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Bloom and Scatter
Chapter 10: The Waiting Game
Characters, Pairings: Tachibana Makoto, Matsuoka Rin
Summary: Rin returns to Japan to look for his mother and sister. What he finds, instead, is Makoto.
Notes: Originally posted on AO3.
[ 1: Homecoming ]
[ 2: THe Fog ]
[ 3: Masks ]
[ 4: They Live ]
[ 5: The Truth ]
[ 6: Making Plans ]
[ 7: Lost & Found ]
[ 8: The Payoff ]
[ 9: Hopeless ]
[ 10: The Waiting Game ]
The plague was in the fog?
Rin narrowed his eyes, puzzling out what Makoto had just said, his mind racing.
Rotting from the inside. Tumours. Infection. Neurosedata. Cell regeneration. I gave it to the Runner. necrossssis. A medical and engineering department. The plague is a virus. Lung cancer. Dust particles. Mass graves. It’s a neural gas that makes the infected go berserk. swarming the site. Zombie dissection activity. A body on an operating table. They cut up the insides of your lungs and the poison makes those cuts infectious. Vaccination. everything sounded faint and muffled, as though he was submerged underwater... eyes watering… wheezing… Gas masks. A half-ripped mask on a bleeding girl’s face. Anti-aircrafts. The army. he swiped a finger across the windshield of a sedan and considered the thick layer of dust…
Rin met Makoto’s eyes again and set his jaw.
Makoto blanched, “No? What… what do you mean, ‘no’?”
“It just,” Rin drew his mouth into a tight line, “It doesn’t make sense.”
“It makes perfect sense, Rin! Everything adds up!”
“No, it doesn’t! Who put the fog here? Why would they put the fog here? Because if you haven’t noticed, this isn’t just some… some prank or miscalculation by a research lab. I doubt there could be an industrial accident large enough to cause all of this. This fog is huge, on the scale of whole prefectures. You’d need to be some sort of textbook super villain, a rich crazy asshole or an evil politician to pull off something this big. Or—” Rin cut himself off. He didn’t want to say it. Didn’t want to think it.
“Exactly,” Makoto seemed to realise where his train of thought was heading.
Rin made a frustrated noise, balling up his bandana and tossing it in Makoto’s direction, “Exactly nothing. I’ve yet to hear how everything ‘adds up’ as you so eloquently put it.”
“Okay,” Makoto said, squirming a bit before he settled down, eyes darting around nervously, licking his dry lips. Rin wondered in passing if he meant to gesture with his hands but had forgotten that he was tied up or if he was starting to turn. Makoto took in a shaky breath, “Give me a moment. It’s a bit… it’s a bit overwhelming.”
“Consider me whelmed,” Rin rolled his eyes and crossed his arms but kept quiet when Makoto didn’t respond.
“Okay,” Makoto tried again, taking in slow breaths, “Let’s cover everything one by one. Let me try to talk things through before you shoot it down.”
Rin scowled, “Fine.”
“We know the ‘what’; the ‘what’ is the plague and the fog, and the fact that it’s one in the same. The research talks about some sort… some sort of drug or disease – something new – and they’ve been testing it on human subjects.”
“Hang on,” Rin said, ignoring the irate look Makoto shot him at interrupting, “You don’t know that they were testing it on them.”
“What else would they be doing, then?”
“Observing?” And okay, that sounded kind of weak when he actually said it aloud.
Makoto let out a sigh, “Fine, whatever it is, all of them – the test subjects – are beset by some sort of infection which makes them go berserk, and then somehow or rather they,” he inhaled shakily, “Expire.”
Expire. Makoto said it like the loaded term it was. It occurred to Rin that he never found out whether N died naturally or was killed before he went under the scalpel. His felt his skin crawl at the thought as the video from before came to mind. I know I’m a monster. The unkempt scientist with his head in his hands. Confessing. Did they kill all their test subjects? Or… did they do something even worse? Something worse than death.
Makoto’s voice shook him out of his thoughts, “For all intents and purposes, the new drug or disease was a failure, except in N’s case. Because N was immune from the plague. He wasn’t going berserk, but he was developing tumours that kept regenerating even though they removed it at the early stages every single time. What they were seeing was that his immunity was – resisting. I…” Makoto looked down briefly before he looked up again, gaze suddenly narrowed and piercing, “Have you read Nakagawa’s notes on pesticides and resistance?”
Rin was taken aback briefly, “Not really.”
“You should. It’s relevant. Read it now.”
With a few guiding comments, Rin reluctantly pulled up her research notes and thumbed through to the right page. It was fairly brief. He cleared his throat and began to read.
Although pesticides are designed to kill pest populations, they are seldom 100% effective – a few individuals usually survive and reproduce. These survivors may have a behavioural trait that helps them avoid the pesticide, a biochemical trait that allows them to detoxify the pesticide, or some other genetic characteristic that reduces their susceptibility to the pesticide.
If these survivors mate and pass on this "resistance" to their offspring, then subsequent generations will contain fewer susceptible individuals. Eventually, the entire population may become "resistant". There are two major variables that determine the rate at which a resistant trait is likely to spread throughout the population:
• Its mechanism of inheritance (dominant, recessive, or co-dominant; sex linked, pleiotropic, or polygenic), and;
• The severity of selective pressure (what percentage of susceptible individuals survive each generation and whether mortality occurs before or after the susceptible individuals reproduce).
In general, resistance will spread through a population most rapidly when it is inherited as a single, dominant allele and selective pressure is high (meaning very few susceptible individuals escape and reproduce).
On Class Resistance and Cross Resistance:
When an insect population develops resistance to one pesticide, it may also prove to be resistant to similar compounds that have the same mode of action. This phenomenon, known as class resistance, occurs frequently in pest populations that develop resistance to organophosphate, carbamate, or pyrethroid insecticides. In some cases, a population may develop a form of resistance that protects it from compounds in more than one chemical class. This cross resistance may produce a population that can no longer be controlled with chemical insecticides.
Rin fiddled with the corner of the page absently, thinking about how whimsical it was to draw comparisons between insects and zombies, pesticides and the fog as he mulled the information over in his head.
After a brief silence, he spoke, “Okay. So N had immunity to the plague. What’re you saying, that his immunity began to adapt?”
“I think a few things happened,” Makoto responded quietly, brows furrowed in concentration, “N had a natural immunity, right? But everyone else had been vaccinated against the original plague, the one from ten years ago. I think… the plague – the new plague – began to also resist the pre-existing immunities. It began to evolve. With the other test subjects, it was a straightforward infection, but… with N…”
“It started to adapt,” Rin finished for him with a note of scepticism, “I somehow don’t think biology works that quickly.”
“Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it took ten years,” Makoto said, “The plague has been dormant for ten years, but that’s not to say it was wiped out completely. There have been isolated cases throughout the decade. Plus, everyone has to take the vaccine to ensure there isn’t a resurgence.”
“Do you know how vaccines work?” Makoto insisted frustratedly when it didn’t seem that he was getting through to Rin, “They include non-lethal, non-contagious doses of the disease in question so that people can naturally develop the antibodies needed to fight them off. All of us – all of us – have a bit of the plague in our bodies.”
Realisation began to dawn. Rin sat up a little straighter.
“Okay,” he said slowly, “Okay, so the plague has time to adapt. And it does. It becomes this new strain, a new epidemic. So this means that… it’s stronger than what we’ve had to deal with. We need a new vaccine.”
“Yes,” Makoto said, leaning forward, voice hurried and enthusiastic, “Yes, but this plague has been aggressive. Really aggressive. The vaccines we had before aren’t working anymore; like you said, it’s a new strain. And if they don’t get the formula right, it’s just going to become even more resistant to whatever new medicine we introduce. People – the scientists – they get desperate.”
“Sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to start pumping poisonous gas into an entire prefecture.”
“No! Think about it! When an insect population develops resistance to one pesticide, it may also prove to be resistant to similar compounds that have the same mode of action. We were developing herd immunity to the original plague. What I think is that they wanted us to do what the plague is doing. Make us breathe in enough of the new plague – nothing lethal that will turn us immediately – in hopes that we’ll start developing new antibodies. If we’re exposed to it enough but are able to overcome it, we become naturally stronger against the plague. It’s the exact same problem humans face with trying to create a vaccine that will eradicate the new plague completely. But something happened. Something went wrong. They either miscalculated or… or… something, but it failed. And now, the fog’s infected us with a-a lesser variation of the plague that doesn’t completely infect us, but begins by regenerating rotting zombie tumours inside of us.”
Rin stared at Makoto.
“That,” he said in an even voice, “Sounds like you’re reaching.”
“What?” He was taken aback, “I-I’m not. I’m not! It makes sense, doesn’t it?”
“It’s conjecture at best, a conspiracy theory at worst,” Rin’s tone brooked no argument, “It doesn’t explain why the fog actually works as an anti-zombie bioweapon if what you say is true.”
Makoto was quiet for a moment before he spoke reluctantly, “Maybe it was. But then things went wrong. Maybe this is what the FDMZ is, an attempt to cover up their mistakes.”
“Maybe,” Rin sighed, humouring Makoto, “It’s an interesting idea, I mean, it really is; but it’s full of holes.”
“If the fog is a variation of the new plague, it doesn’t rule out the fact that it could also harm zombies.”
Rin was starting to get a headache, “And yet it doesn’t explain why the army arbitrarily rounded up people in Iwatobi and left you and the rest here to die.”
Makoto’s expression was conflicted, like he was trying to reason out the explanations for himself. He was quiet for a moment, thinking it through.
“Maybe they were… Maybe they were trying to collect more… test subjects.”
The words were acid. Rin hated the sick churning they sent straight to his gut, but to see the anguished look on Makoto at the mere implication of it was something else altogether. Rin remembered what he’d said. They’d taken Makoto’s brother and sister from his arms. Surely… surely they wouldn’t conduct experiments on children… Of all the inhumanity this plague had wrought, surely they wouldn’t do something as despicable as that.
I know I’m a monster.
Rin buried the feelings of uncertainty. “You don’t know that for a fact. You were the one who read the journals, remember? All their test subjects volunteered.”
“But who would now?” Makoto yelled, harsh and discordant against the deceptive serenity of the temple. Rin was shocked momentarily as Makoto visibly tried to compose himself, squeezing his eyes shut and taking in short breaths. Rin knew he’d be gripping his head in his hands if he could, “Why wouldn’t they round up older people and children who aren’t likely to fight back? Who… who in their right minds would volunteer in these conditions?”
“Who wouldn’t?” Rin replied firmly, “Could it get any worse than this? Living in the fog, fighting off feral humans, dealing with zombie hoards, the DMZ, the FDMZ, the closed borders, the quarantine. Not to mention the screecher and the spewer and who knows whatever specials there are out there. Who wouldn’t prefer to sacrifice themselves for something better? There isn’t any fucking hope left here.”
Makoto opened his mouth to argue, but Rin had built up his momentum, “Think about it logically. Even if I believed that scientists had developed the fog, even if I believed that they had instituted the FDMZ to observe the effects of the fog on the locals, even if – and I am being very generous here – even if I believed they fucked everything up so badly out of sheer desperation, do you really think I could accept that they’d be so sloppy in collecting test subjects? Do you remember those videos back at the hospital? The notes I just read out? All the way to the end, the scientists were writing and cataloguing and reporting their findings. They removed a kid’s tumours, again and again, even though they could have left them in to see what would happen. They left their research notes for runners and other survivors to find. They don’t sound like assholes who would experiment on the closest thing with a pulse. We don’t know anything. We can’t know anything. We don’t even have the important stuff – all of it’s gone to your pal who’s god knows where.”
“You’re thinking yourself into a hole, Makoto. You don’t know. You’re not sure.”
“You can’t say what I’ve been saying doesn’t make sense.”
“—Fine. It could make sense. But it’s improbable. I just can’t believe it, any of it.”
Makoto dropped his gaze, voice quiet, “… it doesn’t change the fact that I was left behind.”
Rin sucked in a breath and held it, “No. No, it doesn’t.”
And they both fell silent.
The sun was starting to sink in the sky.
Rin wondered if it ever rained over the FDMZ. It was a bit of a stupid thought to have; it probably pissed rain all over the rest of Japan. The fog just stretched out into what looked like infinity, but they were hardly at the edge of the world. It felt like he’d been travelling through the FDMZ for months, but only two weeks ago he was in Sydney, the seasons changing and the frigid air slowly warming as he paced endlessly in the parking lot of Oaks Airfield for any indication that he’d be on the next flight, squinting into the distance for the sight of a plane against the deep blue sky. Australia. He wondered if he should have left. Out there, the world was still turning. He tried to be optimistic; it wasn’t like all of Japan had fallen to some apocalyptic end of days. After all, the fog was thinner in Manidera Temple, up in the mountains, although a little shower wouldn’t hurt, possibly clear up the atmosphere a bit.
Melt everything down with acid rain, more like.
Rin snorted quietly as he tucked himself in and zipped up, casting a lingering look at the row of bushes he’d just pissed all over. Fertilised. That he’d fertilised all over. There probably was a urinal and sleeping quarters within the temple compound, but he’d decided he didn’t want to be too far away from Makoto. He deserved some company, at the end. Peeing in the corner of the garden was a small sacrifice.
Makoto was still sitting with his legs sprawled out, arms bound behind his back, tied to a stone lantern. His head hung forward. Rin couldn’t see his face.
He felt his stomach growl. He touched it briefly and willed away the hunger.
He was going to be there for Makoto. Eating, pissing… he wasn’t going to do any of that within earshot. He wasn’t going to do anything to remind Makoto of what humanity he had left. If Makoto didn’t eat, he wasn’t going to either. Besides, they weren’t expending any energy. It would be fine.
The clock was ticking.
It wouldn’t be long, after all.
“Hey, Rin,” Makoto said listlessly, staring at nothing, head lolled uselessly to the side, “Do you ever wonder why zombies go for the head?”
Rin glanced up sharply, growing alert as he replied warily, “Sometimes. Why?”
“You know the saying, ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul’? They’re still human at the core. Maybe the face is all they recognise of a person anymore. Or maybe the eyes.”
Rin held back the flash of remembrance. Coach Sasabe, with his face half-rotted. He swallowed, “Yeah, and they lunge in for a hug with their mouths.”
“I mean, they retain some primal instincts that normal humans have. Maybe… maybe they need to be near someone. Maybe that’s why they gather in hoards.”
“They gather in hoards,” Rin said, feeling defensive, slightly surreal and very disturbed that they were even having this discussion, “Because that usually indicates a food source. There’s nothing romantic or philosophical about it. Don’t you dare tell me zombies are misunderstood, because that is neither funny nor welcome at this juncture.”
“And why the brains?” Makoto rasped, voice rough, “Is it because that’s what hurts? They’re always gripping their heads. I always thought it was the fog but now…”
Rin chewed on his lower lip in worry as the light from the small campfire he’d started cast dark shadows across Makoto’s face. The sun had set a while ago. This had to be it. Makoto was getting delusional, talking like he knew how zombies felt. He was going to turn soon. Rin took deep breaths, reaching for his machete and stilling the slight tremble that ran through his arm. He was gripped by an onslaught of grief but he forced himself to hold it in. He had a duty to fulfil. He had to get through this.
“Rin. I’m… I’m hungry.”
“I know… I know we shouldn’t waste anything but could I… just get a bite…”
Shit, shit, shit.
Rin could feel the tears welling up in his eyes and he forced himself to look up at Makoto, bracing himself for the pale-blue lips, the pallid skin rippled with visible veins and the whitened irises.
A very loud growl rumbled forth from Makoto’s stomach. He lifted his head with much difficulty, mouth dry and eyes unfocused. And green. They were still green. They looked like they weren’t actually seeing anything anymore, but they were most definitely still green. He was looking a bit pale all round, but not deathly.
“My… stomach hurts… and my throat too… maybe some… water?”
Rin slumped, loosening his grip on his machete. He waited for a beat before he wordlessly reached for the small water bottles in his backpack. His stomach began a small trill in response. He dug out a bag of dried fruit, leaving the protein bars aside for emergencies.
He uncapped the bottle and gently pressed the mouth to Makoto’s cracking lips, not sure whether he was feeling tension or relief when Makoto had no qualms chewing and swallowing the apricot that Rin carefully fed him by tilting Makoto’s head back at a slight angle and dropping it onto his tongue, limiting contact.
The infection usually set in anywhere between 20 minutes to 24 hours. Rin glanced at his watch. There was still time.
This was going to be a very long night.