The world slowed. Sounds became muted. Cheska’s eyes were trained on the flat line displayed on the heart monitor. The man across her pumped on Fred’s chest, desperately trying to revive him. The scientist beside her shouted orders at the guards at the exit. The door slammed behind her as the men went to obey his commands.
Still, no pulse.
She looked at his gaunt face. Cheska clutched at his legs as if it would keep his soul tied to the living.
Her eyes returned to the screen.
Heart rate: 0 bpm.
No. She shook her head.
Darkness edged her vision. Cold started on her fingers and toes and crept upward.
They did this!
Silence. Blissful silence welcomed her. Heat began to pulse in her chest and spread outward. Yet the cold was still there. She became lightheaded as ice and fire warred inside her.
The man who had given orders whipped toward her. Alarm and horror shadowed his expression. He stalked to her, screaming though no sound came out of his lips. The scientist waved his arms wide at the men who were dropping like flies around them.
Cheska couldn’t find it in herself to care. They deserve this.
The stranger grabbed her forearms and shook her; shouting, still.
Her gaze fell on the unmoving body in the pod.
Voices cried out in her head. It was familiar and tugged at her consciousness. But she was too far to recognize or hear them.
The body. Who was it again? Her gaze traveled up to the pale face and blonde hair. She would never see those silver eyes again. Something stirred deep inside her. A sharp ache pierced her chest making her gasp. Her surroundings blurred, twisted and whirled as burning pain consumed her inside and out.
He’s alive! A voice boomed in her mind, penetrating through the haze. Cheska knew that voice. She trusted it. Fred – is – alive, it said again.
The pain receded and sensations returned to her. Cheska was soaked in sweat; her clothes stuck to her inside the biohazard suit. She searched for the owner of the voice.
Many lay on the floor unconscious except for the man who held her arms in a vice-like grip. His shallow breathing indicated he hadn’t been entirely immune to her destructive ability. The panic in his eyes melted to relief. “Doc – is – alive – Ches,” he said between each breath.
Only one person called her in the short name she despised. Cheska never thought there’d come a day when she’d be glad to hear it. “Uncle?” she dared ask.
“The one – and only.” Gerry wore a different face. His trademark smirk, however, confirmed his identity. “You almost killed us all,” he said lightly, his grin didn’t reach his eyes.
Gerry may have been under her father’s payroll since her adoption; kept secrets about his real job as a spy, but the uncle Cheska knew for the past decade had always been there when she needed help. It was due to this reason that she allowed herself to hope.
Her gaze slid to Fred and the monitor which still showed no sign of a heartbeat. She frowned.
“I injected a drug to slow down his heart – to fake his death before we left his cell. For it to take effect, I had to corrupt the stasis pod’s system.” Gerry paused and dropped his gaze at the doctor. He met her eyes with a serious expression. “There’s an unprecedented development, Cheska. They infected him with a new strain V-X2103. It doesn’t have a vaccine. The scientists down in the basement haven’t found what caused V-X2102 to evolve. The new virus is deadlier. He only has three to four days to live.”
The spy dropped on one knee and pulled test tubes out of his pant leg; each labeled with the name of the virus strain. “These are the vaccines,” he explained. “Bring these safely to your father.” Gerry placed it in the pod’s outer compartment then closed the stasis pod’s lid. He took out a portable decontaminating apparatus from the head of the pod. The spy sprayed on the pod, himself and Cheska who sensed he had omitted a detail.
“Why did he go into shock?” she asked.
Her uncle’s gaze snapped at her. “I don’t know, Cheska. The drug either didn’t take effect immediately and we just witnessed one of the sickness’ symptoms or his body overreacted to the chemical – weak as it is.” His eyes scanned their surroundings. “Lucky for us the guards needed to take a hover pod to get help downstairs. They won’t be long now.”
Gerry went around the stasis pod, raised his arm and shot the scientist, leaving scorch marks on the suit around the head and chest. He moved to the guard next and aimed.
“Stop,” Cheska said, horrified.
He ignored her and fired twice.
“Stop,” she repeated, her voice stronger.
Her uncle moved to his next victim.
Cheska lifted her wrist-mounted gun at him. “I said, stop!”
Gerry’s head swiveled to her. His eyes flickered to her hidden weapon. He lowered his raised arm and faced her. The spy’s jaw clenched. He shifted his weight to his right leg. Hesitation flitted across his eyes. Gerry slightly shook his head to the side and said, “They’re already dead.”
“They’re dead.” The spy didn’t break eye contact with her. There was no teasing in his tone and demeanor when he’d said it.
Cheska cast her eyes to the nearest guard. The man lay at an awkward angle; his leg bent to the side and arm pinned underneath his body. Slowly, Cheska drew her gaze to the guard’s youthful face. He stared straight ahead, unseeing.
You almost killed us all, the spy had said. The several moments she had fallen into darkness returned to her in full force. She inhaled sharply, taking an involuntary step back.
Gerry’s hands shot forward and roughly turned her toward him. “Stay focused!” he ordered in a harsh tone – one he’d never used on her before.
“I—” She couldn’t turn away from those sightless eyes.
“Look at me, Cheska.” He shook her. “Look at me.”
Cheska dragged her gaze to meet Gerry’s unsympathetic one. “I—” her voice broke. For a fleeting moment, his eyes softened before it hardened once more.
“Don’t,” he said, voice firm and unyielding. “We’re at war. People die. Do you understand?”
A lump formed in her throat, Cheska nodded though she couldn’t let go of the images that would haunt her for the rest of her life.
“These men died because a rebel shot them to retrieve Fred,” she heard her uncle say. The implication was loud and clear: The guardians didn’t have a hand in this incident; because, as far as the surface dwellers know, they didn’t exist.
With a shaky breath, she bobbed her head.
He gazed behind her. “The pack will take you and Doc out of here.”
She half-turned to discover Keena and Rabyanah pack was already waiting for her, silent and wary in Gerry’s presence.
Reesa’s ear twitched. They’re almost here, she said and created portal at the foot of the stairs.
The hyenas cleared a path to the doorway. Their matriarch padded toward the portal and stood beside it.
Keena flanked Cheska and looked to her in anticipation.
“Don’t open the pod. Wait for me to come to you,” Gerry instructed. “Now go.”
Cheska gripped the handhold at the pod’s side and took a step toward the portal, then another. The panther followed her while keeping an eye on the door. They crossed the doorway in a matter of seconds. Vaguely, she heard her uncle’s shots hit its motionless targets.
They were once more in a tunnel. They quietly navigated the narrow corridor; a contrast to the energy they displayed when the mission was carried out – her mission. A fool’s errand that almost failed because of her…and her cursed gift.
She had not only lost control this time. Cheska had almost lost herself.
Louis assumed a bored expression while he surveyed the old fashioned office. Furniture made of wood polished to a shine; green upholstered chairs; glass cabinets which stored decorative weapons and liquor; lancet arched windows with mosaic screens provided a view of a formal garden in one wall while a hyena’s head decorated the other. A Libyan flag raised on a pole stood behind the executive desk. At the table’s right was another door similar to the one they had entered. Louis could only guess what lay beyond it.
He and his father had to pass through security checks and divest most of the gadgets in their person to be able to talk to the head of state. Louis hand strayed to the stud in his ear –the only device he was able to keep. It was a prototype that hadn’t been released in the market yet. The security thought nothing of it after father and son argued about wearing inappropriate jewelry during business meetings in front of the staff.
Then the secretary of the President-General escorted them to the office. Twenty minutes had passed since then. Louis hadn’t heard from home; he’d expected James and Allan to have new information about the virus or to give an update on Fred’s whereabouts.
His legs crossed and uncrossed, fingers tapping on his chair’s armrest. Beside him, Mr. Roucan cleared his throat. He looked at his father and saw him raise a brow at his show of impatience. Sighing, Louis crossed his arms across his chest and muttered, “He’s late.”
“Leaders are busy men,” Mr. Roucan returned and glanced at the clock.
Louis snorted. Bitterness laced his words as he said, “You were never late. Pretty much absent in my life but never late for work.”
Mr. Roucan slanted a look at him and opened his mouth to speak when the side door near the desk opened abruptly. A man with cropped black hair in military uniform entered. His dark brown eyes held no warmth only calculation as it swept over them. The cruelty in his face was reinforced by the jagged line which ran from his left cheek to his full beard. The slight disfigurement of his lips hinted at the scar extended further down his chin.
The man was no other than President-General Omar Hassan Zayed and he didn’t look happy to see them, Louis noted. He also noticed that underneath the brown skin the head of state was a little pale, which could be attributed to his recent illness.
Why would the leader suffer from a disease his scientists created with a vaccine? Louis had read James’ translated copy of the research on the virus strains the Libyan government bio-engineered while they were on their way to the country. It was illogical for the leader to infect himself with the virus.
The President-General shook hands with Mr. Roucan who introduced him using his public name Robert Roucan. As they took their seats, the leader spoke, “What brings a powerful businessman to risk a visit a country soon to be quarantined?”
“I’m looking for a doctor, President-Gen —” Mr. Roucan replied but was cut off when the Libyan leader raised a hand.
“General will do, Mr. Roucan.”
The businessman dipped his head. “I came in search of Dr. Frederick William, General. He left a message to his mother stating his intention of coming here. The doctor’s mother is an old friend of my late wife. She feared for his safety and requested that I —”
The side door opened once more interrupting Mr. Roucan. The secretary approached the desk, saluted to his commanding officer, and in brisk strides approached the table. He whispered in his superior’s ear.
The President-General’s face twisted in anger. A vein throbbed on his forehead. The secretary’s face turned a few shades lighter under his glare. With a wave of his hand, the subordinate saluted and exited the room.
“I’m afraid we have to cut this meeting short,” the President-General said and rose to his feet. “I have just received a report that rebels attacked the facility where a majority of the plague victims are being treated. They have taken a VIP – a Dr. Frederick Williams, the man you were looking for.” He smoothed a hand over his uniform, lowered his head and spoke, “Please send my condolences to his family.”
The future’s changed! Louis cast a glance at his father who appeared as surprised as him. Concern shadowed Mr. Roucan’s features. Fred a VIP and taken by rebels. Louis couldn’t begin to understand if he either liked or hated that his Vision hadn’t occurred.
The business tycoon seemed to be grasping for words while the President-General turned toward the exit. He would soon get away and they would be left to think of the worst because of the Libyan leader’s last statement.
Fear of his friend’s fate spurred Louis to say, “If Dr. Williams is an asset, shouldn’t his rescue be the next course of action?”
The President-General’s eyes snapped to him, sizing up Louis from head to toe. “Even if I mobilize my men to retrieve him, it would be too late. The doctor contracted the plague that can take his life at any moment. The least he could do is help me eradicate enemies of the state. If—”
“You’ve been planning to use him as a weapon, haven’t you?” Louis ground out, hands curled into fists. The power-hungry fiend wasn’t even making an effort to show a sliver of humanity in front of his guests. He’d had enough of diplomacy, this ruse – this charade his father and the enemy would rather play. “You’ve been after him ever since he got away from your country years ago.”
“Robert,” Mr. Roucan warned his son.
“Interesting choice of words.” The President-General slowly turned toward them, face impassive. “Dr. Williams came here on his own accord. He offered his services to help find a cure to the plague. It was unfortunate that he fell prey to the deadly virus.”
Lies. The man still kept on lying to their faces.
“I know your doctors,” Louis spat the name, “designed the virus. And it’s not just one, there’re five. Your people also have the vaccine hidden in your gods’ forsaken lab. And I have proof.”
The President-General’s mask of neutrality slipped to Louis’ grim satisfaction. Damn the consequences. He’d rather see the head of state lose it; more evidence to ensure President-General Omar Hassan Zayed would fall from his seat of power. Louis watched the seething Libyan leader’s hand move behind the table.
“I’d advise you not to move against us, General,” Mr. Roucan’s soft voice carried in the brittle atmosphere which pervaded the office.
Louis frowned, annoyed at his father. His part was over, he’d made sure of that when he was gaping like a fish earlier.
“I assure you it would be the last thing you do,” Mr. Roucan continued calmly, his expression pensive as he flicked lint from his shoulder. “I have people in place waiting for our safe return. If we – my men included, don’t come back within the twenty-four hours or harmed in any way, they will release the evidence we have on your research and other pet projects to the media.” He tilted his head, cold eyes locked with the President-General’s. “If you please,” he motioned for the head of state to return to his seat.
The President-General worked his jaw, eyes flashing, as he complied. Meanwhile, Louis gazed at his father in disbelief and awe.
“Now that we’ve come to an understanding,” Mr. Roucan leaned back in his chair, steepled fingers across his chest. “I’d like to know more about Dr. Williams’ sickness – the truth would be appreciated.”
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: Hi everyone, I underestimated the complexity of the plot and decided that there will be more chapters before the story ends.
The plague wasn’t actually in my decade-old original plot. It was romantic and uncomplicated. Boy meets girl. They separate ways and find each other again. The end. Not much of a mystery for a place called The City of Mysts.
If you’ve read the original, I hope you liked the changes. 🙂
If you enjoyed this chapter click on like, leave a comment and/or share this story with a friend. 🙂