Another day, another hour. Another minute, another patient.
It was his thirty-two-thousandth, four hundred and ninety-sixth patient today. Well.. it felt like somewhere in that ballpark, anyway. Give or take a few hundred.
That the apparently unceasing stream of patients would actually never end was much more than just a feeling now. It was a certainty. The number of the infected were going up, regardless of the numbers that were being released by the Powers-That-Be. It was a rare day that they found more than 20 possible survivors out of the hundreds that turned up. Today, there was maybe one so far.
He checked his watch yet again. Not that much time had passed. He still had another hour or so to go before his break.
He looked up from the chart when the next one entered the room. Female, mildly attractive, mid-30s(?), probably a size… um, well… not truly relevant to the task in hand. Did she look like she might die? Definitely, if she spat like it. Hell, she probably would die anyway. He was pretty convinced that every living thing on the planet, including him, was bound to die. Everyone on the damn planet. Everyone.
He extended the digital analyzer spittoon for the thirty-two-thousandth, four hundred and ninety-seventh time. Or whatever. Looked closer at her. No, definitely only mildly attractive, even if his per-patient report didn’t have an entry for such details. Some doctors he knew had started making deals with the prettier ones (that they first diagnosed as clean), asking for “payments” to certify them as clean.
Some even made such deals with men.
Even if he was going to try that stunt, this female was not worth it. Hell, his own wife looked better than she did.
“Next!” A smile, a nod, and the sound of the door closing. And opening again.
The man seemed genuinely puzzled about what to do next. He was silently motioned to fill out his own chart. By the time the previous report had been filed by the doctor, the newly completed one was ready. The doctor had no idea why these forms were bothered with… maybe it was to ensure that the doctors had a little breathing time between patients. He pushed a spittoon across while scanning the form on auto-pilot, and looked up to see the man quizzically examining it.
The new entry pushed the spittoon back. “Do I get a letter of some kind?”
“When you step out, you’ll be notified.” Thank god for setting up that procedure. The initial set of patients couldn’t handle what was bound to happen to them, and at least ten doctors had to go on the wrong side of the Wall.
Now the doctors themselves didn’t know what the outcome was; the spittoons were transported outside the staging area once the samples had been collected. The most significant test was run while it was being transported, which at least told the soldiers waiting outside whether the patient was a potential survivor or not. The remaining tests took longer, and were usually run in batch jobs. Jobs which were obviously on a backlog; there were only so much money that people were willing to invest in a testing facility. Even if said facility could be responsible for the survival of the planet. It was just one of those things.
“Is that all?”
The doctor looked back up from the chart. “Yes, they’ll talk to you outside now. Thank you.” He went back to looking at the chart. Something had struck him… name, age, address, location, standard questions about hanging out with the infected… something…
He looked back up. The patient was still standing there, apparently disoriented. Warning sign of infection. “Sir, you have to go outside now.” His hand snaked towards the buzzer underneath the desk, he realized that it was shaking ever so slightly. Stories came rushing back into his head, unbidden, of patients spitting on doctors for no apparent reason… of violent breaks with reality which were quickly “handled”. No-one knew why they happened, least of all the doctor involved. Who was also the one person who definitely did not survive; to be replaced by the next scapegoat.
If only he had managed to get his wife and parents someplace they were safe from the Powers-That-Be… if only that was even possible…
The man leaned heavily on the table, clearly about to do something. The doctor slowly shifted slightly off to the right: if he was going to be the target of spit, he could at least try to avoid it. A crystal-clear fact materialized: no-one was ever kept on the right side of the Wall if they had been anywhere near an infected (or possibly infected) person who had been spitting. The isolation masks and procedures were fine, but no risks were being taken. His finger was nearly on the buzzer…
“I… I’m from H_____”
The doctor’s fingers depressed the buzzer, the sound of which immediately reverberated in the room. On cue, he pushed himself back, away from the table.. away from who was surely Death. He twisted sideways out of the chair, and then rolled behind it, cowering.. hopefully outside the range of spit… “Please don’t do anything, please, I beg you, I’m really trying to help… I’m just a doctor, I don’t know why they risk us, we know nothing…” The patient’s eyes widened in shock as the buzz penetrated his skull. He stood upright, wavering ever so slightly.
The doctor’s babbling was interrupted by the slam of the door, as the room was burst into by an Isolation Team. The table was kicked over, the spittoon sent flying.. spit and all.. the patient roughly knocked to the floor and tasered. Two members of the Team bound him and started dragging him to the door. The Leader of the Team now turned to where the doctor was hiding behind the chair.
The spittoon lay inches away from him, remnants of sputum adhering to the bottom.
The rest of it was on the doctor’s gown.
“I’m sorry, sir” The Leader advanced, taser at ready. “You know the procedure, I would appreciate not having to use this on you.”
The doctor’s eyes darted towards the taser, and then back at his gown as he rose from the ground. “No, I’m sterilized.. it won’t do anything, I assure you, let me go through the sanitation chamber. Please…” His eyes widened in horror on seeing the splatter across the front of his body. There was no hope.. none… He backed away from the Leader, his leg nudging the spittoon. Reflexively, he lashed out… but somehow the spittoon had sealed up and clattered harmlessly against the upturned table. The rest of the Team moved as far away from it as possible.
The doctor collapsed on his knees sobbing. The Leader moved decisively towards him, taser in one hand… bindings in the other. “My wife, my parents… please…” A chop to the head to knock him onto his front, and the bindings were strapped on. The rest of the team were around him with the bodybag.. it wasn’t time to kill him.. but it was the safest way. The Leader depressed his communicator. “Sterilization. Testing Room 201.” He motioned to the Team.
The spittoon beeped. It’s preliminary tests had been run on whatever had been within.
The Teams’ eyes were on the indicator.
“But he was from H_____! That means I’m…” A scream from the doctor cut off mid-sentence.
The taser had been deployed by one of the Team before the Leader had the time to give an order. Auto-pilot. The doctor flailed inhumanly, and then lay still.
The Leader’s eyes went to the automatically updated screening chart on the far wall, scanning.. scanning..
One of the Team said it out loud before he even reached the entry.
“Impossible, no-one from H____ has been found uninfected.”
The Leader stared at the door through which the patient had been dragged. “Yet.”
Part 3 of a serialized story: The Man Who Was