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Beautiful Experiment

Chapter 2

Leon was less than pleased on the matter of transit. Even given her safe status by doctor’s inspection, Manuela wasn’t exactly travelling first class. Or even coach for that matter. As of the moment, a vacuum tight wall separated them, made of solid metal, save the door and portholes. The cross-hexagonal shape of the door allowed one to see inside, and that was where Leon had taken up his watch. There were plenty of spare seats to either side, but he had a better view as he sat directly in front. Besides, neither of the doctors had made any motion to come out of the room. And the “flight attendant” had stopped trying to engage him conversation since the beginning of the flight.

At the moment, Manuela was sitting on a table, a doctor to one side of her as the other was out of view. Leon couldn’t tell exactly what they were doing at the moment, but they had run blood tests, exams, and mental trials. He watched with a curious interest as they gave her a tube of some variety. She nodded and touched it to her lips, appearing to breathe into it. What on earth are they testing for now?, Leon wondered, only able to watch in silence as they went about their work.

While his gaze slid to the other scientist, the man looked at the screen in front of him. As they met gazes, Leon got up and went to the nearest porthole. The scientists had done this a couple of times, mainly to catch him up between big tests. Once again, the man held up a paper with the words “No Irregularities” inscribed. Leon nodded, supposing that even seeing the same sign so many times was better than being in the dark. Both men went back to their prior spots.

After a time, it seemed they were willing to let Manuela move about. Smiling, she sat in front of the other airlock door. She gave a small wave, laughing as Leon returned it with his own style. The steady sound of the engines was the only thing that Leon could hear as his eyes swept over Manuela again, trying to identify if there was any issues at all. He was sure she was fine, but one didn’t survive Racoon by being too trusting.

His eyes travelled along various wires that were either embedded in her joints or taped to sensors. Going along one of the machine cords, he caught sight of her right arm. He hadn’t actually seen much of it, and he didn’t remember the times he had. But now that the bandages were gone...

The skin’s texture resembled third-degree burn scars, though had a light green tint to them that reminded him more of a plant or a serpent. In fact, a snake tattoo could be plainly seen, raised on the skin, perfectly intact despite the appearance. It was the mark of her father’s ring, permanently branded onto her arm. Leon found it darkly purposeful that the group that “saved” her life would leave its mark the same way. Manuela caught his gaze lingering on her arm, and she turned it away with a nervous smile.

Leon caught himself quickly and raised his eyes to her own and gave her a bright smile, trying to reassure her.

Manuela hadn’t been really afraid of him looking at her arm, but she just didn’t feel comfortable with it herself. For as long as she could recall, she had wrapped it up. Maybe it was actually good for her health, considering the open skin, but she realized in retrospect that it had been to hide the one disfigurement they couldn’t stop. Without it in their eyes, they could sit back and enjoy the job they had done. Here sits a fine young girl, they must have thought.

But Manuela didn’t let her thoughts drag her down. After all, she had survived. And she was here, going to a better life...she thought. She really didn’t know much about the States, but Leon assured her it’d be alright. Being able to speak English, he said, would help her immensely. Even as he said it, Manuela could tell the gears in his head were still spinning, trying to click together for the solution. Leon was a smart man. He’d figure something out.

Right now, he sat on the other side of the airlock. He looked positively wiped, and Manuela wish she could tell him to sleep. The man needed it. She didn’t know what he did when she was out, but she guessed that he hadn’t spent it peacefully.

“Can one of you hand me a piece of paper?” she inquired, turning to the scientists. They looked surprised, which made sense considering she hadn’t talked much or at all during the testing. One turned to the other and after a moment of deliberation, the younger older of the two handed her a clipboard and a pen, though he eyed her suspiciously, his gaze flicking briefly to some nearby surgical tools.

Manuela ignored his thoughts as she began scrawling her simple message. She turned it to Leon, and gave him a gentle smile. Go to sleep. He nodded a bit, but still looked concerned. I’ll make sure they wake you when we get there, she added. Another moment, and the wills of both could be palpable felt between the layers of protection. It broke with a sigh as Leon finally gave leeway, though he made his point in taking the floor rather than any of the chairs. Manuela watched him awhile, just to make sure he went to sleep.

After a time, she was convinced he was definitely asleep and she drew a tired breath. How Leon could still be going was beyond her, as she was exhausted and adrenaline-drained. Army training and surviving zombie infested cities did that to you, she guessed. “Do I need to do anything else?” she inquired to the nearest scientist, the older of the two. Consulting his chart a moment, he shook his head before returning to his mulling.

That was a relief. She supposed that she could get in some sleep before they arrived. She wasn’t entirely sure how far or how long it would be until they got to the States. It seemed so far removed from everything she had known. “Wake up Leon when we arrive…” she muttered, drifting off.

“Agent Kennedy.”

It wasn’t phrased as a question, but rather as a call to attention. Leon’s eyes cracked open, but he quickly found himself standing as his brain startled into working. His eyes drifted up along the black outfit of the man in front of him to see the face of a middle age man. His shape suggested desk worker rather than an operative. The desk guys were always pretentious. Thought they had all the facts

Judging from the fact he was still in the plane, and that it wasn’t in motion, he felt safe enough guessing they had arrived in the U.S. He quickly surmised some other facts, such as that this must be the escort designated to escorting him. Manuela would be taken by another group, probably in full hazmat. Speaking of…

Leon cast a glance behind him, looking through the glass into the empty room behind him. “Where’s Manuela?”

“She’s being moved to a short-term holding center built in coordination with the CDC. Once it’s established that she’s no longer a threat, we will transfer her to a longer term facility that will allow her to function in society while still keeping tabs on her health and having her in range for potential solutions to her latent viral infection.”

Leon cocked his eyebrow as he regarded the stone faced man. The man’s brown eyes gazed fixedly, betraying no signs of threat or concern. He seemed to volunteer a lot of information upfront, even if Leon was under the President’s own orders. “When will I get to see her?”

“That depends. Should you work with us, you will get to as soon as she’s settled in. Streamlining and all that. If not, consider this the last time.” It was not a threat, but rather the promise to make good on the statement. Leon nodded.

“Then it sounds like we have an agreement. Any help I can offer, I will. So long as it doesn’t involve hurting Manuela” he pointed out. The other man cracked a small smile.

“We wouldn’t dream of it. After all, she’s a unique case, and as much as some people would like to autopsy her, we’re here to help the girl, not hurt her. After the program, she’ll have asylum here, so no fears on that front either. If you would follow me, Mr. Kennedy…”

“What’s your name? I get the feeling I should know, seeing as it seems that you’ll be handling the bureaucracy portion.”

“Just call me Agent Tembo, Mr. Kennedy” he said, cracking the slightest of smiles. Leon felt that maybe this guy wouldn’t be too bad.

But God help them all if something went wrong with Manuela.
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