Freya and Jie were following the video footage of Adam on the plane, eager to get their first look at Bob Page in the flesh. They didn’t comm in to him, for fear it would distract him from the careful interrogation. When Page mentioned Lucius DeBeers, Jie lit up and immediately began looking up the information. He seemed to recognize the name. Freya watched the screens intently - it looked like DeBeers was a wealthy Englishman, with a wide range of companies and global interests, but he currently resided in Geneva, Switzerland.
As Jie investigated, Freya’s attention was drawn back to Adam's video feed. He was looking down at an odd syringe in his fingers and then started staggering away.
“Jie, what’s going on? Anton, Dmitri, Adam needs your help,” Freya commed.
“What’s going on?” Anton asked, indicating for Dmitri to bring the plane closer. They had backed off after Adam made contact to avoid drawing attention and once he had safely landed in the ocean, they would pick him up. At least that had been the original plan.
“Page hit Adam with some kind of dart, I don’t know what it had in it but he’s…” her breath stopped as Adam threw open the plane’s side hatch and began plummeting to the ocean. “He’s falling, his Icarus System isn’t activating!”
Janus’s voice interjected, “Anton, you won’t be able to reach him in time. I’ll try to activate his augment remotely.” For once, Freya thought she could hear a hint of urgency in that computerized voice.
Adam’s screen was a confusing vision in free fall, going black with more frequency as he seemed to be losing consciousness.
“Adam, can you hear me?” she commed desperately, leaning over the keyboard and tightly clenching the top edge until her fingers ached. His visual feed had gone black, so he was completely unconscious, but it looked like the descent of his GPL was slowing – Janus must have gotten the landing system to kick in at least a little.
“Freya, I’m coming up on his location – Janus managed to slow him down in the last couple hundred meters,” Anton informed her.
Jie switched the video source to Anton and they saw the plane lowering itself until it was nearly touching the water below. Anton threw a line towards Adam who was floating on his side, waves crashing over him haphazardly. As he pulled him on board, Freya could have almost believed Adam was just sleeping – his face was calm and there wasn’t a single stray mark on him, aside from a small red spot below his clavicle where he was hit by the syringe.
“We’ve got a pulse,” Anton reported, “and he’s breathing. What the fuck happened?”
“Page hit him with something, a tranquilizer dart maybe, but he shouted something like ‘Give my regards to Janus,’ so I don’t know…” Freya explained, starting to feel relieved but unable to ignore the uneasy feeling in the back of her mind.
The next hours were painfully tense. Jie was focused on obtaining information about DeBeer’s companies to see which one might be a good candidate for housing the data controls on Eliza. It would have to be a facility that drew energy levels comparable to the Hyron Project. Meanwhile, Freya was sitting back and watching Anton’s feed for any change in Adam’s status. As they entered Russian airspace, she saw him stirring uncomfortably and eyes barely opening.
“…Freya?” she heard his words over Anton’s feed, not through the comms.
“Adam, I’m here. Are you okay?” she commed, encouraged that he was awake and speaking.
“Freya, are you there?” he asked again. Freya realized somehow his infolink was not working.
Anton chimed in, “Rest easy, Adam, we’ve got you. She’s waiting back at HQ. Did we get any useful information out of Page?”
Freya answered, “Yes, it sounds like Lucius DeBeers is the man running the operation. Jie is tracking down possible locations of the last data filter. How is Adam doing?”
“Well he’s coming to, but Christ bratan, you’re burning up,” Anton remarked as he touched Adam’s skin while pulling him up to one of the seats in the transport.
“Janus, are you able to pull any vitals off of him?” she asked the void, since she had no way to specifically comm Janus, but assumed he was monitoring all their communications.
“Most of his systems are offline, I can’t get any information to or from his neural chip. There’s something interfering with the interface…that’s why his Icarus System didn’t activate on its own.”
When he said the word interface, an icy chill rose up Freya’s spine. She didn’t want to suggest something so awful, because it could be devastating, but she had to say it.
“Janus…what if that injection contained the experimental substance, SLK-109? That we saw at Versalife headquarters?” she looked closer at the skin connecting to Jensen’s arm augments and thought she saw a faint hint of redness.
“That’s impossible, a virus couldn’t work that fast …” Janus remarked, but without conviction.
“If it’s concentrated enough it could be acting like a toxin and inducing complete system shutdown…not to mention this is one of the first viruses chimerified with nanites. There’s no way to know how it would behave in any quantity, much less when concentrated…” Freya bit her lip and was thankful that Adam couldn’t hear what she was saying.
Janus seemed to pause before answering, “I hate to consider it but you’re right. It is a possibility we cannot ignore. Shivana, Freya, I’ll need you both to set up an area in the hangar for Adam, Anton and Dmitri. If they’ve been exposed, all of you are at risk.”
Freya nodded and tore herself away from the screens, trusting Jie to keep her apprised of any changes in Adam’s status. She ran into Shivana, who had already heard the instructions from Janus and was carrying rolls of plastic sheets. Previously the plastic covers had been used back in storage, but there was enough footage to make three separate holding areas. They had to affix them to light poles and the wall to make three additional sides to create sectioned off spaces. Shivana easily brought up the mattresses and was placing the third one inside the last section when she and Freya heard the hum of the VTOL approaching the hangar.
“Freya, Shivana, this is critical – you must not approach Adam, Anton, or Dmitri until they are safely inside the quarantine. I’ve already informed them about the plan,” Janus's voice instructed them.
Freya clenched her jaw and crossed her arms tightly around herself as she watched the plane set down tens of meters away. She was standing on the balls of her feet, as if ready to spring forward – the only thing holding her back was willpower. From the side hatch, Adam and Anton emerged, while Dmitri stayed in the cockpit to power down the craft. Anton was holding Adam’s arm over his shoulder and helping him towards the makeshift quarantine zone. His legs were struggling to put one augmented foot in front of the other – it was as if the leg prosthetics had suddenly become useless dead weights. As they drew nearer, Adam buckled over and forced them to stop, suddenly vomiting fresh blood onto the concrete.
Before Freya could start running forward, she already felt Shivana’s silver arms come around her shoulders and torso to restrain her.
“Adam!” Freya cried, both resisting and drawing support from Shivana’s tight hold on her. She tightened her fists against Shivana’s knees, pushing futilely against her as tears came to her eyes. She had never felt more helpless. Adam, what have they done to you?
Adam seemed to hear her and his head turned towards her painfully, his free arm hanging limply beside him. She thought she caught his eyes straining to see her, but Anton pulled him onward and let him go on one of the cordoned off mattresses before seating himself in the adjacent one. Finally Dmitri left the plane and took his place in the third section. Shivana let Freya go and she rushed to the thick plastic sheet that separated Adam from them. She could barely see through the blurry divider, but was able to pick out his figure huddled against itself on the bed, coughing up more blood.
“Adam, I’m here,” she said, her fingers lightly touching the slick artificial surface.
He moaned in agony, “Ugh...Freya, what’s…happening?” He held his head tightly as it pounded more fiercely and he tried to ignore the salty taste of blood and stomach acid in his mouth.
“You might have been infected with the substance we found at Versalife. You’ll need to stay in there until we know for sure, or at least until you get better,” Freya said, choking on her words. She wanted to say something reassuring, but nothing was coming to mind. In the section beside Adam’s, Freya heard a loud grimace and saw Anton’s figure pacing and holding his skull.
“Anton, talk to me, tell me what’s going on,” asked Shivana, who was standing just outside his quarters. Her normally jovial and relaxed countenance was ablaze, especially her eyes. Freya couldn’t tell whether she was more furious or concerned or both. Like Freya, she probably didn’t even know how to sort things out. It’s probably worse for her since she’s so strong, Freya pondered, and she can usually do something about a problem, but not this time.
“I don’t know, I’ve just got this splitting headache and feel sick to my stomach, and I’m sweating like a pig,” he said, coming closer to the barrier.
“Well geez, when you put it like that…I’m glad I’m out here and you’re in there,” she tried to keep a lighter tone. “Are your augments still working?” Shivana continued.
“Well, my optical display is still functioning, but…I tried comming you guys a moment ago and I didn’t get any response from either of you. Whatever Adam got…did any of the files mention the mortality rate?”
“Anton, come on, do you really want to know?” Shivana said quietly, knowing that whatever the answer was, it couldn’t be good.
“Goddamnit, Shiv, we at least deserve to know what our chances are! If I’m fucked either way, you might as well bring me all the vodka we’ve got and I’ll finish it myself,” he shouted angrily, driven as much by fear as the gradually increasing level of pain he was experiencing.
Shivana stepped back, visibly unnerved by Anton’s tone, “Yes, of course, we’ll go find out what Jie has discovered. Maybe Dr. Kavanaugh has some experience with this as well.”
Freya started to leave but felt Adam press his hand against the plastic near her, the edge brushing her ankle as he groped blindly. “Wait, Freya...” he uttered, the tone of his voice dangerously close to pleading.
She cut him off before he could say anything else, “Don’t worry, Adam, I won’t go anywhere.” She sat and pressed against the plastic where his prosthetic hand was, but the fingers didn’t respond.
“Are you there?” he asked, still not receiving sensation from his augments.
As much as she’d fought them earlier, she finally felt tears overflow her eyes. She answered, her tone brighter to try to hide the crying, “Yes, always. Is there anything we can get you?”
“Water would be great,” he said, regaining a little of his usual self. The more he heard her voice, the more at ease he felt despite the constant crescendo of pain shooting through his body. Each breath was agony, and he was now consciously fighting the desire to throw up again. The last time he felt even close to this miserable was when he was in the operating suite after the accident, with his arms and legs severed and his eyes deactivated. But that time he was alone, without anyone for him to lean on except the unfeeling company surgeons. He sat with his back against the plastic. The skin of his torso was still able to sense pressure and temperature, and the warmth of her hands pressing on his shoulders through the sheet was helping him gather his thoughts.
“I just told Shivana to get some,” Freya assured him, sitting down so her back was propped against his. She rested her head back onto the curve where his shoulder was, fighting the urge to tear the barrier down and take her chances. Just to be able to hold him and give him whatever support she could. Wiping her cheeks, she took a deep breath and tried to reassure herself that it might not be so bad. There was no reason he couldn’t beat this thing, as bad as things looked now. In a bit, Dr. Kavanaugh and Shivana’s steps were echoing up the staircase, with Shivana carrying boxes of water containers and other supplies.
“Okay, we have some good news, and some bad news,” started Shivana, handing one of the water jugs to Dr. Kavanaugh.
The petite brunette scientist took it awkwardly and, collecting herself, started, “Well, based on the data you all collected, it’s…about 80% fatal. That’s in normal augmented test subjects. It’s not airborne, but it is passed in body fluids such as blood and saliva, even sweat. It doesn’t seem to cause disease in people without augments, and there’s no knowing what effect it will have in you, Adam – it could be better, or it could be far worse.”
“Well,” Adam said, coughing and wiping his mouth on his shoulder since he couldn’t lift his arms, “right now, it seems worse.”
“Right,” said Dr. Kavanaugh, a little shaken, “but you got a concentrated dose. No matter what, you were going to get the worst of it.”
“Great,” Adam said grimly.
“Now, I’m not augmented, so it should be safe for me to go inside and help them. It would be great if my partner Gary were here. He knows all about nanite viruses, but I do have a little knowledge from what we discussed back at the RBS,” she said, stepping inside Adam’s partition. The New Zealander approached and brought the jug of water up to his lips. As the water hit his stomach he already felt a little relief from the nausea, but he still couldn’t lift his arm to steady to container so she waited for him to indicate he had drunk enough. She briefly examined him and felt his pulse, which she measured at his neck.
“Can you see anything?” she asked. He could feel her fingers pushing on his eyebrows and lower eyelid, but no visual signals were being sent.
“Nothing. Are my eyes even open?”
“They are. But I’m not seeing any signs of erosion yet, which is good. The course of the illness is typically over 48 hours, so if you’re starting to do better in another 12-24 hours, or at least aren’t getting worse, you should make some kind of recovery. I can’t predict what functions will return, though. You’re fortunate that your body doesn’t usually build up glial scarring around augments due to your unique genetics, but there’s no telling what this virus will do,” she said, avoiding any language that would be falsely encouraging.
He was still up against harrowing odds, and they had little to no equipment that could be of use. They had no way to try to develop a vaccine or antiserum, minimal medications beyond basic first aid, no laboratory. To take him to a hospital would mean exposing the general population and risking an outbreak, so they were on their own in every sense.
“Hey, Kavanaugh, I could use a little water in here too,” Anton said, tapping on the plastic wall separating him and Adam.
“I’ll be right in,” she said, stepping out and leaving one of the jugs in there along with an empty bucket for Adam to use as a waste bin. When she entered the section with Anton, carrying a fresh jug of water, she stopped in her steps. Even though Adam looked overall worse off, the skin around the circular cerebral enhancements on Anton’s face was developing a bruised appearance. The two metallic nodes beneath his chin were surrounded by a thin border of raw, erythematous tissue. At least the sites where Adam’s augments connected to his body had looked relatively unscathed, and he had been exposed for longer.
“Do I look that bad?” Anton asked, half coughing, half laughing into his elbow. He frowned when he saw a faint speckling of red on his sleeve.
“I’m sure you’ve had worse,” Kavanaugh said encouragingly, handing him the water jug since he was capable of holding it himself.
After he sated his thirst, he wiped his lips and gestured at Adam, asking quietly, “How’s he doing?”
“Could be worse, but could be better. It hit him hard and fast due to the dosage. Even though he’s lost communication to his augments, it doesn’t look like it’s started attacking the tissue complexes. I suspect the virus focuses on regions of active glial tissue buildup, but the body’s toxic immune response is what’s killing him right now,” she explained, examining Anton’s eyes and his cerebral implants more closely. She measured the degree of tissue damage and made a few quick scribbles on her pocket notebook.
“I’ll check back in twelve hours or so. Anything I can bring you?”
“I suppose an e-reader and some food. Maybe a cyberboost bar would help?” he asked unsurely, looking for something encouraging in her eyes but not finding it.
“It certainly couldn’t hurt – I’ll bring some for Adam too,” she said, heading out again. Dmitri hadn’t shown any signs yet, so she wasn’t about to go in and risk infecting him if he hadn't been exposed yet. As she left Anton’s compartment, Shivana started approaching her but she immediately held her hands up.
“You’ll want to stay a few feet away from me. Even though I’m not at risk, there’s still a chance I could transmit the virus to you,” Kavanaugh warned.
“How is he?” Shivana asked, following Kavanaugh down the stairwell. Freya heard something that sounded encouraging, but the look in Kavanaugh’s eyes said the opposite. Darkly she wondered if Anton’s CASIE was still functional. His infolink wasn’t functioning so hopefully the rest wasn’t. For his sake.
“Shivana,” Freya commed, “can you bring my laptop up to me? Have Jie put everything about the SLK-109 on it.”
“Sure,” she said, “But I don’t know if reading the details of the horrible things it did to test subjects will make you feel much better.”
Freya shook her head. Perhaps it wouldn’t do any good. Perhaps it would just make her feel worse. But it was better than simply sitting there while Adam suffered. She felt his stuttered breathing and occasional coughs throw him against her back. Every time she felt his body struggle against the effects of the infection, she wanted to say something or ask a question. She just swallowed and buried the words in the back of her mind. He knows I’m here. That’s all I can do for him right now. There’s nothing to say.
As night fell, it grew dimmer in the hanger. The only light was being produced by her laptop screen and the generator-powered flood lamp. Anton had set the e-book aside – he couldn’t focus enough to read it. The pain in his skull had grown even more in the last several hours. Shivana was maintaining a tense vigil beside her, trying to keep Anton talking. It was a stark contrast to Adam, who seemed to want to remain silent. Perhaps his collected, internal strength was the only thing keeping him from falling apart and to speak would break that concentration. He was so warm she almost worried he would melt through the plastic sheet between them. Every so often he leaned over to the bucket just as nausea overwhelmed him and followed it with a hearty swig of water and a bite from his cyberboost bar. Freya occasionally dared to look behind her at his silhouette and was relieved not to see any growing redness where his augment met his shoulder flesh. She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself as a frigid breeze swept through from across the dark countryside. It wouldn’t be long until they would know what was in store for them, and she was counting the moments with each breath he took.