I could see their eyes, glowing red from even here. The meteor, I thought. Something is in them. Something not of this world.
They are so very strong...
They still hadn’t noticed me there on the stairs. Apparently, noise was the key to disrupting their quiet state. I backed up the stairs again and softly closed the door.
* * *
The sun was setting. I drew the curtains closed, draping a blanket over the windows to make sure that no light leaked out. I risked lighting a small candle, which I placed on the floor between us. The truth was, I felt like shit. I needed to nap. Badly.
I never thought cold instant coffee would taste good, but it gave me the boost I needed. The caffeine cleared my head. Jared wolfed down his second serving of cold spaghetti.
Anna eyed me suspiciously. “You saw them, didn’t you?”
I nodded, too weak to lie.
“Well, how are they?”
I ran a hand over my face. “About the same. They didn’t see me. I was thinking they might be looking a little better, but...”
“Nothing.” I decided not to mention the odd way they had just been standing there quietly.
Mercifully, she let it go. “Better, really?”
“Somewhat. But I don’t want to get your hopes up.”
“But according to the information we found, yes, some of the infected are getting better!”
The last few days had aged my Anna, but she still had the optimistic innocence of a hopeful teen. “Why don’t we just wait and see, honey?”
“Can I go down to see him?”
“Why not? We can all go together.”
“Absolutely not.” I didn’t want her to see her uncle like that.
She opened her mouth to protest, but I jumped in. “We’re all tired, baby. We need to get some rest. In the morning, we can decide what to do next.”
Jared asked, “Do you want us to set up a watch?”
“Good idea. You two sleep first. I’ll wake you in a few hours.”
I gave them separate blankets. They both knew better than to sleep too close together in my presence. Still, Jared held Anna’s hand as they eventually drifted off.
I kept watch over them, fighting a flu bug, and trying to not grow angrier and angrier at the young man holding my daughter’s hand. How dare he touch my innocent daughter? And how dare she grow up…
The Agent in Black was sitting on a comfortable sofa in his office. Granted, the place now looked more like a hospital room than an agent’s field office, complete with a bed and monitoring equipment. Dr. Robert Kaplan, the unfortunate soul assigned to care for him, took his vital signs.
“How do you feel, Agent Cole? It’s now been eight hours,” said the doctor, using the Agent in Black’s real name. He’d ordered Dr. Kaplan to call him by his name. Use of Stetson’s real name had been one of the few stimuli that the infected scientist had responded to. The Agent didn’t want to lose his mind, not like the others. He would use whatever responses they had, and whatever knowledge they had gleaned, to fight this.
“I’m tired but not tired.”
“Would you like something to eat? Perhaps to drink? Some water?”
Cole knew that he was being studied like some parasite under the lens of a microscope. He understood that he was now a “case.” A confidential case. He understood the logic of this, but he was starting not to care—it was all starting to piss him the fuck off.
“No, thank you. I’m not thirsty,” said the Agent. “How are my vitals?”
Dr. Kaplan hesitated. “Everything is slowing, just a little. Your pulse is now fifty-six. BP is one-hundred over sixty.”
A pause. “Ninety-five point seven.”
Cole absorbed the information grimly. The body temperature was especially foreboding. He stood and looked out his window into the night. He locked his hands behind him as if standing at military ease. Dr. Kaplan’s cell phone rang and he answered it. Cole couldn’t hear whomever the doctor was talking with, and this irritated him further.
Dr. Kaplan ended the brief call.
“Well?” asked Cole.
“It was about Stetson.”
Cole’s head ached but he kept his stance. “Is he dead yet?”
“He was euthanized, as ordered, but...”
“He’s still alive, sir.”
“I don’t understand.”
“We don’t either.”
“Then do it again, goddammit!” growled the Agent in Black, now putting a hand to his bandaged neck. “Cut his fucking head off! I don’t care how you do it.”
Agent Cole did not know there were two guards outside and out of sight. He also did not know that Kaplan had informed the Clone of what had happened, and that he, the Agent in Black, no longer had any authority—none whatsoever.
“We tried to kill him. Twice,” said Dr. Kaplan. “Stetson has had enough poison to kill two men.”
Cole wheeled around. “Kill him, one way or another, goddammit.”
The doctor remained calm. He knew a side effect of the infection was rage. “We’ve aborted further attempts to put him down.”
“I gave a direct—”
The doctor held up a hand, perhaps the first time he’d ever dared to cut off his superior. “Agent Cole, we’ve aborted putting him down because Dr. Stetson appears to show signs of improvement.”
Cole wasn’t expecting this. A wave of hope washed over him. “Improving how?”
“He’s coherent now. Eating and drinking normally. He’s being monitored closely. We could, as you say, cut off his head. But if he can recover, perhaps you will, too. There are other reports, indications of recovery elsewhere as well, although this is extremely preliminary—”
“What other reports?” snapped Cole. “Why wasn’t I given this information?”
“We don’t have any paperwork,” Kaplan lied. “Only verbal communication.”
This stopped the Agent in Black. His thoughts were a little fuzzy right now. Could that be true? His head ached. He was thirsty, but the thought of water made him queasy at the same time.
The Agent in Black was certain he wasn’t being given the whole truth. A part of him didn’t blame the doctor, nor the others. Another part of him wanted to rip the smug look off the doctor’s face. Literally rip it off and...