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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“I saw a shadow, it was right here.”
“Are you sure your light mixed with the mist wasn’t playing tricks on your eyes?”
“Write it down in the report anyway.”
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.
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.
Rio marches over and hovers over me with a scowl.
“You have some nerve showing your face 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.
“I’m guessing Koshi left out my side of the story, huh?”
“DON’T EVEN SAY HIS NAME!”
I’m taken back as Rio rarely ever loses her calm and collectedness in high-pressure situations.
“He trusted you and so did I.”
“I need you to let me see him right now.”
I wobble attempting to stand, but I gain enough balance to be eye to eye with her.
“You’re not going anywhere near him.”
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.
“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.”
I turn around. That’s the last straw.
“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.”
“Save Koshi from dying? What are you talking about?”
“I guess he left that part out too. He has it, Rio.”
“THE BLACK DEATH! What else?!”
“No, no, no. I refuse to believe you. You’re lying! He would have told me!”
“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.”
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.
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.
“Why the hell did you let that traitor back in here Ri?”
“Take off your gear, all of it,” I tell him.
“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?”
“AND DON’T YOU THINK IT’S A BAD IDEA TO LIE ABOUT BEING INFECTED AND STILL INTERACT WITH THE REST OF THE GROUP ENDANGERING EVERYBODY?! TAKE OFF YOUR GEAR! I NEED TO SEE IT FOR MYSELF.”
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.
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.
“How- how could you be so sure that it’s even that?”
“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?”
“Was?” he asks in a hoarse, tired voice.
“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?”
Any little color he had in his face drains instantly.
“She was more than just a business partner, I’m assuming.”
“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.”
Rio begins to look uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry for the loss, Koshi. I really am.”
“But right now you’re my main priority. You’re not fit for a reconnaissance mission or any mission for that matter.”
“You think you found a cure?”
“The solution is simple. You’re going to need some strong antibiotics through IV.”
“Then if the solution is so easy, how come Pol’s veterinarians couldn’t get it under control?”
“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.”
“Well, let’s get started then.”
“Rio, is there someone else who could take his place on the reconnaissance mission as well as yours that you trust?”
“Yeah, but why can’t I go? I feel fine.”
“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?”
“Of course I can.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“I’m making it back, I promise.”
He nods to me and then coughs as he falls back into his chair.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Hello? Who’s there?”
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.
“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?”
“I know it was you…”
She sighs, sits down, and takes off her glasses to rub her eyes.
“Can you be more specific, Chinatsu?”
“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!”
“You act as if any of us have a choice, Chinatsu. The General ordered it, not me.”
“Well, you should’ve at least told me!”
“Me telling you wasn’t going to bring your mother back.”
“Still! You should’ve just stayed out of my life altogether then, so I wouldn’t be so conflicted about hating you.”
“You could hate me all you want. I took you in, because before she was euthanized-”
“Before you euthanized her; take responsibility for your actions, right Panacea?”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“That’s why you didn’t write me a recommendation for the General.”
“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.”
“You’re disappointed? How do you think I feel?”
“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.”
I ponder for a second if I will ever be able to forgive her for what she did. Maybe.
“There actually is something you can do.”
“I’ll do it.”
“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.”
“You know you do not have to manipulate me into having compassion for you, Chinatsu. You already have it.”
“Then I could count on you not to say anything.”
“Then I forgive you.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
I knock on the room door and announce myself; Rio lets me in.
“Wow, you actually did it. This is unbelievable. You have everything?”
“Yes. Mission was a success.”
She and I share a smile for a few seconds until we hear Koshi having a cough attack.
“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.”
“You did fine. Help me plug this in and set it up.”
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.
“How are you with needles, Koshi?”
“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.”
“Ok, here it comes.”
I push the needle into his forearm, and he hardly flinches.
“Is there something to tape this down?”
Rio hands me a roll of duct tape,
“I thought you said you had everything!”
“I thought I did! Obviously, I was wrong; now give me space to think!”
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.
“Any idea how long this will take?” Koshi asks,
“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.”
“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-
“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.”
“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.”
“They’re attempting to bridge peace and create an alliance between the swine and the rodents.”
“Yes, like that will even happen.”
“I’m just trying to think of the best-case scenario. Those are always harder to think of than the worst.”
“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.”
Rio and I stare at him and chuckle. We aren’t happy, but we are hopeful.
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.