“People of Bastion.
“For years you have spent your lives in brutality. You prey on those weaker than you to survive. You listen to people who tell you to take what you want. To stand on the shoulders of your neighbors as you push them down into the mud.
“You will listen to me now.
“I will tell you the truth.
“You are not strong.
“You are not powerful.
“You are all helpless in a world you deceive yourselves to believe your own.
“The thing I bring you is beautiful. It is a thing that you cannot combat with your meager weapons, your brute force.
“My disease is already within you. It catalyzes at this very moment, already beginning the process of your destruction. In just a few days’ time, it will evolve into something great.
“It is the thing that will teach you humility.
“It is the thing that will show you your place.
“It is the thing that will destroy you.”
The people of Bastion stared at the screens in horror as they turned black.
Then the panic began.
The news networks sat in silence as the city erupted.
Men screaming. Innocent people breaking down crying in the fear of the unknown. Pure terror unleashed through the streets.
The gas dissipated through the central chamber in the operations deck.
The projection played against the wall across from the front window. I slammed my fists against a control panel as I glared at the projection through the broken window. “You son of a bitch!” I yelled. “How many lives did you just take?”
“None.” He said. “Not yet. But come Halloween night, the first body drops. After that?” He paused “The city.”
“You tricked me.” I said.
“I did nothing of the sort.” He said. “I told you the city would die. And I am a man of my word.”
“You’re a rat piece of –”
“I am the reckoning this city deserves.” He said. “I am the king that will lead the charge against Bastion’s brutality.”
“You’re no king.” I said. “The only things that obey you are the rats.”
“And they are the army that will bring me to victory.” He said.
“…Don’t count on it.” I scowled, turning to the window to leave.
I stared at the news feeds cycling the monitors in my office, swearing at myself as I stared down the carnage.
This is my fault. I did this.
Iris threw open the door, gazing worriedly into the room before throwing herself through the door at me. Her arms circled me as she buried her head into my shoulder. “God almighty, Azrael, I’m so glad you’re okay.”
I said nothing.
I stilled the monitor on a picture from the hooded man’s broadcast. “The Rat King.” I said. “He designed this. He’s been gassing the city with it for weeks, and he just released the toxin that triggers it. Three more days and everybody in this city will be starting to drop.”
She put her hand over her mouth. “Good god.” She said, unable to believe momentarily before struggling with all the strength she had fruitlessly to push down her terror. “What do we do?”
“I wish I knew.” I said. “It’s hopeless.”
She took my hands in hers, wrapping my middle finger and my thumb around my wrist.
“You feel that?” She asked.
I looked up into her eyes.
“That’s your heart.” She said. “It’s still beating.
“There’s still hope.”
I collapsed into her, my head against her chest as I closed my eyes tight. “I don’t know what to do.” I whispered. “I don’t know how to stop him.“
She pulled close at the small of my back as she ran her other hand through my hair. “We’ll figure something out.
“We can still save this city.”
I stood there for moments, listening to her heartbeat. The sound of every breath she took as she gently ran her hand through my hair.
There was still hope.
As long as I had her, that was all I needed.
I lifted my head as I gripped her as tightly as I could.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
I looked her in the eyes. “Then we can still do this.” I turned to the desk. “Plan of attack. Let’s go.”
“Well, nobody knows as much about this as… What did you call him, the Rat King?”
She paused. “You know the names are usually my thing.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“…Not that I’m mad.”
I turned to the keyboard. “The Rat King engineered this disease.” I said. “If anyone knows about it, it’s him.”
“So if we find him, we can find a cure.”
“Or at least someone who knows enough to manufacture it.” I said.
“Nice.” She said. “Where do we start?”
I picked up my jacket from the desk chair. “Every rat has a nest.” I said, throwing it up around my shoulders. “And I know just where this one’s is.”
Iris followed close behind as I walked up the central channel of the room.
She stared into the glass containment unit, gazing at the lifeless body on the floor. “I can’t believe someone would do this.”
I examined the room. “The Rat King is a disturbed man.” I said. “He has to have left clues for us somewhere.”
She pulled a clipboard from the side of the unit, glancing over the details. “The good news is that it doesn’t look like there’s anything we didn’t expect with it.” She said. “The bad news is that it’s as bad as we thought.”
“This disease isn’t natural.” I said. “He had to engineer it.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Aside from how extensively tested it was down here, it’s designed too specifically.” I said. “Rat King thinks he’s some kind of poet. Everything this disease does was chosen specifically. The jaundice and the lesions are meant for intimidation, to make people scared and hopeless. The respiratory dissolution is so they fade slowly. They know what’s happening, and there’s nothing they can do to save themselves.”
“Good lord.” She said.
“Rat King describes the sickness like it’s his child. He made it himself.” I said. “That plus access to this kind of equipment makes him a very specific kind of person, who can’t be too hard to find. The problem is where to start.”
“It’s clear that he made himself a home down here.” She said. “I doubt he would do this all for showmanship.”
“He might.” I said. “Part of me thinks he wanted me to find this place.”
I looked up at the control booth. “…He wanted me to try to stop him.”
“What?” She asked. “Why?”
“Because he wanted me to know that was going to destroy this city, and that everything I had to give wasn’t enough to stop him.”
“What did he do?” She asked.
I cast my eyes to the floor for a moment, saying nothing. “Let’s see if we can find some clues.”
Iris paused as she momentarily considered my rather obvious shrugging off of the question. She rolled it over in her head. It concerned her, but she knew I wasn’t open to discuss it yet.
She followed me into the control booth through the broken front window. “The dispersal unit he’s been using is in here.” I said. “My guess is that he’s been pumping the substrate gas through it for a few days now, then dispersed the catalyst in one burst last night.” I stared toward the gas tanks, considering the conversation I’d had only a few hours ago.
“Could we use it to administer a citywide cure?” She asked.
“If we had one.” I said. “The Rat King is the only one who’d have the information we need to make one in time.”
“Does he have anything we could use down here?” She asked, looking around the room.
“Not that I can see, outside of all the research on the cubes.” I said. “There has to be something else around here.”
I broke open a door to the side of the control room, stepping into a stairwell that led to the bottom of the room. The corner of the second floor landing was filled with a myriad of various living equipment, a cot in the corner set among a series duffel bags and assorted equipment.
I rifled through the bags in search of evidence. Nothing.
We moved down the stairs and back into the antechamber. I’d noticed there was another door on the lower level, and subsequently blew it open with an explosive sword from the wrist.
A rat ran from the dark room and into the antechamber. I flipped a switch to turn on the lights as I stepped inside. The rats inside the room ran through holes in the wall in every direction.
The room was lined floor-to-ceiling with heavy science equipment. A series of intricate tubes, burners, and chemical engineering equipment strewn about the tables, monitors and a laptop computer around the edges of the room. The corner held a unit made to compress the toxin into tanks, placed next to an industrial-grade centrifuge.
The laptop booted up slowly, summoning a login request under the account name “ANezumi”
“Interesting.” I said. “We’re looking for someone named Nezumi.”
“Nice work.” Iris replied. “It looks like most of this tech is pretty new, even though it’s ill-maintained. We may be able to trace some purchase information.”
“Good thinking.” I said. “Get some serial numbers and we’ll see what we can do.”
I pulled the tablet from my pocket and began to search. “I’ll need my home gear to find any actual results, but I’m finding one at a local scientific firm. Could be useful.”
Iris lifted a vial forward. “I think I found our sample.”
I held the orange vial up to the light. “This looks like the stuff.” I said. “If we get this to our contacts with the police, they may be able to get a cure synthesized in time.”
A concerned look splashed across her face. “Do you think they’ll be able to make it happen?”
“It’s possible that we could still find a cure, but we can’t count on it.” I said. “This is what we can do for now.”
“If it’s all we can do…”
I picked up the computer. “Not quite all.”
The door cracked open with a sharp noise as the screws split the wood on the frame.
I stepped into the lab, not dissimilar from the one we found at the sewage treatment center. The equipment was well-used, abandoned for some time. Iris and I began to rifle through documents around the room. “According to the information I found, Arthur Nezumi was a former employee in this lab. Any information he may have left here might help us find a cure, or at least get into this computer.” I said.
Iris thumbed through the files. “Anything you found on his file?”
“Not beyond a name and place of work.” I said. “It looks like he just left without a trace one day.”
“What was he working on?”
“Disease control.” I said. “Ironically enough he spent his career synthesizing cures. Good at it, too.”
“Interesting.” She said. “Any idea what made him leave? And what made him… him?”
“Not yet.” I said. “But I think the laptop should be able to shed some light on the subject.”
Iris pulled a folder from the drawers. “This is the last project with Nezumi’s name on the line.”
I opened the folder and spread the sheets across the table. “Interesting.” I said. “This experiment wasn’t officiated by the company. He was running this personally.”
I looked at the last page in the set. A detailed form with a long series of fields for writing.
The word “Elise” stood in spite of the form’s organization, scrawled across the page in bold text.
Iris tapped it into the password entry box on the computer. “Worth a shot.”
The device unlocked.
“Great work.” I said. I poked around the files, searching for any information about the disease I could find.
Folders upon folders filled with chemical formulas and instructions for unique diseases, each one even more cruel and ominous than the last.
“He was doing this for months before he disappeared.” I said. “There are hundreds of these diseases.”
“Isn’t that the question.” I replied. My eyes met a file name. Elise.
I opened the document, reading it over. “This is it.” I said. “This is the disease.”
The air split with the sound of broken glass as three small capsules burst into the room.
I glanced at them for a moment before my next move. “Grenade!” I yelled, tackling Iris to the floor. The first of the grenades exploded in a plume of fire, blowing up the desk and filling the room with its fury. Gas exploded from the remaining two, beginning to fill the room.
A man in a blue hood stepped through the doorway as Iris and I equipped our gas masks.
I stood, scythes in hand. “It’s over, Rat King.”
“Rat King?” He asked. “A little on the nose, but I like it.”
I lunged at him, shooting in low as he vaulted over my shoulder.
Iris shot at him immediately afterward as he squeezed a small rubber pouch in his hand, spraying a clear liquid up her arm.
She recoiled as he shot past her, clawing at her arm and biting down hard as the acid began to react. She flailed in pain, crying out as she shot ice down her arm.
I lunged at the back of the Rat King’s head, swinging and missing as he turned around. An orange glass ball flew from his hand, shattering against my arm as insects exploded from within. They bit in the gaps in my armor, stinging at my face, neck, and collarbones. I pulled a smoke pellet from my belt and crushed it in my hand, filling the area around my face with smoke as I struggled to get the insects away from me.
In a few moments the air had cleared.
I stared at an empty room, a spot on the desk where the laptop had been, no Rat King to
Iris pulled her hands from my face, examining the remaining scars from the stings of the Rat King’s insects.
“How’s your arm?” I asked.
“Not too bad. Still some scarring, but it’ll get better.” She said, rubbing at the blotchy red wound on her skin. “This could’ve been a lot worse.”
“I don’t see how.” I said, pushing my hands through my hair. “He escaped with the computer. It had all the information we needed.”
She took my hand. “We’ll find a way.” She said. “We wouldn’t be given something we don’t have ability to handle.”
“I don’t know how to fix this anymore.” I said, leaning my head against her collar. “We can’t even fight him. “
She paused. “I can’t. You can.”
I looked up. “What?”
“It’s not ready yet.” I sighed.
“We could finish it.” She said. “Carolynn could help us.”
“It’s the only thing that we could use to fight him.” She said. “And Carolynn is smart enough to build it.”
I paused to think about it.
“The police have the disease.” She said. “There’s nothing more we can do without being able to fight Rat King.”
“…You’re right.” I said. “Let’s get to work.”
Iris and I stepped into the foyer. I stepped toward the window well, where Carolynn sat.
“I need your help.” I said.
“With what?” She asked, an unusual fragility in her voice.
“A suit.” I said.
Her mouth hung open for a moment as she began to speak, her voice cut off with a sharp cough.
My eyes went wide. “Carolynn?”
She continued to hack, collapsing to her hands and knees on the floor as she choked.
A crimson stain splashed across the white marble tile as Carolynn looked up, a single red line dripping from the edge of her lip.
Copyright © Josiah Delnay 2016.