The tuneless whistling and scrape of boots against the hard-packed earth began seconds after the spy slung the doctor on his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. The ruckus Gerry made had let Fred know that he was semi-conscious. In his current state, all he could do was listen and think.
How far did the tunnel carry the sound Gerry created? The doctor couldn’t bear think what the consequences of their passage would bring – like animal sentries who helped the guardians. Were the creatures even notified by the guardians that he and the spy would use the tunnels? So far, they were alone – for now.
What Fred really wanted to do was punch Gerry. Unfortunately, the doctor was stuck in a body he couldn’t control. The spy ruined the plan; injecting drugs had never been part of it. Fred changed his mind. He wanted to do more than take a swing at Gerry’s smug face.
The whistling stopped after a while. How deep had they gone? Fred heard Gerry mutter a sentence in a lilting language.
“Sorry to drug you, Doc,” the spy switched to the common tongue. “These parts can get pretty cramped. I know all about your anxiety attacks and can’t have you in one of your episodes.
“Feels good to be home, though. All that travelling on the surface and interacting with you Serrans – surface dwellers, I mean, can be wearisome. You know, deception and manipulation. A lot of that goes on,” Gerry said in a conversational tone. “I know you doubt my allegiance, but Electra – or Cheska – whatever you prefer to call that child, is important to us, especially me.
“I’ll tell you a secret only a handful of people know.” Gerry whispered: “I’m the Guardian of all guardians. See, I’m the last of the weavers who created these portals you call tunnels.” He cleared his throat and continued, “Celestraena – Cheska’s mum was the brainchild of that program. She planned and supervised everything up to the point of leading that explorer by the nose to discover the Mysts. The last phase of the program went down the drain when she met Alfred Roucan. She threw her life away for a young ambitious entrepreneur like him. A union between Serran and an Uruimethian of her lineage, tragedy was bound to happen. Pity the fall had to be on Cheska’s pretty little head. Poor child. Such a powerful gift to awaken in one so young.” Gerry grunted and shifted his hold on the doctor’s body. “Too bad you got sucked in this accursed business. Cheska seemed to like you more than that worthless French fellow.”
The spy quietened as he trudged on. Fred, on the other, was bursting to ask more about Cheska’s parents. Her mother was immortal and Uruimethian? How human were the Uruimethians? What was the last stage of the program? Then there was the tragedy. It must be about Mrs. Roucan’s murder, but how was it connected to Cheska’s gift? She could breathe life into a person in the brink of death or recently died depending on the person’s will to live. The story uploaded online matched the real events of her traumatic childhood. Cheska hid with Louis while their parents confronted their crazed neighbor. Fred’s recent interactions with the Roucans taught him that they spoke by necessity and in half-truths where their personal affairs were concerned.
Their mother’s death. It was the only subject in the family where it suggested that a Mrs. Roucan once existed. No pictures of the woman were displayed in the mansion’s gallery or in the other rooms he’d entered.
If only he could open his eyes and ask Gerry. Fred focused inward and concentrated on his right hand. Move, he commanded. Come on. Move.
His index finger twitched.
The spy stopped in his tracks. Fred felt the man’s head move at his side. Did Gerry sense the movement? The doctor waited for the spy to say something. After a minute, Gerry continued walking.
Fred tried to move his hand again. His futile attempts made him lose track of time until a deep rumble reverberated through the passage. Loose stones tumbled from the tunnel’s walls. The ceiling sprinkled dust on Gerry’s head and Fred’s back. A little while later, the scrape of metal against rock indicated that Libya’s underground mercenary camp had let them through the gates. Their welcoming committee talked to Gerry in hushed voices. The doctor hoped to hear news but was dismayed when the men spoke in mixed languages. He identified Arabic and Tamazight. The latter meant they were near the coast where the Berbers lived. Unfortunately, Fred’s knowledge was limited to the basics on both tongues.
Rough hands lifted Fred off the spy and laid him on a dusty floor. His ear close to the surface, he heard an engine sputter and roar to life. They had transferred him to a vehicle.
“So long, Doc.”
It was the last Fred heard of Gerry.
Fred was transported via land and air. The plane touched down on his final destination. He began to count the minutes as men efficiently frisked him and put gloves on his hands. They sat Fred on a wheelchair, wheeled him into a room, and laid him on a cot. The hiss of the door closed and the sound of a suction as the lock came into place followed. The rasp of heavy breathing told Fred they’d left him with company.
The drug wore off an hour later. Fred could finally open his eyes and take stock of his surroundings. Steel wires crisscrossed around him. Three meters of space separated his steel cage and the walls, ceiling, and floor of the room. They’d put him in Faraday cage to keep his electricity from frying electricals and people outside his prison. At the corner of his cage, a toilet and sink was installed. A divider was setup around the toilet to give him a sense of privacy.
Fred’s gaze lowered to the unmoving form several paces from his bed. His doctor instincts kicked in. The emaciated blind man’s cracked lips, dry and blistered skin, and abnormal breathing manifested the last stage of the plague. He was boxed in with a dying man.
Fred cocked his head to side. Shouldn’t I be worried? he thought. I’m a prisoner sharing a cell with an infected patient. They have to be planning something. That ‘something’ though wasn’t as worrying as the fact that he felt nothing. It was as if he was observing from a distance while still in control of his thoughts and actions.
I should help him. Fred took the blanket on his bed and ripped it in half. He laid half of the material aside and tore a narrow strip of fabric on the other. The doctor rolled up the remaining cloth and approached the patient. He slid the bundle under the man’s head. Then he returned to his bed, took the clean strip of fabric to the sink and moistened it. Returning to the sick man, Fred moistened the dry lips and squeezed a few drops of water into the mouth. The patient’s dead eyes swiveled to his direction. Fred wondered what kept the man alive in that state. Did he have family? Someone he loves who still waited for him?
A crackle sounded. Fred’s eyes shifted to the loudspeaker installed outside the steel cage. A red light stared back at him.
“Good afternoon, Dr. Williams,” a heavily accented male voice spoke. “It is with great pleasure to finally meet you in person.”
No surveillance cameras were in sight nor a false panel betrayed the whereabouts of the speaker.
“I’m at a sore disadvantage when I can’t even see your face,” Fred replied.
“I apologize for not introducing myself properly. We have to initiate some tests first. Once you pass them, these inconveniences will be removed. We will talk – face-to-face as we discuss a potential future for both of us. To start with, we have heard of your miracles, doctor. And we would like to witness it first-hand. I assume you have deduced what is required of you.”
It was obvious they were nervous of him; the special cage and the way they talked to him spoke volumes. They’d probably tried to make Fred cower by imprisoning him in a windowless cell. Thanks to whatever drug Gerry injected, his jailors lost that advantage.
“Not really,” Fred answered flatly. “I’m not fond of assumptions.”
“Will you not heal subject 43108?” The speaker sounded like he’d asked about the weather and not someone’s wellbeing.
In normal circumstances, Fred knew he’d answer angrily. They’d resorted to identifying the patient as a subject like some lab rat. It was true, though. The virus was a result of experimentation. A force, however, continued to block him from any feelings he might have in his current situation.
Fred shrugged. “I don’t have the tools to heal him.” Besides, it’ll be wasted on him since subject 43108 was dying. “But you do. You have the vaccine.”
“And where have you heard this information?”
“I just know.”
“You are an interesting man, doctor. You say you are not fond of assumptions, yet quick to jump to conclusions. Will you not change your mind about the patient?”
“I don’t know what you’ve heard. Those miracles were the result of my knowledge and skills as a doctor – and, I admit, a bit of luck.” Behind the nonchalance, Fred was beginning to see that he should be a little disturbed at this newfound detachment. Lying and speaking his mind came out too easily.
“And the soldier you killed with your powers of electricity five years ago?”
A pregnant pause filled the air. Fred prayed he’d given them enough to doubt what they knew about him.
“Very well,” the speaker said with impatience. “If you wish to play this game, we will accommodate you.
“The death of 43108 will be in your hands, doctor. Then it will be your turn to experience the effects of V-X2103. The pain will be so unbearable that you won’t be able to deny what you are.” The red light on the device went out.
“What I was,” Fred said under his breath. He folded his legs in front of him and wrapped his arms around it.
41308 still fought to breathe. The doctor watched over him, occasionally dabbing the wet cloth over his mouth.
Hours had passed when 41308 breathed his last. It was a faint whisper just like the shadow of the man 41308 had been. The doctor noted the man’s passing, five hours and eight minutes after Fred was locked in. He closed the plague victim’s eyes and offered a silent prayer to any god that might be listening. Please guide this man to find peace in the afterlife.
Five long hours of helplessness and struggle for precious air – not including more than 6 days of enduring the plague’s progression. Did Louis expect him to survive this misery while waiting for salvation?
Fred laughed mirthlessly. He clapped his mouth with his hand. The drug had completely worn off. Then he coughed. His mouth was dry from lack of water. He got up toward the sink and drank straight from the tap. Then Fred sank onto his cot and glanced at the corpse.
A shiver ran through him. He missed the sweater he’d taken off at the mansion. The temperature had dropped since his arrival. Covering himself with the folded piece of the blanket, he waited for his jailors to take away the body.
An hour later, he started to think they would leave the corpse to rot in the cell. His musings ceased as a more urgent matter came to the forefront. Fred rushed toward the toilet seat and vomited. He flushed the toilet and went to the sink to wash away the sour taste in his mouth.
The temperature hadn’t changed. He was infected. Fred’s hands gripped the sides of the sink. The virus attacked individuals with low immune system. Had time travelling affected his health? Then he remembered the man stated the virus’ code: V-X2103. The doctor thought James had misread or misspoke it as V-X2102.
Bile rose to his throat. Quickly, Fred leaned forward on the toilet bowl and retched. He stared at the digested food floating on water.
What if there’s a new virus – one that didn’t have a vaccine?
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: I know I said that updates will resume in September, but I can’t help posting this one up. I guess am a little excited considering that am near the end of the story. 😀
Stay tuned for the next chapter. It’ll feature a bit more of the Roucans’ secrets. 😉
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