Chapter Two

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“Eva,” my mother said softly. “Breathe.”
I couldn’t see her, but I could hear her. I could feel her presence.
“Wake up, Eva,” my father said. “You can get through this.”
I wanted to call out to them, to open my eyes and see their faces, but I couldn’t. I was too tired.
“Honey, it’s not your time,” Mom said. “You have to save yourself. Save yourself so you can save the others.”
“Just breathe,” Dad said.
Hearing their voices gave me the encouragement I needed, and I forced myself to take one deep breath.
“That’s it, sweetheart,” Mom said, her voice fading. “We’ll be by your side every step of the way. Now, open your eyes.”

My eyes snapped open and I started gasping for air, panicked and disoriented. I tried to sit up, but I was stuck on something. Lifting my head, I could see I was tied to a bed. As my eyes focused on my surroundings, I tried to remember where I was and how I got there, but nothing came.
Everything around me was white. The ceiling, the walls, the bed, my clothes. All white, crisp, clean and sterile. It was ice cold, I could see my breath emerging from my lips as clouds of mist.
Almost one hundred people were tied to beds all around me, separated by clear plastic walls that made the huge tent we were in look like a transparent, immaculate prison. The only people free to walk among these invisible cells were dressed in biohazard suits, their faces hidden behind plastic masks and goggles. One of them saw me struggling against the cable ties and came into my glass-like chamber.

“Stay calm,” she said as she touched my shoulder through a thick, elbow-length glove. “You’re safe here.”
Another figure appeared next to her, holding a clipboard.
“Her results are here, Doctor,” a male voice said. “She’s all clear.”
The woman leaned over me, lifting my eyelids and shining something bright at my pupils. Her suit scrunched as she moved and it reeked of chlorine.
“Good,” she said before taking my hand. I wasn’t sure if she was attempting to comfort me or take my pulse, but her touch calmed me. “Miss, how do you feel?”
“Fine,” I said, my voice raspier than I expected. I cleared my throat and repeated my answer. “I’m fine. Where am I?”
“You’re in the Isolation Unit of a military field hospital,” she said. “Members of our team found you on the nearby riverbanks last night. You were barely breathing and have a few cuts and bruises, but you’re okay. You’re a very lucky young woman.”
“Field hospital? Riverbanks?” I repeated, trying to process what she had said.
Concern filled her dark, tired eyes. “Miss, my name is Dr. Priya Desai. Can you tell me your name?”
“Eva,” she said. “Do you remember how you got into the river?”
I searched my memory, but to no avail. “No.”

Without letting go of my hand, Dr. Desai sat down on a plastic stool next to my bed. “Okay, Eva. You have a mild concussion, which is why you’re having trouble remembering recent events. It’s alright, it’s completely normal to feel disoriented and confused after physical and emotional trauma. Everything should come back to you soon. What’s the last thing you remember?”
I closed my eyes in concentration. “I was at work. Then … Oh god, the outbreak!”
Dr. Desai squeezed my hand. “Stay calm. You’re okay. What else do you remember?”
“We were in the RV,” I said, piecing together flashes of memory. “Going to Cairns.”
“We?” Priya said. “Who were you with?”
I opened my eyes. “Jo, Wyatt and Ben. Are they here?” I looked around, but didn’t recognize anyone.
“I’m afraid you were found alone.”
“Are we in Cairns?” I asked.
“No, we’re in rural New South Wales.” She paused, and I could see she wanted to tell me something, but she was being cautious. “Eva, before I tell you this, I want you to know that you’re alright. You’re healthy. But, when we found you, you had traces of the Eversio Virus in your blood.”
“The what?” I asked.
“The Eversio Virus, that’s what we’ve called it. It’s the cause of all this. But you’re the first patient we’ve seen who had the virus without a bite mark. Do you remember how you were infected with it?”
Panic rushed through me as the images of Wyatt and Elliot fighting flashed through my mind.
“The gun went off,” I said as it came back to me. “He … Elliot, he was infected. The bullet went through him and into me.” I looked down at my shoulder, seeing a fresh bandage wrapped neatly around it.

Priya sighed in relief. “That explains it,” she said. “It was only a trace amount. That’s why it was moving so slowly through your body. Who cleaned your wound?”
“Ben, he’s training to be a paramedic.”
“You really are very lucky, Eva,” Priya said. “Your friend saved your life. If that wound had gone untreated, you wouldn’t be here right now.”
“How am I here?” I asked. “How did I survive the virus?”
“Ever since the outbreak, we’ve had a team running tests on the virus, analyzing the cells, watching how it works,” Priya explained. “We’ve been able to determine many of its properties, and it appears to be a hybrid agent, but we’re yet to define its molecular structure entirely. It’s likely a unique combination of the rabies virus and unknown specimens we’ve never seen before. Since then, myself and the other doctors have been experimenting with different methods of treatment. My latest treatment, which I used on you and all the patients in this tent, is the only one to have any kind of success. The moment you arrived, we brought you in here, where we keep it at zero degrees Celsius. It appears this virus was designed in a state-of-the-art laboratory specifically for the warm Australian climate. Bizarrely, cold temperatures seem to slow the virus almost to a standstill, whereas heat accelerates it – meaning the symptom of fever actually helps the virus spread …” she stopped. My confusion must have shown on my face, because she began talking slower. “I gave you a vaccine we’ve just developed, which attacked the virus before it could enter your nerve cells. It doesn’t kill the entire virus cell, just the properties that we could recognize, but it weakens it enough for the body to fight back. I then gave you an IV of high doses of ascorbic acid, or what you’ll know as vitamin C, to boost your immune system and help your body resist the infection. Lastly, I did a blood transfusion, giving you the donated blood of others who have healed. And I’m very pleased to tell you that I’ve just received your blood work and you’re all clear. You’ll be physically tired and weak for the next two or three days while your body recovers, but you’re no longer infected.”

“Wait,” I said, struggling to comprehend it all. “Are you saying you’ve found a cure?”
Dr. Desai shook her head. “It’s not exactly a cure. The vaccine only kills the parts of the virus that we recognize and have antibiotics for, the remaining parts of the cell die as a result of the combination of cold temperatures, ascorbic acid and the body’s own immune system. And it only works if the infection is caught early enough, usually within the first twelve hours – as was yours. We can provide the right treatment to slow the spread of the virus and give you the supportive care your body needs to heal itself. And once the process begins, I’ve found it heals as quickly as it spreads.”
“Thank you,” I said tearfully. “Thank you for saving my life.”
She squeezed my hand again, and even though I couldn’t see her mouth, I could tell by her eyes that she was smiling.
“Get some rest, Eva,” she said as she stood up. “One of my colleagues will be back in an hour to collect you. You’ll need to have an antiseptic shower before we move you out of isolation and into the recovery ward.”
I looked around at my fellow patients and wondered how many would be as lucky as I was. I saw many sallow faces that looked inches away from death, and hoped I would be safe if any of them were to turn. I sat up higher to get a better look at the vast, colorless space. Gun-wielding figures in yellow biohazard suits lined the walls, prepared to strike if I or one of the many bed-ridden folk by my side were to succumb to the disease.
A yawn escaped my lips, and a sudden exhaustion overwhelmed me.
I rested my head on the hard pillow before quickly falling back into a deep sleep.


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