Being infected only made her more vicious.

Nobody was really surprised Stith was the first blood. She was always on the front lines, lashing out with powerful legs and talons and rifle fire, always charging at the first sign of staggering corpses, and not letting up until the very last of the undead bastards was re-dead. Sometimes she and Akima would go out scavenging, the human riding on her back like a baby koala and providing shotgun cover. Stith's long legs rocketed them across the arid, gutted alien landscape in a cloud of real-life Roadrunner dust, and as long as the others could hear her amazon battle screams and whoops along with Akima's gunshots, they knew they were okay.

But when she came back favoring her shoulder and barking at anyone who tried to look at it, Preed crowed that he'd spot-on called it, and everyone now owed him $20, despite the fact that nobody had actually bet against him. He didn't care, and kept laying imaginary wagers on the order and gruesome manner in which they would all meet their dooms.

It didn't slow her down. Backed into a corner, Stith was a feral beast, made that much more dangerous with her loved ones nearby. The slow spreading of the dark infection across her skin was an ever-present impetus for her to get them as far as she possibly could, before the inevitable.

"Really, she's a time bomb," Preed muttered to Korso out of the corner of his mouth, adjusting the flaps on his neck-covering hat as the raw, blinding sun pounded down. "Exactly how much farther does she have to tick before we-"

"Don't even think about it!" Stith snapped; maybe unnaturally sharp hearing was an early symptom of the extraterrestrial G-virus. "I am in complete control. I am all that's keeping you alive right now, and if you open your mouth one more time, I will lose some of that control, and bite you!"

"Ahh, right you are, sweetness!" Preed's toothy, false smile turned into a glower as soon as he looked at Korso - who shook his head and resumed re-assembling his weapon.

"You heard the lady," he said around a well-chewed cigarette. Nicotine was hard to come by on this plague-ravaged planet, and none of the other trade-inclined survivors were feeling generous. "Keep moving."

Preed grimaced, but obeyed. Still, he kept one eye on the mantrin, but never let her catch him looking. Everyone was so focused on Stith, watching her for warning signs, that nobody really paid attention to Gune.

Akima kept quiet in the back seat, except for the occasional raw-throated murmurs to let the others know they were still alve. Cholera, measles, and God-knew what else, ripped through both of their systems. Her lips were cracked and bleeding from dehydration, and her skin prickled in a constant sick, cold clammy sweat.

"Guys..." she croaked, breaking the oppressive silence. Nobody responded for a moment; they were all scanning the horizon for dark, shambling shapes. "Guys!" she tried again, louder. "Something's wrong with Gune."

Korso and Preed shared a slow, eloquent look, then went back to driving and keeping a weather eye out, without a word. Stith pulled her shoulders back through the all-terrain vehicle's window's front window and set her rifle on the floor, half-diving into the back seat.

"What? What's wrong?" she panted, burning with her own strain of fever. "Gunie? Baby, are you okay?"

Big, buggy eyes slowly opened, sluggish and gummy. They slipped in and out of focus, and he squirmed fitfully, but quickly went still again; he didn't even have energy to shift. He couldn't anyway, not much; not with his arm in the tiny splint it had taken forever to put together. They didn't make casts for limbs that little, and as far as Stith was concerned, there shouldn't have been a need. Those little arms weren't supposed to break; Gune wasn't supposed to hurt like this, not ever.

"Gune is... very sleepy." Stith had to lean in close to hear him whisper, the words barely voiced against his labored breathing. "Nap..."

"What? No, nonono, don't you go to sleep on me!" She grabbed his little shoulders - gently, gently, she reminded herself, but he didn't seem to notice. "Gune! Don't go to sleep!"

Akima watched through half-closed eyes, slumped back against her seat again. She couldn't talk. She couldn't even cry. It wasn't just the dehydration, all her tears were gone. She'd cried for a planet she could barely remember, she'd cried for a grandmother and best friend and father figure, all taken away too soon, and now when it came time to cry for another friend leaving her, she couldn't do it. She was too damaged, too ravaged by disease, and so very, very tired. So she just watched in silent resignation, half-curled in a fetal position, as her friends tried desperately to hang on to one another for just a little longer.

"Don't go to sleep!" Stith half-sobbed through clenched teeth. "Please, don't - just don't... don't go."

Gune moved his one good hand, little fingers weakly reaching for Stith's face. She met him halfway, nudging it with her forehead and letting it rest there.

"Stith... friend."

His stubby little fingers brushed against her closed eyelids, wet with hot tears... and fell down onto the seat without a sound.

"No..." The word slipped out of her in a whimper, the most broken sound the mantrin warrior had ever made. "I'm infected... it should have been me, it was supposed to be me!"

"Well," Preed muttered, and Stith buried her face against Gune's rapidly-cooling chest, trying to memorize the feel of his skin, the smell of him, always tinged with the odd aroma of some new experiment.

"Preed, I swear to God," she clutched her friend to her chest, tears spilling down onto his skin. "One more word, and I will fucking kill you."

Akima curled a little tighter around herself, and let her eyes slip shut.

Korso clamped his teeth down over the wasted cigarette, and clutched the steering wheel even tighter, fighting the shakes. He squinted at the sun-baked horizon, and tried to shut out Stith's wracking, snarling sobs. Ten miles to the safe zone. Just ten miles, and they all might have made it out of this alive. He stared straight ahead, and didn't look over as Preed sprawled out in his seat, bringing his rifle barrel back in through the window.

"That's another $20 you owe me."

# # #

A/N: Based on a game of Organ Trail I played, with the crew of the Valkyrie as my party members. Stith got infected about ten seconds after I started the game, but stayed alive the entire trip. Korso and Preed were mostly fine the whole time, Akima was constantly sick with the measles, Gune just got hammered with illnesses and a broken arm, and finally died about a minute away from the haven. I almost cried. :C I was so sure my little guy was gonna make it! And equally so sure I'd have to kill Stith. But nope. Organ Trail, you are a cruel mistress, and make for wonderful writing fodder.