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Watership Down The New World

By SharksPotter

Adventure / Fantasy

One Step Ahead

Sergey Petrograd, who lived a double life as wealthy industrialist Joseph Buxton, had been hospitalised at St Thomas’ a week ago, after suffering a near-fatal heart attack. Plagued by his heart condition, which ran in the family, for many years, Sergey often cursed himself for not being ten years younger, when he could have had a pacemaker implant fitted, rather than being forced to live dependant on medication every waking day of his life. And lately, his life was only plagued with more problems.

Despite the reassurance that Johnson was dead and finally out of the picture, Sergey still feared for his safety. This heart attack had been the first in a long time to land him in a hospital. For over thirty years, he always carried his nitro pills on him wherever he went, ready for whenever he felt an arrhythmia kicking in - only this time, it hadn’t worked. If it hadn't been for Tom Shelton, he’d be six feet under by now… He had had a very narrow escape and he knew it. The further realisation that his pills had in fact been tampered with had alarmed him even more. This apparent assassination attempt had no doubt been the work of an outside party, out to get him; and, in Sergey’s mind, there was only one likely candidate who could be behind such a scheme…

His estranged son, Cole Drake, who used his mother's surname to avoid any association with the legendary terrorist, had always been a great disappointment to the old man, refusing to support his father in his plans for reshaping the balance of power through worldwide terrorism. Despite his misgivings however, sometimes, with a bit of persuasion, his son could still have his uses.

After that snoop Millard had been tracked down and killed, but had already passed on the evidence to his sister for safekeeping, Drake had been the easy key to the problem. As Millard’s brother-in-law was none other than Drake's own colleague, Sergey had had the perfect advantage. A threat to the lives of his son’s family was enough to coax him into luring the Johnsons into a death trap. But although Robbins had successfully eliminated the professor’s family, Johnson himself and his sidekick Shaw had survived. This, in turn, had forced Sergey to resort to an even more radical scheme to get them – and for that, he had to make sure his son stayed in line.

After kidnapping Drake’s wife and son, threatening their lives if he didn’t cooperate all the way, his people had unanimously deliver that forged letter of application to Derek Shaw who would unknowingly then passed it on to Johnson. The plan had gone well, until this mysterious and completely inexplicable disappearance of their two targets and their intended assassin. His heart attack had followed soon after, making it fairly obvious that the mastermind behind all this trouble was still out there...

A nurse had just finished changing his IV drip with a fresh batch. Feeling doped to the gills from all those medicine cocktails his doctor had him on, Sergey drifted off to sleep, his mind set on finding and killing Drake the minute he was discharged from the hospital, which he should have done years ago. If his soft-hearted son wanted to go the same way as Johnson, then so be it. Black Inferno would then proceed on schedule, with no more loose ends to stall them... Unfortunately, his plans would never come to pass.

Suddenly, in his sleep, Sergey moaned and his breathing became laboured; his heart was failing again, this time permanently. His pulse chart on the screen began jumping erratically and eventually threaded out altogether. A buzzer sounded, warning no one in particular that the patient's vital functions were nil. Sometime later, the nurse returned to the ward with the lunch tray, only to discover her patient, who had been making rapid progress, now lay inexplicably dead, poisoned by a lethal serum planted into his IV drip…


Down in the parking lot of St Thomas’, a jeep stood parked in the shadows, its driver and passengers deep in conversation within the privacy of the vehicle. Alan had drawn the window shades and dimmed the cabin lights, hiding their faces from surveillance cameras, as they went over their plan one more time.

"Time to rock and roll, chaps. Now, I can't risk taking any of you into the hospital with me - you'd attract too much attention in a crowd. Whatever you do, don’t leave the jeep. Remember, there are cameras everywhere and I don’t your faces ending up on any surveillance tapes. Understood?”

“I’ll keep them quiet, Alan,” said Bigwig reassuringly, “Nobody is budging from this hrududu until you get back.”

"Outstanding. All right, wish me luck!"

Picking up a bag containing his disguise, he got out of the jeep and headed towards the visitors' entrance, keeping his hat low to hide his face. As part of his plan, on the way to the hospital, they had made a quick stop at a public washroom in a Mark’s and Spencer’s where he had dyed his hair blonde, complete with a matching prosthetic moustache and a mouth-guard to alter the shape of his cheekbones, changing his face entirely. Using some glue, transparent duct-tape and a passport photograph he had taken in the shop’s photo-booth, he had doctored PC Stevens’ police I.D. with a shot of his new self, which, along with the stolen uniform, would allow him to infiltrate the hospital easily.

Crime number three: impersonating a police constable with a stolen I.D....

Leaving his friends standing guard in the jeep, Alan made his way into the hospital’s lobby, doing his best at a police constable’s usually flawless mannerisms. Marching up to the inquiries desk, he met with a stern-faced receptionist, "Good evening, ma'am. PC Johns...Stevens,” he said, barely managing to correct himself in time, as he flashed Stevens’ I.D. to the woman, “Is a Mr Joseph Buxton hospitalised here?"

"Yes, officer, is there a problem?" asked the receptionist suspiciously, almost as if sensing something wasn’t quite right about this strange ‘policeman’ asking awkward questions. Am I that bad an actor? thought Alan.

"I was wondering if I could have a word with him, please?" asked Alan, doing his best to use, what he hoped was, a proper, stern police tone in his voice. Although luckily the woman hadn’t noticed the glued-on false photograph on the I.D. card, for some reason, she wasn’t being very cooperative.

"Sorry, officer, but he’s not to be disturbed. Hospital policy. You’ll have to take it up with my supervisor. May I ask what this is all about, please?"

“Just need to ask the gent a few questions. His name sort of popped up in a missing person’s case,” he said discreetly, making sure to cover his tracks, just in case Santon or any other real policeman came to inquire about Buxton, “However, I’ll be much obliged if I could have a word with your supervisor. Thank you.” As she hurried into the adjacent office to summon the hospital director, Alan hurryingly turned to her vacant computer and typed Buxton's name into the hospital’s patient registry search:

'BUXTON, JOSEPH - WARD 317, 3rd FLOOR, PRIVATE'.

Hurrying away before the receptionist returned and caught him red-handed, he took a detour, hurrying to the visitors’ bathrooms and locking himself in a cubicle. Safe from surveillance cameras, he stripped off his policeman’s disguise, swapping it with his doctor’s. Although it seemed like a waste of time, given that he’d be long gone by the time anyone realised what had happened, there were still CCTV cameras all over the place. For security to see a ‘police officer’ breaking into a patient’s ward would attract unwanted attention – as a doctor, however, it would be like strolling into an elevator. The guns and I.D. he decided to hang onto for the time being, in case he found use for them later.

Stuffing Stevens’ uniform into the empty bag and shoving it down the wastepaper bin and out of sight, now dressed in his new disguise, he left the restrooms and took the elevator up to the third floor, to Cardiology. He made his way down the corridor towards Buxton's private ward, his eyes peeled and his hands clutching the two guns in either pocket of his white coat. A couple of passing nurses greeted him like a new colleague on the way, his disguise paying off, but otherwise he saw nobody.

He stopped outside Ward 317, which had a Don't Disturb sign on the door. Ignoring it, he entered, closing the door behind him and locking it – he didn’t need anyone interrupting while he was in the middle of doing a man in. Buxton’s room was a luxurious hospital ward, reserved only for the elite, with linen curtains, thick carpeting, and posh light fixtures. At the far end of the room stood a patient’s gurney behind drawn transparent drapes. An untouched lunch tray stood on a trolley at the foot of the bed.

Funny, thought Alan suspiciously, Why isn't there any cardiograph machine monitoring his vitals? Noiselessly, he approached the bed, Shertok's neurotoxin syringe in his hand. Real fitting, he thought, that he should use one of Red Hand’s own secret weapons to do in their leader! Couldn’t be any cleaner than that.

The soon-to-be assassin suddenly threw the drapes aside, about to stab Sergey straight through the heart with the lethal syringe… However, rather than finding a semi-comatose patient on that bed, as he had expected, instead he saw a rough bed sheet completely obscuring the bed's occupant from view. Gently pulling it back from the face, he saw the pale and motionless form of a fat old man, staring back at him with vacant eyes. Having had plenty of past experience, Alan could easily tell a corpse from a living man; Sergey Petrograd, aka Joseph Buxton, lay dead as a doornail before him.

Alan was baffled. For an instant, he felt completely stupid by taking the risk of coming here, when fate had already taken care of things for him. Sergey was gone, good and proper; so did this mean Red Hand would now be forced to abort and history would continue as normal? Then, suddenly, he realised there was something real fishy going on here. How could have Sergey died – twice – at such a convenient moment? It seemed too perfect to be mere fate at works. You don’t suppose...?

He turned to sniff at the water jug on the bedside table; it was clear. Taking a bite out of the lunch tray, he couldn't detect any poison in either. Sergey’s body bore no signs of any physical injury. Then, picking up the patient's chart at the foot of the bed, he read the doctor’s report, ‘Cause of Death: cardiac arrest caused by complications associated with administration of mislabelled drugs’. Alan frowned in suspicion, finally realising the pattern to all this.

So someone else wanted him dead too... he thought, slowly piecing everything together. Then a wave of utter bewilderment swept over him. If Sergey had actually been murdered, who could his killer have been? Surely not a government agency, given that Santon and the police had been oblivious to Alan's accusations. He turned to examine a stack of papers lying on the bedside table. He felt his guts twist up as he recognised his late brother-in-law's handwriting on a crumpled sheet.

It was a photocopy of a letter to Mary, which Red Hand must have intercepted through his post and passed on to Sergey. Forgetting that he was still trespassing in the ward of a dead man and could be discovered at any moment, Alan took a seat and read aloud:

Dear Mary,

I know it has been a long time since we talked and that I have been a total arse to you for so long, but now I desperately need your help. Please don't tell anyone of the information I am about to reveal in this letter, for this is a matter of life or death.

To cut a long story short, following a tip-off I received, one day, I stumbled across a suspicious, government investment order, detailing the purchase of a nuclear arsenal from abroad. Since no such purchase had been authorised, nor would it be sent through the secondary channels of my department, I suspected foul play – embezzlement of state funds to finance criminal activities. Naturally, I notified my superiors, who flatly dismissed it and warned me not to interfere, as if they actually knew about it. Sure enough, tracking the illicit shipment down to the place of delivery, I discovered there is a criminal organisation, who calls themselves the Red Hand Brotherhood, operating secretly from within the government! At a great personal risk, I was able to collect video evidence of their activities, which I’ve hidden away someplace safe until I know exactly whom I’m dealing with. I suspect this is something much bigger than simply a case of embezzlement.

Since their mole is undoubtedly bound to come after me soon or later, I’m taking my own precautions, to ensure the evidence reaches the proper authorities – this said evidence I will be passing on to you for safekeeping. I have made arrangements to have it picked up through you by a trusted messenger (he will contact you in due course with instructions). You are simply to put the evidence into his hands at a safe location. I entrust this task to you, under oath of absolute secrecy, so, in the event that something should happen to me, there will still be an echo of the past out there.

Farewell, dear Sis, and please forgive me for causing your family so much pain and disgrace with my wretched life. I now wish I had given up by bad habits long ago, so that I could have been a more decent uncle to Lucy and a faithful brother-in-law to Alan.

Your brother,

Miles

P.S. Burn this letter after you read it so nobody will find it.

Alan was in shock. So this was how his family had been dragged into this mess in the first place. Just like Robbins had said, Miles had stumbled across some nice, juicy incriminating evidence that would expose Red Hand’s dirty operations within the government. Brilliant in computers, but otherwise a semi-broke drunkard and drug addict for many years, in and out of rehab constantly, and barely able to keep his job, this neglected black sheep of the family was finally given the opportunity of doing something worthy with his life. Unfortunately, due to underestimating the risks involved, instead he had landed both himself and his in-laws in a fiery pit.

Mary, always the loving and trusty big sister to her little brother had made a fatal mistake by keeping the secret from Alan, becoming the next victim of this wild goose chase, along with Lucy. This, in turn, had left Alan as the only remaining loose end to be eliminated – and ultimately, their avenger. Only question was who was that messenger Miles spoke of? Could that third party have the evidence now?

Picking up the next document, he recognised the forged contract Robbins had sent to him via Derek, in an attempt to lure him into a death trap. Who might have guessed at the time that fate would throw them into a post-human future for a man-to-man standoff? His blood boiled as he stared at Robbins' signature, thinking of everything that bastard and Woundwort had done to get to him and his friends, which was the reason he was back here now with his friends, literally playing God in his attempt to set the future right.

The third document was more interesting. It was a cutting from The Times, where the list of last week's funerals was printed. He immediately noticed that his own funeral was circled and marked, probably by Sergei. Alan knew what this was all about: fearing death, Red Hand’s ringleader had left behind a secret treasure map, so to speak, with the location of the cores, currently buried in those three false graves back in Newtown churchyard.

Picking up the forth and final item, he saw it was a photograph of two people seated outside a pub he knew was somewhere in the Docklands, deep in, what appeared to be, a heated conversation, apparently oblivious to the photographer who had snapped the shot. Holding the picture under a lamp for a better look, what he saw nearly took his breath away: it was Mary with none other than his missing colleague, Dr Cole Drake. Looking carefully, he saw his wife was shaking Drake’s hand – or was she passing something to him? Then it hit him.

Alan stared dumbstruck at the photograph. Another big piece of the puzzle had just clicked into place: Drake was Miles’ secret messenger! So that’s what Sven Shertok had been blabbering about by accusing Drake of helping Alan evade Red Hand back at the police station! But what did he have to do with anything? Then, suddenly he remembered something else: Drake had invited them on that fatal daytrip, but had been strangely absent on the day of his wife's murder. This, combined with this latest revelation, spelled out only one logical explanation: Drake had betrayed them to Red Hand! His own colleague had sold him out…

“Oh my God," he muttered in disbelief and outrage, as realisation hit him, "So he is the connection! He’s the spy for Red Hand!” But then he realised, something still didn’t add up; according to Miles’ letter, Drake was his trustee, to whom Mary was supposed to secretly deliver the evidence for safekeeping – unless of course, he was another double-agent like Robbins, who had intercepted – and presumably destroyed - the evidence. But then, why was Red Hand still targeting him, now that Mary was dead? And how did all this it tie in with Sergey’s mysterious death?

At that moment, his thoughts were interrupted when he heard someone trying to open the door to the ward, followed by a fiddling of keys. Hastily grabbing the papers, he ducked underneath the bed, pulling the bedclothes low to hide himself from view, leaving only a small gap for him to watch what was going on. He saw a doctor enter, accompanied by Sven Shertok. Damn! Had the police picked up his trail already?

Shertok approached Sergey's bed and stared in disbelief at the covered-up corpse of his leader. The doctor was explaining, "...We still can’t tell for certain, Commissioner. He died this afternoon, from cardiac arrest. The autopsy should prove whether it was an allergy shock to the medication or an arrhythmia… However, I will have to ask you to leave soon, so we can prepare the body for the morgue. Would you like to follow me down to my office, to fill it some paperwork on the disposal of his belongings…?"

"Can you give me a few minutes of privacy with him, please?" requested Shertok. Whatever he was here for, he obviously didn’t want the doctor watching. The man reluctantly nodded and left, closing the door behind him.

Making sure he was alone, Shertok scurried over to the bedside table, where the documents had been. He’s come to dispose of the evidence before the police can find it, thought Alan, clutching the precious bundle of papers in one hand, the other yielding PC Stevens’ gun. He smirked at the sight of Shertok muttering a curse, realising someone had already beat him to the prize. Furiously, he continued rampaging through drawers, the wardrobe and even the wastepaper basket, looking for the incriminating documents, but finding nothing. Alan tightened his grip on his weapon, expecting Shertok to bend down and spot him at any second. Then, he suddenly realised, he had dropped the newspaper clipping in his haste to hide.

"All those years of work wasted, because of this old fool’s insistence on secrecy…" Shertok was fuming, when he suddenly spotted the clipping under his shoe. Picking it up, he saw Johnson’s funeral marked on the page. Angrily, he crumpled the clipping into a ball.

“You will pay for this, Johnson,” he muttered out loud, refusing to swallow the bitter fruits of defeat, “I’ll find you, even if I have to hunt you down to the farthest corners of the Earth!” With the newspaper clipping still clutched firmly in his hand, he headed for the door, slamming it behind him and was gone.

Alan breathed a sigh of relief at his lucky escape, but then cursed himself; Sven had walked away with the newspaper clipping, unbeknownst to him, bearing the location of the missing cores. Although he might probably discard it without realising its significance (like he had in the original timeline?), Alan wasn’t going to wait long enough for him to work it out. He had to get to Newtown Churchyard first, to make sure nobody would ever continue Sergey’s interrupted work – not Robbins and not Shertok either.

With the hospital staff due to return any moment now, to remove the body, Alan got out of his hiding place and left the room, taking the rest of the evidence with him. Well, at least this escapade had not been entirely for naught; he had found some useful evidence he could use to clear his good name and nail Red Hand. Although not exactly solid evidence, as Santon had pointed out, it was a start. But he still had a long way to go before he even dared turn himself in to the police.

Making his way back downstairs, he found a crowd gathered in the lobby. The police! Several constables, led by Inspector Santon, stood at the inquiries desk, grilling the bewildered receptionist with questions. Although tempted to get the hell out of there before he was noticed, Alan was curious and inched closer to eavesdrop. Sure enough, Santon had found out that Sergey was hospitalised here and had come to question him.

“...I’ve already told the other constable you sent along, Inspector,” the receptionist was saying irritably, “You need my supervisor’s explicit permission to see Mr Buxton...”

“Excuse me?” retorted Santon sharply, “But do you mean, the other constable I sent along? I never sent anyone.” As if on cue, another policeman suddenly came running from the visitors’ restrooms with the bag containing PC Stevens’ discarded uniform, which Alan had left behind. The Inspector frowned.

“He’s here, alright. Search this hospital, inside and out!” he ordered his men, “Seal off all exits! Move it, people!” Alan didn’t wait until the order could be carried out. Turning, he dashed into the nearest elevator, making his way back down to the parking lot, praying the police weren’t waiting downstairs...


Bigwig and the others were sitting restlessly inside the cramped jeep, worrying, wondering what was taking Alan so long. Had he been caught and was now being interrogated or tortured by the ithe-Owsla about them? They had no one else to turn to in this Frith-forsaken, unnatural ithe-world. What would become of them if he didn’t return?

Pipkin was glancing nervously out of the window, looking as if he was about to cry with worry, despite Fiver’s constant reassurance that Alan would soon be back, when the man in question came running. Alan was back! And by the looks of it, he had some unpleasant company hot on his tail. They had to move.

Leaping back into the jeep, ignoring his friends’ cries of relief, Alan fired up the engine. Any minute now, the police would have secured every exit and they’d cornered. Just as he pulled out of the parking space, a policeman appeared at the door to the car park, “Hey, you there! Stop, police...!”

Damn it! Hurryingly putting the vehicle into gear, Alan stepped on it, speeding out of the car park at breakneck speed, and disappearing down the street. But the damage had been done; his running from that policeman would soon reach the ears of Inspector Santon, and the police would know he had been there. The man had almost certainly seen his licence plates, or he’d get them off the hospital’s CCTV cameras shortly, which meant his jeep was now traceable.

“Frith of Inle, what happened in there?” demanded Hazel, “Did you do it?” Alan didn’t even answer him, his mind still going over what he had found out back at the hospital. The realisation that Cole Drake, the very same man whose work would someday bring his beloved long-eared friends into existence, might actually be the man who had betrayed his family to Red Hand, had left in a state of total shock. But right now, he had bigger problems to worry about.

Turning on his jeep radio and tuning in to the news band, he heard the bad news, “...Police announce that murder suspect Dr Alan Johnson, the vanishing Chelsea Ripper, still remains on the run around London, after escaping from custody earlier today. Train stations and airports have been closed and highways have been blockaded. Suspect is believed to be armed and dangerous...”

Alan switched off the radio. Chelsea Ripper indeed... The city was cordoned off; nobody could get out without passing through a security checkpoint. Stevens’ I.D. would be useless now that they’d seen him at the hospital, likewise his jeep. First, they had to change vehicles. To buy them enough time to renew their plans, Alan made for their only alternate refuge: Derek's home in Hammersmith. Although risky, at least there they could find another car.

Ditching the jeep in an alleyway, they made their way up to Derek’s house. Alan knew where Derek kept a spare key to the house hidden in a drainpipe in his garden. Unlocking the front door, he ushered his five friends into the relative safety of his late friend's house, to reassess and plan ahead. None of them noticed the suspicious-looking figure in a full-face mask, who was watching the house, climb over the garden fence behind them, silently making his way into the garage...

Just like his apartment, Derek's house had also been ransacked by Red Hand for Miles’ evidence. Drawers stood open, accessories lay scattered on the floor, and all expensive valuables stolen. A file cabinet containing all the files and notes on his friend’s engineering works was empty, Red Hand undoubtedly making sure to get rid of any blueprints on the stolen guidance system they were using in Black Inferno. No hope of finding any plans here that might help us deactivate that bastard... The only thing left undisturbed was the sparkling Christmas tree still standing lit in the living room.

Making themselves comfortable on what was left of the living room furniture, Alan told them what had happened back at the hospital; how he had found Sergey dead, apparently murdered, Mile’s letter, and Shertok’s visit. He finished by adding the part about nearly being cornered by the police, forcing him to resort to their hasty retreat. The rabbits were confused at this latest development, each for his own reasons.

"Why didn’t they tell you he was dead? How did they even find us so fast?” asked Hawkbit, wearily glancing out the window every few seconds, thinking the police or Shertok were likely to show up here at any moment, “Maybe they’re following us right now…?” Alan rolled his eyes, "Hospitals don’t make a habit of discussing with strangers about one of their patients’ dropping dead right under their noses. That Santon fellow is investigating my case, trying to determine my next move; I’m sure it was just luck that we ran into him there."

“And you say it looks like someone else did the job for us?” asked Hazel suspiciously, “Who?” Alan shrugged his shoulders; so far he had avoided bringing up Drake’s apparent connection to Red Hand and to the murder of his wife and daughter, preferring to keep it to himself for now. Why would his own colleague betray him?

"It doesn’t matter, it’s done, good and proper," said Bigwig unconcerned, as he helped himself to a large bowl of fruit and vegetables Alan had found in Derek's fridge. Sergei was out of the equation and that was all that mattered, "Whoever it was, he’s only done us a generous favour…"

“Then it’s over. We’ve won!” piped in Pipkin excitedly, “Now, we just have to get back to our own time…” But Alan shook his head sadly.

"I am afraid, my lad, we have only just started. Until we’ve destroyed both the missile and the cores, we have no chance of changing the future. As long as the means that Robbins used to destroy your world still exist, our friends will remain dead. And we’ll have to move soon,” he added, “The city is cordoned off; it's only a matter of time before the police pick up our trail again. Meanwhile, Shertok is also out searching for the cores. If we’re to remain one step ahead of Red Hand, we shall have to retrieve them first, tonight…"

"With Red Hand and the human Owsla out there, hunting us down?” groaned Hawkbit, not looking the least keen on pressing on, “Haven't we risked our tails enough times already? Shouldn’t we start thinking about how to get out of this nightmare of a world and back to where we belong…?"

"You maggot-brained weevil!" snapped Bigwig, annoyed at Hawkbit’s lack of judgement, "Haven’t you been listening? Our world will not even exist for us to return to if we go now! There’s no question of trying to get back until we've finished what we came here to do. Just get that into your thick skull!"

"Bigwig’s right, Hawkbit," said Fiver, in a more sympathetic tone, "Returning home again is only something we can hope for, after we’ve accomplished our mission. Our only chance is to keep going." The others stared admirably at Fiver's courage, tucked beneath the runty seer’s usually skittish nature, in silent admiration.

“Well, it seems we have a job to do,” said Alan, “So let’s get moving…”

Picking up the keys to Derek’s car, which they’d need to get out of the city undetected, Alan announced their departure. Bigwig paused for a moment as he nicked one last onion from Derek's kitchen table, swallowing it in one large gulp, to top up his caloric needs in preparation for a long night of duty. As Alan dragged an excited Pipkin away, who was playing with the shiny ornaments on Derek's Christmas tree, utterly fascinated by the 'world of Man', he suddenly noticed a notebook lying on the floor under the overturned desk.

Flipping through the pages, he found an assortment of handwritten notes and diagrams on different engineering projects his late friend had worked on in the past, including the guidance system of Black Inferno! There was a detailed, hand-drawn schematic, complete with written instructions – crude, but sufficient. By a complete stroke of luck, Red Hand’s thugs had completely overlooked it, probably because it was handwritten and seemingly unimportant. Deke, old pal, even in death, you’re still the man of the hour… Smirking triumphantly, he tucked the precious notebook into his bag. Red Hand it seemed had made a grave mistake by exploiting his friend’s work...

The miraculous discovery of the notebook suddenly jogged Alan’s memory. In the original timeline, Drake had come into possession of his research papers after he disappeared, and, by combining his otherwise wasted work with his own research, had created the blueprint of the future ecosystem. Remembering how his colleague had apparently betrayed him to Red Hand, a thought occurred to him.

Could he have been after my work all along? Is that why he sold Mary out...? He felt a pain build in his temple, trying to make sense out of this inexplicable riddle. Was Drake a friend or foe? Before this escapade was over, he swore to himself, he’d track down Drake, wherever he was, and determine, once and for all, what was his connection to all this.


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