“You know how she is,” the novelist said, his fingers hovered over the holographic keyboard. “You can’t dissuade her once she’s set on doing something. I gave her the data so she would at least know where to go. And it helped, didn’t it?” James’ attention returned to the screen. “I didn’t have much choice, anyway. It was either that or get mauled by a panther.”
“You sound like you know her that well,” the doctor said later.
“Louis and Mr. Roucan can be just as stubborn. It’s a family trait.”
Fred had forgotten that Mr. Roucan had been James’ guardian when the novelist was orphaned.
“Let it go, Fred. You can’t undo what’s already in the past. What matters is you’re both alive.” James observed his best friend from the corner of his eye. No wonder he didn’t recognize Fred. The doctor’s eyes were silver instead of gray, his face leaner, and his hair longer. Moreover, his clothes were simpler. Fred’s white outfit consisted of loose pants and a shirt held together by laces at the front. Then James’ eyes rested on the knotted circle embroidered on the doctor’s chest at the left. The design looked Celtic.
“What are you thinking?” Fred suddenly asked.
“You don’t look like you’d been sick only yesterday and your eyes are a bit unusual.”
“Dad’s the same. It could be related to my ability since we both have it.”
“So, are you going to talk to your old man again?”
“I don’t know.”
“It could save you a lot of trouble. He could teach you, like switching off your gift at will.”
The doctor didn’t want to discuss his father further. Although James was right, Fred didn’t even want to face both his parents. The revelation that he’d lived most of his life in a lie was too fresh a memory. The truth hadn’t even completely sunk in yet. “Found anything yet?”
“The family of the deceased requested privacy while they mourn for the President-General’s passing. The little information we could get from the local and international aren’t very reliable as well. I hacked into the President-General’s residence too. The security footages are clean, but there were several hours missing because of a power outage.” James looked at Fred askance.
“I didn’t do it.”
“I’ll try to recover their deleted files for the past twenty-four hours. We might find what we’re looking for in there.”
The doctor paced as they waited for the data recovery to complete. He began to regret making his promise to Cheska. Going directly to Libya would have saved them all a lot of trouble.”
“You should go,” James said.
“You should go back.” The novelist clearly wanted him to leave. If Fred continued walking back and forth, the floor wouldn’t be the only thing that would wear thin. James hadn’t slept a wink ever since he’d entered SecTech Division’s lab. The pain from his bruised eye didn’t improve his mood, either.
Fred rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m sorry for getting you involved, James.”
“Gods, Fred. You sound like you forced me to do your dirty work. I would’ve refused if you asked me to play matchmaker between you and Cheska.”
“I wouldn’t dare.”
“Exactly. You’re not the type to ask for help. And I don’t like to complicate my life by intruding on someone else’s life. I’m doing this for everybody’s sake and for my son’s future. So, please stop apologizing and stop moving. You’re driving me nuts as it is.”
James let out a breath and glared at him. “What did I just say?”
The doctor shut his mouth. The room was quiet save for the occasional beep from the computer. Several minutes later, James wheeled on his best friend who stood very still a few feet from him. “Just go, please,” he pleaded.
“How will you contact me?”
“Cheska has a comm link. I’ll notify you through her. Sound good?”
“How long will it take to recover everything?”
“Roughly two to five hours, but it could take longer. It depends on the size of the data and the number of passes they’d made to wipe it.” He shook his head. “These people knew what they were doing.” James had been lucky he’d retrieved all the research documents on the plague to file a case against the Libyan President-General before the research department destroyed all the original copies. “Let’s hope we can still get something useful from the recovered files.”
The novelist typed away, pointedly ignoring the doctor. From his clipped tone and behavior, Fred knew his best friend would only get irritated if he stayed. Moreover, he’d already been away much longer than anticipated, Cheska would undoubtedly be upset because of his prolonged absence.
The moment Fred left, James opened screen 8. He’d managed to hide it when his friend asked him to sniff for evidence of the President-General’s death. Screen 8 held footages of a recent incident in one of the main roads in the Mysts. It involved a truck that almost bulldozed the hovercar Fred and Cheska were riding at the time. Louis had told James about the situation. The doctor’s gift had prevented the collision and fought off the men who’d alighted from the vehicle before Louis arrived. Mr. Roucan did most of the damage control in order to protect Fred’s reputation and to avoid panic among the public.
He paused the video to the part where it showed the logo of the truck: the face of a hyena.
James had seen it before when he hacked into the mainframe of Libya’s military defense. He opened screen 9 and searched for the symbol. The novelist stopped at the image filed in a folder called Hyena Quarter, a resistance group that had been trying to stir the people to revolt against the government. The hyena’s head was drawn in bold white lines offset by a dark background. The logo on the truck was friendlier and the details were softer. It was either a coincidence or his writer’s imagination affected his judgment.
“Do you think they’re related?” the speaker behind him voiced his own thoughts.
The novelist offered the truth: “I’m not sure.” He glanced at Louis who studied the two images with narrowed eyes. James was tempted to move away; anxiety and curiosity emanated from Cheska’s brother. “You missed Fred by a few minutes.”
“Why did he come here?”
The novelist felt a negative emotion from his friend. Did they have an argument? He watched Louis closely. “Fred wanted to look into the late President-General’s death.” As soon as he said this Louis’ emotions shifted to doubt. James let it go. They’d soon resolve the problem between them.
Louis loosened his shoulders. He too hadn’t had enough sleep. The fatigue showed on his face. “Any luck finding anything about what I asked for?”
“Not yet. But I’ve saved the video feeds we’ve got from Libya for the past twelve hours.” James took out from his pocket a fingernail-sized chip encased in a clear case.
“Did you see anything new?”
“Nothing we haven’t seen.” He shrugged. “The footages weren’t clear enough for anyone to recognize Fred.” No one who knew him as a doctor would make the connection if they saw him in Libya wearing tattered clothes with thunder and lightning at his beck and call. Thank the gods for Fred’s secrecy! He was good at avoiding topics he didn’t want to discuss. James suspected but never had the chance to confirm if his best friend had the gift.
Through the security cameras, James glimpsed Fred in action. Though there were blind spots, he was still able to piece together some of the things the doctor had done. Fred had saved a girl from a group of soldiers and prevented an assassination. But what did he do to the soldiers, the assassins and the passenger that had been targeted? Judging from the flags on the car, the supposed victim was an official. Fred had left out the details about them as well. “I need more time. There are some things I need to know for certain.”
Louis pocketed the chip. “How was he?”
The novelist paused and realized what had been bugging him when the doctor was present. But it couldn’t be true, could it? “What would you feel if you were in his shoes?”
The younger man’s face darkened. His feelings reached out like tendrils of shadow wrapping around James. The novelist felt what Louis felt even before he stated: “I’d be furious.” With a shake of his head, the fury vanished and released James from its grasp. “But he’s not. He’d been calm the whole time except…”
“Earlier, he’d lost control of his gift.” His brows furrowed. “I’m afraid he might be unstable.”
“What do you mean?”
“He nearly destroyed my mother’s room.”
This was news to James. Fred seemed to have kept a few things from him. “Were you there when it happened?”
“El — Cheska,” Louis corrected himself, “couldn’t have done it. Her gift doesn’t work that way.”
“So, you weren’t there.”
His tone turned defensive. “I was there and I know what I saw.”
“You did but that doesn’t exactly tell you the whole story.” James let out a deep breath when Louis scowled. “We’ve all had a trying day – two days, actually. Fred and your sister, especially. Some scars run deeper.”
Louis looked away, his mouth pursed. His emotion shifted to sadness. He also had those scars. Believing his sister to be dead had been a blow to him, having lost her clone, another sister, at almost the same time had resulted in his depression. His father had tried to help him in his own twisted way. Louis, however, eventually found out that the medicines the psychiatrist prescribed had blocked his Sight; it rendered him blind to the truth. Mr. Roucan’s betrayal stung and Cheska’s defense of their father’s decision to have her adopted left Louis confused, angry and hurt.
He began to question every thought and deed he’d ever done. Was his anger at the man who’d raised him and given his sister up truly justified? Could he be jumping to conclusions concerning Fred’s outburst?
“Try not to overanalyze everything, Louis,” James advised. “And focus on the now.”
The now. Louis glanced at him bemusedly. The novelist sure knew what to say when he was upset. “You’re right.”
“Of course, I am,” James uttered. “What news on our borders?”
“The Libyan fighter jets have withdrawn.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
Before Louis could answer, they were interrupted by a call from Mr. Roucan. A few minutes later, Louis hung up and apologized to James. “I have to run an errand. Let’s talk again when I get back.”
James stood alone in the middle of the room. The only sounds he heard were the technology around him. His emotions were his own again and not controlled by those around him. The doctor’s visit popped into his head again. It was odd, he didn’t quite feel what Fred felt. Or the man had just been very calm at the time.
Copyright © 2017-2018 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.