A thin old man with thick glasses dared stare back at Fred.
The doctor had just returned after leaving the driver tied and gagged in an abandoned warehouse, three towns away from the capital. Then he’d dropped the tracking device on a passing supply truck. All these took him in less than a quarter of an hour only to come back and find the Major had already disobeyed his orders.
The scientist and the officer were fortunate that a table stood between them. The laboratory equipment and chemicals on top of it were the only things that stopped Fred from throwing the man into the cleaning cabinet at the end of the room. And the Major…
The doctor’s gaze snapped to the officer. In a voice dangerously low, he said: “This isn’t what we’d discussed.”
The Major offered a lengthy reply, vouching for his associate’s trustworthiness and discretion and the need for another pair of hands to complete the work much more quickly.
Underneath the cold mask of calculation, Fred’s anger simmered. He didn’t know what really caused it. But it was probably the whole situation in Libya that wound him up, including the fact that Cheska might be fighting for her life at that very second.
At the moment, he wouldn’t mind blowing the laboratory – no, the whole facility to smithereens. It would only take a spark and the right substance to light up the place. The only thing that kept him from doing just that was the possibility that Cheska would need the cure. Instead, he channeled his anger to giving out threats and instructions to the previous head of the research facility.
“Fine, he can stay,” Fred said. “But,” he paused, glaring at the two men, “you’re both stepping out of this lab after you’ve done your part. You are going to stay there and wait for my return,” he pointed at the door to the Major’s office. “If I catch you spying on me or making a run for it, I will hunt you down and inject you with the plague. And then I will take you where no one will ever find you. Have I made myself clear?” He narrowed his eyes at the Major. There would be no more compromises after this and the latter knew it.
They worked in silence afterward. Fred only broke it once to add another instruction. The aging scientists were good, they were efficient. He thought it almost a shame they hadn’t worked together before and under different circumstances.
A crack appeared in his mask when the Major’s associate lingered by the door. The lights flickered in warning and the Major was sensible enough to pull his colleague into the other room.
A dozen test tubes sat on the rack. It contained the finished product: the cure. His hand hovered over them as he sent tendrils of electricity to activate the substances and amplify their potency. He then sealed them and pocketed four. He carried the rack and headed toward the Major’s office.
His steps faltered. On the first aid cabinet near the door, Fred saw his reflection. He’d known his appearance had changed but seeing it was something else. His hair moved as if a gentle breeze was blowing on it, veins of blue light flickered in and out of his locks and skin, and his face was sharper – and he knew his accelerated self-healing had nothing to do with the last one. No wonder the officer hadn’t recognized him as their last test subject for V-X2103. Hopefully, he would stay anonymous for the next couple of hours.
Fred was about to open the door when he heard the men discussing him. “How can you trust him?” the scientist said, “He’s worse than—”
“Walls have ears, Ruwaid. You would lose your head with your careless words,” the Major admonished.
“The man murdered your son,” Ruwaid said in a lower voice, but audible nonetheless.
“My son was a fool. He had the chance to get out but he didn’t take it. And he ended up a casualty of war. That man in the laboratory is also a victim. He has every right to take his revenge on us, especially after what we did to him. But he hasn’t.”
“The plague,” Ruwaid grumbled. “The higher ups ordered us to destroy all evidence of this project after the news broke out. That meddling businessman should have stayed in his country.”
“The vaccines and the medicines?”
“They knew I would have fought them.”
“That’s why they dismissed you.”
Fred opened the door abruptly and set the test tubes on the littered desk. His audience quietly watched, anticipating his next move.
The doctor’s gaze rested on the Major. Accident or not, his old self would’ve begged for the father’s forgiveness for killing the son. Apologies at this point would sound like paying lip service, however; he was furious to even feel a tiny speck of guilt.
“Give me your phones,” Fred said.
The men complied.
“Which floor is the President-General’s son confined?”
“He’s not here,” Ruwaid interjected. “The President-General had his son moved to the family residence.
“And where is that?”
The Major gave him the address and the landmarks in the area.
Fred turned on his heel.
“Where are you going?” the Major asked.
“This is where our deal ends. Do what you want with the medicine.”
“We know who you are,” Ruwaid spoke again.
A storm was raging in the city when Fred arrived at the President-General’s doorstep. In a matter of minutes, both residential staff and security had been knocked out and disarmed. One by one, he blasted doors until he found the man he was looking for.
His prey sat beside a portable stasis pod and had him at gun point. The rifle was an old-fashioned weapon that spewed bullets. The President-General appeared calm except for the beads of sweat on his face.
The doctor crossed the room, hands up as a sign of peace, while the rifle’s muzzle trailed him. Slowly, he dropped one arm to pull a test tube out of his pocket. “I heard you wanted this.”
“Who are you and what have you done to my guards?” the head of state demanded.
“I’ve put them to sleep. They’ll come to when they’re ready,” Fred replied.
The President-General eyes flickered to the item. “Did that half-wit send you? If he thinks he can get his post back with another cure,” he sneered, “he’s more a fool than I thought.”
“Ah, but this is the real thing.” Fred lowered both his arms. With the power he possessed, he wanted to show off and be done with play-acting. “And I’m not anyone’s pawn,” he flung an arm at the offensive weapon, electricity ran through the barrel and made the leader let it go.
Fred languidly approached the man. His gaze lingered on the metals attached to the military uniform. He felt the buzz of power emitted by electronic devices in the man’s person and by the stasis pod. The doctor decided on the mobile phone in the President-General’s pocket.
The phone exploded. The man roared, clutching his thigh.
“Here.” He offered the medicine.
The head of state made no move to accept it, though. He glared at Fred with hate, instead.
Sighing, the doctor wrapped bands of electricity around the President-General. He tore the shredded material from the injury. They were third-degree burns and the man could go into shock at any moment. He proceeded to the next step: to get him to drink the medicine. Fred, however, hadn’t expected the state leader to put up a fight despite being held down and injured. The President-General clamped his mouth shut and when he did open it, Fred almost got bitten. The doctor sat up and glared back at the man. Why am I even putting up with this? he thought.
The President-General’s head lolled forward. His jaw slack, Fred lifted the man’s head and emptied the test tube into the open mouth. He closed the mouth and pinched the dictator’s nose. The President-General’s eyes snapped open and tried to shake Fred’s hold to no avail. His Adam’s apple bobbed and the doctor let him go. Then the President-General let out another roar of pain while Fred observed the medicine’s effects. The damaged skin healed quickly, replaced with pink unblemished skin.
Disbelief was written on the President-General’s face as he felt the smooth skin under his hand. His eyes landed on the empty test tube in Fred’s hand.
“You believe me now,” the doctor stated.
“What do you want?” the President-General said. “Is it money? A place in my cabinet?”
“Your life in exchange for saving your son.”
“If you mean to kill me, why waste the cure on me?”
“You still have your uses. Think of it as a second chance. I will give him the cure and, in return, you will step down from your position, confess your crimes and stand trial before the international court.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Depends. If you don’t agree to my terms, I leave with the cure. If you don’t fulfill your end of the bargain, you’ll be seeing me again.”
“Give me time to consider.”
“You don’t have that option.”
“Alright,” the President-General gritted. “I agree to your conditions.”
Fred disabled the son’s stasis and pressed “wake” command on the pod’s control panel. The hatch fogged momentarily then opened.
The occupant opened his eyes. “Aba, where—” he rasped. Then he saw the doctor. “Who—”
“Drink,” Fred ordered, putting the test tube in the President-General’s son’s hand. “It will cure you.”
“Do what the man says,” the President-General said, still bound on the floor.
The son frowned at his father and looked at the medicine in his hand. Recognition flitted behind his eyes as his gaze returned to Fred. He unstopped the test tube and drank.
“How do you feel?” The President-General asked after a second passed.
“It’s too soon to tell,” the son replied.
It wasn’t. The effects of the medicine would have been felt if he was in the advanced stage. But the doctors had taken immediate measures to stop the sickness from progressing. They’d put the successor under stasis as soon as the virus was detected in his system. Fred didn’t have that luxury. They’d made him into their guinea pig.
“If he dies, the deal is off,” the head of state said.
“You have two hours to prepare your public statement,” the doctor said. He opened the doors to the balcony, letting in the rain. “Enough time to verify that your son is cured. I’m sure one of your doctors is here.”
“I did not agree to make a public—”
“I’ll be waiting.” He released the President-General and stepped into the rain, face upturned to the gloomy sky. He heard the rifle being cocked. Fred shook his head and turned around. He raised a hand toward the President-General and electricity shot from his palm. The tyrant toppled over to the floor.
“Aba!” the son shouted and dropped to where his father lay.
“He’s just out cold,” Fred said, turning away from the room.
“Zafeera. Where is she?”
“She’s not here, but she’s safe.”
Fred had seen the records in the lab, his and the other test subject’s – Zafeera’s father. He hadn’t recognized the man who had shared his cell. Who would have? “Dead,” he said. “I was there when he died.”
“Don’t thank me, Shadow.” Fred looked over his shoulder. “I’m not doing this for you, Zafeera or the resistance.” He lifted his head towards the skies and vanished as lightning struck the spot where he stood.
The alarm went off as he touched down in one of the gardens at the mansion. Security surrounded him in seconds. Torches and stun guns were pointed at him.
“Put your hands in the air and identify yourself,” the man in front of him demanded.
“I need to speak with Louis,” Fred said. “Where is he?”
“Your name, sir.”
The security personnel’s gun lowered an inch then raised again. “You don’t look like Dr. Williams.”
“Of course, I don’t,” Fred muttered under his breath.
He’d gone to the forest reserve but Noriden’s portal had closed. The prince had gone out of his way to help him and Cheska. There was no way Noriden would go back on his word. So, something must have happened. His only hope of returning to Cheska now was through her brother. It didn’t occur to him that he’d have to go through security to reach Louis.
Fred shifted his weight and at least three out of eight men tensed. They were on edge just as he was with their guns. It tempted him to wrest control of the weapons. “Can you please put those away?”
His request remained unheeded.
“I’m not armed.”
The guns stayed where they were.
“Just take me to Louis and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“You’re coming with us.” The man gave a curt nod to a subordinate. Security personnel number 2 held a special bracelet. They weren’t listening to him.
“It’s urgent,” Fred snapped. Thunder overhead boomed and shook the ground where they stood. “Tell him I know where Cheska is.”
The man’s eyes never strayed far from Fred as he began speaking on the comm link. His stance relaxed slightly after the call ended.
Louis appeared from the archway. He approached, eyes wide and searching. “You’re alive,” he said, grabbing Fred’s shoulders. “I knew, but… you’re alive!” He threw his arms around the doctor and clapped his back. Letting go, Louis asked: “Where is she?”
“She’s with Noriden,” Fred replied. “They’re in the palace.”
“Prince Noriden?” Louis’ brows shot up. Then he remembered they weren’t alone. “It’s alright. He’s with me,” he reassured his father’s personnel. “You can leave us.”
Louis nudged Fred to follow him. They exited through the way he’d come in and walked into a maze. “Sorry about that. I didn’t want to summon a Sentry with them around,” Louis explained. He put a slender object between his lips and a large shadow with glowing green eyes emerged from a portal.
“Keena, will you take us to the palace in Uruimeth?” Louis spoke to the creature. “To Prince Noriden.”
The Sentry twisted around and walked into a ripple in an empty space.
“Come on, Fred.”
“What time is it?” Fred asked as the panther led them through the tunnels.
“Past midnight. It’s why the guards were a lot less friendly, especially with national security on high alert.”
Fred frowned. “On high alert?”
“We met the President-General to negotiate. It kind of fell apart from the moment we stepped on Libyan soil.” Louis shrugged. “I think we’d just given him a reason declare war against us.”
“I didn’t know.” Fred wondered if he’d been wrong to show mercy to the President-General.
“You were captured – Fred sparks are coming out of you.” Louis’ wary tone brought the doctor back to the present.
“I’m fine. Can we hurry?”
Louis heard the urgency in his voice. “It’s Cheska, isn’t it? Is she in a bad way?”
“She might be. I’ll explain on the way.”
He nodded and the Sentry quickened its pace.
Copyright © 2017 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.