Surface Burn is an interactive thriller by authors Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas, which is being written exclusively on Figment! This is the first installation. At 8PM on Wednesday, March 9th, Stacy and Valerie will be hosting a live discussion of Surface Burn on Figment’s forums, and they’ll will be using your suggestions and feedback to help shape Surface Burn‘s future chapters. Enjoy!
Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, an estimated 600 tons of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium have been stored in often inadequately guarded facilities in the Russian Federation. Police in Asia, Europe and South America, on at least 16 occasions from 1993 to 2005, have intercepted shipments of smuggled bomb-grade uranium or plutonium, most of which was from ex-Soviet sources. NEW WORLD ENCYCLOPEDIA
An enormous public hospital on the southern edge of East Berlin looms ominously above the deserted street. The architecture is distinctly Communist bloc with its oddly proportioned construction, gray façade and graffiti covered walls – leftovers from the sixties, badly in need of a reboot. A fluorescent sign reads MARTIN LUTHER URBAN KRANKE HAU. It should read KRANKENHAUS. The bulbs burned out long ago. Even though the Cold War is over, this is still where Western Europe ends and the East begins.
All day and all night the infirm stream in through the hospital’s rusted gates. Martin Luther Urban Krankenhaus cares for them as best it can, with limited resources and overtaxed doctors. It’s not much different than most other places in the world. The privileged go to their immaculate, private hospitals and the underprivileged come here. They are the nameless, faceless illegal immigrants that pour into Berlin every day through its porous borders, the people who clean the toilets in the train station and hawk gray market watches on the street and wash the dishes in the fancy restaurants that line the pretty avenues of Charlottenburg. They are Nigerians and Uzbeks and Chechens and Malaysians, all of whom have left their homelands to find a better life in Germany.
On this particular windy, October night, a black sedan swings up the circular driveway of the Krankenhuas. It is late, very late, so late, it’s nearly morning. The car door swings open and a girl’s body is carried out by a burly, dark suited man, who could easily pass for a linebacker. The girl is unconscious. Maybe asleep. Maybe worse. Her
limbs hang languidly from the man’s muscular arms. As the car idles, the man places the girl on the sidewalk, in front of the hospital, and quickly retreats back into the sedan, its dark windows hiding whatever or whomever is inside. The car accelerates away, wiping clear any trace of its presence.
Moments later, two orderlies, dressed head to toe in white hazmat suits, burst out the hospital doors pushing a gurney. They’re trailed by a fresh-faced Russian intern, barely twenty-three. He keeps his distance, shouting out orders in accented German, as the orderlies lift the girl onto the pad and wheel her into the hospital.
Inside, the buildig is packed with people. It’s not a happy place. Cold, foreboding, decrepit. The orderlies fishtail the gurney down the hospital’s winding, cement corridors where people wait for doctors, for loved ones, for help. Patients lie semi-conscious on gurneys, littering the passageway. Babies whimper in their mothers’ arms. An elderly woman sobs on the shoulder of a young man. A doctor shouts in German as he runs out of one room and disappears into another.
As the orderlies disappear down the hall, the intern veers off, slipping into a private office which stands in dramatic contrast to the rest of the hospital. There are plush chairs, floor to ceiling bookshelves and tasteful art on the walls. A silver-haired, handsome man, dressed in a finely tailored suit, stands at the bookshelf, poring over an enormous text. He looks up as the intern enters, his face grave. He speaks in Russian.
“Use Prussian Blue. And you’ll need this.” The older man hands the young doctor a hazmat suit. “Change in here. And take the freight elevator.”
“Can I get an attending?” The young intern asks, also in Russian, clearly his native language.
“No. You’re on your own,” the older man responds, his voice firm, insistent.
Without another word, the intern pulls the suit on over his scrubs and exits from a different door, into a deserted hallway. He looks nervous, scared even. His actions are measured as he makes his way down the empty corridor.
It’s littered with broken wheelchairs and assorted medical equipment. He enters a large, abandoned freight elevator, punches a button, and the elevator creaks and rattles as it slams shut and travels to the top floor of the hospital.
The doors sweep open, spitting the intern out into an operating theater, complete with state-of the-art machinery humming and buzzing, and a bank of blindingly bright lights which shine down on several operating tables centered in the room. Unlike the frantic scene twenty-two floors below, up here it is peaceful and strangely uninhabited. This place should be filled with nurses and surgical assistants efficiently bustling around, but instead there’s just one patient: the girl. The orderlies have stripped her down to her underwear. Her silk dress lies crumpled and torn on the floor. She is naked, motionless, critically ill on the table. Her skin has a strange, grayish blue tone, eerily inhuman. She’s intubated, an IV drip inserted into her arm.
The intern shouts in German. “Prussian blue. Ten millileters. Stat.”
“She won’t make it, her pulse and vitals are—,” one of the orderlies interrupts.
“Those are the instructions. Keep pumping her.”
As the intern barks out orders, he appears calm and contained, though occasionally his voice cracks, betraying his fear. The orderlies work with mechanical efficiency. They know the drill. They swathe the girl in iridescent plastic, silver blankets, connect the IV to large blue bags of fluid. As the liquid pours into her veins, her body bucks and shakes. The orderlies speak to each other in muffled tones, obscured by the white masks covering their mouths.
The intern supervises, keeping his distance from the body. The elevator door opens and a disheveled, middle-aged doctor appears. He’d be good looking if he’d had a chance to shower or sleep. He speaks in English. He’s clearly American.
“What’s going on here, Vlad? Is there some kind of radiation issue?”
“Just precaution. She fell in the canals,” the intern offers in halting English,
obviously not his strongest language.
“Prussian blue? That doesn’t sound precautionary. I’m the attending, why wasn’t I notified?” He demands.
“I have it under control,” the intern offers, his demeanor dissembling under the withering gaze of the older doctor.
Monitors start to scream and beep in alarm. Something is wrong. The orderlies work with a panicked frenzy. They’re losing the girl. The intern rushes to the girl, stares at her, unsure how to proceed, as the orderlies work on her.
The older doctor disappears and returns moments later in a hazmat suit. He pushes the intern aside, slaps the paddles of a defibrillator onto her chest and proceeds to shock her, trying to revive her. Nothing.
The intern watches, helplessly, as the doctor prepares a syringe and plunges it into the girl’s heart. A few seconds pass, a minute, another minute. Still nothing.
The monitor emits a series of beats and then the girl flatlines. The doctor continues to work on the girl in vain.
“She’s dead,” the intern states.
The older doctor steps away, knowing he’s lost the battle.
The intern pulls out his cell and hurriedly texts into it. The orderlies, wasting no time, shift the dead body back onto the waiting gurney and rush the girl’s lifeless body out of the room. The intern starts to follow but the doctor grabs him by the arm.
“Where are they taking her? What’s going on, Vlad? This doesn’t feel routine to me?” The intern stares blankly at the older doctor, unsure how to respond. The elevator doors open and the silver-haired gentleman appears. He ushers the orderlies onto the elevator and instructs the intern to follow. The elevator doors close, leaving the two older men alone in the vast space.
“What was wrong with her, Gunther? This is the second time in two months I’ve been shut out of an emergency like this. What are you not telling me?”
“Don’t be so paranoid, James. You’ve been on call for twenty-four hours. I just didn’t think we needed you on this one. The poor girl was practically gone before she even hit the table. She was a worker at the nuclear plant. There was some kind of accident…” The man known as Gunther starts to explain in perfect English.
“Vlad said she’d fallen into the canal.”
“Vlad is mistaken. There was an accident. It’s unfortunate but it happens.”
“The girl’s body was filled with radiation, Gunther. Why weren’t there more victims? If there were an accident at the plant, the press would be all over this.”
“I don’t have all the answers for you, James. I only know what we were told when her husband brought her in. Accidents like this happen all the time at the power plants and they’re covered up. You know that. The last thing the government needs right now is a massive demonstration on their hands.”
“Gunther, this is a radiation issue. We need to report it.”
“Go home, James. Get some sleep.” And with that, Gunther disappears into the elevator, leaving James alone.
Exhausted, James slumps to the floor, pulling away his mask. His eyes are bloodshot. He puts his head in his hands and exhales. A few seconds pass, maybe he’s fallen asleep. Maybe he’s thinking.
Suddenly, his head lifts and he glances around the room, looking for a sign, clues. He spots the dress on the floor. He gets up, takes the dress in his hands and examines it. It still has a price tag on it. He finds a protective bag and impulsively drops the dress into the bag. He carries the bag into an adjacent changing room where he removes the hazmat suit and puts his clothes back on. Still holding onto the bag, he takes the elevator down to the street level and exits the hospital.
He walks down the dimly lit street with a slow, tired gait. It’s nearly dawn. The sun fights for space on the horizon as the doctor disappears into the U-bahn station.