I need to get out of this place I've been staying. Belle is dead, and my patient, Nora, is in bad shape. I need to get her to a real hospital, with real medicine, if there's any hope that we can harness the information that she's producing with the bdelloids. If there's any hope that we can save her. Tell me where you are, and I will find a way to get there.
After my conversation with Bea, I went home to find Nora on the floor, convulsing. This was nothing new, PTA tries to overtake your spinal chord and nervous system on its way to your brain, and since her experience was basically PTA in slow motion, she had been prone to spasms and full blown seizures at this point. Her existence was misery, and we both knew it, but she was determined to survive, and I was determined to find a way to make that happen. By the time I had geared up to go in her small, ventilated living space, the violence had ended. There she lay, in a crumpled heap, her eyes barely open. Exhaustion. I knelt in front of her and placed my gloved hand on her shoulder. She smiled, weakly. I knew it was not enough, a gloved, impersonal hand groping her bare arm, but for that moment, it sufficed to keep her trying. I gave a sympathetic smile and moved to put my hands under her thin arms and lift er up and onto the small, ugly couch that I had found at the dump, which she now used for a bed. I sat her down, and took my place beside her. We must have been a sight to see--if there had been anyone around to see us. A fully dressed, suited HVAC monster, complete with welders' gloves and breathing apparatus, aside a tiny, shriveled, black and blue wisp of a thing, nearly all her hair fallen out and her eyes sunken in... the epitome of juxtaposition.
I rested my arms on my thighs and said, "You're getting worse."
"Every day," she joked between whistling breaths, "What else is new?" she rested her head on my shoulder and let her eyelids drift shut.
"How did you manage to get both? The bdelloids and PTA I mean. What happened? Where did you come from?"
"I don't want to talk about it," She answered with a little more spunk in her weak voice, "I told you that already."
"YEah, I know. But sometimes you have to talk about things you don't want to. I need to know how you got those things inside you, so I can find them and run some tests. Outside your body. Outside the culture that's been created in you. Because who knows..." I couldn't finish the thought.
"How long it'll last? Yeah, I know. You don't have to remind me. And if it gets to that point, I'll tell you." She broke into a short raspy cough before setting her jaw and furrowing her brow. She looked like a pissed off skeleton.
"Well, we're at that point, Nora. Your seizures are getting more common, more violent. You're so malnourished, you look like you could break in half. And your blood is so thin that I don't want to draw it for fear that you'll bleed out. No matter what I do, your body just isn't working, Nora. We're down to the wire here.
"Nora, you have to tell me. Soon. I'm begging. I don't think I can save you, I'm trying, god I'm trying. But I don't think there's much time left. But, if I could get ahold of some bdelloids, raw, I could use what I've learned from you to help other people. Maybe if I could find them soon enough, I could use them to help you! I don't know, but I'll never know if you don't help me!"
As I spoke, Nora pulled away and watched my face as I spoke. I couldn't make eye contact, as the tears were welling and threatening to force themselves down my face with every word. But I could see her expression go from angry, stern, accusing, and offended, to scared, alone, confused, and hopeless. By the end, she was looking at her feet, tears rolling, apparently defeated, deflated, and ready to talk.
"My dad. My dad gave me PTA. Well, he let me get it anyways. He made me sleep in the basement. See, he's really religious, but I'm not. And he thought that the disease was, like, in a way, god's punishment for all the evil that people like me let into the world. Like another flood. Only that god can't do another flood because he promised, but now he's killing all the sinners with little monsters in their brains. That's what he said when the news broke.
"I argued with him, and he pushed me in the basement. He said it was because he loved me, but he couldn't associate with me in 'times like these', and he said that to save me from the illness, he had to show god that he could punish me and help me get right.
"So I lived down therefor several years, and my mother threw table scraps whenever she could, when he wasn't paying attention. And he would stand up at the top of the steps and yell down sermons and scriptures, and he would pray. And sometimes, he'd just stand up there and weep.
"Then, my mother died. She got sick, and she died. And he threw her body down at me, screaming about how I'd helped bring this disease into the world, into his home, and how I had killed his wife, how I killed my moma because my sins had been cast onto her. That god had punished her for raising up a daughter that wasn't right with god. He said that I might as well have did it with my own hands.
"Of course, being that close to her is where I probably got the PTA from. I mean, she was still warm from first death, and wet with the blood from the shotgun that kept her that way. Her blood got all over me..." Nora started to shiver a little, with a distant look in her eyes. I put my gloved hand on her knee to comfort her. She continued on.
"Anyways. I started to get sick then. It was just a sniffle, but I knew what was happening. My mother was decomposing right beside my bed, I knew what was next. I didn't have much time left.
"A couple nights later, my dad got really pissed off at the world. He wasn't seeing straight. He came downstairs, didn't even stop at the top like normal. He came all the way downstairs and just stared at me for like ten minutes. He was crying, but he was mad. Then he started to mumble to himself, and I couldn't understand what he was saying. Then he yelled, "ANSWERMEDAMMIT!" so loud that it scared me. So I said, 'I can't understand what you said? What did you say?' and he asked, really quiet this time, really creepy-calm, 'Are you a child of god or of satan?'And I said..."
Nora choked, coughed hard for several moments, took a breath and swallowed hard. She looked guilty, sorry, ashamed. Her face looked dark and horrified, like I'd never seen her look. I put my hand on hers and nodded for her to continue.
"And I said, 'Neither, Daddy,' I said, 'I'm your kid. I always have been, and I always will be till the day we're both dead. There is no god, and that's why the world is like the way it is, and that's why I have to live in a basement with my dead mom's carcass, even though I never did jack shit! And that's why you're like the way you are, because HE ISN'T REAL!' and he just... he lost his shit, Dahlia, he started screaming with no words, and he attacked me. That's how I got that gash on my leg. He pulled a beam straight off the railing for the stairs, and he hit me with it, hard.
"Somehow, I managed to get behind him and I ran up the steps and I slammed the door and I locked it. And he was hitting it and slamming against it, and I knew he'd knock it down, so I ran out of the house, and I locked everything up. And I knew if I kept still eventually he'd get out and come find me, and who knows what would happen then.
"I kept running til I couldn't run anymore. And nothing looked the same as it did before the basement, Dahlia, everything was all run down, and there were no people anywhere. There was no food anywhere, no water.
"So when I got to the point I couldn't run or walk anymore, I sat down, and I tried to think of what I could do. I was really thirsty, and I had run into this little forest, so I rested til I could walk again. So I started walking again and I found this little pond. I mean, it looked little, but I got in and it was real deep. One of those places that probably doesn't even dry out during drought because there's an underground well or something. Anyways, I drank water from there, and I slept there that night, because I was sure I was getting ready to die. I had PTA for a week by then, there was no way I wouldn't be undead by morning. I just hoped a bear or something would find me and eat me first. But I woke up the next morning, and I was wondering if I was undead yet, but I was really thirsty still, so I drank more water from that pond. By a couple days later, I was pretty well convinced I wasn't undead, because I was hungry and thirsty and I was still sleeping at night, so I ate some roots and wild onions, I didn't think about how they might be infected from being around open water, but what did it matter anyways? I was already infected. And I had drank that water. The worst that would happen was I died, which I was ready for anyways. But I didn't. And a little while later, I actually felt good. Like, the cough went away and everything.
"I walked and I walked, until I got so tired, and so hungry, and I had no idea where I was, and the cough was coming back, and I was just so hungry, so I stopped walking. I went to sleep in this pile of rubbish, and I waited to just die already. That's about the time you came around."