10. Here You Are Down On Your Knees Again
Sousuke felt like he was underwater. Everything was muffled, muted, almost, after gunshot's echoes ceased ringing down the hall. Things moved slowly and time nearly stopped.
He lunged toward the elevator call button, mashing the down arrow as hard as he could. As before, only the one elevator seemed to have power. Leonard was taking Kaname away and every second meant more and more distance he'd have to cover to catch up to them.
Sousuke spun wildly, searching in the dim light for the stairs.
"Sousuke, Kyouko's dying!" shouted Shinji. He had dug through his pack and was pressing a wadded shirt into the wound in Kyouko's belly. The light gray shirt was already dyed a dark crimson with the unconscious girl's blood. "We need to help her!"
Sousuke's mind raced too fast for him to catch up. There was no way he was going to lose Kaname. Kyouko was his friend and would find a way to help her, too, but Kaname was his first priority. Protecting her had been his mission for years and he wasn't going to let her down, now.
Maybe twenty seconds after the elevator doors had shut, the power went off.
Sousuke howled in frustration, mashing the elevator button again. Of course they wouldn't let Sousuke follow them that way. Unless Sousuke literally jumped down all fifteen floors, there was no way he could catch up.
Shinji wiped at the tears running down his nose as he gazed up at Sousuke, waiting.
Sousuke took a deep breath. Recalling it later, memories of the next five minutes only existed in brief flashes in Sousuke's mind.
…Working with Shinji to fashion a bandage around Kyouko to close and stabilize her wound…
…Finding the stairs to the roof and killing two infected in their path…
…Hearing the rhythmic beats of helicopter blades as he pushed through the door to the roof…
…Clearing the way through a pack of half a dozen infected for Shinji as he carried Kyouko toward the helicopter…
…Buckling his seatbelt on the chopper as Kurz shouted expletives after being told that Kaname was taken and Kyouko had been shot…
…The feeling of being both so light and heavy at the same time. The chopper dipped and weaved through the city as Sousuke forced himself to face his failure…
The helicopter brought them west, toward the ocean. In fact, the chopper flew about a mile over the water before it began to descend and Sousuke realized that they were being brought to a very large submarine.
"What's this?" Sousuke asked into the microphone that was a part of the helmet Melissa Mao had given him. She was currently doing what she could to help the medic with Kyouko, so Kurz answered.
"Home sweet home." Kurz manipulated the stick and pedals to land them softly and safely on the deck of the sub. They were immediately met with at least six men and women with a stretcher and dressed in a kind of military garb that Sousuke didn't recognize.
"Is she bit?"
"Where's the pregnant one?"
"What's going on, here?"
"Was it Amalgam?"
They all had questions, but Melissa took charge.
"Female, approximately 20 years old with a GSW to the left abdomen. Take her to sick bay fucking yesterday and have the doc work on her. No one's been bit."
"I'm going with her," Shinji said as he jumped from the plane and followed the crowd taking care of Kyouko.
Kurz met Melissa's exasperated expression and they both turned to Sousuke.
"What happened?" Melissa asked.
Sousuke stepped off the chopper and crossed his arms in front of him. "I think you need to answer some of my questions now."
Sousuke paced the small room he'd been led to. He kept bumping into the desk and two chairs in his distracted state. There were about eight separate things he needed to do and he felt like he was just wasting his time while Kaname got further and further away from him. He played those last minutes in the hospital again in his head, trying to find the way out he should have taken.
Some minutes later, the door creaked open. On the other side was a petite young woman, about Sousuke's age, with long, platinum blond hair and gray eyes. She looked too much like Leonard and that immediately put Sousuke on guard. She was accompanied by a soldier who was reading off of a clipboard about the current state of the electrical grid in Western City as far as Sousuke could tell.
Once he was done reading, the young woman nodded curtly and said, "Thank you Lieutenant." The man saluted her, turned on his heel, and disappeared from Sousuke's view.
"Are you in charge here?" Sousuke demanded to know.
"Yes, Mr. Sagara. My name is Teletha Testarossa and I'm the captain of this submarine. You may call me Tessa."
Sousuke felt his forehead crease in disbelief, but moved on. "Someone needs to answer my questions. What is going on? Who are you people?"
Tessa gestured to one of the chairs. "Please sit. I will answer every question I can."
Sousuke hesitated, then sat, folding his arms across his chest.
"I'll start at the beginning," Tessa said softly once she took her seat across the table. She took a short breath, opened her mouth, then seemed to reconsider. Finally, a wry smile set on her mouth and she said, "This all started because people wanted to save the world."
Sousuke knew Tessa was somewhat amused at the irony, and maybe he would have been too, at any other time, but he just waited.
"Decades ago, there were four men, all brilliant, who had known each other since childhood. They saw the ills of our world and made a pact to change them in any way they could. We know them now as the Four Horsemen."
"How is this relevant?" Sousuke asked.
"You'll see. Each young man vowed to work to save our world. One looked to finding a way to bring peace to all nations. Another looked to advancing technology in food production, storage, transportation, and low-cost distribution. The third wanted to rid the world of disease. The last wanted to extend human beings' lifespans."
Sousuke snorted. "I get it. War, famine, pestilence, death. Four Horsemen. Clever."
Tessa pursed her lips, then continued. "As I said, they were all brilliant. They led their fields and gathered other geniuses to help them work on their issues, often outside of their regular jobs."
"So it was a kind of hobby? Saving the world?"
"Yes, at first. War and Famine worked closely together because they were looking at global patterns and politics between countries. Pestilence and Death worked together because they were focused on individuals. While no one has called it a secret campaign, they also didn't advertise their extracurricular activities. And really, at first, it only seemed to be thought exercises. How can we cure cancer? What kinds of politicians need to be in place to broker peace in the Middle East? The best minds from around the world were asked to answer these questions."
"The thing was, though, after years and years, they started gaining traction in finding answers. They were convinced that they could save the world and people with a lot of money and power believed them. Each group formed an organization in order to procure funding from different countries. One organization was Mithril, which was set up to be the world's peacekeeper and to fight for basic human needs for everyone. The other was Amalgam, which was set to cure humanity of death and disease."
Sousuke stiffened at the mention of Amalgam. "Wait. Kurz said something about Amalgam earlier today. They're the ones who have Kaname, right? What do they want with her?" Sousuke started to get out of his chair.
"We think so, but wait a moment. I'm not done with the story." Sousuke settled back into the chair, but now he was eagerly listening. "Many years went by. The Four Horsemen all grew old and died, but their legacies lived on in Mithril and Amalgam. Mithril gathered a peace-keeping army that has helped countries fight despots and sent aid to countries struggling to keep up in the global economy. Amalgam worked at a cellular level to find a way to repair damaged cells within the body. Both groups actually did some good."
"And let me guess: you're Mithril?"
Tessa nodded. "About twenty years ago, there was a rift that formed between Mithril and Amalgam. There was a brilliant scientist recruited by Amalgam. We only know her as Sophia. She insisted that Amalgam was approaching their questions in the wrong way. She was able to develop protein-based nanotechnology that could be introduced into the body and essentially reprogram problem cells into normal cells. Once you can do that, disease will disappear and life spans can go on for years and years longer."
"So, they were doing good work?" Sousuke asked, confused.
"Well, it's hard to say. Most of Sophia's work was theoretical. She died in an accident at an early age. She left a few samples and all of her research, but it was so complex and tapped into so many different areas of expertise that overlapped and almost tangled together, that only a few minds are able to understand her work at even a basic level. However, based on her early work, governments and pharmaceutical companies, those funding Amalgam, were pushing for more and more experimentation. Mithril was against this. As a result, Amalgam cut off all ties and all communication with Mithril. And since then, they've gotten more and more unethical when it comes to testing their theories."
Sousuke felt something shift in his mind. "Ah. I think I see where this is going. Some time, not too long ago, there was an experiment that resulted in dead bodies walking around, trying to eat each other."
Tessa frowned, but nodded. "Yes. Kind of. The infection kills almost all the cells in the body, but remains active. It doesn't work that well on the neurological system though. Motor and auditory functions are mostly intact. We're not sure if this is an accident or by design. Its main goal is to reproduce and does so by introducing infection into the bloodstream of uninfected people."
"So remind me again what this has to do with Kaname."
"The Accident, which is what Amalgam calls it, happened five years ago. Since then, not wanting to scrap the entire project, they began work on creating an antidote. Basically, they were trying to develop something to combat the nanotechnology introduced into infected people. It wouldn't save those who are dead, but it would let them rest in peace. But it should - it could save those who had been recently infected and prevent infection if introduced into the body before a bite."
"Again, where does Kaname come into this?"
Tessa's mouth set in a grim line. Then she sighed. "We have found some of their data. I've seen the research. From what I can tell, the antidote they've come up with should work against the infection. But it doesn't. There's something about our immune system that renders it useless. So they theorized that their antidote might have more success in developing in fetal tissue."
"Kaname's doctor, Dr. Ishii, was Amalgam."
Sousuke's hands were trembling. He kept making fists. How dare a doctor conduct experiments on pregnant women without asking them. How dare he do that to Kaname.
Sousuke put his head between his knees and breathed slowly. Tessa waited for him to calm down. When he finally sat back up, she continued.
"Something happened. The original vector mutated so that infection and death occurred almost right away. The other safeguards in place failed. Almost all scientists in Amalgam were lost in the initial outbreak. Pandemonium."
"The end of the world."
"After months, Amalgam summoned what powers they could to look for their antidote. This included... the criminal element. They found Kaname's name in Dr. Ishii's research, though it seems she reverted to her maiden name in more recent months, so no one could find her."
Sousuke let out another long breath. He wanted to punch something. Someone. He had two main candidates in mind. "Gauron. He saw her married name on her prenatal vitamins."
Tessa gasped. Then she shook her head vigorously. "Those weren't vitamins, Mr. Sagara. Those were the antidote that she was to introduce to her fetus every day."
Sousuke bit down in the bile he felt rising. "And Gauron tried to herd us to Amalgam. Why not just take us there himself?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe he likes where he is?"
Sousuke nodded slowly. "So you know where Amalgam is?"
"Then why am I here?"
"We were hoping to protect Kaname…"
"And get the antidote yourself?"
"No, Mr. Sagara. Amalgam has now aligned itself with very dangerous people. We're afraid that they'll abuse the antidote. They'll sell it for power, enslave anyone they can. They cannot be trusted."
"And you can?"
"I think so. Yes. We've been working in the city to keep enough energy going to ensure that the water stays on for all the survivors. We help where we can, keep some peace, take out infected. We want to end this catastrophe."
"You still want to save the world?"
"Yes," Tessa's back became very straight. "And we'll start with Kaname and her baby. Chances are that the antidote still didn't work, but we owe it to her now."
Sousuke sat back. "So now all we have to do is find Amalgam."
Tessa walked in front of Sousuke down the narrow hallway of the submarine. He'd asked to be taken to his friends. She showed him the waiting area of sick bay where Shinji sat, looking miserable.
"How is she doing?" Sousuke asked gently.
Shinji frowned and shook his head. "Don't know yet."
"Our doctors are excellent. She's in good hands," said Tessa before introducing herself to Shinji. Then she walked over to the wall that connected to the operating room and pressed a button. "Can we get an update, Doctor?"
Tessa pressed another button and over the static they heard, "Yes, Captain. Patient is in serious condition, but she'll pull through. Just closing up now."
Tessa smiled and nodded at the two before leaving.
Sousuke watched as Shinji deflated in front of them, practically melting off the chair in which he sat. Then he looked up at Sousuke with a small, relieved smile.
Shinji righted himself in his chair while Sousuke sat next to him. "So, Sousuke," he said. "What did you learn?"
Shinji's mouth still hung open after Sousuke finished the details of the Four Horsemen, Mithril and Amalgam, and the infection and what Kaname had to do with it. His eyes were darting around, but unseeing as he processed the information.
"So, wait. Gauron was working for Amalgam?"
"And they set us up. They tried to steer us into Amalgam's hands earlier today?"
"It seems so."
"So that would mean that Gauron is communicating with Amalgam some way, right?"
Something pinged in Sousuke's head. "Yes! If we can figure out how they're communicating, we may be able to intercept their messages and find out where they're keeping Kaname!" But then Sousuke felt the wind go out of his sails. "But I'm sure Mithril would be on the lookout for radio communication."
"I know," said Shinji, jumping to his feet. He began running down the corridor with Sousuke right behind him. "We have to find the captain! Or someone with a computer! I know how they're communicating and I can get us in!"
TO BE CONTINUED…
Author's Note: Sorry for the delay! See? Kyouko's all right! I know this chapter was an info dump, but I figure having some kind of reason or explanation for ending the world was in order and I enjoyed thinking about it. I hope you enjoyed reading it!