James paced the small room, occasionally banging on the door with the heel of his palm. The first few times, one of the men outside opened it and asked what he wanted. When he said he wanted to leave, they just shut the door again. He really wished he had a window like Janine did. He could have squeezed out of it, maybe.
Time passed without word from anyone. His meals were brought to him twice a day, at least he believed it was twice a day. I really am a fucking prisoner, he thought over and over. He began to demand that his father see him. That he be allowed to speak with him. Neither request was granted. After five meals went by, James felt like he was going mad.
He lay on his cot, rereading Glyphbinder for the twenty-third time and regretting not buying the sequels, when there came a knock on the door. One of his guards announced he had a visitor and, expecting it to be his father, James stood up and prepared his tirade.
His anger bled away when he saw Ringo enter. The tall man nodded to the guard and shut the door, blinking in the faint light. James said nothing, unsure of why he was here, or under whose orders.
“Sit down, Cubby,” Ringo said, his voice louder than needed in the small room. He then held up his hands, gave James the finger with both of them, and then aimed the gesture at the door. James nodded, understanding. Ringo had something to say that he didn’t want the guards curious about.
“Fuck you for not showing up during the last, what, two days?” James said, just as loud. Ringo rolled his eyes.
“Some of us are busy, doing real work, not getting grounded by our daddy.”
That was a bit much, James thought and scowled.
“Sit down and shut up, James.”
“How long are they going to hold me in here? I’m going fucking nuts.”
“Until such time as the General deems it adequate for you to return to duty,” Ringo said and dug into his pocket. He withdrew an envelope and handed it to James, who took it. Breaking the small, shoddy seal he peered inside. There was a folded letter and something small, rectangular and plastic.
A keycard. It wasn’t his, but Jazz’s.
“So, what, a year from now?” Where did you get this? He wanted to ask.
“Don’t be an asshole, Jimmy, that’s how you got here in the first place.”
James pulled the letter free and opened it.
Holden just left the base in a chopper. Bubbles said you wanted to find a guy named Fox? She thinks she knows where to find him. I’ll get you out of here.
“I’m not an asshole,” he said as he finished reading the words. “Holden is the asshole. He told me he killed Elena!” He hadn’t meant to say that but the words came without thinking. Maybe it was seeing Holden’s name on the page, so clinical and clean that made him want to muddy it. The anger and confusion came back anew, raw and painful. Holden killed Elena. Why? Why!
Ringo blinked at him and didn’t say anything for a few moments. Then, seeming to regain his composure, he frowned. “Regardless, boss wants to see you. Sent me to collect you.”
Knocking on the door, Ringo gave James a look to shut up. When the guard opened the door, Ringo opened it wider.
“General wants to see the kid,” Ringo said.
“News to me,” the guard said, though he shrugged. “But good. Junior’s been really pissing me off.”
“He does that,” Ringo said. “C’mon kid, let’s go.”
“Now? Why’d you have me sit down then?” James said, but stood and strode out of the room. It felt like a breath of fresh air and it took all of his willpower not to run straight for the door and out into the night or morning or whatever it was. It turned out to be a brisk and snowy morning, the sky a uniform gray from one horizon to the other.
“Let’s get moving,” Ringo said, taking him by the arm and leading him away from the building. As they walked, Ringo lowered his voice. “She’s waiting and just because Holden’s gone doesn’t mean his people aren’t around.”
“Where is she?” James said, speaking softly to match Ringo’s tone. “Why the fuck did it take you this long to get me, man?”
“Holden was keeping us away. It would have looked suspicious if I went to your father. The two of them were planning something. Holden even took the new girl with them.”
They paused at the end of the row of barracks and Ringo took a casual glance around. James did the same but didn’t see anyone of note. Most of those outside were hurrying on their way to get somewhere inside. It wasn’t just brisk, it was downright freezing when the wind blew through.
“Some teenager, came in with the rescue team. I don’t know who she is.”
“What? Know her?”
“No, well, I think it’s this Chris Fox guy’s daughter.”
Ringo gave him an odd look, one eyebrow up, mustache twitching as he mulled that over.
“How do you figure?”
“He said she was around the area, that I should look for her.”
“Well you’re a little… you know what, it doesn’t matter. Not right now. We’re late.”
They made their way down the road between the barracks and office bunkers, their boots sinking in the quickly accumulating slush. James wished he’d pulled out a thicker jacket for this and hoped Chris was being kept somewhere warm.
Passing by the Administration building, Ringo led him further into the heart of the base. When he saw the squat, trapezoidal shape of the infirmary directly ahead, he felt a sense of unease.
“Medical?” he said, keeping his voice quiet.
“That’s what she said.”
“Is he getting an enema?”
Ringo didn’t respond to that and he swiped his card to open the door. They went in, nodded to the orderly standing behind the desk, and kept going. The orderly looked up, but didn’t say anything. James hoped that was a good sign.
They found Bubbles just beyond, looking restless, sitting in a chair by the examination rooms. Seeing them, she stood and waited. James opened his mouth to ask her about Chris but she stopped him with a hand up, palm out. Shaking her head, she tapped her ear and pointed further into the building. Once they nodded, she led them into a darkened stairwell lit by sparsely placed LEDs in the floor.
She led them down, her footsteps quiet and slow. They passed two floors before she stopped them again and leaned close.
“I think he’s being held in one of the labs down here,” she said. “I don’t know which one but Tricia mentioned them to me when I came to see Jazz. Said he could be in with the Infected. The whole place was kind of in disarray though.”
“Fuck,” Ringo mumbled. “Kid I’m not going anywhere near those.”
“You’re right,” James said and nodded back towards the stairs. “You’re going back up and waiting for me outside. If I don’t show in time, just tell the search party I got away from you.”
“Cubby, I don’t think you should go in there. We’ll sort this out, speak with your father for real.”
“Fuck that,” James said and began to move past them. “I don’t trust him any more than Holden. You two get out of here. I’ll be fine.”
“Jimmy,” Bubbles said, reaching out with her good hand and catching his. “Maybe you should listen to him. This isn’t a good idea.”
He glanced down at their hands and released hers with a nod. Starting down the stairs, he paused when he heard a beep. It sounded like an alert bell, likely from within the medical center.
“Cubby, I think they know you’re gone,” Ringo said. “Let’s go, c’mon!”
“I gotta find him,” James said and ran down the last of the steps. The steel door meeting him at the bottom opened easily. He heard Ringo call out softly to him again but he shut the door, cutting him off. He was committed. You couldn’t abort from a dive like this.
There were corridors and more steel doors. The building that served as the Medical Center had once been built for underground shelters, much like the Administration building. The doors were thick and he hoped it delayed some the workers down here from hearing any alarms he’d set off.
“Attention, will Lieutenant Fitzpatrick report to the Barracks. Attention, Lieutenant Fitzpatrick to the Barracks.”
He jumped, turning to see the loudspeaker mounted on the wall above him, just to the left of the door. Cursing inwardly, he hurried on, pushing through the first set of double doors. The labs were on the east side of the Medical Center, directly ahead of him. He just had to keep going.
There was a cart on the other side of the doors and he grabbed a medical mask off of it, happy for his luck. Wrapping it around his face, he hoped it might disguise him long enough to find Chris Fox. He needed answers.
His disguise lasted four doors. As he passed through the hallway separating the containment labs from medical ward, he nearly ran into Major Tricia Richards. Startled, she stepped back, her hands held up.
“I’m sorry, please excuse me…” she said, but despite his attempt to look away, she saw him. The mask couldn’t hide him, not this close and not from a woman who had seen every inch of him in a very clinical way.
“James? James you’re not supposed to be here.”
“Major, I’m sorry but I have to.”
“You’re being called, you’re wanted topside. You’re under detention.”
“I know and I’ll go but I have to see someone first.”
“You know I can’t let you, James. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too,” he said reached out, grabbed her by the wrist and pushed her back through the door he’d come in. He pushed it shut and slapped the emergency lock into place. He heard her pounding on it a moment later, calling his name. If he wasn’t committed before, he was now.
The labs were not what he remembered. They’d been a quarantine zone, a place to put the Infected where they wouldn’t harm anyone. That’s how it’d been in the beginning. Now if someone was infected, they were shot and dumped outside in the pit and burned.
At least, that’s what he thought happened.
But here, before his eyes, was a whole other truth. Infected were caged like animals behind sealed lab doors. Some were crazed, slapping bloodied palms against the walls and floors, leaving dark, viscous smears of red and brown.
There were others strapped to beds. Some flailed while others were unconscious. There was a girl in one of them, strapped to the bed. Wires were hooked to beeping machines. Someone was there with her, a blonde with cool, gray eyes. He’d seen her before, but couldn’t remember where or what her name was.
The woman turned and James hurried on. He had to find Chris before they caught him. Already he heard shouting further back on the floor. He didn’t have much time left.
The labs were not hard to search and he did not find Chris in any of the examination rooms. Along the wall at the end of the laboratory area, a door opened into the rooms they’d once used for storage. It was labeled “TESTING.”
“Fuck it,” he said with a growl and grabbed the shoulders of the man who exited, forcing him back inside. Quickly shutting the door behind him, he saw the neat, orderly rows of simple gray doors. They’d been storage closets for medicine and food once. Now they had numbers.
“A man named Chris Fox is in here, isn’t he? What number?”
“I don’t know who—”
James pushed him against the wall, forcing his forearm across his throat and pushed. The man winced. He was a lab technician, a civilian. He hoped that would make this easy.
“Tell me! I just spent two days locked in my room and I’m really in no goddamn mood for twenty questions.”
James pushed a little harder and the man gasped.
“Is there a key for it?”
James looked down and saw the keys hanging from the man’s belt and snapped them off, turning to head straight for the door with “3” stenciled on it.
“Help!” the man screamed, shoving open the door. “He’s in there!”
Fuck, James cursed as he fumbled to find the right key. It took him four tries before found it and the door opened. Inside, a single LED illuminated a tiny room with toilet, cot, and sink. A man sat on the cot, look disheveled and bewildered. When Chris Fox saw him, he cocked his head slightly.
“We don’t have a lot of time,” James said. Behind him the door to the “TESTING” rooms banged open. He quickly shut the door to Room 3 and leaned against.
“So this isn’t a rescue, I take it.”
“I need some answers.”
“My daughter… I need to get her out of here. I’ll give you whatever answers you want once I do that.”
Something hard and heavy slammed into the door behind him.
“James Fitzpatrick? You are under orders to open this door and remand yourself into my custody.” The voice was female, Tricia Richards he thought.
“Can’t really negotiate,” James said as the door was slammed into again. “I need you to tell me what you know.”
Chris regarded him for a moment. Another loud bang and then quiet. James felt a spike of panic. Quiet was bad somehow. He wasn’t sure how, but it was.
“They’re making a drug,” Chris said, his voice very flat, almost tired. “Turning the virus into a weapon. Infecting their own soldiers to give them abilities. Kurama experimented with it once, just once. Saw limited success but it was canceled. The doctor in charge of that… she—”
Metal jangled against metal before sliding into the door’s lock. They’d found another key. James braced himself against the door, holding them back as they tried to force their way in.
“She what?” he said, gritting his teeth as the door opened an inch. “She what!”
“They made me tell them where she was. Where all of them were.” James realized that Chris’s face was not simply bewildered, it was drugged. It was also the very image of despair.
“My father, did he design this? Did he order it?”
Chris nodded. “They infected my daughter… made me tell them…”
James felt sick. His father did this? He infected healthy people? For what? For some kind of… super soldier? He didn’t want to believe it. Not his father. Not him.
But deep inside, he knew.
The door burst open, throwing James to the ground. Immediately he was taken, restrained and hauled out. Tricia Richards stood to one side, looking guilty and embarrassed. The girl with the cold gray eyes was staring at him.
“James Fitzpatrick? Your father wants to see you.”