"It's Dr. Erol! Hello again, sir!" Erol turned, wary and full of attention as he prepared to face the person addressing him. "Buying more biscuits and fish today, Dr. Erol?" "Right," he muttered to himself. "The fish merchant..." He'd told his name— or the name he used around here, at any rate— to the fish merchant in hopes of getting a discount from the friendly old fellow, knowing by now that the day he didn't take advantage of everything and everyone was the day he made a mistake. "Fish merchant, that is me!" The old man, maybe ten years elder to Erol, hunched over his stall laughed again. "Come to buy more haddock from old Jori's humble emporium again?" "Good to see you too, Jori," Erol replied jocularly, turning on his personality like a switch. "If you've still got it in stock, I've got the money, my friend. Two filets and the biscui—" His eyes widened as he counted his change, the Ustav guilder coins sounding insubstantial as they plinked onto the counter. "Oh, for the love of... I swear, I had eight guilder just a moment ago." "Five's plenty enough for me," Jori said, wrapping the fish and biscuits haphazardly in some paper, obviously not very skilled. "I know times are tough, even for sciencey types like you. Best we can do is keep movin' along 'til the economy picks up." "You're absolutely right, aren't you," Erol said, voice cracking in saccharine gratitude as he pushed the five guilder across the counter and gingerly picked up the bundle of fish meat as if it was gold. "When we get through this mess, I'll buy you a drink," he said with a flourish. "And I'll buy ya ten!" Jori replied with a cackle. "Happy Patrons' Day, Dr. Erol!" "Same to you, friend," Erol said as he walked away from the stall. "Heathens and their heathen holidays!" another man, seemingly homeless, cried out suddenly. "Tomorrow is Firmament Day! Patrons' Day is a lie built on lies! Same as the whole Unity Church!" The man continued rambling, but Erol paid him no mind and kept walking. His pace increased as soon as he as out of sight, the other coins that he possessed not jingling in his jacket because he'd put them all in separate pockets. Erol wasn't the real name of that man, wearily wary, who had gone to the run-down Pravoskian market at the crack of dawn to buy fish and biscuits and just barely missed out on a zealotry-motivated brawl. Ivak knew by now that he never got around to buying food if he put it off until midday, and in the evening the food was all gone or prices driven too high. "Bad enough I've been reduced to using coins," he murmured as he made the turn into an alleyway, climbing a rickety metal fire exit to an apartment. "Salvation, fifty per cent off if you commit to a monthly payment..." He jammed an old key in a keyhole and wrestled it until it clicked, opening the faded red door and slamming it shut behind him. The apartment consisted of a kitchen and a hallway with a bedroom on either side and a bathroom that was more like an afterthought at the end of the hallway. The apartment in its entirety was like an afterthought, really. All of the hallway's doors lay ajar, just as Ivak had left them. Sighing, he unwrapped the fish carelessly on the counter, cutting it with the cheap kitchen knife from a drawer, and proceeded to slap together a fish sandwich— if some cheap fish and flavorless bread on top of each other could be called that. It was just about the most unremarkable meal you could find in Pravosk city these days, but also one of the most common. After his meal, Ivak washed his hands. After washing his hands, he made his way to the rightmost of the two bedrooms, opening the door to be greeted by his work, an ensemble of medical machines, marvels of the modern world. Soft lights flashed on and off, temperature indicators floating from one number to the next and back again. A vitamin solution flowed through a tube as he changed a vial on a rack, some blood flowing the other way through another tube into another vial. Indicators, meters, readers, clocks, timers, pressure pumps and transistors, the machines were truly a symphony of what scientific advancement had granted the medical profession in the past fifty years, all the three-pronged power plugs comically jammed into every single electrical outlet the room had to offer. To think, there would be a new millennium in eleven years, and Ivak just might live to see it. It was a funny thought, more like a joke, for it would truly be a surprise if he managed to hold onto his life for eleven more long years. But there were other ways of living on than simply living. A woman lay strapped to the bed unconscious, the sole focus of the whirring host of life support surrounding the bed. Estelle Eisen, female, blood type A, he recalled the details that she had been required to fill out on a medical form. Date of birth: 1964; ethnicity: Ustav; place of permanent residence: Poll; emergency contact details: none. Some fine print and a signature followed those details on the paper, Ivak knew. But the detail of most interest was not written anywhere. Resistance to volatile strains: highly probable. Ivak's eyes widened at one of the machines' measurements. Estelle's pulse had changed again, it seemed. He deftly slipped gloves onto his hands and a medical mask over his mouth before placing a hand on her neck to confirm the pulse. It seemed right. He requested a new temperature reading from another of his mechanical helpers with the press of a button. 38.2°C— a fever, but no longer one that seriously threatened the brain's integrity. He hastily grabbed the blood sample in a vial and swapped it out for an empty one, taking a little more. Scribbling an "Ў" and Estelle's initials underneath the letter on a few labels, he sealed the vials and stuck the labels on before setting them aside to wait, his mask concealing a rare, hearty smile. This one was going to survive. "Estelle Eisen." Ivak's utterance of the woman's name broke a silence in the room that had only otherwise been broken by his muttering. "Does that name sound familiar to you?" Now there was only to find out exactly how her brain had been altered over her day of feverish trance. Terialis: the disease's very name meant "loss". But Ivak had reason to believe that Estelle had a great deal to gain from terialis. He steadied a camera on a mechanical arm over one of her eyes and pressed the button on it as he waited for a response. A soft light illuminated her face as the device began taking pictures at timed intervals, the lens closing and opening again repeatedly.