the race of pious men has perished

r | major character death



She stopped by to see him, even though she knew she wouldn't be let in. She had full access to the hospital, no restrictions ... except his room.

It didn't make sense to her that he'd be kept in isolation after all this time. Her last memory of him was fuzzy, and most of her memories of him involved him being angry, distraught, or withdrawn. But she ... she missed him. She worried about him.

He had died during the initial surgery.

That was being too dramatic, perhaps. His heartbeat had been normalized within seconds of going into v-fib. The first countershock stopped the arrhythmia and his natural pacemaker resumed sinus rhythm.

In spite of the state of emergency and the shortage of medical professionals and facilities, he had a private room, and had been in it for the last three months. At first, it was necessary; a virulent bacterial infection had taken hold after the surgery to remove what remained of his arms and eye. The treatment had decimated his immune system in addition to wiping out the infection. If he hadn't been in a clean room, a simple cold could have killed him.

But then his immune system rebounded. He went through a series of complicated surgeries - using up more resources, which angered her colleagues, and perhaps should have angered her as well. With more and more people dying every day, with the government coming through at noon and midnight, like clockwork, to take away bodies to dispose of in giant incinerators, with the doctors becoming more and more despondent as it became clear that a cure was not "just around the corner", no matter what the President said, she couldn't bring herself to be resentful of his treatment.

Sigma had a chance to survive, and Diana knew even if all his doctors were devoted to the pandemic patients, it wouldn't make a difference.

She knew from his charts that he was stronger now, no longer bed-ridden. He was learning how to use his new arms - or at least, the metal skeleton that would eventually be covered with artificial flesh. His immune system was fully functional and there really was no reason that he couldn't be moved into one of the quarantine areas outside the hospital. She could get him on the top of the waiting list for one of the underground shelters. It was more dangerous for him to stay here, even if he was still in a clean room. Aside from the pandemic victims who were shuttled in every day, hospitals were guaranteed food and water and electricity by government mandate, which made them a target for desperate people. The battalion of soldiers dedicated to protecting them seemed to be dwindling away. Some were dying, some were just being moved to other locations.

She wasn't even allowed to walk up to the door of Sigma's room and press her hand or face against the glass. Every day, she asked the guard to let him know she stopped by, but she didn't know if he got the messages.

She didn't know if Sigma even remembered who she was.

Gabe brought her a tablet while she was making her rounds. She had certain names flagged within the system, and whenever one of them popped up, he let her know.

Her list was only down to seven names. She held her breath as she glanced at the screen. From the look on his face, she knew it was another death certificate.

Carlos had been shot as he tried to drive across the border from Panama into Columbia. He had probably been trying to get to Peru; doctors there claimed they had a cure, although the WHO issued a statement that they believed the reports to be false. She was surprised he had gotten as far as he had. Most governments - the ones who were still intact, anyway - had closed their borders and were defending them with deadly force. Only government and medical officials were allowed to utilize air travel.

His car had crashed into one of the border walls, killing him and the young woman who had been lying down in the backseat. She hadn't been carrying identification, but it had to have been his sister.

"Thanks," she said softly, as she handed the tablet back to Gabe.

She couldn't cry anymore. She had when her parents died, when Rebecca died, when Naomi died, when Holden died, when the first hundred or so patients had died under her care. Maybe she'd gone numb. Maybe her eyes had forgotten how to create tears.

Still, she dreaded the day when Phi's name would show up on the casualty list.

She didn't know if Sigma was aware of what was going on around him. She didn't know how much people told him. Junpei and Phi were both missing. They could be dead, for all Diana knew; their names only went into the registry if they had ID on them when their body was located. Even then, it was dependent on overworked, traumatized volunteers who were tasked to search the bodies and input the data. She hadn't seen Akane since the early days of the pandemic, when she had found Diana working triage and had seen her employee badge for the first time. Akane's eyes had narrowed in suspicion.

Diana hadn't lied to them, not really. She was a nurse, and Rebecca had been the head nurse where she used to work. How could anyone blame her, in lieu of Sigma's insistence that Dcom harbored some conspiracy to release a deadly virus, for hiding the fact that she had been employed by the CDC for the three months before Dcom? It wasn't exactly her dream job, but it got her to the other side of the country.

It had taken two months, but her ex-husband had found her, of course. He hadn't made the trek from California to Atlanta, but had been calling multiple times a day, insisting that he had changed, that he was a better man. He said he had stopped drinking, stopped gambling. A week removed from the rest of the world seemed like a great idea at the time; a way to cut herself off and steel her resolve.

He had died early, the victim of a carjacking, when panic gripped the cities, before martial law was declared. Back when she could still cry.

She signed off on the bodies being loaded into the Army truck. Only fifty-two today.

Sigma had been wrong, after all; Dcom wasn't the source of the virus. He was close. And something horrible had happened there. But a week after a bomb had blown through the Mars Mission Site, killing Mira, Eric, and Q, severely wounding Sigma, and leaving the rest of them injured and suffering from amnesia, Radical-6 emerged from a motel right outside the hospital. Patient Zero seemed to be a maid - the poor young lady was the only connection between the first victims.

Who had included Phi.

Both Diana and Phi had gotten rooms at the small motel after they were released. Phi had recognized the symptoms in another guest ... and then tried to burn the motel down. Diana had been terrified when the fire alarm went off, but had managed to drag an unconscious Phi outside before collapsing.

Maybe she should have stood by and watched everything burn instead.

She remembered Phi screaming at the doctors when she realized what happened. You have to call the military and have them bomb this entire town into nothing!

Nothing of the sort happened, of course. Even once Phi explained that it was Radical-6, Diana was so naïve, so full of determination and hope, that she called in the CDC. They would fight this. They would win.

Phi had survived. It was estimated that maybe twenty percent of the population was either immune or could fight off the virus. Phi was one of the lucky ones. But instead of staying close to Sigma, she had disappeared, telling Diana before she left that she had things to do before the end.

At the time, Diana was angry with her for giving up.

She checked on the last of her patients. The experimental antivirals weren't working. Palliative, non-curative therapy was about all they could manage at the moment. There weren't many arguments anymore about euthanasia. Morphine was prescribed in excess. Insulin was given to non-diabetics. No one stayed on life support for very long.

When she finished her shift, she headed to her car, nearly getting run over by an ambulance that was speeding out of the parking lot. There was a note on her windshield, with only an address, a time, and Akane's name signed at the bottom.

She didn't trust Akane. The gaps in Phi and Junpei's memories seemed genuine, but Diana had never felt that Akane and Carlos were being fully forthcoming with what they knew. And Akane was certainly the one keeping Sigma in isolation. Away from her.

She went anyway.

Diana had only met Akane's brother a few times, but she recognized him when he greeted her, even with the nasty scar going down the side of his face, fairly fresh. She was a few minutes late and he grabbed her arm and pulled her inside as if he was afraid of someone seeing her there. She was led to a small room in the lower level of the building; without saying a word, Aoi left her there.

For the first time since she had gotten the note, she was scared. She sat on an overstuffed couch for a few moments before beginning to pace. She didn't know why she was here. She didn't know why she had come. She -

The sound of an explosion startled her.

The small window in the room was too high up for her to see out of, so she climbed up on the couch. An orange mushroom cloud rose up above the buildings in the distance.

A month or two ago, she might have been surprised. She might have cried. Today she was ... almost relieved. It meant the end might be near. Her patients would no longer suffer.

Death wouldn't come for her slowly, creeping up on her, keeping her wondering what day her protective gear might fail, exposing her to the virus. It would be quick. No lingering in illness, no being driven insane. How many times had she loaded a syringe to ease a patient's pain and thought about how easy it would be to do it to herself? As long as there were people to care for, it felt selfish to want to die, even if everything seemed hopeless. It still felt selfish, to think, to even hope, maybe, just a bit, that the nightmare was over.

She heard the door open behind her but she didn't move. Whatever it was that Aoi or Akane wanted, it didn't matter now.

"Luna?"

Diana spun around so quickly she lost her balance. He was across the room in a heartbeat, catching her before she could tumble off the sofa and to the ground, holding her tightly in his metal arms. She looked up at him for the first time in months, her heart racing as he stared at her in disbelief.

"You're human," he blurted out. "I mean ... are you?"

She tried to not let him see the dismay she felt. His amnesia must be worse than even Junpei's. She hoped there wasn't brain damage. His post-surgery bacterial infection had created high intracranial pressure, requiring a shunt for almost a week. They may have kept her away from his room, but nothing stopped her from reading his chart. If she wanted to, she could reach up and touch the exact spot where the shunt had been.

"Yes. Did you ... did you think I was an alien?"

Sigma seemed reluctant to release her. When he did, he glanced down at his hands, an expression of sorrow and shame on his face.

"We all have amnesia," she said after a moment. "Not total, but the ones of us who ... did someone tell you that Mira, Eric, and Q are dead? Oh. Except if you don't know who I am, you don't know who they are."

"I know you," he said instantly, even as his brow furrowed in confusion. "I ... at least, I ... I feel like I know you."

"We knew each other in Dcom. Do you ... remember Dcom?"

"That's ... it's complicated." There was something about the way he touched his chin that reminded her very much of Phi, and that's when she recalled what the younger woman had told her.

"You ... the word is 'SHIFT', right? Phi said you were from the future. Or the other you was. She said you - you you, not the other you - were coming back."

He had been her last hope for finding out what happened back at Dcom. If his amnesia wasn't as severe, maybe he would have remembered more about the reason why she dreamed sometimes of red and blue planets colliding, why something felt oddly familiar the first time she had to use her newly-obtained stun gun to defend herself, why she was burdened with guilt about his injuries. Why she woke up screaming in the middle of the night, her own voice echoing in her ear, soon, I will have killed six billion people.

The police had assigned blame for the bombing to Mira. The CDC assigned blame for the outbreak to a hapless maid. Diana felt the burden rested more squarely on her shoulders, even though she didn't know why.

But this Sigma had never been in Dcom. He could give her no information.

She held out her hand awkwardly, as if he hadn't just transported back into his body from another place, as if there weren't explosions and screaming outside, as if this was just a social event and she was meeting a kind stranger.

"Diana London," she offered.

The metal was oddly warm as he took her hand. "Sigma Klim, although I guess you already know that."

They stood in silence, her thumb almost absentminded trailing along the edge of what was likely a titanium metacarpal, until he said, "There's a way to stop this."

She had been given so much false hope in the past few months that she had given up on hope altogether. In their world, it had flown away when Pandora's Box had been opened, had abandoned them. He looked so determined that she could almost - almost - believe him. But he hadn't seen what she had seen, lived through what she had. He probably had no idea what was waiting for him outside the walls of this building. For the first time since she met him, he seemed genuinely so young, and he was undoubtedly clueless.

"What can I do to help?" she heard herself saying.

(fin.)