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
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
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,
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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,
"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
"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
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
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."
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
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."
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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.