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Bastian Schaus's… well, everything hurt. The sight of Acolyte Dunst bursting into his sickroom inspired surprisingly little to offset that.

"Well, look at you." Today, Dunst wore a polka-dotted dress, the hem of which ended beyond Bastian's field of vision. Secured to her waist was her favorite belt; Bastian spotted, with a reasonable level of disgust, several more Xs carved into the red leather than last he saw it. The small, blackened vial around her neck didn't inspire much more confidence.

If Bastian had anything to say, and he didn't, it was buried underneath a mountain of bruises.

"Rule number one for celebrities: never trust a meal you didn't cook." Dunst kneeled beyond Bastian's field of vision, rummaging through her bag for whatever she intended to ruin Bastian's day with. "Like it or not, Salz, you're a celebrity. And as, er, dedicated you may be, Lichtenberg's filled with idiots. One sec."

Dunst flicked something metal, and Bastian's heart sunk. The sedative gas was almost formality at that point.

"Rule number two, look the part." In direct violation of his screaming neurons, Bastian's field of view remained fixed on Dunst and the IV bag that wasn't as full as it had been a second ago. "I make a good "girlfriend" for you, don't you think? Didn't even need to gas the receptionist."

The strain with which Bastian attempted to scowl had to count for some kind of exercise.

Dunst finally settled down into a seat next to Bastian's bed, and whatever smirk she'd bore on the way in gave way to an all-too-familiar stern neutrality. "Andino's dead, if you haven't already heard. One of the commies overrode the Hag's controls. The wehrdaemons put up a good fight, but we're still down an initiate." Dunst hissed a theatrical sigh. "So that's one less specialist for the next batch."

Dunst's stare burned a hole into Bastian, who attempted to return the favor. "You can talk, Salz. I'm not so boring as to deny you that."

"Andino was a degenerate and I know you can speak German, Acolyte Dunst." Thankfully, any pain in Bastian's throat was dulled by his sheer rage.

"And you can speak English. Humor a simple Ontario girl, Bastian."

"I'll agree to disagree, Theresa."

Dunst said nothing, merely fiddled with the vial around her neck. If a nurse was coming in to interrupt them, they better make it quick; the moment Bastian would regain control of his arms held a violent uncertainty beyond even the typical malcontent reserved for moments between him and Dunst.

"… so." All at once, Dunst straightened her posture. "I've made some improvements to the BLACK FLY formula."

"By eliminating it from the sum of human knowledge?"

"What is with you people? Genocide is a-okay but the moment I propose a way to kill less people, suddenly you care for 'morality'." Dunst unclasped her necklace, and Bastian's thoughts drifted back to the red belt around her waist. "If we put every initiate through a round of BLACK FLY, let alone those SWJC goons, maybe we wouldn't be getting our asses handed to us by gaggles of queers."

Bastian's arms were still paralyzed, or he would have sat himself up. "You think yourself a doctor. Yet, in the face of an infection, you peddle cancer." Bastian spat. "I've seen BLACK FLY. It's cruelty, under the thinnest veneer of 'efficiency'. A vet puts down sick animals, he doesn't prolong their torment."

The black vial was unclasped from Dunst's necklace, undercutting the brief silence between her next words. "You act like they're people, Salz. Anything less than a rat. Have you considered that, perhaps, utopia necessitates the suffering of rats?" Dunst set the vial down, and rifled back through her bag. "And, perhaps, it's more than rats. Perhaps it's the architects of the new world. Their hidden tumors."

Dunst emerged from the depths of her bag, syringe in tow.

"You're sick, Salz. It's so obvious, how you carry yourself. How you walk, how you talk." Dunst's horrid smile, the one she bore on too many joint missions, reached her eyes and nowhere else as the syringe stuck the vial. "And I can fix you. Make you right again. Bring out the good buried under your dirty little secret."

'What are you talking about', Bastian did not say.

The flick of Dunst's finger against the syringe thundered through his sickroom, loud enough to rattle his skull yet not so loud as to alert a nurse.

"I know you want this. You don't have an alternative." Slowly, steadily, Dunst positioned the syringe above Bastian's neck. "You can hold out for another cure as long as you want, but your reality is terminal. Let BLACK FLY be your new truth." She smiled, and-

The door opened, and Dunst withdrew her syringe without another word. "Afternoon. Just checking up on Mr. Schaus."

A distinctly indistinct voice almost purred in response. "Well, I'm glad to find someone hasn't forgotten poor little Salz." Soft steps against tile accompanied a sudden crack in Dunst's composure; if Bastian could turn to face the man who almost certainly stood at his right, maybe that would explain the sudden drop in temperature. "He smells of your favorite air freshener. Have you been taking care of him, Acolyte Dunst?"

Dunst kept herself from swallowing, but the twitch of her neck muscles would have exposed her either way. "I… worry for him, Mr. Rass. Only wish he feels better."

"I'd be careful with your experiments, Acolyte Dunst. Acolyte Salz has been through quite enough, wouldn't you agree?"

"… yes, Mr. Rass. Thank you."

Dunst collected her equipment (and, atypically, only her equipment) and hurriedly left Bastian's side. Mr. Rass did not move to take her seat.

"Sometimes I worry for you, Acolyte Salz. You're the biggest fish in the pond, but you'll break before you deign to bend." An incredibly cold hand-shaped imprint manifested onto Bastian's shoulder. "It's no wonder the degenerates chose you to make such an example of." Mr. Rass sighed, or otherwise feigned one. "It must hurt, but I ask you not be discouraged. Deceit and swarming is the only language such insects comprehend. But a boar such as yourself… well, they can take you back to the watering hole, but you'll be back. Don't be scared of the rats."

Mr. Rass leaned into Bastian's ear, his breathless words near indistinguishable from the errant thoughts of Bastian's mind. "It's your rancher who should frighten you."

And Mr. Rass wasn't there.

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