Author's Note: I have the technology for this universe similar to that of ours at the beginning of the 1990s. People kind of know about the internet, but there's not a widespread understanding and use of computers.

The Sickness

By Starzki

-z-

11. It's the Moment of Truth, and the Moment to Lie

-z-

Shinji's fingers moved so fast over the keyboard that they were nearly a blur. Melissa Mao looked on with interest, supplying passwords when necessary to establish a link to the Mithril satellite.

"You managed, with only things scavenged in an apocalypse, to establish an internet?" Melissa asked, impressed.

"The school already had most of the equipment: phone lines, computers, that kind of stuff. The infrastructure is still there, we just took advantage. We'd send the runners out for the harder stuff, but even that can be found in most electronic stores. The real issue was keeping the generator operational and fed. We had some contact with other settlements but that contact was unpredictable," Shinji answered.

Sousuke watched the commands that Shinji typed and could not make any sense of them. Mao seemed to understand and even anticipate the next steps, helpfully pointing out what seemed to be short cuts to the places Shinji wanted to find information. The room they were in was incredibly small and only the three of them could fit.

"Ah, here we go," said Shinji, fingers pausing.

"Your back door?"

"Yeah. Ever since Sousuke told us that Gauron was bad news, I wrote a few programs and installed this back door into the system. Gauron knew his way around computers even though he tried to convince me he was just a novice."

The tapping keys were oddly soothing to Sousuke.

"Okay, I'm in. When we were being kicked out, I ran and activated these programs, camouflaged them, and even if Gauron was looking, he'd have a really have a hard time finding them."

"Oh, I see," said Melissa as the computer beeped and suddenly the monitor was filled with information that Shinji hadn't typed. "You had the program copy both sent and received emails and put them in this folder."

"Exactly. I'm sure that Gauron is using the internet to talk to whoever…"

"Amalgam," supplied Sousuke. "What does it say?"

Shinji laughed, completely relaxed and in his element. "They didn't even speak in code. They don't know who they messed with. So far, it's just status updates from Jindai." Shinji scrolled down. "Seems like Gauron and his men have taken over. No more Round Table; they've taken all the weapons and ammo and order people there to work for them. Most people are still pretty sick."

Sousuke wasn't surprised. He had wondered how long it would take when he first saw Gauron and was slightly surprised that it had taken him as long as it did.

"Okay, I see something here about Kaname. They don't use her name, but it has to be her."

"What does it say? Is she okay?" demanded Sousuke.

"Yes. They're 'awaiting delivery of the asset.'"

Sousuke read over Shinji's shoulder. "They're thinking about inducing? Does that mean they're in a hospital?"

"Wait," Shinji scrolled down some more. "I don't recognize the server, definitely not the hospital's, but there's some talk of a 'captured horde.'"

"It has to be some place big," said Mao. "Medical facility abilities and a place to keep Deltas? Is there any mention of anything around them?"

"Hold on," Shinji kept pressing the down arrow. "No, it doesn't seem so."

"Shit," Sousuke couldn't keep the expletive in; he was so frustrated and worried for Kaname. She was far enough along that inducing her delivery wouldn't be harmful, but he hated that she'd be alone during that time. She was strong, but he knew that she had no idea that they were after the baby and that they wouldn't tell her.

"Wait! No, here's something! They mention the river! They say that waterlogged infected are easy targets," exclaimed Shinji.

"Shou Convention Center," said Mao and Sousuke at the same time. While the river wound its way through the whole city, it was largely surrounded by protected park areas or fishing and freighting areas. The main exception was the Shou Convention Center.

Shinji snapped his fingers. "They were having a medical convention when the infection first came out. I bet they have a ton of equipment already set up and the other stuff could be scavenged."

Sousuke gave his friend a questioning look. Shinji smiled, "Kyouko was going to go to the convention with one of her professors. When we were locked up in university's cafeteria, she kept talking about what she'd be doing if we weren't stuck there."

Sousuke nodded. He turned to Mao, his face stony in its seriousness.

"So we raid the Convention Center," he said more than asked.

"Sounds like fun," Mao answered with a devilish smile.

-z-

It was all taking too long.

Sousuke had wanted to start the raid the next day, but Tessa had ordered more information-gathering. They had to find the complete set of floor plans for Shou Convention Center and they continued to monitor the emails between Jindai and the Center to gather intel on how many they'd be facing and what weapons and capabilities they had. Tessa briefed other soldiers and ordered that they come up with multiple extraction scenarios.

It, of course, made sense, but as days passed, Sousuke's frustration levels continued to rise and rise.

He helped where he could. He sat in on meetings discussing tactics to use. Though Sousuke conceded leading the mission, he had insisted on being a part of the front line. Mithril acquiesced only after they understood that if they didn't honor his request, Sousuke would go in alone.

Little by little, plans came together and they developed contingencies for their contingencies.

After one such meeting where they finally set the date for the raid the day after next, Shinji met Sousuke as he exited the room. He didn't say anything, just handed him a piece of paper.

Sousuke scanned the document. It was printout of an email from Amalgam to Jindai. It was just one two-word sentence: "Asset delivered."

Sousuke turned and punched the wall, breaking his left hand.

-z-

The doctor tutted over Sousuke's hand as she wound the bandage over it.

"This could have been much worse," she said

Sousuke just sat and relished in the pain. He wasn't there for Kaname when she delivered the baby, the baby she wanted to raise with him. He had failed, was currently failing, both of them now.

"You can't just go around punching walls, understand? Hurting yourself certainly won't solve any problems and will probably make things worse."

She was right, but Sousuke continued to pout. He'd now be limited in the kinds of weapons he could bring on the raid in two days.

The doctor finished and Sousuke flexed his fingers. There was pain, but it wasn't anything he couldn't handle.

"Thank you," he finally said to the doctor.

"Look," she leveled with him, "nothing bad is going to happen to your girl and that baby in the next couple of days."

"How do you know?"

"If what I suspect is happening and they want to run experiments on that little baby, both mother and baby are going to need to be healthy. They probably don't have formula, so Kaname will have to feed the baby herself and she needs to be healthy to do that. They'll probably be taking blood samples from the baby, but they'll want a lot, enough to run full spectrum of experiments on, so with an infant, that means just a little at a time, and they'll definitely be protecting the health of that little one."

Sousuke felt like crying. He had forced himself not to consider the kinds of things they'd do to Kaname's baby. Even the relatively tame scenario that the doctor presented him filled him with despair and a violent rage. But he had to admit that the doctor was probably right.

Sousuke nodded. "Okay. Thanks again."

He turned and left, beginning the longest 48 hours of his life.

-z-

The hours slowly passed as Sousuke was lectured by Tessa, then with tactical meetings, and a long sleepless night.

The next day held more meetings, weapons maintenance, followed by simulated dry runs on the top deck. The bright spot in the day was that Sousuke realized how well that he, Mao, and Kurz were able to work together. After only a few hours of exercises, they were able to anticipate each other's actions. Of course, Mao and Kurz had been working well together for a while, but Sousuke fit into their well-oiled machine like he'd always been there.

"Nicely done, Sousuke," Kurz complimented after their last exercise.

"Yeah, are you sure you haven't been trained?"

"Well, I have in a way. Just not in any military." Sousuke found himself wanting to share with his new teammates, but bit off any more explanation. He needed to focus on the future, on the next day, not the past.

Kurz and Mao nodded their heads and didn't press. Sousuke was grateful.

"Well, I think those Weak Dicks don't stand a chance against us tomorrow," Kurz finally crowed, throwing an arm over Mao's shoulder. This earned him an elbow from Mao.

"Ow, Sis, what's that for?"

"For trying to grab my tit, asshole!"

"I would never…"

"Never pass an opportunity to grope me? Yeah. I know. You're lucking I don't just shoot you and put you out of my misery."

"You'd miss my sexy bod too much. Plus Tessa fire you for killing her best sniper."

"She'd give me a fucking medal, you mean…"

Sousuke watched the banter with a confused fascination. Melissa was Kurz's superior and he followed her every command during their practice runs, but now that didn't seem to matter in their down time. Then Sousuke noticed that they kept sneaking sly looks at him and it dawned on him. This performance was for his benefit. They were, in their own fucked up way, trying to cheer him up.

And it worked? For the first time in days, Sousuke wasn't overwhelmed with anxiety and guilt for losing Kaname. Of course those feelings came crashing back as soon as he noticed they were gone, but he was a little shocked that they'd been successful.

"I look forward to working with you two tomorrow," he said before leaving.

Both flashed him wide grins and said, "Same here," in unison.

Sousuke knew that they'd be the optimal team to help him save Kaname and that brought him some peace

-z-

The raid began before dawn. Since Mithril had to come in using helicopters, they would only have the hope that most of Amalgam would be sleeping as their element of surprise.

Under Tessa's command, the squads went out just as they had planned and practiced over the past week.

The Shou Center was a huge, four story building set on several dozen acres of formerly-pristine lawn.

Mithril's helicopters set down on the grassy mall next to the convention center without drawing any fire. At least not right away.

As soon as the copter's runners hit the ground, Sousuke and his team were out and running to one of the building's side doors. They were half way there before the first shots were fired from the convention center.

Based on the intel, Amalgam probably didn't have enough power to engage the security system and would instead be relying on manned entry points. They had generators, of course, but those were probably being routed to their communications and experiments.

Sousuke, Mao, and Weber flew through the unlocked door, shooting down the guards just inside who had been shouting into walkie talkies. Thanks to the floor plans they'd found, the team easily made their way through the twists and turns of the hallways to the rooms that were most likely to hold Kaname.

They wouldn't need to investigate the largest rooms. In fact, the smaller the room, the easier to keep it cool and sterile for mother and baby's health in the late summer heat. There were ten such rooms scattered through the convention center and five teams were assigned to find all of them. Other teams were assigned to contain the violence and to establish control over any scientists and experiments that they could find.

Mao's walkie talkie began to squawk as other teams began to fan out and encounter resistance. Sousuke could hear gunshots and shouting behind the walls.

After turning a blind corner, the trio encountered an Amalgam soldier screaming into his walkie, "Don't fucking release them, yet! There's too many of us that'll be caught in the crossfire!" He didn't get any further after Weber put a bullet between his eyes with just one shot from his rifle.

Sousuke flexed his broken left hand, feeling the sweet throbbing pain that would keep him sharp and on task. Then he reworked the grip on his Glock in his right hand, ready for anything.

Information kept coming in. Mithril was pushing Amalgam into retreat. There had been several surrenders and many teams were finding the enemy scientists were no threat at all. Two squads had found empty rooms where Kaname might have been.

Sousuke's group came into the center arboretum of the convention center and took a hard right to find the first room that might have Kaname. The skylight let in the first rays of the morning's sun. The room, the hub of the ground floor of the building, had seen much better times. Dark brown marks stained the carpeting and walls. Those attending the medical convention had fallen just like everyone else during the initial outbreak.

"Three, two, one," counted down Mao before they pushed in the door that might contain Kaname.

"Unit 2, negative on Charlie target," Mao announced to her radio. "Proceeding to Delta."

Suddenly, the team stopped, pausing to listen harder to the unmistakable sound of moaning infected.

"Speaking of Delts…" quipped Weber.

"Those fuckers," Mao spat. "Only idiots would think that Whiskey Deltas could be used as weapons."

"Let's go," said Sousuke. "It doesn't matter anyway, until we have Kaname and the baby."

They made their way back to the arboretum as information on the horde came through the speakers on Mao's radio. They'd been released from the southwest corner of the center and numbered in the hundreds. Mithril had already lost contact with two soldiers in the ensuing confusion.

"We keep it tight together and as quiet as possible," ordered Mao, hunched over her machine gun and stalking forward with even more care than before. It sounded like all hell was breaking loose and it was getting closer and closer.

The next target was closer to the oncoming infected horde, but they still made their way slowly. They effectively used mirrors around corners to evade both infected and Amalgam soldiers.

They were only two turns and a few dozen meters away from the target when they heard a high, feminine shout and a gunshot. Sousuke broke ranks and ran. As he turned the corner, the sight that met him turned his blood to water.

Kaname, clad in a hospital gown and slippers, holding a small bundle, stood over a dead Amalgam soldier with a smoking gun in her shaking hands.

"Kaname!" Sousuke shouted.

Kaname turned, wide-eyed, blinking dumbly. "Sousuke?" she finally said as Mao and Weber finally caught up.

"Oh!" said Mao, surprised. Then she grinned. "So I guess you didn't need rescuing, huh? Nice."

Despite his numbness, Sousuke forced his legs to take him to Kaname. "Are you okay?"

Kaname threw the gun away and took shaky steps of her own right into Sousuke's arms. "Yeah," she breathed. "We both are."

Sousuke leaned back to consider the small thing Kaname cradled in her arms. She looked up with a bewildered smile, "Sousuke, meet Shizu. Shizu, this is your daddy."

Sousuke took in the red, scrunched, sleeping face and felt a million things at once. He mostly felt completely and utterly in love with this new life Kaname had brought into the world, followed closely by the awesome amount of responsibility he had in keeping this little one alive. Kaname seemed to understand his feelings and she craned her neck to get her face closer to Sousuke's. He smiled and gave her a long, sweet kiss.

"This is a very touching moment and all," said Mao, "but we need to get our asses out of here before we all become some Weak Dick's next meal."

"Can you walk?" asked Sousuke.

Kaname winced. "Yes, but running is probably not a good idea." She looked incredibly tired. "There is a wheelchair…"

"On it," said Weber, disappearing down the hallway. Mao gave the update into her walkie talkie.

"Are you sure you're okay? What did they do to you? To Shizu?"

"They kept me pretty drugged. I know they induced. It hurt, but Shizu came out crying and perfect." She looked back down at the baby girl. "After that, they couldn't keep me as drugged because I needed to feed her. My head cleared and I figured out that they didn't see me as a threat. So when they moved me, I guess because you all are here, I took the guard's gun and…"

"Saved yourself," chirped Mao.

Kaname nodded, allowing herself a small smile.

Weber rounded the corner, pushing a wheelchair ahead of him. "Your chariot awaits, Angel. And baby Angel," he said gallantly.

The moaning, meanwhile, hadn't subsided, and the gunfire was getting closer. Information from the radio let the squad know that the arboretum was now overrun.

"We'll take the tertiary route," said Mao, directing the group down a dark hallway.

"Sousuke," Kaname whispered, "what is going on?"

As the group wound its way from hallway to hallway, Sousuke filled her in on Amalgam and Mithril. Finally, he said, "They think that Shizu might have the cure to the infection."

Kaname only nodded and hugged the baby closer. She looked on the verge of tears.

They all turned left through swinging double doors. They were in the kitchen. It was huge, filled with dusty stainless steel appliances and the unmistakable groaning of infected.

Sousuke stayed behind the wheelchair as Mao and Weber fanned out to take out any infected and find a clear path through the kitchen to the door that would lead them outside.

Gunshots rang out, nearly deafening in the close quarters, as both Mao and Kurz took out the lurching infected. The baby startled in Kaname's arms and began to cry. Sousuke readied his gun. He hadn't shot it yet that morning. He turned and made sure no infected had followed them through the swinging doors. He hastily moved a heavy table in front of the doors. It would only stop an approaching horde for a few moments, but it was better than nothing.

"We've got a path! Let's go!" ordered Mao.

Sousuke found that it was hard to steer the wheelchair with his broken left hand while holding the gun in his right hand ready. Kurz saw this and immediately took over. Mao led Kurz through the narrow paths in the kitchen and Sousuke brought up the rear.

Suddenly, Sousuke heard gunshots and saw the wall ahead of them give way in two small explosions. Sousuke swung around, diving under a counter for cover, yelling, "Get her out! I'll catch up."

He watched as Weber sprinted through the door pushing Kaname who was hunched protectively over the baby.

When the door shut behind them, Sousuke rolled from his current hiding place to one with more lines of sight. Another shot rang out, hindering any further escape.

"Ah. I knew it had to be you." A familiar voice filled the room.

"Gauron!"

"It must be fate. Amalgam finding me after the infection spread; Mithril finding you." Gauron laughed. "Of course, I chose the side that's going to win. Thanks to that baby girl, Amalgam is going to rule the world. People will sell their souls for an antidote, a vaccine."

"You don't know if the baby has the antidote!"

Gauron chuckled. "Baby girls have other uses, then, that people pay a lot of money for, too."

Sousuke saw red. It was too much. He pushed himself to his feet and faced Gauron, both of their guns drawn. Teeth bared, Sousuke breathed evenly, "You'll never see that baby. Ever."

"That bleeding heart of yours has done nothing but interfered with the great man you could have been. How about we make it a literal bleeding heart?" With that, Gauron squeezed off a shot.

Sousuke, anticipating it, weaved to the right and felt the stinging heat of the bullet grazing his cheek. He pulled his own trigger before crashing into a refrigerator and falling into a squat.

Gauron was still grinning as he turned slowly to Sousuke's new position. He swung his gun slowly so that its laser target hit Sousuke right in the middle of his forehead.

Sousuke didn't have time to react. He just held his breath, but realized that Gauron wasn't firing. Instead, a trickle of blood escaped the corner of his grinning mouth. Then Gauron's eyes rolled back and the man's body collapsed to the floor, dead.

Sousuke sprinted out the door, the sudden sunlight blinding him temporarily. He heard another gunshot and felt the flecks of stone from the wall next to his head bite into his face. In front of him, just to his right, an infected dropped to the ground.

"Hurry!" yelled Weber from the safety of the closest helicopter. The grounds were packed with undead milling around. Two helicopters had already taken off. One had tilted its blades to help shred a few infected before making its way up into the clear morning sky, flinging rotted blood throughout the air.

In one final push, Sousuke sprinted between the infected as fast as his legs would take him. Many tried to reach out and grab him, but their reflexes weren't strong enough for his speed. Twelve seconds later, he was in the helicopter and it was taking off. He strapped himself in and turned to see a laughing Kaname.

"I knew you'd make it," she said, wiping a tear away.

"It's not a problem," he returned. An exhausted relief overtook his senses. He allowed himself to hope things were about to really turn around.

The next thing he realized was that the helicopter was dipping, then recovering, lurching everyone in their seats. Kaname screamed, then screamed again as Sousuke saw movement out of the corner of his eye.

It was a crawler, no legs, and entrails dragging after it. It must have grabbed on to one of the landing skids and pulled itself up as they took off. The helicopter dip and correction effectively helped the crawler through open door, landing it at Kaname's feet.

They all reacted instantaneously. Kaname, shielding the baby, punched at it with her bare fist. Mao turned and shot it through the head without a moment's hesitation. Kurz grabbed one of its arms and flung it out the open door.

They all gave each other wide, surprised looks. Kaname broke down into tears, hugging a crying Shizu even tighter.

"Kaname?" Sousuke asked.

"I hit it in the mouth!" she cried.

The words didn't make sense to Sousuke until she held out her hand, blood dripping from her knuckles.

"Sousuke," Kaname's tear-filled eyes pinned Sousuke with despair and importance. "You take good care of Shizu for me okay?"

Already, the skin around the tooth marks was starting to turn green.

TO BE CONTINUED…


AN2: Another heinous cliffhanger. So many apologies. I promise, the next chapter is coming soon. And it's the last chapter! Almost done! Thanks for sticking with me through this fic. I'm happy to hear what you think.