Fire spreads down my arm, turning my fingers into useless nubs. I clutch my upper arm with my good hand, crouching down in the floor of the hallway.
"Why won't this door open?" Toby yells as he slams both fists into the door.
"It's an operating room, Hughes," Kovach says, in an flat voice, "It locks from the inside to prevent people from interrupting during procedures. We can't get in until they let us in."
She's standing over me, hands on her hips, glaring.
I wince, looking away from her towards my shoulder. It feels like my uniform is melting into my skin, gluing them together. Every heartbeat makes the pounding worse, sending waves of pain over my body. Finally, I strip my uniform jacket off, revealing the short sleeve jumpsuit underneath.
Kovach kneels down in front of me, reaching out to touch the wound.
There's a small red bump, resembling a mosquito bite, but in the middle of that bump there's a gaping hole the size of my pinky. The skin around the red mark is yellow, purple marks spreading out from it like fireworks. Already, the purple touches my shoulder and elbow.
It will cover my body in less than 24 hours, crippling each muscle it touches.
"Why?" I whisper to Kovach, biting back the pain. Sweat drips down my forehead as I look over at her, tears welling up in my eyes.
"Because you defied me," she says, shrugging, "I watched Collins escort Doctor Patel and his friend into the compound on the cameras, right after you returned from your visitation with her. I confronted you in the stairwell in the hopes that you would tell me the truth, but you lied. Not only did you lie to me, but you lied to the guards, to Jaelyn, to everyone. And in this compound, there is no room for liars."
She stands up, motioning for Toby. He grabs both my shoulders, pulling me up to my feet, despite the fact that I roar in pain when his hand touches the wound.
"I know what they're doing in that room," she whispers, sending a spray of spit onto the front of my shirt, "They can recreate the vaccine all they want, but they'll never use it. I will kill each of them before they have the chance. In the meantime, though, you have to be punished for this act of treason."
Toby pulls me towards the elevator, slamming the button with his sausage fingers. The clicking of Kovach's heels behind us tells me she's following when I can't turn my head.
We ride down the elevator in silence, towards the basement.
I'll have to face Isaac and Dr. Price, both of which saw me acting like a jerk to Jay earlier. The storm that Isaac was building is sure to overflow as soon as I exit the elevator, and in this state, I wouldn't be able to even attempt to defend myself.
When the door slides open, cold air washing over us, I brace myself for a barrage of insults and rage.
Yet, it doesn't come.
Instead, I'm greeted by a soft hushing voice and gentle whispers. The guards hurry out the stairwell as we come in, and I search the room for Isaac and Dr. Price.
Isaac's leaning on the cell door, bloodshot eyes glued on me. His face is wet, and he sniffles as he watches me walk in. Has he been crying? I glance at Dr. Price who is sitting as close as he can to the cell that Jay was in beside him. His hands grip the bars, whispering to the dark shape of someone new in the cell.
Even in the dark corner of the room, I know that wild curly hair. Like mine, it is scattered around her head, framing a small face.
She turns to face me then, revealing a bruised and swollen face, eyebrows raised in relief.
"Oh, Quinn," she whispers, voice full of emotion. I jerk myself away from Toby, running to throw myself against the door. Mom doesn't move to greet me, instead watching me with tears streaming down her yellow and purple cheeks.
In her arms in a small bundle, a small black fuzzy animal.
No. Not an animal.
"Is that-?" I ask, the knot forming in my throat.
Mom nods, turning the bundle towards me so that I can see his face.
Everything about the baby is perfect, from the tiny lips that are slightly separated to the miniscule nose that is turned up, just like Mom's. His head is covered by brilliant brown hair, and two of the bluest eyes stare over at me.
"Tell me, child genius," Kovach says, standing over my shoulder, "How long does it take for the virus to completely take over the body?"
I take a shaky breath, unable to steal my eyes back from my new baby brother.
"Within an hour, the victim is jaundiced," I recite, "Organs will begin to fail within five hours, leading to a failure of the mind at seven hours. At this point, hallucinations will begin, making the person confused. At the twelve hour mark, they will be undergoing severe cravings, unable to resist the desire to attack and devour other humans."
Dr. Patel had said that after the organs fail, there was no way to save a person from the virus. So, that leaves a five hour window to save someone. Five hours to administer the cure that takes four hours to create.
"Notice anything special about your dear mother?" Kovach says in my ear.
I shiver involuntarily.
"She's skinnier?" I ask, glancing at the woman.
"Look harder, Austin."
I do as I'm told, inspecting Mom's appearance. Other than her swollen face, I can't see anything drastically different. She lacks the warm glow that I've always seen in her. It's replaced by a sickly sort of yellow tone, as if she's jaundiced.
"No..." I say, voice trailing off.
Mom's infected, too.
"He finally gets it," Kovach says, laughing and unlocking the cell door. I rush in, falling to my knees in front of my mother, touching the child's face with a shaking hand.
After the lock clicks, I turn, looking at Kovach desperately.
"Don't do this, General," I say, begging, "Please. Just punish me. Leave them out of it."
"Too late, Quinn. You should have thought about them when you were planning to overthrow me," she says, turning and walking towards the elevator. "Oh! I almost forgot. She was infected an hour ago. Her symptoms should come before yours, so that you'll know what to look forward to."
I cup Mom's face in my hand, meeting her eyes.
"And the baby?" I ask Kovach, "Is he infected too?"
"No," she says, stepping into the elevator with Toby, "He's your snack."
Discussion Question: Hi, guys! I know it's been a while since we had a question to discuss. Sorry about that. I couldn't think of anything! Yet, the tables have turned, once again, pushing Q back down, just when he was beginning to rise up. What do you think the future holds for Quinn?
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Selected (Book 2 of the Immune Series)Science Fiction
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