Chapter 13 by Samad Khan
Tara’s gaunt features glowed in the light of the street lamps passing by her in the car window. She was agitated and the cacophony of questions swirling around in her mind made her fill with confusion. She had received a text: Trida Tower. Black Car. Plate M1631. One hour. You’ll get your answers.
Getting to the pickup location was hard enough without being spotted by the roving flocks of drones overhead...ducking through trees and backyards and avoiding main streets without having to come to terms with getting in a car to go to an undisclosed location to speak to a person who’s been sending strange messages. She looked up at the face of a man in a well-cut suit, a man who had been silent for the last ten minutes of their journey, a man whose features, much like his intentions were shrouded in shadows, save for small intermittent panels of yellow light that flashed by too quickly to reveal anything more than a sharp piercing green gaze and dark brown hair pulled back into a long thick braid down his right shoulder. Tara shifted nervously on the leather seat, breaking the silence and attempted to shrink back into the upholstery, then bracing herself, she opened her mouth and blurted out, “What the hell is going on?! Who are you? Look Mr. Suitandtie I’m over this, why have you been messaging me? What do you want from me?!”
The man slowly leaned forward, green eyes fully focused on Tara and his mouth in a stoic expression, “Tara, thank you for coming. My apologies but the subterfuge was necessary, Lifalabs has many operatives active in the area and between them and the heightened security measures due to lockdown, conventional methods of communication were deemed imprudent. We needed to get you away from the man you call Adi.” His voice rumbled into the darkness of the car and they sped down the back streets towards the factory belt on the outer edge of Matana, chimney stacks and cooling towers creating a jagged skyline, an oxymoronic testament to human progress. Tara's mind reeled with an anxiety that was becoming uncomfortably familiar to her. Adi. The man she once knew as her best friend's older cousin seemed to be at the cause of it. How deep did this plot run? Where was Nadia? Would Rob get her out of there? Tara’s eyes started welling up with tears, her chest felt like it was about to explode and she couldn’t catch her breath. Her world was falling apart all around her. Screw the fame, screw the virus she thought. All she wanted was her old life back, and Nadia. God knows what Adi has already done to her, was she even still alive?
Tara slumped forward, elbows on her knees and head in her palms. “Let me introduce myself, Dorian Palmers, software engineer. I work for a private backer who has decided to put a massive amount of funding towards safely manufacturing a vaccine for the Budlyt-19 outbreak. Lifalabs is also engaged in the production of a vaccine, but it is in everyone’s best interests if their efforts are derailed.” Silence filled the car, they had pulled up outside a heavily secured warehouse backed by a tall line of the forest. Tara was still slumped forward, unable to string thoughts together and convey the turmoil that was twisting inside her like a coiled snake. She felt sick and dehydrated and her legs ached from running. So much running. She was through running. Turmoil suddenly gave way to sharpness and clarity. “You sound like you want to help, but your actions seem less than benevolent! Why doctor that video of me at Byde Park? Seems a funny way to elicit someone’s help with the use of threats, don’t you think?” Tara’s voice was shrill with what seemed like hysteria but was actually a sense of reckless abandon. She didn’t care what was going to happen to her, all she wanted was Nadia back. “Tara, I know how difficult this must be. But I need you to tell me everything you know about Adi, it might be the only way we can help Nadia. The video was only meant as a means to ensure your cooperation to come to this meeting with me and my benefactor. If the terms set don’t meet your expectations, you can go free...but you will run the risk of losing your friend, the choice is yours.”
Tara stared at Dorian completely aghast as he wordlessly motioned towards the entrance of the warehouse which was guarded by hired guns. Dorian continued on his spiel on why Tara should be helping him as they walked through hallways made of crates piled to the ceiling. “Adi and Lifalabs are trying to make a hybrid of the virus and human DNA so that they can better study it and more easily find a cure, but our intel suggests that they also plan to weaponise a mutated strain for use in the military as a more lucrative venture. They care nothing for world health and well being, they’re opportunists just looking for profit.” Tara and Dorian stopped in front of a large set of metal roller doors which opened onto a large floor space teeming with men and women in lab coats all feverishly working towards a seemingly common goal, Tara thought some of them looked familiar, Dorian noticed. “You might have seen a couple of faces on the news, some of the many brilliant minds Lifalabs tried to extinguish in an attempt to consolidate all the patents they could for research into the virus. When the first few specialists started losing their lives we knew we’d have to act quickly.” Tara felt a hand squeeze her shoulder, “We aren’t the bad guys Tara, we’re trying to help. And we need your help now.”