Editor's Note: Each year, Nueva students submit their work to the Bay Area Scholastic Writing Awards. This year, 16 students received recognition (for 21 different pieces) from a panel of professional novelists, editors, teachers, poets, librarians, journalists, and other literary professionals from more than 2,300 submitted works. A few students have offered to share their winning pieces with the Nueva community. This piece was written by eighth grader Senya S., who earned a Gold Key for her science fiction piece, "The Patient From Zero." She shared a brief introduction as well.
The Patient From Zero is a short sci-fi story set in a world where the moon has been terraformed. It’s centered around a mysterious outbreak on the moon which Dr. Fuxi has been sent to investigate. I am honored to have received the Gold Key award since I spent a long time researching and writing a story in hopes that it is futuristic and yet draws parallels to our current situation. I am delighted to have the chance to share it with the world.
The Patient from Zero
February 16th, 2077, Celeste Moon Colony
“Let’s go over this one more time,” said the man in uniform. The crest on his badge shone, “Detective Tracy.”
He stared at the young Swedish woman who sat with a web of tubes around her body. A transparent wall separated her from her interrogator. Wisps of hair fluttered under the hiss of an oversized respirator helmet.
She strained to take a breath, and started, as if in a trance, “I walk down one of the Quad Zero aerogel corridors. The one between the food station and the new network station. It is warm. Sweat is dripping off my brow. My head spins. I see my brother, Lucas. He is alive. It is a crisp spring morning. My brother is six and I am five. I feel excited to go on the NASA shuttle! We are jumping up and down in our pajamas and trying to pick the perfect thing to wear. For his birthday he had gotten a red NASA sweater and it was perfect for the occasion. I am jealous and pull a thread. His sweater unravels as he walks away. Mother chastises me and I am not allowed to go on the space shuttle. I watch Lucas enter the shuttle and my vision narrows. I try to save him but I can only swipe at air.”
The woman started to pant as an alarm sounds, “Lucas! Bror kom hit!”
A quarantiner appeared, protected by a golden self-sustaining hazmat suit. “She’s taking more sedative than usual.” The detective watched the woman slump onto the bed.
“You swiped at more than just air,” the detective grumbled.
“Smoke break,” he whispered to his watch. The key words triggered a nicotine emulator in his wearable giving him the illusion of smoking. The woman’s Nordic features faded behind smoke only he could see.
The Celeste Moon Colony was founded by a group of governments and private companies to be a mining haven. Situated on the Moon’s south pole, Celeste has unique access to the Moon’s caches of silicon, oxygen, titanium, and a moon-rock cherished for its unusual beauty. Celeste’s 2,000 colonists are well-compensated but it comes at a cost. They are subject to a regimented schedule enforced by an AI-controlled monitoring system. Implanted and wearable technology such as smart clothing controls their sleep, oxygen usage, and even augments their senses.
9:34 AM CET, February 19th, 2077, World(s) Health Organization HQ, Earth
Ding! Dr. Fuxi looked up from her orderly desk and put on her VR helmet. A bedraggled man appeared. A virtual badge over the man’s head identified “Detective, Celeste Moon Colony.” A woman in a tidy smock came into view. The text “Pathologist Antonia Christie, Celeste Moon Colony” hovered over her head. The lighting betrayed the augmented reality integration, revealing that Dr. Christie and the detective were in different rooms.
“Hello, Dr. Fuxi. Detective Tracy here. Sorry to be abrupt. The AI ordered this emergency meeting between the three of us.”
“Ok, I’m listening.”
The detective continued, “A 26-year-old network engineer, Asha Nordvig, had a hallucinatory episode three days ago. You wouldn’t know it by the look of her but she sent four people to the hospital. Useless witnesses—they were knocked out when I got there. Still in the ICU.”
“Poor girl. She only remembered seeing her dead brother.” Dr. Christie paused. “We lost her yesterday.”
“This seems like a criminal matter. Why me? Did this, uh, Nordstrom damage the filtration system?” Fuxi inquired.
“Asha Nordvig. You see, there have been twenty-eight cases following hers. There were three fatalities, but patients recovered with immediate treatment.” Dr. Christie said. “Their biometrics indicate a possible infectious outbreak. Patients present symptoms of Human Airborne-Rabies Syndrome—hallucinations, fevers, respiratory symptoms, and muscle spasms. We need your help for immediate HARS outbreak prevention.”
“I see. You’re following the Moon-specific protocols prioritizing prevention before the pathogen is confirmed.”
“Yes, the ones you helped write.” Dr. Christie continued. “Here’s a map detailing the potential outbreak in Quad Zero.” A map of Quadrant Zero appeared in front of them.
“The red markers show the initial locations of the patients. The severity of the cases correlates to their proximity to the control center.” Dr. Christie gestured to the map with a schematic overlay of the outbreak.
“Right where the air filtration system is located,” Fuxi caught on.
“Yes. However, the system reports normal functioning.” Dr. Christie spoke in a skeptical tone.
“I see. Were there any cases outside Quadrant Zero?”
The detective joined in. “There may be one.” He shared a look with Dr. Christie. “My wearable says I’m running hot. The yellow suits gonna quarantine me in—lessee, ten minutes now. I’ll help long as I’m able.”
“Oh, Rich,” Dr. Christie sighed.
“Don’t worry about me.”
Fuxi shifted uncomfortably. “Detective, I’ll need Nordvig’s location history and schematics of all possible transmission systems. They are detailed in the list I’m sending now.”
“I’ll set to it.” The detective’s slumped figure disappeared.
Dr. Christie composed herself. “The lab results should come back within the next three hours.”
“Right. I’ll need you to put all of Quadrant Zero on the Level Two lockdown protocol.” Dr. Christie nodded. “I’ll also need a Tech Avatar so I can investigate the filtration system.”
“There’s one I recommend. She’s a tad overenthusiastic but you won’t need to talk much.”
Fuxi sighed to herself and dug out her haptic gloves.
The Tech Avatar program created a virtual “presence” of Earth specialists on the Moon. Tech Avatars—real people wearing sensory receptors and motorized suits—become the eyes, ears and hands of professionals who control the Avatars from Earth.
10:41 AM CET, February 19th, 2077, Virtual Conference
A colorful Moon apartment materialized around Fuxi. Bright holo-posters made the otherwise chaotic room even more so. The moon-rock floor was barely visible through the games and other bric-a-brac.
“Hi! I’m your personal Tech Avatar, Panko!” A cheery voice introduced herself. “You don’t seem to be wearing your suit. Put it on and I’ll be you!”
“Those suits are too much of a hassle for these old bones. Let’s do this the old-fashioned way. I’ll instruct you where to go.” Fuxi didn’t want to reveal that her VR suit no longer fit. The waste policy put her next suit purchase opportunity in six years.
“Yessir!” Panko perked up. “I don’t usually do so much talking! So, you want to go to the air filtration system in Quad Zero?”
“Yes. Are you allowed past the quarantine?”
“Yessir! As your personal Tech Avatar, I’m you! I can go anywhere you can go! I’m already in a Gazmat suit!” Fuxi noticed gold clothing at the edges of her vision.
“Next stop, Quad Zero! The gates next to the air filtration system!”
Fuxi’s vision jostled as Panko trotted past the guards.
“Is it just me or did our connection improve?” Fuxi asked.
“Yessir! It’s the new 10G! Everyone in my Quad is so jealous!”
Fuxi heard giggling as a door marked “Food Station” came into view.
“Quad Zero’s fried chicken is the best! Of course, it’s not the flesh chicken you probably eat. It’s lab-grown here on the Moon! Everyone licks their fingers while eating!” Panko lowered her voice. “Ooh. Is that how this virus is spread?”
“This is more fun than my last job! Did I tell you that I had to stare at moon-bricks for hours? Also, did you know an Earth pound is only 0.16 pounds here? That’s why I can walk without my brace!”
“Would you mind keeping your thoughts to yourself? Also, my pronouns are ‘she/her,’ not ‘sir.’”
“Yess—Dr. Fuxi. Sorry for bothering you.” Panko sounded hurt.
Fuxi could hear music jangling from Panko’s goggles.
“Panko. What’s that buzzing?”
“It’s Whack-a-Moon,” Panko confessed, “a game on my wearable.”
“Games are allowed on wearables?”
“Not exactly. I’m just bored sometimes.” The music stopped. Panko continued scanning in silence.
“All filtration spots have been checked. What’s next?”
“We should—” Fuxi started.
“Uh, Dr. Fuxi. I’ve been messaged to leave Quad Zero.”
“But we have clearance? Why would security—”
“It’s not security. It’s my friend. You know her—Antonia Christie.” Panko’s voice weakened. “I— I don’t feel so well.”
“What? Your Grade A Hazmat suit should—”
Dr. Christie’s voice interrupted. “The results came back! It’s not HARS. The 10G update Asha Nordvig worked on corrupted certain wearables—the ones that were ‘jailbroken’ to have illegal functions. Miners often do this to work extra shifts. We have to get Panko out now!”
“Sir, I don’t know where to go. Whack-a-Moons are everywhere,” Panko moaned.
Fuxi sprang into action, struggling into her undersized haptic suit. She took control of Panko’s movements and rushed through the Quadrant.
“Panko! Make it through this. Call me ‘sir.’ Tell me about fried chicken! Isn’t it tasty?” Fuxi begged. They crossed through the Quadrant’s airlock and Fuxi’s vision went black.
Fuxi heard Dr. Christie’s voice, “You’re going to be okay, Panko.”
“Sir, I heard what you said about our fried chicken. It really is the best.”