We’d somehow managed to avoid running into any authorities on our way out of the rest stop, blending in with the deluge of cars fleeing the parking lot while the firefighters struggled to get the remains of the explosion under control. The police had set up a roadblock in an attempt to prevent any possible culprits from escaping, but there weren’t enough of them present to cover every exit, and we slipped out unimpeded.
“We should’ve gotten off the highway,” I muttered from the backseat, trying to stretch out my legs to get some feeling back into them. Jonah had given me something for the pain, but my head was now throbbing and I couldn’t get comfortable, especially with the General’s unconscious form taking up most of the room. “Someone could be following us.”
“Don’t worry,” Cassie replied, “once we get a bit closer to the contact’s house, we can make our way there using the back roads.” She glanced worriedly over towards Jonah, who was nursing his head in his hands. “We could all use proper medical attention, but I guess a backwoods lab is the best we can ask for under the circumstances.”
Jonah had a contact a few hours away who ran an illegal laboratory out of his basement, which we’d hoped we could use to create the cure for the virus I’d been given. The contact, a former physician-scientist who had been employed at a major research institute until he’d been fired for using the facilities to mix together illicit substances, was a man named Fredrick Dalton. It seemed shady to me, but Jonah assured us we could trust him, and that he could patch us up as well.
After weaving through numerous desolate streets with broken pavement, we reached a long dirt road that took us to our destination. Our car pulled up to a dilapidated farmhouse that had once been painted white, but now only possessed the barest evidence of that fact in the form of random specks of chipped paint that dotted the rotting wood siding.
“This is it,” Jonah said as he spoke up for the first time in hours. “Let me go in first. The doc can be a bit skittish.”
He stumbled out of the vehicle and shuffled up to the front door, rapping hard enough on it that it looked like it might shatter. When it swung open, a dirty, gray-haired man with wide eyes answered, and the pair began to chat. Jonah eventually waved us inside, so Cassie and I followed him into Dalton’s home.
“So, I hear you’re another one of those ‘special people’ Jonah hangs around with,” Dalton said with a wheezing laugh, and I could see what teeth he still had were stained a dark yellow.
“Yeah,” I answered cautiously. “He said you might be able to help me with a certain problem I’ve got.”
“That virus the big lady passed out in the car put in you? It’s possible.” Dalton seemed to mull something over for a moment before adding, “Let’s head down to my lab and take a look, eh?”
I was taken aback when we got down to Dalton’s basement. In total contrast to his house, the lab was kitted-out with all manner of state-of-the-art equipment that looked incredibly expensive.
“Nice place you’ve got here,” Cassie commented. “It’s a shame you didn’t use some of your decorating budget for a less tetanus-chic living space.”
“That wouldn’t be wise in my business,” Dalton replied. Gesturing with his arms, he stated, “With all the money I make from these beauties, it’s best not to advertise my net worth to the kind of people who come looking to buy my goods.”
Jonah was leaning against the wall and rubbing his head. “Just get on with the tests. We can’t dilly-dally around here for too long.”
“Alright, alright,” Dalton said. “I’m just trying to be hospitable. Max, I’m gonna need you to take a seat.”
After I’d been hooked up to an uncomfortable amount of wires and scanners, Dalton ran a battery of examinations on me. He checked both my body and my mind for information about the virus so that he would have enough data to hopefully find a way to cure me. Hours later, he finally unhooked me from his machines with a dour look on his face.
“I’m not gonna sugar-coat it - the news isn’t good,” he stated sullenly. “I’m real sorry, Max. This thing you’ve been infected with isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen before. Maybe if I had a few months, I could crack it, but as I understand, you’ve got weeks at best.”
“Dammit!” Jonah snapped. “There’s gotta be a way to fix this!”
“Not in the time frame you need,” Dalton replied. “Best I can do under the circumstances is stave off the advancement of your mind’s deterioration for a bit longer. It may keep you mostly-sane for an extra day or two. But this is all guesswork right now. I have no idea what kind of side-effects it might cause.”
“It’s better than nothing,” I murmured. “Go ahead and give it to me.”
“Okay,” Dalton said and injected me with his concoction. “You’ll need to give it time to get into your system, so just rest for a bit. I’m gonna go see if I can’t tend to your banged-up companions.”
I sat in the chair and thought about what my increasingly-limited future held. Obviously, my prospects were dim, but I figured I still might be able to do some good before the virus progressed too far. The only problem was that I didn’t have very much time left - ironic, considering I’d come to rely on my power to give me all the extra time I needed. Now, it was because of that power that I was out of it.
A while later, Dalton came to get me, telling me that Jonah and Cassie wanted to talk to me upstairs. I went up to find them hanging out in the musty den, discussing possible plans of action. Dalton had fixed them up as best as he could, but they still didn’t look like they were in great shape. Jonah in particular still looked pretty rough - the constant use of his power in our search for Emerson had really taken a toll on him.
“We should get the General and her lapdog back to a safehouse and contact the rest of the organization,” Jonah suggested. “Maybe once we can get word to them about what happened, they’ll rally to our side.”
“Do you really think they’d trust us after we broke into their base and kidnapped their leader?” Cassie inquired.
“Probably not. But it’s worth a try.”
“No,” I said. “The best chance we have to stop Tempus is if I go back to the beginning of the week and warn you about what’s happening.”
“That won’t stop the virus, kid,” Jonah replied sadly. “And you’ll have set us back too much for any possibility at finding another way to save you.”
“It’s too late for that now anyway. At least everything that happened to me this week won’t have been for nothing if it helps you guys save the world. Right?”
Jonah stared hard at me and Cassie avoided my eyes. “Yeah, you’re right,” he finally agreed.
“Okay, so what’s the play?” Cassie asked.
“We hunker down and keep the kid safe until his week’s up. Only problem is, the only safehouse I had that was off-the-books has already been compromised.”
“I’ve got a place in the city,” Cassie offered. “I doubt anyone knows about it. I’m pretty vigilant about staying off the radar.”
“Then it’s settled,” I said resolvedly. “We should get back on the road.”
We headed back out to the car and I went around to the trunk to check on Emerson. I opened it and saw him lying still bound inside.
“What’s going on?” he asked desperately. “Are you gonna let me out of here?”
“You tried to kill us,” I said. “I don’t think that’d be wise.”
“I wasn’t trying to kill you!” he insisted. “I was just trying to rescue the General! I was following her orders!”
“We can’t risk you causing us any more problems. You’re staying in here.”
“What else do you think I can do? I’m tied up and you know I’m no Houdini. If I could get out of these things, don’t you think I would’ve already?”
“There’s no room in the car,” I told him. “And the General won’t fit in the trunk. You’ve gotta stay here.”
“Oh, come on! I’ll barely take up any space.” I was considering his request when Jonah came around the car with a stern look on his face.
“He’s staying here,” Jonah said curtly and tossed a protein bar in on top of Emerson. “We’re not making the same mistake again.” With that, he slammed the trunk door. “C’mon kid, we’ve gotta get moving.”