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A warning growl of thunder echoed in the veiled heavens, accompanied by sharp flares of neon-green lightning, giving way to an acidic downpour as the chosen of the Five Mountain Path rolled up the blood-stained labcoat with careful precision, then tossed it and the head of the arrogant, foolish doctor into a nearby dumpster. Beads of rainwater clung to strands of dark hair as he brushed his hands off on his rumpled silk pants and pinpointed the nearest streetsign.
Maus and Seventh. Class M district. To his left a tacky pink neon sign that read ‘Rhonda’s Diner’ hung above a dilapidated, one story building. To his right, an expanse of city blocks and urban terrain, closed shops fenced in with barbed wire and jagged broken glass atop the high fences, fixed in firmly to discourage intruders. A smirk formed across his lips as he crossed the street and began his journey home, to reclaim his empire. First a meal, then a bath and change of clothing…then lastly, a meeting with his late father’s trusted business associates. Plotting methods of revenge was always best upon a full stomach.
Devouring the MegaBurger she’d gotten to go, Risha took a sip of soda and set the plastic cup down, her other hand furiously typing at the keyboard of her father’s Tachyon Netsystem circa 2018. Being a military brat had its advantages, including familiarity with certain passcodes and knowledge of case sensitive classified websites. Even those labeled blacker than black by her Dad and his officer buddies, Omega operations, wetwork detail and disease warfare.
Scrolling down page after page, her eyes flicked back and forth, neurosynapes in her brain flaring in rapid-fire time as she took in the information before her. Two hours searching and so far nothing relating to the specific symptoms of Dani’s condition. Risha’s heart drummed against her ribcage. One hour ‘till Dad’s supposed to be home, if I get caught doing this I’m so dead, she
thought, brow creasing as she hastily clicked down to the next page. Nothing, absolute zilch on any DNA or gene-related studies with this fast an incubation period.
The front door slammed. She bolted upright in her chair, typing furiously at the keyboard as Risha closed the website and switched to checking email. From what she’d gleaned, her mind played with two options: one, this was a deep cover operation, or two, whatever this outbreak was it wasn’t engineered by military science.
"We need to have another talk, young lady." Tim Morningstar announced gravely as he cameinto the room. "Turn that off and look at me. I got a call today from Carter High. Mind telling me why you weren’t at your classes the entire day?"
Uh-oh. Risha switched off the terminal and swiveled in the chair to face her Dad, traces of sweat forming on her face. "Dad, there was an emergency at school today. My best friend Dani’s really sick, she fainted and I rushed her to the hospital…she-she’s in a coma. The doctors don’t know what’s wrong with her." Tears began to well in her eyes. "I swear it’s the truth, Dad - they…they say she’s the seventh person to contract this unknown epidemic that’s been brought in alive." Her voice began to break. "I’m sorry, Dad, I didn’t know what else to do."
Morningstar’s Native American features remained grim, though his expression softened by a shade as he regarded his daughter. A resigned exhale escaped his lips as he pulled up a chair and sat down near his daughter. A brief silence fell before he spoke. "So how is Dani?"
Risha bit her lip, bowing her head as tears fell. "They don’t know - she’s in a coma. They said it’s too early to tell right now, all they know is it might be an…outbreak of some sort. I know you’re angry, but I was just trying to help."
Nodding severely, her father put a hand on her shoulder. "General Mallory informed me of the outbreak earlier today. I’m…really sorry Dani’s involved, Cadet. I’m not happy you skipped an entire school day, but I understand the situation."
She placed a hand over her father’s. "I don’t - What exactly is the situation?"
He sighed, massaging the temples of his forehead. "Classified, for the most part. For reasons of National Security, we don’t want to create any further panic than what’s already going on…our boys in Disease Analysis are researching samples taken from…non-survivors." Lieutenant Morningstar chose his words carefully as he looked at his daughter. "It’s too early to say anything con-
clusive, Cadet. I’m sorry." He took a slow, deep breath. "And it’s because of this I’m going to have to ask that you stay in at night from now on, your curfew’s eight-thirty until we get this matter solved."
Risha’s head snapped up. Pained disbelief wracked her symmetrical features. "Eight-thirty? Dad, you can’t be serious, please…"
"Afraid so, Rish. No further discussion. Trust me, it’s for your own good - and your own safety."
He leveled his gaze at her. "I said it’s not open for discussion. Orders are orders young lady. I know you want to help, but as your father and Lieutenant in Special Forces Personnel, I can’t risk you getting hurt, or worse." He shook his head. "Things are just too dangerous right now out there."
The digital ring of her cellphone roused her from her nap. Multi-faceted eyes blinking open,Dr. Idriss stirred, traces of irritation creasing her China doll-like features as she reached for the phone. "Doctor Idriss speaking, go ahead."
"Doctor? It’s Epstein in public relations. We may have a problem, regarding the promotion of your newest pharmaceutical."
"What sort of problem?" She demanded, fully awake at his words.
"It’s the media. Apparently there’s an outbreak brewing in the city as a result of the tests we ran on those volunteer subjects two days ago. Nugenica’s financial standing could be seriously comprimised if this gets traced back to us."