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Eden Colony

by Kimberlain O'Driscoll, MBA, M.Ed 9 months ago in Fantasy
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Life on the planet colony of Eden is supposed to be perfect. Perfect weather, plenty of food and water and no dangerous predators. But when people fall ill where there is supposed to be no disease, a young woman faces the worst of challenges and has to make a decision.

“Cohnaire?” I placed a hand on his shoulder, gently shook him and called his name again but I knew he was gone. My eyes met those of his younger sister Moira who was perhaps eleven. She was showing early signs of the fever. I shook my head. Moira, who had been holding onto any glimmer of hope threw herself onto her brother's lifeless body, wrapped her arms around him and sobbed.

Tears ran down her sweaty and unwashed face, leaving trails of wet mud. As she cried out, threads of saliva formed, then broke leaving puddles that dripped from her open mouth. I was heartsick for her. I wanted nothing more than to hold her, rock her slowly and cry with her until she was all cried out. I didn't though. I was numb by then. Tired and numb. I had no tears left. It was the fifth death that week, and the second one since morning.

Disease was almost unheard of on the colony of Eden, which was one of many worlds now occupied since the flares made Earth uninhabitable. Several weeks before that, people in my village started to get sick. Nobody knew why. There were rumors of course. Visitors from other worlds may have brought something contagious, maybe it was in the soil from ancient times, and we simply stirred it up. Some who were deemed the religious fanatics claimed that we were being punished for being too prideful and not showing our thanks for living amongst such bounty.

The cause wasn’t as important in my mind as the result, which is that before the fever started, there were 137 people living in the Village of Sherkin. Now that Cohnaire was dead, there were only 53. That number included a few families who packed what they could on carts and left the area when we all started to fall ill.

I was one of the first to get sick. I think I caught it from Kristin, my best friend. I don’t know how she got it. I raged with fever and had cramps that hurt so much I curled into a ball and groaned endlessly. Then, after several days, the fever broke, and the pain ended. It passed as quickly as it came. When I awoke, I was told the horrible news that the fever had taken both of my parents and my baby brother Steffy. Kristin died too…my best friend Kristin. I cried. Oh how I cried.

As I watched Moira, I thought of myself just weeks earlier. That was me. There was no time left for the dead, I reminded myself. Those who were still alive needed me. There weren't many left. Those who remained were either infected and burning with fever or not yet infected and waiting for their turn to become sick. Well, then there was me. I was sick and recovered. Actually, a few of us survived the fever.

Darid was the only one of us to make it through that was older. He was a large and strong man. That may have helped. Then there was Rhan. Rhan got sick. It didn't look like he'd make it, but he survived. He was always pulling pranks and making it look like it was someone else. Although I pretended to be annoyed, I found his stunts to be hilarious, but I'd never let him know it. I'm so glad he didn't die.

I stepped outside and stood in the doorway of Cohnaire and Moira's home. Their parents were dead just as mine were. The oldest and the youngest were the first to succumb to the fever. The fever…we didn't even know exactly what to call it. What do you call a disease in a place where almost nobody gets sick?

When I was strong enough, I used some of the elixirs my dad made. There was zantir made from the beanstand roots which grew in the marshes. It helped to lower fevers. It didn't taste all that great, but it worked. I also had mastlan oil made from mashed argen grass. That was sweet and left your tongue tingly. Mastlan oil settled the stomach and eased cramping. Midwives also used it when a woman was having contractions, but it was too soon for the baby. I figured it would help and it did. I placed just a couple of drops under the tongue as my dad had taught me. The zantir and mastlan oil didn’t last. I was out of both within days. Even then, all I managed to do was make dying less painful. Darid was my only success.

I sent Rhan out to gather argen grass and beanstand roots. He brought me argen grass, but the part of the beanstand root he returned with was the stalk. I needed the bulbous root. The stalk was poison. On top of everything else, I had to slosh through the marshes and get it myself. I was angry at first but realized I wasn't specific, and he was after all trying to help.

My dad knew all about how to make the elixirs. Elixirs were beyond my skill, but there were simpler remedies. I gave it a try. I did my best to imitate what I'd seen him do and hope I got it right. The argen grass was simple to find and work with. It grew in clumps around the roots of certain trees. It was light green with little white flowers which made it easy to spot. I separated the flowers from the leaves. It was the leaves I wanted. I crushed them into a pulp and poured out the liquid. It didn't make much, but I only needed a few drops at a time.

Beanstand root was trickier to work with. The bulb of the beanstand root is about the size of a child's fist but very hard. It's mostly green with a purple cap where it meets the stalk. I had to break off the stalk, then par boiled the bulb until it was spongy enough that I could cut away the purple cap. Then I finished boiling it until it was completely soft. Once it was cool, I peeled away the skin and mashed the center into a fibrous paste. I spoon fed the paste to those who could still eat, and when they fell unconscious, I made a poultice. I wasn't even sure if it would work that way, but it was better than doing nothing. I wished I'd learned my dad's skills at making proper elixirs. Now it was too late.

As I stood there by the doorway thinking back over all that has happened, I saw some of the people in my village walking over. They must have heard Moira when she started crying. When I told them Cohnaire had just died, Jane, a girl who was another close friend, at least until that moment, called me something that I’d care not repeat. Then, she threw a rock at me. It missed of course. Jane could never throw straight. I looked at Jane with a shocked and confused look.

"What was that for?" I lipped to her silently.

That was when Sean Brandon, a skinny little fellow with balding hair, whose wife died a week before picked up a stick and waved it at me.

"It's not fair!" He uttered in a voice that carried grief and anger.

"My Bethany is dead." He paused to compose himself. "My Bethany is dead because your Pa wasn't here to save her and lived, and you are useless". I stood there as a wash of shock and emotions flooded over me.

"I'm trying...I..."

"You aren't trying enough!" Sean shouted.

Just then Darid ran up. Pushed himself through the others and stood between Sean and myself like a giant wall. Sean raised the stick higher at the perceived threat.

"Sean, what are you doing? You don't mean this, this isn't like you, put the stick down."

"She's killing people with that stuff she's cooking up!" He waved his stick at me while he shouted.

"Sean, look at me. It's the fever that's killing folks. That stuff saved my life. She saved my life." Darid pointed my way without taking his eyes off Sean.

Sean's face became red. He swung the stick at Darid with all his strength. Darid caught it in one hand. That's when the others who were there also turned on him.

I was run out of town. Well, not just me, but at all of us who caught the fever and didn’t die. We were driven out of town, out of our home by that angry mob. A mob that included childhood friends and our own family. As I played the scene in my head over and over again I couldn't see what triggered it. Darid told Rhan and I to run and managed to break free. He caught up to us and used his hand against my back to urge me faster. When we reached the edge of town we slowed down. They stopped chasing us, but the crowd that stood there made it very clear, we were not welcome to come back.

I would never have believed people I knew so well and grew up with could be reduced to such aggression in a matter of moments. In my heart of hearts, I understood it wasn't us they were lashing out at, but this "unseen" thing they could not explain. They were scared, and sometimes fear could manifest itself as anger. This was their way of regaining some sense of control in a situation they had no power over.

We decided to head for Hyne, a town a about a weeks walk from here. Water wasn’t a problem because there were a number of brooks along the way, and we could collect rain water. It rained at least a little almost every day. Sometimes the clouds would turn dark in moments, soak us to the skin and then be gone, returning to warm sunshine in less time than it took to sing three songs. There was also water in many plants. You just had to know which ones to look for and how to extract the fluid and we all did. It was common knowledge.

Food was also plentiful. Although we were used to living in the village, and none of us had any survival skills worth mentioning, we were not at risk of going hungry. There were various berries and fruit trees along the way as well as other edible plants and tubers. We'd eat our fill. Rhan used his shirt like a sack to carry more for later. There was also an endless abundance of insects.

On occasion, there was talk of catching fish, but who would build the fire? We had nothing to start it with. The guys did take turns at it. They tried hitting rocks together, rubbing sticks, Rhan even tried by placing a stick between the palms of his hands and moving them back and forth very fast. It almost worked until he suddenly cried out in pain and stopped. He had a nasty blister. Needless to say we had no fire. All in all though, we managed.

On our eighth day of travel, we finally made our way into the village of Hyne. None of us had ever been there before, but based on the direction we came from, the villagers had to have guessed we were Sherkiners. We must have looked a ragged mess. We were covered in dirt from living outdoors. I was very thin from both the fever's effects, the ordeal in Sherkin including our hasty departure and the long and difficult trip. I must have had the appearance of a corpse that refused to stay in the ground.

I and the others did our best to tell the villagers of Hyne of what happened and how we were driven away. It was then that I noticed the oddly dressed women who were here and there about the village. The red ladies I had come to call them. A number of them were indeed wearing that peculiar and familiar red outfit I had seen before. Others were dressed similarly, but with variations such as black edging on red, blue edging on black and even all black. The red ladies, which is what we called them in Sherkin had come to my village on occasion to speak with the elders, including my dad.

I was told they offered to teach us ways to plant crops so we got a large yield in a small space and arrange the rows in such a way so the heavy rains wouldn’t wash them away. Each time they came, the elders declined their advice or any other offers to help. We were foragers. We didn't harvest...why bother? Or so the elders said. I asked what the red ladies were doing in Hyne. I wasn't prepared for the reply. To my horror, it was because of the fever. Hyne was infected not long after Sherkin.

Upon hearing this, I dropped to by knees, then fell forward onto my hands. We had escaped one nightmare only to walk into another. That was when it all hit me at once. I missed my mom. I missed my baby brother Steffy. He was only three. He was the miracle baby after my mom thought she could never have any more children. Everything he picked up was a wonder to behold, a toy for him to play with and explore. Even a simple wooden spoon would make his eyes light up as if it were the most amazing thing he'd ever seen. I watched as he discovered the world. I watched as he learned everything he would ever do for that very first time for the rest of his life. And now he is gone.

I missed my dad. He was my rock. No matter what happened, he seemed to know how to fix it. He was so smart. I only wish I listened to him more. And I miss Kristin. We were supposed to grow old together, best friends for life. I felt it coming. The pain grew inside, deep down where you can't reach. It all came out at once. A heart-wrenching sound of soulful agony escaped my lungs. In the middle of the village square I bawled. I'd pause momentarily, catching my breath, fighting for air as my lungs burned. Suddenly, I'd think of my mom again or my brother or my dad and everyone I watched die and was unable to save. Emotions raced through me. Then without warning I let out another mournful cry. I felt guilt and anger. I was alone and afraid. I wanted it to all stop. My head hurt. My soul felt shattered. I was done. I had had enough. It continued like this for a long time.

In what seemed like forever, my wailing subsided, replaced with soft whimpering and really annoying hiccups. I was eventually helped up to my feet. Someone placed an arm around my waist, supporting me as I was taken to a small home. It was comforting. I was tired now, perhaps more so than at any time since I awoke from the fever more than three weeks past. I turned to thank the person who was helping me to walk. When I did I came face-to-face with a gas mask. It startled me. I think the red lady who was wearing it noticed. I heard her muffled voice say "It's alright dear. Don't be afraid. I'm here to help."

The red lady steadied me until I found the bed that had been set up for me. She pulled a blanket over me and tucked it in. Then she sat on the edge of the bed, wiped away my tears and washed my face. She then wet a fresh cloth and placed it over my forehead. I closed my eyes. For a moment I could almost imagine that it was my mother who was at my side, tucking me in when I was little. The red lady stayed there until I drifted off.

I awoke to the most wonderful smell...biscuits! I was still physically exhausted, and sore from the long walk. Otherwise to my amazement I felt rather good. I was also surprisingly hungry. Hannah Linder lived here with her daughters. I learned that her husband was away in search of a plow to buy. Hannah brought me a tray with fresh hot biscuits, butter, honey... and best of all ...fruit menagerie. It's sort of a bowl of crushed fruit with just a touch of alcohol. My mom and dad loved to eat fruit menagerie in the evenings after all of the day's work was finished. It was their little reward to themselves. I suppose Hannah figured after what happened to me yesterday I could do with a little numbing of my senses to start the day.

"You're spoiling me. I don't deserve this."

"Little one, them fellas you was with, they told everyone what you did for the people in your village. You are an amazing young woman. The Dolls have taken an interest in you as well"

I looked down at my feet for a bit. I didn't feel amazing. I felt like a failure. I could have done more. Hannah gently lifted my chin with her hand so I could face her as she spoke.

"You tried when others did nothing young lady. Remember that.”

I was still focused on that word she just said.

"The Dolls?" I interrupted her.

"Oh yes, it’s what we call the women who came here to help with the Elle outbreak. They learned of how you nursed your sick village folk even after Elle took your kin and nearly took you. Their leader wants to talk with you.

"You finish breaking your fast little one and stay in bed. You still look like you haven't slept in years. The Dolls can wait."

So now I knew the fever as we called it had a name. It was known as Elle. I thanked Hannah. She was being so wonderfully kind. As I ate, I watched her little girls play. There was Jenni who was five and her sister Ami who was two. For a little while I almost forgot the world I knew had come to an end. I think they even got me to smile.

After eating I wanted to get up and walk around the village, but Hannah told me someone who identified herself as OC46 insisted I stay in bed at least one more day. She explained that OC46 was one of the Dolls, their leader in fact. I didn't argue. Admittedly I was still very tired and in a short time I slipped back into a troubled sleep. I dreamt that everyone I knew was drowning and they all grabbed me at once to pull me under with them.

I woke up suddenly with start. One of the red ladies, a Doll as Hannah called her, was sitting in a chair at my bedside. She was caressing the side of my head with a rubbery feeling gloved hand. I was pretty certain she was the same one who sat with me the night before. There was no way to tell them apart. She said nothing at first. She simply regarded me through the lenses of her mask which revealed only hint of her eyes through the protective lenses, yet I could see her compassion. She was dressed head to feet in a shiny, red, skin tight suit. The material was stretchy like rubber, but my dad told me it just looked that way. There was a black nylon bag slung over her shoulder.

“Did you have a bad dream?” She asked?

“Yes. It was horrible.” I told her. “After a while you’ll have happy dreams again. It just takes time”. I didn’t say anything. The images were already beginning to fade from memory.

“Are you feeling any better?” I smiled like a little girl and nodded.

“That is good to hear. You’ve been through more than anyone ever should. I’m so sorry about your family. You must have loved them very much.” I nodded silently. Tears started to flow. She wiped them away.

“I’m designated OC46.” She must have seen the odd expression on my face when hearing her say that.

“You think my name is strange?” I nodded with a slight smile. There was humor in her voice.

“I’ve been to many worlds and hear people go by many names. Trust me, OC46 is far from the most bizarre thing people call themselves."

OC46 told me of some the places she had traveled, and she told me about the order she belonged to which was called the Order of Collen. Due to the appearance of their biohazard suits, which were to protect them from contracting or spreading any illnesses among the villages and places they traveled, the locals referred to them as Dolls. She explained that once accepted, they give up their old life and when visiting other communities, referred to themselves using a code. That's why they called themselves what they do. Each had a number for a name. Some had letters with numbers, others just had the numbers. It was to maintain a level of anonymity.

She said if I wished, I could be shown their ways. I would travel to distant colonies where suffering was much greater than even anything I had seen, including what I went through. It was a lot to take in.

“There's still time to think about it. Our work here in Hyne isn’t finished yet. I do believe you would make a wonderful sister of the order.”

“Why me?” I asked her. I was honored. “I not anyone special”.

“Oh my sweet girl." She gave me a hug. "You are very special. You worked so hard to save as many as you could and you look what you accomplished.”

“But almost all of them died anyway. I saved one man’s life, that’s all.”

“That’s all? You can change the future by saving just one life. You could have done nothing and what would have happened then, huh?” She waited for her words to sink in a little.

“And you took away the pain of many others. Because of you, their final moments in this life were more peaceful, not spent suffering in agony. You gave them that gift. The men you came here with told me all about it. They are very proud of you and so am I.” I was beginning to see what she was talking about.

"Think about what I said. If you decide to come with us, we will be very happy to welcome you into the sisterhood…our family.”

A few days had passed. The fever seemed to be gone from the village. Because of the sisters of the order, and the medical care they brought, less than ten of the villagers in Hyne had passed. Their work here nearly finished, they were now preparing to leave. The world I knew was gone. I no longer had a family, or even close friends. They were dead now…no tears. I promised myself no more tears. The sisters of the Order of Collen had helped the people of Hyne and prevented the further spread of Elle. The red ladies were making a difference. I wanted to make a difference. I decided to join them. It was time to start a new future.


About the author

Kimberlain O'Driscoll, MBA, M.Ed

My stories come in the form of vivid dreams. The challenge is putting them to words. I'm medically a retired navy veteran and nurse, world traveler, artist, lecturer, and past journal reviewer with 5 ferrets who keep me very entertained

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