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"Miss Parker, we have to go." The sedative was taking too long to wear off. "Miss Parker, now!" Her eyelids lifted, with great effort on her part.
"Jarod, you bastard son of a." He covered her mouth for a brief moment.
"Lyle is on his way!" She smiled, then.
"Good. I got to you first; I can shove it in his face when he shows up."
"You're in no condition for any games, Parker. He'll take me in as his achievement, and will take you in as a prisoner, someone who they can use for lab experiments. After all, once I'm caught, that's all you're good for with this virus in your system." She glared at him with glittering, hate-filled eyes.
"I hate it when you're right," she said, surrendering to logic. "Bastard," she added under her breath, getting up slowly. Suddenly, he scooped her up and carried her out the door on his shoulder. She would have hurt him if the swift motion hadn't increased the pain in her skull so much. She passed out again, dimly hearing the sound of an engine (Where had he hidden the car? she thought abstractedly) as the pain faded away into nothingness.
* * * * *
"So. Jarod's gone. Miss Parker is gone." Lyle summed up the situation succinctly to his father on the cell-phone. "And we're in the middle of a hot zone in southern Mexico." He ground his teeth behind the smile he assumed for the equally annoyed sweepers.
"Well, I must say that you're following in your sister's footsteps rather well," Mr. Raines hissed at the speakerphone in Mr. Parker's office.
"Find them, Lyle," Mr. Parker said after a moment, cutting the connection immediately thereafter.
* * * * *
"Jarod, where are we?" Miss Parker groaned. The engine had turned into an all-encompassing roar that rattled her teeth. "I need an aspirin."
"Aspirin isn't exactly going to help, Miss Parker." She opened her eyes, waiting for the blurriness to clear before she tried to identify her surroundings. She blinked after a moment, not accepting what she saw.
"We're.on a cargo plane." He grinned, boyishly.
"Actually, this is one of the Centre's planes. I'm not going to tell you the particulars, but let's just say that we share a very efficient travel agent. Who, by the way, does not know the destination of the plane, just its origin and takeoff time."
"Good old Sydney," she said, attempting to sit up. That was a bad idea. Her eyeballs seemed to come disjointed, and the suddenly distorted
world began bobbing eerily around, like a balloon tossed by the sea. "I feel like shit." He handed her a paper bag, and she took it gratefully. When she was done, he took it back and tossed it in a nearby plastic crate. "Four-star flight attendant service," she commented weakly. "By the way, ever been one of those?"
"Not yet." He answered distractedly. The virus must be taking over her inner ear, he thought. That didn't happen to me. It is a new strain.
"Will you please stop looking at me like that?" she snapped, fed up with his little looks. "God, it's as if I were made of porcelain." He noticed that she had just turned slightly greenish again, and wordlessly handed her another paper bag. "Thanks."
"It's not as if you're sick or anything." He answered, smiling at her. She shot him an indecipherable look.
"Sarcasm, Jarod? I guess you've picked up on something while running from me."
"That's not all. I've just recently discovered something called 'Dramamine'. Need any?" She glared at him, and passed back the bag.
"Ha ha. I just hope you'll keep that killer humor once the Centre has you again."
"Ah, yes, my newest escape method." He wondered how she expected to take him back to Delaware while she was infected. Was she hoping for some sort of reimbursement? A 'you brought back Jarod and now you can go'? He snorted under his breath. That wasn't likely.
"Where are we going, by the way?" She asked into the silence.
He didn't answer. Nor did he speak for the rest of the flight.
* * * * *
"Well, I must say that your efficiency hasn't diminished since your new.connection to the Centre," Raines commented, his voice coming out even more mechanical-sounding from the surveillance monitor. He was addressing someone just off screen, below the camera's field of view.
"So Project Remote Control worked as I predicted?" His companion - female - answered. He smiled, slightly, from behind his oxygen tubing.
"To an extent. Jarod, though not under our direct control, still helped us evaluate the virus' effectiveness. You have the copy of his information, of course."
"Of course," she said, handing him a disk. "I have the original hidden."
"However, our planned outbreak was contained by Jarod's cure before an accurate appraisal of the virus' impact on a first-world country could be determined. As a whole, the Hoffman virus served only one of its two intended purposes."
"I can rectify that. There is a new strain of the virus."
"A new strain?" The woman laughed, pleased that he hadn't heard yet.
"Yes. When Miss Parker went down to southern Mexico, she contracted the disease - just as the cure was spreading through her system. The virus had time to adjust itself, to mutate and to continue multiplying in her body, unaffected by the serum."
"So. She's just become more valuable than she has been in a long time, has she?" He mused to himself. "Recover her yourself."
"I'll have a hard time getting around my husband."
"Recover her yourself," Raines repeated, and the woman nodded, her face finally visible.
It was Brigitte.
* * * * *
"Zymogene Incorporated," a pleasant voice answered on the first ring.
"Hi, this is Dr. Aimes calling. I'm the new guy in the Biolevel 4 division of ." The secretary punched him through to Vaccine Research and Development, apparently expecting his call.
"Hello, Doctor McFarland speaking." a weary voice answered.
"This is Doctor Aimes."
"Oh, hello," the voice seemed to perk up a little. "When did you say you were starting? I need all the help down here that I can get, and with your credentials, you're even more necessary right now."
"Is this about the Hoffman virus?" Jarod already knew the answer to his question, of course, but he'd found that being over-confident of one's situation threw others off and aroused suspicions.
"Yeah. Despite that cure that came out of nowhere a few days ago, we're still worried about mutations."
"I'll come in tomorrow, if you'd like."
"Please. I know you've just arrived, but I'm desperate for more hands around here. A lot of my colleagues went down to Mexico." Jarod tuned out for a moment, having heard Miss Parker stirring in the next room. He stood up and looked around the corner into the bedroom. She was tossing in her sleep, the fever probably giving her some horrible nightmares. He remembered some of those that he'd had and shuddered in sympathy.
". so you'll be here at about sixish?" He heard Doctor McFarland ask.
"Don't 'sir' me. With your credentials, I should call you 'sir'." Doctor McFarland hung up abruptly. Jarod was left to shake his head at the eccentrices of the scientific community.
* * * * *
Miss Parker woke, lying in an unfamiliar, but wonderfully soft bed. She was extremely comfortable, except for that tugging on her wrist. She opened her eyes then, and saw a shiny ring around her wrist. connected by a chain to another ring around the bedpost... Handcuffs.
"Jarod, damn you!" She tried to shout, but found her voice was just a painful, cracking whisper. She looked around, registering the details of the room. Looking for a key, or her gun. The small nightstand and the table by the door were empty, save for a lamp and a small stack of
paperback novels: The Andromeda Strain, Outbreak, Hot Zone. Apparently Jarod was doing some research. She continued to scan the room. The walls were natural, honey-stained wood, and from what she could see, there were only two rooms adjacent to hers. There was a window just near her bed, showing her a low patio, a dock leading out to a calm, mist-shrouded, icy lake. Jarod was nowhere in sight. Surprise surprise.
She began to realize that her eyesight wasn't as erratic as it had been a few hours ago. Maybe, she thought, being abnormally optimistic, you're actually fighting this thing.
Right, another part of her mind responded cynically. This might just be a hallucination. But even her most unusual hallucinations didn't include a being chained to a bedpost in a lakefront cabin in the middle of nowhere. Those, she thought with amused recollection, had been an ex-boyfriend's fantasies, though. She sat up, feeling her brain begin to swim violently within her skull again, and closed her eyes. Nope. Still sick. She bent over to the edge of the bed, noticing a pail strategically placed on the floor, and allowed herself to be violently ill.
"Good morning, sunshine," Jarod's voice said from the other side of the room. She looked up (her mind reeling at that too-quick motion) at him, feeling like she wanted to die. Or kill him for giving this to her. Or both.
A murder-suicide was sounding pretty good right now.
"I'm pleased to announce that you're not infected with the Hoffman virus," Jarod began.
"Instead, you're infected with its parent virus- the one Hoffman was bioengineered from. It's highly contagious - don't mind if I don't come over there - but it should only last about a week."
"Good. Enjoy your week of freedom."
"By the way, don't you want to know who bioengineered the disease?"
"Is this a trick question?" In her state, she could barely think, let alone deduct the source of her current pain.
"No, but I'll give you a hint."
"No hints, damn you!"
"Okay, a small research company called Zymogene Incorporated developed a variant of a relatively unknown disease that they'd encountered on an expedition to Zaire. It - the one you have now - is relatively harmless. Then, their parent company, PolyPharmecuticals, took some samples and the samples disappeared. I found them mentioned in a memo from Mr. Raines to your father. Apparently, Raines wanted to go beyond sims, and wanted to test it in the field. Your father said no."
"But Raines always has his own agenda," Miss Parker finished. "Have you told Sydney?"
"Will you let me go?"
"No." He grinned, and left the room, leaving her to her renewed nausea.
* * * * *
"Hello?" Brigitte answered the phone sleepily. It's one in the morning, she noted. Who the hell can be calling this late? Mr. Parker stirred beside her.
"Who is it, sweetie?" he murmured. After her long, incredulous pause, he sat up beside her. "Sweetums?"
"It's Jarod!" At that, he took the phone from her hand and covered the mouthpiece.
"Press the green button on the phone. It runs a trace program I had wired for just this occasion." He held the phone to his ear as she did as he'd told her. "Hello, Jarod. I haven't heard from you in a while. Glad to know you're doing well."
"Yes, I'm sure you are," Jarod answered wryly. "But I'm not calling about my health. It's your daughter. I've got her stuck in a cabin in Georgia." And he proceeded to tell her father exactly where, then hung up.
"Trace?" Mr. Parker asked Brigitte. She shook her head. "Of course not. He's too smart for that. Ah, well. At least we know where my daughter is."
"Where?" Brigitte asked.
"About forty miles northwest of Atlanta, just on the shores of Lake." Here, Mr. Parker smiled, chuckling in amusement at Jarod's sense of humor, "Lake Sidney."
She smiled, too, but for a far different reason.