1 Chapter 1

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

—Joseph Stalin

Earth, July 12th

Twenty-six-year-old pediatric resident, Anya Forrest, lay alone in Manhattan General Medical Center ICU. Her reddish blond hair hung limply about her face. Only her icy blue eyes were visible under the respirator mask. Her heart and liver were failing, and her skin the bluish-yellow tinge of the urine stains on the wall. Anya was terminal. Four weeks ago, she should have been moved to a hospice, a sunny, peaceful place to die. But there were too many patients and too few staff to give palliative care. Therefore, Anya stayed in ICU, hypnotized by the plip-plop of the IVs and lulled by cacophony of digital breath. The pain was intense. She knew she wasn’t going to make it when Mark Stern, the Chief of Staff, had stopped by her bed and asked if she needed anything. That was three days ago, when she could still speak.

She remembered how it began. It was the Fourth of July. She had taken a break and joined some of the staff on the hospital roof to watch the fireworks…

* * * *

Sarran Calendar: Cycle 9435: Barren Trion, Rising 92

Earth, July 4thto July 12th

Fireworks filled the night sky across the United States of America. It was Independence Day. Aerial shells burst, scattering shooting stars in red, then white and blue. The finale was Blue Earth—triple rocket fountains surrounded the rotating sphere highlighting the environmental awareness theme.

Then celebrants spotted a magnificent explosion in the upper atmosphere. It was a show-stopping display. Everyone agreed that green mist was a great finale, until, that is, they noticed it became a slimy, oil-like substance on their skin. Breaking news headlines streamed across CNN. Banners shrieked from print. Talk shows spoke slime 24/7. Environmental groups expressed outrage. The EPA investigated, and Congress planned hearings. The executive branch had no comment.

It was a two-day media fest. Then on July 6th the NYPD nabbed a serial killer. Someone leaked photos of twenty-six naked women stacked like cord wood in a New York City townhouse basement. Green slime slipped off the national radar screen, and America went back to business as usual.

The first cases hit the hospitals the evening of the seventh. The virus took forty-eight hours to incubate. Another twenty-four passed before full onset of symptoms. On July 9th,at 21:00 hours, hospitals became holding facilities. On July 12, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta provided the media with maps of the infected areas. Every state reported Plague, even Alaska and Hawaii. There was no time progression. No sunburst pattern to suggest an initial area of contamination. No case zero. It started everywhere, at once. No one asked questions. They were too busy trying to survive. Reports from CNN showed the rest of the planet in the same condition. No outside help was available to anyone. Everyone tried to save their own.

Fifty percent of the female population was infected. The CDC named it mixed immune response syndrome. The public called it the Plague. It was a virus, and symptoms varied. All known autoimmune diseases combined in strange variations. The victims were all female.

The National Institute of Health compiled statistics that linked the Plague to ovulation. It struck only the fertile. Someone had manufactured the Plague. It constantly mutated. There was no apparent cure or treatment. Both NIH and CDC worked round the clock. Symptoms worsened as ovulation neared. Episodes, called flares, brought new symptoms, more pain. Each flare brought a patient closer to the brink. Women begged for death, which seemed, in some cases, preferable. The cycle worked rapidly in some, from health to near death in four days from exposure.

As women dropped dead, hospitals became understaffed. If there was a tech to take blood, there was no one to test it. Hospital labs ran with one or two male techs. Nurses came out of retirement. Governors mobilized the National Guard. The White House called in the Army and the Army Reserve. The federal government drafted all single men. Medical facilities returned women to their husbands or families for palliative care. Divorced men returned home to tend children. Patients with no family waited to die in medical facilities with little staff to treat them.

* * * *

To Anya, the hospital was home. She was an orphan. Upon leaving St. Brigit’s, she had lived at or near the hospital since starting medical school. Aside from her cat, Tigger, she had no friends outside of the hospital. Before, Anya had been five-foot-six and small-framed and, at 150 pounds, a bit overweight. Now, the bed, blankets, sheets, and machines overwhelmed the shrunken, nude body in the bed. Dr. Forrest’s one vanity was that she had not cut her hair since childhood. At the orphanage, she had cried and fussed when the nuns tried to cut her hair. The only memory she had from before was of a soft-spoken woman brushing her hair. Anya refused to let it go. One young nun, Sister Rose, had taken pity. She’d taught Anya to braid and pin her hair to keep it neat. Sister Rose assured Anya if it was neat, it could be long. After that, she had pinned it up tightly.

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