Gift Recipient: rhombal
Summary: Why exactly was Pollution chosen as Pestilence's
replacement? Pestilence summons Pollution so that he can clear the air.so to speak.
Author's Note: As per request, this story contains Horsepersons gen. I hope you like it, Rhombal!
As a taxi driver for several years, Thomas Raine had seen a lot of unusual customers, a few of which had even made him question his faith in human sanity. But even with all of the potential asylum escapees and just plain weirdoes, none of them ever made him feel as unnerved as his newest passenger. He had introduced himself simply as Mr. White, and he had lived up to his name. The passenger was dressed from head to toe in white, and even his hair was not dark enough to be considered blond. Mr. White's turtleneck sweater was the only indication that he felt the mountain chill, though the higher they drove, the more the furrow of his brow deepened. He had not said a single word since the trip began, and he had settled down with his arms crossed his stomach and his head bowed to his chest in a light doze. The silence was uncomfortable, but Thomas could not help but be glad that Mr. White's eyes were closed. Upon their first introduction, Mr. White had stared directly at him with too-pale eyes, and Thomas had suddenly become aware of the grease stains on his clothes, and the oil under his fingernails. He felt dirty, and was all too grateful when his passenger slid into the front seat and sunk into the position he now remained in.
Mr. White did not have the threatening presence that some of Thomas'customers had had, but never had he felt so uneasy, and he sighed in relief when their destination came into view.
"Sir? Mr. White?" Thomas said softly, but his passenger continued to ignore him.
"Sir," Thomas tried again, and he reached over to gently shake White's shoulder. He immediately pulled away, frowning at the slightly oily sensation on his fingertips. He rubbed them together as White straightened in his seat. At his passenger's questioning look, he gestured to the window.
"We're almost there, Mr. White. If you look out to your right, you can see the Institute."
Finally showing a spark of interest, White leaned against his door and peered out the window.
Tucked against the hills of the Sierra Nevada, the South Ridge Institute of Microbiology was, in essence, the most dangerous place on earth. It was the pride of the Center for Disease Control, as the top micro and molecular biologists from around the world handled and researched the deadliest bacteria in existence. The Institute's gleaming white walls were a picture of sterility against the contamination within, a fortress for the fragile plastic cages within.
The potential was staggering.
White remained pressed against the window as Thomas pulled into the Institute's drive, and against the glass he traced the path of the intricately carved sign that arched over the road.
"You work here?" Thomas asked as the Institute's solid glass entrance loomed imperiously in front of them.
"No," White answered, his voice quiet and slick. "I was invited."
Realizing that no further information would be offered, Thomas dropped the subject and sped up to reach the doors. The car had barely come to a stop before his passenger slid out and stood out on the sidewalk, his neck craning up to examine the building's skyline. Thomas opened his own door and climbed halfway out, bringing his arm to rest on the roof.
"Are you going to be long? I could wait, if you wanted."
"There's no need. I'll have my own transportation back. And I believe you said you needed to get your car repaired."
Thomas frowned and glanced towards the trunk.
"Yeah.I have no idea why that exhaust gave out. It was brand new. Sorry it set us back a bit."
White smiled, the corner of his eyes lifting in a strange expression of happiness and sinful pleasure.
"Don't worry. It didn't bother me in the slightest."
"And don't worry about the fare. It was ordered to get charged to the Institute's account."
But White was no longer paying attention. He was merely standing in front of the revolving doors, as though waiting for someone. Shrugging, Thomas sank back down into his seat and left. The gear change had caused a sharp blast of unfiltered exhaust from the defunct pipe, which White breathed deeply in. It was a welcome change from the fresh mountain air that was pressing in on him, and it soothed him. As the taxi disappeared back down the drive, White pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and reread the note. Sighing, he threw it to the ground and continued on through the door.
The lobby was quiet, as the hours for public visitation were long since over, and the front counter took immediate notice of their visitor. White opened his mouth to introduce himself, but the woman merely handed over a large information packet and gestured to the elevator.
"He's expecting you. Top floor, to the left."
"Doctor, I just want you to understand that due to the..unfortunate incident two weeks ago, we have received several calls from the locals about the safety of this Institute."
White paused outside the office doorway, the sound of a woman's voice keeping him from entering straight away.
"They keep talking about the possibilities of an outbreak, and the media isn't making it any easier. How that woman died.they don't want their children-"
Another voice, a man's, older with a slight rasp, interrupted.
"Only lion tamers are killed by lions, mayor. There's nothing to fear as to the security of this institution. We operate within the strictest parameters set by the federal government. The accident with Evaline Gray was just that..an accident. You may tell the citizens that while their fears are understandable, they aren't justified. I can promise you that nothing.nothing leaves South Ridge without my permission."
There was an awkward silence before the man spoke again.
"If it would put everyone to ease, I will be more than happy to make an official press statement and reassure the public."
"Yes, that would be wonderful. The sooner the better, I believe. Just contact me by the end of this week, and I'm sure it will all be settled peacefully."
"My only wish."
White stepped back from the door as he heard the sound of chairs being pushed back, and he was just far enough away to keep from being hit as the door opened. The woman exited first, and she quickly brushed past White with barely a glance. White watched her go before turning back to the now open office.
A man, his suit covered by a white lab coat, stood in the doorway, one arm propped up against the frame. His gray, nearly silver hair was brushed back from a handsome, though slightly gaunt middle-aged face, and his pale blue eyes glittered with indefinable emotion as they lighted upon the smaller man.
"A sight for sore eyes, indeed. Pollution, my dear friend," he said, and he reached out to pull his visitor into a strong hug. Pollution let himself be held for a moment before he pulled away.
"Pestilence," he said, bowing his head respectfully.
"Why so formal? Surely I don't seem that much of a stranger. Come
Pestilence ushered Pollution in, quickly pulling up a lush armchair for the younger to sit in. Pestilence's office, for all that it implied, was surprisingly normal-looking: mahogany furniture placed on soft beige carpet, a bookcase, and a computer on a paper-covered desk. Placed along the wall were several framed micrographs of different bacteria, their labels on small gold plaques beneath. There were even plants, tulips, to be precise, placed on the window sill. However, Pollution could not help but notice that the red flowers were streaked with gold. A doctorate diploma for a V. Benecka from the University of
California sat proudly displayed on a shelf next to a microscope.
"Make yourself comfortable, Pollution. I'm sorry I wasn't able to meet you at the door. My meeting with the mayor went a little longer than I had expected," Pestilence said as he replaced some of the books on his desk to their shelf.
"I heard a little bit of it. Someone died."
"Evaline Gray. One of my researchers. She pricked herself with a
contaminated syringe. An accident, of course," Pestilence answered, and his eyes took on the strange light again as he looked back at his guest. "Though, it was really quite fascinating.the effects it had on her. It acted so quickly, too...you don't mind if I have dinner, do you?"
Pollution blinked in surprise, but he shook his head and sat down in the armchair provided. He watched in fascination as Pestilence pulled out a large petri dish that was filled with a light brown substance. It had the consistency of jello, and Pestilence dug heartily into it with a spoon.
"I was surprised to get your letter. Nobody had seen you in a long time, we had just figured-"
"How quaint. And how typical," Pestilence said, and he paused from his meal to cough. "I may be retired from the Quartet, but do not make the mistake in thinking that I'm harmless. Though I must admit.I'm rather pleased that I can still take people by surprise."
Pollution nearly jumped as Pestilence's human form seemed to shimmer and fade out slightly. His general appearance remained, but dark circles were now forming underneath his clear blue eyes, his skin looked sallow, and his hair lost its luster. Pestilence smiled, and Pollution could see the dark redness of his gums. "There, much more comfortable. Now, as I was saying. I'll do much for you, Pollution, but don't ever assume anything about me. You'll be wrong every time."
"Why am I here?"
Finishing with the petri dish, Pestilence tossed it aside and leaned forward to fold his arms on the desk.
"I wanted to show off for you. After all, I built this whole place just for you."
In his entire existence, there had been nothing that had rendered
Pollution speechless. Well, save for the one time that resulted in an embarrassing misunderstanding War had concerning him and Famine. But, despite the fact that Death still snickered every time they saw each other, Pollution did his best to forget that. But that had been an accumulation of a series of events, and here Pestilence had stopped him cold with one sentence.
Pestilence began coughing again, and Pollution watched, slightly uncomfortable, as the older being bent and clutched at the desk for support as he shook with dry heaves. He had never once seen any of the other Horsepersons so helplessly subject to their own power.he had never seen War succumb to the less than sanitary conditions of the battlefield, nor had Famine's hunger ever been taken advantage of. Death never struggled against aging, and he himself never once got sick from the--Pollution jumped to his feet and stared at Pestilence in undisguised horror.
Pestilence stopped coughing, but he didn't straighten back up, instead he merely layed his head sideways against the desk's surface, one arm stretched out in front of him.
"I built an Institute that studies bacteria and viruses. I help develop ways to destroy them. Do you know why?" Pestilence's voice was harsh and raspy, a testimony to the infection within. Pollution remained silent.
"I created South Ridge so that while humans learn to destroy disease, I learn how to make them better. Penicillin and all of the resulting progress with antibiotics set me back, I admit. But while the humans cripple the weaker strains, the resistant breeds flourish and grow. Medicine may work for a while, but I always come back. It's why I chose you."
Pollution's eyes narrowed in thought, but he remained quiet. Giving an exasperated sigh, Pestilence stood up and looked his replacement straight in the eye.
"What is disease? What is sickness, what am I but a simple pollution of the body? I had realized this almost a little too late, thanks to Mr. Fleming, and I won't lie in saying that I wasn't resentful of it at first. After all, I, the most powerful of the Four-"
Pollution started, and immediately interrupted.
"Death owes half of his work to me! I make it easy for him!" Pestilence shouted, his demeanor instantly changing from mild to enraged. "I've killed more people than War could ever hope to achieve! Do you think hunger alone claims all of Famine's victims!? He just makes them weak for me.opens them up to me. They're all mere scrapes of the knee compared to the things I've come up with." Pestilence laughed, and it quickly morphed into another, smaller coughing fit. "Death. Death can't touch me. He has no power..after all, it's so very hard to kill something that isn't alive. I'll remain when Death himself withers away. Perhaps not for terribly long after, but I'll outlast everything."
"If you're so powerful," Pollution said, his tone dripping resentment and not a little awe. "Then why retire? Why am I in your place?"
"I chose you. Do you honestly think that you would be one of them if I hadn't been the one to suggest it? They would have never noticed you. The very idea of you lies within me. But here's the rub: I am merely a form of you. Death may be silent in his matters, but I am well-versed in the art of killing. And I thought I was perfect, but that changed in 1928, when I was.forced to change my views. I could be restrained, and I realized that I was no longer efficient. Even during an epidemic I am reduced to picking them off one by one. I nearly gave up. But I have one major strength, Pollution. What is it?"
.while humans learn to destroy disease, I learn how to make them better...medicine may work for a while...
"You mutate," Pollution answered, and at Pestilence's smirk, he took a step backwards. "A cure comes along and you change. You become something better, stronger. More dangerous."
"Precisely. You may be slower than I am to take effect, but you are a work of art," Pestilence said, and he approached Pollution with a sure, heavy step. Pollution continued to back up until he hit the office's door, and Pestilence immediately pressed close to trap him. "Humans know me. They fear me and fight me. But you..it's true they know you as well, but they do so little to keep you from spreading. They even feed you, encourage you, turn away from you so you are free to grow. You are an epidemic in yourself.a plague to magnitudes I've only dreamed of. I can kill millions, but you are killing the entire planet."
Pestilence shivered, and he raised a hand to trace along Pollution's jaw line. "It's absolutely awe-inspiring. Stunning work."
"You created me," Pollution accused as he fought to repress a shudder against Pestilence's touch. He found that he could not quite convince himself it was from disgust.
"We're one, you and I. You developed from me, yes, but you're so much better than I am. Which is why I built this place. To serve you. I've been working so hard to please you.even as we speak I'm working to create a disease that will follow you. It will be oh so quick."
"The H5N1 virus. Avian flu," Pollution said, remembering the panic being generated from the east.
"Those silly people..they never to think to keep things as sanitary as they can. Don't they know what things could grow in those farms? Yes, that is one of them. I'm having some difficulties getting it to adapt to human bodies and be contagious, but I'm sure I'll have it ready for you by the end of three years. And if that doesn't work, I have others."
"All for me?"
"Yes. Wherever you are, I can make something. All it would take would be one careless human to not wash their hands..or, if you really want to cause a stir, one careless animal. Whichever you prefer."
"I don't have your influence," Pollution whispered. To his surprise, Pestilence laughed.
"What a ridiculous statement! Of course you do. Just as I had my
dominion over War.what is she but a pollution of the mind? Of ethics? Of common decency? Famine has no pull anymore unless you ruin the food supplies. Death may take them. You present them. And I assure you, he admires showmanship. And if that is not enough, who do you think was the first to whisper in the Morningstar's ear? To infect his heart against God Himself?"
Pestilence slid his hand down Pollution's neck, and started to gently push the fabric away. Slick as oil, Pollution expertly maneuvered out of Pestilence's grasp.
"Why this sudden desire for a show of power?" Pollution questioned. Pestilence didn't follow him again, and merely leaned against the wall with his arms crossed. "The Antichrist won't allow any major destruction until he's ready."
"Ah, yes, I heard about that. It was a peculiar incident, but entirely isolated. When the true End comes, we could make it a sight to behold. We'll set everything up, so all it takes is one little push. They'll have it easy, and we'll have it all."
Smiling, Pestilence approached Pollution again and laid a hand on top of the smaller being's head.
"Ebola, influenza, HIV.never has any one of my creations been more perfect than you. I know you'll continue your work, but consider including my services. I'm only offering them to you," Pestilence said and stepped away, his human form sliding perfectly back into place. He picked up the packet that Pollution had dropped and handed it back. "Inside is all the information you'll ever need to know about South Ridge, including a pass to come back whenever you wish. I hope it's often. I enjoy your company."
Pollution was surprised by the abrupt dismissal, and he turned to face Pestilence, who was settling back behind his desk.
"Kicking me out already?"
"This mountain air really isn't good for you, my friend. And this
building's sterility has been wearing away at you this entire time. I can tell. I'll see if I can alter that a bit for your future visits. You really do look quite ill."
"I'm not like you," Pollution said, his grip on the package tightening. "And they are fighting me. They're even coming out with," a wince here. "Hybrid cars. To cut down on smog emissions."
Pestilence merely smiled at him.
"Then I would suggest you change. And start thinking of a new way to go."
Author's Note for the Confused, Curious, or Just Plain Bored: The substance that Pestilence eats out of the petri dish is called a chocolate agar. Agars are used by biologists and physicians to grow bacteria, and different agars can grow different types. They are a good way to determine not only the species, but what is effective in fighting them. Chocolate agars are made from blood (typically an animal's, like sheep). The blood is heated so that the blood cells lyse (burst open), releasing all of their nutrients to free float in the dish and thus allowing the bacteria to feast upon them without having to lyse the cells themselves. Also, Pestilence's alias. Benecka. A
simple variation of the word "beneckea." Google it and see what you get. ^_^
Happy Christmas, Rhombal!