Hulgor, a trooper within Olovom Law Enforcement, stared into the rioting masses before him through his white helmet's visor, its glow as visceral a blue as Giree hemolymph. He kept a tight grip on his riot shield with his left hand, and clutched his stun baton in his right.
The new disease - the Olovom Strain, they'd called it - had raged for about half a year, and the civilian population had grown bold and restless. Of course, Hulgor believed, this was only the mask coming off - having once been a civilian himself, he could vouch that the average Directorate citizen was little more than a crazed, desperate animal. This view had never been stronger than it was now, with the enraged horde in front of him, beating against his shield and letting loose a chorus of vitriolic chants and profanities.
Of course, for the mask to come off in a place like the Directorate, there had to be a reason - his squad sergeant, Glovank, had briefed them that an emissary from the High Council itself had come to speak with local authorities. Speculation ignited among the common folk that there was an ulterior motive. Specifically, that the shuttle the envoy would arrive in was also loaded with a cure to the Olovom Strain, meant only for the authorities to use. Needless to say, even without proof on the matter, many Giree decided to come and demand this cure be distributed, or even seize it by force. Held at bay by the Olovom Law Enforcement squads (I mean, seriously, what did they expect? Hulgor had asked, to no one in particular), protesters and would-be looters alike snowballed into a mob.
One of the rioters grabbed ahold of Hulgor's shield, and earned a blow to the head for his troubles. Another snatched at the baton's head, only to recoil in pain at its high voltage. The crowd redoubled its efforts, forcing Hulgor and his peers to bash forward with their shields in order to maintain ranks. Even so, it looked as if the horde would break through at any moment.
Suddenly, the mob began to back away. The rioters in front of Hulgor diverted their gaze to to something above and behind him. As for Hulgor himself, he didn't need the crowd to quiet down in order to notice the ground's rhythmic tremors. Evidently, Olovom Law Enforcement had seen fit to escalate their response; the tremors were the footfalls of Discouragement Units.
In Hulgor's mind, the rioters had every reason to falter. Discouragement Units are towering machines designed with brutally effective crowd control in mind. Already, the air was filled with a shrill metallic sound, and some of the rioters, well aware of what would happen next, shoved their way through the crowd in a bid to escape. In seconds, however, the mechanical whines ended, replaced with the sight of small metallic canisters arching overhead, into the mob. A similar shrilling returned, this time organic in origin, as a sickly yellow mist rose.
A key thing to consider is the Giree's biological similarity to mollusks. For species like humans who needed to evolve thick, impervious skin, a careful response to the situation would leave them with irritated eyes at worst. However, to the rioting Giree, exposure to the gas was nothing short of excruciating. This was not the case for Hulgor and his fellow enforcers, thanks to air filters built into their helmets.
In a matter of minutes, the mob had retreated entirely. All that remained were faint trails of the yellow gas, and the cold metal canisters that had contained it. With the rioting over, Hulgor looked behind him. The first things he noticed were the gleaming Discouragement Units, the launchers on their right sides still primed for another barrage of canisters. Each main structure was shaped like a torso, with a blue visor-like targeting screen located along the "chest,' and supported by a pair of digitigrade legs.
The second thing Hulgor noticed was Sergeant Glovank - set apart from the troopers by his back armor, with shoulder protrusions - speaking with a Giree wearing a black trenchcoat and peaked cap, clearly a Directorate Intelligence Network agent. "Marvelous, aren't they?" The agent said, gesturing toward the Discouragement Units. "And piloted remotely. I don't doubt we'll have fully autonomous Units rolled out within the next decade." He cleared his throat. "So, Sergeant, I have it on good authority that Olovom Law Enforcement is experienced with ensuring civilian adherence to lawful commerce."
Glovank nodded. "We've ended several black market rings during our time of operation, sir. I served in a sting on one myself."
"Good, good," the agent said, nodding in turn. "Then I suppose your men are capable of doing to same to smugglers? We've received reports of smuggler activity on Olovom, apparently taking advantage of the recent epidemic. They've acted well outside of Directorate-sanctioned boundaries, and I would hate to see Olovom Law Enforcement fall short of stopping yet another facet of this humanitarian crisis."
"Of course not, sir," Glovank said.
"Excellent," said the agent, who patted Glovank on the shoulder. "Expect your superiors to brief you on these smugglers within the next few days." With this, the agent turned around and walked away.
Hinayk carefully navigated the chaotic Intensive Care Wing of the Hadakork Municipal Hospital, clutching an airtight bag of red liquid in her protective suit’s glove. Her colleagues were busy tending to Olovom Strain-inflicted patients, their eyes trained onto thin monitors that tracked their patients’ vitals. The air rung with a cacophony of equipment beeps, the sound of rushing water and air, and the ragged breathing of patients as they clung to life, all under the cold glow of fluorescent lamps.
The crisis was nothing like Hinayk had ever experienced before. True, she was knowledgeable in the medical field; her education had been subsidized as part of the Second Planetary Development Initiative - implemented to train more specialists in the outer colonies, rather than spread the existing ones thin. She was not without skill, either, with her proficiency displayed at Hadakork’s Sector 1 Clinic having earned her a place within the towering hospital near the city’s center.
It wasn’t just the combined scale and intensity of the outbreak that gave her pause, either. She reached her patient, identified as Thiro Gakoneid and diverted her attention to the monitor’s readings. They warned of his troubled breathing, a prominent system of the Strain; it clashed with the immune system most at the lungs and airways, leading to severe inflammation. Knowing this, Hinayk plugged the lip of the bag into a socket in her patient’s life support system. The seal breached, and the red liquid fizzed into a gas that flowed into the patient’s oxygen mask.
Yalg extract was instrumental to stabilizing the condition of patients. When exposed to air, its vapors quickly diffuse, and, when inhaled, calm inflammation in the lungs. Without this soothing of the airways, suffocation would be inevitable. Unfortunately, this reliance had a cost; the extract could only be synthesized in the inner worlds, as only there could aquaculture facilities caring for the sensitive Yalg alga feasibly be maintained.
With the planetary quarantine all but cutting off supply shipments, the hospital’s supply was expected to be depleted by year’s end. Even with their expertise, no one in the hospital could cure simple resource disparity. While the monitor declared the patient’s softened breathing rate, Hinayk knew he, along with the other patients, were living on borrowed time.
A beep emitted from the monitor as a message took up the display: “Patient scheduled for transfer.” [i]Transfer?[/i] Hinayk thought, wondering what had led to this decision among hospital administration. She looked between her patient and the message in uncertainty, then resolved to keep her eye on his condition until the transfer came.
Eventually, she noticed two personnel approaching, clad in bright yellow hazard suits. One of them pulled out a transparent half-cylinder screen to cover the patient, while another approached Hinayk herself. “They said they wanted you to come along,” he said. Hinayk watched, puzzled, as the two rolled out the stretcher, then followed them down the cluttered aisle.
The door shut behind them at the exit. A hissing sounded as decontamination gas flooded the checkpoint shortly before the door on the other side slid open. The four proceeded into the floor’s central hall, bustling with Giree moving into and from elevator doors. In little time, Hinayk and the two transfer personnel claimed one, and the group descended to the base floor.
They rolled on, past crowded waiting benches and wall-mounted televisions. The screens were set to a news broadcast from Olovom Station, and its headlines spoke of unrest in the city. The footage of clinics and pharmacies being raided for medical supplies, of Olovom Law Enforcement’s blockades against the raging masses, and of the Directorate’s plans to expand the quarantine provided the anxious onlookers no respite from the ongoing catastrophe. A passing janitor stopped in disbelief at the latter update, and, outraged, slammed his fist onto his equipment cart.
Great doors slid open as the group entered the hospital’s transit bay. Parked at rail-stops stood boxy tram cars, white with red streaks, optimized to hold stretchers. Before them was, to Hinayk’s surprise, an Enforcement squad waiting around an entirely different car coated a gunmetal gray. “Must be them,” Hinayk heard a trooper mutter as she removed her suit’s breathing mask.
“Definitely them,” the trooper concluded offhand, no doubt noting the characteristics of Hinayk’s face; it tapered to the front, a distinguishing trait among female Giree, and ended in thinner tentacles as a result.
The squad backed off from the unusual car, offering the two personnel space to load the patient. Hinayk’s mind raced as she realized the implications of their presence; specifically, who Thiro Gakoneid was. She tensed.
Hinayk jolted at the greeting and whipped around. Her vision beheld a Giree, and her recognition of his attire befitting a Directorate Intelligence Network agent made her blood run cold. Rather than Hinayk, the beady eye shaded by his cap was set on the gray tram car. “Truly a wonder, those things. Always set on their rails with purpose, no matter where in the Directorate you see them. And you can safely expect the smaller ones to contribute to the larger ones’ own purposes.”
He turned to look at Hinayk. “That man being loaded. Thiro Gakoneid, I believe?” Hinayk nodded stiffly. “I’ve been told he is an… interesting man,” the agent continued. “And I’d like to find out more about him. When he was under your care, did he ever say anything to you or your coworkers?”
Hinayk jogged her memory. “N-no,” she answered. “He was found delirious during a patient collection run. I received him this morning. He’s – he has been unconscious since.”
The agent stared at her for a moment, then nodded, satisfied. “Unfortunate, but, given his status, it was expected.” He patted her on her left shoulder, and she fought the urge to recoil. “Be sure to note the authorities on any unscrupulous behavior you may witness.”
The agent walked off to the tram station’s pedestrian exit. A rumbling ensued as the gray tram car pulled out of the facility, heading towards places Hinayk could not imagine.