Officer Takahashi hated his job.

It wasn't the work he hated, as he had always enjoyed being in charge, and he took a lot of pride in bossing around the prisoners in the Correctional Facility. He loved to watch their faces twist in fear when he approached, to see them curl their shoulders in and cower like the insects they were.

No, the work was great; the management was the problem.

Takahashi had been employed at the Facility for eight years, and he had never once received praise for his exceptional service. The management didn't even acknowledge his presence when he was in the room, as if he were just part of the scenery, or some lowly sanitation worker who could be thrown away and replaced in a second. No hello, no thank you, no how's your family pleasantries by the coffee machine. Just bring this, get that, get out. He was a glorified errand boy to them when he should have been recognized as the exemplary soldier and peacekeeper he was.

It made his blood boil.

The mad doctor didn't even glance at him when Takahashi dragged in the sniveling official he'd asked—ordered—Takahashi to bring him. The man was apparently a top ranker in the Central Administration Board, but you never would have known it by the way he was whimpering and begging like a little girl.

Takahashi sneered. And these people think they're better than me. What a joke.

"Fura-san," the doctor droned, "I am not here to punish you. There is no need for this…" He waved a hand vaguely to indicate Fura's bloated, tear-streaked face and the corners of his mouth twitched down. "Emotional display."

Fura's lip was split and inflamed, his wrists raw. Apparently, he had gone into West Block to get his rocks off, and the encounter turned bad. Or maybe he was into deviant sex. Who knew with these people?

Revulsion rippled across Takahashi's skin. He would never cheat on his wife, but if he did, it wouldn't be with some mangy slum dweller in West Block. Those creatures were probably crawling with infectious diseases, least of all the infection. He couldn't believe they were still alive after all these years; the world would be better off if the monsters outside swarmed their squalid settlement and devoured them. If Takahashi were upper management, he would have already made the call to eradicate West Block.

Fura wiped at his snotty nose and stared miserably up at the doctor from the floor. Takahashi had cast him down there when he entered, because 1) the doctor's office had no chairs but his own at the far end of the room, and 2) he assumed as Fura had that the man was here for a serious dressing-down.

People didn't get called to the Correctional Facility for anything but the very worst transgressions. Being a dirty, deviant, travel record-forging cheat, Fura should be locked up in the first available cell.

But of course, he wasn't being punished. Upper management protected their own, even when they didn't deserve it. A muscle feathered in Takahashi's jaw, but he stood silently at the back of the room, invisible as ever against the stark white walls, despite his dark uniform.

"Why am I here, then?" Fura asked.

"You've been outside the wall," the doctor said, matter-of-factly. "And failed to follow the proper channels to do so, which means you haven't adhered to our decontamination procedure. Now, the matter of your manipulating travel records is for the Security Bureau,"—Fura wheezed in terror, and Takahashi felt a thrill of satisfaction—"but all I care about is keeping our city free of infection. I'm willing to keep this between us, if you'll agree to a health screening and a night's quarantine in the lab to ensure you don't have any adverse side effects. Or infections from West Block."

"Oh." Fura looked confused for a moment, and then deeply relieved. "Yes," he said, tottering to his feet and trying in vain to straighten out his rumpled suit. "Of course. I'm sorry about ignoring procedure. I swear it will never happen again. You have my word."

"I'm sure," the doctor said with a pallid smile.

Takahashi's stomach churned.

"I'll escort you to the lab for screenings, but first thing's first, I have a vaccine for you."

"A vaccine?"

"Yes, for the infection. Since you've been out in West Block, we can't be too careful. It'll eradicate any traces you might have come into contact with, and immunize you against contracting the infection in the future."

A vaccine against the infection? Takahashi had heard nothing about this. Of course, he knew that the medical teams had been working tirelessly for a cure ever since the first outbreak nearly a decade ago, but there hadn't been a positive update on their progress in years.

As the doctor approached, Takahashi's eyes locked onto the red-capped vial and syringe in his hands.

Fura shifted. "I've never had to get a shot before."

"It's been added to the return procedure recently. But then, you've been avoiding the proper channels for months, haven't you?"

They've had this vaccine for a few months?! Why haven't I heard about it? Why haven't they announced this to the public?

Fura's face flushed. He cleared his throat. "Yes, well… Thank you."

The doctor sterilized Fura's arm and prepared the syringe. Takahashi watched hungrily as the needle slipped into the official's arm.

"There you are," the doctor crooned. "You should be good to go after a night's rest here. Can't have our great director of the Central Administration Board taking ill, now, can we?"

"No, sir," Fura chuckled back. The color in his face had faded back to its ruddy complexion, though his eyes and lip were still puffy. He looked all the more disgusting for it.

Of course. Upper management had made a vaccine, but they were only giving it to those they deemed worthy, to their little circle of privileged, self-important friends. They lived well and healthily while the people who were doing the real work, who risked their lives traveling through the Deadlands every day, remained vulnerable.

"Now, let's get you into a room for the night," the doctor said, taking Fura by the elbow and smiling. "It's just a precaution, don't worry. Just a health screening to make sure everything is as it should be. You'll be free in the morning."

They headed for the door. Takahashi stood right there, sneering in plain sight, because he couldn't keep his annoyance and disgust at bay, but they didn't comment. They didn't even look at him as they left the room. He was nothing but a tool to them. A faceless soldier they took out of the toy box only when they needed dirty work done that they didn't want to sully their hands with. They didn't care if he lived or died.

Takahashi cared.

The door closed behind the doctor and official, and Takahashi waited a moment, listening to their footsteps and voices gradually fade. Once he knew they were gone, he crossed the room and opened the small fridge he watched the doctor go into.

A neat row of the red-capped vials sat inside, nestled in their container. The tray had a word written on tape stuck to the front: "Elyurias." Takahashi took one vial from the back, so it wouldn't be immediately missed, then paused for a moment before taking another for his wife. She had always been good to him; he ought to repay the favor.

He filched two syringes and carefully tucked the contraband away in his pocket before slipping out of the office and closing the door silently behind him. No one saw him. He was a ghost, and just for the moment, he was glad of it.

Takahashi and his wife injected the drug into their bloodstreams that night, with varying degrees of heady excitement and shame. If the infection made it into No. 6, they would be safe. The infection would never make it inside the walls, though, so it was nothing to worry about, really. No one would ever know they took the vaccine. But on the off chance there was an outbreak, they would be safe.

Inside the walls of the Correctional Facility, Fura woke in the night, feeling hot and parched. He sat up and took a long pull from the water bottle the assistant left him. The doctor had turned on some kind of sound machine over the speakers, which did not help him sleep at all. In fact, it made his skin itch and his insides feel all wiggly. He wished he could tell them to turn it off, but he was already in deep water, and the doctor had done him a huge favor by not reporting him to the Security Bureau. Fura didn't want to press his good luck.

He rose from his bed to piss, and a wave of dizziness crashed into him so hard, he plopped back down onto the bed.

Damn. Must have stood up too fast… He rubbed his temples until the vertigo faded. Sweat had collected at the edge of his thinning hairline and the nape of his neck. God, it's hot….

Fura gulped more water before attempting to rise again to relieve himself. This time there was no uneasy dizziness, but his muscles felt very tight and uncertain beneath him. He should really stretch and exercise more. Fura swore he'd start tomorrow.

Tomorrow he was going to clean himself up, get back on the right track. He would stop paying visits to West Block. It was no longer safe there for him. He shivered violently, remembering the cool silver gaze of the pretty boy, the smiling hatred in his eyes as he abused Fura over and over.

The government had it right: No people lived in West Block anymore, only monsters.

But, well… That boy… Shion. He wasn't so bad. He helped me. But of course, Shion had come from inside the quarantine zone, so he was still human, even if he was a criminal. Fura satisfied himself with this reasoning and hobbled back to bed.

He continued to sweat, but now the room felt too cold. He yanked his blankets tight around him and grumbled. He couldn't wait to get out of this place and return home.

The man smiled as he watched Fura through the live video feed. The official slept fitfully, constantly tossing and turning, throwing off his blanket, only to wrap it tightly about himself again a few minutes later.

Stage 1 was unfurling rather nicely under the resonance. Of course, the man had done enough tests by now to know how his pet infection strain played out. Slower, in the outset, but once it caught, it spread like wildfire through the body.

Under normal circumstances, it would take a week to slowly seep into the body and turn the person, but the man had been testing the idea of resonating the virus with a low frequency emission, to speed up the infection. He hoped to get the science down to the point where he could play a frequency in the vicinity of an infected person and have them turn within the span of minutes. That seemed feasible, and Fennec would be pleased. If he got this right, he could turn his subjects into remote control bombs, dormant until he activated them.

I'll need more samples. The man made a note to request more from Fennec in their meeting the next day. He had that elite girl to start with—she had been languishing in her cell too long, and her dark, determined eyes and clipped remarks had grown less charming over the course of the time she'd stayed with him—but if he were to perfect his infection strain, he'd need a larger pool of test subjects.

Perhaps from West Block. If he remembered correctly, there was a Clean-Up scheduled soon.

The man leaned forward and increased the resonance frequency. Just a bit. He didn't want Fura to unravel too fast, not when there was more data to be collected.