“Yes. Weather balloon. Yes. No, I don’t care what you think you saw, I’m telling you that it’s a weather balloon. Yes.” The Analyst groaned, the Karnakian councilwoman on the other end responding with something noncommittal. The Analyst knew it was bad when CENTRAL’s first line of defense was swarmed with concerned calls, and knew it was really bad when some of the VIP and allied liaisons started to get slammed. But for someone to actually get patched through to the pit where he worked?
The Analyst looked up at the wall of screens at the far end of the pit, the red so deep in certain areas of the map as to appear almost black.
“Yes. We release them because they’re pretty – and they tell us the weather. Yes, we have weather satellite access too. No. Look we just let them go and they float, ok? That’s how we determine wind speed. What do you mean by ‘typical’, councilwoman?!” The Analyst half-listened to the apologetic trilling coming from the other end of the line, but he wasn’t truly paying attention. Outposts and townships had been reporting more and more cases, to the point that the human PDF contingent had been deployed to help with triage… and basically to bag the bodies, stack the chairs and turn off the lights on the way out. He and the rest of the grunts at CENTRAL would continue to buy as much time as humanly possible, but there was still no real direction coming from the top, and the UTF was adamant that nothing comes back to Sol.
It was easy to stop the bleeding at first, so to speak. Blame it on holidays, or on migrations, or shift changes. Eventually move to more extreme things – sicknesses, sure, but also deaths in the family, or sudden reassignments. The scarecrows worked for a few days, but then the Moths started to kidnap them, which caused all sorts of problems…
…like the one The Analyst was dealing with right now.
“Yes. It’s ok. Thank you for your understanding. Yes, I can assure you that any kicking or screaming from the weather balloons was just a figment of your imagination. Yes, even if it was caught on camera. Yes.”
Idly, The Analyst’s eyes drifted over to a certain hospital on the map, who in the past few hours had already begun to see triple-digit increases in cases per hour, and was steadily going from a light pink to a fire-engine red.
= = = = =
“Ok. Now I want you to make sure his saline tank is filled up, no more than 1.5L should last the next few weeks.” RN. James Wilson said, mentally scrolling through the checklist to put a human in cryostasis. He was on number 440…no, 443. At any given point he was switching between 3-5 nurses, overseeing and picking up handoffs from his fellow teammates.
The hospital staff had developed an almost assembly-line like triage system; Laverne would do the initial diagnosis – green, yellow, red or blue for the extreme cases – then Dr.RobotNick and Dr.Solid would manage the teams doing the actual invasive procedures for the installation of Life Vests. James and Than mo would then do the aftercare, making sure everyone dipped into the longish sleep with ease and relative comfort. Complications at this stage weren’t expected, but if they occurred they needed to be dealt with immediately.
“[Patient’s heart rate is now down to 20BPM.]” The Jornissian nurse stated, managing the controller at the foot of the bed. “[We’re forecasting a 5 beat per minute drop.]”
“Alright. With his size and age, he should flatline around 2-4BPM. Call me when he drops down to 5BPM and we’ll inject the final solution.” James said, tabbing over with a gloved hand gesture to another patient. The flow had not stopped since the initial few patients, and outside of some breaks to nap (and to help with snacktime) had been steadily picking up. Patients that were coming in “green” and turned away with benadryl were showing back up 48 hours later as yellow or even red – turning them away only bought so much time, and the on-site fabricators were pumping out nothing but Life Vests for the past day.
James blinked, as his internal musings prompted an unbidden thought. How long has he been staying up?
“38 hours… Jesus.”
“[I’m sorry, James?]” The Dorarizin – Tipo – said, looking concerned at the camera placed above the bed of his patient. “[I was under the impression that this shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. Have I done something wrong?]”
“Ah, no Tipo – you’re fine. I just realized I’ve been awake and working for 38 hours this shift… if you’d even call it a shift.” James muttered, opening up another menu with a labored hand gesture. “My Pervitin tanks aren’t even a quarter of the way dry… no wonder.”
“[That word – Pervitin – doesn’t translate properly, I hope.]” The concerned almost-trained nurse said, lowering his head in concern at the camera. “[If it does, I’m going to suggest that you rest.]”
“I will soon.”
“I’m serious! It’s almost naptime.” As if to support his point, he lifted up his arm – the 5 Dorarizin pups attached and gnawing at it gurgling with delight as their new toy moved and provided more of a hunting challenge – before realizing that no one else but the daycare administrator could see him right now. “Anyway. I’m fine – hell I feel great! But our patient probably doesn’t- What’s his sodium levels?”
“[Oh! Ah, he’s very salty.]” Tipo said, starting to read off various indicators and chemical levels. The side-conversation forgotten; triage moved back to the fore as James jumped from Tipo’s patient to another, and then a few minutes later to another, and then back to the Jornissians’ who had finally flatlined and needed to be bagged and tagged, and then back to Tipo…
38 hours became 39 became 40.
“[I think you need to rest, James.]”
“Tipo we just had this conversation-”
“[3 hours ago.]”
“Wait what?” James blinked as he looked at his suit’s internal clock again. “Where… where the fuck did the time go?”
“[Again. Can you ask for someone to shift-cover you?]” Tipo said, unable to keep the concern out of his voice. “[From what I remember, humans start to hallucinate right about now from sleep deprivation, and we don’t need that going on.]”
“I mean… yeah. You’re right.” James sighed, checking the indicators for the rest of the team. The unfortunate truth was a “temporary” solution had become more permanent, as no one in staff felt comfortable giving the OK to relocate the human team. Every sweep seemed to uncover some traces of Dust – either from a laborer who was working on cleaning out personal living spaces to super-fine particulate somehow coming out of the vents. It had been many days in the nursery, and the indignation of being put down for naptime had come and gone. Laverne was already down, having passed on her duties to another group of nurses. Dr. RobotNick didn’t really count as he apparently didn’t need sleep anymore, and every time he was urged to take a break he responded with something about the Omnissiah’s will and flesh being weak. With a few more labored hand gestures and a spoken command, James logged off of shift. There was a gurgle as the cocktail of medication switched, and the mountain of energy he was sitting on began to drain.
“[Are you ok?! James?]”
“Yeah.” James murmured, leaning heavily against the wall before sinking to his knees, the furry beans trapped in the soft loam of the floor taking this as a sign that their multi-day siege was working. With happy yips and growls they began to swarm him again, and James let the tide take him. “Yeah, just… didn’t realize I was this drained. I’m going to put 10 hours on the clock; if you’re still here by then make sure to ping me to get me up.”
“[You suit will do that, correct?]” Tipo said, bemused as the sound of pups started to drown out the voice of his colleague.
“Yeah, but I sleep through those alarms, yanno?” James said, yawning wide. “Ah fuck, darkness is taking me.”
“[You sure that’s darkness and not just my daughters splooting on your visor?]” Tipo murmured, and was greeted by silence.
Well. Triumphant yips and the light snoring of his colleague, but it was close enough.
= = = =
“And I’m just… I’m just scared, Doc.” A young teenage girl confessed, in-between sobs and coughs. “I, I don’t want to die from this!”
“ACCEPTABLE.” Dr.RobotNick said, eyes glowing a crimson red as he shone his doctory eye-light upon the child. “Death is a concern that we will mitigate with science. Science, stimulants and questionable ethics.”
“SILENCE, CHILD.” Dr.RobotNick calmly boomed, a vice-like grip hand extending from his chest to pat the teenager on the head with an acceptable level of force. “Soon you will rest, and sleep the sleep of the just. Then you will awaken. Better. Faster. Stronger than before.”
“. . . Are you sure you’re a real doctor?” The teenage patient said, narrowing her eyes accusingly at the totally medically doctorated Dr.RobotNick. “Because I came in for my yearly checkup and suddenly you’re telling me to put on this vest and I’m not seeing anyone else around here to talk to and this seems really questionable and I think someone bagged my parents as they came in-”
“That’s not a word.”
“Incorrect. That is a word, because you and I have just used it.” Dr.RobotNick said, tilting his torso forward and back in his best approximation of a nod. “Also, this is now part of your new yearly checkup procedures. Please relax and put on the vest.”
“…I want to speak to your supervisor-”
“K.A.R.E.N. PROTOCOL ENGAGED.” Dr.RobotNick intoned, and a small door opened up on his robot’s forehead. The patient, being only human and therefore incredibly curious, leaned forward just a bit – just far enough to not see the second door open up on Dr.RobotNick’s torso.
“OWW! Wait whaaaahhhuuuu~” Patient #12738 said as she lurched forward, the sleeping dart sticking out of her neck. By the time Dr.Solid pulled back the curtain to check on the fussy patient (and his concerningly efficient colleague) Dr.RobotNick had, with the help of a few automated subroutines undressed, UV and alcohol sterilized the skin, prepped for Life Vest Installation and was in mid surgery.
“[…Everything alright here, Doctor?]”
“AFFIRMATIVE. Patient #12738 should be ready for wind-down and cryostasis within the hour.” Dr.RobotNick said, matter-of-factly. “I’ve been getting better at forecasting how long it will take my patients to flatline, and I can say I’m now within a 5 minute margin of error!”
“[That’s not concerning at all.]” Dr. Silver murmured, looking at the now almost-completely installed Life Vest. “[I think your bedside manner has suffered a bit as of late, my friend.]”
“Nonsense. They are given a chance to surrender-”
“-to settle down, and if they prove belligerent I administer the anesthesia we would be administering anyway. Just in a larger dose. To the neck.”
Dr. Silver stared at Dr.RobotNick for a few moments, and once the surgery was completed and the patient stabilized, the two ended up locking eyes.
“[That’s incredibly concerning, you know that.]”
Dr.RobotNick raised his vice-hands in the best approximation of an incredulous shrug as he could give. “What?! It works 80% of the time 100% of the time!”
“[That’s not how statistics work and you know it.]” Dr. Solid sighed, checking the work of his colleague. “[That being said, Ms. Squigglemeyer here should be joining the rest of her family soon enough… but I do have some questions.]”
“Yes?” Dr.RobotNick beeped, turning his gloriously shiny metal body to face his friend.
“[Well. We, ah, urged her parents to be checked in per your orders, but they weren’t displaying the level of symptoms we would expect given the advanced stage of their Dust infection. The door scanners caught and categorized them, and we only really figured out they weren’t as bad once we had them under.]”
“[Not entirely. Still a persistent cough, but blood pressure was acceptable, no dizziness or confusion, and they absolutely had the energy to fight back. Well, as much fighting as one can do with your pants around your ankles and a shirt pulled over your head.]”
“Hm. We should probably… make a note of that.” Dr.RobotNick said, almost hesitating.
“[That’s the first I’ve heard you take a pause in the past few days, Nic-Doctor.]” Dr. Silver mused, coiling up to take a ‘seat’. “[Care to share what’s on your mind?]”
“I just realized we haven’t been contacting CENTRAL for a few days now outside of just putting in orders for discrete transport. They have to know that something is up-”
“[From the flood of cases? That it’s a true pandemic-]”
“No, from how well we’re handling them.”
“[Aaah. We could always say that general staff put the information together ourselves and helped out… or we could actually play dumb and say we haven’t noticed a pattern at all in new patients if we’re asked.]”
“Well you can’t be legally asked.” Dr.RobotNick said, spinning in place as his roomba subroutines started to take over. “Trends can be inferred, but Doctor-patient confidentiality is sacred… not to mention, CENTRAL has no real power over you. We’re stacking bodies like Washington here and whistling Dixie the entire time, so someone has to know something is up.” There was a pip, and then a dismissal. “It seems James has taken a break, so that leaves you, me, Team C and half of A as well as Than Mo up and running.”
“[Another short shift, nothing new there. How much longer do you think this will keep up?]” Dr. Solid mused, doing mental math in his head. “[We should be at the high-water mark now in terms of per-diem cases, but in terms of total overall cases… what. Halfway?]”
“Maybe. Initial estimates were 6 – 7 days, but we’re 5 days into that and the numbers are still off. We might have people not coming in for treatment, or worse, not getting treatment in time.”
Dr. Solid’s face darkened for a moment. “[So possibly fatalities in the home or office. Without someone to check on them-]”
“Possibly. Which is all the more reason why someone needs to talk to CENTRAL; we might have to just ask for some PDF to sweep the area in a grid, forcibly evac those who won’t come in for treatment.”
“[But I’m assuming that’s a call no one wants to make.]” Dr. Solid said, half-laughing. “[How do you even request something like that?]”
“I have no idea. I have no idea how to ask for that without CENTRAL saying no, because as far as I know our orders are to still act as if nothing’s wrong. I have no idea if we can even do that, considering it would violate multiple rights-”
There was another pip, which was almost dismissed – Almost, because it came from one of the wind-down nurses, and marked as extremely urgent. Both Doctors stopped the conversation to check the indicator from Tipo/Ngruzren-of-Arzgr.
‘[Received a message. Juan Esteban Aleman says thank you. Please advise.]’
There was a pause as the message was read, and then read again. Upon the third reading Dr. RobotNick lurched forward, eyes aglow with an awesome power as the words made a visceral, almost physical impact.