Hunger, the one thing every creature knows, how it screamed from my very core. I quickly did away with it with a quick snag of an obese Infected from one of the alleyways I flew over. I was running with speed I didn't know I possessed, there was no time for walking, I had forgotten walking all together. Walking left me vulnerable to pursuit and surveillance, vulnerable to the reaching hand of time, trying to catch me by my ankle and trip me up. The sun hung straight up in the sky, making my shadow not run ahead of me nor fall behind. I noticed a couple of times that the shade startled some of the Walkers lingering in the streets, as if they recognized my shadow apart from the crows. They knew mine was that of the predator.
At the rate I was running, it might have looked like I was fleeing from hell or something, which in some truth I was. But where was I going? The question slowed me a bit. "Where am I running to?" I skidded to a stop in the middle of a rooftop-parking garage, allowing myself to catch a breather, as well as some coherent thought. What am I doing? This question was as oppressing as the overhead sun.
Blackwatch and Infected monsters have hunted me, but not ever till now have I been stalked by something that could evade me, could defeat me, could make me feel so mortal. ERIS, or FET as she called herself, came into my mind like a phantom. Her name, all caps; were they initials, or was she just trying to make a statement? It didn't matter now; all that mattered was where she might be. For all I know, FET might be seeking revenge for what had happened back there. True, at the moment of her departure, she didn't have an ounce of anger in her eyes; only horror and guilt of herself, but what would time have done to those emotions. With the amount of time I had been out, which I could guess was a few hours, what conclusion had she come to?
Given how paranoid I am, I looked over both shoulders, moving my hood a bit to get a good look at my surroundings. I didn't see anything, but that was just the problem. What wasn't I seeing? Was FET camouflaged in the smallest of shadows? Could she even become invisible? What had she not pridefully demonstrated to me in that very brief period we were in each other's presence?
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the smallest shard of crystal quill. It seemed to shimmer like glass in the sunlight. "What are you?" My mouth formed my thoughts into vocal words. This mysterious girl had told me her whole life story, and yet I still didn't know an ounce of knowledge about her. I needed to know, I needed to get these pieces to Ragland.
It then hit me. FET knew where Ragland's morgue was; she had been there before, listening. She might have been heading there after the incident, to attack me in a much crueler way. Dana, oh Dana, how could I have left her so unprotected! I was running again before my legs even knew they were moving. There was no telling what FET was going to do. She was so unpredictable. My mind strung a series of ideas of what could be, or worse, had happened while I was not there. I felt like a parent fretting over a latch-key-kid. I couldn't lose Dana again, I just couldn't. Though I didn't like to admit it, I was afraid. Fear of losing Dana, fear of the unknown things that could happen, fueled the speed at which I was traveling semi-blindly.
I don't remember the journey there; all I recall was that suddenly I was opening the front door to the hospital and forcing my way through the biomass barrier. Running down the hallway, I almost tripped over the rocking chair, which today was situated in the middle of the hallway again. There was no time to think about that, I needed to move. Through the double doors and down the seemingly endless flight of stairs, I came barreling into the morgue, almost getting a shock at the change in temperature.
Ragland, who had been sitting in a chair at the far end of the room looking at something, jumped up surprised, and most definitely alive. "Alex, what-" but I didn't give him time to finish. "Dana!" I quickly went into the room she was in, the plastic sheeting of the 'door' flying in my wake as though disturbed by a strong breeze. My eyes immediately fell on my sister. There she lay, just as I had left her, still comatose, still in the same rested position, still alive. I let out the most relieved sigh of my life and slumped against the wall.
I don't know what I'd do if I had lost Dana. She was my last, my only, anchor to humanity that I had left. It was more then just a matter of common blood and DNA relations. I knew that if I lost this, this unfeigned bond of family that she and I shared, all would be lost. I forget that sometimes in the midst of bloodshed, which is way too often.
Feeling weary of the fast travel here and the anxiety of my fears, I half-collapsed into the seat at the side of her cot, my forearms resting on the small sleeping bed, and my chin resting on my arms. My eyes would not leave her. Nothing had changed in her appearance, save that she looked a tad paler and flushed in the cheeks. Her expression was slightly different too. What was once a calm serene face now expressed a minor indication of distress, her eyebrows slightly furrowed and her eye movement a bit more intense. I bristled, knowing the Hive Mind was behind it, trying to get in her head, for which they had no right. But then I pondered this. Did viruses have any rights, or wrongs for that matter? It was doing what it was meant to do, which is consume, kill, multiply. Could I really blame it for following it's instinct and purpose?
Realizing I was trying to justify the Hive Mind's actions, I mentally cursed myself. The virus was sentient, could think of rational things like human beings, and therefore, it was responsible for it's flaws and crimes, just as I am responsible for mine. I returned all thought to my sister.
Dana? I thought out, thinking that if the Hive could reach her, I could. But there was no response, I felt no connection. Wherever she was in her mind, I couldn't reach her. Even though I was right at her side, I'd never felt so far away from her. I wanted to comfort her, to tell her that I was going to save her, to tell her that everything was going to be fine, but no, I was isolated, like being on a desert island, with nothing but a volleyball named Ragland.
I heard Ragland come in through the rubber door slowly, hesitantly. I could tell he wanted to ask me something, but was a bit afraid to intrude on whatever mood he was guessing I was in. "… How is she?" I asked, giving him a little encouragement to talk by being the first to slit the throat of silence. I heard himclear his throat with a little cough, it sounded hoarse and unused. "She's still stable." he replied quietly. I didn't look at him; rather I kept my eyes on my sister. With the reassurance of her health, she seemed to look a little better. "And the virus?" I asked, placing the back of my hand on Dana's fevered cheek. Ragland shifted uncomfortably at the entrance of the door behind me. "It has been increasing steadily, though not too fast to be a threat soon. Her immune system is fighting back rather well…" I smirked as this. That was Dana, always a fighter, if my memory of her is correct. She could endure anything, and I know she could pull through this with a little help. However, even now, I could sense it through my hand. It wasn't too noticeable, but even now I could detect, there, in her circulatory system, was a faint hint of Redlight.
I rose from my seat. Time was forever advancing against us. The most important thing that I could conceive was that Ragland continue his scrupulous research in search of a panacea for Dana, but I was aware that there was another priority. I looked down at my clenched hand, watching it unfurl to reveal the small piece of FET/ERIS. I had not let go of it, it had resided trapped in my palm the entire journey here.
It seemed I was faced with a crossroads decision. If I asked Ragland to study the articles of FET that I possessed, I would learn more about this elusive fiend. However, I knew that if I gave him such a task, it might derail his research from Dana's infection, something that needed his full attention. I slowly closed my hand again, deciding that it could wait.
I turned to give the Doc a one-eyed glance, "How has the computer helped?" I asked, hoping there was something Dana or I had collected in its memory files that could speed things up. The question seemed to give Ragland some life back. "A lot, actually," he responded, "I think I found something that may just be what we need. If you would care to see…" he motioned to the door.
I nodded, "Give me a moment." Ragland dipped his head understandingly, and went out through the door. It was now just the two of us. I took her hand gently in mine and gave it a gentle squeeze.
"I don't know if you can hear me," I whispered, hoping she would hear if she even could, "but I won't let this happen to you… We're going to get through this, I promise." As moments passed like southward birds, I lingered there through them, just watching her, Sleeping Beauty, sister of mine, memorizing her face, trying to remember her voice, for a small part of me that believed that white cloth might cover it, and the room would quiet and darken forever.
Hope, thankfully, was much more present in my mind. Waiting with her one more moment, I retreated from the room to see what Ragland had to offer as a sign of solution.
He was sitting at his desk again, computer in front of him, looking at me expectantly. I walked up to see the monitor, recognizing instantly the picture of the triangular shaped virus that Dana had within her, though this picture showed them in the thousands, completely overtaking the screen. Terror gripped me, "That isn't her, is it?" I asked. Ragland shook his head, "No, no, I acquired this from an unprotected file in Blackwatch's database."
I gave him an inquisitive look. "You hacked their database?" I knew of the dangers that could rise if the connection of this computer is located, Blackwatch could just follow the invisible paper trail here and ruin everything. "Well, actually," Ragland commented, relieving me of my worries for a second time, "It seems your sister managed to get into the low level access portion of the database," he went up to the search history, "right before she was taken by the Leader Hunter." That was a month ago, and if the access to the database had remained on for that long, perhaps the laptop was untraceable. I certainly hope so. "She found some stuff on Greene," he said, "but I doubt you'll be needing anymore information about her." He was right, to an extent, but one must never assume they know everything.
"Can we get back to this?" I asked, pointing at the picture. The Doc recomposed himself, "Ah, yes, right," he adjusted his face mask, "Well, it seems that Greene might have been infiltrating Blackwatch with infected soldiers."
"Yes, I know." How could I forget, that was how I got the Hive Mind in the first place. The soldiers would shine out like a sore thumb while Infected Vision was at play, making it easy to spot them in a group of their unsuspecting squadron, who didn't even know that their buddy was teeming with the virus. Sadly, not even the soldiers themselves knew of the virus stashed inside them. Guess Greene was just wiretapping Blackwatch before she was going to make her move, a move that never happened.
"Ok…" Ragland continued warily, unsure of how much I was already informed on, "Did you know about the Post-Mother incident?" I blinked, that name seemed unfamiliar to me. I racked my memories for the title and although it did appear faintly, no information about it could be found. "No, what is it?" I was surprised that I didn't know about something like this by now, whatever it was.
Ragland gave his glasses a little adjustment, and opened a new window on the browser; this time, it showed a series of dead bodies. My heart sank. "The incident occurred right after you defeated Greene. The soldiers infected with this particular strand of Redlight experienced drastic seizures that killed seven-eighths of the carriers and put the last percent in a coma."
"How did that one-eighth survive?" I asked, glancing the way Dana lay, my fists tightening at the thought that she was lucky to be alive. Ragland answered, "Research on them showed that they had certain gene traits the others didn't, though it's vague on exact details."
My heart thus dropped through the floor and into oblivion at this statement. Had Dana lived due to the luck of her DNA? What might have happened if, though the probability of hundreds of years of ancestral happenstance, that that small little detail of chromosomes had not been passed on to her by mere chance? The thought made me sick to my 'stomach'.
"Are they still alive?" I asked, suspecting I was going to have to dread another specimen run for the Doc.
"Well, after they discovered this small strain in the incapacitated few, they started working on a cure," he opened a new picture of four soldiers in beds awake, one drinking something, probably coffee by the kind of cup, "They experimented on the comatose, and by the time they were down to these four, they got it right."
My spirits lifted like the flight of Icarus, and hopefully were not going to end up the same way. "You mean there's a cure for it?"
"I suspect so," said the Doc, "but I can't access any more information at the level clearance I am currently at."
He stared at the screen in dismay, it's dim power-saving light reflected dully off his glasses and reflectively jumped up and down the walls in freeform shapes. His lips were pursed together, as if he expected a scolding for leaving out too many details on a report paper. I guess he thought I would expect more from him, which I do, but I must reflect that the Doc was only human and could only get so far with the knowledge humans were able to cram in their little skulls. I, however, had an ace up my sleeve.
"Let me," I said, pulling the laptop toward me so it was on my side of the table. I moved though a few links from the current open page till I came to a login window. Neurons fired in my shooting gallery brain as I combed through my collection of profiles, trying to find the memories of someone who people thought was still breathing, who's access to the site would not generate attention. I eventually focused on a scientist named Devin Calligon, whom I had consumed at Red Crown about a week ago. Most people didn't notice him in his corner of the lab, making him the perfect cover. No one paid any attention to him, not even his eldest son, who had gone off to be a mechanic and never called or emailed him to tell him about how successful he was or that he had gotten married. I blinked a bit to banish the lonely thoughts of this poor man back into my web, and allowed the instincts of the dead man to move my fingers fluidly across the keypad and type in the username and password.
Ragland looked at my actions with a curious gaze. I suspected he was wondering whom that pass-code had belonged to, but he didn't dare ask. He'd given up asking a long time ago, as I gave him way too many names to be comfortable with.
Once the code had loaded a very simple looking search, archive, and field reports page, I gave control back to Ragland. He immediately started searching the archive, not wanting to waste any more of my time or patience. People are quick working when they are motivated, either by a time limit, or a gun to their head. I glanced back at where Dana was.
"How much time does Dana have before…." My voice trailed off, I couldn't make the words to suggest the horrible.
Ragland's fingers typed lightning fast, "I've noted the virus's replication speed. Though it doubles at an extremely slow rate, it will soon speed up as more of them appear. I've estimated we have two weeks before the viral count in her reaches it's maximum. Ah, here we go!" He came to a page that had some of the same pictures as before, plus a few images of the scientists that worked on the project. I recognized one or two, but I knew I hadn't consumed any of them. If I had, I might have foreseen this dilemma that now had a countdown. The Doc scrolled down, looking intensely at the digital words and mumbling them to himself.
"…Let's see here… infection… rates that exceeded eighty-percent could not be cured…"
My spine stiffened, what did that do for Dana's time? "If that's the case, we have a week and a half," the doctor replied to my thoughts. My grip tightened on the thing in my palm. The doctor kept reading.
"Ok… cure… cure cure cure cure cure cure cu- AH, here we go, the cure. Whitetox-version 18. Able to affect special strain of Redlight virus in Post-Mother patients. All other strains of Redlight show no ill affects. Whitetox to be kept in storage at Fort Detrick, as mixture with airborne Bloodtox over periods exceeding five days creates unusable and unstable compounds, and therefore, storage at Red Crown would be ill advised. Whitetox is ready to be deployed to Manhattan if the Post-Mother Redlight strain is again identified or if further tests wish to be done on the substance."
There was a moment of pause; the wheels in my head turned like saw blades. "Open a new tab," My mouth said. Ragland did so, and I pushed him aside to get better access. I opened Calligon's personal Gentek messaging account and began to formulate an email, in Calligon's words of course.
To Fort Detrick
Gentek requesting that Whitetox be shipped to Red Crown Lab 56 as soon as possible. Further study of Whitetox crucial to developing stronger Bloodtox.
Gentek Scientist 1180186274
With a click of a button and the whoosh email usually makes when you send a letter, the request was on its way. I stared at the screen, as if expecting an immediate response at any second. But, as was expected with any letter, post, email, or otherwise, it would be a while before any reply was sent. I stood up and away from the messy table with a satisfied sigh. All we had to do now was wait, or in this case, Ragland had to wait. I couldn't stand it in this cold morgue room. I needed to go outside soon. I took a step toward the exit, but stopped.
"Keep an ear out for the reply email. If they ask for your identification and information, your name is Devin Calligon, first nam last name. You can read his id number from the email I sent. You are a level two Gentek scientist and your favorite color is maroon with black spots."
The Doc had written this down on a random piece of paper beside the computer while I spoke, but when I got to the favorite color, he stopped and lifted his head in haunted way, staring at the wall. His voice changed to something I'd never heard before.
"How do you stand it Alex?" I looked at him, confused. What was he talking about? "How do you live with yourself, knowing that you've killed so many people?" I blinked. This was a first for the Doc, he'd never asked me anything like that. And the way he had said it, it had alarmed me, shocked me even, and I began to worry that being too long in this cold morgue was starting to take it's toll on him. But what was even worse was that I didn't know how to respond. How do I live with it?
The question bounced around in my thoughts, making me first confused, then irritated, then angry, since I couldn't really think of a solid answer that would make sense to me. I turned away from the Doc, then said, "I just do." That seemed a good enough answer, I suppose.
I heard Ragland sigh and get up from his seat, "I do hope your sister understands," I heard the rustling of a plastic bag.
"Hey!" I spun around, ready to retort, to say that she was my sister and that she would understand everything, that she loved me for what I was, that no matter what, we were brother and sister, family. But something stopped me dead. It was what Ragland was rummaging through. He had before him a grocery bag, one that I did not recognize him having before, or that I ever brought to him. Didn't he ask me to go pick up some supplies for him earlier? What were they again? Food, water, and; the Doc reached in and pulled out a roll of white; toilet paper. If I had a stomach, it was doing gymnastic back-flips wild enough to win the summer Olympics. "Where did you get those?"
My first thought was that Ragland had gone out to get them himself, which was not only dangerous and left Dana alone, it was incredibly stupid. However, when he looked up at me, and saw my look of horror toward the bag, the color drained from his face. "You mean you didn't…" he looked down at the bag, and in a slight state of calm terror, put it down gently as one would a bomb and backed away from it, taking the laptop with him, as if to protect it.
"Go into Dana's room, now!" I instructed, to which he promptly absconded from the room, the flapping of thick plastic signaling this, as I did not take my eyes off the mysterious grocery bag.
I formed my shield and armor, not knowing what to expect. I did have a suspicion, it was probably right, but that was all the more reason to expect evil. As I took my first cautionary step forward, toward the bag, the grip I had on FET's spike, still in my hand, broke it in two.