“I don’t know what you’re saying, exactly,” Miles states, laughing just a little, no doubt trying to lighten the sudden grim mood.
There is an eerie silence, a terrifying silence, that settles like a thin veil over the room. There is no shuffling, no talking, no breathing. The only sound I can hear is my heartbeat in my ear.
“I need to infect one of you,” Cody says finally, his voice low and deep. “It’s not too bad, even though it sounds terrible. I have a small sample of the disease and it is a fast-acting one. It should be relatively painless, but I’m not sure it’ll be extremely quick. I mean, you’ll be fine, but it could be a couple hours at most.”
Everyone is silent. Teddy whimpers and Miles looks terrified. I try to keep a face of stone, but inside I’m bubbling, like molten rock turning under a volcano before an eruption.
“I’m so sorry, but, um…” he continues, and I feel a pang in my chest, knowing that these news will be even worse.
“Miles’ immune system is already extremely weak. Infecting him might have devastating effects, even to the point of fatality. We can’t risk that. Teddy’s pretty weak, too, but his immune system is strong enough to work if I can go fast. It’s still more of a danger, though.”
He is talking faster and faster as he goes on, getting more and more nervous. I know what this means - it’s me, Teddy, or Dad. I’m never letting Teddy ever become infected - he’s been through too much as it is, and we’re not purposefully inflicting him.
I’d never let Dad do that either - he’s an older man, and neither I nor he wants to admit it. Cody doesn’t either, apparently, but I know he’s implying that we’d both be alright.
Basically he’s saying that I’m the prime choice. I’m the cut of meat, the experimental subject whose only purpose is for testing. I know in my heart that it’s not true, that I’m just paranoid, but it scares me, to think that this was my final job, what I meant to the world.
“I’ll…” I start, standing slowly. I didn’t even notice that I was sitting on the arm of the chair, leaning on it to steady myself. “I’ll do it.” My arms are down straight at my sides, hands balled tightly into fists.
Teddy cries out and reaches for me as I step away and I take a small step back, leaning back on the chair. He wraps his arms around me, starting to cry, and my dad pats my back sadly.
“I have to, Ted,” I explain, tears tugging at my eyes. “It’ll just be for a bit. But I don’t want you to listen to me when I’m… gone. I want you to cover your ears and remember what we did together, when you were even tinier. Okay? Keep those happy thoughts in your mind. It won’t be me when he infects me, it’ll be the disease, and I could hurt you. I don’t want that.”
I’m babbling and wiping his tears. My dad has tears rolling down his cheeks silently, but Teddy is sobbing gently and sniffling. I start to cry and he wipes mine away, and I stifle a laugh.
Cody pipes, “I could do it. Have one of you infect me. I’m not really needed, anyway.”
“No,” we all mumble at the same time.
“You’re important, you can stop this. Plus, if you infect… someone else, you’ll probably be able to cure them.” Miles debates.
Everybody mutters in agreement, a small buzz as the voices connect. I am terrified, and I can hear my heartbeat in my ears again, blood rushing in my head. My fingers are pulsing, my entire body is pulsing with the pounding sound of drums in my head.
The initial panic, the anxiety is fading, being replaced by pure terror. I am not even considering the possibility that I make it out okay, alive - only thinking of what will happen if - when - I die.
I always knew that this day would come, that I would perish from the Earth one day, and I am ready. But I will not go down without fighting, and that’s what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of hurting someone in this group, someone with potential to continue on long after this monstrosity is over and get rid of that potential. In the pit of my stomach I am afraid that I will become a monster and that I won’t go down fighting, because that’s who I am. For once, that’s the one part of me that would change.
That one part of me was the one part of me I always admired. I never let go of my fierceness, my fire. I wish I was more like Teddy, more serene - now, if I die, because of this quality I could bring someone good-hearted and incredible down with me unintentionally.
“Cody, I’ll do it. I want to do it. When do you need the tests?” I ask, composing myself. I stand up again from the chair, wiping my face off on my sleeve and wiping off my shirt nonchalantly,
“I need them in a few days at the most,” he responds coldly. He looks all around the room, eyes falling anywhere but my face.
I nod. I can’t keep it off; the sooner, the better, but I’m not ready. Not yet. I still have so much to do, so much to say.
The entire room is hushed, almost as if it’s a funeral. I laugh shallowly to try to lighten the mood and everyone smiles, but none of it is genuine - they’re smiling to reassure me, not reassure themselves.
“Guys, come on! I’ll be fine,” I tell them. “Cody knows what he’s doing and I’ll be back to annoy you all really soon. Okay?”
That gets a few little chuckles. My dad stands, picking Teddy up off of his lap first, and so does Miles, rushing to his feet.
“You have a little while to get ready,” Cody states finally, turning to go back to his studies.
I roll my eyes, giving an anxious little smile to everyone. I’m nervous but I know what I have to do to become ready for my fate. I will meet it with my head held high, go down in dignity.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It does not take long for me to pack up my bag and make mental notes of everything I have to do before this happens.
Saying goodbye is top priority. I need to talk to Teddy and make sure he’s alright, but that won’t take long. I know Cody wants me to try to do this today, so I’ll have to be quick with everything.
I walk out of the room I’m standing in. It’s down the hallway from the entrance that is straight ahead of the front door. Dad is pacing back and forth down one hallway to the one across from it, the two that I am not occupying. Teddy is running ahead of him, going down one hallway, then down the other.
“Ted, come here,” I offer, and I kneel down in the entrance hall. Teddy stops in front of me, hands folded politely on my knee.
“You’ll be alright, right?” I ask him first, and he nods after a pause. “I know you miss Mom, but you still have Dad. And I might be back, who knows?”
After that sentence, I stop, looking down for a second. Teddy places a light finger on my chin to push my head up.
“Ebony, it’s okay. I know that you’ll be okay. Cody is kind. And Dad told me that you’ll be an angel if you don’t. You’ll still watch over me. I’ll be okay.”
He is so understanding. It makes everything just a bit easier.
Cody comes out of his room and walks over to me. "Whenever you want me to start it, just tell me," he says, and this time he actually looks at me. His look is one of scorn, resentment. He pities me and feels power over me - that's what makes him strong.
"Soon," I answer. "I just need time to say goodbye.” I stand up quickly and walk back over to my father. He’s standing stiffly, but keeping his emotions in, and I envelop him in a gigantic hug. He stretches out his arms and I ram into his body with an extreme force - one of the biggest hugs I’ve ever given. We stand for an eternity and I feel him start to sob, his body shaking with every breath. I wish I could comfort him, but I have no comfort to offer.
I can tell that he doesn’t want to let go, doesn’t want to believe what will happen when I do. He wants to protect me from my fate, and I would love it if he could, but it’s impossible. I have come to terms with that. I believe it.
I accept it.
Finally I feel his grip tighten. I’ve been dreading this moment, but I knew it would come. We let go slowly, our grip lingering, and finally we separate completely.
Then I lean back down to say goodbye to Ted. I see his small face contorted in fear, anger, despair. For once his beautiful aura is one of agony, and I envelop him like a blanket. His tiny voice whistles in my ear, wavering with every exhale as I feel tears roll down his face.
“You’ll be okay,” I whisper to him. I’m glad that hugs can hide emotions - if he could see my face, I know he wouldn’t believe me.
“You will, too,” he tells me, and I don’t know if he’s deceiving me or not.
I stand after a little while and follow Cody into the room next to his research room. It’s a room meant for quarantining patients, much like the room back at the abandoned camp. There is a large, thick glass window facing the hallway but all of the other walls are bare and made of brick, painted white. There is a bed and a desk for work, but nothing else, really - a very dull, bare room.
Cody has a full skin suit on and heads in behind me, shutting the door. He holds up a needle and I take off my jacket, throwing it on the bed. Rolling up my sleeves to expose my arm, I grimace, getting ready for the shot.
I’ve never been a fan of needles. They put me off, unease me, and after all that we’ve been through already, it’s extremely unsettling.
There’s a pinch in my arm and then it stops. I don’t know if it’s my mind playing tricks on me, but I immediately start to feel effects of the infection, my head going completely fuzzy. I stumble backwards and fall on the bed, fixing my eyes on the people outside of the window.
Teddy waves to me, and I wave back weakly.
My time has come.