Author : Philip Berry

London, 1348.

Tantlas turned away from the rough-hewn window and its view of the wooden spire of old St Paul’s Cathedral. His three children slept. It was a very warm evening, mid-August, and the sheen of sweat on their exposed arms caught the moonlight.

Tantlas stared at their foreheads with an expression of concern, but stopped himself from feeling for fever. Instead he approached the hearth and stroked the smooth pebble on his narrow mantelpiece in a circular pattern. It pulsed. He spoke to his distant supervisor, Sumeedan.

I fear for my family.

: Remember Tantlas, you are a scientist :

They say it has crossed Europe. The first cases have been seen in the port towns. A seafarer’s child – she had not seen her father for two years – and a cooper’s wife. Three days after the onset of fever and stiffness came the black bruises, then the swellings, and then blood began to seep from their eyes and noses. They lived for six days. It is coming here, to the capital, and I fear for my family.

: It is not your concern Tantlas :

A year ago I would have agreed. But I have integrated now, as you instructed me. I have taken a wife – a widow – and grown to love her children. They are five, seven and ten. I love them.

: She believes you are her husband only because we performed a retro-implantation, at your request. You have gone too far. Your mission is to observe :

Observe annihilation? The death rate is over 60%. They say, in the city of Florence, that dogs drag the recently deceased out of shallow graves and feed upon them.

: Nature is blind Tantlas. You have changed :

I have. But do not think me sentimental. This species is no better or worse than others in our sphere of influence. But I am not comfortable with the persecution of innocence.

: As I said Tantlas, nature is blind. The pathogen will do as it will :

But on Pleon the same disease burnt itself out much sooner. They lost only 8 percent. My estimate here, based on reports from the source continent, is 150 million.

: Your observations will help our species if we are ever infected :

But haven’t we learned enough already. The Yersinia is not evolving. I believe we know the profile of those who can resist it. I… I request that the pandemic be forestalled.

: Impossible :

Why? Our designers can introduce a counter-pathogen in the north.

: No. This is not the attitude of a scientist. It is the desperation of a father. A false father! Now, if that is all, I will disconnect :

No! I must have a guarantee.

: You are in no position to make demands :

I will report my suspicions.

: What? :

That Yersinia pestis is a manufactured organism. That this is an experiment.

: You risk everything by speaking this way Tantlas :

I mean it.

: I will not be blackmailed. So you will choose Tantlas. Either your children will be protected… or the epidemic will burn itself out in six months :

I… I… that is not moral…

: What is your choice? :

The… children. Save the children.

: It is done. The children will live. Now, do your job. Disconnect :

Tantlas returned to the bedroom and wept over the three sleeping forms. Torn by relief and guilt, his thoughts grew misty and his memories were displaced by remote retro-implantation.

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