We make our way back to the building, Teddy holding my left hand and Miles’ right. He is trembling and sniffling, but overall okay, covered a little bit with some dirt that stains his clothes. He’s alive, though, and that’s what matters.
Teddy nearly trips over his boot, coming loose yet again from his little foot, but Miles and I steady him. He sniffles again in a coughing, wheezing laugh, giggling at himself, which brings a smile to mine and Miles’ lips.
The three of us arrive at the building without any complications. With the family reunited again, there is hugging and some crying. Miles and I are pulled into a warm group hug, Mike crying as he holds tight to his son and daughter, with Miles and I enveloping them.
Then Teddy starts to cough.
The entire circle tenses, and I can feel the fear starting to form, see it in everyone’s eyes. None of us want to believe, and we all deny it, but there’s no way to be too safe in this era.
As everyone tries their best to keep their calm, the circle is broken, and we spread out, Teddy still in the center. We’re not too far away from him, but we’re far enough to easily make him uncomfortable.
Teddy whimpers, his voice scratchy. Mike runs over to me.
“Is he okay? Tell me he’s fine, he can’t be infected.” he pleads to me, and my heart sinks even further, a pressure forming on my chest.
“We won’t know for sure for a few hours, at least,” I tell him hesitantly. “Identifying symptoms start to form after a couple hours. We have to make sure he remembers anything and everything, but coughs can mean so many different things.”
Mike nods and walks back over to Ebony. His hands are clenched in fists at his sides and I can tell he’s trying to keep calm and in control. He tells his daughter what I just told him and she continues to nod grimly.
Teddy is still standing in his spot as this all goes down, whimpering and looking from person to person anxiously.
Miles and I walk over to him finally, wanting to comfort him. We both still keep our distance, but we are close enough to reach him with outstretched arms, and I can tell he’s happy that someone is finally acknowledging him.
“We might as well stay here for a couple days, just to be safe.” Miles offers, and I agree with him, murmuring.
“What’s going on, Dad?” Teddy asks nervously.
“Ted, it’s going to be alright,” Mike assures. “Cody’s going to take care of you. I promise, everything will be okay soon.”
Teddy looks down at the floor and mutters something. I am able to hear it, but I wish I wasn’t. He said, “Don’t promise something if it’s not true.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
We are able to set up a makeshift lab and quarantined room. Just in case, we put Teddy in a small room with different windows surrounding it. He can leave if he chooses or if he truly needs to, but we told him that it’s more safe for himself and for his family if he stays in the room.
Every hour or so, I ask him what his age is, when his birthday is, a few questions to make sure that he isn’t losing any memories. So far, he’s been fine, and I might be able to get some bloodwork done to test him and truly see if he’s infected.
I don’t know much about the infection, but I do know enough to be able to distinguish it from another type of bacteria or virus. Experimenting on other, well-known bacteria and viruses, while tedious, was useful. It allowed me to understand this disease a bit more.
Coughing could mean an early sign of infection in young children, as well as a fever, which Teddy seems to have. He complains of nausea and a headache, all other symptoms, but these are very vague and common symptoms. I need more to be sure, and he hasn’t forgotten anything at all.
Every day he answers the questions that I offer flawlessly, always the same answers, and I throw in new questions each day. Even those he can remember nearly immediately.
The clock on the wall chimes - another hour has gone by. Time to check up on him.
I suit up, getting together my gear. I put on the same protective gear that I was wearing in the forest - gloves, sweats, jackets, a facial mask. I cover up all of my uncovered skin, just in case he is infected. I don’t want to scare him, so I walk into the room without a face mask on, smiling to ease his mind.
“How you feeling, Teddy?” I ask sympathetically. “Anything else go wrong?”
He shakes his head. He’s on a white hospital bed, and the entire room is extremely bland. There are no other colors in the room besides red and a splash of green - the wilting plant in the corner of the room. Other than that, it is all dreary and colorless, altogether too bright, making for a bland room.
Nonetheless, Teddy is smiling lightly. He is incredibly pale and looks sickly, his eyes and the surrounding area red. I desperately want to help him, cure him, but I don’t know if I have the materials or the ability to. Miles was just a pure stroke of luck, and I’m afraid that I’m giving everyone false hope. Giving someone hope and then taking it away - it’s enough to make anyone dangerous.
“How old are you?” I ask him, picking up my blue notebook from a table next to his bed.
“Nine,” he responds confidently.
I ask him a few more questions, and he answers them flawlessly. It’s been over six hours, and still he is showing no symptoms of memory loss at all, which is intriguing. It gives me a small hint of hope, hope that he’s not infected and that he’ll be fine. I’m terrified for him.
“Ted, is it okay if I take some blood work?” I ask him, not wanting to scare him. “I’m just going to give you a small shot, and then it’ll be over in a couple seconds. That way I can try to figure out what kind of disease you’re infected with, just to make sure that you’ll be fine. I know you will,” I reassure, “but I just need the science to back it up.”
He nods, and he seems a bit nervous, but ready. He even holds out his arm for me.
I prepare the small needle and disinfect his arm, rubbing the alcohol on it gingerly. “Ready?” I ask him, and he grins. “Three… Two… One…” I count down, pushing the needle into his arm.
He winces and his arm tenses, but he keeps still, waiting it out. I finish up and take the needle out, placing a cotton ball onto his arm where the needle went in and telling him to keep pressure on it.
He obliges, his face now grim with concentration. I take the blood that I was able to extract and bring it out of the room. Shutting the door, I give Teddy a small wave as I exit, and he does the same while trying to clutch his arm.
There is a microscope in one of the rooms down the hall, and I head out to find it, passing by Miles and Teddy’s family. They all look up to me, faces hopeful, and I give them a small hint of a smile before walking to find the room.
Eventually, I spot the microscope and am able to start my research. The cells under the microscope are interesting, and I could study them all day. This is the part of science that truly interested me - the microscopic organisms and sights that you get to see. It’s all so interesting that we can find these creatures, these objects so miniscule that only technology can allow humans to see them. Everything under a microscope is so much more interesting.
While studying the specimen, I am able to locate the perpetrators, all of the cells that do not belong. It’s difficult to see - the magnification on the microscope isn’t very high-powered, but I change the lens so I can zoom in a bit more.
The cells, now bigger under the different lens, look out of place - it’s easy to spot when a cell doesn’t belong there.
I study the shapes, the colors, the different possible chemicals in the cells. There are so many different possibilities for them, but I am able to narrow down a couple.
I then get up to get some chemicals to test it out and see how they react with the blood. This is yet another sure-fire way to narrow down what sort of disease is attacking poor, little Teddy.
I want the results to be conclusive so badly. I want to find out how to help Teddy, if I can help him, and I want to help everyone else. I want to help Teddy’s family. They’ve been through so much, experienced so much in so little time, and I’m so proud of them. They’ve all made it so far, even after all of the hardships they’ve faced. They’re all surviving and making an effort for each other. If my family were here today, that was what I’d aspire to be. I wish I was like that with my family before this epidemic.
Before the epidemic, I wasn’t as interactive with my family as I wish I was now. They would ask me if I wanted to watch movies with them, or play a game, but I always declined, and now I regret that. I regret so many things now, and if I could go back to change them, I would in a heartbeat.
I am also grateful to be here, experiencing this. While it is terrible and terrifying, it is beneficial to learn and gives me so much knowledge. Even though I may not be here for much longer, and I accept that, I want to help as much as I can before that time comes.
And I know I’ll be able to help with at least Teddy, because I finally get a conclusive result.