Kristine Kathryn Rusch
I remember the story child as well as I remember the Abandonment. Now, almost a generation later, I can’t quite say what she looked like. But I know what she taught me, and how hard it was to learn.
The day she arrived, the noise was fierce. People were moaning, crying out in their delirium. And the cafeteria was too cold. The chill from the floor-to-ceiling windows that lined the eastern wall seemed to cover me, even when I worked with patients in the far back corner of the room. I thought that the heat from their skin would warm me; they were all burning with fever, faces flushed or too pale, their hands shaking with weakness. We had had so many unexplained fevers, unknown diseases, and malingering illnesses in the past two years that I often wondered which would give up first, the germs or the people. I knew that I would continue until I dropped.
“Michael,” Arlene asked as I applied the patch thermometer beneath her tongue. “I’m going to die, aren’t I?”
I looked at her. She had been pretty once, two or three years ago, before all this started. Now her skin was drawn and ashen, her cheekbones too prominent and her eyes almost too big for her head. I had a soft spot for Arlene; she was one of the few people who had been kind to me before the Abandonment, when I had been the only young doctor in the East End clinic, rather than the only doctor in town.