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“You’re not dying,” I assure him, taking a cure from my case. I’ve seen more and more of this as the weeks go on. People know the symptoms of the Plague now and they often come in before they go down. “And this red? It’s the color of the tube, not the cure. It will start working soon.” He’s old, and when I reach out to pat his hand, the skin feels very fragile. In the Society he could have expected to die in the next few years. Now, who knows? Maybe he’s got plenty of time left. All we have to do is get him through this Plague.
“You promise,” he says, looking right at me. “You give me your word as a physic.”
I hook up a vital-stats machine to him so that we’ll be alerted if his heart stops beating or if he quits breathing. Then I move on to the next patient. We’re keeping up, but it takes every minute of every shift.
The outbreak of the Plague happened sooner than the Rising had anticipated. Overall, the takeover of the Society has gone well, but it hasn’t been perfect. People have accepted the Rising because they want the cure. We’ve got their loyalty, for now. But there are still Society sympathizers and those who are just plain scared of what’s happening. They don’t trust anyone. That’s what we’re trying to change. The more people who come in sick and go out cured, the better. Then everyone can see that we’re here to help.
“Carrow.” The head physic’s voice comes across my miniport. “We have a new group assembling in the conference hall for their welcome speech.”
“Of course,” I say. This is another part of my job. “I’ll come right away.”
I nod to the nurses on duty on my way out the door. Once I finish the speech, my shift’s over, so I won’t come back here tonight unless there’s an emergency. “See you tomorrow,” I say to them.
I fall into step with the others walking to the conference room. I haven’t gone far when I hear someone say my name: “Carrow.” There’s a crowd of people in black pressing down the hall, and it takes me a second to figure out who called to me, but then I see her.
“Official Lei,” I say, before I remember that it’s just Lei now. The Rising’s done away with titles. We only use last names. The last time I saw her was almost two months ago, back when the Plague first came and she was stuck in quarantine. She couldn’t have been in for long—the Rising let everyone in the cells go home as soon as the Boroughs and Cities were secure. But I still walked away and left her there.
“I’m sorry—” I begin, but she shakes her head.
“You did what you needed to do,” she says. “It’s good to see you.”
“You too,” I say. “Especially here. Does this mean you’ve joined the Rising?”
“I have,” she says, “but I’m afraid I need your help to stay here.”
“Of course. What can I do?”
“I was hoping you would vouch for me,” she says. “If you don’t, I can’t stay.”
Each member of the Rising is only allowed to vouch for three other people. Obviously we want everyone to join eventually, but right now we’ve got to be careful. Vouching for someone isn’t something you can take lightly. I’ve always assumed that my three people would be my parents and Cassia, if she needed it, in case I was wrong about her being in the Rising.
If someone that you vouch for turns out to be a traitor, you’ll be investigated right along with them. So: how much do I trust Lei?
I’m about to ask Lei if there’s anyone else she can ask, but something about the tightness around her mouth and the way she stands—her posture even more perfect than usual—makes me realize that no, there isn’t. She doesn’t look away. I’d forgotten how we’re almost exactly the same height.
“Of course,” I say. I’ll still have two people left. If something happens and I was wrong about Cassia, my brother, Tannen, can vouch for one of our parents. He’s probably planning on it anyway. Not for the first time, I wish I’d had a chance to talk to him about the Rising.
Lei puts her hand on my arm, very briefly. “Thank you,” she says. Her voice sounds lovely and sincere, and a little surprised. She didn’t think I’d do it.
“You’re welcome,” I say.
“If you’re here,” I tell the new workers, “it means that you’ve met the three main qualifications required to work in the medical center. First, you have medical training. Second, you’re safe, because you either contracted the Plague immediately and have since been cured, or you received an immunization when you applied to return to work. Third, you’ve joined the Rising.”
I pause and let the silence settle before I begin again.
“You are now a part of this rebellion. You might not have known the Rising existed until you heard the Pilot speak, or you may have only come to believe in the Rising now that you’ve seen our cure, or because you want our immunity. We don’t hold that against you, of course. We’re grateful for your assistance. Our immediate goal is to save people from the Plague.”
I smile out at them, and almost everyone smiles in return. They’re glad to be back at work and part of the solution. Some of them look downright eager.
Then a woman calls out, “If that’s true, then why didn’t you—I mean we—immunize everyone before they got sick? Why wait until they need the cure?”
One of the Rising officers at the back moves forward, but I hold up my hand. The Rising has given me all the information I need to field a question like this. And it’s a good question.
“Why didn’t we stockpile immunizations as well as cures?” I ask. “That’s what you want to know, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” she says. “It would be easier and more efficient to keep people from getting sick in the first place.”
“The Rising had limited resources,” I say. “We decided that focusing on the cure was the best use for those resources. There was no way to warn the public about the possibility of the Plague before it happened without causing panic. And the Rising didn’t want to immunize you without your permission. We’re not the Society.”
“But you—we—immunized the babies,” she point outs. “Without their permission.”
“That’s true,” I say. “The Rising felt that immunizing the infants was important enough that we diverted some of the resources in that direction. As you all know, infants suffer most during times of illness, and even a cure can’t guarantee a positive outcome in all cases with children so small. In this case, the decision was made to immunize without permission. And the result is that we haven’t seen anyone under the age of two years come in sick.” I let that sink in. “Now that the Rising is fully in power, we’ve already been able to shift additional resources over to making immunizations. We’ll save everyone eventually, one way or another.”
She nods, apparently satisfied.
There’s another reason, of course, but I don’t say it out loud: If the Rising had secretly immunized people, the people wouldn’t know whom to thank for saving them. They wouldn’t even know they had been saved. The Rising didn’t start this Plague. They solved it. And the people need to know that. They can’t appreciate the solution unless they know there had been a problem.
So, the Rising had to let some people become sick. But in most revolutions, many have to die.
This is much better.
“It’s my job to remind you,” I say, looking out over the group, “that each of you are here because you have been vouched for by a member of the Rising. They’ve taken a chance on you, one they believe was warranted. Please don’t disappoint them, or us, by trying to sabotage what we’re doing here. We’re working to save people.”
I’m not sure where Lei is in the room and I’m glad. I’m speaking to everyone, not only to her.
“Now,” I say. “Let me describe the basic procedures for taking care of the sick. You’ll receive more specific instructions and your initial shift assignments as you leave the room. Some of you will go straight to work and others will be assigned to rest and take your turn later.”
I run through the basic steps of protocol, reminding the workers about proper antiseptic techniques and procedures like hand washing and disinfecting supplies and equipment. These practices are especially important since this virus can be spread through contact with bodily fluids. I tell them about the admittance system and the initial medical exams, that we’re short on pressurized mattresses so we need to turn some patients by hand. I describe the wound vacuums we use for sealing off the lesions to try to stave off infection.
You can hear a pin drop when I get to the part that they all find the most interesting: the cure.
“Administering the cure is very similar to what you saw on the portscreens when the Pilot first spoke to everyone,” I say. “A negative reaction is almost unheard of, but if it does occur, it’ll take place within the first half hour of cure administration.”
“What is the adverse reaction?” a man asks.
“Patients stop breathing,” I say. “They have to be intubated. But the cure still works. They just need help breathing for a while. Obviously, only medics are allowed to intubate.”
“Have you ever seen a bad reaction?” he asks.
“Three times,” I say. “And I’ve been working at this medical center since the Rising took over here.” In some ways it feels like no time at all and in other ways it feels like it’s been my whole life.
“How long does it take for the cure to work?” someone else calls out.
“Often, patients are fully alert within three or four days,” I say, “and they move to the recovery area of the medical center by day six. They’ll stay there for a few more days before going back out to their families and friends. The cure is extremely potent.”
Some eyes widen and people look at each other in surprise. They’ve seen people come out of the medical centers, of course, but they didn’t know just how fast the cure kicked in.
“That’s all,” I say. I smile at everyone. “Welcome to the Rising.”
They all start clapping and someone cheers loudly. The room is full of excitement. They’re all glad to be back doing something that matters instead of sitting outside the barricade walls. I understand. When I’m giving people the cure, I know I’m doing the right thing.
I stare up at the sleeproom ceiling and listen to everyone breathing. Somewhere out in the medical center, Lei’s working with the patients. I’m glad she’s part of the Rising now: She’ll take good care of the still. I wonder why she didn’t join earlier. Maybe she just didn’t know about the Rising. People didn’t talk openly about the rebellion, after all.
I’m sure Tannen’s part of the Rising. Like me, he would have recognized the rebellion as our responsibility the minute he heard about it, and he’s immune to the tablet, too. He’s a perfect fit.