And with a giant pomf of Dust, slammed into and bowled over Dr. Silver before anyone else could react.