Caleb was pushed through the door by a succession of soldiers and stewards working like a bucket chain. Behind the door was a corridor. There were more employees than Infected. Everyone’s movements seemed choreographed. Here, the voices were low and fast and there was a lot of typing going on, apparently everywhere. There were doors left and right. The place smelled disgusting. Caleb saw old, peeling notices on the walls, flourescent lights and crumbling plasterwork. He didn’t get a chance to take in much more detail, because a young man with vivid red rings around his eyes ushered him into an office. Inside he was confronted by an improvised gurney (a couch with a sheet thrown over it) and a table covered in filthy surgical instruments.
“Lie down,” said the medic. He was wearing a white apron. He looked like he was about to go postal. Caleb went to lie on the couch but he was told, “Face down,” in a voice that implied rape was on the cards.
He gingerly placed himself on the couch on his belly. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the medic wash a long syringe by swishing it around in a bowl of water. There was no sink in the room. He didn’t know how many times that water had been used.
Caleb had time to ask himself the question, “What kind of operation is this?” before he was stabbed in the back, literally. A red-hot poker had been jammed right into him, just below his ribs. He roared. The medic quickly retracted the syringe and Caleb saw him squirt a jet of blood into a small glass jar. There was something solid in it. The man put a lid on the jar and taped it shut. Bizarrely, he managed to let out a dismal sigh at the same time.
“What the fuck was that?” Caleb said. He sat up with his hand on his liver. He felt blood. It was agony. The wound was already throbbing like he now had a golf ball sewn under his skin.
“A biopsy,” said the lunatic medic. “Find a steward and get to a ward.”
The little bastard hadn’t even bandaged him, and Caleb had to put pressure on his aching kidney as he left the room and looked for a guy in a high-vis vest. His perception of colour and shape was eroded and he wasn’t even sure he’d be able to spot one.
Luckily, a steward approached him as if he was his valet, took him by the arm and gently steered him down the corridor. They turned left at a junction. A sign hanging from the ceiling said, ‘Production Floor A’.
The “ward” was in fact a factory floor with all the machinery stripped out of it. As Caleb entered, the steward departed. There were no beds, just spaces on the floor. Several men and women in nondescript uniforms were taking up bedclothes from the ground and throwing down more. He guessed there were somewhere between a hundred and hundred and fifty patients. Huge patches of rust marked the floor like a soccer pitch in Hell. Birds flapped around under the skylights.
A man with a clipboard approached Caleb and asked him to follow. As they walked he uttered a well-rehearsed monologue. “I’m going to read out a list of symptoms. Say ‘yes’ to each one you have experienced, ‘no’ to the ones you haven’t. Don’t lie, this is for your benefit. Nausea. Excessive hunger. Internal numbness. Diarrhea. Vomiting. Fever. Muscle cramps. Skin crawling. Dislocated feeling in limbs. Synaesthesia. Visual distortion. Visual hallucinations. Auditory hallucinations. Unusual taste in the mouth. Nightmares. Negative mood swings. Compulsive behaviour. Panic attacks.”
Caleb answered ‘yes’ to more than half of the symptoms, all at the start of the list. Which probably meant that the rest were on the way.
They arrived at a spot where a young, gorgeous nurse had just finished putting sheets and a blanket on top of an old army mattress.
“This is your spot,” said his guide. “What’s your number?” Caleb didn’t know what he meant at first, then took his part of the ticket out of his pocket. He showed the guy the number 851 on it. The guide/doctor took a black permanent marker from his shirt pocket. He grabbed Caleb’s hand and wrote ‘851’ on his upper arm.
“Turn around,” he said. Stupidly, Caleb thought he was going to put a bandage on his biopsy wound. Instead the guy wrote the number ‘851’ on his shirt, right across his shoulder blades.