As promised, a Works in Progress post! This first one is about “Salvaged” (other working titles have been “Salvaged Dawn”, “Salvaging Hope”, etc). Salvaged is the little novel that could. This is the one I’m going to query with as soon as I finish the last edit.
What would happen if there were a population crash? What would the government become? What would ordinary people have to do to survive?
Careen Emerson has survived population-slashing plagues, violence, and a harrowing trip from Pennsylvania to Georgia to join the Corps, the US military state with the health and welfare of the public in its hands. Careen learns that all is not what it seems with her partner, John Mistral, or with the Corps itself.
“Subject: Careen Emerson. Preliminary field tests show antibodies to P1, P2, E1, E3, and most notably E4. Absence of immunizations for P3 and P4 suggest that subject has not been immunized for any of these strains.”
Aven met Careen’s eyes, “Miss Emerson, when was the last time you were in a hospital, before today?”
“I was treated at an outpost about ten months ago. But it was a field medic doing first aid, not a hospital,” Careen said, wondering if her voice would even register on the recorder.
“Were you given any immunizations at that time?” Aven asked her.
“Not that I know of,” Careen shook her head, “He was more interested in wrapping broken ribs, stopping bleeding, and preventing infection.” She thought about the Corpsman who had told her about the Corps, the protection available if she were Counted. He hadn’t asked how she’d come to have broken ribs, or knife slashes all over her body.
“Did he provide a blood transfusion?” Aven leaned forward, snapping her out of the memory.
“No,” Careen shook her head again, “They didn’t have any ready to go. It was a remote outpost; they don’t get many wounded there. He gave me an IV, but it was clear liquid.”
“Note to gather field medic’s notes on Ms. Emerson,” Aven muttered into the recorder, “Please tell me which outpost this was, Ms. Emerson?”
“A remote one, at a college in the mountains in western Virginia, I don’t remember the name.” She could tell him how to walk there, but that probably wasn’t very helpful.
Aven nodded, but before he could continue his interview, Mistral stepped into his office followed by a shorter, balding man. Careen couldn’t get a good look at him, though, because Mistral shoved a bowl of vegetable soup in her face. She jerked back and grabbed a spoon from his outstretched hand, her stomach growling loudly enough for everyone to hear it. “I assume since I’m in a hospital that it’s safe to eat this,” she said. Mistral nodded.
“Gentlemen,” Aven said to them, flicking the recorder back on with his thumb while Careen slurped on the steaming savory soup. It tasted so much better than anything she’d eaten in months. She burned her tongue on the first carrot. She blew on subsequent bites, fishing out the chunks of meat, and tried to slow down so she wouldn’t make herself sick.
“I’m Director Thomas.” The balding man said to Careen from the chair on the other side of the cluttered office. Careen smiled and nodded as she chewed a chunk of cauliflower. He was wearing a Corps uniform, and looked very fit. Otherwise, he was less interesting than her soup.
“Careen.” She said after she swallowed her bite.
“Karen?” he asked.
“No,” Careen cut them off, “Careen, like careening around a curve. My mom liked verbs.” No one laughed at her lame joke, though she thought the new guy, Thomas, might have almost smiled.
Careen took another bite of carrot and glanced at the doctor and then Mistral. Mistral was looking at her tits and didn’t notice her watching him. Rolling her eyes, she motioned for the doctor to continue his interview.
“Can you tell me about your experience with E4?” Aven asked her, leaning forward so far she worried again that the recorder would drop into her meal.
“I don’t know what E4 is,” she said around a bite of meat, “What are the symptoms?” she drank the thick broth while he spoke.
“Mostly vomiting and diarrhea,” Aven said, “then dehydration and starvation.”
“I remember that one,” Careen nodded, having trouble swallowing the broth. “We all had it about three years ago,” feeling nauseated, she abandoned the bowl of soup on what she hoped was a relatively stable stack of papers.
“We?” Aven asked, “there were others who were infected at the same time as you?”
“My parents,” Careen said. She frowned as Mistral leaned forward and rescued the soup bowl and set it outside the room on a small cart. She needed some time to piece together what she thought of him, because this obedient, helpful act didn’t hold up against the dirty Corpsman selling blankets and condoms to the Doctor for personal gain. Then again, he’d given up ten pounds of gold to bring her in. What did it all mean?
“Are your parents still alive?” Aven almost jumped out of his swiveling office chair.
“No,” she said, jumping reflexively at his sudden movement. If she had had her knife on her, she would have pulled it. Mistral raised an eyebrow at her response, but Aven didn’t seem to notice how relieved she was when he sat back in his chair again. Unlike Mistral, she had a pretty good bead on Dr. Aven – passionate about his work, at least a little clueless about everything else. “That epidemic… four? It killed my mom.”
“But your father survived?” Aven leaned forward again.
“Yes. He was …attacked about a year after that,” she sure as hell wasn’t telling that story.
“Careen, that particular virus is transmitted via dogs or cats. Did you have any contact with household pets prior to contracting it?”
Careen felt her eyes fill up with tears. She had never known what had made them all sick. “Ollie,” she whispered. Her beloved puppy. Sweet, shaggy, scruffy little Ollie had killed her mother. Ollie had ruined her life. Careen managed not to cry, but her nose ran with a new vengeance.
“Excuse me?” Aven leaned closer with his recorder.
“I got a puppy for my birthday that year. Ollie. Oliver. He was alone. His whole family had died. We took him home.”
She felt a tear slide down her cheek. She wiped it away quickly. She didn’t want to show weakness in front of these men. She knew her eyes were red. She caught Mistral watching her and scowled at him. She sniffled and wished they’d do something about her head cold.
Aven nodded and plowed on with his next question, still oblivious, “Careen, most people die when they catch this. Do you have any idea how or why you and your father survived it?”
Careen jerked, startled out of her sadness, “What do you mean?”
“Unless hospitalized, most people die,” the Viking doctor repeated, “and I’d like to know how you and your father survived.”
That’s what the Uncounted doctor had wanted to know, too, Careen realized. She had figured as much, but she hadn’t known that disease should have been fatal. Her mom’s death seemed less senseless now. Everyone’s fanatic interest in her blood made more sense.
Of course, she knew the answer to their riddle. She had just opened the jar in her pack that morning. She had wanted to have some on hand in case she got sick, or in case she could sell it. But empty-handed, they would never believe her. Then where would she be? Still Uncounted, still without a job, a home, or a purpose.
“She knows,” Mistral said from across the small office. He pointed at her with his chin, “she knows how she survived, and she’s trying to figure out what she can get in exchange for the information.”