"What do you mean, Cassian isn't the project director anymore?" Marcase scowled at the elderly man in front of him.
"I'm sorry, I thought someone would have told you, Dr. Marcase. I certainly didn't mean to spring it on you like this," the man replied sympathetically. "I just assumed. . . . Well, one should never assume, should one? Let me introduce myself properly, then. I am Dr. Thomas Benedict, and I have the privilege of being the new director of the Office of Bio-Crisis Management." Benedict tilted his head forward in a glimpse of a bow toward Edward Marcase, Kimberly Shiroma and Michael Hailey. An outsider viewing the scene would have found it an almost comic sight: the courtly, white-haired gentleman, impeccably dressed, saluting the three tired, rumpled travelers who stood before him.
"It's an honor to be able to work with such a talented and diverse group," Benedict continued genially. "I'm well aware of your many accomplishments. Mr. Hailey, the quintessential protector, skilled in all the martial arts as well as these modern electronic devices, yet a student of history as well. Dr. Marcase, innovative thinker, insightful, unconventional and uncommonly successful. Although"-he shook his head in mock rebuke, smiling- "I have to say your reluctance to take the time to write up your research does the rest of us a disservice." He turned his full attention to Kimberly and his voice softened almost imperceptibly. "And then we have Dr. Shiroma-brilliant scholar and researcher with the soul of an artist. It's not often one has such an extraordinary combination." His gaze lingered on her for a moment, then he turned back to the group and spread his hands, palms up. "I hope our association will be a long and happy one."
Marcase shifted restlessly. "Okay, cut the crap. What happened to Cassian and why weren't we told? Did he go down on a plane like Rhinehart? We didn't buy that story, either."
"I'm afraid I don't know anything about Dr. Rhinehart," Benedict replied, unruffled. "And I really don't know anything about Dr. Cassian, though I was told that he had resigned, presumably of his own free will. From what I've heard, he's a rather formidable figure, so I can only suppose he decided he could put his own talents to better use elsewhere.
"But here, I've kept you waiting when I'm sure you're exhausted from your long flight, not to mention all those weeks in the field. Obviously, I don't expect reports from you tonight. Besides, if you'd found the source of this new disease, you'd have already sent word to us-?"
"No, we didn't find anything, at least not that we could identify there," Shiroma said, answering the half-question. "We did bring back some blood and tissue samples to work with in our lab. It may be that we can isolate something here, if the causative agent hasn't broken down or mutated beyond recognition."
"An absolutely devastating hemorrhagic fever that kills nearly 90% of its victims in hours, then vanishes without a trace." Benedict shook his head. "And no common denominator to tell us its original source, or if it will strike again. Truly a frightening prospect. Still, if anyone can unwrap this riddle, I'm sure it will be this team." He smiled at them again. "I'll try to help, in my own small way. I can begin by at least storing the samples while you get some much needed and much deserved rest."
"No, thanks. We'll do it," Marcase said brusquely.
Benedict froze for a moment, as if sizing the virologist up. Then he smiled again. "As you wish. Good evening, then." He gave them another semi-bow and left them alone.
"Edward-" Kimberly began reproachfully, but Marcase had already turned to Hailey.
"Who is this guy, Michael?"
Hailey shook his head. "I don't know. I can do some checking.'
"You do that. And see if you can find out what happened to Cassian. That story's so fishy I'm surprised we're not up to our armpits in cats."
Kimberly ran her fingers through her hair, relieved to be out of the suit. Thank goodness she didn't suffer from claustrophobia; anyone who did could never work with Level 4 viruses, after all.
"Ah, Dr. Shiroma, already hard at work. Your dedication is inspiring."
Kimberly jumped slightly at the unexpected voice. "Hello, Dr. Benedict. I didn't hear you come in." She tried to keep the unease out of her voice.
"I apologize. I didn't mean to startle you." He smiled at her, and Kimberly vaguely remembered an adage about never trusting a man who smiled too much. Whoever coined it must have known Benedict, she decided, then mentally shook herself. After all, the man had been nothing but pleasant.
"You didn't startle me, not really," she said brightly. "I was just thinking that I'd like a cup of tea. Would you care to join me?"
Benedict appeared truly regretful. "I'd like nothing better, but I have a meeting to attend in a very few minutes. Perhaps I could have a raincheck?"
"Good. I just wanted to stop by before I left to see if there was anything you needed for your lab work. How's it going, by the way?"
"All the results are negative so far. I haven't found any trace of a virus, bacteria, or any microorganism which could cause symptoms like the ones we saw. I haven't finished checking all the samples, so maybe something will turn up yet."
Benedict nodded. "If it can be found, you'll find it. I have faith in you, Dr. Shiroma." For a moment she was afraid he was going to try to kiss her hand, but instead he contented himself with a half bow and marched out the door.
"Lays it on pretty thick, doesn't he? Who do you want to bet he really works for, CIA or the Pentagon?"
"Edward! Is everyone trying to give me a heart attack?"
Marcase arose from the chair in the far corner, stretched, and grinned. "Who, me? I'm still jet-lagged. Thought I'd catch another nap while I waited for you to finish up. How about a cup of coffee instead of tea?"
"Not for me. If you want coffee, you'll have to make it."
Michael Hailey strode through the door just in time to hear her remark. "Coffee? I'll have a cup. And no instant."
Minutes later, all three were seated around a table with mugs of hot beverages. Hailey took a drink and grimaced. "Who ever told you that you could make coffee?"
"Well, if this is any example, nobody ever will." He poured his down the sink and proceeded to make a fresh pot while Marcase drummed his fingers on the table impatiently. Hailey ignored him until the coffee was ready, then sat back down. He took a sip, seemed satisfied with the results, and began talking.
"I've done some checking. Dr. Thomas Benedict is a respected member of the medical community. Keeps a low profile but is well known in certain circles for his philanthropy- not to mention political donations. He has friends in high places, no surprise, and gives parties attended by all the best people. He's a widower, by the way," he gave Kimberly an amused glance," and has traveled extensively, mostly in underdeveloped countries. He worked very briefly with the CDC and World Health but that was years ago. More recently, he's been a consultant with some hush-hush inter- governmental research on infectious agents on a free lance basis, but doesn't seem to be connected to any particular agency. I haven't been able to find out who recommended him for this position, but I'm still looking."
"Military?" Edward asked, with a glance at Kim.
"Not directly, but he does seem to have contacts there, especially in the intelligence community. Rumor has it that he was in Iraq with some of the inspection teams, but I can't confirm that. If he was, it's a sure bet he was more interested in their biological weapons than in nuclear."
Hailey shrugged. "As far as I can find out, Benedict told the truth. He apparently did just resign. He's still here, but I haven't been able to get in touch with him. He doesn't answer his cell phone and he wasn't in when I stopped by his place earlier."
"In that case," Marcase said, pouring his own coffee down the sink, "why don't we just go wait for him to come home?"
# # # # #
Marcase leaned on the doorbell, but its ringing had to be taken on faith: the door was heavy, a solid wood that let no sound from inside slip back out, and the rest of the front was all heavy woods and brick and glass that was thick enough to be bullet-proof for all Edward could tell. Hailey watched a moment, then said, "Wait here," before disappearing around the corner. Edward fidgeted a few minutes, then kicked at the door a couple of times before trying the doorbell again. He was taken aback when the door opened abruptly.
"Do you mind not ringing that thing for five minutes?" Hailey demanded, stepping aside so the other man could enter.
"Funny, I would have thought that Cassian would have a state of the art security system," he remarked as he stepped inside.
"He does," Hailey replied dryly, watching amusedly as Marcase realized the implication, then led the way down a hall.
As his eyes adjusted to the change from dusky twilight to the glare of electric light, Marcase wasn't surprised to see that the residence's interior was much like its exterior: sturdy, expensive and tastefully decorated. One could practically smell old money.
"We can wait in the library. It doesn't have any windows so we can turn on lights without alerting anyone outside."
"Lead the way." Marcase tugged at his shirt collar. "Geez, he keeps it warm in here. What's he doing, growing orchids?"
Hailey frowned, wiping sweat from his forehead. "I'll check the ventilation. You go sit. And stay out of trouble."
Edward grinned in response, then entered the library. The scent of leather lingered in the air. He glanced around, taking in the couch and the desk, stopping to examine at a statue on one of the shelves: Mayan, from the look of it. He scanned the book titles, hoping to find something interesting to read but the heat was making him sleepy already. He settled on the couch, hoping to stay awake but the warmth and lingering jet-lag defeated him and he drifted off.
The next thing he knew, he was being shaken awake. "Someone's coming," Hailey whispered just as Edward heard the front door open. Quietly, they walked down the hall, stopping just as the foyer lights snapped on. For a moment, there was no sound or movement as everyone tried to absorb the scene.
Two men were standing there: one was dark-haired and slightly stocky, probably no older than his late twenties; the other was Daniel Cassian, but not the one they knew. This one was leaning heavily on the younger man, his face pale and gray and thinner than they'd remembered, the hollows in his cheeks more pronounced, dark circles under his eyes. He stared at Hailey and Marcase dazedly for several seconds, uncomprehending.
"What the hell-?" his companion blurted.
Recognition flickered in Cassian's eyes. "Marcase. Hailey," he said heavily. Then he vomited.
Edward grabbed Cassian's free arm, trying to help support him. "Bathroom," the young man said, and Marcase nodded agreement. Together they half-carried, half dragged him down the hall. Despite the warmth, Edward could feel Cassian shivering; fleetingly, he hoped Hailey hadn't turned the heat down too much. Marcase grabbed a towel as they entered. Cold sweat trickled down the side of Cassian's face and his breathing was ragged; he gulped air when he could, between retching convulsively. They tried to keep him steady, but his jerky movements made it diffcult. He was able to bring up only up a small amount of sour smelling, thin liquid tinged with blood. Marcase glanced at the other man, who shook his head slightly.
"Nothing in his stomach to bring up except gastric fluid-he hasn't been able to eat. His throat and esophagus are pretty raw," he explained, just as Cassian's knees buckled and they both grabbed to keep him from falling. His head lolled to one side, the body completely limp. The younger man said almost cheerfully, "Good, he's passed out. Let's get him cleaned up and into bed before his teeth start chattering." They eased Cassian onto the floor, putting a clean towel under his head. The young man started removing the stained shirt, then looked at Marcase and stuck out a hand. "I'm Ross Hamilton," he said.
Hailey returned the mop and bucket neatly to the cabinet. He had learned long ago that the real secret to having things go smoothly was to take care of the small details, especially when there was nothing else you could do at the moment. Waiting was best accomplished by doing something useful. He thought about making coffee, but since he'd turned the thermostat back up hot beverages held no appeal. He checked the refrigerator and found ginger ale and milk, but little else. He settled for filling a pitcher with water and adding ice, poured himself a glass, and then set the rest in the refrigerator. He took a long drink, concentrating on the taste and feel of the cold fluid.
"I could use some of that," Marcase said, entering the kitchen. He'd rolled his sleeves up and unbuttoned his collar, but perspiration still gleamed on his face.
Hailey got another glass, filled it from the pitcher and silently sat it in front of Edward. He sat down, elbows on the table, fingers interlaced to form a triangle, and waited until Marcase put his glass down before asking quietly, "What's wrong with Cassian?"
Marcase studied the water glass intently, refusing to meet Hailey's eyes. His fingers traced the droplet trails down the sides. "It's called Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. Treatment of choice is a bone marrow transplant, but they haven't been able to find a donor match yet, so his oncologists are trying to get him into remission. Buy him some time."
"He's in chemotherapy?"
Marcase shook his head, glanced briefly at Hailey, the looked away again in a futile effort to hide his emotions. The black man watched, impassive; the kid wore his heart on his sleeve, no matter how much he tried to play the tough guy. He'd be a lousy poker player.
"They're trying interferon," he said at last, his voice strained but steady. "It induces remission in nearly eighty percent of CML patients, but the side effects are worse than chemo. Besides nausea and vomiting, there's inflammation at injection sites, chills, aches, fever, extreme chronic fatigue, lowered blood pressure, possibility of liver and kidney damage, cardiac arrhythmia. . . . " He trailed off for a moment from the recitation, then continued. "It also causes confusion, inability to concentrate, memory loss- most patients have to have someone to look after them, make sure they take medications, eat when they're able. . . . Ross Hamilton, the guy who came in with Cassian is a cousin of his, third year resident at George Washington U. Med Center."
Hailey nodded thoughtfully. "They have a good oncology department."
"One of the best," Edward agreed a bit absently, then added almost sarcastically, "Yeah, it's been real convenient all the way around. Hamilton's apartment's gone condo, he needed a place to stay and Cassian needed someone around. And they even go in to the same hospital."
"Why isn't Cassian in the hospital now? He was in pretty bad shape when he came in."
Marcase shrugged. "He was hospitalized for the first few injections so they could monitor his reaction. This-the way he was- is pretty much what you'd expect. No big deal." The sarcastic tone flared again, then subsided again as he continued in a gentler tone. "Ross can give him the interferon injections here from now on-he can stay in familiar surroundings, just go in for testing. Be a little more comfortable."
"And if he doesn't go into remission?"
"If it goes into the accelerated phase, average life expectancy is three months. Less if there's a blast crisis."
Hailey took a deep breath and released it slowly, absorbing all Marcase had said. "At least we now we know why he resigned."
Edward slammed his fist against the table, rattling the glasses with the force of the blow. "Damn it, Michael, he should have told us!" he looked up at last and Hailey saw the shine of tears in his eyes. "Why wouldn't he tell us? Just tell me that, why!"
"Because he didn't want our pity. Because there's nothing we can do."
"He told us when he was infected with the Mayan."
"That was different. That was a virus, one that hadn't been available for study. Even if we couldn't save him, we might have learned enough to save the next person who was infected." Michael leaned closer. "You're good, Marcase. But you're not going to be able to cure cancer in three months."
"He still should have told us," Marcase repeated stubbornly. "We had a right to know."
Hailey sighed and leaned back in his chair, but straightened immediately when he caught sight of Hamilton. Edward caught the movement and looked up as Ross entered the room.
"He's resting," the younger man reported to Marcase. "I started an IV to keep him from getting any more dehydrated. He's running a fever but I'm not going to give him any acetaminophen just yet, not unless it goes higher. He has some prescription strength with codeine for the pain but he doesn't like to take it unless he has to-the interferon leaves him pretty wiped out and the codeine just makes it worse. " He looked at Marcase as if for approval.
Edward nodded silently, his mouth a tight line.
Hamilton turned his attention to Hailey. "And you must be Mr. Hailey. Daniel has mentioned you- you must have done some pretty amazing stuff, because he respects you and as I'm sure you know, he doesn't respect a lot of people." He flashed an amused half-smile before adding, "I'm a cousin of his, Ross Hamilton."
Hailey shook the proffered hand. "Nice to meet you."
"I didn't know you were supposed to meet Daniel here. He didn't mention it, but he doesn't remember things too well these days. I hope you didn't have to wait long."
Marcase avoided the pointed glance Hailey gave him and replied, "No, not long. We... hadn't set an exact time."
"Good. Can I get you anything? I've got some groceries in the car I haven't brought in yet, sodas, beer, bread-"
The insistent sound of a beeper cut him off, and he fumbled a moment before retrieving it. "Damn, it's the hospital. Excuse me just a minute, I've got to check in."
"A meeting?" Hailey said softly, eyebrows raised.
Marcase shrugged uncomfortably. "Somehow it didn't seem like the right time to try to explain breaking and entering."
Ross returned, pulling on his coat. "I'm afraid I've got to go in for a little while. I hate to ask, but could you possibly stay, Dr. Marcase? I'd feel better if someone could check on Daniel from time to time."
"No problem. And call me Edward."
"Great," Ross said, relieved. "I think all you'll need is already in the bedroom, but if there's something you can't find just give me a call. My beeper number is by the phone, also the hospital number." He thought a minute. "If he thinks he can keep anything down, try some hot tea with lemon and sugar, but don't give him more that a teaspoon or two at a time or he starts vomiting. We have morphine if the muscle spasms get really bad again, but that's another thing he doesn't like to take if he can avoid it. I don't think he'll be able to eat anything, but there are some crackers and bread for toast, no butter or anything with oils-" He broke off a little sheepishly. "Sorry. I'm sure I don't need to tell you all that. Thanks, Edward. I really appreciate it."
Hailey stood. "Could you drop me off on your way?"
"Sure. Let's go."
Hailey handed his car keys to Marcase. "I'll go see Kimberly," he said quietly.
Marcase nodded. "Yeah. She'll want to know."
Hailey wagged a forefinger at Edward. "Hey- no scratches or dents on the car. Remember, I know where you live." Marcase forced a smile.
Marcase moved quietly into the room, automatically taking stock of the patient's condition: respiration even, unlabored; shivering ceased; slight fever flush visible on the thin, ashen face. There were hard lines of pain and exhaustion that hadn't been there when Marcase had set out with the others on the last assignment, mute testimony to the suffering the man had endured and would have to continue to endure. The IV dripped steadily into the the tube down to the vein on Cassian's wrist below the thumb, his arms being too bruised from earlier invasions to take another needle.
"We did not arrange a meeting," Cassian said flatly, without opening his eyes.
Startled, Marcase paused in his approach. He stood still, hands on his hips, looking at the floor for a a moment, then took a deep breath. "No, we didn't. You're right. We'd been trying to get in touch with you, find out what was going on. When we couldn't, we decided to. . . drop in."
"Mr. Hailey, no doubt."
"Yeah." There was an awkward pause. "Um. . . Ross had to go to the hospital so I told him I'd check on you-" Marcase began, stepping closer to the bed. He put one hand on top of the headboard and leaned against it slightly, trying to ease the tension by appearing to be relaxed-a friend, not a doctor, though Cassian needed both. He also knew Cassian hated feeling helpless and Edward didn't want to make it any worse if he could help it; the man was under enough stress as it was.
"I'm surprised you had time to indulge your curiosity," Cassian said, interrupting Marcase's thoughts. "I would have thought Ruth would have kept you all sufficiently occupied. She has a talent for that sort of thing."
"Ruth?" Marcase asked, puzzled, as he reached to take Cassian's pulse.
"Dr. MacKenzie. Your new project director."
"The new project director is Thomas Benedict."
Cassian opened his eyes at that, turning his head slightly to look directly at Edward. "It was supposed to be Ruth. She agreed. I talked to her first-" he closed his eyes again briefly, as if trying to sort out memories, then shook his head slightly in frustration. "She agreed, the Secretary agreed. It was supposed to be Ruth."
"Something may have come up," Marcase said, trying to soothe him. "Maybe she had a schedule conflict, family emergency-"
"No. No, she would have told me. She knew it was important." He stirred, shrugging away Edward's hand a bit petulantly. "Who did you say the director was?" he asked, trying to sit up, but the change in position made him dizzy and he sank back against the pillow.
"Thomas Benedict. Hailey's checked him out, he's okay," Marcase said in what he hoped was a convincing tone of voice. He touched Cassian's shoulder. "Stop worrying about it. You need to get some rest. Could you eat or drink anything? Tea, ginger ale? Some toast?"
"No. Benedict. . . .Benedict. . . . I don't know. . . .maybe I met him once. . . ." Cassian frowned with the effort of remembering.
"Hey, cut it out," Marcase said gently. "Doctor's orders. It's probably not important. Are you in much pain?"
"No," Cassian said, not looking at Marcase. "Benedict. . . ."
"Is a closed subject, " Edward said firmly, placing the back of his hand against Cassian's face. "You feel warmer. Let's see what your temperature really is." He anticipated Cassian's protest and cut it off by saying, "Yeah, yeah. You know, they're right- doctors do make the worst patients." He smiled cajolingly. "Come on, Cassian- humor me."
Cassian sighed wearily, and turned his face away, resigned. "Do I have a choice?"
# # # # #
Kimberly Shiroma typed in lines of data, and watched as the screen blinked and changed. Nothing. She leaned back and rubbed her neck absently, trying to relieve some of the tension there. She double checked her figures just to make sure she hadn't mis-entered one, but it had been done correctly. Whatever caused those people to die hadn't been in this sample- or if it had, it wasn't there any longer. She pushed the chair back, and stood up, noting the time as she did so. Edward and Michael had been gone for hours. Briefly, she imagined Cassian had thrown them in a dungeon as intruders: she could just see Marcase beating on the bars with a tin cup, yelling at the top of his lungs, while Hailey dug a tunnel using an explosive he'd had hidden in a hollow tooth. No, Hailey would come up with something more ingenious than that tired old ploy. . . She smiled and shook her head. She really must be more tired than she'd realized-she was getting punchy. She needed some supper and a good night's sleep, and she intended to get both.
She gathered up her notes, stacking them neatly into folders, and took a last look at the computer screen as if something might have changed in the past minute or two. It hadn't. Just as she shut down the computer, she heard footsteps approaching briskly and looked up as Michael Hailey appeared in the doorway.
"It's about time," she said, folding her arms across her chest. "I was getting a bit tired of being the only one to do any work around here-"
The phone rang, interrupting her. She gave Hailey a look to let him know that he wasn't going to get off that easily, and picked up the receiver. "Shiroma."
"Kim, is Michael there yet?"
"Edward? Where are you?"
"Still at Cassian's. I need to talk to Michael."
"He's just walked in." She handed him the phone without protest. There had been an urgency in Edward's voice which had told her this was something serious; she could wait a moment to find out what.
Hailey took the phone. "How's Cassian?"
"Sleeping. At least I think he's sleeping. Listen, Michael, he told me that our new director was to be Dr. Ruth McKenzie- he was very insistent about that. What I want to know is, what happened."
"I'll look into it," Hailey replied, then added, "Remember what I said about the car." He hung up on Edward's snort and turned to face Kimberly.
"What's wrong with Cassian?" she asked, puzzled.
Hailey told her.
# # # # #
It was mid-morning before Marcase made it back to the lab. He'd had very little sleep, but he knew his weariness was caused as much by worry as by physical exhaustion. It wasn't just Cassian's condition, though that was bad enough. There was something about the situation with the project that just felt . . . wrong. He needed to talk to Kim. She would tell him he was imagining things and would help him put things in perspective. She might even be right this time.
She was already hard at work, as he knew she would be; he watched her for a moment, silently, unwilling to break the moment. She was in her element: her movements all had a deliberate grace, as delicate as some of her kites yet just as strong. He watched a second or two longer, then took a couple of noisy steps before saying "Good morning." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "What's with all the new security? I saw at least three guards between here and the front door."
Kimberly looked up and arose from her chair. "Edward, I'm glad you're back. Benedict brought them in. He thinks we need more protection." Her dark eyes were concerned. "How's Cassian?"
Marcase shrugged. "No change. He was still running a fever when I left-he slept most of the time, or at least pretended to. I think he was in a lot of pain. I was able to get a little liquid down him, but that's about it." He was silent for a moment. "He's in bad shape, Kim. He probably ought to be in a hospital now. If he doesn't get into remission soon. . . " He shook his head.
She stepped closer to him. "And how are you?"
"Me? I'm fine. Well, a little tired," he amended hastily, as she gave him a skeptical look. "Nothing a shot of caffeine won't fix. How are things going here?"
Kim shook her head. "No sign of anything abnormal. At least not in the samples I've seen, but I think you should know-" She broke off as they both reacted to the sound of someone approaching, or actually several someones.
Thomas Benedict strolled into the lab, followed by a solidly built blond man wearing military fatigues who didn't so much walk as march. Benedict was smiling as always, and Marcase felt a wave of dislike that he tried to conceal. He was not entirely successful.
"Good morning, Dr. Shiroma," Benedict said cheerfully. "Hard at work as usual. Your dedication is admirable. And Dr. Marcase, I'm glad to see that you've decided to drop in." Edward was sure he heard sarcasm in the tone, but Benedict's benign expression didn't change. "It'll be easier to introduce you all at once. May I present Major Halsey? He's going to be helping Mr. Hailey with security for the compound, freeing him for other assignments."
"Oh, really?" Edward's hands went automatically to his hips, giving him an unmistakably belligerent air. "And have you mentioned this to Mr. Hailey yet?"
Benedict shook his head regretfully. "I'm afraid not. I'd hoped Mr. Hailey would have been here by now, but the fact that he isn't simply illustrates that more than one man is needed for this particular job. This isn't any reflection on Mr. Hailey's abilities, and it certainly isn't a demotion. In fact, he'll be in a position to advance his career much more quickly now, and to be quite honest, I can't think of anyone who deserves it more." He stopped as if to gauge their reaction, but the scowl on Edward's face gave little doubt of what he was feeling.
"Look, Benedict," he snapped, "you may be the new project director, but you don't know a damn thing about this team, and that is the key word-team. We work together, we have to trust each other. You can't go throwing people on and off at a whim. Michael Hailey is the best man for this job and you know it. You get rid of Hailey, you can just count me out, too."
"And me," Kimberly said, stepping closer to Edward.
Benedict's smile faltered. "Well, I can see Mr. Hailey certainly has loyal friends but I want to assure you we're aren't getting rid of . We're simply. . . providing him with more opportunties."
"Let me explain it again, Benedict. If Hailey goes, we go," Marcase said, folding his arms across his chest.
"Very well," Benedict's voice was tight. "I realize that you are both very fond of Mr. Hailey but I would have thought you would have been pleased that he was receiving some of the recognition he deserves instead of wanting him to remain in his present position." He looked at Kimberly. "Dr. Shiroma, surely you see that this is not a rebuke but a reward for Mr. Hailey."
Kimberly hesitated. The tension in the air was almost tangible; all eyes were on her, waiting to see her reaction.
"I agree with Edward," she said at last, then quickly added, "but I want to finish this assignment. I don't like leaving things half done. It will take me at least two weeks to complete the tests on the specimens we brought back. We need to find out whatever it was that caused those deaths. I wouldn't want it on my conscience that someone else died because I didn't do my job." She looked at Marcase intently, willing him to play along. "Neither would you, Edward."
For a moment, Marcase couldn't believe what he was hearing. He had been so sure that Kimberly would back him up, so sure that she had seen through Benedict, seen him for the manipulator he was. . . . He started to tell her that, but then something stopped him short of speaking the thought aloud. He studied her carefully for a moment: the fixed stare above the tense jaw, the rigid posture, hands clenched at her side, all telegraphed an anxiety she had managed to conceal in her voice. There was something going on here, something lurking just below the surface, but there was no time to analyze it. He had to trust Kim's instincts and follow her lead.
"Yeah, you're right, Kim. We started this, we should finish it. I'll help you." With an effort, Edward relaxed his stance. "The faster we isolate this thing the better. But then, " he added defiantly, "I'm out of here."
The tension drained out of the room almost immediately, and Kimberly almost closed her eyes in relief.
Benedict's regarded them uncertainly for a beat, then his perpetual smile returned. "That's excellent, most excellent indeed. I'm sure having an extra set of hands around the lab will speed things up greatly, but I also hope that you will take the time to reconsider your position. It would be . . . a great loss to the project if you left." He turned to leave but paused. "You will let me know the minute you find anything-?"
"Of course," she said, trying to sound faintly surprised that he'd even ask. Satisfied, Benedict gave them both a nod good-bye, then turned and left, closely followed by Halsey. She watched them leave, then turned to face Edward, who was waiting somewhat impatiently for an explanation.
"I didn't think we needed a confrontation now," she said, absently brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes. "I was trying to tell you before, but didn't have a chance. Edward, I think someone has been tampering with some of the samples. I can't swear to it, but I think minute amounts are missing-nobody else would have noticed but-"
"But you're so anal-" Edward caught the flash of irritation that crossed her face and quickly corrected himself, "- so meticulous, you would."
"Even I can't swear to it. And if it had been just one or two, I would have thought I was mistaken, but I've found signs in at least half of the ones I've know how few people have clearance to get into this facility." She turned away from him slightly, looking toward the door. "And then Benedict came in with the news about Michael being off the project-"
Marcase waited, not commenting. Shiroma faced him abruptly.
"Cassian said something to me once, about first isolating and then defeating the enemy," she said quietly. "Edward- I think we're being isolated."
" 'We'- or you?"
"I'm going where?" Hailey repeated incredulouly.
"Paris," Benedict repeated, handing over the first class ticket with a flourish. "Your plane leaves in six hours. It seems a former colleague of yours has a rather sticky security problem. In the interest of furthering Franco-American relations, we thought perhaps you could help her out- and, of course, you have more than earned a vacation. The least we could do, it seems to me, is give you the opportunity to take it in one of the world's most beautiful cities." He gave Michael an indulgent smile. "I like to keep my people happy, Mr. Hailey. It makes for a more congenial work environment."
"Are Edward and Kimberly going on vacation as well?" Michael asked conversastionally, accepting the ticket.
"Of course, though they want to finish checking all the specimens first. I think they'll enjoy themselves much more after that's over. Dr. Shiroma thinks it shouldn't take them more than two weeks to finish. Would you like to speak to them before you go?"
Benedict turned to the wall and activated a monitor. The lab appeared on the screeen instantly. Marcase was seated in front of the computer, intent on the screen, but looked up quickly when Benedict activated the intercom.
"Hello, Dr. Marcase," the director said. "I do hate to interrupt you, but I thought you would like to wish Mr. Hailey bon voyage before he leaves for his new assignment in the City of Lights." He stepped aside slightly and indicated that Hailey could take over, but made no move to leave.
"Hey, Marcase- think you can look after yourself for a week?" Michael asked, delibberately using a light tone but keeping his expression serious.
"Oh, I think we can hold out that long," Edward answered, matching the tone. "The question is, can you?"
"I wouldn't worry about me. I can take care of myself. Anything you need from Paris?"
"Maybe some escargot for Halsey, a little reward for watching out for us. He'll be doing your job, you know."
"Can do. Tell Kimberly I said hello and to be careful- you never know what could be lurking in a lab, especially this one." He resisted the urge to look in Benedict's direction. "She might find we accidently brought back a new strain of the common cold."
"I'll tell her." Edward bit the inside of his lip. "Have a safe trip, Michael."
Hailey turned off the monitor. "I guess I'd better get packed. What's the latest weather forecast for Paris.?"
# # # # #
Michael Hailey didn't like airports. There were too many people moving around to keep track of properly- and too many who could be keeping track of you. People who were going to be sure you made your flight or report it if you didn't. Of course the flip side was that if you were trying to lose someone, there was nowhere better to do it than in a crowd
He scanned the scene restlessly. He didn't like leaving, but he really didn't have anything concrete on which to base it; just a gut feeling. Benedict was obviously trying to get rid of him, but that in and of itself didn't mean anything. He probably didn't like Michael any more than Michael liked him, and wanted his own people in place instead. That was understandable. Hailey would have tried to do the same thing, had he been given similar assignment: you wanted people you could trust around you. A second check of his background hadn't turned up anything suspicious, if he was indeed up to something, the man had been very circumspect.
But Michael had learned long ago to trust his instincts, and this was one situation he didn't like. And there was the matter of Ruth McKenzie. He had decided against calling Cassian about it; the man was to too ill to be disturbed just yet. Maybe when he got back from Paris. He was heartened that Edward and Kimberly were apparently on the alert. Marcase had seemed sure they would be all right for a week; he'd be sure to be back before then. And if this was a long term operation, Benedict wasn't likely to go and do something rash immediately. He'd take his time. Maybe by then Michael would know for whom the man was working. He leaned toward CIA but there had been that hint of a military connection. . . . Chemical and biological weapons might be officially on the table to be banned, but everybody seemed to want to stockpile some, just in case the other guy broke the rules.
His cell phone rang suddenly. He snatched it up. "Hailey."
"Cassian," was the reply. "How are you, Mr. Hailey?"
The voice sounded unnaturally tired, but Cassian had never been one for small talk when he was well, so Michael took the query seriously. "I'm fine. How are you?"
"Considering the situation, I have to admit I'm not feeling too . . . secure."
"I understand," Hailey said carefully. "Is there anything I can do?"
"No, I was just wondering if you'd spoken with our friends lately. I tried to call but I'm told the number I have for them is. . . incorrect."
So Cassian hadn't been able to get through. This was beginning to sound worse all the time. "I spoke to them a little while ago. They're at the lab, running tests on those samples we brought back. They haven't found anything so far, but they have a couple of weeks' worth to do yet." That should reassure anyone listening that Marcase and Shiroma weren't about to run out anytime soon, Michael thought. "It's going to be a lot of work but I'm sure they can handle the situation," he added aloud.
There was silence on the other end for a few seconds as if Cassian were considering what Hailey had said. "That's good to hear, Mr. Hailey. The next time you see Dr. Marcase, would you give him a message? I do remember the gentleman he mentioned- he was introduced to me by a late friend of mine at the FSI." Cassian paused. "My friend recommended him very highly."
The Future Studies Institute. One of the outwardly respectable think tanks largely controlled by the Dawn, it had been headed by Steven Rydell until his death from the Mayan virus- the virus he'd tried to use to kill Cassian. Hailey clenched the phone in his hand. Suddenly the situation was appallingly clear. "I'll be sure he gets the message."
"Thank you. Goodbye, Mr. Hailey."
The line went dead. Hailey hung up the phone; he hadn't told Cassian about Ruth McKenzie, but he had a feeling the other man knew already. He considered briefly. Pretending to leave for Paris would be the easiest part but it was going to be time consuming; the flight didn't leave for an hour yet, and he needed time to round up allies. He also needed to warn Marcase and Shiroma. A direct attempt at contact wouldn't work and would only alarm Benedict and his cronies. Something more subtle was needed, something discreet . . . . His gaze wandered over the waiting area, lingering on the cluster of business people who were busily taking calls, typing on laptops and checking pagers. He smiled slightly. He would put the hour to good use.
# # # # #
Edward booted up the computer and waited for the bio-database to come online. Kimberly was making some final notes on the latest batch of samples; the suits weren't exactly conducive to writing. He rubbed his eyes tiredly. Coffee just wasn't going to do it this time. He'd have to get some sleep soon. He stifled a yawn, and peered at the screen. It was taking longer than usual. . . .
Then he noticed the file icon in the corner. It was labeled "scrapbook" and it had definitely never been there before.
"Uh, Kim. . . would you mind taking a look at this?"
She looked up, alerted by his tone, and came to look at the screen. "What file is that?"
"There's one way to find out." He clicked on the icon, which opened to reveal two web addresses, both apparently from a newspaper database. He and Kimberly looked at each other, then Marcase shrugged and typed in the first one. After a few seconds, the screen produced an obituary section.
"Associated Press. Dr. Ruth McKenzie, well-known research scientist and medical doctor, was the victim of a fatal hit and run accident . . . .." They scanned the article quickly; no arrests had been made, no witnesses had come forward. The police were still conducting their investigation. By unspoken mutual consent, Marcase typed in the second address.
This time the computer produced the society page, dated some two years earlier. Puzzled, they scanned the articles, reading about charity luncheons and art exhibits. Edward glanced at the photo, which showed a young woman smiling prettily for the camera at a local debutant ball, and started to scroll down the page when he realized there was someone vaguely familiar in the background. He scrolled back, enlarged the photo, and they found themselves looking at a picture of Dr. Thomas Benedict. His mouth was smiling as usual but his eyes were serious, as he was apparently listening intently to a tuxedoed gentleman on his right. Edward turned his attention to Benedict's companion.
It was Steven Rydell.
"That does it," Marcase said softly. "We're getting out of here. Tonight."
The rest of the day passed slowly. They stuck to the routine Kim had established, dutifully entering results and filing reports, trying very hard to behave normally. Kimberly had deliberately over-estimated the completion time to Benedict; and by limiting their examinations to the untouched specimens they were down to a just over two dozen samples. Marcase had taken his turn in the biohazard suit, preparing some on slides, and surreptitiously packaging others. He didn't want to leave any behind. If there was a pathogen lurking in one of them, he didn't intend for the Dawn to find it. If it was in the others, the ones Kim thought had been tampered with, then they had it already. He prayed that wasn't the case.
He had packed the samples carefully in two thermos bottles which were then placed in a small cooler and stashed near the exit of the bio-chamber. After shedding the suit, he picked up the cooler and wrapped it up in his jacket before heading toward the main lab. Kimberly was still entering data when he emerged, casually placing his jacket and the cooler on a chair. From the corner of his eye, he saw Benedict, Halsey and a guard approaching but pretended not to notice.
"About ready to call it a night, Kim?" he asked, smothering the impulse to raise his voice theatrically. She looked up at him, and he allowed his eyes to dart quickly in Benedict's direction.
Shiroma resisted the urge to look, instantly understanding they had company. "I'll be ready in a few minutes, Edward. You can go ahead if you'd like-oh, hello, Dr. Benedict."
"Good evening, Dr. Shiroma. Still hard at work, I see," the elderly man said. Edward wondered if it was just his imagination or if some of the usual effusive warmth had gone from the director's voice. He moved to stand between Kim and Benedict.
"Yeah, well, she should go home and get some sleep. It'll still be waiting for us tomorrow, Kim. And the next day, and the day after and the day after that..." He grinned lazily at Benedict and sat down on the edge of the desk. "Come on and I'll treat you to a burger, guaranteed the greasiest in town. You too, Dr. Benedict," he added, feeling reckless. The older man seemed a bit taken aback, just as Edward had thought he would be. "Fries too. The works."
"That's very kind of you, Dr. Marcase, but I think I will have to pass on your generous offer. And I'm afraid I speak for Dr. Shiroma as well."
"Excuse me?" Kim said indignantly, standing up. "I can speak for myself, Dr. Benedict, and I would love a greasy hamburger. Come on, Edward, let's go."
Almost immediately, the exit was blocked by Halsey and the guard. Their faces were expressionless, automatic weapons in their hands.
Angrily, Marcase turned to the director. "What's this all about, Benedict? What do you mean, we can't leave? And why do you have Laurel and Hardy there-"
"I think you can stop pretending, Dr. Marcase. You know perfectly well what is going on here-otherwise you wouldn't have been planning to leave us," Benedict's tone was serene. "And as I recall, you and Mr. Hailey were Laurel and Hardy. Or so you identified yourselves at the Future Studies Institute," he added for Kimberly's benefit. He gestured toward the chair and Halsey stepped forward to claim the cooler from its hiding place under Edward's jacket and handed it over to the older man.
"I had hoped that it wouldn't come to this," Benedict continued, cradling the cooler in his arms. "I had hoped that we could work together, but I should have known that when we had to move in so precipitously you would have been suspicious. I admit this operation was rather clumsily done. It was simply too important to us. If this pathogen is as lethal and as unstoppable as it seems, then we must have it." He caressed the cooler gently. "We have a number of rather interesting biological weapons already, strains of encephalitis, pneumonic plagues, cholera- would you believe we have even isolated some viruses that cause cancer?"
Edward stared at the older man, startled. "What?" His mind instantly made the connection. "You infected Cassian, didn't you? Didn't you? That's how you planned to get rid of him, nothing so suspicious as an accident-" He started to step closer to Benedict, but Halsey was instantly on the defensive, gun already aimed.
Benedict didn't bother to answer but continued smoothly, "Unfortunately, these are all flawed: some can be cured if caught in time, others take months or even years to kill, still others don't have a high enough fatality rate. But this-" he raised the cooler almost reverently, "this pathogen kills quickly and leaves few survivors. Much more efficient. Almost the Holy Grail of diseases," he concluded, dreamily.
Marcase laughed. "I can't believe you still subscribe to this crackpot idea. Kill off all humanity in the name of saving the earth?" He shook his head, smiling in disbelief. "The thing I really don't understand is how you manage to convince anybody to go along with you. You're all signing your own death warrants, you know. What do you get out of it?" he asked, looking directly at Halsey and the guard.
"Their children's children will be the inheritors." Benedict replied for them.
Marcase crossed his arms. "Thought the idea was to kill off all the humans."
"All the present species." Benedict looked earnest. "We are breeding a new race of humans, an eco-friendly species, if you will, who are attuned to the needs of the earth. Stronger, more intelligent than the present homo sapiens- genetically improved to complement the earth, not destroy it."
"Yeah, right," Marcase said sarcastically. "That's gonna be real easy."
Benedict smiled, looking more smug than usual. "You'd be surprised. This isn't some recent whim, Dr. Marcase. We've been working on this for years."
"And in the meantime, all us undesirables are completely expendable."
"You are." He turned to gaze at Kimberly. "Dr. Shiroma, on the other hand. . . . Let's just say we have a lot of time invested in her already."
"What are you talking about?" Kimberly spat out the words.
"Your parents were interested in some of our ideas." He smiled at her fondly. "They were fine people. But this is neither the time nor place to discuss that now. We have more work to do. I do hope that you will consent to work with us and not against us, Dr. Shiroma. Not now, I realize that," he said, overriding Kimberly's incipient protest, "but in the future. For the common good."
Marcase glanced covertly at the two soldiers. They were still watching him but not as intently, their attention partially on the dialog between Kimberly and Benedict. Kim was the better fighter by far-he'd been in a lot of street brawls, but hadn't had the martial arts training she had. Still, if he could just buy her some time, she might be able to escape, find Hailey and stop this project. He tensed, ready.
"I don't believe you," Kimberly was saying. "My parents would never willingly participate in the type of thing you're suggesting. It's insane."
Benedict refused to be baited. "Believe what you wish, my dear, but the truth is there for those who will see. They wanted a child so much." He reached out to touch her face, but Kimberly had had enough. Almost faster than an eye could follow, her hand shot out and struck Benedict in the chest, knocking him backwards. Marcase immediately punched Halsey, trying to slam him into the guard, but the other soldier was too quick. Edward had an impression of movement before the gun butt hit his skull with enough force to drop him to the floor. Lights flared in front of his eyes, brighter than shooting stars. He heard blood pounding in his ears and somewhere else there was a rumble of voices but he was beyond understanding what was said. He tried to find his feet, find the floor, but then a wave of pain came, strong enough to make him nausesous.
"Edward, don't try to get up." The words were soft in his ear, but almost unfocused. He wondered what they meant. Someone was holding his arm, trying to keep him from rising. His head hurt. He reached up to touch it and was vaguely surprised to see that his hand was red when he brought it down. His vision cleared enough for him to see that it was Kimberly.
"You shoulda run," he mumbled.
"I'm not leaving you here. Besides, we don't know how many others they have here- something you should have thought about before you decided to play hero." Her tone was sharp but he could feel her fingers carefully probing the side of his head and he knew her anger was really concern. "Did you lose consciousness completely?" she demanded. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
"No. And two," he replied, hoping that was correct.
He never found out: an alarm began sounding and an automated voice said, "Unauthorized personnel in sector four. Repeat, unauthorized personnel in sector four."
Halsey consulted a monitor. "Someone's trying to come through the underground tunnel," he reported. "No visual contact, but heat sensors are detecting at least ten separate bodies."
"Hailey, no doubt. He knows the routes well enough. Has he discovered his pass codes no longer work?"
"I don't think so," the other man replied. "The alarms are patched through directly to us, so as far as he knows, he's entering undetected. Do you want me to set the destruct sequence?"
"Any sign of activity outside?" Benedict asked.
"No, sir." Halsey consulted briefly with someone via radio. "It appears clear. We have transportation waiting for us in the courtyard."
"Excellent. Then while they try to sneak in the back door, we shall go out the front. Initiate destruct sequence." Benedict turned to Kimberly. "I'm afraid you're going to have to go with us, my dear. I hadn't planned on forcing the issue quite so soon, but your Mr. Hailey obviously has other ideas."
"Not without Edward." Shiroma lifted her head defiantly.
"Oh, very well, we'll bring him along. But I think you realize that his continued well-being will depend on your cooperation?"
"Yes," she said, over Edward's protest.
Benedict signaled Halsey, who came over and none too gently helped Marcase to his feet. The world was spinning, and he was almost overcome by nausea. Kimberly pulled his arm over her shoulders and tried to help support his weight. In the background he could hear a mechanical voice saying, "Self destruct sequence activated. This facility will destruct in nine minutes."
Vaguely, Edward was aware there were other people moving around the corridors as they were herded out into the court yard, uniformed people with guns; he realized they were going after Hailey and his men, either to kill them outright or just to make sure they didn't escape before the self-destruct took place. Expendables. He stopped abruptly, pulling Shiroma up short, and and slammed his hand against an intercom button.
He started to yell into it, hoping it was connected to the tunnels as well. "Michael, look-"
He was silenced by a punch to his abdomen that bent him double and knocked his breath away, then Halsey grabbed him by the arm and dragged him out into the courtyard, leaving Kimberly to hurry after them. Edward stumbled on the uneven ground, and fell to his knees. Halsey swung around, arm raised to strike him again when a well-placed kick sent him flying backwards. Marcase looked up to see a very angry Kimberly Shiroma on the verge of delivering another blow, but from the corner of his eye he saw Halsey on his knees raising his rifle.
"Halsey! NO!" Benedict yelled.
Whether or not Halsey would have obeyed became academic when his body jerked suddenly and a hole appeared in the center of his forehead. He toppled over without a sound. For half a moment Marcase thought Benedict had shot the soldier, but the stunned silence told him otherwise. A flurry of frantic activity errupted as everyone scrambled for cover. Kimberly pulled Edward toward the house to huddle in the scant protection of the shrubbery. He looked up at her and grinned suddenly.
"Hey-I always wanted my own bodyguard."
"You need a keeper, not a bodyguard," she said grimly, studying his face. "Keep your head down." She peered cautiously around the bush and saw another soldier was down. A third fell as she watched and she realized the marksman was firing down on them. She scanned the roof. "It's Michael!"
"Where?" Edward was beside her in an instant, trying to see through eyes that still weren't focussing properly. The blood from the gash in his head was running slowly down his face, threatening to start dripping into his eye.
A car door slammed and Shiroma turned toward the sound. Someone had started the van and it was moving slowly toward the gate, side door open. Benedict was racing toward it, still clutching the cooler in his arms. She jumped to her feet and yelled as loudly as she could, "Hailey! The van! Get the van!"
For a moment she wasn't sure he had heard her, but then the van pinged as a bullet stuck its fender. Benedict leaped inside and slammed the door. The van started to pick up speed. Then a second bullet hit a tire, and the sudden blow-out sent the vehicle spinning. It crashed into one of the brick guardhouses and came to a complete stop.
It seemed strange to have so much silence after all the frenzy. Nothing moved at all except the breeze.
"Gasoline," Marcase said a bit wonderingly. "I smell gasoline."
The van exploded, sending a wave of heat rolling upward and outward. Even as far away as they were, Edward and Kimberly could feel the heat beating against exposed skin and the acrid smoke burned their eyes and air passages. From somewhere in the van, a lone voice was screaming; it was impossible to tell who. They sat, frozen in horror, clinging to each other, knowing there was no possibilty of rescue.
It took less than a minute for the cries to stop but it seemed much longer.
"Ow!" Edward yelped. "Are you sure you used a local? Or did you just want to torture me?"
"People who try to take on an army single-handedly deserve what they get," Kimberly replied sternly, tying a suture on the gash in Marcase's forehead. "That was a really stupid thing to do, Edward."
"So you keep telling me."
"You're just lucky that he didn't fracture your skull, but I guess you're too hard-headed." She snipped the end and surveyed her work critically. "It should heal up without too much of a scar-enough to impress the girls with, though." She removed her gloves and set the suture tray aside. "Now you're going to the hospital for observation, right, Michael?"
Hailey appeared seemingly out of nowhere. "If I didn't have to oversee the clean-up, I'd escort him personally. But don't worry, I'll send one of my best men along to make sure he goes."
"Hope it's somebody better than who set up the self-destruct that didn't." Edward paused a moment. There was something not quite right about that sentence but just now it was difficult to figure out what. It was hard enough just to stay sitting upright the way his head was pounding. He wondered if you could die from a headache. He should know, he told himself, he was a doctor. Maybe he could ask Kim.
"I set up that system," Michael was saying, "and a good thing too, or I wouldn't have been able to disarm it before we set the alarms off. They'd altered a lot of the settings, but hadn't had time to make any radical changes so it wasn't had to over-ride. I figured that would be the easiest way to flush Benedict out and assumed he'd have you two with him, so we were outside waiting-"
"Isolate and defeat," Marcase said. "Like the enemy." He giggled a little.
Hailey looked at him a bit strangely, then glanced at Shiroma.
"He has a concussion," she explained, folding her arms across her chest. "And I think the codeine has just kicked in." At Michael's concerned look, she added softly, "The CT scan didn't show any hemmoraging or other damage, but he isn't going to to feel very well for quite awhile. And just in case-"
"Hospital," Hailey nodded agreement. "You look like you could use one, too."
Kimberly shook her head. "I'm all right. Just tired. It's been a long day."
Michael studied her for a moment, then nodded. "I'll get someone to drive you home. Get some sleep, okay?"
"How about you?" she countered. "After all, you had to play cavalry for us."
"Yeah," Marcase said, his words just slightly slurred. "Playin' cavalry has to be hard, all those horses an' things."
Hailey ignored him and addressed Kimberly. "I need to oversee some of the mopping up here. I'll be fine. It shouldn't take too much longer, and then I'll sack out, I promise."
She nodded her acceptance. "How is it going? Were you able to capture many of the Dawn's soldiers?"
"No," Hailey replied grimly. At Kimberly's inquiring look, he explained, "Most of them were sent down to the tunnels to intercept us, only we weren't there. We just tripped the alarms, then when the Dawn reached the tunnels we set off the lock down and sealed them in. When we released the doors to take them in to custody, they were all dead. Murder suicides."
Kimberly took a moment to digest this information before asking, "Did any survive?"
"A few. We have three in critical condition after trying to take out as many of us as they could, two relatively unharmed. They're being questioned, but I doubt they'll be very helpful. We think a couple more escaped." There was an angry set to Michael's jaw and he turned away from her. "Six of my people were killed, three more seriously injured."
Kimberly put her hand on his arm a bit tenatively. "Michael- thank you. From both of us." She glanced over at Marcase who had apparently dozed off sitting up, his head leaning against the wall. Hailey followed her gaze and a corner of his mouth twitched.
"Guess I better see about getting somebody to get him to the hospital before he falls off the bed and does more damage."
Kim gave him a small smile in return, then as he turned to go asked curiously, "How did you manage to come up with the connection between Benedict and the Dawn?"
"Cassian called. He remembered Benedict."
"Cassian brought Benedict down?" She shook her head. "Maybe there is such a thing as justice, after all."
The sun was already up by the time Kimberly arrived back at her apartment. The adreneline rush had worn off, leaving her wobbly kneed and exhausted, and almost as punchy as Edward had been. She didn't even bother to change before falling into bed. Her sleep was deep and dreamless.
She didn't awaken until late evening. Her eyes still felt leaden with sleep but she was hungry. She drank a glass of milk and ate a sandwich, then showered and changed. She felt as if she were shedding her skin, sloughing off the previous day's events, making a new beginning. She had carefully avoided thinking too much about what had happened. She almost felt as if she were on a precipiece and if she made too many careless steps or looked down too much, she might fall. Compartmentalizing came easily to her, though; she'd done it all her life. And she had other things to think about, too: people to check on.
She found her address book and dialed Cassian's number, but the only response was the answering machine. She left a message, then dialed the hospital number.
"Hello, Patient Information."
"I'd like to check on Edward Marcase, please. This is Dr. Kimberly Shiroma."
"Just a moment." She could head the slight noise of a keyboard as information was typed in. "I'm sorry, but we do not have a patient by that name."
"Are you sure? He would have come in last night, no this morning," she hastily corrected herself.
There was another pause and more keyboard noises. "I'm sorry, Dr. Shiroma, but Dr. Marcase checked himself out not long after he was admitted."
Kimberly bit off an expletive. "Thank you," she said, hanging up the phone. She was trying to decide whether to call Edward, or just go to his apartment and chew him out in person. He had to be the most pigheaded, stubborn-
The phone rang suddenly. Probably Edward, she thought. Won't stay in the hospital where he belongs so now he needs someone to come over and help him get up no doubt. She pressed her lips together and snatched up the phone.
"Yes?" she snapped.
"Dr. Shiroma?" an unfamiliar voice said a bit uncertainly.
"Uh. . . yes."
"This is Ross Hamilton. I just got your message."
It took her a moment to place the name. "Oh-Cassian's cousin. How is he?"
"He's been hospitalized."
"Bad enough. He's running a high fever and has had some arrythmia."
"I'll be right there."
She thought a moment, then dialed the phone again. She wasn't surprised to hear the answering machine pick up. "Michael, it's Kim. Would you check on Edward when you get a chance? He left the hospital AMA-against medical advice-and is probably at his apartment. I'm going to the GWU Med Center. Cassian's been admitted." She hung up the phone and found her purse, then hurried out the door.
# # # # #
She'd almost forgotten how a hospital could echo at night, especially along the long corridors. She found the room without trouble, and slipped quietly inside. For a moment she thought she'd been misdirected; the patient in the bed couldn't be Daniel Cassian. Even in the dim light she could see that he was too thin, too pale, too-fragile. That was never a word she would have thought could have been applied to the patrician former director. His hair, dampened by sweat, clung to his forehead. A cardiac monitor beeped softly. Her eyes traced the bruises down his arms, and she took an involuntary breath as she saw the straps.
"We had to restrain him," a voice said quietly from a corner. "He kept pulling out the IVs." For the first time she noticed the man sitting near the bed, almost hidden in the half light. He was young and dark-haired, with an oval face but with the same heavy-lidded eyes as Cassian. He was wearing rumpled scrubs; a lab coat was lying on the chair next to him.
He gave her a small smile. "Ross, please."
Cassian moved restlessly, his head tossing on the pillow. She sat by him and took his hand in both of hers, trying to offer comfort. His eyes opened slightly and he stared at her blankly.
"Daniel? Daniel, it's Kimberly." She reached up and gently brushed the damp hair from his forehead. His lips had cracked and bled from the fever, leaving dark lines of dried blood. She could feel the heat radiating off his skin before she made contact and she looked over at Ross, concern evident on her face.
"It's actually down a little. It's been 106 for nearly thirty hours. Sarah-Dr. Verghese, his oncologist- doesn't think he'll have brain damage from it," he added answering the question she hadn't asked aloud. "She says she's seen this in patients before and they generally come back all right -or else they don't recover at all. " Cassian's eyes closed again and he gave a faint gasp of pain, turning his face away from her and toward the wall. "He's calmed down a lot," Ross continued softly. "He was delirious when I brought him in, tried to fight us all off." He rubbed a hand across the side of his face ruefully and she saw the beginning of a bruise along the cheekbone.
"What about the arrythmia problems you mentioned?"
"He hasn't had an incident in about ten hours. It's almost certainly due to the massive doses of interferon he's been receiving. He may have to discontinue it."
Kimberly looked at the man lying in the bed and felt a lump in her throat. "Will he go to chemo, then?"
Ross was didn't answer at once, and when he finally did he didn't look up. "Sarah isn't sure he's strong enough for chemo."
The room was silent for a few minutes except for the gentle beeping of the monitors and the faint hospital noises that filtered through the door. Cassian stirred slightly, mumbling something that Shiroma couldn't quite understand. "Hey, it's okay, it's okay," Ross said soothingly, resting a hand on his shoulder, but Daniel tugged futility at the restraints for several minutes before finally subsiding.
Ross stood up, rubbing the back of his neck to try to relieve some of the tension there. He looked as if he'd like to start pacing, but the room was so cramped that with the two of them there wasn't really enough space. Kimberly noticed for the first time how tired he looked, and realized he must have come directly from his own shift to look after Cassian.
Ross interrupted her thoughts, gesturing at the bed. "He's been doing that a lot, keeps trying to get up. He's upset about someone named Benedict," he said, running his fingers though his hair in frustration. "I don't know why."
"I do," Kimberly said quietly. She leaned over the bed, turning Cassian's face toward her slightly and looked directly into his eyes. "Daniel-Daniel, it's Kimberly. It's all right. Benedict is. . . . taken care of. It's all over. Don't worry about it."
His eyes still weren't focusing on her. His lips moved almost soundlessly; she couldn't discern the words he was trying to form, but the anxiety was obvious. She placed her hands on either side of his face, trying to help him register her presence.
"Daniel, it's Kim," she repeated, speaking slowly and clearly. "It's all right. We're safe. You did it. You saved us. We're safe." She said the words over and over, almost like a mantra. At last Cassian seemed to grasp the sense, if not the actual meaning, and gradually relaxed, though he still didn't recognize her. Finally, exhaustion took over: his eyes closed and his breathing slowed slightly as he drifted off to sleep. Shiroma leaned back in her chair, feeling drained.
"I don't know what's been going on, but if you'll excuse my saying so, you look like you've been through a wringer."
"I feel like I've been through a wringer. It's all kind of hard to explain-" She bit her lip, wondering how much she could safely tell him.
"You'd probably better not, unless you really want to. When Daniel's involved, it tends to be on a need to know basis." He sounded faintly amused, and Kim wondered how much he knew about Cassian's work. He certainly seemed to know Cassian.
"Edward told me you've been taking care of Daniel," she said, giving him an opening.
Hamilton shrugged and sat back down. "I owe him. I wouldn't be a doctor if it weren't for him."
"He influenced you that much?" She tried to keep the incredulity out of her voice. Somehow Cassian didn't seem the sort to inspire such dedication, especially given the somewhat cavaliar way she'd seen him use experimental drugs on patients.
Ross laughed, seeming to pick up on her thoughts. "No, I meant that much more literally. He got me into med school." He picked up his stethoscope from the table and began to finger it absently. "I don't know how much you know about the family, but medicine goes way back- probably to Hipocrates for all I know. It's expected." Shiroma nodded encouragement, and he continued, "Well, I was one of the black sheep. Oh, I knew I loved medicine and wanted to be a doctor but I didn't realize I had to expend any effort. My grades were okay, I pulled down As and Bs without cracking a book, I spent most of my undergrad days in, shall we say, non-academic pursuits. I figured I'd do the same in med school, and of course I'd get in a good one. The family name and reputation- not to mention a lot of donations. Only I didn't count on the MCAT." He looked up at her, shaking his head ruefully. "Too busy trying to party hearty to bother with studying-I'd been aceing standardized tests for years. Piece o'cake. Or so I thought.
"It was a real shock when I found out I'd failed. The rest of the family sort of wrote me off. They hadn't approved of my father, and I guess they were thinking that it just showed they'd been right all along."
"But Daniel didn't?"
"Maybe he did. I don't know. But he was willing to let me have another chance."
"He pulled strings?"
Ross laughed again. "Not a chance. He drilled me like a marine sergeant until I was answering questions in my sleep. My next MCAT scores were good enough to off-set indifferent grades and I squeaked into med school." He looked over at Cassian, who seemed to be resting quietly for the moment. "He's a good guy. You know how in every family there's one person who takes care of things? That's Daniel. Oh, if somebody isn't willing to work or just gets in trouble for the hell of it, forget it-he won't lift a finger. But if he thinks you're worth saving, if you can be useful, he'll do whatever he can. He can be play fast and loose with some of the rules and come up justification for it, and God knows, he hates to depend on anybody else for anything, but he's a good guy." He put the stethoscope back down and looked at Kimberly directly. "This has been pure torment for him. I think he'd almost rather have died and gotten it over with."
Shiroma felt a wave of anger sweep over her. If you did this to him, Benedict, I hope you're burning in hell. Aloud, she said, "I know. He likes to be in control- of everything. Have the rest of the family been to see him yet?"
Hamilton shook his head. "Need to know, remember? I found out more or less by accident. I'd referred a patient to Sarah Verghese and was discussing some of the treatment when she asked if I'd been tested yet. She assumed he'd told us all, but I don't think he'd told anyone. Still hasn't, as far as I know- except for me, after I showed up on his doorstep looking for a place to stay. It's kind of hard to keep a secret like that when you're puking your guts out on a regular basis and too tired to get out of bed half the time-" There was an angry edge to his voice that Kimberly hadn't heard before. Ross seemed to realize it, too, and stopped abruptly. Then he sighed and leaned back in his chair, looking weary. "I guess he wanted to be in remission first. Feel like he was more in control of the situation. Besides, right now everybody's pretty well scattered across the country and out of it, following their own agendas. It's a Cassian family trait, along with secrecy and deviousness- or so my mother says," he added, the corner of his mouth twitching upwards.
"But-family members are more likely to be good donor matches, especially siblings," Kim said, troubled. "He has to know that. He needs to let them know so they can be tested-"
Ross interrupted, shaking his head. "Not necessary. Everybody was tested when Robert's daughter Rebecca was diagnosed with leukemia. The results were already on file, all he had to do was run them for matches. No luck."
"Not even his brother?"
"Half-brother. No." He rubbed a hand over his eyes. "I'm going to go get some coffee. Want some?"
"I think you'd be better off to get some sleep before your next shift," Shiroma told him. "I can stay with Daniel." When he hesitated, she continued, "Look, his temperature is still dropping; the fever's broken. I can always call you if I need you. Besides, I'm sure your patients would appreciate having a doctor who hasn't been awake for twenty-four hours straight."
He considered a second longer, then got to his feet. "You've talked me into it. I'll stay here, though, in the third floor residents' call room. You can page me if he gets worse again. Or if you get tired. Despite the Cassian reputation for deviousness, I didn't call you just to get someone to spell me."
She smiled back at him. "I realize that." She let him reach the door before she added, "Speaking of deviousness, I can't help but think what a fortunate coincidence it was that that your apartement went condo at such an opportune time."
He stopped and looked at her over his shoulder. "Dr. Shirmona, I'm not going to dignify that remark with a reply." It was only then that she realized he also had the Cassian smile.
Daniel slept for the next several hours. Kimberly checked his vital signs regularly and was relieved to see them settle into something approaching normal readings. He was still experiencing some pain, she was sure, but not enough to awaken him even when the nurses made their rounds. In between she fussed with the covers, making sure he was warm enough, applied salve to his lips and loosened the restraints in an effort to make him as comfortable as possible. Cassian been right when he'd been so ill with the Mayan; sometimes the living was harder than the dying. She thought about Benedict again, and felt another wave of anger. If he had caused this, then he got what he deserved-better, because at least he'd died quickly. She found herself wondering what sort of cover story they'd concoct to explain what happened. The truth was out of the question: rogue scientists plan to exterminate human race, film at eleven. They'd probably had to use dental records to identify the bodies - not that there was much doubt, but families liked to be sure they were burying the right bodies.
Her mind froze at the word: families. She'd been avoiding thinking about it for hours, but it sat at the back of her mind, a small cancer eating away at her world. Could her parents have possibly, even for a minute, bought into this insanity? Her heart wanted to say no; her head wasn't sure. She'd been so young when they died in the accident-if it was an accident. . . . And even if they hadn't participated knowingly, could it still be true that she had been-tampered with? Altered? She let out a shuddering breath. Even if she tried to check her DNA, it wouldn't necessarily tell her. The human gene mapping program has made strides but in comparison to the number of gene combinations possible in humans, all they knew was a pebble on a very large beach. The changes might have been so minute that they could pass for natural variation or mutation.
Could she have just been an experiment? Was she something not quite. . . human? She found herself looking at her hands. Ten fingers. Ten normal human fingers with normal human veins beneath the surface of the skin, human skin. Hands very much like her mother's. Kim had a sudden vision of her mother's hands, so delicate-looking but so strong, tying a knot. "This is the way you make a tako, a kite," her mother was saying. "Someday you will make them too, Kim-chan."
"All by myself?"
"All by yourself, " her mother confirmed, smiling, as she guided her daughter's chubby fingers into making the next knot herself.
Kim blinked, and stared at her hands. She suddenly realized they were trembling.
I can't think about this now, she told herself. Later. When things are back to normal, when Cassian is in remission, when Edward is all right, when I'm rested and can think clearly. But not now.
She wished Michael would call. She knew couldn't reasonably expect to hear from him until morning since he'd been working on the clean-up long after she'd gone home, and she knew that Edward was probably okay- though she knew he'd be hurting, both from his head and his bruises. She'd checked him over pretty thoroughly before relinquishing him to the care of the hospital, but tonight she felt the need to be reassured. So much about her world had been disturbed. Things she would never have questioned were now in doubt. And she didn't want Edward to be alone.
He'd become more important to her than she could ever have imagined. She hadn't wanted to admit it to herself, but there it was. She clearly remembered the first minute she'd seen him, unshaven, unkempt, so damned sure of himself- and she had hated him. Hated him for being alive when Allen wasn't. He'd made it easy, too. After all, she couldn't be angry with Allen. Allen was dead. Dead because he'd done something stupid. He should have let Edward prepare those bodies because Edward was immune to Ebola, but she knew that Allen would have insisted on doing his share.
Just as Edward would, if the situations were reversed.
It had taken her some time to admit the truth to herself. Part of her had known it all along, but the anger had helped her to ignore it. Then, she began to realize that underneath the bluster Edward had the same qualities she'd loved in Allen: the idealism, the compassion, the integrity. He cared. He tried to hide it underneath a wiseass exterior, but he couldn't, any more than he could stop rushing in where angels fear to tread. . . .
And that was the problem.
He also had the same recklessness that had killed Allen. It had caused him to take the drug that mimicked Hodgkin's to infiltrate the cult compound, prompted him to try to take on Halsey so she could escape, caused him to taunt his captors and nearly killed with a lethal injection. Stupid. Like Allen.
And yet. . . there was a little voice in the back of her mind that said this was part of his attraction. She had always been cautious, even as a child. The only risks she took were calculated ones, the options weighed carefully before proceeding.
Maybe Edward had been right. Maybe she was anal.
She realized she was pacing, and forced herself to stop. The chairs in this room were amazingly uncomfortable, though, and the thought of sitting held no appeal. She was about to go out and look for another chair or a pillow or something when she saw Cassian's eyes were open.
"Welcome back," she said softly, going to him. "How are you feeling?"
He stared at her vacantly, apparently aware there was someone there but without knowing who. ". . . water. . ."
She reached for a glass and held his head to help him drink. He managed a few sips, then she set the water aside and eased his head back down onto the pillow. His eyes closed briefly, then opened again to gaze in her direction. She leaned closer and smoothed his hair back, relieved to feel that the skin was cool again. "Do you want more water?"
He didn't answer, but continued staring. Finally, a glint of awareness appreared in his eyes and he whispered, "...Kim?..."
She felt tears sting her eyes even as she wanted to laugh. "Yes," she told him gently. "It's Kim." She took his hand and sat back down by the bed.
The chair really wasn't so bad.
It took several minutes for Edward to realize that the pounding wasn't just in his head: someone was beating on the door. He sat up gingerly, wincing as his bruised muscles reacted to the change in position, and fought back a wave of nausea. He closed his eyes to steady himself before he tried walking, and wished vaguely that all those writers and actors who made concussion seem like a minor inconvenience which could be cured in hours would have the experience themselves.
Marcase opened his eyes carefully and looked up, but his vision was still blurry. It took him a moment to recognize Hailey who was standing beside the bed, arms folded across his chest, wearing a definite "I-told-you-so" look.
"I did knock, " Michael said conversationally, "but when no one answered the door I decided to let myself in."
"I was coming," Edward said a bit defensively.
"So I see, but I'd hoped to do something else today besides wait for you to make it across the apartment to the door. Did you sleep well?" Hailey's voice was just a shade too sweet but Marcase didn't notice.
"Not particularly. I was awake most of the night." He pinched the spot between his eyes. "I think it's time for more codeine." He looked up at Hailey, hoping the man would take the hint.
"Now had you stayed in the hospital where you belonged, there would have been someone to bring it to you. Even someone who might have brought it by before your headache got so bad again. Maybe even gotten you a drink of water. Certainly change out of those clothes," Hailey's tone was deceptively gentle. "But no, you had to check yourself out and come home. Put yourself at risk- again- and cause your friends more worry. You can be very inconsiderate, Marcase."
"Thanks, Michael. I really needed to hear that right now."
"Yes, you did," Hailey replied sharply. "You've got a good head when you're not trying to get it taken off. Use it."
"Okay, okay, I get the picture."
"Besides, since you left against medical advice, your insurance is not going to pay for this."
"Okay, already!" Edward stood up and knew immediately that had been a mistake. The room tilted or maybe he tilted, but he felt Michael grab his shoulders to steady him.
"You remember how I told you once you were a dumb kid? Well, I take it back. You are a dumb kid." There was a current of genuine annoyance in Hailey's voice and Edward began to feel a bit guilty.
"Look, I'm sorry. You're right. I don't think. I'm only surprised that Kim isn't here to chew me out too." He regained his equilibruim and pulled away from Hailey. "Or is she too angry to speak to me?"
Michael was silent for a moment, then replied quietly, "I don't know how angry she is, but I do know she was going to the hospital."
Edward's head snapped around. "Hospital? Did she get hurt? Why didn't you tell me?"
"She's fine. Cassian's there. It doesn't sound good."
It took a second for Edward to absorb the news. "When-?"
Hailey shook his head. "I don't know exactly. I'm on my way there now."
"I'm going with you."
Hailey looked at the white face, the slightly unfocussed eyes, the soiled bandage, and said, "I don't think so."
"Come on, Michael. If you don't take me, I'll find my own way there."
Hailey regarded him sourly. "Yeah, you probably would. All right, but you've got to eat something first. And change those clothes. Otherwise you're liable to get kicked out as a vagrant."
Marcase looked down at the blood stained, dirty clothes. He couldn't remember when he'd put them on-yesterday? The day before? "Deal."
She turned in time to see Marcase-pale but reasonably steady-and Hailey approaching down the hospital corridor. She stopped and waited on them to catch up.
"Hello, Michael. Edward."
Marcase was sure he heard more than a touch of frost in that tone but decided to ignore it. "Michael told me Cassian's here. How's he doing?"
She pressed her lips together as if considering whether or not to answer him, then relented. "He's much better- his fever's down, heartbeat's been normal. If the labs come back okay, I think they'll release him." She nodded toward a nearby door. "He's resting comfortably, I think. They're still giving him fluids and glucose, but he's been able to drink some tea, so they may be able to discontinue those soon."
"Okay if I go in and see him?" Michael asked.
"Sure. He may be asleep. He's been drifting in and out. He's still a little confused- it took him awhile to recognize me."
Michael nodded and went inside.
The lights had been dimmed to help Cassian rest. Michael surveyed the scene dispassionately, trying to keep things in perspective. He finally realized that it was the stillness that bothered him most; Cassian had always given an impression of activity, from his loose jointed walk, made more noticable by his height, to the quick decisive way he made notes to the briefings he gave: thorough, but the audience was aware that, like a coach giving instructions to a football team, the minute he finished talking everybody was to scramble.
Not this time. This battle was one only Cassian could wage, and all they could do was stand by and watch.
Sometimes, that was the hardest thing to do.
He remembered once when a buddy had asked him why he liked reading about plagues, of all things. At first he hadn't had an answer, not even one for himself. Why plagues? Finally it came to him: plagues were wars against humans on a grand scale, but wars that human socities had rallied against, come up with strategies to stop the onslaught even when they didn't completely understand what was happening. Sometimes they were based on superstition and completely ineffective; but other times they had been startlingly accurate. The Navajo had an ancient injunction against living where a mouse was found: modern researchers suspected it was an indication that the "recent" hantavirus, spread by mice, was really just a reoccurance of an old disease. Quarantines were as old as human records. Modern assaults on mosquitos to stop the spread of encephilitis and malaria were the same sort of thing.
It all came down to strategy: to identifying and destroying the enemy, or at least trying to render it harmless. Not just the specific microorganism; not finding a drug that would cure the patient; but tracking the vector, the carrier that brought it into contact with humans. Michael had found that idea appealing, even as a child; a war fought not with guns but with intelligence and intuition and observation.
Cassian could win that kind of war.
This one- Michael just wasn't sure.
He did know that he didn't feel guilty about that van anymore.
He turned and left the room quietly, so as not to disturb Daniel.
Outside, he heard Edward asking Kimberly, "Will they put him back on interferon?"
Shiroma sighed. "Ross thinks not. The arrythima was pretty severe." She knew what he was thinking now, and waited for him to ask if chemo would even be possible; but he drew back from the question.
"So were you going home now?"
"No, just thought I'd get some breakfast. Ross will be coming back in about an hour, which is when Dr. Verghese should be here with the lab results. We should know more then."
Michael cleared his throat. "How's the coffee in the cafeteria?"
Kimberly made a face. "Standard hospital issue."
"That bad, huh? Guess I'll risk it anyway. You want to come, Marcase? As I remember it's only a couple of floors down and about four corridors away," he added maliciously.
Edward seemed to blanch at the thought of more walking and said rather hastily, "No, I'll just sit here with Cassian. You know, just in case."
Hailey exchanged a knowing look with Shiroma, then decided to let the kid off the hook. "Want us to bring you something?"
They watched him go into Cassian's room, then Kimberly looked up at Michael. "I trust you read him the riot act?"
"Chapter and verse."
Michael sipped his hot tea- not good, but better than the stuff they called coffee- and tried a bite of the cherry pie. It wasn't quite as bad as the coffee, but it was close. He ate the filling and watched Kimberly pick at her breakfast.
"You wouldn't think they'd be able to ruin toast," he said.
Kimberly put her fork down and pushed the plate away. "I've had worse."
"So have I, but usually they were MREs."
That earned him a small smile. He shoved his own plate away and leaned forward over the table.
"Kim- Edward told me what Benedict said." He watched her take a shuddering breath and waited a couple of seconds to see if she'd comment. When she didn't, he continued. "He was probably bluffing you. Messing with your head, trying to get you off balance. If your DNA was so altered, it'd have shown up by now, wouldn't it? Do you feel more 'eco-friendly'?" He put a lightly teasing note into the last, trying to put her at ease.
"It fits, Micheal," she said slowly. "My mother told me they'd tried for years to have a child before I was born. She had several miscarriages-she wasn't specific, but she did say they had to go for genetic counseling, a government program. I didn't ask for details." She bit her lower lip, and began arranging the sweetener packets by color while she gathered her thoughts.
"Benedict said that the grandchildren would inherit. The implication is that they've started with small changes in preparation for the next generation, building from these preliminary changes. It could be something as simple as greater cell viability, a springboard for more intense genetic engineering."
"If that's so, then why haven't they tried to recruit you? Why didn't they just indoctinate you from birth?" Hailey argued. "If you're so vital to them, how come you're working for the opposition?"
"I don't know all the answers. Maybe they tried to get custody of me, I don't know. I was in shock after my parents' accident. If it was an accident." She rested her head in her hand, massaging her temples tiredly. "I don't know what to believe any more.
"Maybe all they really need is my genetic contribution."
"No offense, Kim, but I don't see you as a broodmare," Hailey said reassuringly.
Shiroma wasn't placated. "You're not thinking, Michael. They don't need my cooperation or consent. All they really need are my ova, a sperm donor, and surrogate mothers. Then they can make more alterations, create their new race. Play God."
"You're forgetting one thing." She looked up at him questioningly and he reached out to take her hand.
"We know what they're planning. They've tipped their hand. And we're going to stop them."
He saw the shine of incipent tears. "You don't know how much I need to believe that." Her voice trembled.
"Believe it, Kim," he said firmly. "Believe it."
Thirty minutes later, both feeling marginally better despite the quality of the food, they returned to find that Edward had raised the head of the bed and was trying to coax a semi-awake Cassian into eating some soup. He didn't appear to be having much success.
"Aw, c'mon, just one more," he was saying, holding up a spoonful. Cassian responded by turning his face away determinedly and closing his eyes. Marcase tried to bring it around but couldn't without spilling the soup.
"Out-manuvered again, huh?" Hailey said.
"He's eaten about half of it already," Edward reported smugly, clearly pleased with himself. He put the bowl on the nightstand, and said in a lowered voice, "Don't think he has a clue as to who I am, though."
"Marcase," Cassian said unexpectedly, without opening his eyes.
Edward laughed in surprise, then turned to grin at Hailey and Shiroma before responding. "You always have to have an answer, don't you? How're you feeling?"
"Tired," Daniel replied, still not moving.
"That's understandable," Kimberly told him reassuringly. "You've been through a lot."
"Yeah, but so have his doctors," Marcase teased. "I suspect some are re-evaluating their decision to go into medicine even as we speak." He waited expectantly, but the jibe drew no response.
"He's either asleep or ignoring you," Hailey commented as Ross Hamilton entered the room.
"With Daniel, it's sometimes hard to tell," Ross said casually, while gesturing toward the door. They took the hint and followed him out into the hall. "Sarah called- she's on her way down with the lab results," he told them in a low voice when they were safely out of earshot. "As a matter of fact, here she is now."
Kimberly looked in the same direction and saw a young, attractive Asian Indian woman approaching, her attention fixed on a file she held in her hand. As she drew closer, Shiroma revised her assessment of her youth, though it would have been impossible to guess her true age; she was one of those people who will look the same between twenty and fifty, with only a few strands of silver hair to hint at her actual age.
She was so engrossed in the reports that she might have walked past them all if Ross hadn't intercepted her with introductions. "Sarah, I'd like you to meet Dr. Kimberly Shiroma, Dr. Edward Marcase and Mr. Michael Hailey. They're friends of Daniel's. This is Dr. Sarah Verghese."
Handshakes were exchanged briefly, but no one was in the mood for polite chatter. Dr. Verghese turned her attention back to the papers almost immediately while the others waited. The tension was almost visible.
"Dr. Jackson doesn't think any permanent cardiac damage has been done," she said without preamble, " but neither does he think that we should attempt any more doses of interferon." She flipped over some pages and studied another sheet intently.
"Are you go to start him on chemo?" Ross asked in the ensuing silence.
"No." She looked up and handed the file to Hamilton. "He's in remission," she explained, sounding both pleased and astonished.
A collective sigh went up as pent-up breaths were released simultaneously. Ross scanned the results briefly, grinned and offered the file to Shiroma and Marcase.
"Leave it to Cassian," Edward said, shaking his head.
"Is he awake?" Sarah Verghese asked.
"Your guess is as good as mine," Ross told her. "Let's try to find out."
Hailey watched them enter the room, then turned to Edward and Kimberly. "Now what?"
"Now he has some time to try to find donor marrow," Kimberly replied. "There's no telling how long he can stay in remission- some people have managed it for years, lived more or less a normal life. After three years, though, marrow transplants have much less chance of success."
"Yeah, but they're also doing some promising research with cord blood," Marcase added. "It doesn't even have to be an exact match, and there are some indications that it can be effective without having to compromise the immune system to prevent rejection."
Shiroma nodded agreement. "Some preliminary human testing has started already." A sudden thought made her smile. "He seems determined to end up a lab rat." At her companions' puzzled looks, her smile broadened and she said, "Remind me to explain it to you some time."
Edward grabbed his suitcase from the luggage carousel and headed for the nearest exit, jacket over his arm. The bright sunlight hit his eyes and he fumbled a moment for his sunglasses. A car pulled up at the curb in front of him and an automatic window whined its way down.
"Are you by chance looking for transportation?"
"Michael!" Marcase said happily, throwing his suitcase into the back seat and climbing in the front. "Thought you'd forgotten all about me." He clicked his seatbelt into place and settled back against the seat as the car pulled out.
"No such luck. Enjoy your vacation?"
"Oh, yeah. Man, three weeks of surf and sun-! Almost made up for having to put up with Newland for the two weeks before I left." He looked sideways at Michael. "Please tell me he wasn't named the permanent director while I was gone. I don't think I could stand another day of working with him."
"Apparently the feeling was mutual. He's leaving."
"Good. Any word on a replacement?"
"Not exactly. A new interim director is being named until a permanent replacement can be found," Hailey replied somewhat distractedly, threading the car expertly through the heavy traffic. "He'll be at the compound this afternoon. Kim's already there."
"Kim's back?" Edward said, trying to sound casual. "She have a good vacation?"
"As far as I know."
Edward waited, but Michael didn't elaborate. "Glad to hear it," he said at last. "How's Cassian doing?"
"Pretty well. He's in a good remission, has gained some weight back, even played a little tennis. He's not up to a match yet-still gets tired easily- but he's feeling a lot better. He's vague on things that happened while he was on the interferon-"
"That's probably just as well," Marcase murmurred, remembering just how ill the man had been.
"-but his thinking's cleared up a lot and he's able to concentrate more." Hailey finished, then gave Edward a sideways glance and added, "Ross says classified ads open to the 'apartments for rent' section have been turning up in conspicuous places along with relators' business cards."
Marcase laughed. "Nothing like a gentle hint, is there?" He hesitated a moment, then asked in a more serious tone, "Have they found a donor match yet?"
They rode in silence for a few minutes, then Hailey exited onto the road that would take them to the lab compound. Marcase watched the scenery speed by, drumming his fingers on the car door. He hoped Kim was okay. He'd sent her several postcards, the silly kind, but had gotten no reply. She could have been gone all that time, of course-she hadn't been home when he'd tried to call, so he'd left a message on her machine but still had heard nothing from her.
"How's your head?" Michael asked suddenly.
"Huh? Oh, it's fine. Still get headaches now and then, but that's expected."
Hailey slowed the car to flash his credentials at the guard before entering the grounds. Marcase's gaze wandered over the courtyard; there was no sign of what had transpired there just a few weeks before. Even the damaged brick had been repaired so artfully that it was impossible to tell just where the van had struck it. All the scorch marks were gone from the ground as well. It might all have been a very bad dream.
"Go on in, if you want to," Hailey said. "I'm going to talk to a couple of the security people a minute."
"Sure." Edward climbed out of the car, tossing his jacket into the back seat. He walked briskly into the house. His steps echoed emptily. "Great place to tap dance," he muttered to himself. He paused and listened but could hear nothing except the low hum of the air circulation system.
"Kim?" he said aloud, but there was no reply. He tried one of the intercoms. "Kim? Kim, you here?"
A couple of seconds went by before the com came to life. "Edward? Welcome back! I'm in the lab."
She sounded cheerful enough, and Marcase immediately felt reassured. "Be right there." He was surprised to realize he'd been holding his breath.
He found her hunched over the computer again, but she stood up as he came in and gave him a welcoming hug. "You're looking well," she said, smiling. "How's your head?"
He ran his finger over the small ridge that lingered on his forehead. "Not bad. The scar's not nearly impressive enough, though. You did too good a job." He gestured toward the computer. "Don't tell me you're working already."
She laughed, and he found himself thinking she should laugh more often. "Oh, no, just e-mailing my grandfather. He's discovered the joys of the internet."
Edward smiled at her. "Looks as if you had a good vacation." He tried to keep any question out of his voice. If Kim wanted to tell him, she would.
"Yes, it was. I flew a kite."
"You flew a kite?" Edward repeated.
"My grandfather and I." She smiled at the memory. "He taught my mother to make them when she was a little girl. He'd made kites as a boy in Yokahama-fighting kites- for the festivals. We'd never made one together, though." She was quiet for a second or two, then said softly, "I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but I found enough." She looked up at him. "I found -continuity. I found that my parents were good people who loved me. . . and that I still have people who love me, no matter who-or what-I am."
"I could have told you that."
"Yes. But I had to see it for myself."
Marcase nodded. "Yeah." He looked deeply into her eyes. "We're going to stop them, Kim." He made it a statement of fact.
They were interrupted by a sudden clatter as Hailey marched in briskly. "Heads up, people, the new director is on his way in."
"Should we bow or just salute?" Edward asked sarcastically.
"Whichever you feel is more appropriate, Dr. Marcase," a familiar voice drawled behind him.
They turned quickly. "Cassian!" Edward nearly yelled. Impulsively, he threw an arm around Cassian's shoulders in but felt the former director stiffen immediately and draw away. Marcase let him go and stood back, grinning. Cassian was still thinner than he should have been, but otherwise he looked very much his old self, although at the moment he seemed a little disconcerted by the exuberance of his welcome. Cassian glanced at Kimberly and Michael who were smiling in delight although they had prudently remained at a distance, then cleared his throat.
"I trust you all enjoyed your vacations, and that you have returned ready to resume your work." He placed a briefcase on the counter, opened it, and extracted several folders from it.
"Are you taking over the project again?" Kimberly asked. "For good?"
"For the time being. My participation will depend on circumstances." He handed folders to each of them. "There's been an outbreak in Chicago, possibly a hantavirus. The fatality rate is nearly 60% and there doesn't seem to be any obvious connection between victims. You're going to have your work cut out for you." He glanced at his watch. "Your plane leaves in two hours. The preliminary reports and tickets are in the folder. You'd better get moving."
"I just got back!" Edward protested.
Cassian gave him a bland look. "Then you won't need to unpack." He turned to leave before adding, "Have a good trip." Then he was gone.
Marcase shook his head wonderingly. "I guess things are back to normal." He suddenly looked up at Michael accusingly. "Did you know about this?"
Hailey shrugged. "Not for sure." He glanced at his watch. "We'd better get ready. We have a plane to catch- that is, if you two are going to stay with the project."
Edward and Kimberly exchanged a look, then Edward said, "Why not? Better the devil you know, after all."