A Different Kind of Plague
Lady Olga Mikhailov eyed her husband's wound thoughtfully. "It looks very good. I think I will not rewrap it. The scar is fresh, so do not stretch it too much, to soon. I'd rather you not bleed any more.
In truth the scar looks months old, not a single week.
Whatever Mother and her pet Cyborg put in the vodka is very powerful.
And . . . I rather think I've been dosed with it. I think we all have been. I feel alert, alive for the first time since I receive my implant. All the other women are better, too. Vita and Anuska are happy and active. Darya sparkles like she did last year. Kamilla? Who can tell?
She looked down at her husband. "So no heavy work, no matter how much you'd like to go hunting."
Klim smiled a little, but still with that worried look in his eyes.
Or is it fear?
They both turned as one of the servant's children ran up. A pretty girl, twelve years old, perhaps. Everyone near stopped to listen.
"A boy came! Up from the Ignatov camp! He was smelly and looked sick! Cook ordered him to stay back. He said everyone there was sick and the Lord is afraid his son will die. Cook said to tell you it looks like diarrhea, maybe dysentery."
"Good Lord! We can't have that in camp." Klim sat up painfully.
"Indeed! You. Stay. Here! This is something we women and servants can deal with!" Olga turned to the girl. "Tell Cook to boil water in every pot she's got, and that she's to boil water for every use for at least a week. Go!"
She could see her mother sending Forty-nine into the back of the truck, hopefully for whatever healing potion he'd concocted. He returned with empty wine bottles.
"Fill them with clean water from the faucet here. They'll be dehydrated." Old Magda started ordering servants around.
Olga bit her lip. Anuska's pregnant, Vita has two little girls . . . "Kamilla! Let's go see how bad the situation is, and organize the clean up if they need it."
Maybe it's just a panic over their little boy. Two years old, If I remember rightly.
Magda stumped over. "I had Forty-nine put a little wine in each bottle. The alcohol will kill any bacteria in the water, not that we've had any trouble. But the smell, when the wind is from the west! I ought to have gone and had a little talk with them long before now!"
"Indeed. Well, you three are in charge of this end of things. Kamilla and I will take some of the workers down there, and we'll get them straightened out."
Kamilla recoiled. "Call for a . . . doc . . . tor? Surely someone's brought a doctor! Nurses! Ladies don't do things like that! I'm not going down there!"
Olga frowned down at the young woman. "Kamilla. We are stranded in the wilderness. You are going to have to do . . . something . . . anything . . . to be worth feeding you."
Kamilla sat up in outrage. "How, how dare you!"
"Prove to me that you are not worthless." Olga turned a shoulder to her and walked away. Kamilla did not follow.
Down in the cooking area Ludmilla had plenty of pots on the fire, nothing boiling, yet.
"I hope I'm overreacting."
The cook pointed.
A boy sitting back from the camp, leaning wearily on a tree, eyes sunken, cheek bones stark in a pale face.
"Oh dear." Olga looked at a basket of crude clay cups.
"I'm not sending the good glasses down there!" Ludmilla frowned at her.
"Good idea." Olga took one of the mostly empty wine bottles and filled it from the spigot.
Grabbed a clay cup and poured it half full and walked over to the boy. And blinked as she recognized him. "Artur, isn't it? Sip this."
Lord Innokenty Ignatov's ten-year-old son. I'm afraid that I may not be overreacting.
He took a sip, another and relaxed a bit. "My little brother . . . Momma's afraid . . . And Aunt Veronika . . . I think she's dead."
Olga took a deep breath, and instantly regretted it. "You stay here, and keep sipping at that. We'll take medicine down there, right now."
She picked up the basket of cups, and nodded at the servants as they corked the last bottle. "I need a couple of the boys to run messages. Let's go."
All she could think was that there were only twenty people here, and a damned good thing.
She stepped away and posted the two boys out close to the road. You do not come into the camp! One of us will come out this far to give you a message. You come back here and we'll come get what we sent you for or to hear the answer to a question."
Then she turned and walked into the . . . horror.
A teen boy on soiled blankets . . . was dead. The teenage girl nearby was still breathing. Olga looked around the camp. There wasn't any place clean to even set anything down on.
"Ev. You take that quarter of the camp. Nik, this other side. Rudolf, over there, and I'll take the last quarter. Try to get some of this into any who is still alive." They swapped around cups and bottles so they all had some of each, then she turned and walked upsteadily over to the largest crude shelter, a tarp strung between trees, with two cars as walls.
Two girls, young women. Sitting, stunned and dehydrated, beside a still form covered with a filthy sheet. Olga filled a glass. "Sip, share it."
Not hygenic, but I don't have enough to . . . She decide against kneeling beside Lady Agrafina, rocking a child in her lap. She poured a scant few spoonfuls into a cup and dipped a finger to get a drop between the child's lips. Another, a bit more. The boy moved, blinked, and she set the cup against his mouth and let him have a bit more. She poured half a cup. "Agrifina, drink it slowly, give the baby a little bit at a time."
Her last cup, half a cup for the little girl in the corner.
Olga stepped over to the bed in the corner. A big man, still breathing, grunting as she shook him. Lord Innokenty. She stepped back to the little girl. Ariadna? Seven years old? She took the cup and poured a half a cup for her father, who shoved himself upright. "Who the . . ." His voice a rough whisper.
"Drink this, you need water." She stepped back to pour the last of that bottle for mother and child and looked around for more people.
She open the next bottle and filled the glass for the two young women. Ekaterina and Marina Vinogradov. Checked under the sheet . . . Their mother, Lady Veronica, Innokenty's widowed sister, was definitely dead.
She stepped out to middle of the camp and looked around. "I've one dead and six alive."
Rudolf hunched his shoulders. "A dead woman and three men alive."
Ev looked over. "Other than the first boy, four alive."
Nik nodded. "Three alive. What do we do?" He looked around the filthy clearing.
"Burn . . . these poor fools, we can't burn everything of theirs, tempting though it is. We'll need a shovel. And fire wood." She stalked up the path. "Samuil? Tell everyone there are three dead, and we need the shovel. Max? Tell cook we need that horrible harsh soap she made and some large washing basins, or as close to that as she can get. And buckets to haul water."
She shooed them away and looked back down the path with dismay. Looked at the men. "Right we need a fire. Then scrape the ground and throw the filth in it. And another fire out here. I'll . . . try to clean up the people first, then save any clothes and bedding I can boil."
"While we're waiting for the shovel, you guys bring in firewood. Put the empty bottles here, and I'll dose everyone again . . . or not if they look worse."
No one else had died. The people she'd dosed looked better. Even, she was relieved to see, the two year old.
Sixteen survivors. Seventeen, counting Artur.
She circulated, with more water, and an extra cup for Ariadna. Hunted for clean clothes and found nothing.
The rest of the day was spend soaking and scrubbing people, clothes, and bedding.
Hanging everything along the road in the sun.
And ignoring Lord Innokenty who seemed to believe that only the strong ought to survive and that the servants ought to have been doing the laundry all along.
"We're in the wild now! We need to weed out the weak!"
Olga look at Anya, one of the teenagers who escaped being chipped, who was wringing out a blanket they'd just boiled. "Unfortunately he survived. I'd rather his sister was with us."
Anya bit her lip and tried to not smile.
These are such nice kids. Thank you God, for forcing us to see that, and live here as equals.
Well . . . not the same but . . .
She shook her head. Philosophy later, work today.
She looked at all the sick people, sitting in the sun, in their wet clothes a single thin layer each, for modesty. Cook was producing soup for them now, and all the diarrhea had disappeared. Magda and Forty-nine's potion had worked quickly. All of us who've been down here had better have some.
Even their two Cyborgs look to be recovering. All those mental parts, the join with flesh is always prone to irritation and thus infection. The poor things were very sick, dysentery plus infections in their shoulders, and one around the skull plate.
And I should warn all the camps to boil water, no telling what will be washed into the river.
She could hear the axes from here. Forty-nine was building a long low shelter at the corner of the Ignatov's claim. Close to the river, for fetching water. Which, hopefully, they will have sense enough to boil.
And a privy, for the sake of avoiding a repeat.
She looked thoughtfully at the tired, weak people.
I'll keep an eye on them . . . and I damn well may steal some of them. And not just the servants.
Marina and Ekaterin are eighteen and twenty. And Benedikt and Anatoly will be needing wives soon. I'll speak to Klim about it.
And it's . . . probably a good thing Innokenty survived. An ally for a neighbor is better than bringing in so many refugees.
Probably. So long as he doesn't realize Klim has lost his power.
Hmm. Vita is only thirty. She could make a very good marriage. And Anuska's just twenty-four. Once she's had her baby , and a years mourning, we'll have to think about it. Kamilla? Only nineteen, but . . .
Well. I shall have to become the local matchmaker. In a month when things have settled down . . . maybe a party?
She looked around and bit her lip. Even a garden party is going to be near impossible. I'll have to get out my paper and start writing letters to the other camps.
Huffed out a laugh. "We need a messenger service. And more than that, we need to talk regularly to our neighbors, and catch things like this dysentery early, before it kills anyone."
And in fact, inside of a week, Lady Agrafina walked up to visit and thank her. And shortly after Artur was hanging out with Vlasiy and Leonti, and Ekaterina and Marina were visiting Masha and Darya, and venturing into Vita and Anuska's circle--and quickly learned to avoid Kamilla's whining--while little Ariadna palled up with Vavara and Little Magda.
Best of all, Klim recovered quickly, and resumed hunting . . . with Eighty-seven Four and Thirteen, all armed with rifles.
Thank God Leonti isn't going out hunting alone any longer.
But he's growing up. He stepped up and dealt with the disaster . . . very very well.