Chapter 7:

Brotherly Love

Han Hito: The Story of Patient Zero

“The hell do you mean you want to stay here?” Sammy gasped at Murry. She reached a wing out and bonked him over the head with it. “Are you mad? These cretins aren’t worth our time!”

Murry pouted, chewing on a bit of fat in his deer. “B-but Sammy… Niko knows stuff. Without him, we’re gonna die no matter what…”

“We’re all gonna die no matter what anyway,” I added.

“Exactly! We don’t need him. Honestly, we can better survive on our own,” Sammy reasoned, shaking her head. “Let me guess. You made friends with him and that slimy girl and now you’re too soft to let them go.”

“Hey,” Maya protested between bites.

Murry looked taken aback for a second, then he nodded hesitantly, staring at the dirt.

“Augh! Fine. This is why we don’t settle with strangers.” She turned her head to me. “He makes attachments to everything. You’ll probably remember him for the rest of your life now that he’s parasite-d onto you.”

“Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t stay. That isn’t how we work out here. We’ve already got enough people to feed, so you take your portion of the deer and scamper away, got it?” I ordered. I snatched a bit of meat from the tarp the pieces were cooling on before Sammy could grab it. “Nope. This one’s mine.”

Murry sighed. “O-oh. I thought we could… just stay for a little bit. Because we still don’t have anywhere to sleep, and just, you guys are nice, and…” He choked up a bit. “S-sorry. The food’s kind of hot.”

“Well,” I groaned, “okay. Maybe we can figure something out. But this- uh, don’t count on it. I’d still start packin’ up if I were you.” I looked over at Maya, who was stuffing her face. “Hey, before you inhale the entire friggin’ thing, did you ever wake up Chad?”

“Who’s Chad?” Sammy inquired.

“Family, Sammy. Just as everyone here is except you,” Maya explained, a bored glaze over her eyes. “Besides, no one asked you, anyways. Sumisu, I woke him up, but he told me I should leave him alone and that he will be awake within a few minutes.”

I ignored Sammy, who was fuming beside me. “How long ago did you say that to him?”

“I would estimate around ten minutes.”

“I’ll go get ‘im, then.” I stood up and set my meat on the tarp underneath me. A few paces later, I opened one of the orange tents. “Chad, Benji. It’s, like, almost noon. Get up.”

Chad rustled from under his sleeping bag and sat up. He rubbed his eyes and glared at me. “Maya already said, dumbass. I get it,” he snarled. The only noticeable features that marked him as any different from his past self were the circular spots developing on his skin and the strange shape his ears had taken. I liked to joke that he was turning into a worm. He wasn’t.

“That was ten minutes ago. We do have other people out there. We’re trying to introduce them to you all before you try and kill ‘em,” I explained mockingly. He didn’t take kindly to this, but he seemed intrigued enough to not slap me.

He shook the bag next to him, and a little boy about Maya’s age crawled out in a daze. “Why do we hafta get up so early…?” he whined, sniffing. His complexion was similar to mine- ghostly- but his body type was on the other end of the scale. I had to admit, it probably would have been a good idea to have packed on a few more pounds like him. He hadn’t starved once. I had no clue what strand of the virus he had contracted, though.

“‘Cuz Niko wants you to,” Chad told him angrily, putting on a dirty shirt grabbed from the corner of the tent. “Why the hell do we listen to you anyway, Niko?”

“I’m just cool like that,” I replied.

“‘Course you are. Now actually, you said there’re other people out there? Then what the hell you need us for?” Chad questioned. He pulled his dirt-caked pants up to his waist and tied the strings twice over. “Can’tchu just get them to do whatever you want us ta do?”

“No. I mean, there are actually, like, new people. Not just Maya or Chloe or whatever. Also, we have deer meat.

“Well, that just- wait, meat? Sick. Be out in like, half a second probably. Watch Ben,” was all Chad could manage before he tried to bust out of the flaps. I grabbed him by the back of his shirt and pulled him back. “What now?”

I looked at Benji, who was staring directly at me. “You need me to introduce them. I met ‘em first, so I know them the best,” I rationalized. “Plus we aren’t gonna leave Benji alone in a tent. What would happen if Chloe…”

“Shut up about Chloe. I get it. Ben, hurry up with your clothes, got it?”

Chad and I watched Benji silently put his clothes on. I could only have imagined what must have been running through his head- I knew he was a bit of an idealist. As in, he thought he was some sort of superhero destined to save the world. At the least, that’s how he acted.

I heard the tapping of a foot next to me. “Chad, he’s almost done,” I hissed.

“I can tell, dumbass.”

“Then why the hell are you tapping your foot like a maniac?”

The tapping abruptly stopped. “I’m not.”

“Alright then,” I replied. As Benji slipped on his shoes, I opened the flaps and walked out with him and Chad in tow. Murry and Sammy caught sight of them; Murry tilted his head a little, while Sammy stood up to greet them, much unlike what she had done for Chloe.

“By God, how many of them are there?” Sammy whispered to herself before holding out a dark-furred hand. “Hello. You’re the ‘Chad’ Niko mentioned, right? And the child behind you…?”

Chad hesitated to shake her hand. “Before any of that, who the hell are you? I don’t know shit about what’s goin’ on. Niko never filled me in.”

“Yeah, well, sorry. She’s Sammy, he’s Murry. They’re-” Sammy hushed me with a forceful gesture.

“Ahem. I can speak for myself, moron,” Sammy spat. “We’re travelers. We had no place to stay, so Niko worked things out for us in exchange for the deer I caught him. If all goes well, we’ll be off soon, so I haven’t a clue why he’s forcing you out here.”

“It’s because we wanted to keep Maya from eating all their portions. So thank Maya you have to deal with them now,” I explained.

Maya looked up again. “You are quite welcome,” she said. She was about to snatch another piece before I smacked her arm away. “Ah. I see the boundaries of the portions now.”

“Yeah, and you already finished yours, dolt.” Sammy and Chad were having a conversation I couldn’t be bothered to listen to while Benji stumbled over and sat down on the same tarp as Maya. “Oh, hey. You hungry, Ben?”

Benji nodded and smiled. “Yeah,” he replied. Maya glared at him with what I could only describe as disgust. He took a couple of the sliced pieces and chewed on them for a little while. “Mmm. How’dju geddit?”

“With a bow-and-arrow, you bumbling protozoan,” Maya hissed, not loud enough for him to hear. I made a face at her.

“Sammy caught it for us,” I told him. He looked confused.

“Who’s Sammy?”

I pointed over at her- she was still talking to Chad. The two didn’t seem to be getting along very well, but they weren’t yelling at each other. “She’s the one with the wings.”

Once again, Maya felt obligated to butt in. “She is no angel, though.”

I opted to ignore her petty comments. “Well, Ben, enjoy that deer. I’m gonna go figure out what’s happening. We’re trying to decide whether she and Murry are gonna stay or not. And don’t let Maya take any of your pieces. If she does, tell me and I’ll punch her.” I rose to my feet and walked back over to Chad and Sammy.

Chad was practically barking. “Which is why I’m glad y’all’re leavin’ soon! I don’ wanna put up with all that!” I wanted to ask what the hell they were talking about, but they didn’t seem too keen on answering my questions at that moment.

“Well, if Murry’s got a word to say about it, you might not have a choice,” Sammy scolded. “If he wasn’t around, I reckon I’d go out there all alone and survive better on my own.” I wondered if Murry was hearing any of this.

“Why the hell are you still with him, then?” I asked. She jumped and circled to me with a look of flustered confusion. “You heard me. Why?”

She took a moment to respond. “Well, he isn’t- I’m not- er… Well, to put it simply, we’re codependent. I’ve got the social skills, but he knows just about everything, when he’s not distracted. He’s quite brilliant under pressure. I just worry he’s got too much now on his plate and too much distracting him. He was much more manageable back in Atlas.”

“The hell is Atlas?” Chad questioned.

“City we hail from. The details don’t concern you.” She exhaled softly. “Regardless, I had a question for you, Niko.”

“Yeah, what is it?”

“Why do you let us stay here at all? We are about to go, after all. I’d like to know that before I leave,” she stated. I hadn’t really thought about it. “And Chad, the question’s got nothing to do with you. You can scamper off now.”

Chad shrugged and walked over to Benji, leaving just the two of us. “I mean, I guess you just looked lost and confused. Much as I say otherwise, I don’t like letting people stay like that unless they’ve already treated me like crap. My conscience is already guilty enough.”

“Why’s that?” she pressed.

“It has nothing to do with you.” In reality, it had everything to do with her, just as much as it did everyone else with the virus. It was still my fault, and I could do nothing to shake it from my mind. “Is that all you wanted to ask me?”

Sammy crossed her arms. “Yes, there was one more.”

“Well, shoot it at me, then.”

“Are there others in these woods? And are they hostile?” I nearly recoiled. The answer was a blatant yes, of course, but that wasn’t my worry. My worry was what prompted Sammy to ask.

I lowered my eyebrows in contemplation. “Yeah. There are a bunch of people living out here. And they can be hostile sometimes. Why’re you asking?” I returned.

“Remember earlier when I paused? You asked me what it was, and I said it was nothing. Well, it was something. I saw a couple of scrawny boys staring at me. Kind of like you, but older and dirtier.”

“Dirtier than me? How’s that even-”

“I’m not kidding, you know. This isn’t the time for jokes. They were there, eyeing me like prey. I could have sworn they had knives,” Sammy cut me off. It was obvious to me that she was seriously concerned about the situation.

I tried to ease her worries. “They’re probably just scouting the edge of their territory. We’re near a lot of other camps, you know. You’re lucky you stumbled into ours.”

“No. They were hostile. I’m sure of it. If you really are working on that cure of yours, you need to keep it on the down-low.” She said it so smoothly I almost agreed to it, before realizing I had told her I wasn’t working on a cure. I had to admit- she certainly was charismatic.

“I’m not working on any cure. Even if I was, it’d just be futile anyway. You just have to hope you get lucky on the lifeline if you wanna live,” I hissed at her. She rolled her eyes and turned her head away.

“Fine. But if I see those bastards again, do I have permission to clobber them?” Sammy asked.

“I’m not your boss. Do what you want.” She walked away from me then, back to the deer. I noticed Murry was sitting just like he had been for minutes- I sat down next to him.

He looked up at me. “W-what is it?”

“Nothing. Just wondering if you’re doing alright.” He seemed almost alarmed that I was worried for him. Really, I was just checking on him to make sure he would be okay once he left. At least, that was my way of pretending I wasn’t worried about him. Sitting on a bench doing nothing for a while isn’t usually a good sign.

“I-I mean, I’m doing fine. Just, uh, zoning out, I guess,” he replied. He still seemed irritated about something, so I pressed him further.

“Is it about Sammy?”

“Yeah.” I was amazed at how quickly he answered.

“Well, what is it?”

Murry leaned back and looked up. “I-it’s just, she’s nice, but sometimes I wish she would treat me less… like an asset. I heard what she was saying earlier, about being codependent. I mean, yeah, it’s accurate, but it doesn’t mean all I can do is be smart, you know? And yeah, everything’s distracting me, but that’s just… that’s just that.” I wasn’t expecting to get a vent about relationship troubles from a guy I had met half a day ago. It wasn’t too surprising, though- Sammy had said Murry was quick to bond to people. She sure had meant it.

“Well, that’s something you gotta tell her about. Once you leave, I bet you’ll have a lot of time together to talk about it. I hope you figure it out,” was all I could manage. I wasn’t really experienced in counseling work or relationships at all. He nodded softly and went back to his quiet solitude. As I stood up to kindle the fire, I patted him on the head, and a dopey smile spread on his face. “What is it now?”

“I like being patted. It’s nice.”

“Ask Sammy to do it, then,” I told him. “Or, once your arm heals, just do it yourself.” I didn’t stop to look at his reaction as I made my way to the remaining tent. There were still two people who hadn’t eaten. As I approached, I saw Maya sitting next to Benji outside.

“Oh, Sumisu. Thank heavens. I cannot tolerate this imbecile for another second,” Maya said, scooting away from Benji. “He keeps on talking of getting superpowers from this virus. I cannot stand it, Sumisu.”

Benji had something to say about this. “But just listen! Chad got cool ears, and Niko got a tail! I might get something like super speed or wings to fly with!” he proposed strongly. “Niko, you agree with me, right?”

“No. If you get wings, you won’t be able to use them until you’re warped beyond recognition. Same thing with super speed, but that’s just dumb,” I told him. “ Just stop, Ben. The virus is bad. You can’t rationalize it.”

“But why would anyone make something bad?” Benji asked innocently. “That’s not right. Wait, was the virus made by a supervillain?”

I pinched the bridge of my nose and inhaled. “Sometimes people are bad, and there’s isn’t a thing you can do about it, okay?” He nodded. “They aren’t supervillains. They’re still people. They just have a different tolerance for ‘evil’ than maybe you do.”

Suddenly, I heard a resounding cry from across the camp. I recognized it as Murry’s. When I dashed over, I saw one skimpy man holding the back of a knife against his throat. There was another with rope, presumably to tie him up. I drew my knife from my pocket on instinct.

“What’re the odds we can strike a deal?”