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‘Kelly, I will pull over and look at it.’ John said.
Kelly’s face was taut and pale with concern. They had been out in the woods for days, and she held onto the city girl’s uninformed distaste for the country. She came out in a sweat wandering around Whole Foods and she had managed days sleeping under open skies, covered with dirt and god knows what else.
‘I scratched it somewhere. It’s nothing a hot bath and a band aid won’t fix.’ she said.
John inhaled through his nose and kept driving.
‘We don’t know that.’ he said.
She gritted her teeth and looked away.
‘Could it be passed on through contact?’ she said.
He ran his tongue over his teeth before he shook his head.
‘There aren’t any traces of it in bodily fluids. I’ve done the work myself.’ he said.
Kelly nodded in agreement and in response, the skin of her lower back prickled and itched with a fierce, sharp heat which made her suck in a sharp breath. John pulled the truck over to the side of the road and undid his seatbelt before he turned to her.
‘Kelly, I need to look at your back.’ he said.
She undid her seatbelt and turned her upper body away from him as she lifted the hem of the t shirt she was wearing. One of his, but her other clothes were torn and bloodied after the plane crash landed. Kelly closed her eyes as she felt the tips of John’s fingers stroke against her back. Under any other circumstances, she would have welcomed his touch, but this was something else. An unspoken ugliness made manifest in the mark on her back and John’s demeanour becoming something more concerned and clinical than affectionate.
Kelly heard him swear under his breath before he tugged her shirt back down. She turned around and looked into his eyes as he furrowed his forehead.
‘I was unconscious in the water for some time, so I can’t say with any certainty what it is but we’ll get to my house and look at you there.’ he said.
The car stereo switched on.
‘I’ve arranged for the jet for you both. Will you require tranquilizers?’ the stereo said.
Kelly raised her eyebrows as she stared between the stereo and John as he put his seatbelt back on.
‘Are you asking him or me?’ she said.
The stereo chuckled in John’s voice but behind the wheel, John’s face was a mask of concentration as he put his foot on the accelerator.
‘I take them if I have to fly.’ he said.
Having a wolf spaz at thirty thousand feet is not safe for anyone.’ the AI said.
Kelly fought the urge to chuckle at the term ‘wolf spaz’ and how it contrasted with John’s sombre expression as he focused on the road.
‘How far?’ John said.
John’s phone vibrated with a notification and he picked it up and nodded.
‘Thank you.’ he said.
He turned to Kelly.
‘I keep a few things on retainer. John’s confirmed the hire agreement and they’re fuelling up for us.’ he said.
Kelly’s mouth hung open and she went to speak before she recoiled against another spasm of itching, painful heat across her lower back and she gasped with discomfort. John put his foot down and took the truck up as far as possible.
‘John, you don’t have to go so fast.’ she said.
He gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white as he grimaced.
‘I do if you’re sick with something, Kelly.’ he said.
She tasted the tension between them. She reached out and touched his thigh, pressed her palm against the ridge of muscle beneath his jeans and willed him to feel the reassurance she took from his actions.
‘Then I’m with the best person, aren’t I?’ she said.
His face softened and he smiled at her, his eyes damp with unspoken emotion.
‘I don’t want to think I’ve infected you.’ he said.
She shook her head and closed her eyes, struggling to bear the possibility of it with anything close to equanimity.
‘John, you understand yourself better than anyone, if you thought it was a possibility, we wouldn’t have -‘
Her voice trailed off as she failed to give voice to the fears they both felt.
‘The pilot has sent word he’s ready for you. I’ve submitted a flight plan. If you take the medication now, it will be in your system by the time you arrive.’ the AI said.
John glanced at Kelly, his mouth set in a line as his jaw trembled with the effort to control his emotions. Kelly kept her hand on his thigh and squeezed again for reassurance.
‘You’ve carried too much guilt for too long. You don’t have to carry mine.’ she said.
He put his hand over hers and squeezed her fingers before he turned the truck off the main road and down a stretch of road. The airfield was deserted apart from the jet on the runway, lit and prepared for take off. John drove onto the airfield and into an adjoining warehouse as Kelly craned to look at the jet. In her peripheral vision, she saw John open the glove compartment and grab a silver blister pack and pop two of them into his mouth and dry swallow them. He stopped the truck and got out. Kelly joined him as he locked the truck and put the keys in his pocket.
She took his hand and he squeezed it again as they walked to the jet.
Amaro Felipe watched as the medical team prepared Olivia via a live camera feed. He had left the tank and fed, so he was free to sit in the dark and watch the process. Amaro envied her the care and attention she was receiving although it was to his specification. His circumstances had been less fortunate, ignorant of his biology and afraid to lose the station and wealth which had been fought for through his life.
He knew what she would undergo, having experienced it himself but he had placed her in the care of professionals who had helped him understand himself. Amaro was unique, but he did not wish to be, and the results had been disappointing. Olivia would not approach him in his capacities, but she would emerge from the procedure something more than human. The medical procedures were there to ensure she would be provided with nutrients and life support whilst her body underwent a series of fundamental changes. An induced coma would support the process as her body rewrote itself according to his design and he had the quiet pleasure of watching the rebirth. Most of the alterations occurred in the brain and nervous system, reverse engineered from the studies Amaro made of himself, and even those had only been in the last forty years. Before this period, he had investigated myths and legends, archaeological expeditions to far corners of the world in search of meaning and all of it giving hints but no solutions. Amaro knew the power of myth, having usurped it to allow him to slip free of his human identity and obligations to continue his existence.
The camera zoomed in on her face. Without the coma, Olivia would have suffered violent seizures as her brain altered, focusing on the cerebrum and brain stem but the transformation was not so much scientific as evangelical. In high definition, Amaro watched as her skin grew translucent, darkening over her abdomen as the secondary nervous system spread out and grafted onto her existing physiology. Her jaw jutted forwards and blood dribbled down from the corners of her mouth as the secondary set of teeth grew in, knitting sheaths from the existing gum tissue and connecting to poison sacs which ran down the back of her throat.
Her hair fell out of her scalp but Amaro knew it would grow back. The establishment of the primary form was brutal and violent, but she was kept apart from it by the coma.
He had no such courtesies afforded to him. Five hundred years and he remembered what it was to be reborn into something monstrous. It was this knowledge which piqued his interest in the events in the forest. Amaro did not believe there were trained dogs involved, and after being informed about one of them surviving a rifle round, his interest piqued into something more urgent and important.
There was also the matter of restitution. The contents of the briefcase had represented the first chance of viable offspring in centuries and they had been cauterized to ashes to protect a competent thief and her protector. Amaro sat back in the chair, looking at the screen but not watching it as he considered his next steps.
Olivia would be ready to send out in only a week. Her physiological changes would be managed with his instruction and a clear set of directives for Jasper and the others to follow so they would act in a support capacity whilst she led the investigation.
She opened her eyes and Amaro smiled at how the irises had disappeared, now black with flecks of emerald. The medical staff increased the dosage, but she screamed as blood spilled down her chin and she revealed multiple sets of needle sharp teeth before she collapsed back down onto the bed, lost to the world again.
‘You’ll do just fine, Ms Nixon.’ he said.
The spectacle had stoked his appetite and he asked Miller to make the arrangements with a brief phone call before he continued to watch Olivia change.
(Let me know in the comments if you’re enjoying the series, what you’ve enjoyed and what you’re looking forward to. Thank you.)