31. Memory

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I wondered if the bark had come from the valley this cave was in.

Farid let go of me and rummaged for something in the dark. Then he reached for my hand and placed a small, hard object into it. "Here, take this."

I brought it up to the light. "A memory stick? Why? What's on it?"

"It holds all we know about the Syndicate. About the people, their plans, and their assets. It's all the data we could gather at our meeting in Hong Kong."

"And why are you giving this to me?" I didn't want to have it.

"Listen, if they catch us, I'm done for. They'll kill me. But you... you don't have the disease. They might let you live. Just do what you're told and pretend that you know nothing. You crashed and spent some time with a bunch of weird strangers on an island until you were rescued. If... once they let you go, use this information as you think fit. These people have to be taken down. They are evil, ruthless, and dangerous."

"I don't want it." I dropped the stick, hating its implicit message.

"Please, Megan. Do it for me and for those the Syndicate has killed." He picked it up and held it out to me once more. "The data on this can bring them down."

Reluctantly, I took it and tucked it away in a pocket. "I'll give it back to you when we're out of this mess."

"Thanks. It's encrypted, strong encryption. You need a password."

"And what is it?"

He told me. It was a long string of letters and digits, hard to remember. He helped me to commit it to memory by making a story around them. It started with 1910, the year he had become a vampire, next came an R and a C, as in Red Cross, where he had worked. And so on. To be on the safe side, I scratched the password into the mud on the tunnel's wall.

And all the time we listened for noises outside, but there were just birds at their usual screeching.

"Do you think they've given up?" I asked.

"Maybe."

"Have you tried to find a cure?" I wanted him to talk, like before. I wanted him to shut out what was out there, searching for us.

He frowned. "A cure?"

"Yes, a cure for that disease of yours. A cure for... being a vampire." For being what you are.

"We have some research running, yes, in one of the labs of our blood plasma operations. We have first results, but viral diseases are hard to cure once your immune system stops fighting them. And that's what the virus does. If you don't die in the first days after the infection, the virus will manage to convince the immune system not to fight it, but—"

There was another bark. Words sounding like someone's cursing voice followed it. 

This could only mean one thing.

"They're searching this valley," I said. "The dogs must have found our tracks."

And the tracks led right to this cave.

He grasped both of my hands in his.

"Do you trust me, Megan?"

His face was tense, mouth drawn into a thin line. But there were still those wrinkles at the corner of his eyes, betraying worry and care.

I nodded.

"I trust you, too," he said. "Now listen." He pressed his hot palms over my fingers. "I'll go outside now and distract them. I'll guide them away from the cave. You stay here until they're gone, and then some more. Stay as long as you can."

"But—"

He shook his head. "I need you to trust me. I'm fast, faster than any of them. Please."

I wanted to trust him and to earn his trust. So I said nothing as he detached himself, crawled closer to the exit and flipped over the rock slab to open the tunnel. Outside, the sky had turned cobalt blue in anticipation of the coming night. A single cloud glowed in warm hues of orange bordering on red, illuminated by a sun that had to be setting on the other side of the island.

He reached out for my hand once more and squeezed it. "Take care, Megan."

"Don't go."

He let go of me and crawled out. Before I could make up my mind to follow, he put the stone slab back, closing the tunnel with the noise of a coffin slammed shut.

There was still a small crack letting in some light. I crept closer to it and peeked out.

All I saw was the sky and the valley's edge. Farid wasn't in my field of view.

Then, there was a sound of rustling leaves.

"Stop." The voice was a soldier's bellow. "Stay where you are, or we'll shoot."

For one breath, everything was quiet.

"Raise your hands over your head." Another man's voice.

Had he surrendered? I yearned to see more and tugged at the rock slab. It didn't move.

A dog growled. It had to be close, no more than a few yards away from me.

"Freeze!"

Shots echoed through the valley.

I dug my fingers into the rock, ignoring the pain.

The shrubs down in the valley moved. And there he was, a quickly moving patch of a blue shirt between green leaves. More shots, he disappeared into the greenery again.

I tugged at the slab of stone. It budged a bit, but then it got jammed.

Leaves and branches moved once more, further down the slope now, near the edge. Farid emerged and ran towards the drop. He stopped as he reached it. His right sleeve was stained in a darkish red.

He gazed over the edge as if looking for a way to climb down.

A shot made him jerk around.

He didn't look up to those trying to kill him. His gaze was on the cave—on me.

Another gunshot ripped through the valley, and a red flower bloomed on his belly. He staggered backward. More shots—one of them tore through his skin, flesh, and bone. Another stain appeared where his chest met his neck. He stumbled and flailed his arms, the precipice yawning behind him. As he started falling, a third shot hit him, spraying blood and brains into the void.

He fell.

Then he was gone.



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