“Ideally, you should shave your head,” Imsam said as he finished applying the roll of bandages. “But this will do. Take these, there are enough to get you to the METMA centre.” He held out a bottle with a few pills rattling round in it and Caleb took them.
“How sure can you be?” said Tamara. In her mind, his diagnosis was ridiculously vague. She was confused and starting to get frustrated with this idiot who called himself a doctor.
Imsam studied her, like another patient. He said slowly, “I am not an expert. But he was bitten, and his symptoms so far are unique to this infection.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” said Tam.
“I think it does,” Imsam said sarcastically, enraging her even more. Her eyes were sore from five minutes of crying on overdrive.
“Tam,” said Caleb. “Take it easy.” He was just as bad. He looked better with his face cleaned and some bandages wrapped round him like the latest hipster headgear, but to her he was treating this way too casually.
Imsam carried on, apparently to stop her getting in a word. “The information given to us by the government was… limited. However, we are told that the rate of infection is extremely high. More than ninety percent. This is especially true if there is direct, prolonged contact. The infected at this stage will try to spit or drool on you. Their hands will seem to sweat a thick substance. This sweat or saliva carries the bacteria. It can be absorbed through the skin. It stands to reason that a bite is even more likely to infect.”
Tam wanted to attack his reasoning but found herself too tired and emotional, like an athlete that had just finished last in the Olympics. Caleb reached out for her. He clasped her hand. Imsam finished his speech like a newsreader winding up.
“You have time on your side. You must get to a trauma centre immediately. They specialise in this disease. If there is something to be done, they will know.”
“So he’s dying?” said Tam. It was a kind of parting shot. Her frustration was fading and she felt ashamed.
“Yes, he’s dying,” said the doctor. “But he’s still alive just yet. This is the first stage of the disease. You may start to manifest other symptoms. In particular you should be wary of hallucinations. In my opinion, this is one of the last symptoms to manifest before… before Epsilon Rex completely takes over. You have at least a day, maybe two. Use it.”
“Okay,” said Caleb. “Is there anything else you can help us with?” He looked at her meaningfully. Tamara gave a shuddering sigh. Fuck it, what the Hell. For now, he was in control and doing better than her. She was battered by waves of emotion. Her boyfriend, condemned to death, could take the lead on this one.
Imsam put his hands on his hips and chewed the cut for minute. Suddenly, his eyebrows jumped up like something from the Muppet Show.
“Will you try something for me?”
Caleb looked wary. “A medical experiment? Sure, why not?”
Imsam opened the fridge and took something out. He got a large knife and a chopping board. Tam couldn’t see what it was he planned on cooking. She got closer.
“Chillies? You can’t be serious.”
“There are some good reasons for this,” the doctor said. That was not a good enough answer as far as Tamara was concerned.
“I’m not sure if I can do that,” said Caleb, looking at the three different chilli peppers Imsam was now slicing.
“The bagel,” said Imsam. Tamara reluctantly gave him the bagel she’d thrown together. It had some cream cheese in it, that was all. The doctor tossed all the chillies into it and slammed the top back on. He handed it to Caleb.
“Try not to chew it much,” he said.
“Wow,” said Caleb.
He bit into it but there was too much bread involved. By the time he swallowed one mouthful, he was turning red. “Make a smoothie out of it or something,” he said.
“Good idea,” said Imsam.
“Why exactly are we doing this?” said Tamara, seemingly the only one in the room with the power of human reasoning at the moment.
“I have observed something interesting in patients,” said Imsam. He had taken the bagel and was scraping the chillies, cheese and all, into a glass. “The bacteria begin their takeover of the human body in the stomach. It follows…”
At that moment, Caleb doubled over with a scream and hit the floor. The rest of the explanation would never be heard.