Freya rubbed her eyes and blinked tiredly in the grey light of the room. It was early morning, and she had just been awakened by the morning ringing of the heavy city bell.
She sat up and coughed loudly, grabbing the glass of water standing by the bed. She drank a couple sips, then coughed again. She took a careful, deeper breath and coughed one more time. Sighing she drank more water before getting up and looking for her clothes.
She felt as if she had barely slept, so tired and weak was she. It seemed to be getting worse every day, and it worried her.
Slowly, she put on her clothing, went to the window and pulled the curtains aside. Looking out, she could see it was another rainy, foggy day. It was the season, she knew, but no more pleasant because of it. Besides, it made her coughing worse.
She threw some water in the face from the washbasin, then went downstairs to get something to eat. Soon the day’s work would start, and she could not afford to be late.
“Good morning, Helka,” she called out, seeing her younger sister already at the table.
Helka looked up, concern in her eyes. “Good morning, Freya.” She put down the spoon. “I have cooked the wheat porridge with milk, so it is tastier.”
“Thank you, but I am not really hungry,” Freya admitted. She sat down and looked at the warm porridge.
“Please have some. You work in the mine, and they will only feed you at noon - and you have complained often enough of that food.”
Freya smiled a little at her sister. “You are correct.” She took her bowl and spooned some porridge into it.
“More,” Helka insisted, eyeing the small amount of food sceptically. “There is also herbal tea. It was recommended by Raija to help with your cough.”
“Yes, mother...” Freya rolled her eyes, but did as her sister said, taking both more food and some of the herbal tea. Her experience told her that her sister would not relent. She might only be fifteen, but she would not give up when she had set her mind on something. Besides she was right. Freya did need food to be strong enough to work.
Ignoring the comment, Helka picked up her spoon again. “I heard you cough.” She took a mouthful of the porridge but did not take her eyes of Freya.
“It was not so bad,” Freya said, looking down at her food as she ate.
“Yes it was.” Helka gave her sister a worried look. “Working in the mine is bad for you. Many get sick. You know this.”
“You do not get dust sickness from working in the mine so short a time,” Freya reminded her sister. “I have not even been there two years. It is not dust sickness. I merely have an unpleasant cold. I am not the only one at work suffering from this either.” She took a sip of the tea and made a grimace. “Many others in my group are afflicted as well.”
“A cold... for 2 months?” Helka shook her head. “I cannot believe that!”
Freya coughed loudly, almost spitting out her food. She gave her sister and apologetic look. “I need the work. Do not be concerned, I am sure I will get better.”
Helka looked unconvinced, but changed the topic. “There are traders in town. I saw them yesterday. Alda said she saw them come through the great ring.”
“Really? It has not happened in many years,” Freya said, interested.
“Alda said it was a woman and two men, all dressed in similar tan clothing,” Helka told her, happy to have some news. “She did not see what they were selling, but they went to talk to the council.”
Freya nodded. “That makes sense. They will want to hear any news, and also the strangers should acquire permission to trade here.” A violent cough suddenly hit her and it was a couple minutes before she had recovered enough to drink some of the tea.
“Please, find other work,” Helka said, very worried. “That cough is getting worse every day.”
“What other work is there for me?” Freya shrugged and took another spoonful of the porridge. “The farms do not need anyone at this time of year, you know that.”
“You could help in the temple, or in the school,” Helka suggested. “You like to write in that diary of yours.”
Freya ate the rest of her porridge, thinking about what her sister had said. “The school does not need any new teachers at the moment, I inquired recently. If I go to the temple, I can not stay here with you, you know that. Besides, they also prefer the priestesses to start their training when they are younger than I am, so I doubt they would even accept me.”
“Then I could go to the temple,” Helka said. “I am the perfect age.”
Freya snorted. “I have seen the looks you send the neighbors boy, Alfr. As a priestess you would not be allowed to limit your favours to only one or two lovers, as you well know. The love of a priestess is sacred, and so must be shared.”
“I know.” Helka shrugged. “What do you think of Alfr?”
Freya smiled at her sister. “I think he is a nice boy.”
“Boy!” Helka snorted. “I will tell him that you said that.” She grinned, then sobered. “And that he may not work in the mine. Ever. I will not let him.”
Freya forced herself to eat the soup and the bread that was the lunch served for the workers in the mine. She shivered a little and pulled her cloak firmly around her, looking at the others sitting at the long wooden table with her. It was still foggy and cold and many of her colleagues seemed to be feeling chilly as well.
She coughed and thought of what her sister had said as she studied the drawn faces around the table. The majority looked tired which was understandable; it was hard work, but some of them looked worse than the others. Sick. Now and then someone would cough and Freya started to worry that it really was something to do with the mine.
She tried to remember when she had first started to feel sick - and when she had first noticed any of the others coughing. It was probably about 2 months ago, but back then it had not been bad and she had ascribed it to dust irritating her throat.
She thought it had been just around the time they opened up that new mine shaft that partially followed underground waterways. She remembered how they had all marveled at the beautiful fluorescent green and blue that covered many of the walls. They were slimy to the touch, and smelled a little strange. Not unpleasant, just strange. Something in there had made her throat and nose feel itchy to begin with, but it had passed with time.
The bell sounded, marking the end of the lunch break and she got up together with the others. She decided she would look in her diary when she returned in the evening to confirm if the start of the sickness coincided with the new shaft.
Freya pushed the cart, which was full of ore and very heavy. She was exhausted and felt as if she might faint. She panted as she continued up the incline before she would get to where the ore was unloaded. As she reached the top, a coughing fit hit her and for several moments she could not do anything except coughing and panting, trying to catch her breath.
She spat and looked at the ground, seeing green foam. “What in the name of the Goddess...” She quickly forgot about the unsettling event when she saw the cart had started rolling and were now on the way down the incline. “No!” she exclaimed, running after it. “Get out of the way!”
Two people jumped aside, narrowly escaping the heavy cart. Freya threw herself after it, just managing to grab hold of it. She put her weight behind it and tried to stop it, but instead it tipped over, the ore spilling everywhere and partially over her.
She let out a scream as one of the rocks hit her right temple and then darkness took her.
The first thing Freya noticed when she woke up was that her head was pounding and that it hurt to breathe - even more than usual.
“Ah, you are awake, Freya. Thank the Goddess and all the other gods! We thought you were gone for sure!”
Freya opened her eyes and saw it was Raija, the local healer. “No...” she coughed and nearly screamed in pain. “I am alive.” She groaned. “There is too much pain for me to have passed to the other side.”
Raija’s kind eyes displayed her worry. “You have a concussion, a broken rib, and several bruises. That is not the true concern. From this you will heal.”
“What then is your concern?” Freya asked, getting worried. She coughed again and winced, the broken rib causing pain when she did so.“
“You are coughing frequently, are you not?”
“Yes, but what of it? Most on my work team are doing so, as are those of several of the others. I have not worked long enough to get dust sickness. Do you not know how to tell that this is not it?”
“No, it is not dust sickness. I know the signs well. Too well.” She sighed.
“I apologize, I forgot your father recently died from it.” Freya looked apologetic.
“No apologies are needed.” Raija took a deep breath. “Am I correct that you have coughed up greenish foam?”
Freya was silent for a moment. “I noticed only today. How do you know?”
“Then it has not developed as far as it has in some. I have examined several in the recent week who have this green foam. Extreme weakness and shortness of breath follows quickly, then loss of consciousness, then... I do not know. Five are bedridden, and I have no idea what to give them. No idea how to treat them.”
“Oh, no.” Freya made a low groan. “If I die, my sister will be alone!”
“We do not know that you will die,” Raija said. “Perhaps you will recover soon.”
“Is there a sign the others are doing so?” Freya asked, knowing that would not be the case.
Raija shook her head sadly. “There is not. Not yet.”
“How many are sick? It seems almost everyone I work with are sick.”
“Three work teams have sick people, there almost everyone is affected. No other teams have had this.”
“Which teams is it?”
“Second, third, and fifth.”
“I see.” She was silent for a while. “I have thought of something.” Freya coughed, trying to suppress it as the pain again tore through her.
“Drink this. It should help a little.” Raija held a mug of a hot liquid to Freya’s mouth.
She drank, then nodded her thanks. “I believe this problem started when we opened the new shaft in the mine. I felt irritation almost immediately, and my team is third. The two others that work that shaft are second and fifth.”
“If what you say is correct, there may be something that is different there.”
“There is a slimy substance on the walls. It is glowing in the dark, greenish and blue.”
Raija nodded. “I have heard of this. Most workers find it quite beautiful and enjoy the extra light. It was deemed harmless.”
Freya coughed and looked miserable. “Yes. I know.”
“Regardless, we should look into this.” Raija looked thoughtful. “Perhaps the foreign traders would take a look. One of them has medicinal knowledge, he is a healer, I believe. I talked to him. His name is Johan.”
Freya nodded carefully. “Helka mentioned the traders.”
“I will have Johan look at you, and the others who have the green foam-cough. Perhaps he has seen it before.” Raija was about to leave.
“Wait - could you have someone look to Helka? She is quite independent, but she is only fifteen, as you know.”
“I will do so myself. In fact, I was going to do so on the way to talk to the visitors.”
Freya was half asleep, finally having dozed off despite the pain and the cough, when she heard someone at the door. Her sister had visited earlier, and expressed her concern, and Freya had attempted to appear strong for her. She had seen straight through it.
“Freya?” the voice asked again.
She looked towards the door, seeing Raija. She smiled at her. “Yes, I am awake.” She coughed painfully, then looked at her hand, seeing green foam. She grimaced and reached for a piece of cloth.
“I would not disturb you, but healer Johan is here and would like to examine you and talk to you.”
“Of course. I am grateful for anything he can do.”
A man with brown, curly hair stepped into the room. He looked to be about thirty years old, maybe a little more. He had a somewhat stern expression, which softened when he smiled at Freya. “Hello. I am Johan Malek.”
“The healer from another world.”
“I have some skills in medicine, but I am actually a biochemist.”
“A scholar who specializes in the study of how the processes inside living creatures work,” he said, trying to explain it in a way that Freya would understand.
“I see... that sounds... somewhat like a healer.”
“There might be some overlap. Regardless, I have studied many things in my life, and I hope to be able to understand what is ailing you.”
He took out something from his pocket. It looked like an oval made of metal, with a large circular red disc set into one side. He put his hand through it so the disc was in his palm.
Freya recoiled when it suddenly lit up. “Sorcery!”
“Not at all,” he reassured her. “It is a kind of... internal, controlled fire. Technology.”
She looked only slightly less concerned, but said nothing further as he let the light play over her body. The pain in her chest and head subsided, and she could breathe a little easier, though it still felt as if she could just not get enough air into her lungs. In addition, she still felt extremely weak.
The light from the device turned off, and Freya looked at the man standing beside her bed. She gave him a tired smile. “Thank you, the pain is gone.”
He nodded curtly, the concerned look in his eyes still there. “The injuries were easy to repair. They were never the main problem.”
Freya shook her head at this statement. “Perhaps not for you. You have my thanks.” She felt suddenly overcome with tiredness. “Some sleep, then I will be able to return to work.”
“I fear not. The microorganisms inhabiting your lungs are spreading, and the injury which punctured your lung allowed it to spread further faster than it would otherwise. My healing device cannot stop it.”
“What? Organisms?” Freya suddenly coughed violently, spitting green foam. “Oh, no.” She looked at him. “I do not quite know what you are talking of, but it sounds unsettling.”
“The fluorescent green substance on the walls of the mine is a microorganism. It is a kind of fungus.”
“Fungus? Like... a mushroom?” Freya coughed again, spitting more green foam.
“Not quite, though there are some similarities.” He sighed. “Freya...”
“I understand. It will kill me. Soon.”
He hesitated. “Perhaps something can be done. I will make inquiries. I shall return before morning.” He looked at the green substance which had dripped on the blanket and seemed to be glimmering slightly. “I believe the microorganism can easily infect others in this state. I will talk to Raija about it.”
“Infect others?” Freya looked horrified. “Could this have infected my sister?”
“Have you coughed up any of the green foam when you were home? While she visited earlier?”
“No, I do not believe so.”
“Then she should not be infected. From my examinations, I do not believe the green foam will appear until very late in the sickness.”
“That is a relief at least,” Freya said, coughing again. She leaned back in the bed, feeling immensely tired.
He observed her for a moment, noticing she had now fallen asleep. He turned and left to find Raija and warn her. He was convinced there was cause for concern that it could spread in the general population. The infected needed to be quarantined.
“Freya?” Raija called, as she entered the room.
She slowly woke up and looked at Raija. “Yes.” She saw the man beside her, the foreign healer. “You are back as well.”
“I will leave you to talk. Freya, your sister, Helka is here also, waiting outside.”
“Do not let her come in here,” Freya exclaimed, remembering what she had been told, about being contagious. “You should not be here as well! I am dangerous!”
“I am immune,” Johan told her. “And there is currently no active contagion in the air.”
“How do you know?”
He held up a small device. “This will detect it.”
Freya coughed, then frowned at him. “How could it?”
“We have some technology among my people which you do not.”
“More sorcery.” She sighed and gave him a sceptical look”
“Technology, as I said. “
She nodded. “If you say so.”
“He has explained it to me.” Raija looked a little embarrassed. “As well as I can understand. He has also determined the infection really comes from the mine.”
“Yes, I went into the newest mineshaft and made some scans. The microorganism is present in the air, in large quantities in many places.”
Freya coughed violently and spat more green foam.
Johan activated the device and held it closer to her. “The organism is active and present in the foam, but only in the air nearby.”
“So if you stay some meters away from anyone sick, then there should be no danger?” Freya asked.
“Probably no danger if you are a meter away, and then it is only when foam has been expelled.” He sighed. “It must be taken care of, though. I shall soon return to my people and work on a cure, and then that mineshaft must be closed.”
“You can cure us?” Freya asked.
“I believe I will be able to cure those who have not yet gotten to the stage where there is green foam, perhaps even some of those.”
“So not me.”
“No. I am sorry.”
“I understand. I just worry for my sister.”
“I have an offer to make you. Something that will make you live and well.”
“How? What? Anything that means I could stay and look after my sister.”
“That it would not, unfortunately. You would have to leave this planet. However, you would be able to visit, and I assure you we would make sure your sister is taken care of.”
“I see.” She closed her eyes for some time, then opened them again and looked at him. “Then that is how it will have to be. What is this offer?”
He looked towards Raija and she nodded and left. He looked at Freya. “It is something that no one must know of, or we will all be in danger.”
Freya frowned, then nodded. “I do not quite understand how this can be, unless it is something that would be considered blasphemous or some dark magic. However, please understand that our planet’s Goddess has not visited recently, and the population is quite forgiving.”
“I know. Still, this they may not accept, and other could hear of it and punish your people for our presence here. I need you to promise you will say nothing about what I am about to tell you.”
“I promise.” Freya coughed.
Johan nodded. “Then I will let my closest friend explain.” He dipped his head, and when he looked up again, his expression had changed subtly and his voice much more so. “Hello, Freya. Have you ever heard about the Tok’ra?”