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First, Do No Harm
by Kevan Youde



“So, you must be the doctor.”

“And you must be the traitor.”

The first speaker was seated with elegantly crossed legs on a battered kitchen chair set next to an old kitchen table. Both table and chair were pushed against the wall of a bare, damp room. The only natural light came from a barred slit of a window, high on the narrow wall opposite the only door. The second speaker had just entered through that door, his arrival heralded by a rusty fanfare as the door's external bolts were withdrawn. Now that he was inside, the bolts squealed back into place behind him.

“I know you're a doctor because they said they'd send one to give me a check-up before I was let out on my little trip. What makes you think I'm a traitor? What have they told you?”

“Nothing, or next to it; they never do, of course. I've been to this part of the estate only a few times, mainly to see to the injuries of people who are being...questioned. I have to say that you're in a lot better shape than most of my patients.  All of them were traitors or double agents. It appears to be what this part of the estate deals with.”

As the doctor spoke, he opened his bag and took out a bottle and syringe. The man at the table looked on with cool detachment.

“I prefer to think of myself as being imaginative with respect to the concept of loyalty,” he said. “And the reason that these goons haven't so much as creased my Gieves & Hawkes suit is that I have something that they want. I always do – whichever side I'm temporarily playing for. So, a check-up? Is it running on the spot or drop-and-cough?”

“Neither. I understand that you're going on an overseas trip.“

“Yes. When the powers-that-be discovered that I'd been pursuing alternative employment they were rather miffed. In return for no hard feelings, I am to arrange to meet my significant other – my handler – in a place where he can be lifted and brought home for a chat. On the whole, I'd say that I'm rather good value for money.”

“You'll need to have a jab before you go. Roll up your sleeve.”

“Very well. I've never needed a jab before. Visited the place several times.”

“This is different.”

“Ouch! A little heavy-handed there, old chap. Need to work on the old bedside manner.”

“Now that's done, there's something you need to know. The serum I just injected contains an active pathogen. It's a genetically modified version of a tropical disease. The symptoms initially resemble a heavy cold: fever, headache, sweating. Twenty-four hours after they start, the body's immune system goes into irreversible overdrive, resulting in death. The technical term is a cytokine storm.”

“My God! Are you mad?”

“No, and neither are your employers. They don't trust you and they think you might do a runner instead of delivering your handler. Given the circumstances, you can hardly blame them.”

“But why would they kill me? What about bringing my handler in?”

“That will go ahead as planned. Only you can cause your death. If you try to make a run for it, the disease will run its course. The time taken to characterise the virus is much longer than the incubation period and the process is only useful in determining what the patient died of. There is no physician in the world who could examine you and provide any advice more useful than 'take two aspirins and call me in the morning'. After the third day, you will not be calling anyone in the morning. Your only hope is to play ball, do what you've promised and get back here for the antidote before the disease is too far developed. How long will your trip take?”

“A day to get there, a day to execute the plan and a day to get back.”

“And you leave tonight? Hmmm...best not to dawdle.”

a line, (a short blue one)


It was the same room and the same man was sitting at the same chair. This time, though, he was pale, unkempt, covered in a sheen of sweat and clearly terrified. The door opened and the doctor entered.

“Thank God you're here,” the man said, rising from his chair. “You took your bloody time. Quick, give me the antidote. I'm dying.”

“I understand the mission went well.”

“Yes, yes. Hoo-bloody-ra and God Save The Queen. I did what I was told and now the other side want me dead. Hurry up, damn you.”

“Hurry up? Oh yes, the antidote. I'm afraid that I wasn't strictly honest with you the last time we spoke. There is no antidote.”

“What? Are the bastards going to kill me?”

“No, no. If they were going to do that, I'm sure that there are people who'd want to do it personally. I understand that some of your treachery cost the lives of our operatives and agents.”

“Then why did you give me that bloody tropical disease?”

“Another economy with the truth. What I actually injected you with was a sample of the new strain of influenza that will be arriving here this winter. Unpleasant for a few days but ultimately harmless for a fit man like yourself.”

“What? Do you mean it was all a trick? I could have made a run for it?”

“Any time you wanted.”

“But I feel terrible. I ache all over, I'm covered in sweat and my head is poinding. What can you do to help me?”

“Help? Well, you could take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”




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