Ahead, the first car blocked the road, doors hanging open. The driver lay collapsed by the front wheel. His dying words were “Shaman ride the wind.”
Closing the man’s eyes, Professor Anton Romanovich sighed. There were no injuries; the man had simply died of fright. Why had Mother Russia ever expanded its empire into the lawless, heathen Stans?
He turned to his assistants. Maxim had dragged Alexandra out of the car and was cradling her across his knees, staunching her blood with his T-shirt and crooning reassurance.
“She needs a hospital.”
“Impossible, Maxim Nikolayevich. We cannot go back. Everyone at the research station was dead when we arrived. Whatever the cause, that building is a reservoir of infection and must be isolated. Even the village must be quarantined. As soon as my phone has a signal, I will send a message.”
“Alexandra needs help now!”
“We are 500 kilometres from the nearest hospital. Even if they send a plane, it would be too late.” The professor knelt beside Alexandra. “What happened?”
“Horsemen,” she gurgled. “In a cloud of dust. They took the samples, professor. I could not stop them.”
“I know, my child.”
He produced a pistol. “Maxim Nikolayevich, make your adieux. This offers a merciful end.”
“Professor, no!” His howl of protest split the sky. There was a flicker of assent in Alexandra’s eyes and the professor smoothed her hair before he pulled the trigger.
Anton Romanovich’s words were fierce. “She understood. What is one death weighed against millions? If what we suspect is true, if it is virus LM14 that has mutated, it is imperative we contain it. If a mutated version reaches China’s cities, the world stands no chance.”
“But how? Those devils will break open the package and smash the sample tubes.”
“No, they will offer them to the shaman. He is our only chance. Hurry now.”
“Yes, we will explain our mission. He will understand.”
“Don’t be a fool, Maxim. The shaman won’t co-operate. He is a parasite, a smelly old man who lives a life of relative ease, because his spells and potions frighten the villagers into giving him food and firewood. He has made trouble for the research station for years.”
“Professor, with respect, Alexandra and I studied local beliefs. Far from being crude superstition, some of their ideas are compelling. Modern medicine has been slow to acknowledge the feedback between mind and body. As you know, the locals believe every living thing possesses a spirit: humans, animals, trees—”
“And viruses? Do they have a soul?” the professor interrupted.
Maxim had no answer.
“We have no time to argue. I must find the shaman. If you wish to leave, go now.”
“What will you say to him?”
“I do not negotiate with charlatans. If he will not surrender the samples to me, I have a grenade of poison gas that destroys everything within a two-kilometre radius. I too will die, but that does not matter. I have dedicated my life to fighting disease, but I am 69 and my best work is behind me.”
Maxim’s voice channelled resolve. “My life ended here, with Alexandra. If our spirits are reborn, I wish mine to be reborn here, alongside hers. I come.”
The second car turned back.
About the author:
Madeleine is the auhtor of A Shackled Inheritance, Enchantment in Morocco