The same sense of exhausted fear fills me; the same resolutely blind desire to survive. As with the last time, I am running and the grey artificial landscape is all around, a city filled with the ravaged detritus of a war long lost.
Again, the unseen sounds of movement, inhuman and savage, following me at every turn.
I run, as I can and as I must. Pressed by fatigue, I run until I finally reach that roadway. That hulking creature, a giant of its kind, stands impossibly tall and angry against the metal struts of the sign. It wants the same; to hunt me, to have me, to finish me. The smoking malevolence of its form is undeniable, the ravening anger irrefutable.
As it steps towards me, the first footfalls denting the surface, I am able, somehow, to rip my attention away. Heedless for a second of the concentrated panic that has engulfed me, I look at the sign itself, seeing now the words upon it. That moment is enough to let me read it and so I do, in the time before everything fades in a welcome escape: Welcome to Aspira City, Jewel of Lucere!
Then, reality is back and I am awake.
The first thing I could recall was voices, the sound of a quiet conversation held no more than a couple of metres away in the same room. The image of the dream was still fresh in my mind, though my body wanted nothing more than to just lie still, right then, thoroughly relaxed and at ease. No strength for anything at all, though now thankfully I could tell that this was just because I was physically fatigued; my mind felt quite able to pay some attention to what I was feeling. Thank god the drugs seem to have gone away. I feel like I've run a fucking marathon. So tired and sore. Cracking my eyelids just a fraction, Konstantin and Lily were standing by the foot of my bed, engaged in their own discussion.
"-wasn't much more he said before he blacked out," the big Russian was in the middle of speaking to her. "That man at the institute, he is her father, his uncle. Dangerous would be right, I don't doubt it."
"Dimi." Lily sighed. She wasn't happy at all. "I need to know about anything like this. I hate that you didn't tell me straight away! That he didn't tell *you* he was leaving the grounds of the estate!" Her voice rose slightly, the upset clear. "This is important! See what happens when no one communicates? Any of you could have been killed!"
"Easy, my dear," his voice was soothing. "There was reason enough for that, although it does not stand so well any more now this has happened. You are right. I wish I knew why Shay chose to do this without telling anyone, it doesn't fit his character to be reckless. A silly mistake for a bright boy." The words buzzed in my skull, an irritating reminder of what I already knew but didn't want to think about. Not yet at least. I know. It was a massive 'silly mistake'. Very stupid, I realise this now. Maybe the biggest pile of stupid I've ever gotten myself into, but ... fuck her. I gritted my teeth, sealing my eyes back shut again. Fuck *her*. It was fine until everything just went lunatic-asylum psycho out of nowhere. I wanted that crazy bitch to actually be normal too damn much, but like everything I've come across recently, 'normal' seems to be code word for 'gone out of your mind.'
"There is something me and this 'León' agree upon though," he continued. "He thinks that Shay is immune. Mira too, probably."
Her response was a hesitant query. "You actually mean immune, don't you? Not just disease-free by chance or luck, but .. completely immune?"
A pause then, quieter than before. "Yes. I think so."
Goose-bumps prickled all over my skin and suddenly I felt wide awake, despite the lingering tiredness. What?! He thinks I'm immune to the Sharpe virus? How can ... why would I be ...
It didn't make sense.
Konstantin went on, the pitch of their conversation lulled again, back to what it was when I had gained consciousness. "You and I can both tell they aren't diseased. Definitely no obvious signs of mutation. Not even the most basic indication they are carriers, on the palms. I have never met anyone who does not at least have it in their system, if not already having the ghastly affliction turning them. Also, if you mean to tell me they travelled from Straalfidjar to near Palatus without somehow being infected, somewhere along that very long road? The odds against that are extreme. The more I think about it the less likely it seems."
My palms? What about my palms? I didn't quite understand what he meant. My mind was still firmly glued to the fact that he thought I was immune; thoughts beyond that were having trouble making themselves heard. Why am I any different from everyone else? This thing is supposed to be incurable, inescapable, irreversible. That last idea though? I had already busted that one wide open without even knowing how I did it. Irreversible is wrong. Mira is living proof. It could make sense to me that he could be immune. But .. me?
"You may be right. It's going to take a lot more than that to be certain though."
I heard his murmur of agreement. "Well, I wanted to see what the girl drugged him with, so I did a blood screening not long after Mira brought him back. It picked up two foreign substances. One was a general anaesthetic sedative and the other was an enzyme inhibitor. Uh, that is to say .. a sexual stimulant."
"Dimi .. " Lily was aghast, her revulsion powerful. "She was trying to rape him? What kind of sick purpose would that serve?"
That word caught in my thoughts. Rape. Unemotionally, I repeated it to myself. I should have felt some anger, some form of anguish or hysteria, but there just wasn't anything there. My stomach and .. further down .. were tender, a sensitive sort of ache from the aftermath of that .. stuff .. but inside? Feelings? All I feel about that word ... rape ... is that Mira .... Mira pulled me away from her. Mira is in my memories, not that lying bitch. That says everything it needs to about her. The same thought returned, not with any anger. Just a very cold certainty, a specific chill. Fuck her.
"I don't know. That isn't the only important thing though, there is more to it. You remember how he was not completely unconscious, and was awakening sometimes? The dose she gave him was enough to knock out an adult human, female or male, for a good period of time. It didn't do that to him, and it barely kept him under, let alone consistently. Now, I don't know what this means, but I will bet it is a sign of his immunity."
The numbness hadn't stopped. Don't even know what to make of this. It's ... too much.
"So .. " he began, the heaviness sounding in his speech. Despite lying drained and exhausted with my eyes closed, one thing I could feel without seeing him was Konstantin's weariness over what had happened. It was hard to miss when he talked about anything so grave. This stuff is hard on him too, on both of them. How did I manage to find two people so .. real .. in a world like this? Please tell me I'm not misjudging them like Sofia. "What about this Carlos boy? He has a moderate concussion, but with a little rest, like Shay, he will be just fine."
A click of the door-handle and the soft scraping of friction across the floor. Lily's voice dampened as they left my room, the door pulling to. "We cannot abandon him to those brutes. He will have to be another mouth to feed for the moment. We may need to do some more planting before winter kicks in. It's getting close to October after all."
Konstantin said something in reply to her as they walked away toward the kitchen, but it was hushed by distance and the walls. I wasn't sure I would have paid attention anyway, because right then, everything else was forgotten and only one word was in my head.
I was right. It is months, but .. not five ... or six. February to September. Seven.
It was already a fact to me that weeks was a medical impossibility to survive in stasis. Months was well past that, but here I was now facing the truth.
I was asleep for more than half a year and I am still alive. Once more ... it can't be possible.
Yet, like my supposed immunity to the Sharpe virus and Mira's very existence, it seemed that the insane and the impossible were making an uncomfortable habit of becoming hard, immutable facts.
The noon-day sun was mild, the air still. He stood, balanced in dignified repose. Limbs were angled just so, hands upon the balustrade, shoulders relaxed, leaning forward. Easy, composed, at peace with the world. The air of pervasive calm was a welcome relief after the burst of turmoil that had just been. Yet the outer calm belied something else within; the eye of the self was upon all the sources of internal uproar and the confluence of those strands was a maelstrom.
Every day, the world Mira knew grew more complex, more laden with aspects that were unfamiliar and disconnected, removed from the sphere of knowledge that had made up his life. Yet now, his mind segmented the understanding, reflexively moving things into compartments of experience; the simplicity of survival, the magnified focus of the hunt, the joy of sustenance. Only things did not fit into these boxes, niches for which they were carved by design.
It was difficult that The Other had so much effect on The Self. Upon Shay, the metaphorical question mark stood a mile high, for all the feelings evoked by him were not a part of his comprehension. Many things produced a reaction of flight or fight, but they were rightly understood as driven by the imperatives he already knew. Here, the unparalleled fear, the consummate worry coming unbidden and unexpected over another being was foreign. Why must it matter to him that Shay had entered such danger? Why did he care, against the principle of surviving? Why must it touch to the very centre of his grip upon The Self? Nothing was meant to be this compelling, this direct.
Yet, Shay was those things, and more.
Thus, the fear held a new imperative, one he was recognising now he could not ignore. With absolute certainty, he knew that never again could he let that line fade out of sight. The intangible link drawn between himself and The Other, from the moment his first human memory was born; the face of the boy burned into his memory in the same way the sun would scorch a retina if one stared for too long. If that line was to break permanently, every moment following would be a torment, a torture unending, and would shatter apart the walls within him that gave any sort of structure.
He could not allow that to happen.
In the distance, the pigs were squealing, arguing over some scrap of something. Mira raised his head. A tingle, a touch of oddity brushed him, the prickle that there was something amiss. The air moved, a light breeze. No sign, no disturbance. There was nothing, was there? Nothing that he could tell. The landscape was motionless, devoid of all types of threat. What was this about? Listen to the signs, feel.
It came too fast for reaction, a whipping bite, a stab into his neck. Instantaneously, his hand rose, ripping the quill free. It was small, sharp, the end tinted red from piercing his skin. It came from where? Why?
Turning to move, to trace the direction, he stumbled, coordination lost.
Then, he fell.
I didn't remember falling asleep again, but I must have been out for a few hours at least. It was still daylight when I pulled the covers off, dressed myself and made my way out of the bedroom. I still felt weak and dehydrated, but definitely better than before. Mira's nest was empty, and as I wandered down the hall towards the kitchen, I wondered where everyone was. First thing I want is a glass of water and then I need to find Konstantin and probably apologise. Another 'talk' on the state of things I guess, but this time I asked for it.
No one was in the kitchen. I guessed they must be outside, maybe planting some more vegetables. Lily did say there was another mouth to feed, after all. No doubt they're just planning ahead for that. I stepped into the lounge. Maybe I will ask her if I can-
Then, I froze.
Crouched by Konstantin's unconscious body, which was slumped against the side of the couch, León was removing the TT-33 Tokarev pistol even as I stood there, feeling utterly debilitated by what I was seeing. No. Oh fuck NO! No time to move, as his eyes were on me and he stood, breaking out into a smile as he did so. He looked different from the last time I saw him; not merely angry and harsh any more but now something more. There was a scarcely hidden rage, his eyes red-rimmed, his stubble longer, a ragged disturbed air to him.
"Buenas tardes! We just keep running into each other, don't we? Such a small world." His eyes had a manic glare, and the bright, fake grin was anything but friendly; in fact it was positively gut-wrenching, compounded by the casual way he lifted the gun as he talked, moving his hands as he spoke. Oh god. Oh fuck. "Sí. Very small. Just to think, not so long ago your friend here," he paused, giving Konstantin a not-so-gentle kick in the side, "'los Rusos' was shooting Luis and telling *me* how to survive in this world from behind his little toy pistola. Now? Well look where I am! In his place, with his gun!"
My heart was pounding in my chest and my muscles were locked. Adrenalin wanted me to move, but I doubted I could do so quickly enough. If I make a break and I don't do it fast enough, he will shoot first. I *know* he will shoot, he is over the edge right now. Then his face changed again, morphing to exaggerated sympathy. "You don't have to tell you are surprised to see me Shay. I know, I know. You were expecting him, and the woman and that boy to protect you, huh? Well, you should know," he sniffed, wiping his face casually with the gun hand, "they all got their own motives, chico. The Russian especially." His arms waved loosely as he talked, leaning in a bit to me but not moving his feet, the barrel dancing. "He knows you are untouched by the disease and that's all he wants. That part of you. Don't believe me?"
He pointed the gun at me, his eyes bulging, his voice ratcheting up a notch in intensity and volume. "Think about it!" He snapped. The contrast was sudden and it made me jolt, fearful. "Risking his neck for you? You are the prize. He doesn't care, he just wants the prize."
The terrace door opened and we both looked across at once. Nearly tripping, without any of his usual agility, Mira stumbled into the room. Ungainly, his arm gripped the nearest shelving and he moved like he was drunk. From where I stood, I could hear his breathing, quick hyperactive snorts as he fought to stay upright and on an even footing. He never breathed like that, and I could tell there was a massive struggle going on within him, a forced effort to overcome what was happening. His head wasn't level either but forward, a bit much effort to keep fully vertical. Still, his eyes were latched onto León's form despite whatever he was handicapped by, unfailingly focused on him. Oh ... no. This was even worse. If I run anywhere, he will kill Mira instead. No. No way.
"You? How are you awake?" León was perplexed, for a moment, and then he stepped to meet Mira, amusement winning out. "Persistent, huh? Stupid, more like it. What you gonna do now, huh?" He reached out, and slapped Mira mockingly several times, on one cheek, then the other. Not hard enough to be painful, just uncomfortable and humiliating, like he was disciplining a helpless infant. In a repeat of the GSPI confrontation, he tilted his head, biting León's hand, only not nearly as hard. The man grunted in surprise and some pain, his response identical to before. Only, this time, the blow was a punch and the boy crashed to the floor.
"Ay! Vicious little bastard. You have fight in you, I give you that." Back to me again. "I didn't come here for a pleasant chat and hugs and kisses. Enough of this messing around. You know why I am here, don't you Shay?" Finally, the hatred appeared, the pure vengeful single-minded rage. Behind it was sadness, and I could see the glint of wetness in his eyes for a second before it was drowned by the sheer power of his desire to hurt. "I found her like that. In the cave. Dead and twisted, a broken neck. You thought you'd escape after doing that to my own flesh and blood? You thought you'd FUCK with me and just walk out of it?!"
I found my voice. "She was trying to fuck with US!"
"She was a SURVIVOR!" León was yelling now, his face red. "You got lucky, again! You do *NOT* deserve to be alive." He stopped, hand clenching the pistol tightly, eyes eerily wide as he stared at me, crazed. "So. I will fix this now. I only need one of you, and he will do. You took my girl away from me, so .. I will take you away from him. He can watch you die."
He really is going to kill me.
The pistol arm came up and for the first time there was no jaunting hesitation, no pausing in a demented guessing game of whether or not he was going to fire. It was deadly intent, plain as could be. There I was, looking down the barrel of the gun.
Standing at the receiving end of a firearm that is held by someone who really does want to end your life is a unique experience. The knowledge that all it will take is a little curved piece of metal pressed in by a very short distance and you will thereafter be finished, is not something easily described. The Tokarev pointed at me was a powerful handgun. Konstantin had told me that it was a family heirloom and was very old, but that as pistols went, if you shot someone with one, you really meant business. Especially that if you were hit in the head or chest by a TT-33, it was game over. No chance.
I did the only thing I could. I stepped backward, but as I did, my heel hit the slight ridge that was the beginning of the kitchen tiling in the doorway. In my haste, I tripped and the explosive bang of the shot went overhead as I fell backwards, smashing a hole in the upper rear wall of the kitchen. Scrambling, I frantically slipped along the floor, trying to move out of sight of the lounge, and there was another bang, the thwip of the trajectory flying past lower, missing my hip by millimetres.
Fuck! Gotta move! As I hustled to my feet, there were sounds of movement from the other room. What the- .... a struggle? I peered round the kitchen cabinets. There, grappling with León, the boy was hanging onto his arm, forcing it sideways, to the right, away from the kitchen entrance where the man was trying to align it.
How is he able to manage this? How can he even stand? León pressed his arm around further, closing the gap, and then he actually laughed. I ducked behind the cover of the wall and the voice came, deriding and cruel: "Fucker, you can't stop it!" More laughter. "Shay will be DEAD! You gonna see it! You gonna HEAR it, puto!"
The third shot went wider than the second, not even passing through the doorway but going straight through the wall instead. I peeked back, just enough to see them, and Mira was still steadfast, hanging onto the limb for dear life. León was unhinged, his deranged snickering the only sound, until, in the middle of it, something else happened.
Mira's voice was low, fluid, a solid rebuttal of the murderous insanity he was wrestling with. If I wasn't already lost for words, hearing him talk rendered me totally speechless. Then again, making the point. He was not yet done. "No!" He growled. "No!"
His right arm came up, the fingers of his left already digging into León's wrist, not letting the gun come under León's full control for even a moment. It seemed his sedation wasn't nearly so strong as it had been not too many seconds ago, as he was giving no ground to the adult, his body not slack as it had been, the laxity disappearing. The right hand clamped onto the opponent's shoulder and in a deceptively quick and sharp movement, Mira pulled himself in close and sunk his teeth into León's neck.
He screamed, immediately grabbing for Mira's head but the shoulder-clamped hand was white at the knuckles, hauling him closer in, the bite already embedded firmly. His body blocked the shoulder from movement, restricting it. León thrashed, shouting in pain, and the boy retracted for a split second but left no opening. Blood spurting immediately from the wound, only for him to relentlessly press in again, a fresh bite, wider and just as deep.
León spun around, flailing with the boy attached to his throat. His fingers pulled desperately at the trigger, that arm still careening wildly from Mira's disorientation. Another bang, this time the shot going through the lounge wall, toward the garden. Fuck! The man bashed him up against the shelving, ornaments tumbling to the floor as they pirouetted. His left arm was still trying to overcome the body entangled with him, to pull away the mouth tearing his flesh, but then León staggered, swaying. The fingers gripping the gun released and it tumbled floorward.
Now, the newly freed hand tried to assist the other in pulling Mira away, but as they turned, locked still in a vampiric embrace, the carnage soaking León's shirt was blooming like an arterial flower. The boy was pushing against him, his weight unbalanced, propelling him backwards until they struck the doorframe between the lounge and hall. Mira slammed the former gun-hand into the wood, as it grasped at his hair, fighting for any purchase to remove the attacker. Then once more, pounding it flat across the straight edge of the bookshelf, the crack of wrist bone splintering, a grisly overtone to the vocals. The gruesome sound was accompanied by León's suffering yelp and Mira used this to his advantage, wrenching his head back straight after, jaw firmly planted in the neck still. There was a horrible damp splitting noise as muscles tore, the yelp rising into a high-pitched scream. The slippery oozing of vitality became a fountain, an outpour.
His knees gave out and he lowered, Mira still lodged in place, blood bubbling steadily from the laceration as together they came to the floor. Finally, he let go and I stepped cautiously to the doorway, watching transfixed, awash with unnameable emotion as León bled and choked, gurgling, both hands now shakily clutching his haemorraghing wound. Staring in disbelieving dismay, knowing full well that he was about to die. Mira stood above him, hands in fists, arms and legs so tense and taut, breathing heavily. His mouth, lower jaw, neck, and shirt were wet, drenched with viscera, and he spoke again, a resounding period mark at the end of it all, a final message that was not to be denied..
Right as León became still, before I had a chance to act, there was a sound from the foyer, the direction of the front door. Without thinking, I dived forward, grabbing for the Tokarev, ignoring the sticky liquid on the grip. It was heavier than I thought, and right as I raised it, two men came through the door. I heard one gasp as he saw the room. "Dio!" They stood there for a second, seeing my friend, his face soaked in blood, León dead upon the villa's floor with a torn throat and me, holding a gun. Looks of shock and unholy terror competed for supremacy on their faces as they backed out. Fuck this. They came here for us, they can fucking die. I squeezed the trigger, one shot getting off before they were gone. Maybe I nicked one of them, I wasn't sure, but already, Mira was after them, a voracious snarling rumble coming from him as he took off, bloody footprints showing his exit path.
Then, suddenly, I was alone and a serene feeling set in, a tranquility, as I sat on the floor and stared down at the gun. Blood was splattered everywhere, the room was a mess. Konstantin was still unconscious and León's body lay lifeless in the middle of it.
But here I am, alive and unhurt.
The stress of it, the unabated pressure got to me. In shock, all I could do was sit there, my thoughts shut down to the only fact that mattered right now. I was still alive. Somehow, still alive. It must have been several minutes later that a sound stirred me, because there was Mira again, the rough scraping of cloth on carpet as he dragged a body with him. Just one man, unconscious. Nothing else, no second body, alive nor dead. He dumped the man in the corner of the room then walked over to me.
Carefully, the frayed edges of his control showing as the adrenalin, the drive of his fight and pursuit wore off and he came to his knees. Then, without a qualm about anything else, he leaned his head on my shoulder and almost in the same instant, he was done. Asleep. Burned out. At the same time, his hand came to rest in my lap. He had been carrying something, and as he gave up consciousness it rolled free. Smeared splotches of red were along it, but it was quite easy to see, that on the side of the little rectangle of metal were two very distinct words.
We found Lily outside later on. I helped Konstantin move her into the house and he splinted and set her arm. León had broken it when he surprised her coming out to feed the chickens, violently subduing her before he used a dart to make sure she remained asleep. It was ironic that I was now the only one in the house that wasn't drugged in some way; though soon as Konstantin regained consciousness, he had gone to his office-space and taken something to counter it. He didn't tell me what it was, just that it would keep him alert and lucid at least until he had checked the estate grounds thoroughly.
That was what he next did. I stayed inside, cleaning the house as best I could. León's body was wrapped in a tarpaulin outside, and the unnamed man had been very securely bound and gagged, locked in the laundry room. There wasn't actually much damage, mostly just smashed keepsakes and ornaments. The real problem was the blood.
Despite being chronically sick for a lot of my life, I was still no stranger to chores. When I was well enough to do them, my mother had made sure I did not forget. Like any teenager, I had resented her for that, but in a small way, it had made me feel normal. It was also a step or two removed from scrubbing large quantities of human blood out of carpet, off walls and any other miscellaneous bits and pieces that just happened to be in the way. The smell in particular was the nauseating part; a salty sort of metallic tang, like a liquid rust. It was disgusting, but as I worked at it, I admitted that it was a hell of a lot better than the alternative.
I was still scouring the carpet when I felt Konstantin lifting me by the arm, pulling me away from the floor. A kindly but sad smile was on his face, steering me over towards the couch and sitting down on it together. I felt dazed, the shock of earlier beginning to set in more, a cloying wave of disbelief.
"It doesn't even matter why you left with that girl," gravelly, soft, he was reassuring me. "Nor how that man found his way into this house. What matters is you are okay."
"Konstantin," I began, and then the tears trickled, no more able to stop it than I could the sun from setting. "I-I .. can't ... I don't think ... I don't f-feel .. okay. It's wrong, it's all s-so wrong, I .. I-"
"Sssh." He shifted closer to me, resting a paternal hand on my back. "If I have learned anything of you yet, it is that you will blame yourself for this .. yes? Do not. Blame the ones who are dead, for their instigation. Thank Mira for saving you, for saving all of us."
Mira? That subject was a conundrum to me, a complete contradiction. All the little things he does to look out for me and protect me, it's all so .. so ... wonderful. So .. sweet? It seemed strange to think that about a boy, but it was the only thing that came to mind. But then ... then ... he broke Sofia's neck. He ripped León's throat open like an animal. He chased those men like he was going to rip them open too. What's the real him and what isn't? Is any of this the 'true' Mira? How can I tell what it all means? All the behaviour I had seen, what I had gone through so far, and I still wasn't sure I really understood him.
Tears dripped off my chin and then his handkerchief was patiently wiping them away, as I had been staring into space. "Let me guess, all of this," nodding his head at the bloodstained floor, "is putting some big doubts in your head." Distressed as I was, Konstantin was still doing it. Like he can read my mind every time trouble is happening. "Well, you are afraid of all of what's going on, and I don't much blame you. Then you find something in him that is brutal. Savage. It makes you think that this is not the boy you know, because this is nothing like what you have observed of him. I examined that man's body, and to see Mira do that .. it must have been ugly to watch. What else is he capable of if he can do that? That is the doubt, your problem with this."
I sniffled and tried to reply, but Konstantin shushed me again. "Put aside for this time what you feel about the way he killed. Look at it for what it is." A pause, to dab under my eyes. "I told you, I saw there is some kind of special bond, but by God, it is more than I thought! Shay, think! Twice now he has killed to protect you. He is devoted to you so strongly that he would risk anything to stop you from being harmed. When you two are in the same room, sometimes it is like he thinks he is alone with you, that in his mind it might be just you and him. I can tell this merely from how he looks at you. Everything else is ignored, just distraction. This ... THIS ... is what makes him act. Do not jump to any conclusions."
I didn't know what to say.
He's right. Again. If I really stop and think .. he's right. Everything Mira does .. it's all helping, but .. always for me. He killed for me. He would do anything for me .. and I believe that. It was getting easier to admit this stuff to myself and I felt my face flush as the inevitable conclusion was reached. Can't let this crap get in the way of what's true: I am .. emotionally attracted .. to him .. and .. I ...... I like it. I .. *really* like that he protects me. It felt bizarre to say it, even in the privacy of my own head and immediately I was ashamed, though without good reason. Is this normal? Am I supposed to feel this way towards him? What the hell is normal anyhow .. it's not like this is anything more than a feeling .. right?
"Konstantin," I cleared my throat, "that wasn't the only .. uh, doubt .. that I have. León, that man, before he tried to kill us .. he told me .. well, he said you think we're immune. Me and Mira, I mean. To the Sharpe virus. He wanted me to believe that you were using us, that we're a prize. I want to know why you .. and they .. think this."
The Russian gave a hmph of invective. "He could not understand the world in any other way. In a sense, he was right; anyone immune is a prize, if it can be proved true. Wrong however, because I have never used another person for my own ends and I never will. Lucere might be hell, but I keep to God's law in my heart." That was the first mention he had made about anything openly religious, but it did not surprise me. He is a man of convictions, it fits that God would be an important thing to him.
"As to why? Well there two parts to that. One is how the virus is transmitted. All it takes to gain it in an active state is for a sharpeling to bite you or a scratch from the claws that breaks the skin. That's it." Sharpeling? Well that's a better name for them than 'creature' or whatever. "To become a carrier, it is infected tissue. Originally, it was more like the common cold, but now, as I have told you, the virulence is less aggressive. Your body needs to ingest or absorb it from the host; blood, saliva or sexual fluid would do it, for example. Now tell me and please, be completely honest: were you ever in a situation where this has happened? You don't need to say details, just tell me if it's true, okay?"
A scratch or bite. Blood, saliva or sexual fluid. Oh .. fuck. Saliva? Sofia .. she kissed me. Would that count? She must have been a carrier, like everyone seems to be. Then, something else occurred to me. When I was fighting with the 'sharpeling' Mira ... it cut my leg. It definitely pierced the skin, I was bleeding from it. Oh .. um.. shit. It was true. Not lying here.
"Let me see your hands, Shay." My hands? Was this the thing about the palms again? I held them out to him and he turned them upwards. "The skin on your palms is normal colour. Anyone that is a carrier of the Sharpe virus will have discoloured palms. The shade varies a bit; I have seen everything from a pale purple through to a sort of burnt orange. Most people it is a faded red." He let go of my hands and held his own palms out for me to see. Like his stature, he had large hands, and very clear was the patch of scarlet at the central indent of the palm. "It isn't uncomfortable at all. More like a badge that tells everyone you are just like them."
Okay, so that's how everyone knows as soon as they meet me. They just need to glimpse my hands and it's obvious to them I'm fine.
"Mira is the same as you," he continued, "and if you want more, you saw him get blood all over the place not too long ago. He was covered in it. That would be enough to infect him several times over. On top of this, he was able to move around, and fight León while his system was full of sedative. This is the same dose that Lily and I were hit with. Life threatening situations can push some bursts of superhuman activity .. but not .. this."
It was a repeat of words I heard before. The same as what he was saying about me to Lily. We're resistant to being drugged, and it's a sign of immunity? More than just a sign, it turned out. He gave a small shrug. "So, this is proof. Known facts that I cannot interpret any other way. Simply put, my young Mr Andersen: you and Mira *are* immune to the Sharpe virus. Whatever reason behind this, I'm sure it's related that you are also resistant to certain substances. It is a big understatement to say this is significant. It fills me with hope that providence led to our meeting and I pray you are willing to explore this with me."
Explore it? I'd barely got my head around it. I am immune to the most destructive mutation that has ever struck the human race. I .. created .. the only other person who is also immune. When he became a person, he inherited that, I suppose. Unable to be infected again by the virus that previously controlled him. That makes sense for him, but how could *I* be that way? Could it have happened when I was in stasis? The gene therapy treatment was supposed to alter my DNA to remove the 'congenital infirmity' as I recalled the doctors describing it. What if it had done more than that? What if the changes had gone beyond just fixing me and had .. changed me?
Lily's voice came floating down the hallway, and Konstantin gave me an exasperated look. "She should be resting. That woman is impossible, I swear."
Following him down the hall, we found her in her office, sitting in the desk chair and wiping the smudges of blood off COPY #1 with the uninjured arm. "Dimi, for heaven's sake. Broken arm or not, if you found this data, I wanted to know!"
"Lily," he puffed. "You shouldn't be up at all. You need to give your body a chance to heal."
"Nonsense!" She fixed him with a steely glare. "I was lying out there long enough and I didn't kick the bucket, so a little longer won't hurt. Besides, I'm not going to get any rest knowing this data is here and I'm not taking a look at it."
Konstantin threw his hands up. "Fine! Open it up then. Let's see if it was worth it."
Connecting COPY #1 in the port next to COPY #2, she opened the primary archive, the three of us watching as it executed smoothly, the two halves combining just as the utility had promised they would. After it was completed, the utility exited by itself, a new icon on the computer desktop appearing. A prompt popped on the screen.
Gillespie-Salford Data Preservation Utility v1.47
Execution successful; SAT-AUX protocol installed!
To enable this connection, please launch the provided desktop link.
"Protocol installed? Dearest, I thought it was just raw data?"
"So did I. Only one way to find out."
As soon as she ran it, another little prompt opened up. It hovered on the screen for a second, passing on the message before disappearing:
Gillespie Satellite-Auxiliary PDN: Connected.
Then, a PDN browser window started on its own. The logo of the GSPI was at the top of the page, the header obvious. It read 'Gillespie-Salford Online Data Storage' followed by a directory listing. File after file after file.
Lily gasped. "Dimi .. I ... it's .... it's a remote connection." She looked across at him, incredulous, a huge smile bursting onto her face. "Dimi ... oh my GOD! It's ... a connection! A working connection!"
"I .. I don't believe it .. " He was dumbfounded. All at once they both burst out laughing. He turned to me. "Shay! My boy! Do you see this? Do you SEE this? It is fucking working!" Jubilant, amazed. Astounded. His arms wrapped around me in an excited hug, lifting me off the floor, gripping me by the shoulders. I'd never heard him cuss before this. "I didn't think there was anything left. It WORKS!"
"There's so much here," scrolling through the titles, "everything I could want and more. I can use this. All of it. It will take some time to analyse it, but .. it is all there. Dimi .. Shay, this *is* worth it, every bit. Thank you. What you've done for us? Thank you!" She slid the chair over towards me, hugging me with her good arm, giving me a kiss on the cheek.
I stood there, wordless, still stumped by it. That simple little fact of paramount importance, a little line of green text. A satellite connection. Of course, the terrestrial connections were all out of action, but the satellites? They were safe. Now, we had access to the PDN.
Whatever was left of Lucere's global internet had to contain answers.
Well, not much to say here. If you wanted a bit of revenge, you sure got it.
In another note, some definite answers are on the way in upcoming chapters. Hope you all enjoy.
EDIT: I came across a thread for the story in the forums, so if anyone wants to discuss it, feel free to drop on by!