"You've got to be kidding," Maddy sniffled as she blew her nose again.
"I'm sorry honey," Elisabeth said, her eyes filled with sympathy. "It looks like nasopharyngitis - the common cold - but the swabs that Malcolm has taken show that it's a slightly different strain to the ones we have seen before. Just to make sure that it's nothing to worry about, Malcolm suggests that you be isolated for several days until your symptoms reduce."
"Mom - I share a room with Zoe!" Maddy exclaimed.
"Who is not yet symptomatic - which is why we are going to put you in the isolation room at the infirmary."
"Dad - you can't possibly be ok with this," Maddy protested, looking at her father pleadingly.
Jim Shannon raised his hands in surrender. "I have to defer to your mom on this one, Maddy - I'm not a scientist or a doctor. We have to be careful about all illnesses."
"Particularly since we're now cut off from Hope Plaza," Elisabeth exclaimed. "We can't afford to take any chances. Any infectious disease could spell the end of the colony so all new strains of illness must be contained and analysed."
"Mom - there are more than 200 viruses that could be the cause of the common cold - this could take forever!" Maddy protested.
"Given that the rhinoviruses are the most common, Malcolm has started there. He is processing the samples now and is hoping to isolate the cause soon."
"I thought that quarantine was pointless given that the cold is so widespread and symptoms are non-specific."
"We're not absolutely certain beyond a doubt that it's a cold, honey - it might be something else. We just need to be sure."
"But it's Christmas eve," Maddy pointed out flatly even though the scientist within knew that her mother spoke the truth and that deep down she knew that isolation was the right thing to do.
"I'm sure Santa can still find you in the infirmary," Jim teased.
"Not funny, dad," Maddy said witheringly, glaring at them both over her red, swollen nose. Her voice was raspy and she had been coughing for the past few days. Just her luck in the lead up to Christmas ...
The colony was still in the process of rebuilding following the invasion by the Phoenix Group. Not only were there buildings to repair, there were also services held to honour the dead. The atmosphere was a strange mix of triumph following the victory over the invaders, mourning for the lives of those who had been killed during the conflict and apprehension for what the future held for Terra Nova. Not only was there anxiety arising from the fact that they no longer had contact with the future, there was also no certainty about when future attacks would occur once those who had engaged the Phoenix Group rallied and attempted another invasion.
Christmas proved a welcome diversion from all those fears and anxieties as people made decorations, prepared food, prepared gifts and sang songs from a time and a world that had become even more distant than ever.
"Honey, put this mask on - wait over there while I pack your things. Then I'll walk you over," Elisabeth told her daughter.
Maddy looked miserable as she sat on the bench, careful not to touch anything while her family looked on sympathetically. In the weeks following the return to the colony, she like everyone else had been completely caught up in the rebuild. Even children as young as Zoe were 'conscripted' to assist with replanting and cleaning while her brother and father helped with the heavier construction work. As for Maddy, she had either been at the infirmary helping her mother to tidy up the mess left by the soldiers or at the research lab trying to identify as many new plant substances as possible that might be able to fill the gap left by the lack of access to 2149.
She could count on one hand the number of times she had seen Mark let alone been alone with him since they had returned. He had been busy assisting with the rebuilding of military fortifications, the fence having been partially destroyed during the attack, the command centre in ruins and the watch gate needing to be rebuilt almost from scratch. Now she was going to be isolated for seven to ten days while she shook off this bizarre new strain of the cold - she'd be lucky if he remembered her name when she emerged from the infirmary.
Maddy lay back on the bed and stared up at the ceiling which was white like the rest of the room. She had access to a computer screen - the keyboard covered with a transparent film which could be disinfected once her period of isolation was over and that was all. No books. No plex. Food was delivered through a compartment in the wall. The room smelt overpoweringly of disinfectant.
Her father had looked a bit disconcerted at the set-up. "Looks like a cleaner version of Golad," he had muttered before Elisabeth had shushed him.
"Have fun at the party!" she had croaked to Zoe as her little sister had waved goodbye before the door was closed.
Maddy sniffled and debated whether to pour herself another cup of herbal tea or not. This was not going down as one of the better Christmas Eves of her life.
There was a firm knock on the door.
"Go away, this is the Valley of the Lepers! Unclean! Unclean!" Maddy droned in a montone.
"Maddy? Are you delirious?" Mark asked, sounding very puzzled through the door.
"Mark? What are you doing here?" she demanded, jumping to her feet and rushing to the door. She activated the video panel. He was dressed in civilian clothing, his hair was tousled from the wind and he was smiling at her. He pressed activated the speaker and his voice was suddenly very clear.
"I looked for you at the Christmas Eve party - your parents told me what happened and where you were."
"Yup, that's me. Keeping my pestilence to myself," Maddy muttered, feeling very sorry for herself.
"That sucks ..." he said sympathetically. "Why don't you turn on the vid screen so that I can see you?" he asked her.
"No way, I look like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," she said dolefully, touching her red nose as she spoke.
"You do sound a bit stuffy," he observed.
"Mucous is a terrible thing," she said sadly.
"What are you doing?" she demanded, hearing a noise outside. "You can't come in. Mom's orders were very clear - I'm probably still infectious."
"Relax. I'm just sitting on the floor leaning against the door. I figure you need an armed security detail in case you try to break out, or something," he said in amusement.
"Very funny," she said balefully but smiled nonetheless at the thought of him standing guard outside. "You should go and have fun at the party. No reason we should both miss out."
"What have you been doing to entertain yourself?" he asked her, ignoring what she had just said.
"Lying here staring at the ceiling," she told him.
"Are you hungry?"
"I have food in here. Food ... tea ... medicine."
"Medicine? I thought that the only cure for the cold - even the exotic Terra Novan cold - was rest, fluids and gargling with warm salt water."
"True, but mom's trying out a few things. I have here some Asterales, an order of dicotyledonous flowering plants that includes the composite family Asteraceae and its related families."
"It's like the Cretaceous version of Echinacea ... The Plains Indians used Echinacea to treat upper respiratory infections, burns, snakebites, and cancers. Extracts stimulate the immune system to combat bacterial and viral infections and also has possesses antibiotic properties."
"Does it work?"
"Not yet ... " she blew her nose again and coughed for a few moments. When she was finally quiet, Mark spoke again.
"I've missed you."
"Me, too," she said simply.
"I'm sorry things have been so crazy busy these last few weeks - every time I try to stop by, I get sent off to do some new thing – usually by your dad," Mark added with a wry smile.
"It's entirely possible he infected me to keep us apart," Maddy joked and they both laughed. Maddy went to lean against the door, smiling at the thought that Mark was on the other side of the door, leaning against it, too. She took a swallow of her tea and closed her eyes.
"What did your family usually do for Christmas?" she asked him.
"The usual ... big dinner .. presents..."
"Have you ever played in snow?"
"Nope - too much acid rain and acid snow for it to be safe... what about your family?"
"Last few years weren't so great ... dad was in jail and it always felt sad to be celebrating Christmas when he couldn't."
"So this is your first Christmas together?"
"Yes - in a manner of speaking," Maddy said dourly.
"Don't worry - you'll be better soon ... and out before you know it."
"Well, there's a 30–80% chance that it's a rhinovirus but it could be a coronavirus ... sometimes there's more than one virus present. It could be something else completely. I could be here for ages ..."
"Then I'll come in and join you," he promised her.
"Very romantic - but I wouldn't let you," she told him with a smile. She closed her eyes as they chatted over the intercom and through the closed door.
Jim Shannon stopped abruptly as he turned on the light in the infirmary and stared down at the figure that had been fast asleep in front of the closed door of the isolation room. Mark leapt to his feet abruptly, glancing around a little wildly.
"Mr Shannon!" he exclaimed.
"Guarding my daughter from Santa Claus?" Jim inquired sardonically.
"Dad is that you?" a sleepy-voiced Maddy demanded, before Mark could reply.
"Yes - just making sure you're all right. Your mom's taking Zoe home and will be back here to check on you."
"OK, good night - and see you tomorrow, sweetheart."
Jim stared at Mark. "Keep an eye out for those reindeer."
"They're not going to show up until the Pleistocene Epoch, sir," Mark told the older man gravely and smiled to himself as Jim walked out of the infirmary shaking his head.
Mark waited until Jim Shannon had left before saying. "I have your Christmas present for you but I guess it will have to wait."
"Yeah – unless it's easily disinfected …" Maddy's voice trailed off. "Mark?"
"I haven't got you a present yet ... I didn't know what to get you - didn't know what you wanted," she said, with apology in her congested voice.
Mark turned towards the door, leaning against it with a smile on his face. "Everything I want is right here Maddy Shannon," he told her. "Well – behind this door," he corrected.
Maddy put up her hand to touch the door.
"You wanted an infectious science geek with a red nose for Christmas?" she asked with a smile on her face.
"Absolutely," he told her, grinning back.
"Well then - Merry Christmas, Mark."
"And to you."
Despite the heaviness of her head, Maddy couldn't help smiling at the thought that this was their first Christmas together - and wondering if Mark was going to enjoy unwrapping his present once she shook of this damned cold …