I originally wrote this piece for Karen Berner’s Bibliophilic Blather. Each month she has a specific theme for flash fiction submissions to her site. The theme for April is ‘Spring Fever’. I had been watching too much House MD when I read the theme, and this was the result. The original post with the story is here.
Dr John Andrews looked through the transparent wall in his office toward the hospital entrance below. Hundreds of people filled the normally clear area, all seeking medical help. He turned as another doctor entered his office.
“We’ve received another sixty-seven patients in the past two hours,” said Dr Susan Hallow. “They’ve all tested positive for Xyalo’s Syndrome.”
“Damnit.” John turned back to the window. Xyalo’s Syndrome, or ‘Spring Fever’ as the original colonists had nicknamed it due to the time of year it struck, was a disease that had once killed hundreds a year. No one had ever worked out exactly what it was that caused Xyalo’s Syndrome. Starting as a simple body ache and fever, it progressed quickly to coughing and vomiting of blood, then the lungs and brain liquefying. Death was always the result.
Fifty years ago, a vaccine had been developed on Earth. When injected annually, had proved 100% effective in stopping the disease.
“Has the lab determined why the vaccine isn’t working?”
Dr Hallow shook her head. “We ran a comparison of the latest batch of the vaccine to some old stock we located. They were a perfect match. Dr Wu is trying to figure out what has changed, but it’s going to take time.”
John closed his eyes. He had feared that. More than a million people lived on the planet. They were all at risk.
Dr Hallow continued. “Has there been any response from Earth?”
John snorted in disgust. “Sure. They’re sympathetic to our plight, and assure us that the vaccine is fine. They’ve offered us the full services of a ‘consultative’ team via hookup to assist us in diagnosing what’s really wrong. Because we must be morons to think it’s a disease that they cured decades ago.”
“What? You can’t be serious. Eleven people have already died! What more do they want?”
“No liability.” John sighed. “While Dr Wu is trying to create a vaccine that works, have the lab start synthesizing penicillin and probenecid.”
“Penicillin? We haven’t used that in over a century. There are much better antibiotics.”
“Not in this case. The early colonists found original penicillin was the only thing that would slow the progression of Xyalo’s. Until the lab can give us a working vaccine, a penicillin with probenecid dose is our best bet at keeping people alive.”
“How long will it give us?”
“Three days. Five if we’re lucky.”
Dr Hallows nodded. “I’ll tell him right away.” She turned to leave.
Dr Hallows stopped, looking back in surprise. “Doctor?”
John shook his head. “Never mind. I’ll be down to help in a few minutes.”
She left, still looking surprised. John looked at his hand as he flexed it, the ache already starting to spread to his elbow. He didn’t think five days would be long enough for Dr Wu to synthesize a new vaccine.