I’ve set out to become something of a scholar of Jeffrey Thomas’ Punktown work, and I’ve been reading everything he’s written in the setting to date. Although Health Agent features no Cthulhu Mythos that have come to define Punktown, there are plenty of evils within; the horror of Lovecraftian beasts is nothing in comparison to the horror man inflicts on himself. Part detective story, part love story, and all sci-fi noir that Thomas does best, Health Agent involves Agent Montgomery Black, who works for the Health Agency of Paxton (that’s Punktown to you and I). With his lover/partner Opal, Red War veteran Vern, and the bird-like alien agent known as Beak, they face a horrible new threat: Mustav 670, a fatal contagion spread through body fluids. Black and Cowrie’s mettle is tested when they are forced to put down a male prostitute infected with the disease on live television. They soon learn that it’s easy to be judge, jury, and executioner…until someone you care for is infected.
Mustav-670 is highly communicable and resistant to treatment. It takes hold fast, incorporates itself into the genetic material of the victim, and essentially becomes part of its host.
Type: Injury DC 20, Incubation Period: 1 day, Initial Damage: 1d6 Con, Secondary Damage: 1d6 Con
It’s no spoiler that the disease will eventually take hold in some of our protagonists, even kill them. The crux of the story is what the survivors do with their lives afterward. Although it’s set in a science fiction universe, the characters are all lost souls trying to make sense of a random universe. Cowrie and Black live together, work together, even sleep together, but they have not expressed feelings for each other. Vern still holds the wounds of the Red War seething inside him. Beak – a member of the Enisku race that mates for life — is consumed with vengeance against his wife’s murderers. They all have one thing in common: the only way to peace is through brutal, bloody violence.
In Health Agent, violence and art commingle in fascinating ways. Arch-nemesis Toll Loveland is an artist who uses Mustav 670 as his brush and Punktown as his canvass. Interspersed throughout the pursuit of Loveland is commentary on art, critics, violence in modern culture, violence as art, and art as violence. Health Agent is a glorious mix of the macabre, grotesque, and disturbing all rolled into a frightening parable about HIV. One of Thomas’ best.