Mr. Roucan returned the President-General’s murderous glare with a pair of dead fish eyes. If anything, the lack of emotion on the businessman’s face seemed to aggravate the already tense atmosphere in the room. Louis could hear the clock tick by, precious seconds spent in the silent combat of wills.
“You know nothing,” the President-General said, breaking the silence. “There is no evidence.”
“Yet you are here, General,” Mr. Roucan answered coolly. “Your presence here confirms that what we know is true.” He retrieved a thick folder from his briefcase and pushed it across the desk.
The Libyan leader’s expression darkened further while he skimmed through the pages. The folder snapped shut, his gaze returned to Mr. Roucan. “You have the nerve to threaten me in my own country,” he said in almost a growl.
“I prefer trade,” Mr. Roucan returned as if he was talking about the weather. “I am a businessman, General – and a fair one, at that. Like all business negotiations, I make sure both parties benefit from the arrangement. Give me two things – information on Dr. Williams’ condition and your word that you will let me, my son and the people who came with us return home unharmed. As payment, I will guarantee that the copies of the file in your hands will be destroyed once we step foot in our country.”
The President-General’s temper cooled somewhat but his eyes narrowed in suspicion. “How will I know you will keep your end of the bargain?”
“If you wish, speak to anyone who’ve done business with me. They will tell you that I am a man of my word.”
The reassurance was not what Louis expected from his father. With a sinking feeling, he realized the accusations he’d flung at the President-General – true as they were – had landed them in trouble. Too fixated on rescuing Fred from the tyrant’s clutches, Louis hadn’t even considered their survival and the people who’d accompanied them.
The portal a guardian was allowed to summon was limited to the Uruimethian palace and places he knew within the lands under his protection. To cross from one’s domain to the next, he would have to use the tunnels as a courtesy to his fellow guardian and, also, to request one of the local sentries as guide. The disclosure of the tunnels’ secrets to an ambitious and powerful Serran such as the Libyan dictator was a danger to all peoples of the world, Serrans and Uruimethians alike; hence, the meeting with the guardians at the mansion and the assembly that followed were exemptions to the rule.
With Libya’s guardian, Zafeera, unable to perform her duties, the responsibility would fall to the Head Guardian until she is deemed fit to return to her position. Cheska’s current emotional state coupled with her reluctance and lack of inexperience as leader of the guardians left him to wonder if she’d gotten to assigning a substitute guardian yet.
The entrances to the tunnels in Libya recently blocked and the knowledge of its general locations unknown to Louis, his only option was the portal. He could use it to return to the private jet they’d arrived in, but only after making sure that there would be no witnesses. It was easier said than done; they hadn’t been left alone by the President-General’s men since their arrival.
Hopefully, he wouldn’t have to break the guardian’s code. Mr. Roucan’s blackmail appeared to be working for the Libyan leader’s mood turned brooding.
“That is all you want? Information on a dying man’s sickness and you and your people’s safety?” The President-General asked eventually.
“Dr. Williams was infected by a virus called V-X2103. It spreads from person to person through bodily fluids. The progression of the illness is unpredictable. The victim can die within seventy-two to ninety-six hours. There is no vaccine to this disease as of now. The cure,” he paused, “the doctor’s medicine – a green liquid was our hope. That too, however, was lost to us.”
Louis’ brows furrowed at the mention of a cure. He remembered Zafeera’s brother’s talk about a medicine that cured the man before them. Fred hadn’t been inclined to share what made it the medicine special then. “What kind of medicine was it?” he interjected out of curiosity.
“One that saved my life.” The President-General’s expression became regretful. “It was perfect, so perfect that it banished all traces of the plague from my body. My suffering seemed like a terrible dream.” He frowned. “My son fell ill afterward and we used what was left of the cure. But it wasn’t enough and we tried to replicate it. The ingredients were herbs that can be easily acquired. My best scientists, however, couldn’t reproduce the cure. They couldn’t comprehend the reason behind the potency of an all-natural remedy.” His gaze snapped back to the Roucans, anger swirled beneath his dark brown eyes. “My only mistake was allowing that snake to deceive me. The Hyena Quarter’s own leader led me to believe that the doctor had more to offer – power like the heroes in legends possessed.” He scoffed. “The daughter, on the other hand, was a little wiser…”
Louis felt the tug of an oncoming Vision. He gripped the arms of his chair and breathed through his nose while the ground shifted under him and his surroundings became distorted. His vision cleared for a moment and saw the President-General’s crazed eyes on him. A blur of movement in Louis’ right and he was falling.
The fall slammed him back to reality. Glass shattered and wood cracked. Louis looked wildly about. The window and grill had broken. The wooden leg of the chair opposite him had splintered. He heard the President-General shout in Arabic and numerous feet fast approaching before he saw the soldiers.
“The portal, Louis,” Mr. Roucan’s urgent whisper brought Louis’ gaze to his father who had somehow toppled both their chairs on its side. “Summon it now.”
The head of state was yelling and the soldier closest to them pulled the gun from his holster.
Louis’ eyes widened as the man aimed at his head, finger closing around the trigger. Then he was freefalling again until he hit the floor, hard. At the impact, his chair broke, his breathing whooshed as the armrest underneath him snapped and dug against his ribcage. Louis’ teeth clacked when his head and shoulder collided against the floor.
Mr. Roucan was on his feet in an instant, issuing orders to his people. The flight attendant rushed over to the pilot’s cockpit. They were leaving immediately. Control would only be notified once they were in the air on the way home.
“Sir, you have blood on…” the security staff, who helped Louis up, pointed at his face.
Louis touched his cheek and his hand came away with blood. He gave himself a brief assessment of his body’s aches and pains. “It’s not mine,” he answered, with a shake of his head.
From the corner of his eye, he caught his father speaking on the phone. The flight attendant administered first aid on the wound at Mr. Roucan’s head.
That would’ve been me, Louis thought. Worry over his father wormed its way through the resentment that had built up over the years. He squashed it, but knew it was futile; he’d rescued Mr. Roucan the past year despite knowing his old man had lied about his sister.
A distraction was what Louis needed and found. He picked up Code Red from a passing personnel.
The plane activated a force field that would deactivate weapons within a hundred-meter radius. The Mysts would also be on high alert. Its own anti-weapons technology up and running before they even reached home. The system would disintegrate any man-made weapon that enters the country’s national waters and skies. The only means to carry a weapon intact was to smuggle a dismantled version of it inland and reassemble it there.
The tunnels were the only way for the enemy to sneak in. Fortunately, the guardians have sealed the entrances in Libya; they and the sentries could access the tunnels in that area. Guardians from its neighboring countries have become more vigilant to interlopers after the assembly concluded.
The enemy’s last resort was to invade the territory through sheer numbers and subdue the Mysts’ military force, including a hundred thousand elite soldiers, through physical combat.
In moments, Mr. Roucan, Louis and their guards’ had buckled up, gazes trailed at the pursuers at their right as the plane taxied for take-off. The Libyans would be able to apprehend them, not with the plane’s force field up. Still, the passengers of Roucan’s private jet only relaxed when they exited Libya.
The captain’s voice came through the speakers to announce their flight plan and estimated time of arrival. Louis shoved the information at the back of his mind and reviewed the incident in the President-General’s office. Frowning, he looked at his father and the bandage around the head. “Father,” Louis started, then hesitated. But he’d already gotten Mr. Roucan’s attention; his father’s eyes met his. “How did you know we’ll be attacked?”
“The same way you foiled the assassination attempt against me,” Mr. Roucan replied.
“You have the Sight?” Louis’ brows shot upward then slammed down. “You mean, you can See the future and haven’t done anything to prevent—”
Without warning, Louis found himself running, ducking branches, leaping across tree roots and fallen limbs. A black panther streaked ahead of him. Once in a while, the creature would stop to let him catch up. As they ran, the woods lost its vibrant color. The green swallowed by a sickening yellow. Further down the path, plants withered and died.
The large cat stopped at the first line of dead trees. She paced restlessly, head turned to the source of the destruction.
Louis stood by the creature and saw a stasis pod lying askew on the ground. A few feet away, bodies lay prone on the earth and a woman with brown long hair. Her back was turned to them and she knelt beside an unconscious figure. They were too far for Louis to recognize any of them. He took a step into the desolate landscape but, instead of moving forward, the Vision withdrew, dragging him back to reality.
“Are you alright?” Mr. Roucan’s quiet voice confirmed that the Vision had ended.
“Fine,” Louis said flatly. He was disoriented and nauseated and his chest still throbbed, but he wouldn’t admit it to anyone – not even to another psychic. His father’s concerned tone had him doubling back, though. He saw that the tone matched Mr. Roucan’s facial expression.
“What did you see?”
Taken off guard by his father’s rare display of paternal concern, Louis answered, “A dying forest, a panther, people. Does that even make sense?”
Mr. Roucan became thoughtful. At length, he said, “It means that the future has changed. We’ll have to locate the doctor quickly. If what the General said is true, Frederick is still in danger and,” his eyes narrowed, “a guardian has betrayed us.”
Louis was silent. A guardian never turned their back on their duty. It was unheard of.
Two hours later, they arrived in the Mysts without incident. The civilians went on with their usual business. The only differences were the presence of military activity at the borders and the significant increase of police out in the streets.
The President of the Mysts had made good on the promise he’d given at yesterday’s meeting – despite Mr. Roucan’s vague explanation about the incident in one of their main road’s intersection. Louis guessed his father had provided the President a copy of the research on Libya’s designer virus at the same time international news agencies received an anonymous tip. At the present, the move would dispel any doubts the politician had on the Roucans and bring the President-General to justice under international law. Fred’s career, however, would probably be over. It was either his life or the whole world in the hands of a mad dictator’s rule.
Louis alighted from the hover bike and took off his helmet. He surveyed the SecTech Division’s austere building with a critical eye. No guards were in plain sight, but he knew they were nearby. The security cameras that can be seen were mere props for intruders to let their guards down. Nanomachines were the real deal. It reported data to an artificial intelligence called CODA for archiving, assessing suspicious elements in the proximity and alerting authorities and personnel, upon confirmation.
He waved to the guard at the entrance, offered the receptionist a curt nod, and proceeded to the Playground, a.k.a. the IT’s high-risk laboratories, in the second floor. The employees who encountered Louis in the corridor were wise enough to give him a wide berth. He entered one of the spacious laboratories and threw the earring at its two occupants. The earpiece hit Allan, who turned at his approach, on the chest. Louis stalked over to James when his bodyguard decided to come between them.
By then, the novelist spoke in a distracted manner, “You can thank me later, Louis.” His hands flew in front of him, typing lines of command and sweeping across multiple screens with precise movements. Louis would have appreciated the expert show of hacking skills if he hadn’t been furious at that moment.
“Move”, he ordered Allan.
The bodyguard stood on the spot with a grim expression. Louis; narrowed eyes landed on Allan’s sincere brown ones and on his stance; feet apart and arms at his sides, it was deceptively relaxed to the untrained eye.
“You,” Louis jabbed a finger at his bodyguard and childhood friend. “You betrayed me. First, you accepted my father’s job to spy on me. Then you broke contact with me in Libya. Do you even know what went down there?” he yelled.
“We know,” Allan said before Louis could continue his tirade. “We had to cut the comm link. A worm got through a backdoor—”
“Backdoors with welcome signs on them,” James’ sarcastic remark cut in.
“—and overloaded the system. It wasn’t safe to talk. Even if we patched you through the secure line, we weren’t sure no one was eavesdropping.”
The novelist swore and his hands and fingers moved faster. Each holographic screen began to display lines of code Louis hadn’t come across before. “Gentlemen,” James said tersely, “could you move your butts out of my workstation? You’re distracting me.”
“What going on?” Louis asked, sidestepping Allan.
“Someone’s sabotaging the Mysts’ anti-weapon system.”
“It can’t be.” He frowned. “The firewall we developed is failsafe. Its program is integrated into the black box’s energy block pattern.” The specific code in the box not only acted as an energy generator but also maintained the firewall’s automated learning feature. If a worm or virus got through it, the system immediately resolves the issue and reinforces the firewall’s detected vulnerabilities.”
“Didn’t you hear what I said?” James snapped. “Your system is riddled with backdoors.” He loosed another expletive, hands stopping in midair. For a second, he stared at the code only he could understand. “I have to reset it.”
Louis eyes widened in alarm. “You can’t. It takes ninety seconds for the whole system to re—”
All lights and technology shutdown, enveloping them in darkness. Louis made a grab for the novelist and found air. “James”, he called.
The light returned and the screens reappeared. The novelist was just inches from Louis’ reach. His face was tired, left eye had closed into a slit, but his good eye was bright with triumph.
A hologram of an androgynous head manifested. “All systems repaired and updated”, its robotic voice announced.
“Thanks, CODA”, James returned. He waved and the hologram vanished.
Louis’ jaw dropped. “Impossible.” The system broke its record; it started up in less than ten seconds. The reset would have left the whole nation vulnerable to attacks from those who coveted their technology and natural resources. What’s even more shocking was CODA’s involvement in the operation.
“You can check on the system’s new features later”, James said. He sat on the floor, rummaging through his backpack. “Fred’s in the forest reserve. He’s with Cheska.”
Allan offered his tracer to Louis.
The map on-screen showed two blinking dot in Roucan Global’s Forest Reserve. The code I-28 was the unit’s ID Louis had stuck on Fred the night before. His brows drew together when he registered the name James mentioned.
“How—” Louis’ head shot up to see Allan staring fixedly at the device, mouth pursed. Then his eyes swiveled to James. The blackened eye and the strange light in the novelist’s gaze – defiance and weariness. He didn’t utter a word – didn’t deem it necessary. Louis knew he should be angry with him. The man had gambled on Cheska to rescue Fred. Yet, he couldn’t because his sister was at fault, too. It was she who had made the call and left him, her own brother, to think the worst of her. Louis thought he knew the people around him – those closest to him, at least. He realized now just how blinded he’d been. And the things he’d said to Cheska…
“Thank you,” Louis said and disappeared through a portal.
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: Hello everyone, sorry for the late upload. Been going through a rough patch recently and had to rethink a few things about this story – some of them were if I should put it on a year-long hiatus or discontinue it…
If you enjoyed this chapter click on like and/or share this story with a friend. 🙂