"What's going on?" I ask as the man grabs me with his free hand, pressing the handgun between my shoulder blades. A few steps away, Lexi is being held with her hands behind her back and a gun to her temple by a furious looking redhead who I recognize from the video call.

"Maybe this plan wasn't your best idea," Lexi says, voice empty.

"It wasn't my worst, though," I mumble as I'm thrown back down to the ground. The man pulls a pair of handcuffs out of his bag, attaching one end to my wrist and the other to a skinny tree trunk. The woman does the same to Lexi, putting her right beside me.

Yet, Lexi doesn't look mad. She's oddly calm.

"Why aren't you fighting back?" I whisper as the two strangers huddle a safe distance away from us.

"I already did," she replies, sighing, "That older version of me is tough."

I fight back a laugh, watching the strangers argue in hushed tones.

"Who are they?"

"The man is Doctor Patel. He's pretty quiet. Fireball does all the talking."

"Stop whispering," the one Lexi is calling Fireball snaps at us, waving the handgun. I tense up, and she straightens herself and walks over, looming.

"What do you want?" she asks, crossing her arms.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" I snap. Lexi snorts, turning her face away.

"Listen here, kid," Fireball says, kneeling down and putting the cold barrel of the gun against my chin. "You might be something important back inside that wall. Out here, though, you're nothing. I could shoot you now, and the course of events wouldn't even change. You came to us; so, I suggest you answer the question."

Dr. Patel puts a hand on her shoulder, and she pulls the gun away from my chin. I let out a breath, and my hands shake behind my back. The energy is gone. The knot in my throat brings tears with it, and I blink several times to keep them back.

Lexi jerks at her cuffs, kicking out at the woman.

"Don't threaten him," she hisses, "That's my job."

"Lexi, stop," I mumble.

"Listen to the boy," Fireball says, smirking at her. Then, she turns to me, "Let me ask one more time: what do you want?"

"I need his help," I say, jerking my chin towards Dr. Patel. "I need a cure."

Dr. Patel stares at me, one hand on his thin, black beard. He chews on his lip, his chest rising and falling as he breathes.

"Why'd you kidnap Jay, then?" Fireball asks, "That doesn't seem like a smart move."

"I had to," I say, voice shaking, "President Kovach is planning a very serious attack on your camp. Kidnapping Jaelyn stalled the attack, giving me enough time to find you and ask for help."

Fireball raises her eyebrows, mouth turning down as she nods.

"Fair enough. Is Jay at least okay?"

"Well, I hope so."

The last comment comes from Dr. Patel. Fireball turns to look at him, as surprised as we are.

"If it is a cure you want, then Jaelyn is irreplaceable. She is the only immune we have access to. You killed one in your attack on Compound 4. The other four are hidden within Compound 1," he says, kneeling down beside Fireball. "Tell me more about the attack Kovach is planning. Her father was a great man, but he was too smart for his own good. I was sad to hear of his death, even more so when I heard his daughter took his place. She was always a cruel child."

He waits for me to answer, twirling a pen between his fingers.

I take a deep breath and tell him everything, from the day I started working for Kovach to this morning, when I met with Jaelyn. Nothing is left out, not even when we got Toby in trouble for harassing Lexi. Not even the day I saw Jaelyn and Isaac on the cameras in Rivers' office. Not even when I punched Lexi in the nose and snuck her out of the compound.

As I talk, Dr. Patel listens, eyes never falling from me. The pen spins effortlessly on his fingers; Fireball fidgets on her feet beside him. Occasionally, she will laugh or shake her head, but like him, she mostly listens.

"Dr. Price told me that if anyone could replicate the cure, it would be you," I say, breathing in deep gasps, "I think it will be our only hope for stopping Kovach from releasing her infected army on the world."

"Jaelyn destroyed the cure," Fireball says, "President Hartley tricked her into it, but that's a story on its own."

I nod.

"I know, which is why Dr. Price couldn't help me. He says he can't create it, just duplicate it. He says you actually created it in the first place."

Dr. Patel stands up, holding a hand against his chest as he begins to pace.

"The cure wasn't entirely destroyed two years ago," he says.

Fireball stands up so suddenly I think she might tumble back to the ground.

"What do you mean?" we both say at the same time.

"Think, Jane," Dr. Patel says, turning to face Fireball. So that's her name. Jane. She doesn't look like a Jane. The doctor continues, "Jaelyn was able to destroy the second strand by using her own blood as a cure to contaminate the virus. Over time, her body has been producing more and more red blood cells as the old ones die. Do you know how long red blood cells live?"

He's pointing at Jane, but the answer comes tumbling out of my mouth.

"Four months."

Dr. Patel smiles at me, nodding.

"That's right. So every four months, Jaelyn's body has created more of the cure-infused cells than before. She's had the cure for almost fifteen years now. Her blood is entirely infused now. Not to mention, this."

He pulls a small vial out of his shirt, where it's attached to a metal chain. The glittering red liquid reflects the pink of the sunset.

"I kept a little of the pure cure myself," he explains as I open my mouth to ask what it is.

"Sorry to burst your bubble," Lexi says, flipping her hair out of her face, "But that's not nearly enough for the Repor. That might cure one, maybe two, infected."

I scowl at her, but she just shrugs.

"She's right," the doctor says, "It's not. But your technology combined with Jaelyn's blood and my cure, I can recreate enough of this to grant an entire compound immunity. Over time, maybe the continent."

"Can it save the infected?" I ask, even though I'm pretty sure I know the answer.

"No," Dr. Patel says, shaking his head, "If I inject this into a late stage infected, they will die. The cure will not repair any major organ damage done by the virus. It isn't God, Quinn. It can't bring the infected back from the dead."

Selected (Book 2 of the Immune Series)Read this story for FREE!