by Drema Deòraich
GENRE: Medical Mystery/Ecofiction
Dr. Isobel Fallon thinks she's found a treatment that will help her son and others suffering from Milani Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder. What she doesn't realize is that harvesting the source of this treatment in the only accessible place on earth it grows, a coral reef in the Nlaan Islands, is going to have consequences far beyond the disruption of the fragile ecosystem on one small reef.
CDC researcher Nadine Parker and her team are baffled. Lukas Behn’s daughter Kyndra has contracted a bizarre new virus that leaves her screaming in pain. But they can't identify any physical, biological source for that pain, not in Kyndra, nor in the dozens, then hundreds, and finally millions of children worldwide succumbing to the same virus. And no one seems to have made a connection between what's happening with the infected children and the events on a small coral reef in the South Pacific.
Eventually, Nadine has to face the unlikely truth, and the enormous implications of it. The children aren't sick. They're changing. But will anyone else believe her?
Mitch grunted acknowledgment. “First off, your official designation for this virus is Novel Juvenile Cerebral Bacteriophage or NJCB.”
“That’s a mouthful,” Nadine said. “Let’s go with NJace.”
“Whatever you say. Good idea, I suppose, since we’ll be saying it a lot more in the coming days.” He hesitated. “This thing isn’t contained in Austin anymore.”
“Yeah, I saw on the news that the chickens got out of the coop. Texas, Idaho, where else?”
“Virginia and New York, cases that all match the working case definition.”
“Any luck in contact tracing?”
“Not yet. Tracking programs blew normal expectations all to hell. That initial case in Idaho—NJace’s first appearance outside Texas—had no exposure we can find to an infected kid from Texas. But at least that supports the argument that it isn’t airborne, which is a good thing.”
“Yeah. It’s already bad. Rhue Children’s Hospital discharged most of their non-critical cases and sent the patients home with medicines and a list of instructions on how to recuperate on their own. Phage cases are being lodged in every available room and Rhue staff even reached out to non-pediatric hospitals in the city looking for more space for future cases.” Nadine pinched the bridge of her nose. “If we don’t figure out how the dang bug’s getting around, stopping its spread is gonna be harder than cracking a macadamia.”
Mitch listened in silence, which made her twitchy.
“What else you got?” she asked.
He sighed. “The Department of Homeland Security is treating this as a possible terrorist attack.”
About the Author:
Drema Deòraich is a writer of speculative fiction that asks big questions. Her short stories have been published in numerous online journals, as well as a few semi-professional zines. Her debut novel “Entheóphage,” a medical mystery/climate fiction novel released in October of 2022, has been nominated for the 2023 Ursula Le Guin prize. Drema is still hard at work on her science fantasy trilogy, “The Founder’s Seed,” with plans to release book one in late 2023.
When she isn't writing, Drema helps her legal-eagle boss to save the world one case at a time, pets her husband's cats, watches the starlings mob her birdfeeders, or spends time in Nature, surrounded by flora and fauna.
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