This piece of fiction is a gift to all paramedics and EMTs in this difficult time. Please share widely.
It wasn’t a good day. Now, it was very rare for Sophie to have a good day. Or rather, by definition, a good day was a day off.
Every other day was that odd mix of boredom and terror that came with being where she was, doing what she was. Either you were doing nothing, or you were scrambling.
Today had been, up until now, a doing nothing day and part of her had hoped it would stay a doing nothing day.
Then the alert came, and she sighed inwardly. The selfish part of her knew that this meant her shift would not be over quite as soon as she had thought.
The part of her that had chosen this job stirred in a different way. Somebody was in trouble; in danger or sick or hurt and it was her duty and joy to help them. She pulled herself together figuratively and literally (she had partially unzipped her jumpsuit) and ran to the shuttle.
Gora, her Ilarian pilot was already waiting and strapped in. She dipped her muzzle. Ilarians didn’t generally nod, but Gora had picked up the gesture.
She strapped herself in. “What do we have?”
“Freighter in distress,” the dispatcher said. “Sick pilot. We already have a tug out there to keep them from flying into anything important.
She nodded. Once they were en route, she unstrapped and checked the back of the shuttle This was the dangerous part in some ways; she knew more than one person who had ended up needing treatment for a concussion because they banged their head moving around under thrust, but it was part of the job. You learned to be careful, that was all.
Everything was stable. “Dispatch, what do we know about the pilot’s condition? And what about the co-pilot?”
In-system freighters generally had a pilot and co-pilot. There could also be a couple of passengers aboard; it was rare, specialist passenger ferries were faster and more comfortable, but it did happen.
“Idiot seems to have tried to do the run alone.”
Dispatch was an AI. That didn’t mean he didn’t have opinions on stupid people, and Sophie cracked a smile. “Well, then he’ll be dealing with the license authorities when he’s better. What species?”
“You really need to ask?”
Sophie sighed. “Human. Caucasian.”
It wasn’t that humans were all that more reckless; it was that humans tended to get away with it more than most other species. So the reckless ones tended to live to do even more stupid things.
The freighter was still careening. The tug had yet to get a good grip on it.
“He’s accelerating,” Gora said with a sigh. “Maybe he collapsed over the controls.”
“The deadman’s should stop that.”
“On that?” Ilarians didn’t smile, but the slight appearance of the very tip of her tongue was a good substitute for that habit.
She was probably right. Sophie could tell that it the freighter was a total rustbucket. Maybe the pilot had done the run alone because nobody else wanted to do it with him.
She didn’t know the gender, but she was sure it was a he. Nine times out of ten something this stupid was a young male.
No, she was stereotyping, and that was unworthy of her. “Can you get us alongside?”
“And that guy could be dying.” It was his own fault; but it didn’t matter.
You saved them all, even the ones who risked themselves and others.
And if they could get hooked on, Gora could get control back over the ship while she worked on the pilot. “Please. Do it.”
Gora nodded again, her muzzle making the gesture almost too obvious, exaggerated.
A caricature of humanity. She glanced at the Ilarian again; short fur, long pointed ears, the slight muzzle, all of which spoke of a different evolution.
The fact that her fur was blue spoke of it even more. Chemicals other than melanin protected her from the light of a very different sun.
And then Sophie threw herself into her seat as the shuttle accelerated. She didn’t move around under this thrust. Accelerating to full speed. Pushing the shuttle past its normal cruise speed was something you did.
It always made the mechanics complain. Something would break. She was just making sure it wasn’t her. She didn’t want to be a patient by the end of the day.
She got the straps closed just in time as Gora decelerated. Once more, she was amazed with her partner’s skill.
There was a reason she always let Gora fly; she wasn’t a terrible pilot, but she wasn’t that good.
Twisting to the side. She felt her shoulder wrench; that was going to need attention later, she already knew that.
But there was nothing she could do about it. And then she felt them latch on, the shudder that went through.
“Got a good hatch?”
“Got a good hatch.” With the ship latched on, Gora could leave the controls. Their fate was now tied to the freighter’s.
If it hit something…
The hatch was stuck. Sophia had to use a literal crowbar to force it once the seal was in place.
She pulled on her rebreather before going through, checking the atmospheric readings. Good choice; the carbon dioxide levels were a little high. “Dispatch, what are the pilot’s symptoms?”
“Headache, vertigo, bit of a cough.”
“I don’t think he’s sick. I think it’s life support failure.” She glanced at Gora, made sure she had her own mask in place and then headed into the ship.
It was held together by duct tape and prayers and the duct tape was wearing out.
Headache, vertigo, bit of a cough. She went over that. The rebreather would also protect her from viral and bacterial infection. She already had her gloves on.
It was most likely a life support problem. But there were other things it could be.
Gora might or might not have to worry. Some bugs cared what species they infected. Some didn’t. Fungi were…
Headache, vertigo, bit of a cough, stale smell in the air.
She suddenly sped up. Of course, she’d got a breath of it herself, but if it was what she was afraid it was, early treatment would work.
The pilot hadn’t gotten early treatment.
She moved quickly, hearing Gora behind her. The freighter was, thankfully, a stock model; she knew exactly where the bridge would be.
The bridge. The man slumped over the controls. She’d been right in all of her demographic guesses except one; he wasn’t a young man.
He was an old one, pushing past retirement, trying to keep doing what he loved on a shoestring, fighting off the creditors.
This would be his last trip one way or the other.
Gora dropped into the copilot seat, started slowing the freighter.
Carefully, she examined the man. Checked him for broken bones before turning him over.
The grayish cast to his face said it all. Crap.
She pulled out the bag, tossed Gora a vial. “You know what you have to do as soon as you have us stopped.”
The second one was for the patient.
The third one was for her. But the patient would need more. She imagined the black tendrils going through his lungs.
She imagined what would have happened if he’d landed. What might be happening. “Dispatch, we have leri fever. Find out where this guy is from, alert medical there, get them to dose everyone.”
She took the dose and then turned back to the patient.
And got to work.
Quarantine was boring. The worst part was that she couldn’t do her job. She caught up on her favorite TV shows.
And she looked through old pictures. She found the one of her standing next to the Emergency Medicine Memorial on Earth, its graceful lines behind her resembling a bird taking flight. Or a protective mask.
And she thought about the fact that she had never had to deal with the events that had caused it to be erected. Even leri fever, as nasty as it was, had gone through its pandemic phase before she had been born.
She thought about the fact that she’d never had to go out there, look at her coworkers, and wonder which of them would survive.
Knowing it could not be all of them.
And being in quarantine suddenly didn’t seem so bad. Being part of that lineage, that honorable band going back through the centuries, back to the very first person who had discovered chewing certain leaves prevented a cough and spread that knowledge to others.
To those who had tried to fight the Black Death with no knowledge of germ theory.
To those who had fought against swine flu, and bird flu, and SARS, and COVID.
She was part of them, and the risk was what she did.
She was their legacy and the students coming up would be hers.