The nurse at the receptionist desk picked up the phone and greeted the caller as cheerily as she could, “Saint Bosco Teaching Hospital, how can I help you?” She paused to let the person on the line explain what they needed, and after they did, she repeated their request, “You want to reschedule your ultrasound?” Once the client confirmed this, the nurse informed them, “Okay, let me transfer you to our radiology department. One moment, please!” She made the transfer, and then she responded to the two people in industrial uniforms that appeared at the front desk, “How can I help you?”
“We’re from the Health Supply Courier Company,” Bernadette fibbed. “We’re here to deliver a package from the Public Health Center.”
“Oh, were we expecting something from them today?” The nurse checked a clipboard with some kind of schedule on it.
Gwynivara told her, “Actually, this was too urgent to make any formal arrangements. They wanted you to have it right away.”
The nurse looked a little surprised to hear this, and when Gwynivara set a small box on the counter, the nurse stared at it curiously. “To the Caretakers of Venenatus Sanguis Patients,” she read out loud. “That’s weird! Usually, they address it to a specific doctor.”
“I guess they were in too much of a hurry to look anyone up,” Bernadette came up with quickly.
“Interesting…” She seemed skeptical about the validity of that claim, but she didn’t argue on that idea any further, rather, she brought up another point, “So, did they say what’s in it, or am I supposed to just give a random object to a random doctor?”
Gwynivara leaned in and excitedly whispered, “It’s the cure for Venenatus Sanguis!”
The nurse responded in disbelief, “Get out of town! I don’t remember hearing any announcements about a cure!”
“Their highest priority was to make sure all of the afflicted receive it immediately,” Bernadette lied. “They’ll announce it later.”
“This is highly unusual!” the nurse remarked.
Gwynivara retorted, “This is an unusual disease and an unusual situation!”
The nurse maintained her suspicion on this occurrence. “I see…” She glanced at the package questioningly, and then she came to the conclusion, “Well, technically, I’m a caretaker for these patients, so, legally I can open this.” She used a pair of scissors to break the seal, and she stared at the ornate vial peculiarly. “What kind of medical professional would package a medical substance like this?”
I guess they had to distribute so much of it to so many places that they ran out of normal equipment.” Bernadette shrugged.
“No instructions?” The nurse rummaged through the box to see if she had missed something, but she soon discovered that what she searched for wasn’t there. She turned to Gwynivara and Bernadette and probed, “Did they tell you about it?” Bernadette and Gwynivara hesitated, so she surmised, “Oh, so they didn’t! So, what am I supposed to do with this? Is it meant to be injected or taken orally? What is the correct dosage? How often is a patient supposed to take this? What are the storage requirements?”
Gwynivara didn’t know what to say. She knew that the medical community had a dire need for an antidote to this viral disease that plagued the entire planet, so she had always assumed that they would accept a cure readily. It caught her off guard to be met with such resistance, but she had to admit that this nurse brought up a lot of valid arguments. She hadn’t considered any of this until now, but since it came up right then, she realized that these were all topics that Rafeneita should have covered when she left this vial! Her lack of instructions made her intentions quite clear- she knew that they would struggle like this! She gave them busywork as a ploy to keep them far away from her, and she obviously wanted to take advantage of the distance created by this tactic to renew her efforts to spread Venenatus Sanguis even further! She couldn’t tell any of this to the nurse, who was staring at her in an expecting way, and the only response she could think to give her was, “You could always test it and figure it out, right?”
The nurse vehemently disapproved of her suggestion. “You think we have time to test this? We’re stretched thin as it is! All of the doctors are working overtime to deal with all of the tests we have to administer thanks to the PHC’s gross mishandling of this pandemic! They just had to inform the public about the unknown carriers! Now, every Tom, Dick, and Harry head to the emergency room for every little ached or pain they feel! Then when we actually do find someone who tests positive for it, we have to isolate an entire wing to make sure any minor manifestation doesn’t infect the rest of the facility! Then we gotta keep each patient away from the others so they don’t spread it more, and you know how much patients love to listen! Once they’re gone, we have to scrub the entire area to make sure it’s sterilized! The candy stripers won’t do it, they’re afraid of contracting it! We’re having trouble getting any volunteers in here, so the rest of the staff has to take on additional responsibilities! If we had any kind of extra time, they certainly wouldn’t have someone with my kind of training doing medial secretary work! And you have the audacity to suggest that we do more?” She stopped to catch her breath, and then she added, “You said they wanted us to have this right away, but we’re supposed to take time we don’t have to test it? It makes no sense!”
Bernadette and Gwynivara exchanged harried expressions, but before either of them could think of a way to reply, the nurse irately decided, “I’m gonna call the PHC and get to the bottom of this!”
Gwynivara and Bernadette started to panic. The PHC would only blow their ruse, and they would have to get out of there quickly to avoid getting captured again! Gwynivara knew that they couldn’t leave without the cure either. She didn’t know how it worked exactly, but she believed that Rafeneita really did give them an antidote for Venenatus Sanguis since she presented it to them in an attempt to bribe them onto her side. If they didn’t take it with them, the nurse’s mistrust in it would only cause her to destroy it, and Gwynivara simply wouldn’t allow that to happen! She knew that this operation had turned into a lost cause, so now they had to think of some sort of distraction to get it back so that they could get out of there as fast as possible! She considered letting herself get worked up enough to create a beast, but then she remembered Emorick’s recent advice and knew exactly what to do…
The patients in the nearby waiting room suddenly jumped up screaming, and the nurse’s eyes grew wide when she spotted a small fire erupting from an outlet where a television set was plugged in! As the sprinkler system got set off, the patients began running around in a frenzy. The nurse commanded everyone, “Nobody panic!” No one heeded her word, and she groaned as she grabbed a fire extinguisher from under the counter. When she approached the flame to put it out, Gwynivara snatched the cure from off of the desk and then ran out the door with Bernadette.
The two of them crossed the street into a residential sector, and it took all of their willpower to refrain from discussing the event that just took place. Both of them felt a surge of disappointment for how their plan turned out, and their interaction with the nurse certainly presented new obstacles that they would have to overcome in the future. They didn’t want to dwell on it too much though since they were already getting funny looks for having soaking wet clothes and hair, so they needed to develop a more casual attitude to blend in with the neighborhood. As Gwynivara observed the antique, brick townhomes that they passed, she spotted a flag with Rialowe’s campaign logo on it it, so she brought that to Bernadette’s attention, “You think we saw those people at the rally?”
“Maybe, or maybe we saw their neighbors over there.” She indicated to a banner displayed from a window across the street.
“Wow, there’s actually a few of them out here!” Gwynivara observed. “And I’m not seeing any support for his opponents!”
Bernadette pointed out, “Oh, there’s a Ford bumper sticker!”
A man came out of one of the townhomes with a dog on a leash, and after overhearing Bernadette’s comment, he remarked, “Don’t tell me you guys are Ford supporters!”
“Oh, no! We’re voting for… Carter!” Bernadette concocted on the fly.
“Carter? Oh right, him! I keep forgetting he’s running too!” The man contemplated this as he continued walking.
Bernadette conferred with Gwynivara, “He forgot that Carter is running? He’s the Democratic candidate! He’s supposed to be one of the main ones!”
Gwynivara concurred, “Yeah, that’s a problem!” She grimaced as they passed by a couple of little kids with Rialowe lollipops.
When Gwynivara and Bernadette reentered the cave, the others all perked their heads up hopefully, but when they could see the two women’s sopping garments, they grew deflated at the low odds of hearing good news. Emorick tired to keep his tone lighthearted as he addressed them, “So, things didn’t go well I’m assuming…”
“Not at all!” Bernadette grumped. “The nurse at the receptionist desk didn’t wanna take the package!”
“She didn’t trust us at all once we said we were from the PCH,” Gwynivara tacked on.
Emorick’s brows furrowed in confusion. “That’s strange!”
Bernadette expounded on the matter, “We think Rialowe’s influence made her not trust the PHC. She had nothing but bad things to say about them, and when we walked through the neighborhood outside of the hospital, we saw a lot of pro Rialowe stuff in the area. We saw one tiny thing for Ford, and some guy forgot that Carter was even running!”
Emorick shook his head dismally. “That’s not good!”
“Rialowe’s only been campaigning for a couple of weeks!” Kierram exclaimed. “How did people forget that he’s not one of the main candidates?”
“Rialowe sold them on the image that he is,” Riley put in. “He is, unfortunately, very good at that. Do you remember that awful breakfast cereal he promoted? It tasted horrible, but the company managed to sell out of its stock ’cause Rialowe made that crap sound sexy! People knew it tasted terrible, but they still bought it as if it made them cool for doing so!”
José half kidded, “It makes you wonder what kind of flavor those lollipops have!”
Naama voiced her opinion, “I wouldn’t wanna try it! Who knows what they put in those things! For all we know, they could be hypnotizing people with them!”
“Do you think Rafeneita would put Venenatus Sanguis in it?” Gwynivara posed to everyone.
“I hope not! That would be really demented if she did that!” John reacted in repulsion.
Niqun stated, “She’s twisted! I wouldn’t put it past her!”
Kierram asserted, “Next time we do a supply run, I’ll add that to the list! We need to find out what’s in it! Not that it would do us much good! If people don’t believe us about the cure, they won’t take our word on what’s in the lollipops!”
“We need to learn more about Rialowe,” Emorick affirmed, “It’s gonna be tough on selling the idea of the cure to people if they’re buying all of his bull! We can’t convince people to take a cure for a disease that they don’t think exists in the first place! Rialowe is making people act against their own self interest, and we need to put a stop to Rialowe’s message before he has a chance to influence the public more than he already has!”
“How can we do that? He’s everywhere! Look at this!” Rebekah held up a newspaper page. “They barely mention my dad’s death, but they have a big ol’ picture of Rialowe saying what a good job he did at the rally!”
Niqun inquired, “Did they talk about how many people got infected with Venenatus Sanguis after attending that horrible man’s rally?”
Rebekah took a few seconds to scan the article before she replied, “Nope! They didn’t say a word about it!”
“What kind of respected journalist would do that?” Riley snatched the newspaper from her and checked out the front section. “Vulpes Press?”
“Vulpes Press! That’s the paper that Marshall and Paige tried to get us to read so we can learn about their hero, Rialowe!” Gwynivara recalled.
Emorick concluded, “If Rialowe has a hold of this newspaper’s narrative, then we need to find a way to change that! We gotta penetrate their inner loop!”
Cody, whose attention got taken by something he saw on another page of the newspaper in Riley’s hand, chimed in, “Are we looking for a way to get inside of their headquarters? ‘Cause if we are, I think I see a way to that…”