I exhaled sharply, then slowly stood up and raised my hands above my head. I may be a badass, but even I can’t outrun a bullet. I could tell by the angle the gun was placed against my head that I was a little taller than whoever had me sneaked up on me. I also knew my oppressor was female; the voice had been hushed, but it was definitely feminine. I could also smell perfume…It smelled expensive.
“Don’t you move. You move and I blow your head off. Who are you? What do you want?”
“That was two questions. Which do you want me to answer?” I responded.
“…Jared?” The pressure of the gun to my head lightened.
A small hand slowly spun me around until I was face to face with my twin sister. She gasped and threw her arms around my neck. She started sniffling; I think she was crying. I slowly brought my arms up and cradled my sister. We stood there, just holding each other, for what felt like hours. I wish it had lasted that long. My sister and I had never had an amazing relationship. She was always the good twin; the good child. I was the disappointment. But as I held my sister, I felt the unbreakable bond to my twin that everyone always says exists between siblings.
“I thought…I thought you were dead…The plane crash?” She stammered.
“Somehow, I lived through it. I didn’t think you’d want to see me, so I kept up the charade your husband arranged. I’ve been in Seattle with Raiden.”
“Charade? What do you mean? You think he tried…tried to..?
“Have me killed? Without a doubt.”
“But why? Were you blackmailing him?”
“Ha! Are you kidding me? Liv, you were the one who showed me I was a liability to him. Remember the file that Lena found? With all the dates and addresses? I told you I didn’t write them. I didn’t. Those were all jobs that I worked for Trystix, but the problem with it was that I never wrote anything down. Never. Somehow, he found a way to duplicate my handwriting and kept track of my comings and goings during the time I lived here. If I were gone, he wouldn’t have to answer for any of it. He could destroy it. He used it as an insurance policy to get rid of me and alienate me from you and Lena. He succeeded, except I didn’t die.”
“Jared…he’s still my husband…He’s still Lena’s father. He’s a good man.”
“Is it true he hits you?”
“Jared…he…” My sister turned her eyes to the floor and paled.
“Liv! Answer me. Does he hit you?”
“Only a few times, when he’s really angry. But he’s a good-”
“He’s not a good man! He’s an evil, arrogant, murderous son of a bitch!”
“You…you’re…wrong.” She started crying.
“Do you know he is waiting out this Red Rose virus? Did you know he won’t contribute to the research to cure it? Raiden’s out among the sick every damn day!”
“How can you trust Raiden so easily? How do you know he’s not just as evil?”
“What? How do you know that name? He disappeared years ago.”
“When I was in prison, you wrote me a letter. You mentioned him. I know him. Rather well, actually. He goes by Micah Raiden now.”
“I work for Alex Ryder. I just call him Raiden, as does the rest of the world. He wants you to come to Seattle.”
“I can’t! I have to stay with Lena…She…needs…me…” She looked down at the sleeping bundle of Lena in her blankets.
“Liv, Raiden can take care of you both. He has a huge complex where she could play. You’d be safe.”
“Jared, you don’t understand. I have to stay here. Here. With her.”
“What the hell do you mean? We can leave. Now. That’s why I am here. I want to take you home. Today. Now.”
“I can’t…Lena’s…Lena’s sick….Really sick.”
I stood there a moment, confused and frustrated. I looked into Liv’s eyes, then down at my niece. It was only then that I noticed how much Lena was sweating. I guess I rationalized it was because she was by the fire. She was pale, but I had mistaken that for her natural skin tone. She was shaking, but the flickering from the fireplace had disguised the motion. Her lips were chapped. I realized she hadn’t moved nor had she been awakened by anything that happened since I got here. She was comatose.
“No…Damn it! No!” I whispered harshly.
“Yes. She has it, Jared. I can’t leave her. She needs to stay here. Unless you have something better to treat her..?"
I didn’t respond. I sank to the floor. How could this have happened? She had been locked in the Tower, just like Liv. How could she have been exposed to the Red Rose Virus? Security kept almost everyone out of these upper floors. The only reason I could get up here was because I knew my way through the building better than almost anyone. There shouldn’t have ever been a chance for her to be exposed. The only people she ever saw were Liv and Trystix.
“How long?” I asked.
“Jared, we have the best doctors in the world working on a cure for Lena.”
“How long does she have left?”
“HOW LONG, OLIVIA!?”
“She hasn’t started wilting, so at least a couple weeks.”
“Then we have to hurry.”
“J, I can’t leave her.”
“We’re not going to. I’d rather risk getting sick myself carrying her than let her die in this God-forsaken tower.”
“He’s a good father, Jared.”
“Does he hit her, too?”
“Jared…he just has a hard time with his temper…”
“That settles it. Get up. Get your things. We’re leaving.”
Olivia flinched. Instantly, I regretted losing my cool. She said nothing, but walked over to a small dresser in the corner of the room. My eyes followed her, then I stooped down and cradled Lena in my arms. She stirred and murmured softly. It was like holding a small heater to my chest. I noticed bedding on a couch; looks like Liv had been sleeping down here instead of on the top floor with Trystix. Liv fidgeted with something in the corner, put something in her pocket, and shuffled back to stand next to me. She had started crying.
“Liv, I’m sorry. I just can’t let that monster hurt you anymore. Either of you. Raiden will take care of you.”
She didn’t answer; just nodded. She grabbed a few things from where Lena had lain and put them in her purse. I even saw the 9mm pistol she tried to hide. My angel sister had grown fangs. She hesitated a moment, then returned to stand beside me.
“What’s the plan, Jared?” she finally asked.
I had to think about it a moment. I needed any research information on Red Rose Fever for both Raiden and to help my niece. But I needed the records of my indiscretions from my old apartment almost as badly to find out how he set me up. Liv might have forgiven me, but I hadn’t forgiven Trystix for trying to kill me. The records were key to his cover-up. But I had to help Lena.
“I need to get in Trystix’s office, and then I get you out of here. Do you have access to his ‘war room?’
“Yes, but I’m not supposed to go in there. He barely lets Lena in there for his web-casts.”
“Fine. You’ll stay in the elevator and keep it open for me. I won’t be long.”