Ariahl stood next to her fellow Sentinels and bowed to the King of Draemin City, Yvar’h Stait.
The King resembled his sister, Malida, atlhough he was younger, wider and burly with muscles, where she had been slender and small of stature. He had her dark hair and amber eyes. And just as she had been beautiful, he was handsome, although his looks were currently curtailed by a severe scowl.
“Report,” he growled.
She bowed again and cleared her throat. “How much do you wish me to reveal in Court, your Majesty?”
His scowl deepened. “I keep no secrets from my people!”
Warlord Rien Tholten, who stood on the top step of the throne and to the left of the chair, bent and whispered a few words to the King.
King Yvar’h parted his lips but nodded.
Warlord Tholten straightened. “Clear the Court!”
Guards began to direct people out through the double doors at the front of the room. The process took close to a quarter of an hour. By then, the King was fit to be tied.
He rose from the throne and leapt to the floor, landing smoothly and gracefully.
He faced Ariehl. “Now, Sentinel. Your report.”
As she spoke, he paced.
“We’ve discovered the cause of this disease, your Majesty. We have dubbed it ‘Chimera.'”
He stopped pacing and turned to face her. “Chimera? Goddess forbid, I don’t like the sound of that.”
Ariahl clasped her hands before her. “It is a bacterium with a virus at its core. At first, we thought it was a bacterium, which we could treat with antibacterials, but we know have ascertained that we need to treat the population with a vaccine and antibacterial agents.”
The King sighed and rubbed his face with his hands. “This is all nonsensical to me. What is a bacterium? What is a virus?”
Ariahl felt the beginnings of frustration. They didn’t have time for this!
Topon stepped forward. “Your Majesty. I promise to teach you these terms, but right now we need to give our report and return to the quarantine area.”
King Yvar’h frowned but nodded. “Very well, go on.”
Ariahl nodded. “Your Majesty, a certain percent of the population of this city is changing due to Chimera. The organism infects the host’s cells and reproduces. As it reproduces, it changes the host internally and then externally. Some hosts die of the symptoms of the infection. Others have mild symptoms and recover, passing the organism through urine or feces. The problem, we are sure you can see, is that we don’t know how many people have developed mild symptoms and are infecting others. Since we didn’t know about this organism from the very start, many of the soldiers who contracted the disease during the invasion unknowingly carried Chimera to their loved ones. We now have about 100 infected individuals om quarantine. We don’t know how many more are carriers who don’t show marked symptoms. This disease travels more slowly than Leptka’s Disease, but it might have greater repercussions.
“This is bigger than seven Sentinels. I feel woefully underprepared to face a pandemic. We do not have a countermeasure to forestall the spread of the disease and we do not have an antibacterial that is efficacious in this instance. The antibacterial teas and curatives used by the local denizens have had a measure of success fighting Chimera, but we are unsure if the bacterium can re-infect a person that has been treated with antibacterial teas and medicines. Upon re-infection, does it grow resistance to the teas and curatives? We don’t know. Also, your Majesty, these teas and curatives do not always work. It depends on the person’s health and immune system.
“The only time the antibacterial teas and curatives seem to have an effect is on hosts that do not succumb to the bacterium’s onslaught. These individuals have something in their bodies’ immune systems which prevents the virus from attaching to cells and reproducing. We are taking blood samples from those who are not susceptible to Chimera and examining the blood for clues. It is woefully slow work. Mariel has a medical background, so she is in charge of this project. Ishel is conducting interviews with those who are not susceptible to see if they consume some sort of food substance or live a certain way that allows them to fight off infection. We may be grasping at straws here. It just may be an inherent ability to fight off disease that allows those not susceptible to overcome Chimera.”
The King paced in silence for a few minutes. He sighed.
“Surely, this isn’t as grave as you think,” he said. “100 have become infected, you say?”
Topon frowned. “That we know of, your Majesty.”
The King waved a lazy hand. “Yes, yes. But you still have only 100 infected citizens. I’m not going to frighten the citizenry with stringent quarantine orders if only 100 have become infected.”
“Your Majesty–” Ariahl began.
“Silence! I won’t be gainsaid,” the King spat “You will bring those 100 citizens to the city hospitals and you will assist and advise the city physicians and healers. I won’t have the populace alarmed in any way. Understood?”
Ariahl took a step forward. “Your Majesty–“
They bowed. “Yes, your Majesty.”
The King turned away. “Dismissed.”
They said nothing to one another until they returned to camp. Once in their private tent, Ariahl exploded. That she spoke in Ancient English revealed the depth of her distress.
“I cannot believe his Majesty!” she yelled, kicking a pallet, and overturning it.
“Ariahl,” Topon said.
She turned on him. “What?! You can’t possibly agree with him?”
“I do no such thing,” he retorted.
Mariel put her hands on Ariahl’s shoulders. “We are here to support the people of this planet, Captain. To advise them. That is all.”
Ariahl shrugged her hands off. “Don’t you dare tell me what I already know!”
“Then act like it,” Ishel stated coldly. “We are above emotions, Captain. We need to think clearly and logically in every situation.”
Ariahl nodded mutely. “Give me some space.”
Mariel took a step closer to her.
Ariahl shook her head. “No. Leave me and return to your posts.”
She waited until they left before tying the tent flap closed. She turned to face the contents of the tent. She rubbed her hands together. The metal hand felt cold. It was smooth and close to a human hand in looks, save for the circuitry.
She went to the gilded mirror Malida had gifted her and unfastened her cloak, allowing it to fall to the floor. Then she pulled off the man’s shirt and pants and stood before the mirror. She ran her eyes over her small breasts, her graceful fleshy arm and her belly, neck, and hips. The rest of her–her right arm and both legs–glinted blue in the low light of the tent. She ran her hand over her chest and abdomen, over her neck and face and hips. Then she touched the metal and plastic parts of her. She ran her eyes over the blinking lights along the metal forearm and the thighs.
“Am I malfunctioning?” she asked out loud.
She bent her metal arm and touched two buttons. At once, the telltale whirr signaled the beginning of a system’s check.
Ariahl closed her eyes, followed the test down the long line of circuits that connected to the frontal lobe and the base of the neck. Every circuit beeped with health. When the test was done, the circuits ran another test on the flesh-and-blood parts of her body.
Exhaustion. Dehydration. Recommendation: rest, nourishment, and fresh water.
Slowly, she pulled on her shirt and pants.
She sat down slowly on her pallet.
“Mother,” she said. Long dead. Tell me what to do, Mother!
They teetered on the brink of disaster. She could sense it.
Something very terrible was going on and they were helpless to stop it or even slow it down.
“I was chosen because I am of strong North African stock,” she told herself. “Because I am usually unemotional. So, I must face off with this stupid King unemotionally. Before he destroys everything.”
There was a scratch at the tent flap.
She rose and strode to the flap, untying it.
She stepped back to allow Mariel to enter.
“Are you alright?” her second-in-command asked.
Ariehl cupped Mariel’s cheek.
“I’m sorry,” Ariehl murmured.
Mariel’s hand covered hers. “Think nothing of it.”
“We’ll reconnoiter when Kaster and Derik return,” she told Mariel.
Mariel stepped back. “We need a plan, Ariehl. This willl end in disaster if we don’t. But I have to caution, our role is minimal. It’s supposed to be minimal. We cannot overstep our bounds.”
Ariahl sighed. “Listen, Mariela: the men and women who gave us a directive are long dead. Earth might be a pile of rubble, for all we know. For all we know, the people on this world may be the last representatives of the human race. We have to discuss this as a unit.”
She pushed the tent flap to one side to allow Mariel to leave the tent first.