For two days Chan had been kept in that room. It was colorless, airless, and the only light came from the pale green bulb hanging from the ceiling. In the corner there was a vomit stained bed, whether it was her vomit Chan couldn't quite remember. In the other corner there was a bucket, the content of which let it's stifling stench suffocate her day and night. Not that she could tell the difference between the two now.
When they'd arrived Chan hadn't even bothered to fight back against the dozens of militia. They'd taken Derek and thrown him in to die with the infected. But when he saw her Father Connel got a look in his eye that Chan had seen on plenty of men before. She had been washed, had her already short hair trimmed to look more orderly and less shaggy, given a set of clothing that possessed the unusual smell of soap, and shoved into a gaudily decorated bedroom.
Chan had felt like she was already naked, without the usual layer of encrusted dirt that had formed her hard outer shell. Father Connel entered and made some speech about how grateful she should be and then tried to rape her.
She'd kicked him in the nuts.
So now she was trapped in the airless, colorless room, trying to not slowly go insane. She'd tried to escape twice, although the second time was more of a sheer act of desperation then anything else. Worst was the sheer mind-numbing lonesomeness. The only people she ever saw were the guards that brought her food, and they refused to speak. Chan felt her usually iron clad grip on sanity being poked full of holes.
But on the third day the door opened up and the familiar sight of Giba's twisted face greeted her.
“Wha yoos dozing der?” he said, understandably surprised. “Yoos dead!”
Chan didn't waste time with questions. She pushed past Giba (who could have easily stopped her, but decided against it) and out onto a walkway that overlooked the courtyard. She breathed the moist, clean, wonderful tasting air that she hadn't had any of for two days. After the first breath she started to wonder how she'd ever survived two days without it.
She glanced around and saw Giba running, probably to tell Joshua that he'd found her, but at that moment she didn't care. She was free! She could run and jump again! She started sashaying up and down the walkway and waving to people in the court yard.
“CHAN!” a scream of joy came from the walkway's end. “You're alive!” Joshua had arrived. He ran towards her with his arms open for a hug, not like him at all.
“I never thought I'd get out of there!” Chan exclaimed when she saw him, happiness overruling her questions. She opened her arms and received his hug, although it was awkward because they were both so out of practice with hugs. But then he did something about ten times as awkward.
Joshua kissed her.
It lasted about a second before Joshua cut off both the hug and the kiss. It was not a good kiss, but rather dry and one sided. Joshua's lips were so chapped that she barely felt it. But it was a kiss.
“Captain!” Chan exclaimed, almost jumping backwards. She'd never known Joshua to show anything more then simple anger and pain on the outside. His sign of affection caught her by surprise.
“I didn't mean too...sorry,” Joshua apologized. He suddenly wouldn't make eye contact and blinked excessively. “I just... I thought you were dead. I saw that island burn. I was pissed off at you for staying. I got drunk. My pledge to quit drinking lasted a grand total of one day, just like usual.”
Chan laughed. “Really? I figured it would take more then me dying to get you off the wagon again. Besides captain, you should have known I'd survive. It takes more then a few rockets, capture by the Sphere, and a kraken to kill me.”
“Kraken? What happened?”
“You know the monster that pretends to be an island? The one you ran into five years ago? I helped the Sphere guys run into it too.”
“Well, that's why I didn't shoot you when we met Chan. I could see you pulling yourself out of situations.”
“Well why are you here?” Chan asked. “What happened to the asshole priest running this place?”
Joshua explained what had happened.
“Think we can trust these guys not to stab us in the back?” Chan asked.
“No,” Joshua said, “I know how religion works. They're a bunch of fanatics who've been talked down, but soon they'll be coming back with a vengeance.”
“Master Captain!” Giba called form down the walkway. “Yoos best come quicks!”
“What is it?” Joshua asked, already moving in Giba's direction.
“Da Heal Man!”
“What? What has that bastard doctor done?”
“He say da whole islund sick!”
“We all have the disease,” the doctor clarified when Joshua arrived in the medical lab. Connel had been taken to some sort of makeshift prison, but Clooney was still there, helping the doctor tend the wounded. Zoey and her friend Kurt were there as well. They'd put some infected sap into a bed, who was muttering and ranting to himself.
“That can't be right,” Joshua countered. “If we were all infected then we'd all have boils right now.”
“No,” the doctor denied him. “When I was treating Bates I noticed an irregularity in his blood. I took samples from Clooney, one of the villagers and myself. We all have the disease. It must be air born, and it must be extremely contagious. I've been looking through Curtis's notes and apparently the disease reacts differently to each person in the time it takes for symptoms to appear.”
Joshua, considering he had just been told he had a deadly disease, was remarkably calm. “You can make a cure for it right? That's your area of expertise.”
The doctor sighed. “It's unlikely. Based on what Clooney has told me Father Curtis had a far more extensive medical education then me. His notes say the virus is in a constant state of mutation. I can't imagine what force led to it being like that, but it's very unlikely even the best doctor in the world with the best equipment available could come up with a cure. I'm far from the best doctor and these people don't even have anti-biotics.”
“We've got to try,” Clooney interjected.
“In three months every human being on this island will be dead,” the doctor said. “Even if you had decent equipment I would be lucky to find a cure in twenty years. If you want a cure you'll have to find one that's already out there. Now if you'll excuse me I've got to start treating the boy Derek's legs now.”
“I've got to go too,” Joshua said, and motioned for Chan and Giba to follow him.
“Where's he off to now?” Clooney muttered, watching him go.
“Can I help?”Zoey asked the doctor as he inspected Derek's shattered legs.
“Yes,” the doctor said. “His legs are infected and rotten. They've not been properly treated. Since there are no anti-biotics here or on the Bright Side we'll have to use alternative treatment.” He turned to Clooney. “I assume Curtis had a supply of maggots?”
“Yes, he kept them in his office,” Clooney said, still staring at the spot where Joshua had left.
“Go get them girl,” the doctor ordered.
“Maggots!” Zoey exclaimed. “What do we need those for?”
The doctor sighed. “His legs were so badly shattered by whatever exactly caused this...”
“Firing himself from a cannon,” Zoey interjected.
The doctor gave her a nasty look and continued, “His legs are infested by bacteria. I would like to use anti-biotics but we don't have any. The only other way to get rid of it is to have maggots eat the infected skin. Hopefully we can avoid having to cut off his leg to stop gangrene.”
Zoey inhaled sharply. “It's really that serious?”
“Yes, now get me the maggots,” the doctor said testily.
Zoey nodded and walked into Curtis's office. Although his body hadn't been found, (and would remain lost for several years) she couldn't help but think she was in a dead man's attic, peeping at his last will and testament. A pile of playing cards on the desk, some set out for a game of solitaire. A few filling cabinets crammed full of notes. Not medical notes, notes for a story involving pixies and trolls and other fantasy nonsense.
Most striking of all was the photograph in the corner of the room. Zoey didn't know why it caught her eye. It looked ancient, presumably taken before the war. It was of a young woman, very powerfully and stockily built. She was wearing a white coat and a had an arm band with a red cross on it. As she looked at it Zoey felt a connection she couldn't quite fathom. She would later describe it as longing.
She found a bucket of maggots under the desk and carried it back out to the doctor. He busily wrapped the pale slugs around Derek legs and covered them with bandages. Zoey helped.
“Won't they hurt him?” she asked.
“They'll do more help then harm. If he wakes up we can give him an anesthetic for the pain,” the doctor explained as he finished the bandaging. “Why don't you check on the other patients?”
Only kind of wondering how she'd just become a nurse, Zoey went from patient to patient, checking to make sure they were comfortable. When she came to Bates she noticed something was wrong with his eyes. They looked cloudy, like they were filling up with something...
“His eyes are bleeding!” Zoey suddenly realized.
The doctor rushed over and took a quick look at Bates's eyes. “Goddamn it!” he exclaimed. “He's got a cerebral hemorrhage! I need to preform surgery, everyone clear the room!”
Without a word the assembled people cleared out, all except for Zoey. “Can I help?” she asked.
“Yes, clear off the lab table, I can't operate on him in bed. I'll need you to get all the surgical tools and hand me them when I say, got it?”
Zoey swept everything off the lab table while the doctor carried Bates over to it. “No time for anesthetic, we've just got to pray he remains unconscious,” the doctor said as he laid Bates down and made sure his head was stable. “Scalpel.”
“The small knife, hurry up.” Zoey handed him the small knife and he started making the first incision. “You have any questions you want to ask me?”
“Why would I ask them now?”
“I need to be distracted. I know the motions but if I over think it I may end up killing Bates. Keep me talking, keep Bates alive.”
“Um...” Zoey muttered, trying to think of a good question.
“Right! What's your real name? I've only ever called you doctor.”
“I have no real name. I was never given one.”
“What kind of place do people not have names?”
“You should know, you were born there. Cloth,” the doctor used white cloth to soak up the blood dripping from the cut he'd made in Bates's head.
“You're from the White Fleet?” Zoey asked, raising her eyebrows.
“Yes. I was born there, raised there, got doctor on my society test and learned everything there is to know about medicine, then got declared an Enemy of the People when I tried to remove a malfunctioning control chip.”
“Only Primary Citizens are supposed to know about control chips. Needle.” Zoey handed him a needle and string which looked out of place for brain surgery. The doctor's hands became covered in blood as he sewed up a part of Bates's exposed brain. “Even though the chip would kill the woman I was operating on, the Primary Citizens wouldn't let me remove it. I did anyway, so they killed her and tried to kill me, just to cover up their secret. Joshua saved me, and I ended up working for him. Although sometimes I think death is preferable to life under his command. Cloth.” The doctor soaked up more of Bates's blood before sewing his skin back on.
He and Zoey breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“You did well,” the doctor complemented her. “You could be a natural at this.”
“I sure hope not,” Zoey joked. “Although I must be pretty good a dealing with stress. I've managed to stay clear headed in the most extreme situations. I guess your kinda right.” For a moment Zoey thought about all she'd been through since the night where she just happened to run into Clooney and her entire life changed. She sat down the bed next to George. “You know, down in the Well Well there was this man. He was a cannibal, and he almost ate me. I killed him. Derek helped, but I was the one responsible for his death. And then there were two more. Farmers. One of them was really young. Not much older then me. I killed them both. And...” she hovered over her confession. “A man named Cameron because I tricked him. I lied to him and he died for it. Is my life worth so much that it's worth more then four other peoples'?”
The doctor sighed. He sat down next to her. “I don't know. I don't have to killed people. Usually. Joshua once ordered me to kill someone. There was a sick man on the islands that owed him money. But he didn't want to suffer the casualties an assault would cost. So he said I would offer my services to treat the poor man, and poison him instead. I told him I wouldn't do it.”
“Good for you,” Zoey said.
“I wasn't finished. There was a woman on the island that I had feelings for. Her name was Beth. I don't know whether we were in love or just lonely. But when I said I wouldn't kill the man Joshua...” the doctor paused for a moment let out a small sob. “He took her, and made me watch as he shot her in the head. And he said that if I ever defied him again he'd do the same with everyone and everything I cared about. I killed that man without another thought. Probably because I was a coward, but I justified it by saying the man was already dead, and I probably saved more lives by killing him.”
“No, I lied to myself. I do that a lot. Every day I wake up and say it wasn't my fault.”
“Doesn't feel like a very good way of dealing with killing someone.”
“Oh it isn't a good way. It's the only way. Unless you feel nothing. Then you become like Joshua.”
“So I had to kill those people. There was no other way,” Zoey lied.
“Yes,” the doctor agreed. “You know I think Joshua was wrong about you. He said you'd make a good con-woman because you were able to bluff the militia so perfectly. But I think you're above that.”
“I don't know, he might be right,” Zoey said with a smile. She looked at George and stroked his head. He twitched and shook, and beads of sweat broke out on his forehead. “I wish I had some Well Well water to give to him.”
“We've got some Well Well water on the...” the doctor trailed off. He and Zoey went rigid at the thought that had just entered both their heads.
“The Well Well water cures everything right?” Zoey said. “It could cure the disease!”
“I don't know for sure but it's a better chance then anything else!” the doctor yelped, almost jumping up and down with the revelation.
“Will Joshua agree to sharing it? Is there even enough?” Zoey remarked, suddenly seeing all the flaws in their plan.
“He would give a few drops,” the doctor said. “And with my Fleet Education and the scientific resources of this monastery there's no saying what we could do with those drops. There must be a scientific reason why the Well Well water is the way it is. If it's a microorganism we could clone it. If it's a chemical we could synthesize it. We could replicate it, whatever it is, and create more! Find Joshua and tell him the Well Well water may cure the disease.”
Without hesitation Zoey obeyed the doctor's order, running to the square in the middle of the monastery. It was still full of tired looking families huddled together. She spotted Giba and ran over to him. “Have you seen Joshua?”
“Giba think the Mashter Captain ish douwn at da doks,” he said in his usual broken style.
Zoey tore of towards the docks. She was running from the sheer thrill of having a chance at survival. She'd written herself off as head the moment she woke up in the barn of infected, without even knowing it really. But now she had a chance, a slim chance, but a chance, at survival. And it made her run.
She ran, panting, to a stop at the docks, where a shade of red still hung over the execution place. The Bright Side was not there.
“Finally figured it out huh?” Joshua's voice taunted from afar. Zoey's hopes died inside her as the Bright Side sailed away, and Joshua standing on its deck, holding the canister of life-saving water over his head in triumph.