James did his best to keep his expression neutral. The things before him were not men, not anymore, yet they spoke and responded when spoken to. They stood at attention down in one of the lab rooms, one that was converted into a ready room. They wore Black Dawn uniforms, the patches on their shoulders, but these were not, could not be, his comrades.
“Do you see the beauty of God’s Plan, son?” Gideon Fitzpatrick said, standing beside him. His father’s smile was proud, radiant, triumphant. James didn’t see anything of God in these men. He saw Hell, death, a lack of humanity. They were sick and dying.
“It’s impressive, dad,” James said. The lie tasted like ash in his mouth.
“This world has gone to Hell, Jimmy. This is the great flood of our times, the purging of humanity. The plague may have been created by man but it was His divine plan that moved our hands. This was inevitable. Our constant progress has driven us far from His path.
“Cloning, life-extension, gender reassignment, gay marriage, the mixing of religions and races have undone us,” Gideon said and put a hand on James’s shoulder. He squeezed, then turned so they might face one another. James was sure the calm had faded away. This was a nightmare. This wasn’t the father he knew, or was it? Had he just ignored this for so long?
“Son, I can tell this is hard for you. You have to understand something, all of those things? I thought they were progress as well. I believed in what our country stood for, for freedom and the right to choose life and love and how you do all of those things. But we were wrong, son. We were wrong.”
“How do you know?” James said, finding that his voice cracked more than he liked. He felt strange, like he was hearing things through a dream. None of this was real, was it? He’d wake up tomorrow and what his father was doing, even the virus, would be gone. Elena would be there with him.
“Because God has shown me the way. He has spoken to me and I can save us, Jimmy. I can save us all.”
James turned back to look at the men in the lab. That young female medic from earlier was looking them over and drawing their blood. She had just finished the last of them and looked back at Gideon through the glass separating them. He nodded to her and she placed the tubes into an analyzer.
“What is she testing?” James said.
“Checking their white blood cell levels. The serum still doesn’t work right, but we’re not working with all of the information. We need the Kurama scientists who built the plague. Holden should be gathering up the woman we need as we speak.”
“The one you got out of Chris Fox.”
James clenched his jaw and looked at the men in the room again. He didn’t recognize any of them but he hadn’t been with Black Dawn very long.
“Did they volunteer?”
“Those men,” James said, nodding towards them.
“No. The serum isn’t stable enough to test on good, healthy soldiers. These are all men who were infected or bitten. It slows the process but it’s not a cure, not yet. Once we get Collins it’ll be better.”
“So we’ve never infected a healthy person?” James said, hoping to feel relieved.
Gideon turned and walked down the narrow, tiled hallway. There was another lab room with its lights on and Gideon stopped there. He turned and James looked inside. The girl was sitting up, awake, her face full of confusion and more than a little fear.
James looked at his father but Gideon simply stared ahead, into the small room. The glass was two-way, so James knew the girl couldn’t see them. He wondered what she was thinking.
“Dad?” James said, feeling a slowly rising sense of revulsion in his gut. “You tested it on her didn’t you?”
“I had to know, Jimmy. I had to know we were on the right track and the serum wasn’t just failing because they were already infected.”
“So you infected her? Jesus dad! Why didn’t you just infect a volunteer? Or… her dad maybe?” He felt sick just saying it but that girl was a kid! 17 maybe. She looked more like 16 or 15… too young for this shit.
“A dead man fears nothing. If I infected the father, he’d never tell me where Collins is. Now? He needs Collins to save her. I knew he’d give up her location.”
“Dad, that’s just–”
“Necessary, Jimmy. It was necessary. We’re talking about the salvation of the human race,” Gideon said and turned to face him again, his face stern. “I don’t have time to second guess, or play nice. This is war against extinction and if I don’t do this? We’re all going to be walking corpses. Am I understood?”
James felt five years old again, his father looming over him. While his father had never been unkind, he had always been sure of himself. He’d been a good father, but a strong one. James used to believe that made him the best dad in the world.
“I can’t let you do this, dad.”
“You don’t have a choice,” Gideon said. “You either play along or you can find your own way. Out there. With them.”
“You’d throw me out?”
“Son, I have the world to save. I don’t want to but I can’t lock you in a room forever. So get with the program and follow orders. Is that understood?”
James grit his teeth, feeling his jaw ache from the strain. Still, he managed a nod. Then he stepped back and saluted.
“Good. Now when Holden gets back, I want you to bring Collins directly to me. She needs to be contained and quarantined. Bring her to the briefing room when they arrive. It should be within the next few hours.”
Gideon didn’t even wait for James to acknowledge him, but turned on his heel and walked away, exiting the hallway and heading upstairs.
Left alone, James turned to look at the girl in the room. Katie was her name? She was saying something but he couldn’t make it out. He leaned closer, straining to hear. The glass was nearly soundproof, the labs meant to contain explosions.
She was calling a name, he thought. Linda? Lindie? Lindsay? Weren’t there two girls brought in? Where did the other one go? Who had her?
His father had infected this girl. His father had given her a virus that would kill her just to get information out of her father. It was madness. This whole thing was so fucked up, he couldn’t begin to fathom it.
But what the fuck can I do about it?
Then, he knew. He remembered Chris Fox’s face, the look of anguish in his eyes. “My daughter… I need to get her out of here.” Those words rang in his head. But she was infected, wasn’t she? If he made a move to get her out, how long did she have? What could he possibly do to help her?
The serum slows the process, he thought, remembering his father’s words. He’d need the serum. So, step one, get the serum, step two, free the girl, step three… free Chris Fox? Or should he free the dad first?
He left the laboratory area and walked back towards the supply section where the cells had been. One glance told him all he needed to know. Two guards stood outside, and when they spotted him, the grip on their weapons tightened.
Okay, so the dad is definitely not first.
Returning to the labs, he spied the medic coming out of the lab where the test subjects were. Her attention was focused down on a clipboard and the papers on it. He might not get another chance.
She turned the corner towards him and he stepped aside to let her pass. The hallway was empty but he would have to be very, very quick. When she stepped around him, she didn’t even look up.
James reached out, wrapped his right arm around her neck and squeezed his left over her mouth. She went stiff for a moment and then began to fight him, her elbows pumping back into his side. It hurt, it hurt a lot, but he kept a hold of her and dragged her towards one side of the hallway. He’d intended to make her tell him where the serum was but he couldn’t keep this up.
An elbow slammed into his ribs and he felt something give. The air went out of him and he nearly lost his grip on her. She writhed, her body so slight, she was like a viper in his arms. If she turned around, her knee could slam into his crotch and then it would be over.
Noise was his enemy, he needed to end this fast. With as much force as he dared, he threw his body towards the wall, smacking her head against the painted concrete. A smear of blood the length of a finger appeared as she went limp. His heart racing, he felt her pulse. Fast, quick, still going. He guided her to the floor and reached for her belt, snapped off her ID and shoved it into a pocket.
“Help!” he called. “I need a medic!”
Within moments two soldiers appeared. They must have heard the smack of her head and were already moving.
“Don’t move, sir!”
“We ran into each other,” he said, tearing part of her coat at the bottom and holding it to her head. “Jesus Christ, I didn’t even see her! Medic!”
One of the soldiers knelt down and checked her pulse as Tricia Richards appeared. She blinked, her eyes going wide when she saw the scene.
“Christ, James what happened?”
“We ran into each other! Fuck, I’m sorry, I didn’t even… I didn’t…” James brought up the memory of the last time he saw Elena. The panic he felt, he drew on it, making himself feel all of that again. She was dead now, he’d never see her again. He felt tears sting his eyes.
“Is-is she okay?” he said.
“I think so,” Tricia said, checking her vitals. “Looks like a head injury though. You, you,” she said to the soldiers. “Help get her to the exam room. I’ll need x-rays and some better light. James,” she said, turning to him. “Are you hurt?”
“No, no… No I don’t think so?”
“You best come with me too anyway.”
“I’ll be… I’ll be right there. I should go tell my dad.”
“Report to me as soon as you can,” Tricia said as the soldiers brought her a board to lay the medic on. “I mean it, James.”
Their eyes caught and he thought he saw something suspicious in them. Did she know? Did she suspect? He’d been sloppy, too quick to act. But it had worked… at least for the moment.
“Okay, I will,” he said.
The medic was taken away, Tricia hurrying after. James lingered until they were out of sight before moving to the doorway the medic had vacated. Swiping her card, the door opened. He figured his own wouldn’t work here.
One of the infected men was sitting in a chair, his glassy eyes staring ahead. When James entered, he furrowed his brow.
“Who are you?”
“Intern,” James said with a grin. “Actually no, I’m just a go-for. Major Richards needs a sample of the serum but the medic girl… whatever her name is fell, knocked herself out.”
His brow furrowed. James knew this lie was worse. A normal, sane person would see through it. But this man, his dark skin ashen and waxy, seemed to not care. He nodded, slowly, and said nothing.
“Where is it? Do you know?”
The man pointed to a cabinet and James opened it with the medic’s ID. Inside were a few dozen vials. He took six and carefully placed them in his breast pocket, along with an injection gun. He’d used them before… once or twice.
The man in the chair didn’t even look at him.
When James returned to Katie’s door, he paused. If he did this, he’d have to leave. There would be no punishment this time. This was treason to his father, but he was already committed. The Medic would identify him and he’d be toast anyway.
Well, I guess this is goodbye, dad.
He slid the medic’s badge over the door’s lock. It popped and James slid inside. Katie Fox sat up, her dark hair matted with sweat. Her eyes were glazed but still alert. She looked ill.
“Who are you?” she said, trying to pull her hands up but they were strapped to the bed. His commitment to leave soared.
“Hey, Katie right? I’m Jim. Your dad sent me to get you out of here.”