Chapter 10 by Azmeen Wadia

The virus had been menacing Matana for months and finding a vaccine was the only hope left. Rob’s pickup arrived on the dot. He was both anxious and excited about the trial. Meanwhile, Tara was keeping her followers engaged on Finsta, since she hadn’t posted her daily activities like she usually would. It was imperative to make everything appear normal, so that her followers wouldn’t worry much. Tara felt lost without her cellphone, but Rob’s computer sufficed for now, the only means she had, to communicate with the outside world. Besides, Tara hadn’t heard from her ‘secret messenger’, although she had no doubt that sooner or later he would try to reach her again.

As Rob entered the apartment, his senses were engulfed by the stench of medical paraphernalia. Adi skittered across to Rob, pulled him into a makeshift area, and ticked off a list of requirements for every participant. Breathing check. Vitals check.
“Ok Rob, we good” quipped Adi. Rob was handed out a somber-looking garment, like the ones worn in hospitals. He reluctantly slipped into his hideous Johnny gown. He was seated in the waiting area along with two nervous-looking individuals. A blonde woman, who appeared pretty sullen and a man in his late fifties. He stretched his hand out to introduce himself, “Hey, I’m Rob.” The woman ignored his advances, while the old man reciprocated with a firm handshake. “Samuel…Sam is fine”.. Just then a mysterious middle-aged woman walked in. Adi hurriedly, pulled up a chair for her, just like a true gentleman. She scanned Rob for a few seconds and shot Adi an icy glance. “Dr. Rosenberg! Thank you for coming at such short notice. This is Rob, my friend, we spoke about this afternoon.” “Hmm…very well,” she said, passively scribbling notes on her pad.

Maya Rosenberg, was the spearhead of this beta drug test. Without further ado, she made each one of them line up outside the lab door, taking the blonde woman in first. Her info sheet read ‘Melissa Thorne’ Age 22. While waiting for his turn Rob’s mind wandered from how the money could solve his rent issue, to Nadia’s wellbeing. Tara had already filled him in with all the recent happenings, unbeknownst to Adi. Rob decided to press him for answers. “Hey Adi…Bro…., why the rush man” Adi stopped in his tracks, giving Rob an exasperated look. “Haven’t heard from your cousin these past few days? How’s Nadia doin?” Adi’ ears turned red, flustered at how he never thought of hiding Nadia, before bringing Rob on board. “She’s at her colleague's place around the corner”, he blurted out. He couldn’t think of a lamer excuse, thought Rob. “Hmm… I see, quite a last-minute plan I’d say,” replied Rob deciding to play along. Adi knew that he had to keep Nadia well hidden with Rob breathing down his neck. He shrugged Rob aside and proceeded to usher in Samuel. Rob thought hard, how could he rescue her, but first, where was she being held? He then noticed a staircase adjoining the bedroom wall, diagonally opposite to the kitchen. The kitchen area was adjacent to a large storage space provided enough room to set up the lab. While Adi was busy, Rob decided to snoop around. He proceeded down the stairs and landed in a passageway. There were two bedrooms and a small dining area with only a microwave, for the participants.

“Nadia…” Rob whispered. “NADIA?!? He said in a louder tone. But there was no response. Rob somehow had a hunch she was being held there, but he couldn’t be gone for too long. His turn was up next, so he quietly returned back to his spot. Adi came to get Rob. This was his best chance to shift Nadia to a secluded place. He hurried down, lifted Nadia, from one of the bedrooms while still unconscious, and brought her to the upstairs bedroom. The walk-in closet was her new room. Adi was momentarily overcome with a sense of guilt, seeing the plight of his cousin, but what had to be done was done. Rob was sooooo close to discovering Nadia, a slip-up Adi could not afford. All three of them were done with the pre-tests. Rob and Samuel shared a room, while Melissa occupied the other room. Ken and Adi rotated between the upstairs bedroom and his apartment, while also keeping a watch on Nadia. Nadia’s apartment bedroom was stocked with emergency medical equipment and the living area served as an office for Dr. Maya and her team to hold meetings just next door.

Later that night, Nadia was slowly gaining consciousness, the effects of the morphine were wearing off. Luckily Ken was on her watch and it was Nadia’s mealtime. A few doors away, Rob decided to snoop again. He glided upstairs and found the bedroom door slightly ajar. He caught a glimpse of a frail girl, her back facing, eating a dry sandwich. Was that Nadia? He thought to himself. How disheveled she looked! Rob decided to pry further and stretched his arm towards the knob. Just then, he felt a hand on his left shoulder. Rob prayed hard that it wasn’t Adi.

About the author:
Azmeen is a 32-year-old who has always immersed herself in books and puzzles, since her childhood.  Birthday gifts were almost always books. Her favourite author is Paulo Coelho, because of her love of his unconventional writing style. Azmeen has a flair for languages and conversant in basic French. However, learning the Spanish language is her latest interest. Azmeen's other hobbies include dancing and swimming as a form of fitness.