Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Fulminant Scourge

Zeke had once been told that he was named after a great medical reformer. He assumed it was some figure from before the Great Automation in the early 20's. Before then, Data Entry Recorders (DER's) were called Physicians and were required to undergo a rigorous training process before being allowed to practice.

The discovery of the Automaton changed everything. Medical school was shortened from four to two years and post graduate training was abolished. This was before the great naming convention. Thousands of useless medical terms were organized into a hundred simple categories. In fact, the makers of the Automaton had long ago dropped the archaic nomenclature and replaced each disease with simple numbers.

After the great revolution, death from antiquated diseases such as heart failure and cancer became unheard of. The speed and accuracy of the Automaton was no match for such human failings. In fact, if it hadn't been for the perilous scourge of Virus Fulmentis (VF), life expectancy would have skyrocketed. Instead, most people were lucky to make it past the sixth decade. VF was a hundred percent fatal.

Zeke was proud of his medical training. His two years of medical school were arduous. He spent countless hours learning how to connect the probes in just the right fashion. During his clinicals, he read almost all hundred numbers off his Automaton's monitor. In fact, he sent quite a few fifty two's right to the micro dissector.

But no matter how many times the results flashed on the screen, Zeke would never get used to the large VF that occasionally popped up unexpectedly. The only disease not indicated by a numerical value, VF struck terror in the hearts of DERs in training. Although the presenting symptoms could be anything: cough, chest pain, a lump in the belly; the treatment was always the same. The patient was whisked away from their family and isolated in a dark, damp, holding center in the basement of the hopspital. First line therapy included trials of forced starvation which had been shown to prolong life weeks more than conventional cyanide replacement.

Occasionally, patients with VF would escape the hospital or office before security could escort them to a treatment center. Often they sought out alternative medical practitioners who trained in pre revolution doctrines in secret schools throughout Europe. Zeke refered to them as Witch Doctors (WDs). There was a WD who lived a few blocks down from him. He was an elderly gentleman who must have been a little boy at the time of The Great Automation. Although Zeke had half a mind to report him to the Health Alliance, he couldn't bare to see the poor old man carted away in hand cuffs. Like everybody else in the neighborhood, he kept his mouth shut.

Zeke would occasionally see wayward grifters entering and leaving the WD's house. There was no mistaking the look of desperation in their eyes. The comings and goings would continue all hours of the day and night. Zeke dared not get to close. He was afraid of catching the virus. Strangely, it had never occurred to him why he hadn't met a WD with VF. In fact, he hadn't seen a WD in his office or in medical school, not once!

Zeke's daily work was occasionally interrupted by sickness. Like everybody else, he would sometimes lay in bed and fight a bad thirty nine or seventy six. Once a twenty four caused him to miss work a whole week. So when his chest started to hurt one day, Zeke assumed it was something minor.

He had meant to strap himself up to the Automaton a hundred times, but he kept getting side tracked by one patient issue or another. On one particular morning when the pain became unbearable, Zeke cleared a half an hour from his schedule and locked the exam room door. He place the probes gingerly on his own body (which is no simple task when one considers the central back lead) and hit the analyze button.

After a moment of whizzing and whirring the machine became quiet. Zeke unhooked the leads and turned the monitor carefully to visualize the screen. With great shock, he glanced uncomprehendingly at the large letters flashing in front of him.


He stared at the neon figures and squinted as if he could somehow transform them to numbers by cocking his head in just the right manner. A moment later he jumped off his chair and flipped the switch on the monitor. He knew he had just minutes before the internal alarm informed security that another VF patient was in the building.

Zeke grabbed his bag and charged out the room. As he sped past the nursing station and flew out the doors, he could hear the high pitched alarm screech in the background. He momentarily sprinted towards the garage, but then realized that he would never make it through security.

His only hope was to go on foot to his house before the authorities could question him. His chest pain had become severe now. He could taste the burning sensation arise from his belly and twist its way up to his throat. By the time he turned the corner to his block, he could see the sirens. The Health Authority had already staked out his house.

Zeke only had one choice. He turned away from the squad cars and paced a hundred yards to the WD's front entrance. The door slid open, and he was beckoned to come in before he had the chance to knock. The elderly WD looked him up and down.

I never thought I'd see you here!

He asked Zeke a number of questions and then took out an ancient looking piece of metal and plastic from his pocket. He placed one end in his ears and put the other on Zeke's chest and then back. The WD then pushed and prodded on his belly.

You have something we used to call gastroesophageal reflux.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bottle full of unmarked pills.

Take one of these now and then repeat every twenty four hours. I suggest you avoid the authorities for one full day and then turn yourself in. Repeat Automaton testing will be normal.

Zeke stumbled out of the WD's house and looked down the street. The authorities were gone. For a moment he regretted swallowing the pill that the old man had thrust upon him. Strangely, his chest pain was already feeling better. He remembered that he had an extra set of camping gear in the garage. He could hide out there if he had to.

Maybe he didn't have VF after all!

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