A mask covers my mouth and nose, Long white sleeve protectors keep the sleeves of my robe out of the water.
Over the past three days I’ve worked twelve hour shifts. I scrub at the sheets and curse the lack of mechanisation in the order. I've never actually seen a washing machine but I remember Bessie talking about one. As I scour the linen with soap, I work out plans to design one. We could maybe harness wave power for electricity. The stench in the sluice is almost unbearable even with the mask on it. I’m starting to get used to the smell. My hands are red, sore and cracked. The pain is becoming a hum to my life rather than the agony it was yesterday. I promised father’s people I would work and fight for them. Each day bring more boats with horror stories of what is happening on the island under my sister's regime.
“Angus.” Matt comes in. “We need help there’s been three more deaths. Need to get them down to the mortuary before the next boat load arrives."
“Shit.” I dry my hands off and follow him out, and back to the ward. Since the refugees have arrived, death has become a regular feature of my life. Dead bodies are not something I'm used to but I've learned to accept them and I now touch them without fear.
Cough. Cough. Cough. The cacophony of hacking coughs is constant and the smell is like the one in the alley with Ursula but in high definition.
We stop by one of the beds. Infirmier Kim is covering the face of a healthy, strong young man. He is about my age, maybe a little older. “That’s the worst of this disease it seems to be hitting the young, fit and healthy harder than the others. The elderly are recovering better.” He looks up and down the ward. “It has me wondering if its something we’ve seen before. Although, I’ve never seen anything like it. I wonder if the older members have been exposed. Novice, they’ll all talk to you because they see you ask king.”
“I’m not king.”
He holds up his hand. “Novice, unless you want to see more of this...” he indicates the body “…well you’ll be whatever these people need you to be.” The usually kindly Infirmier adopts a stern tone. “I don’t want this to continue. I want you to take a pen and paper, take notes and find out about illnesses the older members had as children and how old they are.”
“Sir.” The last thing I want is to alienate either Infirmier Kim or Shun. They make my life here bearable. “May I remove my mask? They are bound to speak more freely if I do?”
“No, young man. We need you alive. Now...” He nods. “And in exchange I’ll help Matt clean and take the bodies downstairs. Do we have a deal?”
"Sir.” It doesn't feel like I have a choice.
I go to the desk at the end of the ward and get the pen and paper. Every bed has an occupant. A woman sitting up in bed looks more able to speak than the others, so I approach her and stand at the foot of her bed. She doesn’t have the most welcoming expression on her face. “Well if it isn’t our very own Royal Oaf. Comes to something when an entire country is relying on a brat with an attitude.”
“Ma’am, I’m sorry everyone is stuck with me.” My face is crumbling without my permission. The months spent here only crying in bed at night are taking their toll and I squeeze my eyes until they stop stinging. “I don’t want my dad and brother to be dead either.” I straighten my back and smile at her. Dad would want me to do my duty and I’m going to do what he would want. “Infirmier Kim wants me to talk to you about your childhood. Any illness you might have.” I sit down in the chair next to her. “May I have your name?”
“Millicent Bowchamps.” She smiles a little. “Silly name I know. At school they called me Silly Milly.”
I touch her very still and clammy hand. “If anyone knows how a nickname can hurt, it’s me. Where are you from?”
“A place called Noah’s Landing. It’s a pretty town except for the harbour.” She yanks her face around like one of the gargoyles on the old buildings in Seatown. “It’s where they bring in the kelp and it’s all industrialised. Stank nearly as bad as this place.”
I write down the information as I don’t really know what will be useful. “Infirmier wants to know if you had any major illnesses as a child?”
“Oh goodness no. I was as fit as a fiddle. All that air, seafood and we swam in the sea almost every day not matter what the weather I had a couple of colds but nothing serious. Not even the kelp pox.”
“Did anyone else have the kelp pox?”
“Some kids did. They were off school with it.” She stared into the ether as she tried to recall the information she needed. “I was about eight so it was about sixty years ago. I can’t remember exactly when, I’m sorry.”
“Is everyone here from Noah’s Landing?”
She shrugs a little. “I’ve no idea. In later years people have been moving and building lots of houses. We don’t all know each other these days.”
"Is there anyone else here from Noah's Landing?"
"That nasty old octopus over there." She whispers. "He's one of those men who can't keep his hands to himself."
The man she points at is comatose and unable to supply me with answers. I chew the inside my mouth and think. "Can you remember if he ever had kelp pox?"
"Oh yes. His mother held a kelp pox party so we could all go and catch it, My mother said that was ridiculous and kept me away. She said nobody should make their child seriously ill."
"Why would anyone..."
"It was believed that if a child had it young they wouldn't get really sick with it later." She shrugs. "No idea if that's true or not."
Updated Thursday - I've changed the days round to fit a change in lifestyle since the start of a new school year. Even though we don't do school it still affects us.