I always hated the old hospital. It should have been renovated years before but we never had the money to fix it. The roof was crumbling and the hallways were dark with lights that flickered spastically. We used to use it only as a mental institution, but with time it evolved into one of the few human-only hospitals left in Sinnoh. If I didn't need to be there, I wouldn't be. Sick people made me feel sick, and the sharp clinical smells got my heart racing.
But I'd been brought in per special request. Gym Leader business, apparently. They made sure I was wearing the most advanced containment suit we had, with an air filtration system that weighed heavily on my back. I knew it was something about the virus, but hardly anything more. I followed the reports and tightened security as needed to protect my city. I was always told Sinnoh was the king of everything from military to medicine, capable of saving the world with the power of our superior blood. Even then I was beginning to lose faith in that.
The head doctor of the hospital bowed when I walked toward him and addressed me as "Sir Gym Leader, sir." His voice crackled through a microphone sitting much too close to his face. He was alone, save for a single secretary hiding behind a bright green containment tarp. He gestured down the hall and made a sweeping motion with his left arm. "We believe this is something you have to see, sir." He kept up a brisk pace beside me, hands hanging heavily at his sides. "We've been studying this particular patient for about two weeks now. He is likely a victim of the PBP-8 virus. When he arrived he had apparently been suffering from a high fever for about twenty-four hours. He also appeared to have a limited grasp of basic language; though his wife assured us he never had trouble in the past." The doctor slowed, looking down at the ground. "Leader Roark, we have done everything in our power to help this man, but at this point we are exhausted of ideas."
A bright green tarp covered the door to a room at the end of the hallway. I bit my lip and glanced at the doctor. He was focused on the room, the thick plastic over his face obscuring his worn features and tired eyes. He slid open the tarp and held it open for me to step inside. I thanked him and walked into a dark, tightly enclosed space with thick inflated walls. Another door waited for us on the opposite end. The doctor closed the first entrance tightly behind him, then turned to me and hesitated. I couldn't see his face in the darkness, but I could sense the tension in the tiny room. I tried to keep calm, but the nervous adrenaline racing through my veins betrayed me.
He exhaled heavily and slid the second door open with careful hands. The zip was deafening in the silence. I could see his body shaking as he raised his arm out, beckoning me to go in first.
There was sweat on my forehead and the back of my neck. My heart raced and my fingers shook. Struggling to look as confident as possible, I stepped over the tarp and into the quiet gray room. A curtain hung over the only bed that seemed to be occupied. Most of the light from outside was blocked by the same type of heavy green tarp as the door.
"Sir, what I am about to show you is …extremely gruesome. You are always free to leave, but, sir, I do honestly believe I am obligated to show you this. The implications are …momentous." I walked forward slowly, my footsteps quiet. The doctor followed and closed the door tightly behind him. "Would you like to see it on your own, or should I be present?"
I would have preferred not to see it at all, but I could never appear weak in front of a civilian. "Thank you doctor, but I believe I would-" my voice cracked and I cleared my throat loudly. It disturbed the silence of the room, echoing off the empty walls. "I will first see the patient alone." He nodded in understanding, his breath heavy in the microphone.
The curtain did not move. There was no wind in here, nothing to stir it. Resisting the urge to look back at the doctor for support, I inhaled deeply and reached out for the curtain. It shook as my heavily gloved fingers grasped tightly to the fabric, wrinkling and giving slightly in my hand.
In one swift motion I tore the curtain to the side. Metal clanged loudly against metal as it flew toward the wall.
The patient lay completely still on the cot. He wore only a thin hospital gown, stained with green markings and visibly wet. Much of his skin was gone, leaving only a waxy film over his body. Large patches of the film produced hives of thick, pus-filled bubbles on his neck and underarms. His legs were covered with dark splotches of green, some intersecting with exposed bone and muscle. I could see exactly how the musculature of his feet intertwined, as well as the complete bone structure of his hands.
Cold steel circles were placed on the insides of his elbows and within his weak skull. Long wires connected them to a strange machine on my right that emitted a quiet but steady hum. A complex series of buttons and switches lined the front of it, some blinking dully. The film grew around the cables, enveloping them in a stiff, shimmering glaze.
Veins lay on the blanket, hanging loosely from where the waxy coating was too watery. Some seemed to have been cut so that the ends were ragged and split. Most of his face was too distorted to be recognizable, with his cheeks completely ripped away to expose an eerily wide smile. His teeth were yellow or black, with the gums decayed into the skull. The cartilage on his nose and ears had been eaten away to leave behind deep, dark holes in his face.
His chest rose and fell so slowly I didn't notice it at first. Then steadily, with a creeping, terrible realization, I saw that he was somehow still alive. The arteries that remained connected seemed plump with fluid, the veins pulsating ever so slightly from the force of diligent valves. Beneath the hospital gown I could see something expanding and contracting very rapidly, desperate to keep him alive. His heart pounded beneath bone and ripped muscle.
In his bright red eyes I saw a strange hunger. They were inflamed and swollen with pus oozing out of the sides. The webbing of his nearly-vanished lids hung low, giving him a perpetual squint. I expected to see pain, a longing for death in those terrible eyes, but instead there was only a glowing, ravenous madness.
He jolted forward very suddenly, and the doctor pushed me aside to get closer. He calmly flipped several switches on the humming machine and pressed a large button on the side. The patient's body begun to convulse, his muscles contracted and for a second he seized up completely. Then he stopped just as abruptly as he began, lying limp as he was before.
The doctor stood at the machine with his hand held over the button. "There is no explanation for his continued survival. We believe this has to do with PBP-8, but cannot confirm that. He showed all the classic symptoms for the virus, and we believe there is a connection because we honestly have no other idea what could be going on. We do not understand how PBP-8 works, as its symptoms are such strange combinations of ailments. The nightmares that seem to have driven him insane were the most striking detail. He told us about them as best he could, and from what we understood they were…unusually vivid. Lucid nightmares are the most obvious symptom of the virus, and he more or less told us he always knew he was dreaming. I told you he had the high fever, and occasional vomiting and diarrhea as well. As his dementia worsened, he began to scream in his sleep. His blood flow is extremely slow, and seemed to clot very quickly when samples were taken. Yet, as far as we know the virus has not been isolated. The name 'PBP-8' only describes a collection of very specific symptoms. It's essentially meaningless. It's only been around for a few months but it's spread so fast…" He stopped and his hand clenched into a fist. "My apologies, sir, I'm rambling."
I couldn't look away from the patient. His still-living body, his starving, empty eyes …he was all at once human and not. I wanted to see the pain in him, some acknowledgement of his condition, but instead there was only savage desire. He looked into me without any emotion but desperation, and I looked at him with little more than fear.
"If this has anything to do with PBP-8…if millions of people are infected with something that will eventually turn them into this…" He shook his head slowly, turning to face me. "Sir, I believe we would have a national emergency on our hands."
I gulped and tore my eyes away from the patient. "We don't know enough to say that." I steadied my voice, trying hard not to stutter or show how nervous I felt. "We aren't even sure what PBP-8 is."
He sighed. The patient watched us vacantly, his smile looking very malevolent in the dark room. "I suppose you're right, sir. But I-I can't get past this. I'm worried, sir. We haven't the slightest idea what the trigger is for this set of symptoms. We have a disease spreading like wildfire throughout the country that we do not understand in the slightest. And this …a man whose own flesh has begun to necrotize, whose mind appears to have abandoned him …he can survive without food or water on an incredibly damaged body. I don't understand, sir. I'm deeply sorry." He turned to me and bowed, holding for an extra second. "We have failed this city."
I watched him straighten slowly in the thick containment suit. It crackled as he moved, and I caught him wince slightly from the effort. "You don't have to bow or apologize, doctor," my voice was soft, careful. "If this is truly the enigma it seems to be I cannot expect you to have all the answers. This…this is deeply worrying to me. Have you spoken with anyone outside of Oreburgh?"
"Stop that, it sounds like a verbal tic."
He shifted uncomfortably before continuing. "Sorry sir -er, sorry- sorry Roark. Ah, yes, and it-it's interesting. They reported, obviously, seeing this strain of symptoms repeatedly, but they have yet to see something as extreme as this. That I'm aware of." I nodded slowly, listening intently to his cracking voice over the microphone. "There is something to be said for inter-city competition, though. I suppose it is entirely possible that there is information that I simply have not received because everyone else knows as much as we do. If they don't want to look weak or foolish, they won't tell anyone else of their foolishness. I can neither confirm nor deny that though, so don't take my word for it…."
The patient suddenly lurched for us again and let out a strange moan. His jaw cracked open, revealing a rotted tongue and blackened mouth. The doctor swore and slammed his fist into the button on the side of the machine. The patient shuddered and shook violently, but did not stop moving.
"Oh, Arceus, no…" Terror strangled the doctor's voice. The patient reached toward us, and I instinctually pushed the doctor away. Every exposed muscle was pumping now, shaking with the effort of moving the man's rotting body. His weak arms swung for me and I stepped back, still pushing the doctor away with one steady hand. The patient's feet hit the ground and he started to fall. The doctor took the opportunity to hit the button again, sending powerful jolts of electricity bursting through the man's body.
The scream that tore from his mouth was so human the two of us froze completely. I heard a note of pure, unbridled agony in his voice; it was filled with desperation and pain, with the incredible torment of losing control of his own body.
He collapsed on to his side, shivering violently as tremors overtook him. The doctor and I watched helplessly as he struggled to get a hold of himself. He pushed his broken arms against the ground and moaned before falling flat on to his stomach.
We waited there until he stopped moving completely. His heart still beat and his chest still rose and fell, but his eyes were completely dead. The hunger returned; any trace of humanity he had left was gone.