April like to be alone. Not lonely, that was different, that felt unasked for, unchosen, but alone was fine. This felt lonely.
She had been unconscious for three weeks. There was an old Joe Strummer song she liked called Coma Girl that she’d sung afterwards; nobody else seemed to find it as funny as her but nobody else was carrying as much darkness as she was. Too many dark secrets. In some ways she’d preferred it when she was in the coma. It was more honest at least.
They’d brought her back as her blood levels had stabilised, when they were sure her organs weren’t about to shut down. They’d flustered around her, treated her with kid gloves as if scared that they might break her again but she knew it was less about her and more about what she represented to them. She was vaccine. And based on her first conversations about what happened next she was vaccine and not heard. She’d signed the papers to save Aps, waived her rights, offered up her immunity, and agreed to submit to whatever was required to produce the cure. They said it was for her own protection, that it would be too much of a burden to be known publicly as the girl-that-saved-humanity (her embellishment, they’d said something slightly drier). She wasn’t entirely convinced that Vaccine Girl would be joining the celebrity ranks of the Avengers any time soon but was more inclined to believe their other arguments, notably that she might receive a lot of unwelcome attention from the anti-vax movement. It was still a minority fringe but the idea that the virus was a result of mankind’s desire to immunise itself against disease had picked up some traction. All of the test facilities and labs were anonymous now. And it looked like she was too.
They wouldn’t make promises but said they’d probably need her for a year. Maybe eighteen months to be sure. They weren’t really apologetic about it – there’s nobody else that has shown your immune response so we’ve got no choice – but had said that they would be able to open up her contacts, electronically, as long as she stuck to the script. She could continue with her studies remotely, it had all been arranged, most of the lectures were recorded anyway for people that struggled to make it to campus to fulfil their difficult five hours a week schedule. April hadn’t been one of those people. She didn’t mind about the lectures but she knew she would miss the arguments in her tutorials, the smell of books and the silence in the library which had an almost tangible quality, not just the absence of noise but the particular sound of people consciously not making noise. She would miss the walk down to the University and the bustle of the Union bar on a Friday afternoon and the smell of spilt beer on pub floors and the feeling of dancing through dry ice in a club.
Mostly she would miss her friends. It surprised her how much this was true, how much it had become true in the last few months since they’d met as strangers, shared a house, and formed their little coven. She knew no-one except her was calling it a coven. She wanted Leah’s standard greeting, an exaggerated kiss on both cheeks; she wanted Cora to braid her hair, feel her tease out her tangles and smooth down the strands; she wanted to walk arm in arm with Aps, listening to her talk and talk and talk. She wanted to touch Aps most of all, to feel that she was really there, that she really came back, that she really did save her. She’d seen them all, part of her new video call friendship community but it didn’t feel real until she could hold and be held.
Her captors (again, her embellishment but, hey, this one was broadly true) tried to sell her on her sacrifice. You stay here, they get to go out, and maybe we get to stop this whole thing. She couldn’t argue with it, with its relentless rationale and logic. She could live with that but still couldn’t live with the deception and the cost. Aps had nearly died. If they’d just asked her then she’d have signed up for whatever they needed. She was sure she would. Mostly she was sure she would.
April, you alone can help us with this. Nobody else has your blood profile, your immune response. The whole program rests on you, so we had no choice. You alone.
Her phone rang. April hesitated before picking up, the screen announcing that it was Aps calling which meant that it would be all of them. This was how they usually called. She pressed the button to answer, turned her face to the screen, the small, circular camera, and waited. There was a brief pause as they connected.
“Hey April, it’s us, we see you… we still see you.”