“That’s two shirts I’ve ruined today,” Caleb said as he lay down on the mattress. Nobody replied. To his left was a woman who cried incessantly. To the right was a homeless dude with bloody bandages wrapped around one hand. It looked like a couple of his fingers had been bitten off.
Caleb lay still for a while as his wound closed up. The room resonated with moans, gasps, and questions. Soldiers with long pikes watched over the Infected. Doctors, or at least men in aprons and white coats, were running around like plate spinners.
After a while one of these men came to Caleb with a yellow laminate and told him to put it around his neck. Caleb did, though the tag was blank. Then he noticed that every Infected had one, though the colours were different.
“What’s going to happen next?” Caleb hazarded.
The doctor looked at him as if he had declared war. His eyes were young, though the face was old. The expression went comical. “The fuck I know,” he said, and walked away. The homeless guy laughed.
“I didn’t think it was funny,” said Caleb, now emotionally gutted too.
The other man’s voice was wheezy. “Let me enlighten you,” he said. “They’re going to spike you with everything from Vitaman C to Drano, and if you hit the jackpot it’ll be the cure.”
One of the Infected was lifted to his feet and gently guided from the room through another door. A borderline case. There was no sign of what lay behind the door. Every now and again, a man or woman would shout in pain. Doctors huddled round these people. The Infected were all heading towards the same destination, but some by slightly different roads.
Staff were called over to one ‘patient’ by a nurse. They checked his vitals. The man was dead. Two Stewards appeared with a translucent body bag and put the corpse into it. It seemed insanely casual, until Caleb remembered that Ep Rex victims weren’t able to pass on the infection while they were still alive. That meant he had died from something else. Like the treatment.
Caleb finally put it together. All those doctors running around. He thought about what he had gotten into. METMA couldn’t cure Ep Rex victims, but it could experiment on them in the hope of finding a cure. What he was looking at amounted to a war crime.
A doctor and a suit came over to inspect the woman to his right. They called her Miss Taylor. The doctor performed the quickest and most inhumane physical Caleb thought possible, then they retreated to a distance and whispered something. After a minute the doctor came back. “We’re going to continue you on this course,” he said. “Let me see your arm.”
Miss Taylor was about Tam’s age, with a summer dress and cardigan that made her look like she was fresh from a picnic. There was no sign of a bite wound on her. She allowed the doctor to inject her arm. After that he patted her shoulder gingerly and walked away.
“What is it they’re giving you?” Caleb said to her in his best Child Calming voice. She shook her head and mouthed the words I don’t know without saying them aloud.
The sun had gone down and by Christ, Caleb missed it. Halogen lamps on stands were switched on and they highlighted everything that was rotten or broken. The temperature fell rapidly. Caleb heard people sneeze. METMA crew still worked under the ultrawhite glare. For a while, Caleb’s thoughts drifted. He wanted Tamara. He needed to hold someone.
Miss Taylor stood up. It had been an hour since nightfall. She did nothing until a soldier passed by. Then she waved to him and said, “Excuse me,” in a voice like knitting needles. “I want to go with Plan B.”
Caleb couldn’t see the soldier’s expression. “What’s that?” he said.
“I want to get out quick,” she said. The soldier knew what that meant. He reached out for her.
“Whoa!” said Caleb. He was on his feet. He grabbed her by the elbow. In daylight, she’d had freckles. Under the halogen lamps she was merely frozen in a lightning blast. “You don’t have to do that,” he said. “Sit down, think about it. Let’s talk it through. There’s a lot that could happen…”
Miss Taylor turned to the soldier and said, “I’m going.”
“No,” said Caleb.
“Let go,” the soldier said. He had taken her side and was now going to kill her.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Caleb. The soldier pulled out something that could have been a nightstick or a pistol and Caleb hastily took his hands off the girl. She gave a tiny whimper and left. The soldier followed. Caleb tried to think of words to shout that might inspire her. Survival, fight, hope, chance, positive. None of them had any meaning.