“So far there he doesn’t show any symptoms like the others.”
“That’s good news, right?”
“I hope so.”
Watching the caretakers, I wondered. They injected me with a strange fluid three days ago and have been monitoring me closely ever since. Whether this was the cure or the virus, they wouldn’t tell me. Whatever it was, it made me uneasy. Every now and then a cart would come by with a white blanket covering something. It didn’t take me long to figure out those were bodies, the bodies of the Nox collections. If so many died already, why wouldn’t I?
Narrowing my eye, I got off my bed, walking over to the large glass wall they used to watch me. The caretakers noticed me approaching and smiled at me before turning and walking away. No symptoms so far, huh? I scoffed, rubbing the spot on my forearm where they injected me. The way they said it made it clearer it was the virus they gave me. Or at least some kind of virus. I knew for certain I wasn’t sick when I came in. In fact, the people I have been taking in were never sick. I was certain of it.
The longer I thought about it, the more this virus story seemed bullshit. A virus that wiped out so much of the human race, why would it be so selective now? It made no sense. And the more my questions were ignored, the less I believed any of it.
The time of sitting around and observing was over. My time was limited, I’d better figure out what exactly Maria was planning before it ran out.
Now, whenever one of the people held captive would have some sort of attack they were brought to a different room. If I was to convince them something was going wrong that needed treatment outside my room, I would be a step closer to answers. The only catch was that during such an attack the patients would harm themselves-clawing at their skin, fulling out their hair. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do that convincingly.
Though it was the only plan I had so far, it was as good as it could get.
Sighing, I stared at the empty, white hallway. It was still strange to only be able to see with one eye. It was still bandaged up, but it wouldn’t take long before it was removed completely. How ironic of them to treat the wound they inflicted on me.
“Good morning, Luca.”
I glanced to my left, seeing Maria slowly approach. “Morning.”
“How have you been?” she said with the usual sickening smile.
I gestured in the direction of the caretakers. “Not sick enough, apparently.”
Maria waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t listen to them, how about we go for a little walk?”
She ticked in the code and my door opened. My brow rose as I took a few steps closer. “Sure, I’d like to stretch my legs.”
“Good,” she said, holding the door open for me. “This way.”
I fell into step beside her. We headed in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go, away from the supposed laboratory. Relaxing my shoulders, I tried to come across as calm as possible. It was actually pretty nice to be outside of that small, glass prison. Even if it had only been a few days, it was suffocating in there.
“I got a few questions,” I started. “The caretakers refuse to talk to me so I don’t help much.”
“Ah, yes.” Maria bowed her head, her smile saddening. “Most the patients we take care of pass away because of the virus. It is simply their way of not getting too attached. In this line of work, it can get hard at times, especially when you know there is nothing you can do about it.”
I nodded, as though I understood what she meant. “What was I injected with?”
“A test cure we have been working on.” She looked back up, the troubled expression from before completely gone. “And it’s going in the right direction, you’re reacting better to it than we expected.”
“But I’m not sick, I don’t have the virus.”
Maria stopped me, coming to stand in front of me. She put her hand on my shoulder as she took a deep breath. The act was well crafted, but far from believable. “Luca, you’ve been infected by the virus for quite a while now. I didn’t want to scare you before, but you deserve to know the truth.”
My eye widened in fake surprise as I took in a sharp breath. “For how long?”
“Before you betrayed us.” Shaking her head, she let her hand slide down my arm. “We think that Liber might be behind the sudden rise in numbers. With them putting the infected bodies on the streets they’re only spreading the virus more and more. You probably came too close that one time.”
Sighing heavily, I nodded. “Am I going to die now?”
Moving closer, Maria squeezed my arm, her gaze fixed on mine. “I’m not going to let that happen, don’t worry.”
Her tone had softened and been just above a whisper, the way one would talk to a loved one or someone close to them. I blinked as she turned away, confused by her behavior. That was strange to say the least. Staring after her, I tilted my head, praying to whatever being above that my train of thoughts had followed the wrong track and stopped at the opposite station it was supposed to.
After a second, I continued to walk with her, making sure there was a little more space between us now.
As we turned a corner we entered a hallway that was connected to my previous living space. One wall was completely covered in glass, much like my room now, but I knew the other side wasn’t as transparent. Placing my hand against the glass, I took a moment to watch the living area where I had spent so much time, yet took for granted most of the time.
Looking back at it now, I could only smile. Hop and I always claimed the couch right next to the coffee table, and whenever Félix joined us he was only allowed to sit on the armrest. Hop’s rule. We’d eat there before our shifts on some nights. I’d give anything to sit there with her again. Her legs thrown across my lap, laughing as she kicked Félix at his failed attempts at sit next to us.
My eyes followed the path to her room and my old one. I wondered how she was doing. If she cried. The thought brought back the painful ache in my chest. I hated it when she cried. Hop would never cry. Her pain was her own, and she wouldn’t let anyone see it unless it became too much to bear.
“Hope is doing alright,” Maria said in a soft voice as she came to stand next to me. I closed my eyes for a second as my hand clenched and I gritted my teeth. How dare she try to comfort me when she was the reason I needed comfort. These people, they were so ridiculous, so manipulative.
“Can I see her?”
She shook her head. “You don’t want to risk infecting her.”
Bullshit. If I had been infected long before being taken in she would already have been infected as well. And why wasn’t Maria afraid of becoming infected if I was that contagious? “Of course.”
I opened my eyes in the hopes of seeing a glimpse of her, of my little Hopper, but she wasn’t there. No one was. It was patrol time, of course they were all out. Still, it didn’t sting any less. I longed for my best friend.
My eyes stung with tears, wetting the inside of my bandage. I banged on the glass with my fist, breathing through my teeth. I was so close, yet just out of reach, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
Grabbing for the bandage, I tore it off, blinking repeatedly in a desperate attempt to see anything my usually covered eye couldn’t. But it was still black. My eye was open, yet I could only see as if it was still covered. Being used to the mask, I had the idea I couldn’t trust anything I saw with my left eye. I wouldn’t put it past them to have slowly manipulated it over time.
I pressed my forehead against the cool glass. Taking slow breaths, I calmed myself down, both my eyes closed. It was useless getting angry and frustrated. It would only take more energy than it gave result. I would see Hop again, there was no doubt in my mind.
After a minute or two I stood up straight again, turning away from my old home to follow behind Maria once more. She simply nodded with a small smile. That smile was getting on my nerves.
“It’s for the best this way,” she said, glancing back. “Maybe you’ll be the one who perfects the cure and we no longer have to live in fear and secret. With this cure we can start building outside our safe zone, we can spread our people across this world once more and make Nandanavana bigger than it has ever been. It is all worth it in the long run, I promise you, you will see your friends again.”
“What about my betrayal?” I asked. “Won’t that have consequences for my life in this cured world?”
“If you are the reason for our cure there won’t be any consequences. Things can be forgiven and forgotten, it can be put in the past. You have been punished and learner your lesson after all, right?”
I hummed, clenching my hand around the bandage I had torn off.
“What’s in there?” I asked as we walked past a door that read staff only. Maria didn’t even look back but did fasten her pace just the slightest bit.
“Just boring records of our citizens.”
I stopped, which she didn’t seem to notice. Not many doors had a staff only sign on them, I had noticed. It either meant something of great importance lay inside or something very dangerous. I waited till Maria had turned the corner before stepping closer to the door. I tried the knob, not at all surprised when I found it locked. It had what looked like an electric magnetic lock that could only be opened by a keycard.
However, beneath the door I found yellow light peeking through. I sank to my knees, pressing my head to the ground as I tried to peek inside. There were rows and rows of shelves stacked with something that looked like anything but documents. My brow furrowed as I tried to figure out what exactly I was looking at, only to have my eyes widen when I realized it.
Guns and explosives and more.
I quickly got back on my feet, my mouth going dry. Why would they have a whole room filled with weapons? Surely they didn’t have any enemies besides Liber, but would firearms really be necessary? My heart was beating in my throat, thoughts racing through my head. What could they be planning? Were they even part of the plan? Or were they the plan B?
Taking a deep breath, I tried to remember how exactly I got here. I had to come back to take a look inside. The moment I thought I had memorized the hallway enough, I took off after Maria again. Just as I turned the corner, and was ready to take a sprint, she turned. I slowed my pace immediately, swallowing the lump in my throat.
She opened her mouth, but I interrupted her right before she could question me. “Why did you want to take me on a walk?”
She seemed to be taken slightly off guard, but her plastic smile was to be found on her face just as fast. “I simply wanted to get to know you better.”
“Why?” I breathed.
“You’re an interesting young man, Luca,” she said, once again moving closer than I would have liked. “With all the lies, all the deaths and resistance, we need to keep everyone as close as possible.”
“I’m just a test subject, I could be dead in a few weeks.” Staring down at her, I was reminded just how intimidating this woman could be with a single glare. Her façade finally broke, even if it was for a single second. She couldn’t lie her way out of this one, and she knew it very well.
“We have no intention of having you die,” she stated in a much darker tone, one that sounded more like a treat than a promise. “Luca of Jannah, we have far greater plans for you.”