by Edward M. Erdelac -
It was morning when Considine received the call from the ZMB. He didn’t bother picking up. Whatever the result of Croix’s scan, he wanted to hear it on the spot. He showered, dressed, picked up a stimgulp from the shop at the north junction of his habitation ring, walked to the ZMB facility, and smoked.
The fish were roiling above his head through the observation bubble in the central axis, but he barely paid any attention. He’d lived in Zirconia six years now. Most of the time he forgot the city was underwater. It really wasn’t that different from living on Avenir. Oh, a little dingier, but really, the air was less stagnant, and there was a better class of people down here. Not in the traditional sense of class, but in the one that mattered.
The Zirconian Medical Bureau was a blazing white bank of pods and corridors that stood out starkly in its contrast to the rest of Zirconia. He went in, and found the receptionist, a cyborg woman jacked into her flat, monitor-less desk terminal by a hardwire running from her left eye port.
“Inspector Stanlon Considine. I received a call.”
“Yes Inspector, one moment.” She blinked, her one human eyelid closing, the eye beneath flitting sympathetically back and forth beneath as the cyborg eye transmitted pages of data into her mind.
The eye opened again, lovely and brown.
“Doctor Kes is waiting for you in the Imagery Lab. To your left, six doors down. Just follow the placards.”
She smiled, her teeth chrome.
Doctor Kes proved to be the very same doctor who had tended to Croix’s cuts and bruises following his rough ride to the surface.
“Inspector, I have some exciting news this morning.”
“Exciting?” Considine repeated innocently, though he had expected some kind of excitement.
Considine proceeded to a terminal and ran his hands over the interface, calling up a colorful holoprojection in the shape of a human form, the features replaced with throbbing blobs of color and hints of a blue skeleton.
“What am I looking at, Doctor?”
“Results of Mr. Croix’s internal scan. Do you see it yet?”
Considine said nothing, but watched as the trembling doctor turned the image of the body with a sweep, tapped and zoomed in on the lower spine.
“See that discoloration there? Sort of intertwined with the spinal column?”
“No,” Considine admitted.
“Well it’s there. A foreign object. An organism. Parasitic, I’d say, that’s why he’s dying. It’s feeding off of him. Has been for some time, breaking down his immune system, sucking the pigment out of his hair even. Look at the size of it! It spans from the lower lumbar right up into the base of the brain. How long must it have been there….”
He traced it with his finger, and Considine did think perhaps he saw something, some snake-like thing spiraling up the vertebrae, pulsing ever so slightly independent of the rest of Croix’s internal workings, whatever they were.
“What is it?” Considine asked, swallowing.
“No idea, unless I remove it,” he looked hopefully at Considine.
“Can you remove it? It looks pretty well lodged in there.”
“Not without killing him. But…he is dying.”
“He’s not dead yet. How did it get inside him?”
“After I detected it, I examined him, noticed a small scar in his lower back. Much too small for this thing to pass through – that’s why I can assume it’s grown for some time.”
“But where could he have picked it up?”
“I have no idea. Not here in the city. Out in the open sea maybe, maybe even up top. I’ve never seen such a creature.”
“Any danger of contagion?”
“No. When I detected it, I held over your Enforcer for scanning, just to be sure.”
Brendermeyer. Considine smiled thinly. So he’d never made it to his comedy show, poor lug.
“He’s completely healthy,” Kes went on. “The normal MB immunizations prevent the viruses he’s carrying. Croix’s dying because this thing has sapped his defenses. He’s picking up everything floating around that we don’t even notice anymore. Every impotent bug and fever.”
“What happens when Croix dies?”
“It’ll die with him. It has no way to exit the body that I can see.”
“Is he still conscious?”
“Yes. He’s completely lucid.”
“Doctor, have you told your colleagues about this discovery yet?”
“No,” Kes said, biting his lip.
Considine nodded. New species, new medical phenom, Kes wanted people calling this thing after him. He hadn’t invited his colleagues in until he could fully study and register the thing.
“Let’s keep it that way, shall we?”
“I’m in total agreement,” Kes said with forced nonchalance.
“Where is Croix?”
“Right this way.”