"You are sure you're feeling up to this?" Jessica asked as they stopped outside of Abernathy's store.
"The only doubt I have is whether we should've called for back up." he responded, looking up and down the street.
"Trust me, I think it's best this way."
"Your partner didn't think so," he countered, shifting his injured arm and forcing a flinch.
"My partner doesn't think too much." Jessica replied, looking at the door. Her fingers drifted quickly over the lock, pausing only at the bullet holes that had been left by Michael's .45. "It looks like Abernathy went into full lockdown."
"So what's the next move?" Lefsky asked, leaning in to examine the door's fresh wounds as well.
"We do what Michael would do." she commented, walking back to the air car.
"You just called him Michael again." Lefsky called out but Jessica was beyond the point of caring. As she lifted the gull wing door to their vehicle, she looked closely at the map Michael had pointed to earlier, trying to think as he would.
"This one here." she indicated the spot with her thumb as Lefsky walked up.
"The junction of 17th and Hewitt?" Lefsky asked. "What makes you so sure?"
"I don't know," she said quietly. Tossing the paper back into the car, she motioned for Lefsky to take the driver's seat while she moved to the passenger's side. Somewhere under the city, Michael and Brent were being held captive, most likely infected already. But if his reputation were anything to speak of, then her partner would be able to pull of something that could only be described as miraculous. According to the Director of the ISDA, he'd done it before.
It took what felt like hours for a noticeable difference to occur but he could feel it now. His whole body was tingling, as if he could feel every particle in the air bouncing off his skin. The chains too, seemed lighter and much more frail. As a test, he pulled them to eye level and gently spread his arms apart. The metal in the middle bent slightly, not even requiring much effort.
He could hear a great deal more as well. Brent's heartbeat, that's what is sounded like anyway, was quickening in pace, along with the agent's closed eyelids. The slightest ruffle of his hand against the dirty floor was enough for Michael to want to cover his ears, or at the very least turn his head.
He noticed the slow movement of dust swirling around the room. Something that happened everyday with out anybody's notice but was now the center of his attention. A myriad of smells wafted into his open nostrils, some unknown, most unpleasant. He reached to plug his nose, stopping only because the sound of his chains clanking overloaded his auditory senses. Holding himself as still as he could, he noticed a low voice from somewhere else.
"Have you made a recent check on the subject?" the voice was Abernathy's. It was amazing how clearly it could be heard, even though it must have been a ways away. The incredible thing was that he just 'knew' the distance of the voice's owner.
"Not in the last 30 minutes." someone unknown replied. "I think the effect is going to be near the same as the others, just slower."
"Well," Abernathy continued, breathing out heavily, "then it's a good thing we have two." Both men laughed at the comment. One walked away while the other was most definitely headed in their direction. Michael closed his eyes, acting asleep as the man entered. He didn't know how, whether it was the man's scent or the way he walked, but he could tell it wasn't Abernathy with out even looking.
"At least you're not comatose...yet" the man's hand grabbed his subject by the jaw, turning the head from side to side for a better look. "Let's see those eyes, huh?" he was talking to himself more than to Michael. He produced a small flashlight and adjusted its beam to a focused point.
Michael squinted as first his left and then his right eye were both forced open in turn and bombarded with an intense amount of light. The man nodded slowly, taking one more look before putting his tool away.
"As I'd theorized, much the same as the first, just slower." There was no mistaking the man's obvious disappointment. "Can you even hear me? Tell me, if you can talk, what's it feel like?"
The man was forced to sit back as Michael slowly moved forward, raising his hands out in front of him. He grasped the chain firmly before giving it a strong pull. Several of the links bent and then popped as the shackles split in two. The bonds on his wrist, however, still remained.
"Ah." the man smiled. "So it always has worked. It just kills you when it's done." He rose, turning his back to Michael and depositing a hand on his chin. "So the trick is to keep the serum from killing its host for as long as possible." He sighed heavily, turning to face Michael again. "I guess it will just take more trial and..." but he wasn't allowed to finish as Michael flew into him, knocking him clear across the room and into the opposite wall.
The man lay unconscious on the floor as Michael ripped the chains off of his feet as well. A boy was quick to enter the room after hearing the noise. He took one look at what he saw and froze. The prisoner he'd been guarding was transformed. His eyes had become cloudy and blood was dripping from his nose, mixing with the saliva on his chin.
It was all the boy could do to keep from fainting as the agent walked up to him and punched him just below the ribs. He passed out instantly, joining the other man on the floor. Michael turned to take one look at Brent, who was still drugged to sleep, taking rapid and shallow breaths. With out hesitation, he ran out the open door and down the crumpling hall with only one objective in mind.
"This is pretty damn huge." Lefsky said in awe as they strode through the dark streets. All they had to light their way was a pair of small field lights, hardly fulfilling the task set before them.
"Do you know much about it?" Jessica asked, shinning her light here and there.
"You're the one with the photographic memory."
"Photographic. Not all-knowing." she corrected.
Lefsky half-shrugged in response, not able to complete the full motion because of his injury. "I remember something about it from school, but not enough to be of any help." he began scanning as she was. "They had tours through here a long time ago but not since then."
"I see." Jessica knelt in the earth, looking for tracks or any kind of sign that someone had been here. They had spent over an hour just trying to find a way in and were now only on what appeared to be the outskirts. If it hadn't been for the distant echo that they heard, they probably never would've found their missing comrades.
"Agent Houston?" Lefsky spoke up. "It sounds like..."
"Chanting." she finished and raced off in the direction it was coming from.
Samuel was bored. Tired and bored. After he'd finished his shift guarding the new prisoners, he'd been sent to clean this and guard that. Now he was fed up. He'd never seen the Father like this. Something was bothering him and it was being taken out on him and a few of the other kids his age.
He spit on the ground again, making small circles with the end of his staff. He was about to scream or even throw something, anything to make the monotony go away. But it didn't until he heard a sound just beyond the light's range. As any young person would do, Samuel got curious and walked towards it, holding his staff in front.
The sound had come from around the corner, where none of the light reached. Poking his staff in quickly, he did his best to search out whatever might be there before venturing further. It was on his final jab that he hit something. He tried again, only slower and softer, finding that his staff would not come back. Pulling even harder, he soon found himself following it around the corner and receiving an elbow to the back of his head.
Michael moved into the lit hallway carefully. His keen sense of hearing told him that he was alone before his eyes ever did. He could hear sounds coming from the other end of the old corridor, though no door was in plain view. In fact, the whole length of the hall was barren, a fact that didn't sit too well with Michael.
He followed the wall closely until he reached the end. The passage continued to his left but Michael was not interested. He could hear someone a ways behind the wall. Putting his ear to the door, he could even tell that it was actually two people and that they were down two flights of stairs.
He stepped back with just enough room for one punch. With a fury he'd never felt before, he threw his fist into the wall, finding it to be merely wood in disguise. He tore the rest of it down, noticing that the cuts on his hand were quickly heeling, though the action seemed to make him somewhat dizzy. Taking a deep breath, he vaulted down the metal stairs.
In front of him stood a large metal door. A small panel rested on its side, but instead of unleashing another volley of punches, he tapped lightly. A few seconds later, the door opened automatically, revealing a long metal corridor. It was perhaps 50 feet to the end, but he could still hear the unmistakable sound of more than one gun cocking.
"I have to say that his is a surprise." Abernathy's voice came over some hidden speaker. "I didn't expect you to be this strong. Please agent Arkin, won't you join us?"
Michael complied walking slowly down to the end of the hallway. A similar door opened at his approach, allowing him access to the large command room therein.
"I would ask that you remain where you are." Abernathy continued, this time in person. "We just want to run some tests on you. Oh, and don't try anything stupid. The more you use your new the strength, the quicker you will die." Eight men situated around the room pointed automatic weapons at him, reinforcing the point.
"What's in it for me?" Michael asked in a voice not his own as two men in white coats walked towards him. They froze instantly, looking back at Abernathy before continuing further.
"I'll give you the antibody." he smiled, holding a small tube in one hand. "What do you say?"
Michael bowed his head, rolling up his jacket's sleeves so the scientists could do as they had been ordered. The first one stuck a syringe in his right arm, taking a small sample of blood. The other scanned him with a small device, before turning to Abernathy and announcing his findings.
"It looks like this batch is definitely different Sir," the man reported, looking back at the small screen. "His adrenaline is off the scale and looks as though he's even developed another sense."
"ESP?" Abernathy asked, sitting forward in his large chair. His men kept their guns trained, willing to shoot through the scientist if necessary.
"No, not at all." the man turned completely in Abernathy's direction. "Much more like what you'd find in an animal. Sort of like a blending between his sense of hearing and his sense of smell."
"So he's a predator now?" Abernathy sat back satisfied. Michael was listening to neither of them, turning his attention to the hall behind him.
"One that will die shortly if not administered..." a fist that connected with his right temple cut off his explanation. The force of the blow sent him into one of the guards, causing the others to empty their clips. Their reactions came to late as their bullets hit thin air. Michael was already at the closest, grabbing the man's gun and smashing his skull with it.
He fell backwards, over a rail, narrowly avoiding another barrage of automatic fire. A guard on the other side of the room had little time to react as the rifle Michael had been holding flew straight into his face. Abernathy sat calmly in the center of the room, unconcerned and lighting up a cigarette.
Michael was too quick for the guards to follow and two of them soon found themselves in close-quarters combat. The agent lifted a quick knee into one soldiers groin and a fast punch to the other's nose. Blood spurted from the crack as the man bent over, both hands on his fresh wound. Michael brought his elbow down on the man's neck, knocking him to the floor. The other soldier was sent to join him as a swift chop landed in the same place.
Though he couldn't see them, he knew that the remaining three guards standing at attention. Abernathy had waved them down and was now walking in his direction, laughing the closer he got. Michael's vision had long since fled, but he could sense the man not five feet from him. He jumped a computer console, closing the distance between them and bringing a hand to meet the other man's stomach.
It hit with no more strength than one of Abernathy's children. Michael turned in a circle, intending to land the full of his arm in Abernathy's face but found his legs giving out before he'd gotten halfway. His senses were noticeably diminished as his body shook, ending in a violent cough. Though he couldn't see it, Michael had a good feeling that quite a bit of blood had followed the phlegm that had escaped his throat. He tried to rise, receiving a kick to the ribs from his captor. It was then that he realized where most of the pain was coming from. Sometime during the previous skirmish, he had been shot more than once.
"I told you." Abernathy's tone was very condescending. "The more you use your new strength, the quicker you will die." Michael coughed again in response, this time ejecting a small amount of tissue. "Mr. Franz!" Abernathy could be faintly heard even though he was standing right above.
"Yes Mr. Paris?" a thick accent asked.
"Here's your sample. I want a full report." The two seemed to be walking off, though Michael was unsure of what was happening. His thoughts were random at best and it was becoming increasingly difficult to stay awake. He soon lost the battle as he felt himself being pulled along the floor to eventually end up on a cold, metal table.
"Did you hear that?" Jessica whispered as they snuck passed another dark hallway. They hadn't even seen one person, let alone a secret society. The only confirmation that someone had been down here was the few lights that had managed to not burn out.
"I don't know." Lefsky shook his head. "What'd it sound like?" He'd swapped his light for his gun upon their arrival to a lit area and now held it at his side.
"It almost sounded like a door being busted." she stopped, trying to hear whatever it had been.
"You know, I'm right handed. And this..." he motioned at his arm. "Well it's gonna decrease my accuracy."
"I'll take the chance," she continued on, stopping only when it seemed there was someone who might detect them. It was several minutes later that they came across the first body. It was a man who looked to be about middle age. He'd been hit across the head and laid in the shadows. "It looks like we follow the bodies." she commented, moving on.
After finding several more, they were once again met with darkness. Lefsky stalled momentarily, only moving again because Jessica had done so. After coming to a bend in the corner and another body, they were greeted by a dim hallway.
"That's our busted door." Jessica announced, walking towards it. Lefsky tried to stall again, but the other agent had no compunctions about walking down the two flights of stairs. Reluctantly he followed, coming to the closed metal door.
"Well obviously they're expecting us." Lefsky joked until he noticed her serious expression. "Maybe now would be a good time to call for back up." he told her, making sure no one had heard them.
"Yes we should." she handed him her phone. "Go wherever it takes to get a signal. Have the ISDA trace it and get a team down here."
"But..." he took it, putting his gun away first.
"That's an order agent." she turned on him, flashing her bright green eyes. Remembering the coat rack, Lefsky nodded, walking up the stairs with the phone in his hand.
"Here." he reached to pull his gun but she refused.
"I don't need it." she replied, already tearing off the small panel and rewiring several of it's components. It opened with a hiss, allowing her inside. She squinted at the sight in front of her. Michael was at the end of the hallway, just beyond another opened door. He turned his head slightly, seeming to notice her presence.
He instantly punched the man to his right and disappeared from her view. She ran quickly as she heard the weapons fire in every direction, a few even ricocheting into the hallway. She slid up to the door, taking shelter behind it as she saw Michael on the floor.
Abernathy could be heard gloating and ordering his men to take Michael away. She peeked around the corner, seeing her partner being dragged through a doorway. Three guards were checking on their wounded friends, not even registering Jessica as she walked up to the closest.
"I can help," she said calmly. "I am a doctor."
"Well then get your ass..." his words were cut short by a shiny boot that sent him sprawling into the wall. The other two scurried toward their weapons, making themselves even easier targets. The first was knocked into the floor from Jessica's full weight landing on his back. The second had almost reached his gun as he noticed a foot refusing to grant him custody. It quickly flew into his face, catching him again as it descended.
In the next room, two scientists were busy grabbing all manner of utensils and machines, some of them already hooked to her partner. Jessica acted quickly, throwing one into the wall and wrapping an IV around the other's throat. He gasped for breath, trying desperately to strike out at his attacker. A rather strong knee met his head as he fell to the floor.
She wasted no time in injecting Michael with the antibody, even pulling him off the table as she did so. Though strong in her own right, she was still not able to carry the bulk of the other agent and ended up half-dragging him. They hadn't even made it to the door before Abernathy appeared across the room with a gun in hand.
"That's mine." Michael said weakly, trying to point in the direction.
"You're a tough little girl." Abernathy commented, lowering the gun slightly. "And apparently a very smart one."
Jessica looked down at the syringe still in her hand and tossed it at him.
"I could use someone like you." he smiled, walking in her direction. "I seem to have a few openings and I could even pay you to be your own bodyguard."
"Somehow, I'm disinclined to accept your offer Mr. Abernathy."
"Please, it's Paris." his sickening smile grew a little. "And I suggest you be a little more open-minded. You may be good at karate or whatever, but you aren't faster than bullets."
"No." she admitted, standing up. "I'm not."
"But somehow I don't think you'll except my offer." he had lowered the gun to his side, though his finger still rested on the trigger. "Why is you people never understand what I'm trying to do? The Consortium is breathing down our necks, ready to take us for everything we have. I'm just trying to prevent that."
"How do you do it?" she asked, her hand sneaking to her skirt. "After what you've seen them go through."
"To be honest," he leaned to the side a little and held out both arms, "I hate myself to sleep at night."
"How the hell did you get my gun?" Michael attempted to raise himself but fell against the wall. Jessica rushed to his side, Abernathy bringing Michael's weapon to bear on both of them.
"Push me away." Jessica said loud enough for only Michael to hear. He didn't have to try too hard as he practically collapsed into her. Abernathy's delay was his mistake. As the two agents landed on the floor, Jessica's hand came away from her skirt, revealing a well-concealed gun. Abernathy tried to respond but both of the bullets from her .380 had already lodged themselves in the center of his heart, killing him instantly. He managed one shot as his body fell to the ground lifeless.
Jessica turned back to her partner, who was now lying across her lower half. He was still in a daze, his eyes now only partially clouded over.
"Are you alright?" she asked as she turned him over, depositing him on the floor. He stirred a little, waving one of his arms in the air.
"Me? Of course, it's all in the mind, ya know."
She smiled, in spite of herself. "Mmm. I forgot about that."
"Yeah. Jessica?" he asked, trying to make eye contact but failing.
"Agent Hou...Yes?" she relented.
"You've got to do me a favor." A massive amount of sweat was pouring off his face, as if he'd just finished a marathon.
"Of course." her reply was quicker than it should've been but the urgency in his voice had prompted it.
"You remember when you asked me why Washington City was blessed with my presence?" She nodded slowly, waiting for the near-unconscious agent to make his request. "Before we leave, you have to go to 419 Occidental Avenue South. Tell them I sent you."
"What's there? What do you want me to do?" she laid his head down in an attempt to make him more comfortable.
"I want you to collect."
"I'm sorry you've had to wait so long agent Houston but..." he was cut off.
"You can call me Jessica, Sir." she replied.
"Right." the comment had distracted James Lesko, making him lose his train of thought. He knew she'd change by meeting and working with Michael, but he didn't expect her to change that much. "Anyway as I was saying, I'm sorry you've had to wait so long but it seems he's just entered the building."
"I understand Sir." she smoothed several wrinkles out of her skirt. "I'd say any agent who has gone through what he did can be a little late, as well as have a week off."
"But as long as you're here and he's not, would you mind telling me your impression of Michael Arkin?"
"Well at first I found him presumptuous, illogical and impetuous." she stared. "And he pretty much confirmed my suspicions throughout our assignment."
"Well," Lesko managed a smile, "he's been called worse I guess."
"But I also found him...remarkably intuitive and effective." she finished just as Michael walked through the door.
"Your secretary said I was expected." he took the other seat, finding it more comfortable to slouch.
"Of course Mike." Lesko pressed a button on his desk, which caused a small screen to rise. "How are you for starters?"
"I've been better but I'm ready for whatever you've got." he responded, rubbing his shoulder and wincing slightly.
"The doctor said that...protein or antibody or whatever did a lot in helping you heal." Lesko was reading from the screen, pointing his finger at certain parts.
"It doesn't feel that way."
"I want you to take another week off." Lesko made the screen retreat to its original position and turned to face Michael. "I promise your next assignment will be cake."
"You promise?" he asked. Jessica smiled at the cautious look on his face.
"Those engineers think they've worked the bugs out of your new ship and want you to take it on a test flight." Lesko stood up, turning to the large window.
"Great, anything else?" he stood, unable to draw to his full height.
"No." Lesko shook his head. "Just see the doctors on your way out."
"Right." he slowly left the office. Sarah's voice could be heard on the other side, though exactly what she'd said couldn't.
"Is there a reason he's the way he is?" Jessica asked, sitting forward a little.
"He's got a history." the Director turned to face her. "He's not driven by the same things you and me are. He's got somebody out there." She stood as he had, giving him her full attention.
"I haven't told him," Lesko continued, "but I'll tell you. I want you two working together on the next few assignments. You might get to know him better in the next few months but trust me; you won't have even scratched the surface. " When she didn't respond, he continued. "From what I've read in the report, you kept him from getting killed. I want you to watch over him agent Houston. He's going to be very important to all of us in the near future."
" 'Come on Mike, you know just as well as I do, the Consortium is planning something big. A few people, myself included, feel that you could be instrumental in stopping it.' " She repeated Lesko's words perfectly.
"What?" Lesko asked, surprised by the agent's recall.
"That's what you told him," she looked straight at Lesko, "when you were convincing him to accept the new arrangement."
"Right." he seemed lost for a moment. "I'd almost forgot about your photographic memory. Look, why don't you take some more time off as well, okay? I'll see you in a week or so."
She nodded as he dismissed her, leaving the office and entering the elevator. She couldn't help but recall what had been said about her partner's history and her curiosity grew as she found him on the ground floor after exiting the lift. He was at the front desk, checking out. It didn't help that he looked like hell, the secretary might have remained quiet but her thoughts could be clearly discerned from her facial expression.
"How'd it go?" he asked as she approached him.
"Not too bad." she shrugged. "They serve really good food and when I told them you had sent me, I didn't even have to pay. I wonder why that was?" she cocked her head sideways, adopting a curious grin.
"The ballad of Michael Arkin and F.X. McRory's Steak, Chop & Oyster House
is a tale for another day." he finished with the secretary and turned to leave. "Suffice it to say, there's a reason why they have bullet-proof table tops."
She watched him walking towards the door, Lesko's words echoing in her mind. Though she'd only 'scratched the surface' as he had said, she could tell that Michael would do for her what she had been asked to do for him. She wasn't sure, but it seemed like a gut feeling.
...GOT TO BE GOOD LOOKIN' CAUSE HE'S SO HARD TO SEE