path.htmlTEXTStMl>Z Path With a Heart

Path With a Heart
A Deepwater Black story
by Jacynthe Demorae

She could have chosen any life at all. Status, wealth, privilege, it had all lain at her feet. But Lise had chosen medicine and Mars. Now, she was living to regret it.

Dry-eyed, Lise watched as faceless figures in blue haz-mat suits put
another Pandora-ravaged corpse in a body bag. The body, she knew,
was still warm. Up until a few seconds ago, she'd been holding the
woman's hand. From woman to corpse in the space of three
heartbeats. How many more lives would slip through her fingers

Lise closed her eyes and slumped against the wall. The metal felt icy through her scrubs. She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt warm. Point of fact, she couldn't remember the last time she'd slept, eaten, or just sat down. Pandora was a slate-cleaner, 98% fatality rate, and it was still burning a swathe all over Earth and through the colonies. And, in one of life's cruel ironies, the medical professionals were among the hardest hit.

The suited attendants carried the body bag out. She watched them
go, distantly wondering where they were taking the body. The morgue
had filled weeks ago, even the emergency freezers were full. No-one
got a funeral anymore. Too often, there were no survivors left to attend them.

And nothing we do is making even a dent in this, Lise thought. We can't even slow it down. All her life--in her previous life, she corrected herself, the halcyon days before Pandora--she'd believed in a Power that animated the universe, that gave life. And she'd believed that Power was benign, that it loved its creations. Now...well, the Pandora virus was a lifeform also. And she no longer believed Power could be benign.

She looked around, saw that she was the only living person in the room. Even a few days ago, that observation would have upset her. Now, it woke only a kind of weary acceptance. Of course she was the only one alive. Of course she was the one left behind. Her continued survival made as little sense as the emergence of the Pandora virus itself. That's the only reason I can keep on living, as they keep dying: it makes no sense, any of it. There's no point in trying to understand it.

Lise pushed herself to her feet and went out the swinging stainless
steel doors. A heavy plastic curtain marked a boundary point. The
plastic blurred the outlines of the people she saw moving on the
other side of the gray zone. She couldn't tell if they were men or
women, medical or technical personnel. They were on the Clean side,
the sterile zone, and that was the only distinction that really
mattered now.

She pulled off her booties and her cap, stuffing them down an incinerator chute. She wanted a shower, a near-scalding twenty-minute long shower with the water set at full blast. But even at the best of times, water showers were a luxury on Mars. She would have to settle for clean scrubs.

Inside the locker room--once for surgeons only, now open to all the
medical staff. Their numbers had shrunk to the point where segregation was absurd. She peeled off the soiled garments, feeling as though she was taking off a layer of skin. Lise dropped them on the floor, making a mental note to put them in the laundry chute later. She sat down on the bench, opened her locker, and stared inside it. It seemed her entire world had narrowed to the confines of metal walls. A box, waiting for the lid to be sealed shut.


The voice startled her out of the half-doze she'd dropped into. Snatching a fresh set of scrubs out of the locker, she pulled them on. "Back here," she called out, quickly tying the drawstring of the pants.

She heard footsteps ringing off the tiles as the new arrival made his way to the back of the locker room. By the time he found her, Lise was fully dressed and waiting. The earnest-looking young man looked from her to his dataslate, as if assuring himself that he was confronting the right person.

"Dr. Saunders sent me...from the Deepwater Black project?"

As if there was another Dr. Saunders. But Lise confined her response to a nod, waiting for whatever would come.

"The results of your genetic scan came through today." He paused,
looking at her as if that rated some kind of reaction on her part.

What genetics scan? she thought tiredly. The days all blurred together in her memory.

"You have none of the markers that would inhibit full cloning. That, plus your remarkable resistance to the Pandora virus, and your medical skills, have secured you a place on the Deepwater's crew roster." He beamed at her, sticking out his hand. "Welcome aboard."

She stared at him. Is this guy for real?

When she didn't respond, he dropped his hand. "Well..." he said,
sounding a little uncertain now, "just come by the Project suite,
and we'll take your sample for the module."

"Any particular time?" she asked.

"Oh, no, there's somebody there at all hours," he assured her cheerfully.

What is he so damn happy about? she wondered. Has it somehow slipped his notice that people are dying by the shuttle-load?

"What do you do for the Project?" she asked.

"Me? I'm putting the finishing touches on the AI," he said. "The one that's going to watch over the ship and bring you--your clone, I
mean--online when it's time."

He is totally oblivious, she thought--then she saw the white-knuckled grip he had on the dataslate. She was surprised the plastic casing hadn't cracked under the strain. The owner was clearly on his way there. Who am I to deride anyone for how they live with this? We're dying, and there is no one 'right' way to deal with it.

"I'll be in as soon as I can," she told him, standing up.

"Great!" A smile split his face, the first she'd seen on anyone in too long. "We'll be there!"

She managed a smile in return. Long ago, she'd chosen the path with
a heart over the path with glory--and she would walk it to its end,
wherever it might lead.

 2 Read & Write Read only Write only (Drop Box) Nonev Read & Write Read only Write only (Drop Box) Nonev?b 2{O2PMwp