“Patient #5” by D.M. Slate

Patient

June 1, 2042       

It’s been sixty-nine days since we received our last shipment of water. All attempts to contact the multiple base camps on Earth have been unsuccessful.  It’s as if they’ve completely aborted the mission – leaving us to fend for ourselves on this unforgiving red planet.  Although this seems to be the most logical conclusion to our dilemma, my heart refuses to believe that this is the case.  There must be some other explanation to this catastrophic disruption in our delivery schedule.

Closing my voice-diary-log, I stare out the tiny six-inch window on the exterior side of my living pod.  A massive dust storm has been brewing for the past eleven days, making it difficult to see more than a few feet outside of the compound.  The sky holds a tawny mix of dust and frozen ice water, resulting in a bronze fog of blowing sand and dirt in the atmosphere.

Sighing, I turn away, looking back to the interior of my small living space.  Clicking on my day-lamp I savor the feel of the brightness and warmth that it emits.  Staring past the lamp at the projected image on my wall, a tropical beach scene from Earth, I can almost imagine that the light from the lamp is coming from the sun.  I close my eyes, savoring the radiant sensation on my skin.  I daydream about Earth and the memories are bittersweet.

The morning bell disrupts my thoughts.  Rising to my feet I walk down the corridor to the galley, where our entire colony gathers at each meal.  In all, there are ninety-four of us remaining.  In a colony which had peaked at nearly two-hundred inhabitants, our numbers had slowly begun to decline over the last year.  A combination of viral sickness, malnutrition, hypothermia and suicide had cut our population in half.  And then the water had stopped arriving.

I lower my eyes to the floor as I enter the galley.  Slipping quietly into a nearby seat I hope to draw as little attention to myself as possible.  Other colonists shuffle in around me.  Gradually, the largest of the pods built within our compound begins to fill with bodies.  I can feel the nervous energy buzzing in the room although no one acknowledges it.  Dr. Franklin takes his spot at the front of the pod and the various muffled conversations fall into a hushed silence.

The tall, slender, middle aged man clears his throat and the sound echoes off of the metal siding of the galley.  His salt-and-pepper hair is combed neatly to the side and his clothes are freshly pressed.  Calm and composed, the doctor takes a deep breath and exhales slowly before speaking.

“Good morning to you all.  As you know, today shall be the morning of our fifth selection.  Life on Mars is an exhausting conquest and now that we’ve been abandoned to fend for ourselves, we must find a sustainable source of water.   Our teams of chemists and hydrologists have been working around the clock to purify the ice water collected by the robotic rover.  We applaud their efforts and continued dedication to this task.”

Dr. Franklin pauses as the rest of the group claps in uniformity.  He adjusts the tie around his neck, loosening it a bit, before continuing.

“As physician in charge, it’s my duty to candidly report the findings of our study.  It’s with deep condolences that I relay that patient number one passed away yesterday in the late hours of the night.”

A shrill cry erupts from the crowd as Mrs. Maplewood falls to the floor in a mound of sobbing agony.  Patient number one had been her husband, Paul.  Nearby colonists do their best to comfort the grieving woman as Dr. Franklin continues.

“Patient number two remains unchanged in her catatonic state, however, her vitals remain strong and steady.  Patient number three has maintained consciousness and control of his bodily functions, but his mental status is questionable as he seems agitated and confused with minor conversations.  We’re continuing to closely monitor his behavior.”

Under lowered lids my gaze pans across the room, observing my peers’ reaction to this news.  From the back of the room it’s hard to see any facial expressions.  My eyes meet and connect with Dr. Franklin’s momentarily before I look hastily back to the floor.  The doctor continues with his report.

“Patient number four has given us our greatest hope yet.  He’s been ingesting the melted ice water for three days now and he suffers from only minor side effects.  With the latest chemical mix to the ice we’re hoping that patient number five will suffer absolutely no side effects after drinking treated Mars water, pioneering a new direction for self-sufficiency here on our Red Mother.”

A half-heart cheer erupts, before the room falls into a tense silence.  Dr. Franklin clears his throat again.

“It’s now time to select patient number five.”

Tapping the activation button on his wristband, Dr. Franklin gives the computer the order.  “Generate the random selection, now.”

A hologram image projects from his wrist and the occupants of the room hold their breath as they watch their names scroll across the screen.  The device emits a ding and only one name remains:  Heath W. Franklin, M.D.

A shocked intake of breath can be heard in the room.  Clearly flabbergasted, Dr. Franklin’s jaw hangs agape momentarily.  Quickly recovering his composure he gives a slight nod of his head.

“So it is.  I shall be patient number five.  All of my previous work and data has been meticulously recorded, and it appears that our research will now continue under the direction of my assistant, Dr. Vanessa Chappelow.”

All eyes in the room shift in my direction and I feel my face turning crimson.  My pulse accelerates and tiny beads of sweat form on my forehead.  Feeling lightheaded I hold onto the table for stability.  I manage a curt nod as they gawk in my direction.

Dr. Franklin begins speaking again, continuing with his rehearsed speech as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.   The eyes of my fellow colonists shift back to the front and I manage a much needed breath.  Using the speech as a distraction, I nimbly rise and exit out the back of the room.  Racing down the long corridor I pass numerous pod openings before reaching my own.  Dashing inside I swing the door closed behind me.  Panting for breath, I collapse onto my bed and close my eyes.  My head throbs uncontrollably.

I, alone, know the truth about what happens behind those quarantine doors.  The security is set so high on that room that only the DNA analysis scan of Dr. Franklin or myself will open the door.  The thought of Dr. Franklin actually ingesting the Mars water is preposterous.  He’s seen what it does to people.  Visions of our patients flash uncontrollably through my mind.

Dr. Franklin’s report to the colony had carried partial truths, along with many hidden secrets.  I felt that full disclosure of our findings should be made, but Dr. Franklin had assured me that it was in the best interest of the colony to present only the most basic results.

A rapid knock on the door breaks my train of thought.  My stomach churns in anticipation as I prepare to open it.  Dr. Franklin stands in the corridor just outside my pod.

“Hurry.  We’ve got to get to the lab.”

Without waiting for my response he spins around and departs down the corridor.  The heels of his freshly polished shoes click against the tile floor.  I follow the man, robotically.  By the time I reach the entryway to the quarantine pod Dr. Franklin is already there with the door propped open, waiting impatiently for me enter.  The door closes swiftly behind me.

My eyes are instantly drawn to the lifeless body of patient number one.  His bloated swollen corpse is now nearly double the size that the man had been in life, prior to ingesting the Mars water.  Naked and laid out on the operating table, it’s a ghastly sight to take in.  His body had swollen so quickly that the outer layers of his skin had torn and split in numerous locations, allowing for the expanding tissues beneath to grow.  His eyes, which remain open in death, had been strained to the point of popping internal vessels.  The eyeballs are now large crimson orbs.

No surgical procedures had been attempted on this patient.  Once his body had begun to inflate, swelling at an uncontrollable rate, Dr. Franklin and I had both been dumbfounded as to why.  The melted ice water had been through our scientist’s purification process and had tested clean, multiple times.  There was no logical explanation as to why the body was reacting like this.  It was infuriating, and disheartening at the same time.

It was then I’d first noticed the change in Dr. Franklin.  His mentality began to shift from treating our patient to solving this medical mystery.  Since, I’ve learned that this man has no problem experimenting on our fellow colony members, whom he sees as merely “test subjects” now.

Shifting my gaze to the side I glance at patient number two – Sarah.  She’d been given a different batch of chemically treated ice water, but disappointingly, her body had reacted the same.  Agitated and scared, patient number two had become combative when it was time to administer her water doses.  Taking drastic measures, Dr. Franklin made the decision to perform a frontal lobe lobotomy on patient number two, resulting in her catatonic state of mind.  Since the operation, patient number two has continued to receive Mars water doses, and her body continues to swell.

Tubes protrude from her unmoving torso and the nearby computer scans her systems, looking for the cause of this inflammation.  Patient number two’s skin is stretched taunt across her slender frame, revealing a roadmap of blue veins just beneath the surface.  With the swelling of her internal organs, the young woman’s stomach has protruded so much in the last week that she appears to be in her ninth month of pregnancy.  Her hands and feet are covered in fluid filled blisters.  It won’t be long before her skin begins to split.

A small groan escapes form the lips of patient number three.  I turn to gaze at Brent and my heart skips a beat.  It’s difficult to look at someone you’ve called a friend, once they’ve been selected as a patient.  The third batch of treated Mars water had given us the same disastrous results.  Patient number three had begun to bloat almost immediately after ingesting the water.  This time Dr. Franklin made the decision to perform a trepanation to combat the effects of the head swelling.  The patient’s hair was shaved to the scalp before two large flaps of skin were pulled back, exposing bone.  Two circular sections of patient number three’s skull were removed, allowing the swollen brain to expand outside of its cranial cap.

None of these efforts have seemed to make any difference.  Patient number three is just one week into treatments and his prognosis is bleak.  Our monitoring systems show that his internal organs are growing at the same rate as both previous patients.  None of the anti-inflammatory medication that we’ve used has been effective.  The cause of this lethal swelling is still unknown.

“Help me, please.”

The pained whisper comes from behind me.  Turning, I face patient number four, Alex.  Tied to his treatment chair he makes an attempt to reach for me, but only the tips of his fingers move.  The bloated red appendages resemble stuffed sausages.

“My body hurts.”

I step toward the ailing man but Dr. Franklin steps in-between us.  Scowling, he snaps at me, “We don’t have time for this, right now.  We have to figure out what we’re going to do, about me.”

I nod wide-eyed, staring back in his direction.  Before I can find my voice, he speaks again.

“You’re going to have to lie to the colony.  When you give the next update you will tell them that I’ve began taking the water doses and that I seem to be doing well.  However, you still need to select another patient that day.  We must continue moving forward with our tests.”

Patient number four wheezes and coughs.  His eyes connect with mine as he weakly pleads.

“The straps on my chest are too tight.  I can’t breathe.  Please make them looser.”

In one swooping motion Dr. Franklin turns and his hand darts out, smacking the restrained patient across the face.  A terrible moaning wail escapes the man’s swollen lips.  Moving roughly, without any regard to the feelings of patient number four, Dr. Franklin forces his jaw open to insert a gag.  I watch in horror, timidly trying to divert the physician’s attention back toward myself.

“I’m sure that the Leaders will choose a replacement for you, to continue the testing with me here in the lab.  I’d expect one of the nursing staff to be getting the transfer call.  It could be as soon as today.  What are we going to do about that?”

Agitated, the doctor pushes a small rolling cart of supplies across the room.  He growls under his breath.  I see a flicker of madness in his dark cold eyes as he turns in my direction.  Taking a step back I hold my breath, anticipating his volcanic reaction.

“Then that person will be sworn to secrecy as well.  The rest of this colony cannot find out that the Mars water is lethal.  If they know that, all chaos will break loose.  Water equals life. We must solve this problem.”

He turns then, facing the multiple display monitors hooked to our patients.  Scrutinizing the data only infuriates the crazed doctor further.  In silence I step to the side, reaching out to adjust the straps on patient number four’s chair.  Dr. Franklin catches the motion out of the side of his eye and he scoffs in my direction.

“You’re a weak woman.  How many times have I told you?  You must separate yourself from the emotional side of your brain.  This is science – medicine!  Sacrifices must be made in order to advance the betterment of our people.”

Still kneeling at the side of patient four’s chair I tremble in fear as the monstrous physician glares deep into my eyes.  He has the cold stare of a psychopath.  He smirks taking sadistic pleasure in my fear.  He jumps upon the opportunity to hurt me further.

“I’ll bet that’s why your husband left you, back on Earth…because you’re weak.”

Memories of the lies, fighting and abuse flash before my eyes.

Anger brews deep within my chest as I watch Dr. Franklin turn his back to me, looking at the display monitors once again.  Adrenaline pushing me forward. I spring to the cart of supplies, grabbing the sedative injector.  Swinging my hand in a wide arc the needle plunges deep into the forearm of Dr. Franklin.  I quickly press the button, releasing the sedative into his blood stream.  Before he can even protest, his body crashes limply to the floor.

****

June 1, 2042:  Record Retention on Patient #5

After the injectable sedation was administered, the patient was transferred to his treatment chair and properly restrained.  All diagnostic probes were placed and two drip-line I-V’s were inserted.  We’ll be taking a new approach with this patient as we slowly introduce the treated Mars water directly into the blood stream.  One IV line contains Earth water, and the other is filled with the chemically treated ice water from Mars.

Drip lines have been active for twenty minutes and the patient’s vitals remain normal.  No changes in respiration or body temperature have been noted. The patient will continue to be monitored closely over the next twenty four hours.  His prognosis is hopeful.

 Closing the voice-dictation-log I sit and watch as the groggy-eyed Dr. Franklin awakens from his stupor.  Confused, he looks around the room.  As his brain begins to process the situation he attempts to protest.  I can’t make out any of the words that try to escape around his gag.

Rolling my stool across the floor I stop just inches in front of his chair.  Smiling, I wait for the doctor to calm himself before I talk.  When he finally stills I speaks softly.

“You know what, Dr. Franklin – you were right.  I needed to separate myself from the emotional side of my brain.  After all, this is science – medicine!  Sacrifices must be made in order to advance the betterment of our people.”

His eyes are wide and terrified as he listens to his own advice.

“You were selected as patient number five, and that’s how it will be.  Only this time we’re going to try it my way.  Hopefully, for both of us, my results turn out better than yours did.  Only time will tell.”

I rise to my feet and casually push the stool back under the desk where it belongs.

I approach patient four, whose restraints have been removed, and I offer him a comforting pat on the shoulder.  I administer another strong narcotic to help ease the man’s pain, which helps to lift the heaviness from my soul.

Ignoring the squirming, pleading grunts of Dr. Franklin I walk to the pod door.

“I’m going to go grab some breakfast.  I’ll be back to check your vitals in a half-hour.”

Exiting through the threshold, I can’t help but smile as I stroll back down the corridor to the galley.  Medicine is an exciting career.

 

 

 

 


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Danyelle (aka D.M. Slate) resides in Colorado, where she’s lived for most of her life. She attended college at the University of Northern Colorado completing a business degree, and now works as a financial analyst.

D.M. Slate’s first sci-fi horror novella was released in 2009, followed by dark fiction novels in 2010 and 2012. In 2013 Slate produced her first audio-story.  The following year her second audio-story won the Wicked Woman Writer’s Challenge hosted by HorrorAddicts.net, earning her the title of 2014’s Most Wicked Woman Writer.

Additional information can be found at www.dm-slate.com

photo credit: Hellespontus Montes in 3D via photopin (license)

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2 Comments

  1. Jon Jones @DVWhat

    This was fantastic. What a great premise, and a challenging predicament into which the characters have been cast. The back story is just enough to lay out what is needed, without straying into unnecessary narratives as to why the project may have been abandoned or whatever it is that stopped the water deliveries from coming. The patient set-up by lottery was great, and helped cement the tone of mild dread as a very fitting lead-in to the exposition of the fate that had fallen to the previous patients.

    I want to know more about this colony, the fate of the world they left, and more importantly whether or not there will need to be patients 6, 7, 8, etc.

    Great job here.

  2. This was fun and disgusting. I loved the symptoms of the patients. It was freaking disturbing without needing to go over the top. Just, like, swollen and incapacitated due to weird water.

    I really liked the dynamic of trying to solve this problem but then having some obvious qualms about being totally open with the public. And I enjoyed the angle with the doctor not exactly being stable, however that also was my one complaint here. He was described a little too exactly and too often as nuts. And, for me anyway, once we see his apathy towards human life and how little he cares for the “healing” aspect of his job, we get pretty solidly that this guy is nuts. More description actually took away from the wonderful painting that had been created.

    Overall, great concept, fun premise, well delivered!

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