Hollowed Memories, chapter 4, part 5

September 7, 2014

After that, he had only vague memories, picked up during scant waking moments, of being moved back to his house.  Doc Gadner’s little clinic was not equipped to quarantine a patient with such a violently contagious infection.  They would probably spray everything in Marshall Kubiak’s longhouse with strong disinfectant and incinerate anything organic that Yarec had touched, but there were no major medical facilities within two hundred kilometers.  Fortunately, Yarec had installed a small but sophisticated medical suite in his basement.  It was a place for him to recuperate from injuries, if he could not get to an allied hospital.  Mrissa and the Doc could hook him up to an intravenous line to provide clean fluids and antibiotics, and Gadner did his best to drain and clean the festering wounds.  However, Yarec’s private facility was not really equipped to save the life of anyone this badly infected.  Treatment at home could probably only prolong his sickness; to cure it, they would need to get him to somewhere better.

It was probably some virulent strain of germ from the factory, which had stayed stuck to his skin through all the water and wind.  “Biological weapons are nasty,” Mrissa told him, as she patted his forehead with a gloved hand.  She sat back in her padded chair, which she had carried down from Yarec’s living room and propped beside the head of his bed.  She was muttering regional obscenities, and Yarec turned his head to look at her.  It was one of his rare moments of lucidity since the infection had overcome him the day before.  She saw he was looking and tried to smile; he turned back to stare at the pocked cement ceiling, so she would not have to try for too long.

He had no one else, and he might be dying.  He had previously made arrangements for his estate to go to States United Armed Forces in the event of his death.  Yarec had reasoned that if he died on a mission, his earnings would be recycled in support of his allies’ cause.  Now, however, he finally had somebody he wanted to share his accrued wealth with.  He could have recorded a new will, but there were still regulations, left over from a time when there had been a professional legal class, even in the hinterlands.  The only court around here now was a part-time affair, with a single judge, hired by the rich families to preside over murders, gross assaults, and any suits between the major landowners that could not be settled with simple threats.  There was still a prescribed form of a proper will, and the civic authorities could be counted on to snap up any property that was not correctly disposed of.

A marriage, on the other hand, could be contracted with relative ease.  They called in the necessary two witnesses, which were traditionally one male and one female.  Marshall Kubiak and his wife Vikki watched from behind a rose-tinted plastic pane, as Mrissa and Yarec made their pronouncements.  Yarec heaved himself up into a sitting position to announce his commitment, as the bride patted his hand between hers.  The rituals were brief and businesslike, which suited all the participants.  The Kubiaks were still annoyed that Yarec had spoiled their soiree, but he was family, and he was in trouble.  Mrissa wrote out an affidavit on a card of single-use script media, and everyone signed.  The ragged block letters she traced out with the stylus, pale gray-green against the dark brown background, spelled out the terms of the marriage, including the sole right of inheritance if either partner should die.  Then she flipped a tab on the corner of the card, and a shot of electric current sealed the document so the surface pigments could not be erased or amended.  The witnesses congratulated her as “Madame ban Silfien” and set off for home.

Yarec collapsed in exhaustion.  He slept through the whole next day, and there were no visitors except the Doc, who just clicked his tongue and added more opioids.  Every time he woke, Yarec felt weaker, and though he felt famished, he was also so nauseous that he could not eat.

He drifted through unconsciousness, never really waking until a high-pitched alarm in his earpiece informed him that something was amiss upstairs.  The monitor above his bed showed a split scene.  There were heavily armed men and women outside his front door, and some of them were already inside the house.  Mrissa was talking to them in the kitchen, with rifle barrels pointed at her face.  She did not look frightened; her face was still warm with color, although she hesitated every now and then to fumble with her hair.  Her face was angled partially away from the camera, so Yarec could not read her lips.  It might have been intentional, he thought.  She looked like she was speaking very softly, and he did not have the energy to find the sound controls, to see if the audio feed was picking up what she was saying.

She was answering questions from five soldiers in blue uniforms piped with black.  He recognized them—enemies.  The leader was interrogating her, while two of his underlings had their guns had their guns trained on her head.  The others were poking around.  One of them glared suspiciously  at Yarec’s countertop convection oven.  She prodded at it, as if trying to trigger an imaginary booby trap.  The cubical device resounded with a soft, unmusical thud every time she hit it, until finally, growing impatient with its unresponsiveness, she knocked it flat on its back with the triangular butt of her weapon.  It fell with a clatter against the streaked ceramic counter, and the soldier glowered at its inert shape.  Then she moved on to inspect Yarec’s other drawers and miniature appliances.

Whatever Mrissa told the leader, it was apparently convincing.  He snapped an order into his communicator mouthpiece, and the troopers outside visibly relaxed.  They lowered their rifles, which had all been pointed in toward the building.  Some abandoned their protective cover and stood up.  A junior officer outside pointed down toward the road, and two men jogged back in that direction, guns slung loosely across their backs.

Inside, Mrissa was doing more and more of the talking.  She gestured toward the ceiling, and all the intruder’s eyes followed her extended fingers.  Eventually, they reached some kind of agreement.  Mrissa picked up her personal computing lamina, which had been sitting, folded up, on the kitchen counter.  Then they all marched outside.  The last trooper in line left the front door hanging open.  Watching his own house, Yarec felt he was seeing a derelict.

As the troops departed, Yarec noticed they were lugging a piece of rather fancy-looking scientific equipment.  Two people were carrying it between them, and it was large enough to hold a modest suite of automated chemical reaction vessels.  On top, it had a pair of narrow hoses, now neatly coiled—the kind used to collect atmospheric or aerosol samples.  Perhaps that’s how they found me, Yarec thought.  A few molecules of their specially engineered bacterial DNA floating in the air, detected, duplicated, and confirmed.  My open wounds would be like a homing beacon.

The entrance to the basement was concealed, although not incredibly well.  The troops might have missed the stairs, or Mrissa had convinced them not to bother.  Would they be back?  Yarec had no way to know.  In fact, he remembered, he had no way to do anything.  The tension of watching Mrissa bargain with the invaders had kept him awake.  Now, they had all withdrawn, and he could not help plunging back into his fevered sleep.

He had no way of measuring the time, except by pain and hunger, until the medical practitioners arrived.  They slammed through his door, and Yarec woke with a flash of terror.  He felt too weak to move as they closed in around his bed.  They were blurs, all speaking at once, it seemed.  Yet somehow he thought he recognized one of them.  He did not know her name, but she was familiar, and he tried to croak something to her.  He struggled, but his throat, like most of him, was effectively paralyzed.

“Don’t worry, captain,” she said.  “We’ll get you out of this ruin.”

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