Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 35

We have been here on I-11 for about six months, and have started to build three settlements.  Kelvin and Pamela are living in a rather unusual house, which I will describe later.  Kelvin, along with hundreds of the other colonists, both here and on other islands, is acutely ill.  I fear he may die.  I have been frantically working on a cure, twenty-four hours a day, for some time now.  I have shut down Starlight Escorts and am using some of my simulacra to operate my lab machinery, to speed up the analysis. 

The story started at the very moment we landed, and Kelvin took his first breath of the air of Achird-gamma (an account he repeats often).  I myself noticed that a foreign genome had entered my biological system.  I did not attach any importance to it at the time: I just waited for my immune system to destroy it, which it did quickly.  My immune system is based on yours, but it can adapt much more rapidly, and I can exercise a certain amount of voluntary control over what it does, based on information it sends to my brain. 

This foreign genome turned out to belong to a virus, which I succeeded in isolating a few days ago.  I am now trying to find a vaccine, which in practice means finding a member of the colony who has natural immunity.  The way I prevented the virus from replicating itself inside me is not transferable to animals or humans, mainly because so little of me is cellular.  The crisis crept up and surprised us partly because the disease has such a long incubation period. 

For a while after we landed, people kept repeating how remarkably hospitable this planet is.  Kelvin said that we should expect the unexpected.  He said that we should continue to study our surroundings as diligently as possible, because something was about to surprise us.  He was right.  He might be hailed as a prophet, if he lives.

The number of reported cases is growing daily.  We considered shutting down all travel between colonies, but that soon seemed to be counter-productive.  The virus is believed to be airborne and evidence suggests it is present everywhere.  It is the planet itself which is infectious.  Horace is perfectly safe, because “he” is in a hermetically-sealed container, but now I won’t be able to let him gestate until after we have found a vaccine. 

The symptoms resemble those of influenza.  It starts with a feeling of dryness and tenderness in the sinuses, sometimes accompanied by dizziness and severe earache or headache.  A few hours later, the patient experiences pains in the joints and muscle weakness, sometimes accompanied by nausea and vomiting.  Fever rapidly follows, at which point most patients collapse and have to be confined to bed.  Some have gone into a coma and some have died.  Kelvin is currently at the fever stage.  He is conscious, but is having fits of delirium.  He is in our  hospital, being looked after by a fat, bald, bespectacled consultant called Dr Condon-Douglas.  Dr Condon-Douglas is rather pompous and distant in his manner, and he thinks I am an interfering busybody, but I’ll teach him to take me seriously.  I’ve got a laboratory which would be the envy of some universities, and a tunnelling electron-microscope.  He hasn’t even got a magnifying-glass. 

I have contacted all the other colonies via satellite, and have arranged to collect blood samples from most of them.  Ideally, I want a sample of blood from every man, woman and child on the planet.  There is no evidence yet that the virus affects animals other than humans, but I will take blood from animals as well if I have to.  I have a plentiful supply of the virus, and I am checking the samples for signs of natural immunity.  Once the samples are in the lab, most of the process is automated.  I have just set another batch going, and so I might as well go and visit Kelvin.  I have got him a bunch of black grapes imported from I-2 (which happens to be where the infection first broke out).  I don’t think he will be eating them any time soon.  He has not eaten anything for three days and is on intravenous fluids.  He is lying on his back and is quite still, with his eyes closed.  There are two nurses by his bed who are bitching about one of the other nurses.  Kelvin probably can’t hear that at the moment. 

I’m back from the hospital.  I stayed there about three hours.  I went into a dormant state for a while (the first rest I have had for days) and read a bit of The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.  Kelvin was asleep the whole time.  They were giving him saline and glucose (like I do when he is drunk).  I was glad to note that he was actually asleep and not comatose.  His temperature is still very high.  I made sure that the nurses are changing his sheets and washing him regularly. 

Prudence visited him a couple of times when he first got ill, but she has gone down with it herself now.  I wonder what this disease will eventually be called.  I might as well go back to the lab.

I am checking regularly for bulletins from other colonies.  The death toll has now risen to 396, including several newborns and infants.  We can’t afford this.  The colonisation will become unsustainable unless we stop the epidemic soon.  I am almost glad that Kelvin is not himself: he would be going mad.

At last, a breakthrough.  The sample tube I have in my hand shows evidence of natural immunity.  I’ll just read the bar code on it, and look up the name of the patient it was taken from.  I will need to get another sample, if possible, to make sure it was not a fluke.  I’ll try to get a much bigger one next time, preferably a hundred millilitres or so. 

It’s Kelvin.  The sample that is showing promise came from Kelvin Philip Alexander Stark. Where’s my doctor’s bag?  Kelvin, I am about to stick another needle into you. 

I must stop thinking about whether or not he is going to die, and concentrate on the research.

Doctor Condon-Douglas tried to obstruct me in the act of taking the larger blood sample from Kelvin, but he agreed to let me continue after I had lifted him off the floor by the lapels of his white coat.  I am back in the lab again, and have re-run the test.  The answer is consistently that Kelvin has made anti-bodies.  His symptoms are not getting any worse.  I hope for improvement soon.  I am virtually at the point where I can report this to the other colonies, and put the vaccine into production. 


My name is Cheryl Moxon.  I’m married to Wayne.  We have both been poorly recently.  Really poorly.  A nurse came and gave us a jab, and we are both getting better now.  It is important for us to get better so that we can go back to work on the farm.  It is hard work, working on the farm.  We have both had a fever.  We couldn’t work with the fever.  We couldn’t even get out of bed for a while, we were so poorly.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so bad.  I don’t think Wayne has, either.  Not since he was a baby. 

The animals are all right.  One of the neighbours came and fed them and watered them while we were ill.  That was kind.  We’ve got pigs and chickens and a cow and a dog.  Our dog is called Derek.  Our cow is called Mildred.  I don’t know if we have names for the pigs: Wayne looks after them.  We used to have names for the chickens, but we don’t anymore because there are too many of them, and it would be too many to remember.  When the nurse came to give us our jabs, she had a letter from the hospital which asked if we would let the nurse take some of our eggs.  The people at the hospital needed the eggs to make people better.  The nurse said that they weren’t going to cook the eggs, or eat them.  They were going to use them for making more stuff for other people’s jabs.

We live on I-2.  Most of the people who live round us are foreign, but they’re very nice.  They talk in foreign.  They call us Lez Ong-glay, or sometimes Lay Porv-ruh Ong-glay.  I don’t think that means anything rude.  I think it just means “not foreign”.   It is lovely and warm here: much warmer than it was where we lived before.  We have some greenhouses, but we have to keep the windows open most of the time, otherwise it would get too hot.  We grow loads of stuff.  The soil was funny to start with: not like proper soil.  A man came and brought us some worms – loads and loads of worms.  After a while, the soil changed.  It was much better for growing things. 

We were doing so well before we got ill.  I hope things will get back to usual soon.  We had finished all the outbuildings, and the new water tank, and the new slurry tank, and we had finished building the farmhouse.  We’ve got a proper bed and everything now: sofa, chairs, kitchen table, gas cooker, fridge.  The gas comes from a machine in the farmyard, and so we don’t have to pay any bills on it.  Wayne has to remember to keep filling it with slurry.  I remind him, because he’s very forgetful.  He’s a bit slow, is Wayne, but he’s a good man.  Just a bit slow.  

As soon as we’re well again, we’ll have to slaughter a pig and take some stuff to the market.  We like going to the market.  Most people there talk in foreign, but we can usually make them understand.  They even understand Wayne most of the time, and he’s a bit slow. 


Kelvin’s temperature went back to normal and he stopped being delirious.  I stayed with him and changed his sheets and kept him clean.  I could tell he was better when he suddenly sat bolt upright in bed, and demanded a rare steak, chips, spinach, a bottle of claret and two bottles of oatmeal stout.  I cried when he said that.  I took him home shortly afterwards. 

Within a few weeks, we had immunised the entire population.  



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