A/N: I'm pleased to say that within two or three days of the last, I've got another chapter written. Enjoy.
Josh's head spun as he sat there, hardly aware of the two sleeping bodies next to him. He was fated to die. This wasn't like the first time, either, when he had dreamt the car crash. Then, he hadn't believed any of it to be true, so it hadn't bothered him as much. Now, however, it felt like a guillotine blade was suspended above his head, waiting to kill him if he stayed with the group. For that was the reason, wasn't it? Some fool's mission that Alex had no doubt come up with to try to stop his Dad, who he seemed to have major issues with.
Whereas, as Josh already knew from experience, if he ran away, he would be absolutely fine, and nobody could hurt him. It seemed an attractive idea. He could go now, too. His bag was always packed to be ready to move. What was stopping him? Josh sighed, looking at the two girls lying there. Lana's face, normally so snarky and sarcastic, had lost its hard mask, and actually looked prettier than he thought it could. Lizzie on the other hand, was turned away from him, but there was a childlike innocence in her that seemed to fit with her small frame. He knew what was stopping him. As if feeling his eyes on the pair, one of them stirred.
"Josh, are you awake?" asked Lizzie groggily, rubbing her eyes. He jumped slightly, feeling guilty about his thoughts of running away.
"Yeah," he replied softly. Lizzie straightened up, seeing him properly now.
"What are you doing?" she asked. Josh hesitated, wondering whether he should tell the truth. To tell the truth, he felt like talking to someone, but he didn't want to see Lizzie's expression of shock or pity that would make it so much worse.
"Just thinking," he said, sighing heavily. "I'm wondering how long we'll last out here on the run. It was only yesterday that we had our narrow escape. One of these days they'll probably get us, and maybe we should just stay away."
Lizzie's eyes seemed full of understanding. She moved to sit next to him, shoulder to shoulder.
"Josh," she said his name gently, "you know that won't work. We can't live like this forever. If we don't find a way to stop them then they'll keep coming after us, and we'll never go back to normal."
Josh didn't immediately reply to her words. They made sense after all. His parents had warned him that they were under surveillance, and that was only likely to stop when Caine's were stopped.
"You're right," Josh said eventually, with a heavy heart, "but it's hard. I have no idea why I have this power that's got Caine's men chasing me I just want to be left alone."
To his shame, his voice trembled a little on the word 'alone' and his eyes felt hot. Josh refused to allow any tears, though, and stared straight ahead into the gloomy forest Lizzie put an arm around him and squeezed his shoulder.
"I know, Josh. I know."
They sat like that for a while, not saying anything. Josh was conscious of the fact that Lizzie was only a little younger than him, and it was quite an intimate situation – not something he was used to. It was a tempting thought to turn his head towards her and lean in, but he wasn't going to do anything like that. Part of it was because he was nervous, and unsure of whether his feelings were friendship or something more. But there was also the probability that it could go badly and then make every conversation incredibly awkward, which he didn't want. For the time being, he was happy to stay in this warm and comforting moment, and not think about the dangers ahead. Eventually though, it had to end. When the sun had risen high enough in the sky to mean that they needed to move, Lizzie stood up and gave him a sad smile.
"Everything will be fine in the end," she said, before turning away, and bending to shake Lana awake.
"I hope so," muttered Josh under his breath, forcing himself to his feet with her. He had temporarily decided not to run away. In all his previous dreams, he had escaped the ending by modifying his actions. He would just have to change the course of the future without running away. Josh wondered if it was futile to keep trying to save himself. The universe seemed very keen to kill him off, and just when he'd thought things were going well, he'd dreamt his death again. How many times would he be able to avoid it? Regardless, he wasn't giving up. He would fight to live until his last breath.
"Okay guys, let's go meet up with the others," said Lana, stifling a yawn, now ready, and just about awake. After a brief look between them to acknowledge their private moment before, Josh and Lizzie set off after Lana, who had checked a map the previous day and knew exactly where to go. It didn't take long to get out of the woods and onto a path that took them into a small town. The exit to the train station was on a small road opposite a few trees, and a car park off to the side. Even though Josh knew they had escaped, it was still a relief to see the two not-so-clean teenagers leaning against the railings, chatting to each other, unharmed. Although, as it turned out, that wasn't completely true.
"What happened to your face?" asked Lana, by way of greeting.
"Nice to see you too," Alex laughed, turning to show a developing mark under his right eye. Josh's heart almost stopped, and he was barely listening as Alex explained how it happened, while Chris butted in now and again when he found Alex's explanation lacking.
"You managed to piss off a gang?" asked Lana, shaking her head. "Honestly, what are you like?"
"Are you alright Josh? You look a little pale," said Lizzie, looking concerned.
"I'm fine," said Josh unconvincingly, as all eyes turned to him. So it would be soon, then. Nobody pressed him on it, though, and he didn't join in with the conversation.
"So did anything happen while we were away?" asked Alex casually, lunging back against a rail outside the station. Lana shrugged.
"Attempted capture by Caine's guys. Same old, same old," she said, making Alex and Chris' eyes widen.
"When was this?" asked Alex. Lana explained, and Alex glanced at Josh sharply when she mentioned his warning.
"So after...the escape, then," said Chris, in an odd voice. He looked up at Alex, sharing a look with him.
"What? Why is that relevant?" asked Lizzie, looking between the two. Alex sighed heavily, looking away before speaking.
"Richard Caine is dead," he said shortly.
"What?" asked Josh, speaking for the first time. Both Lizzie and Lana made similar exclamations that made Alex wince.
"It happened in the escape," Alex exclaimed.
"Are you sure he's dead?" asked Lana. "I'm sorry to ask, but we need to be sure."
"I don't think anybody could have survived that," said Alex, not elaborating. Despite Alex's mood, Lana seemed pleased.
"Does that mean this is all over?" she asked, seeming hesitant, not daring to believe it. "If he's actually dead, is that the end of Caine's pharmaceuticals?"
"I don't know," Alex snapped. "But Scarrel's still there, isn't he? My father may have created the company, but that doesn't mean it can't go on without him, does it?"
Lana looked a little taken aback, but unlike her usual self, didn't retaliate. Maybe she recognised that Alex's new status as an orphan made him a little bit touchy, but Josh was grateful that she didn't start anything.
"So where to now?" asked Lizzie, hoping to break the awkward silence that followed Alex's outburst.
"I have an idea, actually," said Chris, causing all eyes to turn to him. "I think that, since we don't have any other idea of what to do next, we should try to find the others that escaped."
"Others?" asked Lizzie.
"Well we know that at least two people got out," said Chris with a self-satisfied smile. "That guy teleported out with a kid, and I doubt anybody with his ability would get captured."
Alex nodded, stroking his chin while he thought.
"How would you find him," asked Josh. "I hope you're not relying on my dreams."
Chris shook his head.
"That might work, but it wasn't what I was thinking," he said, turning to Alex. "It took enough effort to get that damn memory stick, so we might as well use it."
"You're right, we should, and that guy said he owed me one, didn't he?" replied Alex, sounding a little happier now.
"We don't have a laptop though," said Josh, reluctant to continue on the path that would probably lead to the place with all the steel pipes and machinery. Alex shrugged that off.
"All public libraries have computers, we'll just use one of them," he said. "The only problem is whether they'll have the guy's address on there."
"I think he mentioned that he had broken in, didn't he?" said Lana. "I think if a person had broken into my lab, I'd do a bit of research about him."
Alex nodded in agreement.
"My father would want to know how he'd found out about the place when it's supposed to be secret, so I'm fairly sure he'd make some effort to look him up."
Chris seemed pleased that his idea had been accepted.
"Time to find a library then."
"His name was Jared wasn't it?" muttered Alex quietly, in the peaceful quiet of the library. Lana nodded, looking over the screen behind him.
"Yeah, his surname was something like Matson, I think," she said, straining her memory. They had decided that having five people all around one computer might look a little odd, so the others were lounging about in the book area while they examined the memory stick.
"I'll run a search on Jared, it's not a common name," said Alex, tapping away at the keyboard and leaning back into the soft, padded, chair as the green loading bar travelled from left to right.
"I'm sorry I was being callous about your father dying," said Lana, straight to the point, as ever. Alex looked up in surprise. Apologies weren't often Lana's style.
"That's alright," said Alex. "He wasn't exactly a great father figure. I doubt many people will be at his funeral."
"I know what you mean, my-" Lana stopped in the middle of whatever she was about to say, looking annoyed with herself.
"What was that? You know what I mean?" asked Alex, a little bemused. She pointed at the screen.
"Look, there he is, Jared Matheson, click on it."
Alex accepted her change of subject. He couldn't make her talk about anything she didn't want to. He opened Jared's file, murmuring to himself as he looked through.
"It'll most likely be in this bit, just here...look! There's the address, it's actually there!" he quietened down guiltily after hearing the room's only other occupant tutting at him. Alex quickly scribbled down the address on a scrap of paper torn from a leaflet. He hadn't been as sure as he'd sounded about the address being on the memory stick, so he was relieved to have actually got somewhere with it. Of course, there was a very good chance Jared had moved on to somewhere else, but it was worth a shot.
"Okay, let's join the others," said Alex, keen to be on the move. He got up and pulled open the door to the computer room, glancing back when Lana didn't follow.
"What?" he asked, as she shook her head despairingly. She pointed, and Alex saw the memory stick still in the computer where he'd left it.
"Oh yeah, that was deliberate," he said, going back and picking it up, making a show of pocketing it. Lana sighed, and they went to tell the others. Respecting the library rules, he didn't run or shout, but his grin showed his excitement. Chris, Lizzie and Josh all looked up when he found them, sitting on beanbags by a rotating bookshelf. Josh was the only one actually reading. Answering their unspoken question, he nodded, tossing the scribbled note down for them to read.
"Gerrards Cross, I don't live far from there," said Josh, surprised to recognise the name. "You can get trains to London that go right through it."
"Good," said Alex. "We know where the train station is, so it shouldn't be a difficult journey. Everyone up for that?"
There were noises of agreement from the group, although far less enthusiastic from Josh.
"Josh, you with us?" asked Alex, making eye contact. Josh shifted, making the beans in his seat rustle.
"Of course, where else would I go?" he asked, his voice rising slightly. Alex wasn't sure, but to him Josh sounded as if he was hiding something. He would discuss this with Lana later.
"That's settled then," said Alex, leading the way out of the library, into the cool air outside. "We get a train and then try to find North Road, wherever that is."
Alex, being at the front, didn't see the consternation on Josh's face while the others nodded along with him.
"So, you've been examining the injection substance for a while now. What have you got for me?" he asked, as he entered the room Nikolai was using as his study, where he had spread out a microscope along with all his notes. His friend sighed, rubbing the lenses of his glasses before explaining.
"It's advanced technology. If this drug works, and you tell me it does, then I know many people who would kill for it. As far as I can tell from its reactions with the cells I donated, it's similar to gene therapy, but permanent. It uses some sort of vector, like a virus, to inject a specific gene into the cell. The person's DNA is then cut and sealed with enzymes, permanently changing that cell's DNA. It's self-replicating, and once injected into the blood it can reach all cells that need oxygen, which is, in effect, all of them," he paused for a moment while Jared listened.
"Nothing like this exists at the moment, but if it did, instead of changing the genes it currently does, it could be used to cure a host of genetic diseases. What I don't understand is how they worked out which gene was the one to cause it all. I have no idea how the gene causes powers, but I think that they must have started out with a live example, not induced by the drug, and used that person's DNA as a base for all their work."
"Hang on," said Jared, trying to catch up with the already simplified scientific babble. "You're saying that not all of the powers are from the drug?"
Nikolai smiled slightly.
"I can't be absolutely sure, but I see no other way that they could have made this discovery," he said. "I suspect that one of the founders of the project found someone who had this 'power gene' and somehow managed to work out which gene was the one causing it, and replicate it."
"Interesting," said Jared. "You've worked quickly, thank you."
Nikolai smiled, inclining his head graciously at the compliment.
"The pleasure has been mine," he said. "I doubt anyone has ever had more interesting research. I cannot wait to have a closer look at your rescued boy. If he has been experimented on, I would love to see what he can do."
"Well, you'll have to wait until he's back from school, but I'm glad you're enjoying your work," said Jared, although he was a little worried that his friend's scientific interest was running ahead of his care for the boy. Jared shook off that worry. Nikolai was just interested; it was natural. Stepping onto the polished wooden floors of the hallway, Jared grabbed his coat off the back of the door and pushed his arms through it.
"Going somewhere?" asked Nikolai, raising an eyebrow. Jared nodded, with a wolfish smile.
"I have a meeting with someone important. He's getting me as much information as possible on the company that made this drug," explained Jared. "He's the same guy that obtained the papers for Zach and I."
"Yes, he is, but he's useful to me," said Jared honestly.
"And what have you promised him in return?" asked Nikolai unhappily. "Money?"
Jared shook his head, realising that he would like his answer even less.
"I offered to do a couple of jobs for him, but he'll be paying me for it," he answered, aware of Nikolai's disapproval. "It'll be easy work for me, and my funds are lower than I'd like. Don't worry, I won't do anything really immoral."
Nikolai wasn't amused by his joke.
"Well, I can't stop you if it's what you want to do, but make sure you don't get in over your head," said his friend. Jared shook off his friend's concern.
"It'll probably just be bodyguard duty or information stealing," he said in an off-handed tone. "Besides, I can teleport out at any time; he can't hurt me."
Nikolai shook his head.
"Watch out, if you start thinking you're invincible, you'll get yourself into trouble," he warned.
"I'll bear that in mind," said Jared confidently, before vanishing with a whoosh of air. Nikolai sighed, and then went back to work.