Chapter 13

MARCH 29, 2015
9:30 P.M.
OUR LADY OF SORROWS

There are sixteen cases of the flu amongst the usual assortment of walk-ins that day. No deaths, but several are admitted for dehydration. By the time she gets back to her office, a nagging fear lingers at the back of Scully’s addled mind, gnawing at her subconscious.

How many of those admitted will be alive by morning?

A cursory blood analysis from her elderly patient is laid on the desk before her, but she hesitates, as though acknowledging the results might cause her to meet the same fate. As she reads the lab reports, she realizes the autopsy she ordered is a moot point. The blood samples paint a gruesome picture of their own.

A virus. She’s riddled with it.

The strain has yet to be identified, but given the woman’s symptoms, Scully’s logical mind jumps to something violent—ebola, perhaps, or hanta.

If it’s contagious…

The thought gives her a chill. She’s reminded of the coughing man with his bruised eyes, convulsing on the waiting room floor. Her heart quickens, and she turns to her computer, searching the hospital records for recent admissions.

Alan Cooper. D.

She swallows hard at the notation. D. D for Deceased, she thinks, stomach sinking as she clicks to expand the record. Bits and pieces jump out at her.

Admitted this morning, complaining of flu symptoms. Seizure. High fever, chills.

Coughing blood.

She navigates back to the main database, pulling up the emergency admittance history for the last week, filtering the results by the diagnostic code numbers for influenza.

Ninety reported cases…that has to be an error, she thinks as the records scroll by.

She sits back, folding her arms protectively around herself as reality sinks in, like a dead weight across her shoulders.

The initial effects are mild enough that most people will be turned away after a cursory checkup, mistaking their symptoms for a bad cold. Most won’t seek treatment until they’re near the end, and by then, it will be too late.

Oh, God. How many people did I send home to die?

#

“I need to talk to him.”

The secretary glances up at Scully with an impatient eye roll, holding up a finger—one minute—before turning back to her conversation.

Narrowing her eyes, Scully storms up to the woman’s desk and hits End.

“Hey, what the—”

“I need to talk to him now,” she repeats, trying to keep her voice level.

“You need to—“

Scully doesn’t wait for the woman’s response. She finds the door to the inner office unlocked, but as she stands at the threshold, she realizes she doesn’t know how to begin. Save for the hastily printed records she holds in her hands, there’s little proof. Most of the sick were sent home with orders to rest, drink tea, and take ibuprofen—false promises of health and well-being.

They haven’t come back.

They can’t come back, because they’re already dead.

The thought tightens her grip, the papers damp under her fingers.

“Excuse me, Dr. Scully?” The director is looking at her with a calm that’s almost predatory. She’s interrupted what looks like a board meeting.

“Sir, if I could have a moment,” she begins, hoping to draw him away from the rest of the room, which is too full, too dim. The hospital campus is firmly non-smoking and has been for years, but for a moment, she can almost smell cigarette smoke curling in the air.

“Whatever you need to say to me can be said in front of the rest of your colleagues, Dr. Scully.”

She swallows, clenches her jaw. “Fine. We’ve had…an unusually large number of flu-like cases in the last several weeks. I know you’re aware of this because of the limited resources allowed the emergency room.”

He narrows his gaze. “And what exactly do you need, doctor?”

“Sir, I think we have a possible contagion that goes beyond the realm of a simple influenza outbreak,” she says. “This morning a patient died. I have the results of a blood sample that show a virus of unidentified origin—”

The director looks nonplussed. “I don’t see how one patient makes for a plague.”

Her lips tighten to a narrow seam, and she draws herself up to her full height, offering the sheaf of printed papers. “There have been more than ninety reported influenza cases in the last week alone, and at least two deaths. That’s unheard of for a hospital this size.”

This appears to get his attention. The board shifts uneasily, a murmur rolling through the room.

He clears his throat, but barely glances at the reports. “And since when is a bad cold cause for alerting the authorities, Dr. Scully?”

Her teeth scrape against one another in a painful, gritty dance as she struggles to maintain her composure. “Sir, the virus that killed my patient was violent. Its symptoms were mild, the kind most people won’t notice until they’re beyond help. It struck without warning. And I have a connection,” she gestures to her impromptu research, “that suggests another patient at this hospital may have died from the same infection around the same time. I don’t have the lab results yet, but I have experience with this kind of pathology, if you give me some time, I can—“

“So your only evidence of infection is one patient’s death?”

“Two.”

“But you said the second patient never had lab work done.”

“With more testing, we can isolate and confirm—“

He stops her with an abrupt cough. “I’m sorry, doctor, but your request is denied. Your talents are needed elsewhere. As you know,” he looks over his shoulder, smiling reassuringly at the room full of suits, “this is a very difficult time for us here at Our Lady of Sorrows. It’s ‘all hands on deck’ as it were. I’m sure you understand.”

He’s already placed a hand on her elbow, leading her away. The boards’ eyes burn at her back until the door shuts them out, and she turns to face her superior with a hardened glint in her eye.

“Sir, with all due respect, if we can’t devote the time to investigate, then call the CDC.”

“Do you realize what kind of hell that would bring down on this hospital? And at this time? I will do no such thing,” he hisses, thrusting the papers back at her.

I’ve scared him, she realizes, with a twist of righteous anger in her gut. He’s scared to death I’m right because he knows something.

She chastises herself for her errant paranoia as the director collects himself.

“Dr. Scully, if there is any infection, you can be sure we will follow protocol to a tee. But until you can bring me concrete evidence that suggests otherwise, I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for you.”

He disappears into the den of his office before she can answer, the hollow thud of the door ringing in her ears. Anger simmers beneath her ribs, drawing a fiery line along the scars at her side, the papers still clutched in her hands. She retreats on numb legs, biting the inside of her cheek hard enough to draw blood.

These aren’t patients, they’re paychecks.

The walk back is shrouded in a curtain of seething red, her pulse ticking like a fuse beneath the bones of her wrist. Back in her office, she looks down at the printouts with a newfound sense of purpose. The numbers haven’t changed, but her resolve is ironclad.

This will end your career. You’ll be blackballed.

Her career is hardly the critical thing at stake tonight, if her intuition is correct.

She walks to her desk and picks up the phone, dialing the number she’d hesitated to call only minutes before, but this time her fingers are swift and decisive on the keys.

“My name is Dr. Dana Scully. I need to report an outbreak.”

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