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The Wages of Sin

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"Ayame-san, you're not much for war, are you?"

The words ring in her ears as she works; her slim fingers feel thick and heavy as she clumsily struggles to fasten the leather belt around her throat.  Kurusu stretches out a hand to help her, but she slaps it away.  She has to do this herself.  For once in her life, she has to be the one to save herself.  She bends to cuff her ankles to the iron pipes but nearly topples over as yet another wave of dizziness crushes her.  Kurusu pushes her to her feet, then kneels to do the task himself; she tries to push him back but cannot bring herself to lift more than a finger.  She can feel the virus pulsing through her veins.  It is at her shoulders now, bubbling like bile in the pit of her throat.  She wants to vomit.  She cannot.

"That's why so many people died."  

Mumei isn't wrong.  On the journey here, she had passed so many corpses.  She was only in this building right now because she and Kurusu were fleeing a small horde that bore the faces of her once personal housemaids.  Even if she had made it to the Kotetsujyo, she knew that of the thousands of people that had once occupied this station, she would find that only one or two hundred had escaped.  So many had died because of her mistakes.  Because of her laxness.  She had gotten too comfortable as the only daughter of the shogun, and thousands of people had paid the price.

Like him.

She can see the man's eyes staring up at her lifelessly from behind shattered glasses.  She knew this man.  He helped fix her father's steam rifle earlier that very day.  Ikoma, the foreman had called him.  He had succeeded in repairing her father's rifle, had even invented a similar device to allow even the common folk to defend themselves against the monsters they once called friends and family.  He had proven himself capable of so many things, yet even as Kurusu helps her into the restraints, she finds herself doubting.  What if it doesn't work?  What if they had misread the hastily scribbled instructions?  What if his theories were incorrect, his math flawed?  According to his journal, it had taken nearly five years to finish a mere working prototype of the jet bullet gun.  This project hasn't been mentioned in over three.  What if this was an abandoned project, one he simply didn't have the heart to dispose of?

"Are you ready, Ayame-sama?"  Only Kurusu's eyes reveal that he, too, has his misgivings about this - although judging by his earlier interactions with Ikoma, his reasons must surely differ from her own.  Without waiting for a response, he grabs the lever and yanks it down.  The belt tightens around her neck until she cannot breathe; she is yanked most unceremoniously from the floor, dragged up until she dangles several inches above the floor.  Instinctively she grabs at the belt, her nails digging into the flesh of her throat as she desperately tries to loosen it enough to snatch even a brief gasp of air.  When she arrived, the device was her only salvation, but now it is the noose that chokes the very life from her lungs.

Her last thought as the darkness takes her is an apology to the souls that died today.

She will join them as her penance for her laxness.`