The concrete floor of the beige buildings that lined the street sounded eerie at midnight. It was nothing new to the inhabitants of the west. They hadn’t had the proper resources to flourish for over a decade. Since the split of the country, the east provided less and less for the west. Initially, the west had some semblance of hope, because the east would provide them with food, clean water, and some money to help schools and businesses stay functioning. Slowly, things begin to change. It started with food. Suddenly, the deliveries from the east agency got less frequent. Soon enough, they were non-existent. Next came the money. Schools had to shut down because they were unable to fund themselves. The west had an electrical company, but it got harder for them to stay open, so prices increased. People began to grow their own crops in an effort to have something on the table for their family.
The east didn’t want to know about the struggles the west faced. When the country divided, the wealthy and privileged got to stay in the east, while the poor and impoverished were sent to the west. Not a soul in the east tried to do anything for the west, and that increased the hatred many people felt for the east.
It didn’t help that hospitals were close to non-functional in the west. There was no modern medicine to support those who were sick. Kai was no exception to those who were impacted by the lack of medical assistance. His brother, Asa, had always had a weak immune system. However, he had gotten worse over the years. Asa was at the point that, if he didn’t get the help he needed, he would die. Asa’s days were numbered and that horrified Kai. He had been taking care of Asa since they were little.
When the divide happened, Kai and Asa’s parents were present. Well, present may be an overstatement. Their parents were prone to spending more time away from their home and their family than with them. They obviously hated the divide and always said they would get out of the west. Little did Kai know that leaving didn’t include taking their children. Kai woke up one morning to an empty home, minus himself and Asa. Kai was only eleven and had no idea how to take care of himself, let alone his brother. Kai had to mature at a very young age.
By the time Kai was fourteen, he was able to act as most adults did. He did extra tasks for a local market, cooked, cleaned, and took care of the house.
Asa had never been able to go to school due to his condition, so a teacher came to their home to teach him. He was not much older than Kai and was a university student at a local college. Kai put a lot of trust into him, but he was mistaken to do so.
Asa’s condition weakened significantly by the time he was eighteen. It didn’t help that the east used the west as a dump. The only time people in the west saw a truck from the east was when they were dumping their trash in the west. It caused a lot of residents to be sick, and it worsened Asa’s condition. Asa’s teacher took advantage of his state.
When Kai came home early after being let go from one of his side jobs due to a lack of income to the market, he saw his brother lying motionless on the floor. Their home was torn apart.
“I know it’s somewhere! There’s no way you don’t have any valuables!” Asa’s teacher, Jace, kicked him harshly in the side. Kai noted he was wielding a knife in his right hand.
“We don’t.” Asa’s weak voice sounded shaky. “We have nothing.”
“Hey!” Kai shouted and walked up to Jace. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Jace grabbed Asa by the collar of his shirt and glared at Kai. “You. Tell me where your valuables are and I won’t kill your brother.”
Kai laughed in Jace’s face.
“You’re embarrassing yourself. You really think anyone in the west has valuables? Even if we did, where are you going to sell them? The pawn shop? Go ahead.” Kai pocketed one of his hands. “There’s nowhere to sell anything, you idiot.”
“Shut up.” Jace barked out. “You’re pissing me off.”
“I’m pissing you off?” Kai raised his brow. “You’re in our home trying to steal from us. Isn’t that my line?”
Jace caught Kai off-guard when he threw Asa to the ground and slashed Kai in the face. Kai fell back, but was quick to get up. He knew his brother was in danger.
Jace hovered over Asa, knife in hand, but Kai was faster. He always kept a small knife in his pocket.
Kai shoved Jace off of Asa, and pushed him into the corner of the room.
“Asa, cover your eyes.” Kai yelled out.
“What?” Asa’s voice quivered.
Kai held Jace firmly in place when he looked back at Asa.
“Cover your eyes.” Kai said.
Jace took the moment of weakness to sink his knife into Kai’s side. The look of shock on Jace’s face when Kai wasn’t deterred put a devious grin on Kai’s face.
“Now.” Kai said to Asa.
That was the first time Kai had to kill someone. Not long after, Kai traded the house with a larger family that needed more space. They also gave Kai some money, but Kai turned down the amount they initially offered and took less. Everyone was struggling. A family of five needed more than Kai and Asa needed. Besides, Kai could provide for Asa.
It had been two years since the accident with Jace and the two lived as well as they could. Kai was reminded every day of the incident when he saw the scar on his face. It went from above his left brow and down to his cheek. Jace had narrowly missed Kai’s eye when he slashed him.
Asa could barely get out of bed anymore. Their friend, who the two had met years back when Asa had enough strength to go to a small convenience store with Kai, was in medical school before there was no more educational funding, and he stressed the urgency for Asa to get some help.
“Kai.” Asa and Kai’s friend, Gio, ushered him over. They didn’t like talking about Asa’s condition in front of Asa.
Deep down, they both knew Asa was aware of how weak he was, but they didn’t want to make it worse. Thus, Kai visited Gio at the convenience store where he did some part-time work.
“I brought some of my books from school.” Gio was wise and kept his books from medical school, although a lot of people sold theirs. They sold for good money because the doctors in the west wanted them.
“Sweet.” Kai sat on the ground against the wall in the break room next to Gio. Gio opened the book and flipped to a page he marked with a pink piece of paper.
“Here.” Gio pointed at a bolded font reading Sigma-B. “See this? Well, I think it might be what Asa has. When I did that medical exam on him, I noticed that his airways get blocked easily, and that’s why he has trouble breathing. Plus, not to mention that he bruises easily, which is another symptom of Sigma. Look.” Gio moved his finger to the list of symptoms. It covered everything Asa had. The pale skin, the restlessness, weakness, it was all there.
“Holy shit.” Kai breathed out. “This has to be it.”
“I obviously can’t be completely sure.” Gio looked over at Kai. “But it’s worth a shot to try and find the antidote, right?”
“There’s an antidote?” Kai’s eyes widened in surprise. “There’s hope?”
“There’s an antidote for a few diseases and it can also be used for Sigma-B. Sigma is a really rare condition, so there isn’t much published research on it. However, this doctor in Europe did some research on it because her sister had it and her sister was cured with Chi. It was very experimental, but it worked. I think it could work for Asa.”
“I should check the hospitals in the west.” Kai replied. “Do you know how many there are?”
“How many functional hospitals there are?” Gio raised his brow. “I think there’s maybe one functional hospital and I use the word functional very lightly.”
“Non-functional, too.” Kai said. He tested Gio’s expression before he spoke again. “I know, I know. They have probably already been raided. However, I have nothing to lose by checking. It’s not like I’ve never been through worse.”
Gio glanced at the scar on Kai’s cheekbone and nodded. “I guess.” He sighed. “There are four hospitals that have shut down. I have been to most of them. Want me to take you?”
“I can’t ask that of you. You can just draw me a map, or something, and I’ll try to figure it out.” Kai brought his legs to his chest and rested his chin on his knee.
“Do you really think you’ll be able to get to all of the hospitals by yourself? It will take you forever on foot.” Gio rubbed at his temples. “Let me help.”
“I have my bike.” As much as Kai wished it was a motorcycle, it was a rusty bicycle he had since he was fourteen. He used to go to his various jobs on it.
“No,” Gio shook his head, “I have a bike. A motorbike. You can use it if you really don’t want me to accompany you.”
“I appreciate it but I can’t accept that.” Kai repeated. “Either of those things.” He hated inconveniencing anyone.
“Before you say anything else, it’s not an inconvenience. You know I care about you and your brother. It would be you helping me, actually. I’d like to spend some time with Asa.” Gio ruffled Kai’s hair. “How about I keep an eye on him and you use my bike? Please?”
“Fine, deal.” Kai grinned at Gio. “Thanks, Gi.”
“Don’t thank me.” Gio pulled Kai to his side. “When do you plan on going?”
“As soon as possible.” Kai sighed. “I’m so worried for him. I don’t want him to,” He hesitated, “You know. I’m just afraid.”
“Of course. I am too, so I can’t even imagine how you feel as his brother. He’s gotten a lot worse.” Gio said. “What are you going to do if you can’t find it here?”
“I have to go to the east. It’s my last resort.” Kai responded. The idea was less than ideal, but he would do anything for Asa.
“That’s a literal death sentence. Going to the east, I mean. They’re monsters over there.”
“Don’t I know it. I can’t just sit and watch Asa die, though.” Kai eyed Gio. “Don’t get mad at me if I say this but, if I have to go to the east and something happens to me, will you take care of Asa for as long as you can?” He pointed an accusatory finger at Gio when he saw his friend’s expression change. “Don’t say whatever you’re going to say.”
Gio sighed in defeat. “You know that you’re a headache, right? I love you, but it’s the truth.”
“Once again, don’t I know it.” Kai stood up. “I guess I better get going.”
“Wait,” Gio also sat up, “I need to give you my bike.”
“Want to trade? I’ll leave mine with you. If you stay at mine and Asa’s, you’ll be a lot closer to work too. Thank you again.”
“Sure about the trading.” Gio took his keys from a small drawer under the register. “And I’ll take good care of Asa. Hurry back.” He handed a crudely drawn map to Kai.
“Will do.” Kai grinned at Gio. “See you.”
Kai wasn’t sure if he should say goodbye to his brother, or check out the hospitals and let Gio tell Asa.