The Cavern – Part 8

We moved our invalid, who really was very ill by this point, I was slightly surprised that the medic had not euthanized him but then I thought about her standing there in the tunnel awaiting our return with only a corpse for company and could see why she had not. The fact that none of us had suggested it whilst we prepared an area to fit the inflatable air seal chamber that my father had given me worried me more. At least he would have the rite enacted for him. We were the model of efficiency – well none of us really wanted to linger there and now we would have either a sick person or a dead body to hoist back to base with us.

I sort of wanted him to stay alive long enough to say farewell to his family and friends, the Medic I suspected wanted to run a battery of tests on him to see why his condition was so acute. The illness never consumed an individual this quickly, it was transmogrifying him before our very eyes. I didn’t want to look but found I couldn’t help it. I was drawn time and again to his dissolving fur.

If it was some new virulent variety of the sickness then we could all be in a lot of trouble – not that we weren’t already, some how we had to survive – something of us as a people had to go beyond this crisis. No one knew who was going to catch it, it didn’t seem to have a contagion pattern, not even a genetic susceptibility which is what had originally be thought, it was a mystery. Over the last decade it had begun to appear that no one was immune exactly, it was just a matter of how much of your life you got to live before the mange came sneaking in to steel your vitality and looks.

Sometimes its progress was slow but often not, but it seemed impossible that any disease could move this fast through a system. I was turning out not to be such a great leader. The air lock was inflating, sealing of the cave tunnel, we had done some dye powder analysis to see if air was still going into the area that had had the cave in, this basically amounted to us throwing coloured dust into the air and watching where the swirls of it went – but all done scientifically of course.

There was a hiss and clunk and the until was sealed. Then it began to suck out of the sealed chamber into the corridor of stone we were standing in. It did this for twenty minutes, I could not see that it would help unless that branch of the cave was completely sealed which was unlikely – blocked to humans yes but not to air! But it would apparently slightly alter the relative air pressures so that when we flooded the chamber with the acidic gas it would be sucked through to were the remnants of the team were trapped. There it would administer a quicker death than starvation though no one had been able to assure me it would be less painful and that did not sit well with me. It would also dissolve flesh and bone and so would be almost the Rite delivered to those who’s bodies lay beyond the stone wall.

The chemicals to make the gas were in three separate canisters which would fit into the air lock, it’s inflatable rim allowing it to contour nicely with the irregular shape of the tunnel. It was a beautiful piece of engineering, I prayed it had been adapted rather than designed for this deadly purpose, it seemed sickeningly wrong.

The thing was blatantly a prototype as well, so part of me feared the deadly mix escaping and images of us attempting to flee down the stone tunnel being melted alive filled my mind, I could not swallow, the fear choked me. I had to pretend I was fine as I felt how brittle the others on the team were.

I unfolded a stretcher, light and portable and me and the medic man handled him onto it. I felt the tears stinging at my eyes, there was raw patches of skin showing through the fur now and they glistened strangely sticky and a smell like burning seemed to extrude off of him. I wondered if he would hold out for the journey back.

I felt whoozy with fatigue myself and the medic had to give me a shot of stim, neat stim is never good, at least for me – it made me feel like I was on fire and that my brain was running faster than I could understand my own internal dialogue – I was wired! Everything moved too slow and I jittered. But it was the only way I was going to get through this.

We dragged, pushed and man handled the gurney through the steeper and narrower bits of the tunnel until finally we made it back to base where the medic, sealed her specimen into a closed stretcher and disappeared into the out reaches of the base. I had not been to the area were the general population were since my arrival, I wondered what it looked like. One thought of those kids clutching at their parents and I decided I really didn’t want to know. I was a coward and I was going to remain hidden from it and let my parents deal with that side of things.

I sat to write the expedition down but the stim that had carried me through could only last so long and there was no way my system should have a second shot – as I crashed in an exhaustive pile I wondered if the medics had something different or if they just had special training to deal with it.

My father appeared and ushered me into bed – thickly I tried to protest, tried to explain I needed to make a report, but darkness swarmed up to claim me. I did not dream and I was more than grateful for that – I knew they would be vivid and brutal when they occurred.

Posted: Thursday, August 29th, 2013 @ 5:27 pm
Categories: Series, The Cavern.
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