Chapter 7

MARCH 27, 2015, 4:37 A.M.
CDC RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT FACILITY
BALTIMORE, MD

“She’s not going to show,” Michael Kent murmurs, weary resignation settling in as he addresses the group. “She was the last person to access the lab, and she’s carrying the only remaining vaccine. There’s a high probability she was infected when she left the building. Systems tells us she was last seen on site at approximately 11:45 p.m.”

He can hear the faint sounds of the clean-up crew outside. They’ll burn the remains of the lab until the walls are charred and black, his work brought to a halt at the end of a couple of well-placed flame-throwers.

Not that there will be anyone alive to find the evidence.

They’re all infected. The workers, half-breeds, were dead in the less than three hours. Direct exposure to the undiluted virus means it works its magic quickly and mercilessly. The rest will take more time.

The rest…Barbara…

She’d brought a visitor home, a virus designed to leave its host a bloodied shell for an even more deadly spawn. A virus she’d helped recreate from the strands of her own sullied DNA, a virus for which they’d been trying to create a vaccine.

So close. So damn close.

They worked beneath a teetering tower of carefully constructed lies, only to have the last card bring the whole thing toppling down in a bloody mess.

Now they’ll come, he thinks dully, wondering how long it will take. Two weeks? Three? It’s impossible to say. For all their progress, the experiments never made it to term.

The most recent iteration of the vaccine was imperfect, successful but weak. A glance at the lab’s empty cold storage unit tells him the last vial is gone.

He’d intended to administer the vaccine to one of the thirty infected patients who don’t exist on paper. The boy, Subject 645D was a failure, his body neutralized and disposed of, but Subject 646E, a sixteen-year-old Caucasian female, looks promising.

Looked promising, he corrects himself.

Tonight she’ll burn with the rest.

He remembers Barbara’s hand on his arm the previous night. He’d thought little of it at the time, this odd gesture of affection, but now he knows without doubt who took the only remaining vaccine.

He turns away from the window, ignoring the ache in his throat, the way his eyes burn. She’d been devious, manipulative. She’d betrayed him in their last hours, but she was one of the few who understood him in a way others hadn’t been able to.

The affair itself was short-lived, years past, but she’d left a powerful print on what little remains of his heart.

Not that it matters now.

“Go. Find her. You know what to do.”

The drones, impassive and stone-faced, leave without so much as a “yes, sir.” He doesn’t merit that much respect.

#

The drive is eery in the early morning twilight, through slumbering suburban streets. He can still see the stars, cold pinpoints of light in the sky that send chills up the back of his neck.

That’s just the fever.

His house is dark and empty, the perfect place for someone with a soul of equal quality. He tosses his keys on the table next to the door, doesn’t bother to remove his jacket or shoes, and makes his way to the study.

The desk drawer slides out on polished runners, smooth as silk. He withdraws a small box from which he plucks the pistol with only a slight tremble in his hand. He places it on the gleaming marble desktop, alongside a pen and a piece of stationery, on which he intends to write his last words.

He sits, blinking owlishly into the dark amongst his scattered papers, case summaries and research. How to sum up a life lived in shadow? And who would be left to read it, even if he could?

He abandons the pen with a disgusted sniff, turning instead to the scotch he keeps in the bottom drawer, foregoing the glass. The bottle is cool against his lips, its contents a fire in his stomach. Soon his lips burn, too, as the world softens around him.

There’s a noise from behind, and his heart quickens, hand reaching instinctively for the gun.

“Hello?”

No response. Cruel irony mixes with the whiskey, and his laugh is a harsh bray against the morning silence. He’s about to take his own life, but the thought of another doing the same is enough to make him cower in fear.

How disgustingly human.

“Who’s there?” he whispers, a fine sheen of sweat on his brow. There’s the soft rasp of another’s breath, a shadow. He can still taste the scotch and remnants of a bitter smile on his lips.

“It’s me, Michael.”

He turns to face her, heart slowing a little at the familiar voice. “Barbara. You came.”

She emerges from the shadows, eyes shining, a gun trained to his head. He doesn’t bother raising his own.

“You sent them after me.”

The tilt of his head makes a sharp silhouette in the light. He takes another swig of scotch. “I did.”

“They won’t find me here.”

“They’ll kill your family,” he says, playing his last card.

She calls his bluff with a whisper. “Too late for that.”

“You wouldn’t—“

Her voice is flat and hard as stone. “You underestimated me, Michael. You always did.”

He stares at her in disbelief, hand twitching instinctively at his side, but still, he leaves the gun on the desk.

If she has the vaccine…

“You took it, didn’t you? The missing vial.”

She makes a low sound of acknowledgment in her throat, but says nothing.

He licks his lips. “We can share it, Barbara. We can survive this. Together.”

“There’s only one dose. The formula is weak, half is a waste.”

His hand tightens on the gun. “It could give us time, time to make more. We can save ourselves.”

Her sneer is vicious, cutting him to the bone. “You’re beyond saving, Michael. How much did you stand to make when the deal was done?”

“I don’t know what—“

“You self-serving bastard. I saw the files. You were going to sell it and leave the rest of us to rot,” she spits.

“So you’ll shoot me and keep the vaccine for yourself, then?”

“It’s not for me.”

He can hear the creak of the bones in her neck as it turns on her shoulders, the telltale whistle in her lungs.

She’s weak, infected. Bide your time.

“What, for your…your savior, then? You’re blind. There’s no stopping this.”

“You were the blind one, Michael. You refused to see the big picture. This was so much more than a goddamned government contract.”

“The big picture is all I ever saw,” he whispers, eyes never leaving her face, slowly bringing the pistol down to his lap. Her eyes follow the gun, but she doesn’t move. “The power to cure disease…the power to prolong life.”

“All of which means nothing now. But he can…he can save us,” she says.

He senses her resistance faltering, hesitation in the quivering V of her chin. “Tell me…how is your faith, Barbara?”

She narrows her eyes in a scowl, but the hand with the gun is trembling slightly.

“Do you pray?” he whispers, a cruel note of hatred ringing in the empty air.

“Shut up.”

“Will you ask him for forgiveness?”

“Shut the fuck up!”

He shifts the pistol, aiming for her core, finger massaging the slick metal of the trigger. “Don’t be a common fool. We created miracles, but no man can predict the future. This…this prophecy you cling to,” he says, drawing back his lips in in a sneer, “you’re like a child with a blanket. It’s an infantile waste of reason.”

Her eyes are wild, flashing, but the barrel of her gun doesn’t waver. “You never trusted me, Michael. You never believed, but I have, all along.”

“I trusted you, Barbara, but I won’t trust the word of a dead man.”

He hears the cock of the hammer, feels the sting of sweat on his upper lip, the throb of his pulse beneath the skin of his wrist. He searches her face, but any trace of warmth in her eyes has gone. He tightens his grip on the trigger, ready to fire, but it’s too late.

“Neither will I, Michael. Goodbye.”

A lone shot rings out in the darkness.

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