Plague Doctor

My name is Heinrich Maximillion Blood. I am a Plague Doctor. I have dwelt in the Plaguelands for twenty-seven of my forty-eight years.

It is the year of our Lord two thousand and eight. For six hundred, sixty-six years, we have fought the Enemy and are no nearer to victory today than we were in the beginning. Nearly all of my hope at finding a cure is extinguished and only a tiny flickering light remains. I hide it away in the darkest corners of my heart, away from the horrors this world has shown to me, and pray each night that tomorrow will bring revelation in the dawn's light.

12 June, 1342, London: An individual known only by the name Sirius Dog unleashed a modified strain of bubonic plague. His motive and real identity are unknown. The individual activated a personal disintegration device when Watcher agents arrived on the scene to apprehend him. The suspect and two agents were lost in the blast. The possession of such a device points at the individual's point of origin having been sometime following the thirty-first century.

All of Europe was infected by 1350. The airborne plague covered Asia in 1363 and Africa by the end of 1367. The New World was never discovered. There was no United States. There was no Industrial Revolution. There were no World Wars.

All scientific thought and human ingenuity, instead of being inspired by ever-increasing lust for slaughter of one's own, revolved around survival in a world stricken by a disease that killed with impunity. The Plague had a mortality rate above the ninety-ninth percentile. The early Plague Doctors were little more than shepherds of the dying. Their traditional garb did offer some protection against the Plague's new vector, but as many died as survived.

Eventually, after great, bloody purges, the walled cities were constructed. In the beginning, they were many. They housed the well population, the wealthy and the privileged, along with their servants who would work the fields and tend the livestock. Outbreaks within city walls were commonplace. The populace soon learned to fear the presence of the black-cloaked death birds within their midst above all else, for where there were Plague Doctors, there was pestilence.

Like all children, I was terrified of the Plague Doctors. I knew nothing of their role in the world, of course, only how the adults responded to their eerie presence. During the Doctors' rare visits to the city, I would spy on them from a distance, quaking with a terror I could scarcely comprehend. At the time, I did not even know that, beneath their hideous trappings, these creatures were human.

The thought of pursuing medicine, even of a more mundane sort, never entered my mind. I wanted to be a teacher when I was of age to do so. I found great joy in books and knowledge and felt that if I could show this happiness to others and teach them to adore learning as did I, that there could be nothing better in life. It was not to be.

It was I first found the door. The walls that surrounded the soaring spires of our city contained a labyrinth of ancient service tunnels filled with enormous machinery that was collapsing slowly under the weight of ages. My discovery amounted to a sort of secret passage: a long-forgotten access into the moldering service tunnels. It became our secret hideout and we played there every day, carefully exploring every passage, attempting to map the maze. We opened every door for we found few locked and the locks that did exist crumbled in our grasp. The last door, farthest from our entrance into the tunnels, opened upon fresh air and sunshine.

Outside the near-Utopian existence of city life was another, much larger and infinitely more dangerous world. The Plaguelands were every place that a city was not. There were no roads, only dusty trails crisscrossing the once-verdant hills. There were no towns, only the fleeting nomadic settlements of the Exiled.

At the dawn of the 19th century terms such as “ecological conservation” and “greenhouse gas” were totally unknown. Having no other viable solution, outside rudimentary solar and wind energy, and without the capacity or desire to journey outside the fortress-like walls of the cities to expand, the citizens built ever upwards. In the beginning, there was neither trade nor communication between individual cities. The Plague Doctors were employed as envoys and couriers. Thus were the Plaguelands mapped.

Not only did the ever-evolving Raiment of the Plague Doctors serve to protect them from the enemy, but also an increasingly hostile world. As the emissions from the cities built to critical levels, acid rain wept the land barren. With the loss of so much vegetation, and the waters tainted, animal life clung onto existence by only the narrowest margin. Because the city dwellers refused, by and large, to see further than their next pleasure, the Plague Doctors were forced to become the spokespersons, and the the saviors, of the Mother Earth.

Mankind's ingenuity did not truly begin and end with the grim shepherds of humanity, but without the many advances the Plague Doctors were forced to make, scientific progress would have been almost nonexistent.

We had never before beheld the Sun's light but through filters. We had never tasted air that had not been recycled. We had never played outside. We were children, what else were we to do?

It was Stefan that first fell ill. In its earliest stages, the Enemy is a trickster and masquerades as any one of an hundred common ailments. Fever, bodily aches, mild respiratory complications mark the gestation and quickening of a most lethal offspring.

Ashamed of what we had done, fearing punishment and simultaneously, childishly assured of our own invincibility, we hid his illness from our families. Of course, it was already too late. All of us had been exposed and, in turn, exposed everyone we came into contact with in two week's time.

Stefan's health took a sudden, terrifying turn, and first Franz and then my beloved Sasha became feverish. We, our friends, our families, everyone that any one of us could recall passing in the corridors or at the market, and then our entire neighborhood were quarantined.

Hideous death birds descended upon our community, their burning eyes prying the truth of our sin from our hearts. From the Doctors, there was never an accusation nor condemnation. They spoke only soothing words, quietly, and not even the modulation of their Raiment's public address system could scrub the compassion from their voices. Not even their calming demeanor and unflappable reserve could prevent the panic when they declared the entire city under quarantine.

Humanity learned to live within a world it had forsaken. No longer did the ponderous city-states belch death into the air and water. Instead they learned to harness the energies of nature, to recycle air and water, and turn waste material into rich compost. Without the intellectual drains of war, bureaucracy, and artificially imposed competition, the hard sciences made astounding gains in the arenas of medical, building, telecommunications and personal technology. With no extraterrestrial aspirations and no practical need for mass-produced overland transports, it leaves the known world with astonishingly advanced technological capacity combined with an incredibly narrow focus.

Efficiency of form, elegance of function, and conservation of energy are the prime motivators of progress in this world. It is said that sufficiently advanced technology should be indistinguishable from magic and the old adage proves quite true within the cities. It is a sad fact of life that the majority do not care how something works, only that it does. As such, no single individual could be deemed a master of technology, and most could not be called a master of even a single, useful device.

Computer technology is highly advanced, based on super-, rather than semi-, conductor architecture. So-called “room temperature superconductors” lie at the heart of even the simplest childrens’ toys as well as enormous installations housed deep in the heart of every modern city forming the mind and, if you will, soul of each sky-flung metropolis. These central computers see to every infinitesimal detail of the daily maintenance of the cities, their mining programs, and manufacturing facilities. As each city exists as an isolated, self-reliant and sealed system, every one produces all of its own wants and needs internally. Data is freely exchanged by tachyon burst transmission, but teleportation remains solely in the realm of creative expression.

Entertainment is a highly valued asset in the cities for, now matter how massive its towers nor how varied the inhabitants, every citizen is essentially a prisoner. Immersive holographic projection featuring three-dimensional positional audio and interactivity ranging from almost non-existent to full is a preferred form of pleasant distraction. A great deal of the creative story-telling within the cities is primarily concerned with the lands outside them.

Of one billion, four hundred ninety-eight thousand, two hundred four citizens, there were twelve survivors.

A great many of these people, with estimates in the millions, met their fate before order could be restored. Almost as many were killed in the riotous panic as died by their own hand.

Of the things I personally experienced, I can say little. Most of the dying occurred while I lay in fever dreams and wracked with unspeakable agony.

Of the twelve that survived the Collapse of Hamburg, seven later took their own lives to be spared the guilt of surviving. We few that remained, having met the Enemy and defeated it within our own flesh, left with the Plague Doctors.

The Neonates, like us, that had lived through exposure, were favored. We had all drank deep from the icy cup of Death and knew well its flavor. We five, Ariel, Karl, Erich, Hans and myself, remained together until Exiles took Erich and Hans last summer and the Enemy claimed Karl this morning.

I have seen some of the holoplays the citizens create about the Plague Doctors, but I have yet to see one that shows us as we are: only human.

Society, viewed from afar, shows two distinct worlds, each with their own customs and histories: The cities, born from the selfish desires of ancient nobles in a desperate attempt to spare themselves the horror let loose upon the world, and the Plague Doctors who trace their lineage to symbolic forbears who first donned the death-bird visage to meet the Enemy on its own terms and whose memory they honor by continuing a tradition of both compassion and melodrama. As with the matters of the microscopic realm, it is very rare for a distant first impression to hold true when one studies something closely.

Citizens are, for all intents and purposes, identical. While each city-state is rife with its own local lore, they find essential common ground in their attitudes, politics (if such a thing could be said to exist in the idealized, harmonic structure their world is based on) and customs. It is only when a citizen becomes too different from the others that problems, and thus banishment, arise.

The Exiled are the surviving remnants of countless individuals whose transgressions against order, peace, or their fellow man. As the plague has turned, the Exiled have become simultaneously more fearful and more bold. A large portion of exiled individuals come into the care of the Plague Doctors, the rest often coming into the care of the Heretics.

Rogue Plague Doctors who have replaced meditation with combat training and painstaking research with brutal human experimentation, they are excommunicated and, often, tragic figures. Ties between the Plague Doctors and the Heretics yet remain, often at a personal level.