I'm awakened by the sound of someone beating on my door.
Irritated, I crack my eyes open, my head foggy from being thrown out of dreams of guns and serums, glancing at my bedside clock.
Exasperated, I force myself to stand, rubbing my face as I walk to the door.
I glance through the peep hole.
When a known face meets mine, instant, unwelcomed regret surges inside me. I close my eyes and suddenly want him gone; that maybe this isn't real and he'll disappear. But when the knocking continues, I reluctantly open it. I stare at him, eyes narrowed, jaw taught.
"What do you want, Caleb?" I ask, my voice flat.
"I need to speak with you," he says, eyes appearing wider behind his frames. I try not to look into their familiar blue. "Clearly," I say.
"Four, this is important. Please."
Against my instinct, I open the door farther and beckon him inside. I take a seat on the couch and motion for him to sit where he'd like. But Caleb remains standing, his gaze not leaving me. Now that I see him more clearly, I notice his hands clutching a bundle of files, a few book clinging under his arm. I glance at them questioningly before I decide I don't care.
"Okay," I begin, crossing my arms. "What do you want?"
"I know you don't want to see me and I get it. I wouldn't want to see me either, but I have to show you this," he slaps the files down on the coffee table and begins rifling through them. "You told me not to make contact with you unless I had to."
"I said call, not randomly show up on my front door." This made me pause. "How'd you even know where I was?"
"Spoke to Christina," he says simply. "Then I confirmed it in a computer database, just incase she wasn't...uh...here," he instantly switches topics, which is in his best interest if he intended to say anything against Christina. He hands me an image of something I don't understand; of waves and bar graphs that hold no significance to me.
"I've been doing research on each serum used in each faction and I've found a continuous trend." He pulls out another graph for me to look at. "Now, each one has some type of component. A defect, if you will. After speaking with some forensic toxicologists, I thought it might be some kind of poison that if used too frequently can result in fatality." He hurries on. "Turns out, it's not a toxin. It's an expiration."
I glance at the sheets again, acting as if I understand what I'm reading, but I give him a dubious look.
"That means anyone injected with a serum, over time, can become immune. That the serum can no longer affect people, kind of like bacteria, how if antibiotics are overused, it can actually benefit the pathogen rather than the person."
I let out a breath, trying to wrap my head around his scrambled words. "Again, so?"
"So, the factions are still running. Flawed and poorly organized, yes, but there are some people trying to put it back together again, but serums aren't going to be effective for administration." He retrieves a few more files. "And just like those antibiotics-"
"Quit with the analogies."
"-And just as them, when serums become ineffective, someone will-"
"Produce a new one," I finish for him, suddenly understanding his point completely. I try to think of the worst outcomes of producing a new serum, but the factions aren't a part of me anymore. I've moved on. Gone some place else. I've left that part of me behind.
"So what does it matter?" I ask. "We don't live there anymore. It's not out concern."
"The fact, Tobias," Caleb surprises me by using my real name, "is that if a stronger serum is not produced before the falling of the factions, the leaders will find a new way to start over."
It takes a moment to register his implication, but when I do, ice trickles down my spine, freezing my blood. My frustration piques, rage consuming me from the inside. "No," I demand. "No, they can't do that. You're not even sure. How would you even find that out? They'd have kept that under radar. The Factions wouldn't have chosen a leader like that- not another one."
"Maybe they've altered the Erudite serum," Caleb says. "Maybe none of the factions chose anyone."
I run my hands through my hair, my head swimming. I shake it, trying to clarify my thoughts. For a second, I almost can't take this. Not after all that's already happened.
"Why did you come to me with this, Caleb?" I ask. "I don't need it."
"Because," Caleb says, "You're the only one who I thought would listen to me."
That catches me off guard and in response, I glare at him. "Me? Listen, I don't owe you anything. Not my opinion. Not my time. Go talk to someone else about this," I hiss. "To someone who can actually do something about it."
He sits forward. "I've been to every place that won't kill me on the spot for even suggesting this!" he says, shoving his files back into their folder. He looks at me and shakes his head. "There's no one that will give it a second glance. People assume the Factions are dysfunctional; doomed. They don't think that there are still some out there seeking to dominate it."
"And what would you have me do?!" I shout, suddenly furious. Why would he show me something that he knows will hurt me, but also knows that I have nothing else to give for it?
"I'd be asking for your help." His words don't help my anger and I feel it rise inside me, a tsunami of regret and astonishment. "Help you?" I ask, my voice incredulous. "You came here thinking I would help you? Let me make something perfectly clear, you're a traitor and you're a coward and you have no right to come here and ask me that."
"So you're going to let all those people die?" His tone is accusatory. "Innocent people who you know without even doing something that might help prevent it?"
I'm livid now. My vision turns red as I stare at him once more. "You want to talk about letting people die? You, of all people who stood by and watched as his sister took his place on death row?"
I glare, somehow gratified, at the broken expression in his eyes. He closes them and clenches his teeth, hands fisted by his sides. With shaky fingers, he retrieves a card from one of his pockets. He places it on the table. "We leave in two days, just in case you change your mind."
I momentarily fumble, the anger in me stilling as I realize what he's saying. "We? What do you mean 'we'?"
He gives me a reluctant look as he says slowly, "Christina is coming with Matthew, Cara, and I." He draws the words out carefully. Like he's scared of what I may do.
Even I'm scared at what I might do.
"I told her maybe without you, she shouldn't come, but she told me she's sick of waiting around. She offered to help in anyway she could."
I grind my teeth. "You manipulative-"
"I only told her what I've told you," he replies, avoiding my gaze. I watch the color drain from his face. "All she's doing is accompanying us back to Erudite and breaching the system. We need to see if their working serum samples are adequate. If they're not, it proves the leaders will turn to phase two; cleanup."
"So you're just going to send her in there like some knockout mouse?" I can hear the anger sizzle deep in my voice.
Caleb shakes his head. "I didn't force her to do anything, Four. She chose to. Not for me, but for her. You should know that she'd want absolutely nothing from me. All she wants to do is help save those people."
I purse my lips, completely incredulous. "Don't act like you know her," I spit. "Don't you dare act as if you know what she wants. As if you understand what she's gone through. You know nothing."
"Fine," he says, arching his back abruptly before turning away from me, towards the door. "I can see this was a mistake. I'll leave you alone. You won't have to hear from me again." He places his hand on the doorknob, his eyes looking back on the card and then to me. "It's your choice, Four. Come or stay, it's up to you."