The Effectives (With apologies to Zenna Henderson)

Sasha scurried through the darkened yards, thankful for the fog and that in this part of town neighbors did not believe in fences. Neither homes nor streets showed lights, but over her shoulder to the southwest, Sasha could see a glow on the misty scrim — the Fairgrounds — this region’s detention center.

“Fool!” she thought . “You are a fool to come this close.” But her mission demanded it. In one of the small houses nearby was a Survivor and it was imperative that Sasha get to her before the authorities.

The virus had, it seemed, come out of nowhere, out of the secretive East. It might have been contained early on, but through willful ignorance, it had spread — from the village of people so starved of protein that any creature was literally game to the industrial city of more than ten million souls, and from there to the high fashion centers of the world — Milan, Paris, London, New York. Although the original victims were poor, now the virus claimed the globetrotters — media stars, millionaires, congressmen, and even world leaders. There was no preventative. There were no effective cures.

The answer came from Germany. The Prime Minister had been exposed. Despite official pronouncements that she had tested negative, she fell ill. The Prime Minister was on a ventilator in a secure, private hospital suite, but hope for her life was fading. The medical team was grasping at straws. It was a lowly intern who broached the idea.

“If the reason this virus is so deadly is because the body has no antibodies to fight it, what if we inject antibodies that recognize the virus? Antibodies from a survivor? “

“Preposterous!” the senior virologist snorted.

But the other team members overruled him. On the floor below, a young pastor was taking his first tottering steps after fighting the disease for two weeks. He was the same blood type as the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister’s personal physician approached him.

“I am delighted you have survived this terrible ordeal. Your body has now created antibodies that can defeat this virus. It may be possible that those antibodies may be able to save the lives of others. I know you are weak, but may we draw a unit of blood to test out theory?”

The pastor thought a moment, and said, “Of course.”

Almost before the words were spoken, a phlebotomist hustled into the room, followed by the rest of the medical team. During the procedure the pastor reclined with closed eyes and silently moving lips. The virologist continued to sputter, “This is most inappropriate!”

“There is no time!” snapped the Prime Minister’s personal doctor.

The transfusion took place immediately. Within the hour, the Prime Minister’s breathing eased. The vent was withdrawn. In two hours, she was awake and aware. And within three, she was standing beside her bed demanding her clothes.

In this country, initially, the virus was not taken seriously. Then state by state, the Union instituted precautionary measures, from publicizing health procedures to full lockdowns. The crisis brought out the best in many people. It also brought out the worst — from those who used it to further political ends to hoarders to those who looted shuttered shops and vacant homes.

Reports flowed daily from Hollywood, New York, Washington D.C., that this movie star, that business tycoon, or that other senator tested positive. They spoke hopeful words to the camera as they went into quarantine. They had reason for hope. After all, they had access to the best medical teams the nation had to offer. But then they started dying.

The search for a cure ratcheted up to the highest priority. Appeals went out to survivors to donate blood. Many were reluctant. Financial incentives were offered and the donors trickled in. But the results were unimpressive. Only one in twenty transfusion recipients recovered. Still, that ignited hope and the net was cast wider.

But then the Vice President fell ill, followed by the President. Both were treated with transfusions. Neither survived. The opposition party used the opportunity to seize control. Martial law was declared. Transfusions from survivors were no longer a voluntary matter. Thousands of survivors, some as young as ten or twelve, were rounded up and herded into ICE detention centers which had been emptied for the purpose. There, willing or not, blood was drawn, tagged,and shipped to hospitals. Each unit was tracked. Where the transfusion was ineffective, the donor was released. But when there was a recovery, the donor was removed to a secure research facility where blood was drawn again…and again…and again.

Roundups were carried out from coast-to-coast. For the most part, in areas such as Seattle, Low Angeles, Chicago, the results were the same — one in twenty (or fewer) were efficacious. But there were pockets where the numbers were different — 40%, 50%, even 80%. Places like Franklin, Tennessee, Asheville, North Carolina, and Sasha’s hometown in the heart of Wisconsin. Immediately the focus of the raids shifted. The National Guard moved in.

As knowledge of the raids spread, fewer people submitted to mandatory testing or sought medical help for symptoms. Sasha was a survivor. When she learned that she had been exposed, she went into seclusion in her uncle’s hunting cabin deep in the Chequamegon National Forest where she weathered the disease alone. Thus she was not on any official list. Yet she felt deeply responsible for the lives of others. The problem was that blood drawn from detainees was not going to general hospitals. Instead, it was being funneled to the private clinics of the rich and famous and politically powerful. As soon as Sasha recovered, she joined an underground network of survivors donating blood to be used in treating ordinary people. In the network, donors were true volunteers, giving only as much blood as was healthy. And unlike the blood from conscripted donors, their transfusions were 100% effective.

Still, it was not enough. That’s why Sasha’s mission was so important. The woman she hoped to spirit away this night was a member of a small church. She had been among those who tested positive for the virus but had not required medical treatment. Ava was scheduled to be detained the next day. Sasha reached her target. She scratched softly at the back door which was immediately opened. The woman’s dearest treasures were stowed in a large backpack which Sasha shouldered. Silently, they crept back the way Sasha had come to a house a few blocks away. They would go no farther this night. A vehicle moving after curfew would be too easy to spot.

In the morning, their host, none other than the town’s police chief, treated them to a delicious breakfast. After, they hid in the back of the Chief’s SUV. He drove them to the industrial park on the outskirts of town. They exited the vehicle inside a massive manufacturing plant. From there, they were led to a small door hidden behind a sliding wall of shelves. Stairs led down to a long tunnel that proceeded to another set of steps leading up. The door opened to a swell of music and the welcome of a young man speaking German accented English.

“Gut morning,” he said, ” and welcome. Sasha, thank you for bringing our new friend. I am Pastor Willem Steinhoff, and if you will permit, I will give you a tour of our refuge before I show you to your quarters. Sasha, I will see you later. ” He took Ava by the arm. “You are wondering about my accent? I came before the travel ban to visit my cousin, a doctor. I had news to share about the cure. You see, we discovered the secret to the effectiveness of our transfusions, although the scientists refused to believe us. It is a simple thing, perhaps too simple for the very sophisticated and educated. Ah. This is our infirmary.

With that, he led Ava into a bright and cheerful room lined with two dozen recliners. Half of the chairs were filled, attended by phlebotomists collecting blood. Here too, the music was louder. The occupants of the chairs, some with their free hands waving above their heads, were singing along. “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation…”

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