06: Lab Rats
He didn't feel any pain, but noticed that, to start with, his eyelids seemed impossible heavy. And he couldn't move. That was strange, and disturbing – much because he couldn't seem to remember why he was lying there, he'd come to the conclusion that he was indeed lying on his back, or how he'd been rendered into his current state.
With great effort he pried his eyes open, to stare up into the ceiling. It was the ceiling of any office he'd ever seen. So, he was still at work?
He made to raise himself to his elbow, but found that – while he could raise his head and a bit of his torso somewhat – the arms were stuck. Slowly, his head feeling sluggish, he looked down and saw restraints around the wrists.
For the first time he really looked around, realizing that he was notin the office where he worked. He couldn't remember ever being in this place before. It was an office, he thought, or yes, it could have been, but it had been decorated more as… a laboratory?
He couldn't seem to understand what he was doing there, or why he was strapped down. Hearing a door open, he turned his head as much as he could but couldn't see far, not till the person came a bit into the room. Before that all he could make out of the newly arrived was the steady thump as something (a cane?) hit the floor, accompanied by a sound of a person dragging his feet across the floor instead of liftig them as he went.
When he came within sight Nico saw that it was a, presumably middle-aged, man who's face had somehow gotten severely distorted. His back was crooked, and the reason for the cane on which he was leaning heavily. He was muttering to himself in a low tone, and it sounded like he was arguing with himself about something. But when he looked in Nico's direction and saw that he was staring back at him, the man's lips curved into something vaguely resembling a smile.
Leaning on his cane he limped over to Nico, who followed him with his gaze, to stand next to him.
"Who are you?" Nico wondered.
The man stared at him and Nico shuddered seeing the naked madness in the other's eyes.
"You're what will save what's left of the world," he said ignoring the question. "The plague didn't kill us all. Some still live, though mutated. Like me."
Slowly memories returned, flashing before his mind's eye; pools of red, with or without partly disintegrated forms lying in them, buildings, trees and everything he'd seen on his way there…
There. Yes, he was in a great building into which he'd been lured by that light shining in the windows. And like a moth he'd followed it, with no thought that it might be a trap. He was quite certain now that it had been a trap.
"Who are you?" Nico repeated, fixing the other's gaze with his own and he thought he saw a bit of sanity return.
"I was… am… a scientist, one of the most sought out in my field, in fact." His expression got bitter. "But what does that matter now? Everything is melting away before my very eyes… or so I used to think." He smiled, his features twisting into a picture of horror. "Now I've finally found the answer to how the world can be saved. With you, and the stuff in you that keep you unaffected. I can find the antidote to the illness that has struck down the world and its inhabitants."
A image, far more pleasant than what he was seeing now, appeared before Nico's eyes. A rather short, very beautiful, woman with pale blue skin and long red hair falling down her slender frame. She was wearing a summer dress, the skirt billowing around her legs as she ran laughing over a meadow overgrown by tall grass sprinkled with flowers.
Was she still alive? Had the plague reached the Island of Penumbra yet?
"If I promise to help you and not attempt escape, will you let me loss?"
The scientist watched him silently, evaluating, till finally he moved in to work on the restraints about the arms and then the ones circling the ankles. While Nico tentatively moved his limbs, the scientist watched him, a look speaking of familiarity in his grey eyes.
"I'll keep the door and the windows locked," the scientist informed. "Would I catch you trying to get out through either I'll have you restrained again."
Nico nodded to show he understood while he sat up. He'd decided that he would do what he could to help, because he thought that if there was any chance for an antidote he would do his part in it – but to save Alana more than anything else.
This one had been one of the easier ones to persuade to help him in his cause, the scientist thought. Some would have given great resistance before finally giving in, while others, like this one, he just had to tell about the antidote he sought and, if there was any need for further persuading, promising their freedom when it was done.
But then they would have to survive till the end too. This far no one had, but this one didn't have to know that.
The boy sat obediently still as samples was extracted from him and seemed more at ease now when he was no longer tied down and free to move about, as long as he stayed in the laboratory, where he was to stay till the end of the experiment.
Later on Nico was being left alone for a while, for reasons unknown and unasked for, and he struggled with his own curiosity. The scientist had been very specific about that Nico was not to try to escape, through either the door or the windows, but he had failed to mention the otherdoor.
He stared at it, till he no longer could resist and headed over to it and, to his surprise, found that it was unlocked. At opening the door it was pitch black, but as he stepped inside a sudden bright light filled the room and he was blinded by its intensity.
Blinking against the bright light stinging his eyes Nico walked slowly into this new room, straining to see. As his eyes grew accustom to the light shapes began to appear, neatly lined up by the walls on both sides of him. There, restrained and fastened to the walls, were bodies. Some of them were halfway decomposed, slumped against the wall or sprawled on the floor as they had died and those who still had faces had anguish written over their features, and then there were those unfortunate ones who were still showing signs of being alive. They had, like the scientist, mutated and on their faces as well you could see the anguish and pain that was the result of the plague.
He wondered who they were, were they maybe victims of the Red Death? That would make sense, as they were all in different states of dying – though he found it disturbing that they'd been chained to die as they sat or lay, suppose it was because then they couldn't spread the disease – but if that was the reason it didn't matter much now. The whole world could be overtaken by the plague by now.
But as he watched, one of the still living ones; a young male in what appeared to be his mid-teens, opened his eyes and gazed at Nico the pain ever present in the brown eyes.
"Leave," the boy gasped. "L-leave… while you… still… can…"
"What are you talking about?" Nico inquired. "I've already been promised that I'll be allowed to leave if I help…"
"No!" the boy interrupted him. "He… promised us too… but we… got sick instead…"
They'd been like him? People who like him had survived the plague, to run into the scientist and in aiding him in finding the antidote would win their freedom. But how had he managed to convince so many to help him and how could he have gone through so many since the plague erupted? He must have found them soon after the eruption.
"You… should leave…"
Nico stared into the pain filled eyes for what seemed like a very long time, before he turned and headed back for the door but upon closing it he hesitated for a moment and his eyes roamed across the room and the bodies that had been left there when the experiments had failed. Uneasiness was growing within him.
He could see the sense in the other's words; he should leave. But at the same time he thought that it could be unwise to follow that instinct. If he did leave, and if the scientist was really desperate, the scientist may be very keen on finding him again as, as far as he knew, there wasn't much life left in the world and even fewer that could be of help for him. And then Nico would be hunted down and dragged back.
No, he couldn't leave, but maybe he could still save himself from the destiny which the others had suffered.