Tobias: chapter 15
It's been a week since the Erudite break in and still, no one has showed up, banging on my door. I know my face was seen, but maybe my identity was no longer kept in the database. Or maybe my name is still swimming in the system, but my location is undetermined. I wonder if anyone I know has been interrogated. I wonder if swirling lights are going to appear down my street tomorrow.
Christina hasn't contacted me either, but I don't think she's still mad. I think she's giving me space, like I need to clear my head; think straight. It makes me feel inferior. Like, something's wrong with me and as the week passes by, I think more and more each day that something might be.
Caleb, Cara, and Matthew continue to work on the serums, but they've also been quiet. Every time the phone rings and it isn't them calling for an update, I get put more on edge. There's something in those vials that will determine the plans Erudite has; plans that could destroy hundreds of people and I don't even know what's being done to find out their secrets. Maybe my "accident" has Caleb thinking I'm too mentally unstable to handle it, but I think he'd send word if that were the case. But by now, my skin is beginning to crawl from lack of an update and I'm growing restless.
Mostly, I keep in the apartment, trying to make progress on the things I was doing prior to stealing Erudite serums, but I'm too distracted. I can't sleep, feeling my grip on reality losing its hold.
At night, I'm still kept awake by white walls and exploding gunfire.
The next morning, the phone rings.
I jump to my feet, the covers of my bed twisting around my legs as I reach for the phone on the counter. I don't even look at the ID number before I answer. "Hello?"
"Tobias? Hey," a familiar voice says and I try to squash my surge of disappointment. I bite my lip.
"Hey, mom," I say. I also try to ignore the glint of suspicion I detect in her tone.
"I've been thinking about you, lately, How've you been?" she asks.
I exhale, thinking through the haze clouding my head. "I've been...all right, I guess."
"Do anything exciting lately?" more suspicion.
"Nope," lie. "Just some work, how are you?"
No reply comes. All I hear is a deep breath as her light and almost carefree-voice dips down a few notches. "Oh, you know, just heard of an invasion down in the Erudite complex. Thought that was strange."
I gnaw on the inside of my cheek. I run a hand through my hair, trying to look calm as if she were standing next to me. "Huh. That is weird. First disturbance in like, what? Six months?"
A beat of silence passes.
"Tobias," she breathes, dropping her façade. "What were you thinking?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Lie. I feel the hope of not having to involve her in this disintegrate.
She curses. "Let's see, medium build, dark-eyed male. Brown hair with a female accomplice that looks familiar to me. Who, by the way, conveniently disappeared through the gate. How many people do you think first came to my mind when reading this?"
"Why would you even know?" I ask, leaning my back against the counter. I sound tired. "Why would they tell you?"
"They didn't," she hisses. "I have my own infiltrations, which is not even the point,"-An irritable sigh. "What were you trying to do? Get yourself caught? Executed? Tobias, it won't be long before they figure out who you are. Your name is already known here and soon, someone is going to give it to them."
"They won't want the Factions to know about it," I say. If I'm convinced of anything, I'm convinced of that. "Erudite wouldn't risk having this information exposed. On the contrary, if they come after me, it'll be to keep me from talking."
"And what is it they're trying to do?"
Momentary gratification settles over me that she doesn't know. Though my mom and I have been on relatively good terms to date, I still found a few minutes in my day to worry if she already knew and decided to keep it from me. My relief is instantly followed by guilt.
I shake my head, though she can't see it. "I won't tell you over the phone. Call me later and we can meet."
I hear Evelyn grind her teeth. "Okay, but just keep a low profile now."
I'm about to hang up the phone when a beep resounds through the speaker, marking another call. I switch lines.
"Four, it's me. You need to get down here," Caleb's voice says. The suddenness of it makes my stomach lurch. "Downtown testing labs. Now."
I reach the testing labs located at the far end of the city in a half hour, by train. Again. It's a small, secluded building connected to the west wing of a private medical facility, generally reserved for personal study of doctorates. I assume, then, that that is how Caleb got permission to use their equipment.
I head towards the front doors, the greying stone blending in well with the heavy clouds hovering above. I grimace at the smell of rain and enter the facility.
Unlike the labs in Erudite, these are less sterile-looking. Not as white. Not as secure. The ground is stained and unappealing and instantly more comforting to me. Only a few people mill about, scanning clipboards or walking in groups, some lounging in study rooms, but none of them look at me, too consumed in their own work. Caleb gave me the door number and the location of where to find him, Cara, and Matthew which is at the end of the hallway, behind door 6A.
When I reach them, I wait to be buzzed in, glancing warily at the bar code suspended above the handle.
It buzzes and I shove it open.
My eyes instantly lands on the equipment littering the room, two single rows of metal tables, each with a handful of chairs around the backside of them. Microscopes are stationed in front of every one. Towards the front of the room sits a desk and next to it, a few larger machines that I can't fathom the significance of. A low humming emanates from each of them, larger lenses protruding from the base of it, dwarfing the other machines in comparison. Sitting in front of one of them is Caleb, glaring into the neck of the lens. Cara stands beside him and I do a double take when I see her hand rest on his shoulder and something catches in my throat.
Matthew on the other hand, is seated at one of the tables in front of a microscope, but he's looking at me, his lips pursed. I notice that Christina isn't here.
"Nice to hear from you guys," I say. "Did you find anything?"
Matthew looks away. Cara retracts her hand. Caleb glances up. "Two of the three serums were identified," he says, taking off his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Which I would say is progress, since this is significantly more advanced since their last batch, which I took a lot of time to study after..."
I cross my arms over my chest, ignoring the sudden pain that pinches my stomach. "Good, what are-"
"The first, 20030," he begins before I get to ask, "is actually a toxin. It works as a type of poison, if you will. It would have to be distributed by direct contact if it were to have an effect," he puts his glasses back on and glances back up at the screen I can't see from here. "The second one seems to work as a kind of suppressant, like an idea squasher. It screws with brainwaves, targets certain nerves." He wriggles his finger in front of his head to demonstrate. "Our only delay now is figuring out the third one."
"There's a third?" I ask. "I thought you only gave us two serial numbers."
"I did. Seems Christina got a little hasty and picked up another by mistake."
"Okay," I say, walking towards him, to the machine. "So what does it do?"
Caleb sighs. "That's where this sample gets complex. It really doesn't add up."
"I know," Matthew says, crossing his arms over his chest. "I didn't know what to make of it, either."
"To make of what?" I interrupt. My own voice sounds anxious. "What is it? Do you even know what it does?"
He gives me a hesitant look, licking his lips before he says, "I know it's a death serum."
I feel the blood rush to my head, his words confirming the original theory. "So, they are going to wipe everyone out," I hiss. It's not a question.
But Caleb shakes his head, adjusts something on the machine. "No." He twists knobs at the base of it. "No, it's not like that. There's a disparity between the components I found in the other death serum compared to the original and it really doesn't add up."
"Do you even know the effects of it?" I ask, staring down at him. I adjust my footing. "Like, what it does?"
He points to me. "That is not the question. I know what it does, I just don't know what the purpose for it is. I mean," he runs a nervous hand through his hair, "the effects of this causes severe nerve damage. Memory loss, temporary disablement. But those are more aftereffects. The targeted effects cause the temperature of the body to drop. It also constricts the muscles, so then it looks like..."
He trails off. His eyes are suddenly unfocused, like he's just been hit by some great epiphany I can't see.
"oh." Caleb's face freezes and the look of horror I see churns my gut.
"What?" Cara and I ask simultaneously.
"Oh, oh. I don't know why I didn't see that," his hands fettle around the microscope. Then he stands and stares at something beyond me. In my peripheral vision, I see Matthew get to his feet and walk towards us. "This...It made no sense because all it really did was cause the muscles to flex and the body temperature to drop..."
I stare at him. "What does that mean?"
"Shut up," he snaps at me, his lips tight. I'm momentarily taken off guard, staring at the bright glint in his eyes. "Those are the effects. Not the end result." He lets out a shaky breath. He doesn't answer for a minute and when he does, I'm on the verge of strangling him.
"I don't think it's a death serum," he says, closing his eyes. "I think it stimulates the body's response to it."
I meet his eyes, waiting for the meaning of his words to reach me. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying, Four, is that if a person were to be injected with this, their body temperature would plummet." His voice piques and his voice is rushing. "It would tighten the muscles and shallow the breathing. It would make them cold and stiff to the touch."
Cold to the touch. I keep staring at him, suddenly feeling stupid.
He takes a deep breath, his tone taunting, piercing when he murmurs, "People would think you were dead."
At the knowing, unwavering look I see in his face, everything in me abruptly turns cold, freezing my blood, turning my bones to ice. I stare at him, waiting for him to correct himself. To change his implication, but he just keeps looking at me.
I shake my head. "No."
"Four, think about it," he says. "Why would they need this? The date isn't recent. It hasn't been used for some time. I thought that it was a simulation you must have seen, but with this..."
I narrow my eyes at him. "No," I say again. "I get what you're saying so just stop it."
But he doesn't. I see Matthew's and Cara's questioning stare as Caleb rolls on, the gears in his head turning, clicking wires, lighting everything up. "Just try and guess, what would they do with this?"
"Stop," I say again.
"Who could help them infiltrate the system with a serum and not be affected by it, Four?" he presses, gripping the back of the chair like he needs the support.
I shake my head again. My heart hammers inside my chest and my breathing suddenly feels labored.
"Who would the Erudite need to use this on?" he asks. "What person would benefit them more alive than dead?"
"Who do we know, Four?!"
That's it, I pull back my fist and let it fly, connecting with the side of Caleb's jaw. His head jerks back and he clutches it, but I don't care. I don't care. In this moment, all I want to do is tear him apart.
I see Cara reel back and Matthew's eyes go wide, but my entire body is focusing on annihilating the one beneath me. as the truth of his words sink in.
"You're telling me she was alive?!" I roar. I pound him again. And again, the sight of red not nearly as appealing as I want it to be.
"I saw her. I saw her in the morgue. You reminded me of that, Caleb. I touched her hand and you're saying she was alive when I did?"
"I spread her ashes!" I scream.
Caleb sputters. "They weren't hers."
I want to hit him again, but Matthew suddenly grabs me from behind, pulling at my raised hand. I stumble away from him; clutch at my head, begging for Caleb's words to stop their rampage through me.
She is here. She never left and the memory of me walking away from her is tormenting, eating me from the inside out. I left her in that room. I left her alone, behind. I gave up, trying to fight through every day when I could have been fighting for her.
Matthew pulls Caleb to his feet and I know he says something, but I don't hear it.
All this time, she's been alive. Breathing. And I saw her.
I saw her.