Salva Nos
Episode 3: Of Secret-Keepers and Knights
by Ajora Fravashi

Disclaimer - See the one on episode 1. I don't have time to retype it.


There were very few outsiders who knew of the location of Iwakuni Base, and even fewer who were trusted enough for the people of the base to form a partnership with them. Amongst these were the Ainu tribes.

Once upon a time, the Ainu were approaching extinction as a race. These native peoples of Hokkaido and Sakhalin had been hunted and repressed, much like their Native American relatives, until the few tribes left were living on Japan's answer to reservations. However, when the Apocalypse came, the Ainu who kept to their traditional mode of living were the best equipped to survive it. Although the adults had died, the children did not starve or have to fight each other over food. When the rest of Japan was still squabbling over the remains of the old world, the Ainu appointed new chieftains and continued as they always had. They were content in their prosperity and isolation until the Wanderer came.

The Wanderer met their chieftains one day, fourteen years ago, to convince them to spread out and adopt any Japanese children who would join them. Some were wary, for they remembered the tales they were told of the racial purification hunts hundreds of years ago, but others agreed. Those who agreed sent representatives of their tribes to go with the Wanderer and teach the old ways to children too used to buying food from a store and expecting water from a tap. Along the way, they adopted children who had the willingness to live as them and take on their customs.

Kanbara Takuya was one such child. He remembered too well the stress of having to scavenge from stores long since pillaged or fight with other kids just to feed himself and his brother. He was familiar with the gnawing ache in his stomach that came from entire days of starvation. When the Wanderer came by town, he and his brother were so weak that a scout from the procession called for a halt to pick them up. Once they had fed him and Shinya, they were offered a place in the tribe so long as they were willing to adopt the customs. It hadn't taken much convincing. A new life, with the promise of teaching skills to help him become self-sufficient, and a hierarchy he could agree with were well worth it. Sure, his ceremonial clothes looked kinda funny, but they were hand-crafted and not stolen from stores or dead adults. He had even hunted down the materials to make them. He loved his new people, and they supported him and Shinya.

Now he and the Wanderer waited outside the base to be acknowledged. That his tribe trusted him enough to renew their treaty with Iwakuni Base was a great honor. He just hoped he wouldn't disappoint them. The Wanderer was with him only to visit an old friend and wouldn't oversee the process. The enormous metal doors opened soon enough to let them in.

They walked into a darkness lit ever so often by electric bulbs, and along the way, a man in black joined them. The man in black and the Wanderer soon fell behind him, and when he paused, the Wanderer told him to go on without them. Someone else would meet with him, and the Wanderer would meet him outside the next morning. So he continued, not particularly surprised when the Wanderer and the man in black seemed to disappear behind him. The Wanderer did that a lot.

Towards the end of the tunnel, a young woman with her red hair in a bun stood straight and tall against a flood of light. She gave him a deep traditional Japanese bow. He returned it with the awkwardness of long years without practice.

"Are you of the Shichup tribe?"

"Yeah. Takuya of the Shichup Ainu, at your service." He grinned at that, and she relaxed her stance enough to smile back. It did feel kinda silly to be so formal. "I'm here to discuss the terms of our treaty and see if we can renew it. I was told to see Mr. Ichijouji."

The smile vanished on the woman's face, but she maintained a rather kindly countenance. "He's not available at the moment, but you can talk to me. I am his second in command, Takenouchi Sora. Usually what happens is that people come to me and I drag him out of hiding when he needs to sign something."

"Oh, okay." Well, go figure. Bureaucracy was the same everywhere, after all.

"But please, follow me." With that, Sora turned and led the way to what Takuya suspected was a general-use meeting room. Yeah, things had gotten a lot better for him since he joined the Ainu.


Secrets haunted the hidden corridors of Iwakuni Base. The few who were privy to them did not talk of them. They simply passed by each other with knowing looks and never asked.

Li Jianliang was among these secret-keepers. He was successful in his job because he knew every hidden room, corridor, and anything that could be used as an entry or exit-way. In finding these places, he discovered things that could have Ken dethroned and himself placed in power. However, he did not act on this information, content as he was with his own position. As much as he disagreed with Ken's tactics compared to Osamu's, he had a duty to protect the base and he would stick to it. The base was the world's greatest protection for his little sister, after all.

Besides, he had his own secrets. One of those secrets sat across from him in the sanctity of his private quarters. This secret had long since fallen out of favor with Ken, but was too useful for the protection of the base to be dismissed outright. Even without the usefulness of a double agent, this secret was a close friend.

"What, no coffee," his informant asked with a false pout.

With a shake of his head, he set a small shot of brandy before his friend. "I think you should sleep after this. Are you sure about what you said?"


"Then it shall come to pass?"

"In time, yes."

Iwakuni Base's head of security closed his eyes against the despair that threatened to loom over him. If it was as he suspected, his nice and orderly world-within-a-world would be turned upside down by the folly of outsiders. "What can I do to slow the process?"

The older man looked up at him with heavy-lidded eyes. He was right about his friend's exhaustion. The moment he would have to leave, he'd order his friend to go collapse on his bed and get a full eight hours of sleep. "Keep Ken in the dark."

"I won't betray him."

"You don't have to," the older man stated. "Just keep him from finding out. My boss will handle the rest, and I'll try to distract the other factor."

"Very well. Go ahead and get some sleep, okay? You don't look well."

The double agent gave him a long, examining look over the rim of his shot glass. "Does Terriermon know?"

"Yes, but I've convinced him that it was a topic not worth pursuing. You're my little secret."

His secret had a mysterious half-smile on his face before downing the brandy in one gulp. The man returned the shot glass to the table and continued. "Secrets have a way of getting out."

"Then I shall do my best to keep this one from getting out before the world is ready." Jianliang decided to pour another shot of brandy for his friend. With all the running around the man did, it was well deserved.

"Jen," the man asked, though his attention was on his drink instead of Jianliang. "Could you stay and drink with me? Just for a bit?"

"I have to clean up after Ken again in a few minutes," he chided his friend. "And to do that, I need clarity."

"Then, could you stay until you have to go?"

Jianliang knew things that could chill one's blood, he knew things that could set himself up as a king for life. But what he knew was nothing compared to the guilt his friend carried. His friend had world-shattering secrets that could not be told, not until the time was right. If ever he felt helpless, it was nothing compared to what his friend and informant was going through. With one last sigh, he pulled up a chair and poured himself some brandy. Ken would just have to clean up after himself this time.


Ever since the beginning, Ichijouji Ken had harbored darkness. At times it felt as if it was just an unpleasant side of him, one to be kept hidden under his masks and released in private. At other times, it was comforting in its own way. He could hide and plot in the darkness. Secrets could be buried there.

As he passed into the sealed-off section of the base, he reflected upon the end of the old world. Somehow a friend of his father named Oikawa had gotten the family signed on with the refugees. Computer programmers would be needed, they said, just as much as the other scientists and government officials. They were going to wait out the mass death and come out of hiding when there were no more carriers of the virus. It would have been the perfect plan.

He remembered the envoy of men escorting a young woman in a biosuit through the base. When everyone stepped as far away as they could from the woman, he had asked his brother what the procession was. "It's a Patient Zero. Typhoid Mary," Osamu said in that distant tone of voice that suggested he was working out some kind of problem in his head again, "one of the first known carriers of the virus. She has an immunity, so it hasn't killed her yet. They want to study her. They'll probably want to see if they can derive a vaccine."

"But, isn't it dangerous to have her here," he queried, unconsciously squeezing his brother's hand in mounting worry. His brother squeezed back.

"So long as she's kept in isolation, we should be fine." He remembered that Osamu looked down to meet his eyes then and gave him a vaguely reassuring smile. "Don't worry, Ken. This is the safest place in Japan."

Safety, he had come to learn, sometimes came at too high a price. Patient Zero had been in isolation for months since then, and Ken had almost forgotten about her. In the last few weeks before everyone had died in the world outside, Osamu became increasingly preoccupied with the reports. The scientists in the base thought his brother was just so darling in his pursuit for information on the virus. They gave his brother every bit of data they managed to gather about the virus and its behaviors, and fed the ravenous hunger that was Osamu's curiosity. No one thought much about it.

Then the riots and looting came to the cities as more and more people started dying. At one point, Osamu had hacked into the base's computers and managed to connect his laptop to the video feed outside. While Ken was playing with his best friend's Gameboy, Osamu was transfixed to the screen. He remembered looking up once to try and figure out what was so fascinating about the screen and soon regretted it. His brother looked slightly ill as he watched the death throes of one of the mothers who had gotten out to retrieve some memento and thought she could get back in. "I need to watch this," Osamu said when he whined that they should look away, "I need to see what this thing does. I can't fight it if those idiot pathologists keep sanitizing things for me."

Sickened by the view, Ken opted to return his game instead. Legend of Zelda, he recalled. It was a welcome distraction. When night came, Osamu was still staring at his computer screen and Ken didn't ask. He simply curled up in the bunk they shared and tried to chase the images of death away. He wasn't sure what time it had been when he was awoken by Osamu's cursing, but he was soon pulled out of bed and told to stay there, and if their parents asked where Osamu was, his brother was trying to stop it from getting in. He just nodded and went back to bed.

The day after that, Osamu kept fluctuating between pure rage and depression. The few times Ken felt sure Osamu wasn't going to lash out at him, he asked what happened. Someone had gotten out of the base in a biohazard suit to loot, and then had sneaked back in through a hidden passageway that Osamu had been watching at the time. This would have been perfectly fine, except that Osamu noticed a hole torn into the suit's finger when he investigated it later. His brother suspected that the looter had stolen something, perhaps an earring or brooch, that punctured the suit. None of the adults listened to him.

They should have listened. If they had, they'd be here now. But the dying began again, despite Osamu's warnings, and within a few weeks there were no adults left alive in the base. As the least panicky and most intelligent of the children there, Osamu was quickly obeyed. The first orders were to gather up the bodies and take them outside to be burned. Since then, Osamu assumed the role of Caesar and worked to rebuild the old world within the tenuous safety of the base. Ken had thought, after the adults died, that his brother would give up his personal obsession with the virus. He was eventually proven wrong.

When things started settling down and Ken should have seen his brother more often, Osamu kept disappearing at certain times. He received no satisfactory answer when he asked about those disappearances, then decided to figure it out himself.

Now Ken, elected leader of Iwakuni Base, locked the last door behind him. Years ago, he had followed Osamu to this same room to discover his brother's terrible secret. Now that secret belonged to him. He took a moment to carefully set the tray of food and a glass of water onto the conveyor belt that would pass it into a biohazard isolation chamber, then took his usual seat before the glass that separated him from this secret.

She gazed back at him with violet eyes he could never really read. She had always been very beautiful, even with the streaks of white in her hair and the lines starting to show up on her face. "Good morning, Little Prince."

"Good morning, Rumiko."


"So, remind me where we're going again," Takeru asked of his travel companions. He had driven for hours and still hadn't found the camp mentioned in Kai's journal. According to it, the camp was really a cluster of broken-down train cars refurbished as homes. That he could understand; after all, not a lot of people wanted to stay in houses anymore.

"Amaterasu's Cave, by way of Shangri-La. But first we need to find Xanadu, with an artifact we have to pick up from El Dorado," Daisuke said. His voice had that feigned innocence tone again. "Should be no problem."

Takeru would have palmed his face in frustrations, but he still wasn't too good at this driving thing. "I'm not in the mood for jokes."

With a sidelong glance at Takeru, Daisuke decided that it was better to stop putting his foot in his mouth for now and returned his attention to the map. "Sorry. The map says the camp should be around here, but-" He was cut off when Takeru turned sharply to the left and veered off the asphalt. A glance back revealed an idiot in white- painted patchwork armor and a cape standing right in the middle of the road.

Patamon fluttered out of the rover in alarm, and Daisuke was ready to curse when the rover's haphazard progress into the woods was stopped by a tree. The abrupt stop and inertia forced his forehead to smack hard against the dashboard.


Daisuke woke up in what was probably one of the weirdest homes he'd ever seen. It had been one of the cars of a train at one point, but most of the seats had since been taken out and foldable tables, chairs and a small futon was set in their places. Well, it was probably better than that teepee made up of discarded cans he saw once. That one was definitely the weirdest. And why did it feel like someone had a jackhammer inside his skull that was attempting to get out?

"I'm sorry about that. Please forgive my friend, he's in his own little world," a woman said from behind a beaded curtain. She soon emerged with a bowl of soup. Her dirty-blonde hair was in pigtails that almost no one wore anymore. "Least I can do is offer some food, right? It's mostly green onions, shiitake mushrooms, fish chips, and water, but it's all I can offer."

Not one to turn down such hospitality, Daisuke accepted the bowl with a grateful smile. "Thanks, ma'am."

"Please, call me Ayaka."

With a cheerful nod, Daisuke started drinking down the soup, which was really more of a broth. It was actually pretty good. Once he was finished, Ayaka took the bowl from his hands and returned to the space beyond the curtain.

"Oh, hey, Ayaka? There was another guy with me. Have you seen him?"

Ayaka poked her head out from behind the curtain to respond to him. "Oh, he's outside. Said he wanted to talk to Takato while they went to fix that truck of yours." Then she returned to what sounded like she was washing the bowl in buckets. "Why, I don't know."

Takato, Takato... Why did that name sound familiar? Oh, right, it was one of the names in Kai's journal. Matsuda Takato. "We're following the trail of a friend of ours, and Takato was one of the people he talked to. That's why we're here."

"You won't get much out of him," Ayaka stated in a matter-of-fact tone. "Nothing useful, anyway."

"Why's that?"

With a slight frown, the young woman unfolded a chair to sit on and looked solemnly at him. "Takato had always been a strange kid, even when we were in school together. Had his head in the clouds so often that our teacher would often rebuke him and send him out into the hallway during class because he wasn't paying attention. After the mass deaths, well... He lost it."

Daisuke wasn't surprised at that. Insanity tended to be part of the norm after the Apocalypse. "Most people did. There wasn't really much option, y'know? Some of us just survived from day to day, some of us killed ourselves because we couldn't take it anymore, some of us couldn't deal with the world going to hell and ended up going nuts."

"Yeah, I know." Ayaka's brow furrowed slightly now. "I mean, I can understand why. When... When the adults died, we gathered in the school and tried to figure out what to do next. Takato kept saying that a hero would come, like in those manga he read or the superhero shows he watched. His sense of ethics came from those heroes. But no one came to save us. No one came to take that pain away. So he... So he figured he would have to be that superhero."


Takeru had always thought that the children that did survive the Apocalypse and ensuing chaos pretty much had to be a touch crazy. He had his own little obsessions and bouts of rage where he could see nothing but red. It didn't surprise him that some were crazier than others.

That this man, Takato, had taken on an alternate identity to cope with the loss was fairly normal and harmless compared to some of the psychos out there. Takeru had even seen it several times. He just wished that Takato had chosen somewhere else besides the middle of the road to play hero.

A small sigh escaped him as he followed Takato, who preferred to be called the White Knight, to the so-called secret lair to dig up supplies so they could get the rover fixed and follow Kai's lead. It was, rather unsurprisingly, the basement of a boarded up old house. As much as he disliked leaving Daisuke behind and keeping Patamon hidden, Takato insisted on only taking one person. So, here he was: trying to extract whatever information Kai got out of this man. Drawing blood from a stone would probably be easier.

The White Knight, in his painted patchwork armor and red blanket- turned-cape, turned to gaze solemnly at Takeru through clunky yellow goggles. "You must swear that whatever you see here is not spoken of in the world outside."

"I promise."

"What happened to my cousin? The man who came before you," Takato asked as he moved aside random boxes full of fireworks and baseball bats to grant greater leeway for the both of them. "I liked him. He had a good heart."

Takeru grimaced at that. He still wasn't comfortable with the circumstances surrounding Kai's death, and wouldn't be for a long time. And Kai was this guy's cousin? Part of him wanted to tell the truth, but he doubted Takato would accept that. "He died a hero's death," he half-lied, and hoped it was enough. "He was shot saving Daisuke and me from bad guys."

"There are worse ways to go," the White Knight practically whispered.

"Right." Yeah, there were probably worse ways to go, but drowning in one's own blood wasn't that much better than dying from the virus that wiped out the adult world, as far as Takeru was concerned. "So, what did you tell him before he left?"

The White Knight gestured to a laptop hooked up to a mess of wires and, eventually, to a hand generator. "Not tell, show. He wanted to see my database."

There was little Takeru could do but stare in astonishment at the fully operational laptop. "I was never much of a computer geek when I was a kid," Takato said as he watched the boot-up screen, "but when... when it happened, I realized that to be a superhero, I needed the resources. So I did something bad and stole this computer from... from there. The generator I found later. But it was for a good cause! And it helps me keep track of stuff."

"What is it?"

A database was soon pulled up, and its contents sorted by location and materials. "It's stuff I find and count. Here, have a look."

Might as well humor the man, Takeru thought as he settled into the seat before the laptop. Apparently there was a tea house named Atori that had two hundred and fifty-seven tea cups, two hundred and seventy-four saucers, and... "Hey, Takato? Why is this of any use to anyone?"

"I am the White Knight," the man stated importantly behind him, and the swish of cloth made Takeru suspect that the man was posing too. Wonderful. "And the numbers are entirely accurate, if you want to know."

Takeru wisely said nothing as he flipped through the database. While supplies were nice and all, and he did find the location of a few replacement tires, he didn't have a clue as to why it was important enough for Kai to take note of Takato. Then, when he was ready to give up, he decided to stop beating around the bush and asked aloud as he began typing in the place's name in the search box.

"Say, any chance I can find this-"

Takato pulled up those silly looking goggles of his to lean close. When he read the line of text, he panicked and slammed the laptop closed. Startled, Takeru jumped.

"Hey, what'd you do that for?"

Something changed in Takato. The White Knight persona fell away like a mask, leaving a terrified man. With eyes wide and voice hysterical, he began rambling. "Don't tell, they said. Never tell. The men of fire will come to get me. Never tell. Don't tell. Never tell."

Now alarmed, Takeru gripped the man by the shoulders in an attempt to bring him back to reality. "What do you know about Amaterasu's Cave?"

"White, so white. Needles and electrodes. Can't tell, mustn't tell."

He was torn. On one hand, this man sounded like he had been a lab rat in Amaterasu's Cave and was the closest link to it that Takeru had seen so far. On the other hand, whatever Takato experienced there was enough to reduce him to this. To press on the matter would be torture. With a sigh, he surrendered.

"Never mind. Can I copy this," he queried, gesturing to the laptop. Takato shuddered slightly before he gave a single, hesitant nod. Takeru carefully dug around for a spare floppy disk. Once he found one in a cabinet, he copied the file and took note of the database program. Maybe someone at Iwakuni would have the program that could open the file.

It took awhile for Takato to calm down enough to be more responsive. When he did, his eyes fixed upon the floor. "Sorry about that... episode. I get like that whenever I hear or see those words."

"I don't suppose you'd be willing to tell me where it is," Takeru asked, rather hopeful that now that Takato was calm, the man would be able to talk.

"North. Somewhere far up north. Sorry, I can't give anything more specific." A self-deprecating half-smile crossed Takato's face. "It's hard to give directions to some place you were trying to run away from and doing your best to pretend it was all a nightmare."

"Thanks. It's more than I had to work with before. Was there anything else you told Kai?"

Takato shook his head at that. "That was all he was interested in. Then we went on patrol. Do you want to go on patrol too?"

Takeru pondered this for a moment before agreeing. It was getting late, hopefully patrol meant the hardware stores where he could find the parts, and they would have to leave in the morning anyway. Might as well.


Takenouchi Sora had seen a lot of bad things in her life, but she was rather thankful that the Digital World had come along before the Apocalypse did. She wasn't sure she'd have been able to deal with it without experiencing the Digital World. When her father had pulled some strings with fellow professors and gotten the family into Iwakuni Base, she had prayed that the virus wouldn't get in. On the list of really bad shit, the virus was at the top. At least Apocalymon was sort of understandable, if not excusable. When the virus had gotten in despite all precautions, she held her chin up and refused to cry. She had seen the Digital World nearly destroyed, so she could handle this.

While Osamu was busy picking up the pieces and organizing things, the other children had come to Sora for comfort and reassurance. She was pretty sure that it was about that time that the polarization of power settled into place. Osamu was a decent leader, but too harsh and demanding at times for the other children's comfort. They would come to her because she offered patience and a sympathetic ear, and should they ask for advice, she gave it the best way she knew how.

In time, Osamu noticed the unofficial power she had and called her into his office. She would probably have been scared as hell that he'd have her kicked out, but he himself just didn't scare her. She had faced far worse in her life. But much to her relief, he had suggested a collaboration. Sure, it was probably an attempt to place her in a position that was better suited for himself, but she really couldn't complain. While Osamu had made most of the executive decisions and could pass or veto anything the council wanted him to look at, she had the power to decide whether or not Osamu really needed to see anyone and could make her own decisions related to the upkeep of the base. And, when Osamu had disappeared, she fulfilled that role for Ken as well once he came into power. Even though she hadn't agreed with Osamu on a lot of things and didn't like that he hid so much from her, she enjoyed the fact that Ken trusted her enough to share his secrets with her. He treated her like a second in command instead of a secretary.

However, there was one secret she was not privy to until she followed him earlier that day, and the fact that Ken never trusted her enough to tell her stung. She had watched in horror as he talked to the older woman kept under glass as if the woman was an adoptive mother. The moment she noticed the streaks of white in the woman's hair, she had to bite back a gasp of surprise. There wasn't supposed to be anyone that old anymore! The woman said she was a carrier, walking Death, and it took Sora every amount of strength she had to keep from running to the council instead of choosing to talk to Ken first. Even though he didn't trust her, she needed an answer.

It was out of loyalty to Ken that she sat in his command room, waiting patiently in the dark for his return. He came, finally, at the exact minute he always returned from those mysterious trips of his.

"Sora, what are you doing here," the younger man asked once he turned on the lights. "How is the Ainu delegate doing?"

Sora's voice was kept amazingly steady, all things considered. "He's doing fine and is currently in the cafeteria. The meeting with him is in an hour, all his people want are the same terms we've had before. You just need to sign the paperwork."

Ken watched her warily, much to her disappointment. "So, was there anything else?"

"How's the carrier doing?"

The silence that fell was a heavy, nearly tangible tension that threatened to choke Sora. Her friend glowered at her, his eyes narrowed to slits and his arms crossed in a defensive gesture. She knew it would happen, but it hurt nonetheless. Ken was too much like a little brother to her now for it to not hurt.

"Did Jianliang tell you," he nearly hissed at her. "Because if he did-"

Sora shook her head violently. Though she knew Jianliang was probably the only person who preferred Osamu's regime instead of Ken's, he just wasn't one to betray anyone's trust. "No. I was wondering why you kept wandering off at certain times and followed you. And since you went to that part of the base that only you and Jen have security clearance for, I had to be careful and watch you several times to get the code right. Jen has nothing to do with this."

With a sigh, Ken's defensive posture loosened slightly. "Sorry, it's just..."

"Ken, think about it. Jen's only concern is keeping the base safe. He wouldn't betray you. But really, you should have told me. I thought you said you trusted me." As much as she tried, Sora couldn't keep the hurt entirely out of her voice.

There was a scraping noise as Ken pulled back a chair to sit down in before telling her anything. "I do trust you, but she was my brother's secret first. It didn't feel right to share a dead man's secret."

And that, she suspected, was the heart of the matter. "I know you just want to honor his memory, but she is a danger to everyone in this base-"

"If she gets out," he interrupted her with a rather sharp edge to his voice. "Osamu had the choice: cut power to the isolation room and let her die, or let her live on the faint hope that someday he'd be able to learn enough from her blood to create a vaccine. He kept her alive because he didn't want the same thing that happened to the last generation to happen to this one, and he knew that viruses don't survive long without host tissue.

"I know I spouted a lot of nonsense about trying to change the world." Ken's shoulders slumped slightly, almost unnoticeably, as he continued. "I know it's not my brother's vision; he just wanted to restore order. I just wanted to build something better. Something beyond his shadow's reach. And I know I kept saying that I wanted a world where we wouldn't have to hide things, but Mrs. Makino needs to stay hidden. At least for now. But if you want to tell the council, I can't stop you. I trust you to do the right thing."

The minutes seemed to stretch endlessly as Sora mulled over the conversation. She was still tempted to go to the council, but if there was even the slightest hope that the carrier's immune system would provide their salvation, she would have to have faith in that chance. With Kai's last report and the suggestion that the virus was back, they needed every chance that came their way.

When she rose, it was with mixed feelings, but one thing was certain. "Next time, please don't hide such big secrets from me."


Night had already descended hours before Takeru and Takato returned to camp with a couple of replacement tires, and something felt immensely off to both of them. They soon pinpointed the origins of that feeling of wrongness: camp firelight revealed the signs of a struggle and Daisuke was limping towards them with more bruises and cuts than he had when they left him to be patched up by Ayaka.

"About time you two came back," Daisuke scowled slightly once he got close enough for the two to notice the full extent of the damage. "Raiders came. I tried to fight them off, and would have if that wuss of a husband Ayaka has actually tried to put up a struggle. Yuuji? Is that his name? Whatever. He ran off the moment they came. Didn't even try to save Ayaka."

Worry settled itself as a frown on Takato's face. "Did she get hurt?"

"Nah, even though she managed to rake a few bloody rows into some of them. They took her and the rover once they realized there was only one of me. I did manage to injure five of them before I went down." For just a moment, Daisuke actually looked rather pleased at that. "So, there's about seven of them overall. We can probably retrieve Ayaka and the rover and bail."

"She's as good as dead," a small voice quavered from behind a broken- down car. The man, Yuuji, shuffled forward in anxiety. "You should probably leave before they come back."

The three other men glared at him with a mix of disgust at his cowardice and rage that he had done nothing. Takato, now immersed in his White Knight role, stepped forward with a swish of his cape and determination on his face. "I'll save her. It's my job."

"Don't be stupid, they'll kill you," Yuuji snapped. "But then, they'll probably be doing us a favor."

There were times when Daisuke really didn't like people. He didn't like seeing people downtrodden, molested, abused, or otherwise mistreated. He liked it even less when someone like Yuuji, who didn't even have the spine to save his own wife, would shoot down any attempt to make things better. It was with no regret that he turned and smacked Yuuji upside the head. "Dude, I don't know what your deal is, but stay if you're going to be this much of a pissant and let the real men do the work."

Yuuji cursed under his breath as he retreated, and whatever he said was not heeded as the trio began planning their rescue mission.


Even though she knew she shouldn't worry about Ken's judgment, the anxiety gnawed at Sora's gut and kept her awake. Talking to Piyomon about it didn't seem to help, which was a peculiarity in itself because she always felt better after talking to her digimon partner. It wasn't that she didn't have faith in Ken, but how long would it be before any of their people would be able to develop the skill to create a vaccine from Makino Rumiko's cells? Osamu may have been brilliant enough to think he could figure it out over time, but he was dead now.

When she could take no more, she left her quarters to walk down the eternally-lit corridors in hopes that it would clear her mind. Piyomon remained behind to catch up on sleep. Save for the infrequent presence of the night staff, the hallways were emptier than she was used to. The shoes she had scavenged from her mother's wardrobe clapped eerily in the silence.

Eventually she found herself before the secured door leading to the supposedly abandoned part of the base. "This section is sealed off for security reasons and will remain that way," Osamu once said. She wondered what else he had hidden in this place, but decided that it was better not to pursue such a question. With a quick tapping of a few keys on the pad near the doors, the magnetic locks were released and allowed her to enter. Although she had said that she wouldn't reveal this secret to anyone else, Sora needed to talk to the carrier and this was probably the best time to do it.

The isolation room itself was actually two rooms separated by a wall that was half glass, and the only connectors were a full-sized door and a much smaller square-shaped entryway leading into a sterilization chamber that opened up into the isolated half of the room. The half that was the viewing room had consoles with which to operate the sterilization chamber and connected entryways. There were a couple of chairs for technicians, but only one saw regular use. And the isolated half-

"I know someone's out there," an older woman said from the sealed-off part of the room. Her voice was made tinny by microphones and speakers, but it was understandable enough. "I've gotten pretty good at feeling someone else's presence."

Sora swallowed down a lump in her throat, though she couldn't quite figure out why it was there. It was rather unfair for her to stay in the dark while Mrs. Makino rose from her bed to turn on the lights on her side of the room, so Sora did the same. Though she absently noticed the bookshelves, bed, and a screen that hid what was probably the bathroom area, her attention was focused on the middle-aged occupant. Her throat tightened at the view, and she had to blink tears away to clear her vision. Her own mother would have been that age by now.

Mrs. Makino crossed the short expanse of her room to peer out the glass that separated them. "Good evening, dear. Are you Sora?"

There was little more that Sora could do but nod mutely in response. She pulled up the unused chair and sat primly upon it.

"Ken told me all about you, and said you'd come to visit at some point. I didn't think it would be so soon." Mrs. Makino smiled kindly, almost fondly, at her. "This will probably sounds weird, but you remind me of my daughter. Must be the hair."

Unconsciously Sora reached up with her fingers to brush against the red strands that escaped her ponytail. Mrs. Makino had a daughter? Why hadn't she even considered that? She took a deep, stabilizing breath before she decided to say anything. "I'm sorry for waking you, Mrs. Makino, but I needed to talk to you."

"You want to know why I've been allowed to stay alive when I should have died," the older woman asked. Her tone was not accusatory or bitter. Sora wondered faintly if Mrs. Makino had asked herself that question.

"That was one of the questions. The other was: Why were you sent here and not someplace better suited to study your immune system?" There were other questions, of course, but Sora felt that they were best kept to herself.

Makino Rumiko closed her eyes and contemplated for a minutes the best way to answer such questions. When no good, quick answer would come to mind, Mrs. Makino opened her eyes to give her visitor an apologetic half-smile. "Sorry, this'll end up long no matter how I try to answer those questions. Would you mind a story?"

Whatever moved her to respond with what she did, Sora never knew. She simply sat up straight, nodded, and said "Go ahead. We have all the time in the world."


The raider camp was nearly three-quarters of a kilometer from the cluster of broken-down train cars, and as such was fairly easy to get to. Once the fireworks from Takato's lair were set in place, they were ready to begin.

"I am the White Knight," a strong, clear tenor rang out into the night. The light of fireworks illuminated his figures, lending him an almost unearthly countenance. While he acted as the distraction, two figures snuck around the edges of the camp clearing to get to the rover. "I use my powers to aid the weak and downtrodden, but not for evil." The groggy raiders, awoken by the noise and lights, lunged after him with all the power they could muster. As they came close, they were each struck aside by concentrated blasts of air from an unseen force. The White Knight continued with his speech as he strode through the camp. "I punish those who dare to hurt others. But I will be kind, because the world is cruel. I will endure pain so that no one will ever have to look up and wonder why they lost so much. And if I need to, I will give my life to set things right again." The White Knight paused before a tent to pull aside its flap and step within.

His friend looked up from her bonds, bewildered, and could not find the right words to say. "Thank you" felt so inadequate to Ayaka. "I'm sorry" couldn't possibly excuse all the times she laughed at Takato's insanity behind his back and let Yuuji get away with laughing in his face. Yuuji hadn't even tried to come to her aid. Therefore, she said nothing as the White Knight cut her free from the post she was tied to. As Ayaka took the proffered hand and allowed him to pull her up from the ground, she decided that there would be time enough later to make amends.

Once they emerged from the tent, the rover swung by and paused only long enough to let them on. The White Knight hurried Ayaka into the rover's bed first, then hopped in when the rover began to move again. He was halfway in the bed, with the majority of his weight on the fender, when one of the raiders had gathered enough wits to throw a knife at him. The blade sank deep into his right shoulder, and the pain was enough to make him lose his grip on the tailboard. Ayaka scrambled forth to grab his right hand and pulled when the rover's acceleration made him lean away, but it wasn't enough to save him. Something hit him in the back, but it did no damage and the force was enough to help Ayaka yank him into the rover's bed.

Takato would never really know what it was that hit him then. It was too dark for him to see the mud-encrusted patamon that fluttered into the front carriage of the rover, and the pain and Ayaka's babbling at him as she tended to his wound drowned out the small voice in the front that requested a bath when they got back. Oddly enough, all Takato could think about as he drifted in and out of consciousness was that he'd seen Takeru before. Somewhere. Perhaps from his childhood. However, the pain was enough to take him off that train of thought.


"I was doing a photo shoot (I was a fashion model back then) in California when I caught the virus. It had an incubation period of a few weeks and it had just broken out, so no one had died of it yet. When I was done, I went back home. Ruki, my daughter, was so mad at me for going off again without her that I promised I'd take her with me next time. The next shoot was in Hiroshima, so I thought I'd take my mother and daughter with me. By that time, enough people had died in the United States that there was an epidemic alarm and they were shutting down the airports. Trying to keep people from leaving the country. It's a shame the attempt was futile. Anyway, a few weeks after that, my manager died of the virus, then my mother and every adult I came into contact with. I guess the government figured out that I'd brought the virus to Japan, so they came for me."

Rumiko paused in her story-telling to take a deep breath. While it didn't bring tears to her eyes like it used to, the memory still hurt. She didn't mention how it felt like her world had shattered with her mother died of the very disease she herself was immune to, or how guilty she felt when she had survived and no one else did. She didn't mention how scared she was for Ruki because her family had always hit puberty early. Her mother had hit puberty at fourteen, she had hit it at thirteen, and she had been so worried that Ruki wouldn't survive until Ken came along and told her that her daughter lived. These were her own personal demons, and they weren't to be shared.

"The most secure place in the area was this base, so they brought me here and told me that I'd be shuttled to Tokyo as soon as preparations were made to accommodate me. So I could be studied in a proper lab environment. I guess whomever was going to take me died on the way over. But I waited patiently, hoping that there were others like me who were immune. Then, one day, the scientists and food stopped coming." And I panicked and beat against the glass to get someone's attention. Someone, come help me, please. I have a little girl who needs me. Please don't let me die before I see her. Please let me out! I promise not to touch anyone. I'll live in one of those biohazard suits and eat only those horrible military rations. I'll do anything! Just please let me go to Ruki.

A small, unfamiliar woman's voice, laced with undeserved concern, penetrated Rumiko's flashback and reminded her that she still had a story to tell. She gave an apologetic half-bow before clearing her too-tight throat to continue. "I would have died from starvation if the little emperor hadn't come when he did. Sometimes I'd lay awake at night and wonder why he hadn't shut off the life support system when he first came, but then I always reminded myself that I was his lab rat and he was only keeping me alive for the day he could take my blood and derive a vaccine from it. In time he came to confide in me, as if I could replace the mother he lost. When he died, I played the same roles for the little prince."

The silence that followed was as tense as it had been when she first saw Osamu. The person in the other room was fully capable of ending her life with the flip of a switch, and she would be entirely deserving of it. But-

Sora rose with the grace of one brought up by a traditional Japanese woman, and Rumiko was struck again by the similarity in hair color to her daughter. Would Ruki look like that now? Would Ruki forgive her for bringing the downfall of Japan, or gaze upon her with new understanding like Sora had? She shook off those thoughts before they went too deep, for the likelihood of seeing her daughter again was far too miniscule.

"Thank you for the story, Mrs. Makino. It makes my decision easier to follow through." Sora gave a slight bow of respect. "It is late, so I should return to bed."

A faint smile appeared on Rumiko's face. "Please, dear, call me Rumiko. Will you be back again? I do so miss the company of women."

"If you will have me. The next time I come, might I bring my sketchbook? I, er, sort of dabble in fashion design." Sora gave an uncertain half-smile at that. "I don't usually show people because no one cares about that kind of thing anymore, but..."

"Oh, I'd love to see!" Rumiko's mood lightened considerably. Oh, it had been so long since she'd seen anything related to her past occupation. "Could you bring a flower from outside too? I miss flowers."

"Of course, M- Rumiko. Good night."

As Rumiko wished the younger woman sweet dreams in turn, she felt better than she had in years. Oh, Ken was sweet in his own way, but it was so nice to have another woman to talk to again.


Matsuda Takato wasn't an idiot, despite what rumors said. Just because he wanted to make a difference did not mean he was stupid. His armor had been a conglomeration of several museum collections and painted over with white enamel, and it served well against everything but gunfire. The goggles were shatter-proof and he had adopted them from his childhood hero. He took on this identity because he believed in heroes, and when the old world died, he decided that the new world would need a hero to stand up against the collapse of social mores. Heroes had taught him right from wrong, the strength to stand up against the end of the world and the fall of authority, and the confidence to go on when the rest of the world thought he was insane. It was hard work and he didn't enjoy the lack of respect, but it was the role he chose for himself and he had gotten so used to that role that it had cost him dearly.

He never expected a knife to get lucky and wedge itself in the unprotected space between his shoulder guard and the back plate of his armor, and that reminder of his mortality was a slap in the face. Ayaka told him that his right arm would be useless until the muscles repaired themselves completely. Oh, he would probably be back on the job afterwards, but in the interim he would be out of commission and easy fodder should the raiders decide to retaliate. It was with a heavy heart that he agreed to put away his armor, cape, and goggles and retreat with Ayaka and Yuuji to a nearby settlement.

To add to the hurt, the kids he sometimes told stories to came by to visit while Ayaka and Yuuji were packing and found that the White Knight was indeed mortal. When one of the boys repeated his father's insults to Takato's intelligence and his friends said nothing, Takato simply sighed and wondered if it was all useless. Was he arrogant for thinking one man could change the world? Was it even possible?

When he voiced these thoughts to Daisuke on the ride to the settlement, Daisuke reassured him that his efforts were better than doing nothing at all and Takeru echoed the sentiment. It was nice of them to try to cheer him up, but-

"Hey, you said something about one man being able to change the world," Takeru asked from the driver's side. His eyes were on something other than the road this time, and Takato wondered faintly whether he should be worried. "Look on the hill to the left."

Takato looked up, unsure what he was supposed to look for. He noticed it when the rover drove closer: a boy in armor made of scraps of metal, a red blanket for a cape, and goggles probably salvaged from the abandoned town the boy lived near. The boy saluted them as they drove past, and Takato had never felt better in his life.



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