men no longer recognize the rules of conduct or acts of piety

r | alternate universe | suicide attempt

"We isolated it. You were right."

A passerby - were such a thing to exist in the Rhizome - wouldn't even know it was a grave. Only he and Akane knew of the body buried in the dirt. It was marked with a patch of lilies in every conceivable color. He tended to them as if letting them wilt or die was an insult to Diana.

He had promised her that her death wouldn't be in vain.

She had suspected she might be part of the twenty percent of the population that was immune. As much as it pained him, she had asked him to take blood, tissue, and bone marrow samples from her ... body to continue his research. Diana had worked with the plague victims for three months, and even though Radical-6 wasn't airborne, proper protective gear hadn't always been available. She had cared for them at great risk to herself but never gotten ill.

Last week, he had finally found the gene that controlled people's susceptibility to Radical-6. A single gene that determined who would live or die. People like Diana, homozygous for the "good" allele, could have bathed in the virus and stayed healthy. People like Sigma, homozygous for the "bad" allele, would fall ill if a microscopic drop of infected fluid made contact with their mucous membranes.

He begrudgingly had to admit that Akane's actions - keeping him locked up and isolated until the day of the explosions - may have actually saved his life.

Only those who were heterozygous were capable of becoming sick and then recovering. But their ability to fight off the virus also caused a longer than normal latency period, which meant they were walking around for days or maybe even weeks before they knew they were sick. It was probably why the government's quarantine efforts had failed, even with the infection camps.

It wasn't healthy, to be lying on the grass, curled up on his side, talking to her as if she was still with him. It was marginally better than the first few months, when he had gotten so drunk he had slit his wrists before remembering that it would only spill the artificial blood. Sigma had no illusions about meeting up with her in the afterlife, but he had just wanted the pain to end.

He heard Akane sigh as she entered the garden. She sat down in the dirt, propped up on her left arm, legs tucked under her.

"It's too early," she said, gently.

"That's not Kyle."

She looked confused for only a split second before her eyes widened in horror. "Please tell me you are not cloning Diana."

"Of course not," he scoffed. The idea had crossed his mind, in moments of agony, but there was no way to clone her in adult form. The alternative was repugnant.


He placed a hand over her grave, his painfully perfect memory allowing him to put it exactly above her heart. "She wanted children."

"Damn it, Sigma, she's dead!"

All of Akane's frustration from the last three years of watching him mourn came out in that exclamation.

"You don't think I know that?!" He stood up abruptly, grabbing her shoulders and hauling her to her feet. "It's my first thought when I wake up, my last before I go to bed, and it fills every moment in between!"

"So that's ... your child in the tank?"

"We ... she had me extract ova before ... that's our daughter. Diana wanted a daughter."

"You're insane," she rasped. He could see panic in her eyes and he realized he was gripping her so tightly it must hurt. He released her, but turned away before she could argue. He knew exactly what she would say. Children had no place in the Rhizome. Kyle was a necessity, the only acceptable exception. A child would distract him, take up his time, maybe even urge him to discontinue his work once she was old enough to form and express opinions.

She followed him as he marched out of the garden. "You can't do this."

"It's already done. We're naming her Chandra."

"Sigma, I know how you feel. I do. I've lost the only person I've ever loved, too."

That stopped him in his tracks.

"Don't give me that bullshit. Junpei is alive. He's right there, and if you wanted to, you could go down there and have him. He'd forgive you. You could have whatever passes for a normal life nowadays. You could be with him. You don't know shit, Akane. You pushed him away; I had her ripped from me." His voice broke on his final words.

"We can't do anything that jeopardizes our mission."

She was right, of course, but he had carefully planned this out. He could do this without causing the timeline to diverge. Chandra would be old enough to for him to arrange for her to move to another Rhizome before Kyle had to be born. Kyle would never know of her existence, never be jealous of the child Sigma had chosen, instead of the one he was forced to create.

Akane followed him into the laboratory. Predictably, she picked up a chair and flung it at the tank; he merely stood by and watched as the force field repelled it and the alarm went off.

"You knew, didn't you?" he asked as he punched the reset code into the alarm panel.

She held a shaking fist to her chest. "Knew what?!"

"That Diana would die. The older Sigma told you. That's why you kept him away from her." He was surprised by how calm his voice was. But he had been mulling this over in his mind for quite a while. He would do anything to save Diana. He could envision his older consciousness pleading with Akane. Let her stay here. I'll make sure he still makes Luna. I'll make sure the AB Project is a success. Just please let her stay.

If Akane would try to smash the artificial womb of a seven-month-old fetus, she would have no problem sacrificing one woman for her project.

"I had to make sure you didn't get infected." She looked distraught. "Sigma, you can't do this. We're veering off the path. If you do this, you'll never see Diana again. You won't SHIFT back."

"I'll make sure I SHIFT," he snarled at her. The idea had crossed his mind more than once, but the future wasn't written yet. He knew what to do. He would not allow the universe to stop him.

"You need me."

And with that, she played what she must have thought was her trump card. She started to leave but he grabbed her by the arm and held on tight. He had considered her a friend, once. Cared for her, once. Before he realized he was just a pawn to her.

"What do I need you for? Tell me. With Aoi dead, if you were to have an unfortunate accident, the Crash Keys would accept me as their new leader. I would have access to your resources."

"Sigma -"

"I don't need you for the Nonary Game. I can make a GAULEM that can fulfill your role."

She managed to wrench her arm away from him. Her lower lip was trembling as she backed away slowly. "You'd kill me?"

"If you harm our child, yes, I will kill you."

Akane closed her eyes and shook her head. "What do you think Diana would say if she could see you now? She'd hate what you've become."

"I am what you've made me."

His voice wavered, because she was right, because if heaven wasn't some bullshit invention to make people feel better, if Diana was looking down at him, she would be disappointed. She wouldn't recognize him anymore. If he does manage to SHIFT back, she may not fall in love with him so easily.

But she'll live.

It's one of the few things that still matter to him.