Chapter Nine: Free Bird
Anna woke up to the sounds of chirping birds.
She thought she was dreaming, but as she slowly opened her eyes, she found the brightness of sunlight too blinding for comfort. When she used her arm as a shield, she felt something stuck to her knuckles - a strip of transparent tape securing the small clear tube poking out of her arm.
"You're awake!" Someone exclaimed excitedly, and Anna covered her ears. Ignoring the enthusiastic person standing beside her, she looked hastily at her surroundings, extremely please to finally seeing white walls instead of gray. The size of the room may be the same, but she welcomed being confined in a hospital a hundred times more than being in quarantine.
Having a window was nice too, although it had been kept shut.
"You don't really care about me, do you?" Whined Emily.
"I'm glad to see you," she smiled. "Really glad."
"You've been sleeping for a whole day, you know." Emily pointed to the device beside her. "You've been on this drip feed the entire time."
"How about Dr. Carson?"
"He's too lively, if you ask me. He's currently working with Dr. Lilybeth because the health officials are on their tails."
"What are you talking about?"
Emily sighed. "Turns out, this thing we feared to be the Morgan Virus was nothing more than a poison that mimicked the virus' symptoms perfectly. When the blood samples were delivered, they were all different."
"That's right. For instance, Dr. Carson's blood samples revealed high glucose levels, but only because he didn't get his insulin, and the lack of oxygen from days before made him weak. On the other hand, yours showed nothing out of the ordinary - it was a completely normal reading."
"And Kyle Sehler?"
Emily sighed. "His reading was the tricky one. In Dr. Carson's defense, the patient started off with chills and a violent fever. Then came the painful headache, followed by rashes all over his body. After that, blood came spurting out from his upper gastrointestinal tract, and even his organs started to inflame."
"And he wouldn't even wake up," added Anna.
"But it wasn't infectious, you see," replied Emily. "I tested the samples myself. Both you and Dr. Carson are safe, and they had no reason to confine you yesterday because there is no virus. Just a patient suffering from a poison we've never seen before.
"The minute these symptoms show up the same time, those old farts start to freak out, making things worse than they really are." She shook her head in dismay.
Anna breathed a huge sigh of relief.
"You can't blame them," she replied. "We weren't there to see it ourselves, but it was the very thing that reduced humanity by the millions."
"Yeah, yeah. I'm just a lab assistant so I wouldn't know."
Anna chuckled. "So how is Sehler doing?"
"The antiviral drug that Dr. Carson gave him saved his organs from deteriorating. We mixed Dr. Lilybeth's vaccine to plant-based medicine only found here, and that helped him a lot. We're currently working on several antidotes to provide a permanent solution, and we expect at least one of them to work. He's currently under observation."
"Poor guy," said Anna, "but thank God. We couldn't ask for a better end to this thing than that."
"He'll be fine," said Emily. "As soon as he gets out of the hospital, he'll be an instant celebrity. It's a first to see someone walk out of Sonddor with all his limbs intact. Then again, he did get poisoned."
"I'm just glad it's over," said Anna. "Really." She gave Emily a faint smile, but said nothing more. Her gaze went the closed door, and for just a mere second she hoped it would open.
"Are you expecting another visitor?" Said Emily slyly. "Perhaps a certain soldier?"
Anna shook her head, and Emily laughed.
"There's no use denying it. You've become famous. Everyone wouldn't stop talking about a soldier who was so in love with a woman that threw himself trying to save her at gunpoint- literally. They think it's romantic."
"-Enough," Anna said with her head down. "It's not like that."
"Well, I'm surprised he even knew where the vent was to aim his gun at it."
"He didn't," Anna answered softly. " He didn't know."
He risked his life on a single lie to save mine.
"...Did something happen to you two?"
Anna didn't say anything, so Emily closed her lips and gave her a hug.
"I'm your only friend, you unsociable brat. If you ever need me, I'm all ears. Alright?"
When Emily let go, she looked at her watch. "I need to go now. We still have work to do there. I'll let the nurse know you're awake so get yourself ready."
When Emily left, two nurses came running a few minutes later. They checked to make sure Anna's vital signs were normal, and that she was completely healthy. Yet, it was obvious from their starry- eyed expressions that they were less worried about her health, and more curious about the girl in the rumors, the one with a handsome soldier for a lover.
Anna stayed for a few more hours to get every last bit of check-up that came knocking her way. After declaring her to be completely safe, she left the hospital.
"Now, where to go..." she thought to herself. The hospital she was confined in was the Siho's main hospital, located an hour away from her house. She would need to ride a train back, but it would take her five minutes on foot just to reach the train station, and she wasn't feeling the exercise today.
She looked up to see a man whose face she had seen before. She remembered Daniel refer to him as Ilyan.
He was standing in the opposite sidewalk when he called out. As he waited a few more cars to pass by before making his way to her, she thought about leaving him.
Her conscience, however, insisted she stay.
"Thank you for waiting," he said as he stood in front of her. "I really thought you would just run away from me."
Anna's eyes widened. He didn't seem the type to really speak him mind. She found it refreshing.
"Oh, I don't think I've properly introduced myself yet." He gave her a polite nod.
"My name is Ilyan Greyhm, one of the cooks from the camp."
"Oh, of course," she said to herself. His name had a familiar ring to it, but she could never put a face. She would often hear about a handsome young cook that rarely shows himself around town. "So what are you doing in this part of the land?"
"Shopping," he answered. "I've been meaning to buy myself a watch, but not one from the shops I've visited had caught my eye so I'm heading home. If you are alright with it, I'd like to accompany you back as we are heading the same way."
She nodded. He seemed like a good companion, and truthfully she didn't feel like being left alone today, so she let him. As they walked, she listened to his humming.
The tune had a warm, jaunty feel to it, and she instantly recognized it to be a children's song from a popular breakfast cereal commercial. She started to play the song in her head, but something abruptly caught her attention, and her steps fell short. They stopped in front of an electronic store, where a television on display showed a picture of a murdered detective from the Union Republic.
"Detective Alan Mishkov was a man with skills beyond any other detectives in the region. He was talented in his work, and his name goes beyond the Union Republic. He was found dead in his home a week ago, and there is no information as to how he died or who the suspects are, but we will keep you posted. A beloved man, he will truly be missed."
"They're playing this thing again," hissed Ilyan, shaking his head at a television broadcast.
"...Has it really been a week?" Asked Anna softly.
He nodded. "I was at the camp when they first reported about this. Everyone made a big fuss. He's a pretty big deal, after all."
"May I ask you something?" She paused. "If this man was alive, would he be welcomed at Siho?"
"Of course! He wasn't a snob like everyone else from the Union. He was fair in judgment. One time he defended a National Guard from the Union Army officials, saying the man was wrongly accused. It was a heated debate two years ago."
Anna pretended to listen, but her mind was already losing it. She had never been so scared. The man who approached her before was not actually the detective, but someone who used his name to enter the borders freely. She owned a television herself, but she had no time to watch and so she wouldn't know what the real Detective Mishkov looked like. And yet, she should have known something was wrong.
It was obvious that he was after the information Sahl had given her in his letter.
"His letter," she thought, "there was something else in that letter."
A name. Hansel.
Anna made up her mind. As soon as he gets back, she would need to do whatever she can to find Hansel. He might help her decide what she could do next.
After all, she has never dealt with these people before. She was a walking trigger to all of them. If she opens her mouth, she could help start a war, or worse -
They might kill her father.
The problem is location. Where would she start? Who would she talk to? Who would she avoid? And if she finds this Hansel, what will she say to him?
She groaned in frustration.
"Are you alright, Ms. Elixon?" Said Ilyan. "You don't look well. Should we go back to the hospital?"
She waved him off. "It's alright. Besides, it seems we've reached the station."
They boarded the train heading west of Siho, where the camp and her home can be found. Although it took an hour, Anna was too preoccupied with her thoughts.
Ilyan slept like a baby.
In a blink of an eye, the train stopped and they found themselves home. She said goodbye to the young cook and they parted ways. Anna intended to get a quick shuteye, but as she found herself a few steps away from her house, something felt eerily wrong.
Her front door was open.
She didn't know what to do next. Could it be the people searching for Sahl's letter? She looked around, but found nobody in sight. Had this been a trap set by the same people who killed the Union detective, it wouldn't be so obvious. Her windows have been smashed to pieces, her front lawn full a wreck. Then she heard a soft groaning coming from her home.
So she ran.
Reaching the inside of her house, she found her television shattered, her couches ripped to pieces. Her flower vases were shattered on the floor, but she didn't care about any of it. Instead her attention turned to the bloody man standing in the middle of her living room with a gun in his hand.
Her eyes widened as she realized it was Daniel.
His legs wobbled as he stood his ground, but the gun in his hand was steadily pointed to the ground.
Her house had become a battlefield.
"Run away," said Daniel as he staggered to take a step towards her. "Run now, before they come back."
And then, she watched in horror as his legs gave up and he collapsed on the floor.