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Infinite Earths is based on the characters from Operation: Reality Check, a Sailor Moon fanfic. For more information, visit http://www.infinitedeferral.com/.

Forever Yours
An Infinite Earths Original
By Roehl Sybing (indef@infinitedeferral.com)

Part One of Two

Andrea breathed heavily as she climbed up the service elevator shaft. It had been twenty minutes since the silent security alarm went off, so it must be ten since Commission guards and security officials from both delegations stormed the building. Her only viable escape was a hundred yards up, into the ventilation and up to the roof. Hanging her miniature backpack of tools from her ankles and scraping her way up the sheet metal of a wall, she pondered the notion that a job had never been this difficult before. Not simply because of the escape, but of the whole operation, from entry to theft to exit. Then Andrea remembered her incentive, and concluded that it was entirely worth the effort.

The alarm intensified over time. Even sirens were going off in the internal crawlspaces, and the distraction it caused was going to get worse until the authorities give up or capture her entirely. She fixated on the ventilation opening at the top of the shaft, thinking of nothing but the possibility of the former. Her hope intensified as she drew closer to the top.

Then she remembered to glance at her watch.

The whirring of gears echoed down the elevator shaft, shaking the walls and shaking Andrea, much to her fright. She looked up and saw the ventilation entrance close in on itself. As her escape blocked itself off, she processed her schedule in her mind. She took too long breaking into the hotel from the public sewers, spent three minutes more than she expected stealing the target, and took an untimely detour to reach the elevator shaft from the ground floor. She was too late.

Any of ten sources Andrea used to prepare for the operation could have been compromised, but she knew it was the Deltans who probably didn't give her accurate information on the hotel schematics. Governments were fools in dealing with figures such as herself. The offer was too good for her to turn down, however, and she conveniently forgot that important rule.

"Halt! Stay where you are!" shouted guards from below. They stood atop the elevator car beneath Andrea and fired several warning shots towards her. The elevator car rose up the shaft, drawing the guards closer to the thief, hanging helplessly off the wall of the shaft, in an arrest that appeared imminent.

Andrea began to cry.
---
"The fourth day of peace talks between two warring Alternate Earths has proven both slow and taxing. Diplomats from Alternates Sigma 5-0-3 and Delta 1-7-7 have been meeting on an undisclosed neutral Earth to lend permanence to the armistice that was signed one week ago. There are minor sticking points between the two warring Alternates, but the Deltans, who attempted an aggressive but failed conquest of the Sigman main continent, have given into much of the demands made by the Sigma government.

"At issue is the worldwide outbreak of a previously unidentified supervirus on Delta 1-7-7. The plague, which has been coined Thanatosia, was brought back by an interdimensional expedition over three months ago. The plague has been responsible for over half a billion deaths, and is projected to wipe out three-quarters of the Deltan population within five years.

"In exchange for medical research and technology, the Sigmans want reparations totaling fourteen trillion credits including economic sanctions on the Deltans for the full ten-year term. No word coming from the negotiations as to whether the Deltans will accept this proposition, but with reports of another twenty-thousand Thanatosia-related deaths in the past week, the once-vulnerable Sigmans find themselves in a favorable negotiating position in an increasingly desperate situation.

"Johnathan Crawford, NewsNetLink."
---
The delegates engaged in shouting matches, most of the time between the two sides, but occasionally members of the same delegation would argue with each other. Had the room been any smaller and the table that separated the two sides been narrower, they would be at each other's throats. Actually, the size of the room made things worse, as the demagoguery echoed off the walls and amplified the deafening noise.

Jake was eating a candy bar.

"Did you want a piece?" he shouted to a fellow officer.

"What?" the officer cried, cupping his ear.

"I said, 'Does the size of your butt increase?'"

The officer nodded his head, and Jake nodded in understanding. During their brief conversation, the raucousness had actually amplified some, and the Federal Reality Commission guards along the perimeter of the room watched with desensitized curiousity. They were almost captivated by the extent of the diplomats' incivility without it turning violent. But Jake figured that now would be a good time.

"Now," he mouthed silently to the officer. At his command, assigned officers charged the crowd at the center of the room. Among squabbling delegates the guards fished out the chief arbitrator and his assistants, while Jake singled out Lisa and took her from the room.
---
The door slammed shut. The soundproofed room kept the outside hallway quite silent. Silent, that is, save for the huffing and puffing of all of the officials that escaped the shouting match.

"Are you alright, Mr. Martinez?"

"Yes, I believe so, Agent Tyler," the chief arbitrator replied.

"Alright," Jake said, "Why don't you take a break? Have your guys figure out the agenda for tonight's session or something."

"Shouldn't we go back in there?" Lisa asked.

"Not right now. They'll settle down once they figure out the chief arbitrator and the ranking Commission liaison has eluded them."

"You don't know that they will!"

"Not for sure, no. But it should be fun to test my theory," he said, "Mr. Martinez, I insist that your team breaks for lunch. We'll meet back here at 1800 hours, when I imagine we'll have cooler heads."

"Yes, sir," Martinez said, taking his staff with him.

He then turned to Lisa, "Now then, my sweet, what say we have lunch?"

Lisa huffed playfully, "Agent Tyler, it's inappropriate to address the FRC liaison to Administrator Martinez as 'my sweet.'"

"Valentine's Day is tomorrow," Jake said, "I've made an exception."

"Hmm. How about a late lunch?" she asked, while adjusting the collar of his uniform.

"Are you rejecting me?"

"Not at all. But I have to get on the com and brief the brass back on the home Earth before they close up shop. How's 3PM?"

"1430. That restaurant downstairs. Don't be late."

Lisa silently mouthed her approval, and walked off with a spring in her step. Jake watched her and felt his heart flutter ever so slightly.

Chris sounded a wolf whistle. "From what I can tell, that whip must sure feel good," he said.

Jake looked at him with a hint of scorn. "Shut up, Chris."

"I'm just saying. It better feel good, because you're not going to enjoy it for long."

"The hell are you talking about?"

Chris handed his superior officer a folder, "Recent chatter over the wires. The output's from a program I've been running across the system. One message was carbon copied to Lisa and she read it before the morning session. Until now, she knew more than you did. We have a development."

He looked at Chris, and then at the contents of the folder. His face fell his lips scowled.

"Oh, I'm gonna kill her," Jake said, storming off.

"Which one, sir?" Chris asked.

"Shut up, Chris!"

"Yeah."
---
The detention facility was cold and spartan, just as the locals preferred. The only aspect that reminded Jake of home were the Commission officers assigned to keep watch in the building during the negotiations. Not that he wanted to feel like he was home. For the next half hour, he wanted to handle the situation with no emotional attachment. Actually, he didn't want to handle it at all.

The guard greeted Jake at the door, saluting him and saying, "Sir, we have one prisoner under the custody of Sigma 5-0-3. She has been processed and we are awaiting further orders from the Sigman authorities. They have given you permission to interrogate her."

"Thank you," Jake replied, "Keep watch outside the holding room until we're done."

The guard looked confused at Jake. "But I..." he began to say, then held back. "Yes, sir."

Jake left alone the half-attempted insubordination and entered the room with bigger concerns in mind. The holding room was just as simple and unwelcoming as the rest of the facility, but it was adequate for the task for which it was built. A force field divided the room into two halves, one for guards to monitor the room and the other to hold the detainees. In this particular instant, it held only one detainee.

She sat with her legs crossed against the wall, despite the presence of a bed at her side. She remained motionless in Jake's presence, and familiar as he was to her she would not smile.

"Andrea," he said.

"Jake."

"I dunno, you're always so...boisterous...whenever we meet."

Andrea's facial expression lightened ever so slightly before settling back down into despair again. "I'm usually having wild and unfettered sex with you right around now."

"Andrea..."

"Sorry. I forgot that was before you and Lisa got...serious. But I didn't think I'd be in lockup so soon."

Jake shook his head. "What did you do this time? And why does this particular job net you a death sentence?"

The thief stood up and paced the floor of the cell, her hands folded across her chest. "Would you believe this was an act of goodwill?"

"No," Jake replied blankly.

"It's true. I was trying to get the Deltans the cure to the Thanatosia--"

"Shut up."

Andrea glared at Jake. "I'm not lying! The Sigmans had the cure, but the Deltans could never prove it during the discovery phase of the negotiations, so they hired me to get a sample for them."

"Hold on. Let me get this straight, because Andrea Norris, master thief for the Amethyst Syndicate, honorable as she is, never did an honest and good thing in her career. Are you telling me she's had a change of heart? And got PINCHED for it!?"

They paused to allow the walls to stop shaking at Jake's voice. Andrea looked at him with the best rendition of honesty she could put on her face. "So, yeah, I've gotten off to a bad start."

"Andrea!"

"I'm sorry, Jake! But it's true. The Sigmans have been hiding it from all of us. It's the worst case of revenge in the book. The Deltans have been pounding on them for years, do you think Sigma will come back and give the cure that will save them? Think about it!"

"Well, we've got a crack team of experts in the Commission, Andrea. If we couldn't prove it, what makes you think that you can?"

Andrea smiled weakly. "Because I have the vials," she said.

Jake looked up, and glared at Andrea. With his face he communicated well his next question.

"It's someplace safe, Jake," she said, "And if you want to save the Deltans, then you have to get me out of here."

"Aww, shit!" Jake cried. Andrea watched him storm about the room, kicking and screaming until all of his pent-up energy fizzled out in a minute. When he settled down into calmness, he shook his finger at her, saying, "THAT'S the Andrea I remember!"

Andrea stepped up to the force field, and looked at him with a look in her eyes that almost resembled desperation. "Jake, please. I've never been caught for espionage before. For unaffiliated suspects, that warrants the death penalty."

He put his hands on his hips, shaking his head and angry at himself that he was already looking for a justification to get her out. But at this point, the stakes were just too high. The negotiations were too fragile. It would not be worth the risk without at least thinking it over some.

"How did you get your hands on a retrovirus, by the way?" he asked.

"There are two scientists at the negotiations. They're not disclosed to Martinez because the Sigmans want to hide them, but they must accompany the delegation in case of a medical emergency. They have the cure in their bloodstream. They had to have it, they engineered the Thanatosia plague!"

Jake was silent. This was a different situation, now that Andrea had spelled it out for him. "We couldn't prove that, either."

"No, you couldn't. Now I have to stick my neck out for your clandestine hacks who couldn't close this out the way you wanted it to, so why are you still angry at me?"

They scowled at each other for different reasons, but the onus was on Jake now.

"Check it out for me, would you, Jake?" Andrea asked, "I'm scheduled to die at 9AM tomorrow. That's 0900 hours, soldier."

"Shut up," Jake mumbled, heading for the door.

"Jake!" she called out to him again, causing him to stop, "I'm gonna die tomorrow, so I might as well...all these years, you've never asked the question."

Jake turned around, looking contemptuous but also ignorant. "What question is that?" he asked.

"'Why?'"

In the doorway, he tilted his head in understanding. "You know, Lisa's here," he said.

Andrea chuckled. "Say hello to her for me. She knows about the virus, too, by the way."

Jake's jaw dropped slightly, and he caught himself from exhibiting surprise at her. He took a deep breath, and stormed out of the room.
---
"Hurricane Davis, just one round from greatness. Surely the tension is mounting on this young and impressionable man. What are the thoughts going through his mind as he sets up for the single, most important--"

"Will you knock it off?"

Jackie backed down at Chris' request.

"Difficult enough shooting a miniature water cannon when I have to shoot above the mark, plus I let you use a more accurate plasma laser, now I got hecklers from the gallery!"

"So you're saying you can't do it?" she asked.

"Oh, I can do it, alright," he said, "I'm saying I want to rub it in after I beat you, but I would feel really bad doing it while you were sore and deflated."

"Just hit the thing already."

Across the executive meeting room-turned-makeshift shooting gallery, the water cannon fired off three blasts, knocking down, in succession, three empty metal cans seventy-five feet away.

Jackie looked at Chris with competitive resentment, as the victor, using his cannon, poured himself a glass of water to drink.

"I told you I can do it," he said, downing the glass.

The loser rolled her eyes, mumbling, "God, I'm so bored."

The door opened, and their superior officer entered the room.

"Jake," Chris and Jackie said, standing up.

He looked at the two of them, then looked at all the metal cans on the floor of the opposite side of the room, as well as the burn marks along the wall. "You know, if I'm not giving you guys enough to do on this mission," he said.

"You're not," Jackie replied quickly.

Jake paused. He struck his fist against his palm. "Nuts," he said, "Now I have nothing to say."

"What do you need, sir?"

"I need you two to check out something for me. Allegations that...the Sigmans are hiding things from us. It's my impression that they are withholding materials that are necessary for curing the Thanatosia plague."

Chris looked up, "What else did Andrea say?"

Jake shrugged innocently, "Who said it was Andrea?"

"Hey," Jackie said, pinching Chris, "Andrea's here?"

"She's the only player in our masterpiece theater that's looking at a death sentence for attempted espionage. She needs to leverage something, so she leverages you. She concocts this crazy story, and now you're looking for an excuse to perform a jailbreak because you can't go through Lisa or the diplomatic channels to free from lockup a master thief with a record of treason, desertion and a million counts of grand larceny and Lord knows what else she's done, to say nothing about a woman with whom you play games of seduction and deception."

Jake bit his lip.

"Aside from being able to shoot down empty tomato cans, I've got an IQ like you wouldn't believe," Chris said, then mumbled under his breath, "And a big mouth."

Jackie spoke up, "Andrea's here?"

"This is not about Andrea," Jake insisted, "The arbitrator unearthed advanced medical technology in the Sigman research system and declared them open for negotiation, but he never found an end-all cure. If it turns out that one does exist, and they're hiding it to perpetuate the death of an entire civilization, I want to know about it."

Chris was unconvinced, but he managed to say, "Yes, sir."

An irritated Jake glared at him. Then he reminded himself that he was their team leader, and could order them to do anything he wanted.

"Hook up with our field office on Sigma 5-0-3. Have them do...whatever it is they do to get at the truth."

"It won't be admissible," Jackie said, "The discovery period is over."

"Doesn't matter. I need to know," Jake said, checking his watch and heading for the door.

"Then this IS about Andrea," Chris said.

Jake huffed and voiced his displeasure, "Chris, I'm running the show, I call the shots. Could you please do this thing for me?"

Chris looked at Jake, then Jackie, then Jake again. He was quite unwilling to go along with his hunch, but as he was ordered, he eventually bit his tongue and nodded his head.

"Thank you," Jake said, exiting the room, "I need to know."

The door slammed shut in front of the two Reality Jumpers. They looked at each other incredulously over their orders, and began to clean up their mess.

"Should we tell Lisa what we've been asked to do?" Chris asked.

Jackie replied, "It's not healthy to get in between the women who fight over Junior Director Jake Tyler."

"Yeah, but is it healthy for Jake?"
---
Lisa picked apart her salad, while waiting for Jake. It's never polite to put one's elbows on the table, but that's what she did in resting her head on her hand as she pondered his tardiness. She glanced at the clock along the restaurant wall, indicating he was fifteen minutes past the date he had set. Then she looked down at the notes she laid down on the table. No doubt he had to have heard who was in lockup. She was prepared for Jake, who was just entered the restaurant.

"You know," Lisa said, "Omega 3-1-9 hasn't been the most luxurious assignment, but I hear the food around here is simply--"

The sound of Jake storming in, picking up his chair and slamming it back down sent everyone in the restaurant looking in their direction. Lisa and Jake glared at each other for a moment or two.

"I never thought you'd keep secrets from me," Jake said.

Lisa put down her fork as Jake sat down. "We keep secrets from each other," she replied, "Then we reveal them when the danger subsides. That's how our relationship endures."

"You were gonna tell me after five billion Deltans die of Thanatosia. No danger after that, is there?"

She paused. She expected the other secret to surface, but not the one that related to business.

"We couldn't prove it before the negotiations. We don't show our hand until we do, Jake. That's politics."

"You could've brought it before the League. Have them conduct a full hearing and investigation."

"With what? Unsupported speculations? Martinez...he didn't even think to look! Our guys depending on...absolute morons to call the plays in the huddle. How's that gonna play next time the Commission budget goes before Congress?"

"Probably play better than an Amethyst getting to the truth easier than we do," Jake said bluntly.

Lisa chuckled. NOW it was all out. "Oh, did I tell you?" she asked sardonically, "Security on the Sigman delegation caught Andrea during the night. You must be so happy."

On that note, Lisa consumed the last of her salad in one bite, took her papers and excused herself from the table.

Jake turned around, watching her leave. "Lisa!" he cried before following her out.

One marched after the other down the hotel lobby, until they were back at arms' length.

"You know what?" Jake barked at Lisa, "You are so incredibly--!"

Lisa stopped and turned around. Nodding her head, she demanded, "What? Say it! C'mon!"

"--jealous! Yeah, that's right! Jealous!"

She flung her arms into the air, not believing that he could say such and thing, regardless of the claim's validity. "Alright, so what if I am? Why shouldn't I worry whenever she's within an entire continent of you?"

"Lisa..." he said, placing his hands on her arms and looking right into her eyes, "You shouldn't. She is a criminal, but she was a friend. She also used to be your friend, too."

"Are you sleeping with her?" she asked directly.

Jake choked on his answer, and conspicuously revealed his hesitance, but quickly recovered, saying, "No!"

Lisa raised an eyebrow to him, but decided to believe him for the moment. "I have to go prepare for tonight's session."

They exchanged looks of consent and parted ways, returning the lobby to normalcy. Lisa, however, turned around and called out, "Jake!"

He looked at her in the distance.

"Come by my room tonight?" she asked with a coy smile which slowly developed into a wicked grin.

Jake returned her smile and nodded his head. He would not see her again until then. Which was fine, because there were other fish to fry.
---
The executive suite wasn't that much more amenable than Jake's own hotel room fifteen floors below. Nevertheless, the size of the room allowed the Sigman ambassador to stretch out and sit back in his chair. He was watching the NewsNetLink feed as Jake entered the room.

"Agent Tyler," he said, "My aide said you wanted to see me. To what do I owe this pleasure?"

Jake folded his arms, standing over the ambassador. "Oh, I don't think is going to be pleasant," he said, watching him look at his advisors and signaling them to leave the room.

"Terrible thing, to watch people die," the ambassador said as he directed Jake to look at images from the newsfeed of Thanatosia plague victims on Delta 1-7-7.

Jake scoffed. "Indeed," he replied, "It's easier to kill them when you're not looking."

The ambassdor turned off the feed. "Took you half a day," he said, "Congratulations. Now, if you could tell us where our stolen medical tissues are, we'd be extremely grateful--"

"I don't know where they are, Ambassador, but if I did, I wouldn't tell you."

"Be careful, Agent Tyler, you are addressing a planet-wide representative with the full powers of his government. I could have you stripped of your command."

He looked the ambassador in the eye, saying, "Due respect, my bosses don't take requests from killers. Sir."

The ambassador stood up and paced the floor, resting his hands in his pockets. He lit a cigarette and put it in his mouth, blowing smoke in Jake's direction.

"The real killers are the people who decimated our main continent, ravaged our largest cities. Sydney, Delhi, New Amsterdam. Their reckoning is upon them, Agent Tyler."

Jake sighed, brushing away the smoke. "I could subpoena your scientists, Ambassador. Subject them to, say, a medical checkup," he said, veiling his half-threat under a playful tone.

"You don't know who they are. And when you do, you'll never find them. We'll be rotating our staff tonight. If there's a retrovirus out there - and we disavow its existence - it's not among my delegation."

The Sigman ambassador looked quite pleased with himself. He looked at Jake, who appeared defeated for the moment but remained defiant. He nodded his head and exited the room.

"Close the door behind you, please," the ambassador said.
---
"The Sigman ambassador is unbelievably smug, lady and gent," Jake said, entering their midst, "Please tell me you have something I can slap him around with."

He did not see the sullen faces of both Chris and Jackie before he finished speaking. They looked at him and were reluctant to give him the bad news.

Jake clicked his tongue. "Now what?" he asked.

"Well, Andrea's right," Jackie said, "It's all true."

"That's great," he said with wide eyes, "But--?"

Chris spoke up, "But we had home Earth check all the relevant wiretaps."

He looked at the two of them. "And--?"

Jackie handed a piece of paper to him. He examined it carefully, and when he finished he sighed, then frowned.

"Now I'm really gonna kill her," he said.
---
"Leave us," Jake commanded the holding room guard.

"Sir, I have orders to--"

Jake flashed his badge, insisting, "Five minutes, ensign. Now beat it."

The guard resisted again, but eventually conceded to his superior officer. "Yes, sir."

The door slid open and closed at the guard's exit, leaving Jake with an imprisoned Andrea behind the force field.

"Couldn't stay away, could you, Jake?" she asked coyly.

"I wanted to believe you," he replied, "I'm not going to make that mistake again for awhile, that's for sure."

Andrea stood up, looking genuinely surprised. "What are you talking about?"

Jake raised his clenched fist to Andrea. Within it was the memo that Chris and Jackie had given to him.

"This is a record of all your transmissions forty-eight hours before your capture. It includes the authorization of a wire transfer to an account that you hold."

"Wait a minute, how did you--?"

"Chris is very, very good, Andrea. You should know that by now. Don't worry, it's not admissible. But you lied to me. Must be nice to satisfy your moral imperatives so long as you make a profit."

Her jaw dropped as she searched for an answer. She looked startled as she read the expression on his face as one of sharp anger. "I have a finder's fee, of course, but--"

"Your finder's fee is eighty million credits, Andrea!" he cried, "Oh, we've played these games before, but no one ever got hurt, I made sure of that. But this time, Andrea...this isn't about goodwill, this is about lining your pockets, something that you're very good at."

Andrea paused for a moment to process his insult. "A girl's gotta eat," she mumbled.

Jake scoffed, "Yeah, but your problem is you like to eat caviar if the rest of us prefer fish sticks."

"What do you expect from me, Jake? You want me to say I regret taking the money?"

"You never change, Andrea, and you don't want to. You enjoy living beyond your means. That's why you left the Commission, that's why you're a thief. That's why you'll always be a thief."

"And you think the agency is any better?" Andrea said, matching his volume, "Exploiting entire Alternate Earths for natural resources and cheap labor? Bullying world governments into giving away technology rights? Buying off politicians to feed a bloated bureaucracy? Looking at your precious cause, I sleep fine at night, thank you."

"At least I have a cause," Jake said simply, "Comes from having a conscience."

"Fuck you," she replied scornfully, pointing a finger at him, "You don't get to judge me!"

"Fine, then I don't have to spring you out of this cell," he said, beginning to turn towards the door.

Andrea called out to him, her voice softening on a dime, "No, wait!"

Jake stopped, if only to hear a response and not necessarily listen.

"Nobody's extorting anyone, they approached me. I took the job because I wanted to get them the cure. They are dying by the thousands every day. They would've paid anything, so they paid me. That's just the way these things go."

"How nice for you," he said bluntly.

"That's not all of it," Andrea said, moving closer to the force field. "Eighty million credits, Jake. I could've retired on half that. I could walk away from the Syndicate, all at the ripe old age of twenty-two."

Jake looked up.

"That's right. I was gonna go straight. You didn't know that. Did you really think I wanna do this forever? Worrying about getting pinched after every operation, risking life and limb to acquire dangerous technology, having to look over my shoulder every time I walk down the street? I like what I do, I'm a very good thief, but I'd give it up if I could. This was my one chance to do it. A lifetime trust fund for saving an entire world. I could've spent the rest of my life living in a mansion on top of a hill on a far away Alternate. I would've asked you. I would've taken you with me."

"Andrea--"

"Nobody would bother us, no responsibilities to anyone but ourselves," she whispered, "We could raise a family, have children, grow old togeth--"

"Stop it!" Jake pleaded. A deafening silence occupied the room, not simply because Andrea had said what she said, but that Jake couldn't really dispute her sincerity, try as he might.

"Don't lie to me, Andrea," he said, "You did it all for yourself."

"I did it for you," she replied softly, "I became a thief because I didn't want you looking down on me anymore. I wanted to do something that would get your attention."

Jake looked at her incredulously.

"Look at me, Jake! I'm not that little girl from Westchester all those years ago, joined the Commission all green as hell because I thought that's where all the action was. The things I had to do to make you look in my direction."

"That's ridiculous," he retorted.

"Is it really? I went out of my way to make you love me. You wouldn't have it any other way, Jake. Certainly didn't have any problem sleeping with me after I turned rogue."

Jake slammed his fist against the force field, illuminating electrons and causing Andrea to recoil in surprise.

"Enough," he said.

"Admit it, Jake. You don't love Lisa. She can never give you what I'm offering, and you know it."

"You're wrong. And if this was about curing the Thanatosia plague, you wouldn't be asking me to bust you out of here. You would've forked over those vials to me at the first opportunity."

"They're gonna kill me either way. I'm a thief, not a martyr. I want to live, Jake," she said.

"If I break you out," Jake said, "I put the peace talks in serious jeopardy. They could break the cease-fire because of you and me. And frankly, I don't think you're worth that kind of trouble anymore."

Andrea gasped. She said despondently, "You don't mean that."

"Yes, I do!" he cried.

Silence again. For the first time in a long time, Andrea was sincerely hurt by Jake, and it only took an instant for him to begin to regret it.

The door slid open again, and the guard returned. "Sir," he said, "Your five minutes are up, and I have to transport the prisoner."

"Very well," Jake said. He took a few paces towards the door, and turned around, asking, "Would you give up the money, Andrea?"

Andrea looked at him, "What?"

"Your fee, would you give it all up if it meant curing the plague?"

She paused for a moment to reflect on her answer, but her reply was resolute. "Would you?" she asked.

That stirred Jake's anger even more, but he had enough of being self-righteous, or at least seeming as self-righteous as Andrea had made him out to be. His only recourse was to high-tail it out of the holding room and recollect his thoughts.

TO BE CONTINUED.


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