Saturday, October 24, 2015

When the Hero Is Knocked Out of the Action

Since my fellow Whores have talked all week about their heroes dealing with injuries in the course of a book, I decided to change it up a bit and talk about something slightly different which befalls the hero in Escape From Zulaire. SPOILER  ALERT!

Rather than being injured, Captain Tom Deverane suffers from a chronic illness, which he has to hide from his superiors in the Sectors Special Forces, and which motivates some of his decisions in the early chapters. Then, at a critical moment, he’s overcome by an attack of the disease, which forces the other characters in the book to make a number of fateful decisions. I had to do some research to come up with my alien relapsing fever, read a lot about malaria and dengue fever and other similar afflictions.  I once came across an excellent quote from a doctor who pointed out that the human body only has so many ways it can be affected by anything, or to let us know we’re in trouble (paraphrasing heavily here).

Here’s the scene from the book,  in which Tom’s problem is discovered, as they’re fleeing through the jungle on an alien planet, escaping from terrorists.

Tom lay full-length on the ground on his back, his eyes closed. His hands rested at his sides, twitching from time to time. Beads of sweat rolled down his temples, pain contorted his handsome face, deep wrinkles marking his forehead. Dismay lanced through Andi like a knife as her heart skipped a beat. Wilson sorted through the contents of the medkit. Discarded in the grass, one used medinject already lay by his boot. 
“What’s happened to him?” She fell to her knees next to Wilson. “How could his condition deteriorate in just a few minutes?” Reaching with one hand to touch Tom’s cheek, she was shocked to find his skin cold under her hand. “He was talking to me and walking when I left to find you. And now he’s unconscious?” Andi grabbed Wilson’s sleeve and tugged on it to make him look at her. “How can that be?”
“Bhengola fever.” The sergeant’s lean frame was tense, his shoulders hunched. He wouldn’t face her. The vein at the side of his throat throbbed as he rummaged through the medical supplies. “The captain gets these attacks from time to time. We were hopin’ to get back to the capital before the next one hit. You know of any local remedies?”
“Bhengola fever?” Andi covered her mouth with both hands and gasped. “Did I hear you correctly? Bhengola?” Wilson nodded once. Chewing her lower lip, she ran one hand through her hair. “He never caught it on Zulaire. We don’t have that here.”
“He’s had it for years, ever since an assign­ment on Panamilla 2,” the sergeant said. “It ain’t a contagious thing, not after the first attack has passed, thank the Lords of Space.”
“Isn’t bhengola usually fatal?” Stepping backward, Latvik swallowed nervously and glanced around, probably to see how everyone else was reacting.
“Can be over time,” Wilson confirmed. “Attacks get more intense. Not more frequent. They’re pretty predictable, as a rule. We carry off-the-books doses of aliquinalone on every mission.”
“Off the books?”  Andi repeated the phrase softly, a question in her voice. Does he mean illegal?
Wilson shot a hard glance at her. “Soldiers with bhengola fever get mustered out, ma’am. No ifs, ands or buts. No cure, you know? And the military is all Captain Deverane has. We’ve used most of the quine we brought because we never expected to be stuck here so long. I haven’t been able to get more on the black market, although I might have a shipment waitin’ when we get back.”
How can he be so matter of fact about admitting to black market activity in front of all these witnesses? Andi felt the blood pounding in her temples. Trying to will away a headache, she rubbed her forehead.
“So do you know of anythin’ local that might help or not?”  Wilson’s face was pugnacious, jaw jutting, eyebrows drawn together. He gathered up the discarded injects and stowed them in a side pouch of the pack.
 She’d studied the symptoms of the major interplanetary infectious diseases one semester at the Loxton Academy. Often the agent on an isolated planet would be the only medical resource for the outworld population and, hence, had to have rudimentary knowledge. Why didn’t I pay more attention in that damn class? She summoned her vague memories of the lecture on chronic, relaps­ing fevers, including bhengola. “Caused by a parasite. Symptoms include fever, chills…”
“Convulsions—it’s an ugly disease, all right,” Wilson said. “The bhengola parasite dies off in the human body after the first cycle of infection, but enough of its loose genetic material remains in the lymphatic system to do the recurrent damage. That’s what makes it incurable.” Having found the medinject he was searching for, he held it to the sun­light. “Last one. And one is not goin’ to be enough.”
He’s right. Bhengola requires around-the-clock drugs to get safely through an incident. Closing her eyes for a second, Andi tried to remember the pertinent section of the Loxton medical-training material. The few facts that came to mind weren’t reassuring.
“He’ll need careful nursing to survive, do you agree?” Rahuna’s head was tilted as he regarded the sergeant. Stroking his chin, the cleric seemed thoughtful.
“Yes.” Wilson jabbed the second inject­able into the captain’s upper arm, rubbing the spot to work the medication into the muscle. “This buys us some time.” Rolling Tom’s sleeve down, he sat back on his heels, hands resting on his knees. Watching his patient relax under the drug’s influence, the sergeant’s face remained set in grim lines. “Better but temporary. He won’t regain consciousness until the entire bhengola cycle is over.”
“How long?” Andi was unable to remember the exact course of the symptoms. A week? Two weeks?
“Could be three or four days, ma’am. Maybe longer, with no quine.”

“Have you the map handy?” Rahuna held out one hand. “We can’t care for him in the open elements, Sergeant. I believe there may be a safe haven we can reach by morning, if we walk through the night, and if Sanenre chooses to smile on this effort….”

Here's the book trailer for Escape From Zulaire:

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