Alan E. Nourse - The Bladerunner

Free Alan E. Nourse - The Bladerunner by Alan E. Nourse, Karl Swanson

Book: Alan E. Nourse - The Bladerunner by Alan E. Nourse, Karl Swanson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alan E. Nourse, Karl Swanson
another such case, the outlook could be grave indeed, because increasing numbers of victims of this syndrome were proving beyond medical help when they were finally seen.
    Suddenly the heli-cab veered slightly and began descending toward a cluster of tightly packed high-rise apartments in the Plainfield Sector of the city, and Doc turned his attention to the ground below. Plainfield was a tacky, rundown area of the city; many of the buildings were decades old and not equipped with helicopter landing pads. Doc watched as the heli-cab approached a rooftop bearing the building number he was looking for, scanning for a landing signal to guide it down. When none appeared, the cab merely hovered, allowing Doc to disembark. Once he was on the roof, the cab rose again on its auto-pilot and moved swiftly off to the north again.
    Doc scanned the rooftop suspiciously. At first it appeared deserted. Then a small figure detached itself from the shadow near a stairwell and a boy's voice called out, "Doctor?"
    "Who's that?" Doc returned.
    "Jerry Hardy, Will Hardy's boy. My brother's sick. We've been expecting you."
    "Okay," Doc said. "Show me the way."
    He followed the boy, a skinny ten-year-old, who led the way down the stairwell into the dilapidated apartment building. The corridors, once carpeted, now had only worn-out fragments of rug, and the dim light above the elevator door only indicated half the floors. They waited and waited as the elevator came clanking up the shaft and finally wheezed open. "It's okay," the boy said when he saw Doc hesitate. "It'll take us both. T'other one only takes one, remember that when you come back up."
    The elevator stopped at a floor halfway down the building, and the boy led Doc along a maze of corridors to a remote apartment. The door was opened a crack and a middle-aged woman peered out. "Yes?" she said.
    "I'm Doctor Long. I got word that you wanted help."
    "Oh, yes!" The woman opened the door, and led Doc through a shabby living room to a bedroom at the rear. She was very thin and pale, her face lined with concern. "It's my oldest boy, Doctor, he's just awful sick. Came down all of a sudden, three days ago, and it's been getting worse and worse. My husband's with him now."
    She opened the bedroom door and Doc stepped inside, then stopped short. An adolescent boy lay in the bed, actively chilling. Beside the bed, standing helplessly, was a man with half his hair and beard shaved off.
    "Hold it," Doc said. "If you folks are Naturists, are you sure you want a doctor?"
    "We've got to have help, Doc," the man said, coming forward. "We just didn't dare stick it out any longer. And none of us are qualified for hospital care. They wouldn't let us through the clinic door."
    "No, I suppose they wouldn't." Doc crossed the room, turned on the bed light and looked closely at the boy. He was sixteen or seventeen, with his hair half shaved just like his father. But there was a feverish glow to his cheeks and he lay stiffly in bed, chilling, with his head thrust back and his body bowed forward. Doc sat down, attached a temp-clip to the boy's ear, read it a moment later. "One hundred and four degrees," he said. "Massively elevated white count, mostly segmented neu-trophiles, and a hemoglobin reading way below normal —how long has he been sick?"
    "Three days," the man said. "Not bad the first two, just a headache and a sore throat. Then his neck got stiff yesterday and his fever went clear up and wouldn't come down."
    "Any sickness before this?"
    "Nothing to speak of," Will Hardy said. "He had the Shanghai flu a couple of weeks ago, just like the rest of us, but he seemed to be getting over that just fine when this turned up."
    "I see," Doc said. Methodically he went about examining the boy, checking ears, throat, heart and lungs, abdomen. The boy was so dehydrated that his skin felt like dry parchment between Doc's fingers. "He hasn't been taking fluids?"
    "Not for twenty-four hours. That's what got us so scared.

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