Chapter 11:

Forgiveness is a Misty and Muddy Path

Ranch Royale!

By the time I reach General Romano’s ranch, after trampling through acres and acres of unclaimed land through pouring rain, my uniform is a catastrophe. It is soaked from top to bottom with chunks of mud and weeds still growing out of the soil. I clasp as much of the dirt off of me as possible, but there is no time to worry about the uniform. After deserting Pol’s guards as well as his ranch, I won’t have any need for it from this point on. I will be stripped of my badges and will never be allowed to practice medicine again. I will be thrown in the sty.Bookmark here

The sty was a filthy, garbage-riddled pen where Romano would throw disobedient humans who were too valuable to kill until he figured out what to do with them. The biggest issue was Romano would sometimes take years to figure out what to do with them. Some of the most dedicated and talented veterinarians ended up in the sty because they were doing their job too well. They were too focused on healing specific patients than letting them die for the wellbeing of the entire ranch. If we ever saw them again, their bodies would be frail and easily visible through their skin and their eyes would look like the soul was sucked out of them. Bookmark here

Some believed it was a fate worse than death. The other possible outcome was being sent to the paddock for execution on the grounds of treason and deserting my post; neglecting my mission. General Romano’s choice of execution was an old-time method used by my ancestors on the swine; the bleeding.Bookmark here

The bleedings are public events the ranchers use to make examples out of humans to keep us in our place. First, they capture us with an electro-shock snare and force us onto a wooden stage for everybody to see. The Kunekune will sever the right arteries in the right areas to make sure the human doesn’t survive it. Cutting multiple arteries would make you die quicker. When the blood begins to slow, the Kunekune will force pump the rest out. The human’s heart stays beating throughout the entire process until they have completely bled out.Bookmark here

I look across the acres of the field going in the opposite direction of both Romano’s and Pol’s as the mist begins to dissipate. There has to be more than this outside of here, I think to myself, a place where humans and mammalians are equal or better yet, where there are no mammalians at all; a secluded environment where humans are free to run wild. The thought sounds like a dream, then I remember; I can’t leave Rio, Koshi, and the rest of the rebels to die by the Black Death or at the hands of the General. They need me right now.Bookmark here

I take off my gloves and mask, toss them into a murky puddle in the grass, and keep my body close to the border walls until I find an entry point. During weather like this, the guards are always on high alert. The highest rate of escape attempts occurs when the mist looks this impenetrable. I see lights wavering all above my head in search of the slightest movement on the field. My back stays so pressed to the cinderblock walls that my uniform tears on every eroded corner.Bookmark here

I manage to remain unseen when I finally see the chain-link fence and the cellar doors behind the tall, white building. This is the hard part. It is a quarter mile run. There are hardly any laborers on the field, but it’s crawling with patrols. Not to mention, the mist is getting clearer and clearer by the second. It’s now or never.Bookmark here

I charge through the grass with tunnel vision set on the cellar doors. The water molecules in the air hit my face and mix with my sweat. I don’t hear any shouting yet and I don’t feel an electrical noose around my neck just yet; I’m almost there.Bookmark here

When I yank on the doors, they’re locked. Shit! I see lights through the mist getting closer and closer. I can’t shout and knock on the doors to get the rebels’ attention without attracting the guards’ attention too. I hide behind three rotting barrels close by and wait. I hear two sets of hoofsteps get closer and closer to me. Bookmark here

“I saw a shadow, it was right here.”Bookmark here

“Are you sure your light mixed with the mist wasn’t playing tricks on your eyes?”Bookmark here

“Write it down in the report anyway.”Bookmark here

I stay shaking behind the barrels holding my breath until their continued conversation fades out in the distance. I raise my head at eye level just above the barrels to make sure there are no more swine before I crawl around the barrels back to the doors. I try to knock making just enough noise hoping someone will hear me without alerting the patrols that I’m here.Bookmark here

The doors open and I’m yanked inside by two blonde-haired girls in more tactical gear than usual. They drop me to the floor with zero grace.Bookmark here

Rio marches over and hovers over me with a scowl.Bookmark here

“You have some nerve showing your face here.” Bookmark here

She proceeds to kick me in my side until I hunch over in pain. I place my hand on the ground to steady myself and gasp for air.Bookmark here

“I’m guessing Koshi left out my side of the story, huh?”Bookmark here

“DON’T EVEN SAY HIS NAME!”Bookmark here

I’m taken back as Rio rarely ever loses her calm and collectedness in high-pressure situations.Bookmark here

“He trusted you and so did I.”Bookmark here

“I need you to let me see him right now.”Bookmark here

I wobble attempting to stand, but I gain enough balance to be eye to eye with her.Bookmark here

“You’re not going anywhere near him.”Bookmark here

“Watch me.”Bookmark here

Holding my abdomen still in pain from her kicks, I navigate around her only to be met with over a dozen rebels armed with all sorts of odd, makeshift weapons ready to attack.Bookmark here

“I know you think you have been through the wringer, but you haven’t been through what we have Chinatsu. You won’t stand a chance against us. You have never even been in a real battle. Do you think Romano is going to protect you? Like you’re his little precious pet? I knew you were foolish and naïve, but I thought you were at least better than this. You’re weaker than I remember. You were only at Pol’s for less than a day; I know you didn’t miraculously discover a cure in hours. You fled because you were scared; because you were weak.”Bookmark here

I turn around. That’s the last straw.Bookmark here

“Just because I’ve never been as strong as you, doesn’t mean I was ever weak. And right now, neither of us matters. You need to call off your thugs so I could save Koshi from dying if that’s even possible at this point in time. It’s already been over a day.”Bookmark here

“Save Koshi from dying? What are you talking about?”Bookmark here

“I guess he left that part out too. He has it, Rio.”Bookmark here

“Has what?”Bookmark here

“THE BLACK DEATH! What else?!”Bookmark here

“No, no, no. I refuse to believe you. You’re lying! He would have told me!”Bookmark here

“No, not if you were preparing for a coup. It would have only distracted you and you’re their leader. But if and when his symptoms worsen, if they haven’t already, he’ll be a liability and put all of you and every other living thing on this ranch in danger. That is why you have to let me through. Call off the rebels, Rio.”Bookmark here

She tapped her fingers on her crossed arms for a moment, contemplating. After a moment, she nodded to the rebels and they dispersed allowing a clearing for me to pass through to the next room. Rio followed closely behind me.Bookmark here

In the next room, Koshi sits in his tactical gear reading a map by a lamp that lights up the whole cavernous space. He looks up at both of us as we enter through the doorway. Bookmark here

“Why the hell did you let that traitor back in here Ri?”Bookmark here

“Take off your gear, all of it,” I tell him.Bookmark here

“Look, I know you both have a thing for me but, I’m really a one-woman kind of guy. And don’t you think it’s a bad idea for us to be doing this right before reconnaissance mission?”Bookmark here


I hold her back from attacking him, although she would be in the right; we aren’t wearing face coverings or any other protection to keep us from catching it either. She needs to keep her distance and control her emotions.Bookmark here

Koshi apprehensively sits up, takes off his helmet and belt. He removes articles of gear piece by piece when Rio gasps at the sight of his bare torso. Black patches are distributed unevenly across his back and arms. You could see bloodlines all beneath his skin. Bookmark here

“How- how could you be so sure that it’s even that?”Bookmark here

“Because I’ve seen it myself, this morning at General Pol’s ranch. They are holding infected humans in these beaver impoundments.” I tell him, “That’s how I was able to escape. One of the girls there was so far gone and desperate for me to cure her she went rabid. She tried to attack me but ended up attacking the two guards in her path. I ran and didn’t look back. So I guess I have her to thank. Kind of. And- and she said there was another girl, her name was Kiki?”Bookmark here

“Was?” he asks in a hoarse, tired voice.Bookmark here

“She passed away a few days ago. Her coopmate contracted it from her most likely and ended up in the impoundment. She was the one who you and the other brownreds did deals with, wasn’t she?”Bookmark here

Any little color he had in his face drains instantly.Bookmark here

“She was more than just a business partner, I’m assuming.”Bookmark here

“She and I planned on overthrowing both our ranches. She led the resistance at General Pol’s ranch. She told me about weren’t the only ones either; that there were more human resistances she was networking with even beyond just the neighboring ones. There are tens of thousands of us for miles. I thought she was crazy at first, but when she showed me the map, I had to believe her. She was… important to me, yes.”Bookmark here

Rio begins to look uncomfortable.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry for the loss, Koshi. I really am.”Bookmark here

He nodded.Bookmark here

“But right now you’re my main priority. You’re not fit for a reconnaissance mission or any mission for that matter.”Bookmark here

“You think you found a cure?”Bookmark here

“The solution is simple. You’re going to need some strong antibiotics through IV.” Bookmark here

“Then if the solution is so easy, how come Pol’s veterinarians couldn’t get it under control?”Bookmark here

“They refuse to give the humans better living conditions. You know the sty? Their entire ranch is as filthy and unsanitary as that. They are confining humans in their own waste and blood and expect it not to spread. Eventually, it’s going to spread to the mammalians, I just know it, and they’re going to regret not listening to me. They were expecting a miracle out of me, but all that matters to me right now is you two.”Bookmark here

“Well, let’s get started then.” Bookmark here

“Rio, is there someone else who could take his place on the reconnaissance mission as well as yours that you trust?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, but why can’t I go? I feel fine.”Bookmark here

“You look fine too, but that isn’t the issue. The equipment I need to treat Koshi is at the med barn, so I’m going to have to find a way to sneak to the med barn and somehow haul it back here. You’re the only one who knows he’s infected and won’t kill him on sight for it. You need to look after him while I get the supplies. Can you handle it?”Bookmark here

“Of course I can.”Bookmark here

“Good.”Bookmark here

“But you shouldn’t go alone; take an armed rebel with you so they can cover you. I still stand by what I said Chinatsu, you’ve never been in battle.”Bookmark here

“As much as I would like to, I can’t take anybody with me. I have to go alone; at least then if I get caught I can come up with a story and it’ll look less suspicious. And if anything happens, I don’t want somebody else’s life to be in danger cause of me.”Bookmark here

“If anything happens to you, I’m done for. You’re the only person we have on our side who knows how to treat this thing. So please, whatever you do, don’t die. I- I can’t lose anyone else.”Bookmark here

“I’m making it back, I promise.”Bookmark here

He nods to me and then coughs as he falls back into his chair.Bookmark here

I nod to both of them and make my way out of the basement past all the rebels. This time, I pass them by fearlessly. Bookmark here

As I exit the basement, I figure my best bet is to walk the grounds as if I’m supposed to be here. I walk with confidence and purpose in the direction of the med barn. It seems a world away and anxiety begins to creep in. I then notice that the number of patrols that had originally been roaming the grounds when I arrived went down to nearly none. Only one or two swine figures were visible in the far distance full of mist. I keep walking one foot in front of the other.Bookmark here

I almost feel an old comfort as I walk through the main entrance of the med barn. It was my space for so long where I had a purpose. My purpose was to heal and help ill humans or mammalians who were unlucky or injured on the job. That part hasn’t changed; I’m still helping people, but now I’m helping them in a dingy, abandoned basement without anyone outside of said basement knowing. What a feat.Bookmark here

The scent of thyme and lemon cleaning products hit me as soon as I step foot inside. I never noticed how Pol’s medical facility smelled of absolutely nothing, which was disturbing now that I think about it. His facility was probably never deep cleaned.Bookmark here

I snap out of my reminiscent thoughts and focus on the task at hand. I need to haul an IV drip machine out of the unit and back to the basement completely unnoticed somehow. I’m starting to think I didn’t think this through. I cautiously walk into the unit and see it’s empty. I refrain from turning on the light even though I can’t see a thing in the pitch blackness. I use my hands to feel around the counter, the cabinets, the chairs, the wall, and finally the supply closet. Bookmark here

I pull both doors open and feel around for one of the machines. I struggle to roll it out from the closet into the room with the change in the level of the floor. It nearly tips over on me, but I manage to hold it up; not without making a loud noise as the tangled cords swing and hit up against the wall and the machine itself.Bookmark here

I steady it, but it’s too late. I hear footsteps approaching from the hallway. I roll it back inside the closet and decide to hide in there as well. I close the doors from the inside and am shrouded in even more darkness than before, until the doors of the unit open letting the hall light in through the small, slit opening in the closet door. Bookmark here

“Hello? Who’s there?”Bookmark here

It’s Panacea.Bookmark here

I haven’t seen her since I discovered she was the vet who euthanized my mother. What I would do to give her a piece of my mind. I might not get another chance after tonight. Without giving it a second thought, I bust out from the closet pulling the IV machine along with me.Bookmark here

“Chinatsu! Were you trying to give me a heart attack?! I thought I would get a break while you were residing at General Pol’s ranch; apparently not. What are you even doing here?”Bookmark here

“I know it was you…”Bookmark here

She sighs, sits down, and takes off her glasses to rub her eyes.Bookmark here

“Can you be more specific, Chinatsu?”Bookmark here

“Don’t act like you have no idea what I’m talking about. YOU EUTHANIZED MY MOTHER! IT WAS YOU! This entire time…” I sob slightly, before gaining my composure back. “And then you take me under your wing, get me out of the harvester coop, and treat me like your own daughter. For what? Out of guilt? If you were going to feel guilty about it, you shouldn’t have done it!”Bookmark here

“You act as if any of us have a choice, Chinatsu. The General ordered it, not me.”Bookmark here

“Well, you should’ve at least told me!”Bookmark here

“Me telling you wasn’t going to bring your mother back.”Bookmark here

“Still! You should’ve just stayed out of my life altogether then, so I wouldn’t be so conflicted about hating you.”Bookmark here

“You could hate me all you want. I took you in, because before she was euthanized-”Bookmark here

“Before you euthanized her; take responsibility for your actions, right Panacea?”Bookmark here

“Before I euthanized her, she requested that I watch over you, teach you, and train you. I stayed in your life and took you in because that is what she wanted. Bookmark here

“… What?”Bookmark here

“Your mother knew she was going to be euthanized, so her final request was that I find a way to get you out of the harvester field so you didn’t have to struggle for the rest of your life doing strenuous labor as she did. She wanted to give you a better chance of survival than she had; I obviously failed at granting her wishes.”Bookmark here

“How did she know she was going to be euthanized? Yeah, she was older but she couldn’t have been sure unless it was something else.”Bookmark here

“You’re correct, it was something else. The Romano Family wanted her to be the manor’s apothecary. She was gifted in homeopathy; which you probably won’t recall because you were still so young. Anyway, she refused the offer, multiple times. She believed the proposal would go against her morals. For that reason, I tried so hard to make sure the General never had his eyes set on you. You made it so difficult with your antics and passion. It was only a matter of time until he picked you out, but I tried my best.”Bookmark here

“That’s why you didn’t write me a recommendation for the General.”Bookmark here

“When I found out that Tomo character did, I felt so defeated and infuriated but kept trying to convince myself that you would survive and learn to adapt. I had faith in you; here you are; stealing an IV machine from the unit at night. I’m not mad, just disappointed Chinatsu.”Bookmark here

“You’re disappointed? How do you think I feel?”Bookmark here

“You always were hard to read, Chinatsu. I know there’s nothing I can do to make you forgive me or repair your image of me in your mind, so I don’t know what else you expect from me at this point.”Bookmark here

I ponder for a second if I will ever be able to forgive her for what she did. Maybe.Bookmark here

“There actually is something you can do.”Bookmark here

“I’ll do it.”Bookmark here

“Let me walk out of here with this IV machine, Panacea, without alerting the guards that I have snuck in or that I am even here at the ranch right now. If you do that, maybe I can forgive you.”Bookmark here

“You know you do not have to manipulate me into having compassion for you, Chinatsu. You already have it.”Bookmark here

“Then I could count on you not to say anything.”Bookmark here

She nods.Bookmark here

“Then I forgive you.”Bookmark here

I bow and walk out of the unit rolling the machine beside me; making sure to grab gloves and masks off the counter as well as the antibiotics in the locked cabinet to which I held onto the key. Bookmark here

I don’t know if trusting that Panacea will not have dozens of patrols stun bolt me as soon as I step onto the field was a good decision, but I have to hope that it was.Bookmark here

I struggle to reach the rebel’s basement as quickly as I left it because of the machine gets stuck in the wet dirt and weeds beneath its wheels. It’s slowing me down big time, but no one has said anything to me so far. Bookmark here

I open the cellar doors and try to lower the IV machine as gently as possible into the two blonde, female rebels' hands and they set it down. I hop in, exhausted, ready to save Koshi.Bookmark here

I knock on the room door and announce myself; Rio lets me in.Bookmark here

“Wow, you actually did it. This is unbelievable. You have everything?”Bookmark here

“Yes. Mission was a success.”Bookmark here

She and I share a smile for a few seconds until we hear Koshi having a cough attack. Bookmark here

“I did the best I could while you were gone, it’s difficult to take care of someone and distance yourself from them at the same time.”Bookmark here

“You did fine. Help me plug this in and set it up.”Bookmark here

She guides the machine to Koshi’s left side with there is an electrical socket. I put on my mask and gloves, and break out the tools for the treatment.Bookmark here

“How are you with needles, Koshi?”Bookmark here

“Terrified. But right now I’m more terrified by the fact that I might be dead by tomorrow so really I will try any method right now if it’s going to keep me alive.”Bookmark here

“Ok, here it comes.”Bookmark here

I push the needle into his forearm, and he hardly flinches.Bookmark here

“Is there something to tape this down?”Bookmark here

Rio hands me a roll of duct tape,Bookmark here

“That'll do.”Bookmark here

“I thought you said you had everything!”Bookmark here

“I thought I did! Obviously, I was wrong; now give me space to think!”Bookmark here

I grab the tube and connect it to the adaptor of the needle inserted into his arm. The antibiotics start flowing through the length of the tube and into his system. Bookmark here

“Any idea how long this will take?” Koshi asks,Bookmark here

“Honestly, no. I just know if it does work, you will have to be quarantined away from us and the rest of the group too for at least two weeks; maybe more just to be sure.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, but how would we keep me being sick secret from the General and his ranchers if I don’t show up at my post for two weeks. They would know that something was wrong. And if they discover a laborer has The Black Death, Romano is not going put us in some little cesspool pond to live out our days-Bookmark here

“Technically, it was more of a dam. But you are right. I haven’t gotten that far yet. Let’s just see you live to tomorrow okay Koshi? Then we’ll figure out a new plan.” Bookmark here

“It doesn’t matter what it was! They were still alive. Once they find out I have the plague, and even more so how I contracted it while making deals with a girl from his enemy ranch.”Bookmark here

“They’re attempting to bridge peace and create an alliance between the swine and the rodents.”Bookmark here

“Yes, like that will even happen.”Bookmark here

“I’m just trying to think of the best-case scenario. Those are always harder to think of than the worst.”Bookmark here

“And how long is it going to take for me to feel normal again after this disease? If I will ever gain my strength back or be able to fight side by side with my family out there; with you two. They can’t find me and kill me; somebody has got to protect you two females.”Bookmark here

Rio and I stare at him and chuckle. We aren’t happy, but we are hopeful.Bookmark here

Until we start hearing shrill, human screams from outside the room along with the clashing and clanging of metal weapons and squealing along with stun bolt guns. The Boars have discovered the base of the resistance and are taking no prisoners. Bookmark here

Taylor Victoria
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