The Boy in the Gray Hoodie

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SIXTEEN | Heatstroke

Dominik had just pulled E7′s shirt down over the incision when the door opened. Dr. Blair was hastily packing the liver biopsy sample into the case next to the tubes of blood. She placed one thumb over each tab, ready to safely seal away the evidence she had collected.

James entered the room.

The case snapped shut.

“Are you finished?” he asked, approaching the table at a quick pace.

“I have my samples. But we’re not finished. There are a great deal of things to answer for.”

“Oh?” James was as calm as if they were talking about the color of the walls.

"You’re not finished,” she corrected herself, lifting the case from the table and handing it to Dominic. “Volkov will want an explanation.”

“I don’t answer to him,” James replied coldly.

“Renshaw, then.”

James chuckled. “I don’t answer to him, either.”

James, E7 thought, wanting so badly to get his attention, to show him what they had done while he was gone. Look down, please! E7 could feel the blood soaking into his shirt from the incision under his rib. It hurt to inhale. It hurt not to. His eyes were so dry, like paper. He wanted to risk blinking but they were all hovering too close. Someone would see.

“We all answer to someone,” Dr. Blair stated in a low voice. “And this,” she gestured at E7, “warrants an explanation.”

“I suppose,” James said, taking a step back and circling around to his place beside the wall, “that you want to be left alone with him. Perhaps, say your goodbyes this time before you go.”

This time, he had said. E7 tried not to think about that, or what it meant.

There was a pause. Dr. Blair’s hand hovered near E7′s arm. He could feel the heat of her skin through the glove. “This may seem like a foreign concept to you, but I know how to separate my emotions from this project.”

“You seem very emotional.”

“I’m angry that you screwed this up, Crane!” she snarled, slamming her hand on the table. Her glove was touching E7′s arm now. He froze, not even risking a shallow breath when she was so close. “This could have been...” she was shaking her head, “...so much more than just a project. And this subject...” her voice heightened with emotion, “he could’ve given us so many answers. But now all we have are more questions.”

"More questions?” James repeated.

“We have to find out what caused his death,” she responded sharply, lifting her hand from beside E7′s arm.

“We know that already.” There was a slight pause before James went on. “After your little experiment, his internal temperature rose beyond controllable levels. Your genius idea to give him chlorpromazine prevented diaphoresis. His system couldn’t cool down.”

“Heatstroke.” Dr. Blair sounded incredulous. “You think E7 died of heatstroke?”

James put out his hands, trying to appear reasonable. “It was always a risk,” he said, extending his fingers. “We knew that.”

“It shouldn’t have been. Why wasn’t there someone monitoring him?”

James didn’t answer right away. He seemed so reluctant, E7 wasn’t sure he’d answer at all. Finally, in a hesitant, almost apologetic voice, he replied, “we had an intruder.”

“What?!” she snapped her head to look in his direction, adjusting her mask to get a better view of his face. “Who?”

“It’s taken care of.”

“What did they want? Did they take anything? Information? Samples? What?”

“Nothing was taken. They know nothing about the project.”

“Well who the hell was it?”

“I said it’s taken care of,” he repeated, annoyed.

“Damn you, Crane. Tell me who it was!”

“Our daughter.”

There was a long, heavy pause between them. Dominik cleared his throat awkwardly. Dr. Blair handed him the black case and said, “wait for me outside.”

Dominik took the case but remained standing next to her.

“Go,” she ordered. He took one step forward, then paused, still hesitating. “Get out! Ubiraysya! Leave us alone!”

Dominik charged toward the door, exhaling angrily as he passed the table, black case swinging in his hand. His resistance caused a distraction, allowing E7 to shut his eyes long enough to feel them burn as moisture returned. He opened them again when the door suctioned closed.

“Explain.” Her voice had taken on a higher, more nervous tone. It was almost like she was afraid. Not of James, but of what he had just said.

“I think it’s self-explanatory, actually. She’s always been curious.”

“A prying, nosy brat,” Dr. Blair hissed. “What was she even doing here in the first place?”

“She would’ve burnt down the house if I hadn’t brought her with me. She was supposed to stay in my office but...women do what they want.”

“A child. She’s a child. Hardly a woman,” Dr. Blair seemed to be spitting the words out, anger flaring hotter the longer she spoke. Her accent, which began as a lilting undertone, was now much stronger, some words blending together into one. “She has always been a problem.”

“It’s not a problem.”

“Now that’s a laugh. You’re so funny, Dr. Crane. Hah. Hah.”

“Swallow your spite, Fiona. You’re making this into an issue.”

“It’s not an issue, then?”

“It’s not an issue.”

“You think you can control everything, don’t you? What a God-complex you have. James Crane, lord of knowledge, designer of the universe.”

James sighed, seemingly unaffected by her words. “Are you done?”

“When are you going to admit it?” she demanded after a moment’s pause.

“Admit what?” he asked.

Dr. Blair crossed her arms over her chest, adjusting her posture and raising her head. “That it was all a mistake. That she was.” Dropping her hands, she gestured toward him. “She ruined everything. Us. Now this,” she shook her head. “It was the biggest mistake we’ve ever made.”

“It wasn’t a mistake.”

“Look what it cost you!” she waved her arm toward E7.

He flinched.

“What the hell,” she breathed, staring right at him. “What is this? What have you—?” she started, turning to look at James. But he was no longer next to the wall. As soon as E7 had moved, James had stepped around the table. He now stood directly behind her.

E7 bolted up and then groaned, his hand gingerly resting over the incision. He blinked watery eyes, trying to see through the blur of liquid.

“You’re not—” an arm around her neck cut off her words. James had her in a chokehold, his arm constricting her throat to the point where she was gasping through a pinched airway. James took a step back, pulling her off balance so that she fell against him. Gripping her throat with the full strength of his arm, James brought his other hand up, a syringe clutched tightly in his fingers.

“Some of us choose to forget our mistakes,” James said, speaking into her ear. His voice was strained as he struggled to hold her body against him. She clawed at his face and arms, kicking her feet wildly. Her shoes squeaked against the floor.

“J-James,” E7 croaked, voice breaking. He put out his hand, entreating, “s-she can’t breathe,” he whispered. “She can’t breathe.”

Using his thumb, James uncapped the syringe. “What you don’t realize,” he went on, ignoring E7, “is that forgetting doesn’t make the problem go away,” he moved his arm down to momentarily make room for the needle, which he promptly shoved through the material of her suit into the side of her neck, pressing the plunger downward. “It just keeps us from finding a solution.”

The placement of the injection caused him to loosen his hold enough that she was able to take a desperate breath, but he tightened his grip again before she could scream. Moments later, her kicking stopped, and her eyes rolled back, lids fluttering closed. Finally, her hands dropped from his arm and she went limp in his hold. James dropped the syringe and lowered her carefully onto the floor. At his feet, she began to moan softly. When he looked up, E7 was huddling on the floor next to the table, his cheek braced against the metal leg, staring wide-eyed at Dr. Blair’s unconscious body.

“She’s not dead. And she won’t remember it,” James told him absently as he stepped over her to gather the needle cap, replacing one over the other and putting them both into his pocket. Then he approached the table.

E7 watched his movements, brow knotted in dread.

James crouched in front of him, exhaled a deep breath, and reached toward the dark circle of blood on E7′s shirt. He paused when the boy flinched away.

“Let me see it.”

E7 shook his head quickly, pressing his hand over the wound. “I’m okay,” he promised, his gaze drifting to Dr. Blair. He didn’t want James to be even angrier. If he saw the incision, what would he do to her next? “I can b-barely feel it,” he insisted.

James exhaled impatiently and tore E7′s hand away from the wound, unintentionally scraping against it with his gloved fingers. The sound that escaped the boy was a half-choked sort of cry, barely louder than gasp.

“Just do what I say and it won’t hurt,” James said, annoyed. Amidst mumbled protests, he lifted up E7′s shirt and pressed on the skin near the wound. “It’s deep, but it’s already healing. I won’t waste time with a bandage—at least for now.” He lifted his head to glance around the room. “There’s still too much we have to do.”

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