The Week of Sickness happened about an earth year and a half into the search for a new home for Talos and his motley crew. It started right after Carol and Talos had come back from one of Arkata’s moons, which had looked promising as a new home base, to report yet more failure. The Arkatans were militarily advanced enough that the Kree hadn’t come for them yet, but they weren’t certain they wanted to tempt fate. When Talos started sniffling, Carol didn’t mention it. She thought he was just emotional, which, fair, and a total dick thing to bring to anyone’s attention.
Instead she flew the ship for a bit in companionable silence with Dinar, who did most of the piloting, and let Talos spend time with Soren and Morel. When those two showed up in the mess for dinner without Talos, Carol still left it alone. The guy’d had a shit day. On top of a shit decade or so.
Several of the kids were restless and disappointed about being turned away, so Carol spent the evening coming up with new light tricks to brighten the mood, and went to bed figuring tomorrow would be another day.
The next morning none of Talos’ family showed up to breakfast, and Nyrn, the little girl who was usually joined-at-the-hip with Morel was flagging a bit, poking disinterestedly at her food. Carol sipped at the root-drink they’d picked up at one of the most recent trading posts that was the closest thing to coffee available in this sector. She scanned the rest of the breakfast crowd and noticed that Blare, who worked on researching possible planets, moons, and even occasionally stations, was looking a bit pale and kept rubbing her nose on her napkin. Tenil, who worked with Soren on curriculum for the children, was sleeping or close to it, his head on his arms, folded on the table in front of him. There was the sound of coughing here and there throughout the hall.
Carol made her way to the closest medic, Ger, and asked, “Do Skrulls get the flu?”
“What’s a flu?” Ger asked, rubbing at their eyes.
“Uh, illness that can be minor or serious, wide range of symptoms, but almost always fever and achiness.”
“Oh. Prelik’s Syndrome. Yes, we get that.” Then, after a second of looking at Carol. “Oh. Shit.”
Carol nodded. “Shit.” Glancing around the mess, she asked, “What’s the general incubation on it?”
“In a closed system like this? If someone doesn’t have it, they’re immune to whatever strain seems to have presented itself.”
“You’re telling me that almost everyone on this ship is about to be sick?”
Ger shrugged. “We live on a ship with recycled air.”
Since that was a reasonable point, Carol went into problem-solving mode. “Do we have enough supplies to help everyone with the symptoms?”
“Maybe. For now, we should get everyone into their private quarters to help stop further cross- and recontamination.”
“And then we use the ship’s monitoring capabilities to figure out who’s worst off and needs the most help and hope this clears up in a few days.”
Carol didn’t ask any follow up questions. “And if it doesn’t?”
Ger looked away. “You’re gonna need to find help.”
Talos opened the door at Carol’s knock. She said, “Right,” because he was shining from fever perspiration. “C’mon, let’s get you back to bed.”
She hooked his arm over her shoulder and guided him into his bedroom. Soren was fully asleep, possibly passed out. “Morel in her bed?”
“Yes,” Talos said as she guided him to sitting on the bed. Once seated, he coughed for what might have been a full thirty seconds. “I—I checked on her an hour ago.”
Just the sentence winded him, and Carol pushed his shoulders, getting him to lie down. “All right. Ger and I raided the medical bay and divvied up supplies. I’m gonna heat up water for the sisalroot, make sure all of you are hydrated, and then make some rounds. Ger’s sick too, there’re only about seven adults who seem immune, but they’re helping. A few of the kids haven’t shown symptoms yet. We’re not sure if it’s immunity or late-onset.”
Talos fought to keep his eyes open. “No—no—everyone just…sick, right?”
“Right,” Carol said softly. “I’m gonna do my best to see that it stays that way, promise.”
Even when she’d been one hundred percent normal average human, Carol had never gotten sick much. There’d been the time in fourth grade when she’d vomited on the playground and then had to stay in the nurse’s office for the next six hours, because her dad couldn’t take off work to get her. Nevermind that he did that exact thing when her brother caught what she had a couple of days later. Then dad had just been pissed Carol’d passed her germs on.
After that she’d mostly learned to power through illness, especially colds or coughs. Really, the only time she’d been seriously ill was when she’d ignored a broken rib during a round of training for Pegasus, and ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. Thankfully, by that time Maria had been around to make sure Carol didn’t die, and Dr. Lawson had stood up for both of them, kept them on the flight rosters.
Maria hadn’t gotten sick often, either, although she had somehow managed to get adult chicken pox a few weeks after Basic, and that had sucked. It was why, at first, Carol had been scared Maria was dying when the morning sickness started, until Maria had fessed up.
Monica had fallen ill a few times. She’d been healthy as a damn horse as a baby, quiet, too. But like any kid, she’d turned into a regular bacterial and viral breeding ground as soon as she’d started school, bringing home two flus, a cold that lasted three weeks, chicken pox, and lice within the first two years of elementary school.
At the time, it had sucked, watching her tiny, miserable face; doing ever more desperate things to try and make her more comfortable, none of it helping to any noticeable extent. Now, Carol was kind of glad she’d had that experience.
A few of the younger kids on the ship had never been sick before, at least not that they remembered. With their parents also being trampled willy-nilly by the virus, Carol and the Seven Still Standing—as she’d come to think of her adult compatriots in Not Being Sick Land—were rushing to and fro trying to keep fevers at a reasonable rate, make certain enough water was being imbibed, and helping to settle the fear and wretchedness that infused the infants and toddlers who didn’t understand what was happening.
Carol could remain on her feet longer than any of the others, since she was powered more by magic beans (stones, whatever), than blood and air and water. Given this, they set up a rotation where Carol spelled pretty much everyone, and each of the others spelled one or two other adults.
By the time Talos reappeared in public, along with Dolath, Kynri, and a few of the other adults who had fallen in the first wave, Carol was having trouble remembering her own name. She could tell you the correct imperial-standard temperature of a skrull adult and child, what liquids would settle a stomach quicker and which were more useful in actual hydration, and even how to use the galley equipment to heat broth and steam grains, but otherwise, she was an empty shell of cosmic power and exhaustion.
Talos’ voice was still rough when he found Carol rocking one of the teens who’d had a nightmare back into rest. Once she was certain the kid was sleeping, she slipped out of the room and walked next to him, being intensely careful not to weave.
Talos said, “Why don’t you go catch a few? I’ll handle the next few hours, and then Soren or Tenil can take over. We’re not up to fighting weight or anything, but I’m fairly certain there are enough of us back in the game that we can handle it while you sleep.”
She stared at him for several long minutes. Finally, she said, “Where’s my room, again?”
Talos blinked and said, “Right.”
He probably got her back to it safely. Carol couldn’t have said.
Carol woke to someone calling her name and sprang up, tensing. From the doorway, Soren said, “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”
Carol breathed out, slowing her heart rate, and waved the apology away. “What—how long have I been sleeping?”
“Ten hours. You probably need more, but nobody seemed sure when the last time you ate was.”
“Jesus,” Carol said, wiping at her face. Now that Soren mentioned it, she was feeling like she could eat her way through an In ‘n Out and still be ready for seconds. “Yeah, okay, thanks. I’ll come down to the mess in a few. Gonna splash my face.”
Soren frowned. “I brought food.”
“Oh. Right, even better, thanks.”
“Carol.” Soren’s tone was careful.
Carol hauled herself up to a sitting position on the side of the bed—and yeah, she was definitely going to need more sleep, her legs were evidently three thousand pounds at the moment. “Soren?”
“You saved our lives by turning against everything you knew, you gave up your home to help us, and this last week, you kept the ship running while most of us were sweating our internal organs out.”
Blinking, Carol said, “Well, not to nitpick, but I did also help persecute your people for a good number of years. Maybe this is me just evening out the scales.”
Soren sighed and came to sit next to Carol. “They’re even. Maybe they’re even a bit weighted in your favor.”
“I’m not sure—”
Carol sat with that, the intensity of the pronouncement, the quiet certainty of it. She found herself laughing, just a bit, quiet and more broken than she wanted. “The last one of those I had I forgot and abandoned.”
“You were taken from them. And I can’t promise we’d be able to stop that from happening. But I know Talos, and I know he will do everything in his power to make certain it cannot be done again. You both will.”
“You’d think that’d make it less terrifying, wouldn’t you?”
“Not really,” Soren said.
Carol found herself leaning in, resting her head on Soren’s shoulder. “Family, huh?”
“I brought that bitter hot stuff you like to prove it.”
Carol smiled. “Oh yeah? Anything solid?”
“I’m raising a growing girl. What do you think?”
“I think—” Carol breathed. “I think I’d like to stay here, just. Just another minute, okay?”
Soren wrapped her arm around Carol and said, “Just don’t fall back asleep on me. I promised Morel I’d get you to eat, and you know how she gets when she’s disappointed.”
Carol laughed again, more carefree this time. “Yeah, pretty sure Monica taught her that facial expression.”
“That one is going to be so much trouble.”
“Mm,” Carol agreed. “It’s gonna be awesome.”
“Indeed.” Soren tightened her grip, and held on.