Jensen rolled uncomfortably on the ground, the concrete like a solid block of ice beneath his aching electroactive polymers and their interfaces. Even the lightest pressure still felt torturous, but at least the vomiting had let up. He must have been asleep, but it was hard for him to know. Usually he knew he had slept if he were emerging from a nightmare, but what he was waking up to was just that. He weakly propped himself up and rubbed his throbbing head, looking to his side through the translucent plastic sheet to where a slowly lightening sky was visible at the other end of the hangar. It dawned on him suddenly that he was able to see again. He'd been so delirious hours earlier that he almost forgot about it. The pain had been so much more intense he would have likely been shutting his eyes anyhow. Jensen inhaled deeply, filling his lungs painfully with the stale air in his enclosure. There was something heavy behind him on the other side of the divider and when he turned he saw Freya's silhouette. She must have finally succumbed to exhaustion earlier.
Through the plastic to his left was Anton, who was groaning softly on the mattress.
"Anton, how are you doing in there?" asked Adam, edging closer to his side.
Anton tried to answer, but was wracked with an agonizing coughing fit for a minute or two. Finally, he wiped his mouth and turned towards Adam.
"Not so good, Bratan," Anton's voice cracked, his tone now deeper and distorted. Even with all the vomiting, he lifted up a bottle that Adam presumed was vodka and took a hearty swig. Adam's HUD was just barely flickering back on, but not sufficiently for him to obtain vital signs. "How about you?"
"My augments are starting to reactivate. It's nice to be able to see again, though I still feel like something chewed me up and spit me out," Adam answered humorlessly.
"I...don't think I'm going to be coming back from this," said Anton, coughing again to the point of dry heaves. As he gasped for air, he took another drink. "Shiv's a saint," he added, holding up the bottle and falling back again on the mattress.
Adam couldn't see very clearly through the divider, but the way Anton was shuddering and moving looked like his nervous system was getting even more affected. Much like himself right after Page hit him with the weaponized nanite virus, only Anton seemed to be getting steadily worse. Adam groped for something to say. He wasn't good at small talk - never had been. Was now even the right time for small talk? What did Anton want?
"Fuck, Adam, I pictured dying many times, but never from something like this. I thought it'd be a government raid, or maybe assassinated at my computer, gunned down while undercover... not some goddamned infection," he bemoaned, coughing again and trying to sit up but lacking the strength.
Swallowing, Jensen replied, "A quiet death is never what men like us expect.”
“Well, I’m not ending it here, surrounded by plastic and my own filth,” he rolled off the bed, his arms slapping against the pavement, struggling towards the door flap.
Jensen turned away for a moment, his black augmented fingers gripping the plastic. He cringed seeing Anton in such desperation. Resolutely, he unsheathed the nanoceramic blade from his left arm and sliced angrily through the sheet separating their cells. Ignoring the pain signals shooting through his augments, he reached around Anton’s waist and hoisted him over his shoulder, turning towards the far wall of his own cell that separated him from the wide hangar exit to the outside. With another deft vertical slash, he stepped through the divider and into the fresh air of the landing bay. He stepped towards the dim light coming through the large semicircular opening to the ground level runway, the frigid wind hurtling towards the two of them across the tundra. Anton grimaced as Adam carried him out from under the roof and onto the open runway just as the sun was starting to peak its rays over the horizon.
Jensen stepped to their left off of the tarmac, leaving the asphalt behind and treading onto frosty soil and grasses. Crunches of icy leaves and stalks beneath his feet and Anton’s struggling breath were the only sounds as Adam looked for an adequate spot. Finally, Adam gently brought him to the cold earth, cradling Anton’s head over his elbow and resting against his knee so his friend could still just barely see over the golden brown wisps of vegetation. Anton smiled, breathing deep the fresh air, seemingly unconcerned by the redness and erosion within his face where his cerebral augments were.
“Thanks, bratan,” he said gratefully, his grey-brown eyes opening and staring at the gradually lightening sky above them as the dawn broke.
Adam waited crouched beside him, silent among the grasses waving in the breeze. Anton had stopped trying to speak, instead waiting solemnly as a soldier holding vigil. His augments were gradually becoming more functional and it wasn’t hard to see Anton’s vital signs worsening. Even the flesh around the circular facial augment was eroding at a faster rate. Jensen was surprised Anton could even see considering his state, but those eyes remained fixed at the heavens. A shudder ran through Anton and his body tensed before his final agonal breath left his lips and his body pressed weightily into Adam’s arm towards the earth. Gently, he let Anton’s lifeless body fall to the ground and Adam stood, his hands firmly clenched beside him. On the periphery, he saw several signals heading in his direction. Shivana, Freya and Dr. Kavanaugh were racing towards him, having just realized he and Anton had left the quarantine.
“Jensen, where’s Anton?” asked Shivana, her brow furrowed, dark semicircles under her amber eyes.
Adam turned towards the path in the grass forged by his steps and she ran through, stopping just feet from her fallen comrade. He didn’t want to witness her grief and instead turned to Freya. She paused about three feet from him, restraining her hands from reaching out to embrace him. They were folded across her stomach and her feet frozen in place.
“Adam,” she said softly, struggling to remain composed, “is Anton…”
He nodded and saw Dr. Kavanaugh behind her gesturing to him. He stepped around Freya, who moved a few paces forward closer to where Shivana had stepped off the main road. They both knew she couldn’t come towards him yet – he might still be infectious, and he had already cost them one man’s life.
“Please come with me,” Kavanaugh said to Adam, gesturing for him to follow her. As he re-entered the hangar, he saw Jie bringing Dmitri out of the final cell. It seemed he hadn’t developed any symptoms. As they proceeded down into the lower chamber, they headed towards one of the showers, with a bucket of what smelled like bleach beside the door.
“You’ll need to rinse down with that,” she instructed him. “You’re out of the window now for infectivity, but we can’t guarantee that you don’t still have active nanoparticles on your skin.”
Jensen nodded and took the container of disinfectant with him, dousing himself to the point that his natural skin felt like it was nearly peeling off. He couldn’t risk anyone else succumbing, least of all Freya. As he toweled off and wrapped it around his waist, he saw a familiar figure heading down the hall towards him, her brown hair tied loosely back and her hands coated with soil. Eyes brimming with tears, she raced forward until her face was buried against him. He felt her warm, shaking arms around his bare torso and brought her closer cautiously.
“We buried him. Shivana did most of the work, but…” she choked.
He gently kissed her forehead, smoothing hair away from her face. As he looked down at her, he noticed she was carrying a bundle of men’s clothing.
“Dr. Kavanaugh found these in the back, since your other clothing is probably contaminated.”
“Thanks, I’ll be out in a bit,” he said, taking the clothing and cueing to her he wanted a little time to himself. As her footsteps echoed further down the hall, he entered their room and sat on the bed, winching as pain signals shot through his artificial knees and up into his hips. His head still pounded a bit, but it was getting better. Jensen tested his HUD display - it seemed like it was working. He was able to detect life forms outside, plot their trajectories… He threw on the dark grey shirt and pants and paced across the cold floor, the room lit only by the light falling through the doorway, still doing systems checks to occupy his mind. Finally he tested the internal infolink comm system.
“Janus, are you out there?” he tried, unsure if he would get a response even if his comm did go out.
“Yes, Adam. It would seem you have recovered,” the mechanical voice replied tonelessly.
“So it would seem. Anton’s dead,” he informed him, wondering if that would get an emotional response or if Anton was just another pawn in Janus’ game.
“Yes, Shivana told me. We’re convening at Jie’s station in a few minutes,” Janus replied brusquely, a familiar ping indicating he was disconnecting. Adam lingered in the room, standing statuesquely in one of the darker corners. As he leaned against the wall, he shut his eyes and wished the artificial half of his body would stop rebelling so painfully against the recent viral incursion. Sighing, he reminded himself that at least he wasn’t wallowing on the floor anymore blinded and nearly paralyzed, not knowing whether he was moments from death’s door. He knew his lucky recovery was probably due to the tampering done when he was a lab rat at White Helix. How he hated owing anything to that group which stole his childhood and family away from him. Jensen clenched his fist and slammed it into the wall, easily breaking through into the adjacent empty room. Jensen grinned as the shockwave rippled up through his arm up to his shoulder and chest. Shaking off some crumbled cement and rebar, he stood up to head out the door. Well, at least that felt good.
As they assembled around Jie’s station, there was a conspicuously somber mood hanging over the group. Shivana hung back in the shadows of the doorway, biting her bottom lip and shielding her puffy eyes from the group as best she could. Jie was still connected to the network, several cords flowing from ports in the base of his skull to terminals on both sides of him – splaying out like cables from a bridge tower. He was still furiously typing, but distracted – even Jie was not immune to tragedy. Dr. Kavanaugh and Freya stood at the center, next to Dimitri who had been medically cleared to rejoin them. Finally, Jensen entered the room behind them, avoiding Shivana’s angry glare from the entrance.
Clearly sensing that the full team was present, the prominent screen on standby flickered to life with Janus’ neon blue pixelated avatar. Adam crossed his arms tightly, waiting for the announcement.
“Let me first acknowledge what a loss it is for us to lose our brother Anton Mosyakov. He had been with me almost from the beginning, and was one of the most loyal, determined men I have ever had the privilege to know and work with. There will be time to mourn him, but right now we must strike back fast at those who developed this heinous biological weapon and reveal the truth to the world.”
“So you’ve found the final control site Eliza mentioned?” asked Freya eagerly. If the information Adam had obtained from Page led somewhere, perhaps Anton’s death would not be in vain.
“Yes,” chimed in Jie. “Thanks to the intel Jensen was able to glean from Page,” everyone visibly stiffened at the mention of his name, “I was able to isolate all available information about Lucius DeBeers and his holdings. The largest power draw appears to be at a facility in Switzerland.”
“I have independently confirmed that as well, through my own sources,” confirmed Janus.
“There’s something else,” Jie added. “I was able to pull up the building layout and peek at the circuitry around their data servers. It looks like there are three main locations you’ll need to access – all are encrypted, but the data we pulled from Versalife may be able to help with that. Two of the points are what we call ‘lock’ points – they must be simultaneously disabled or you’ll be shut out of the third site, which is where Jensen will want to upload the data about Panchaea, the Illuminati, and the RBS.”
“Sounds like more than a two man job,” said Shivana, leaving her aloof position and coming in closer. She had clearly traded her misplaced anger at Jensen for the prospect of revenge against the Illuminati.
“Yes,” said Janus. “Shivana, Adam, you’ll both be on the ground on this one. Freya,” Adam turned towards her, something twisting in his stomach, “will be needed for on-site technical troubleshooting. The security is too high for me or Jie to remotely access, and you may encounter barriers that your hacking augments cannot overcome.”
“But Freya hasn’t…” protested Jensen, only for her comm to cut him off. “Adam, no.”
Aloud, she answered, “Of course, Janus . I’ll go.”
“Freya,” Adam commed her, “you’ve never been in the field, you’ll be too vulnerable.”
"I'm not staying here while you risk your life again if there's anything I can do to help. If Janus thinks joining you out there will make the slightest difference, I have to do it."
“Dmitri, when will you be ready to lift off?” asked Janus.
“Well, the one bird still needs to be decontaminated, but the other one is ready whenever you need it,” the Russian pilot answered.
“Adam, I know you’re still recovering…” started Janus, seeming to scan his system.
“I’m fine. I’m ready to leave when the team is,” Jensen insisted.
“In that case, everyone, be ready at 0600 tomorrow. I’d like Jie to do some diagnostics on Jensen and Shivana before tomorrow to identify any deficits. Freya, you and Jie will need to go over what we know about their system. Dr. Kavanaugh has the additional data for Eliza’s broadcast prepared as well, which Jensen will upload to the main control center. Remember, this isn’t just for us, or Anton. We do this for the world. Janus out.”