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The Protege

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Chapter XII

Then I had a change of plans

 

Dispatching Fareeha was one of the most difficult things that she had to do as of lately. Her recovery was quick but slow, with ups and downs here and there, but improved nonetheless. Angela knew that she couldn't keep her protected forever and eventually Vishkar would go for Fareeha and even for herself too. She felt the headache coming up and getting closer with every passing second, so coffee would be ideal to help her out of that situation for the moment.

Once after reviewing the plan and reaching a common agreement, Angela went to the cafeteria with the intention of refilling her coffee cup, and for her luck the place was empty, except for a couple of faces she didn't recognize and didn't care at all. It felt strange for the first time in a few days to leave that room freely without the intention of return as fast as possible. Maybe it would be a new habit that she should get used to.

It felt like fire, a strange sensation burning her from the inside out, a stimulus similar to that of a sixth sense showing the right path. Angela initially thought it as stupid, thinking that maybe physically moving away from that girl that made her heart jump out of her ribcage and create a vortex of emptiness in her chest. Maybe she was wrong and it was something minor. Whatever it was, it was driving her crazy.

Instead of returning to her office, she set about making some arrangements in her room, most of them related to the plan that Fareeha and she had made. Preparing a backpack with emergency clothes, medicines and various items that would help her with her survival, Fareeha was in charge of doing the same with her belongings. Trusting blindly in her and beginning to prepare her own luggage, Angela packed what she considered most important, her first aid kit.

Knowing what kind of trouble both have endured, she definitely needed to pack that first and foremost.

It felt odd at first, knowing how methodical and detailed the doctor was on important issues such as these, but that odd sensation kept crawling back at her and prevented her from concentrating one hundred percent on the tasks at hand. Nonetheless, and with whole purpose on packing the upmost necessary, she started once again. Bandages, antiseptic, medicines, gloves, even thread so the stitches were ever needed in the future, and in a few minutes, everything was packed tightly in a cargo backpack on the verge of overflowing of when she used to carry on her quick travels.

A soft knock on her door startled her, and Angela tucked a few strands of hair that came out during packing. Getting on her feet, she went to the door and sighed in relief upon seeing Mirembe on the other side.

“Everything’s in order?” The older woman asked, Angela stepping aside to let her in and close the door.

“Everything’s alright. Why do you ask?”

“Because I could hear quite the ruckus on the other side of my wall. Were you building something or why the excessive thumping?”

“O-oh, my bad. I was dealing with a couple things on my backpack.” She stopped, knowing she said too much.

“A backpack.”

“Yes, a backpack.” She already did the damage. Forcing herself to evade the topic, Angela walked to her laptop and opened her email, browsing selflessly through several messages pending, scrolling and reading the text, and yet she didn't understand a single word.

“Anyway.” Mirembe started, sitting in one of the doctor’s sofa as she crossed her legs and arms and looked at her. “I wanted to talk about Vaswani.” That peeked Angela’s interest. She didn’t know about Satya for quite a time since she was locked in that room with Fareeha for weeks.

“What about Satya?”

“You haven’t seen her.”

“No.”

“Neither have we.”

“Neither…? Since when?”

“Since ‘the incident’ with Amari. I spoke with her, so did Fio, and I told her about what we heard in the recordings…” A beat. “She didn’t know and refuses to believe it.”

“But there’s proof, the voice recordings and even the video is more than enough to prove her what Vishkar is doing behind our backs.” Mirembe shook her head.

“She also refuses to watch the recordings, even when she has the authority to look at them. Vaswani still believes in the true and rightful purpose of Vishkar and the hard light treatment. That woman is too stubborn for her own good.”

Deep inside, Angela knew that Satya was anything but an evil person. After several weeks of living with her, it was easy to diagnose her true way of acting: autism. Angela couldn't judge her no more after that, much less deny her certain requests that she thought were exaggerated, for in Satya's eyes they were perfectly normal and understandable. The psychiatric patients were not at all her area of expertise, but Angela was definitely willing to explore a bit of that in the future, especially having recovered Fareeha and seeing that her girl needed both psychological and moral and physical support.

“I just hope someday she understands how delicate and twisted this whole situation is. Vishkar is messing with her the most, Satya is undeniably intelligent, but she is naive and that is leading her to do wrong things. Vishkar is manipulating her to unimaginable reaches.” Mirembe nodded, shifting in her seat.

“Exactly that. Satya has always been manipulated and we have tried to keep her safe, just like the rest of the others below us.” A brief silence Angela knew was not normal, and Mirembe sighed, looking intently at the doctor with weary eyes. “She’s not coming out of her bedroom either. It’s been two days and she refuses to leave her quarters.”

“What? Why? Is she feeling sick?”

“We don’t know, but Fio says she saw the recordings from one of the Raptoras: Tariq.” Angela closed her eyes, the pieces fit once Mirembe said that.

“Of course…”

“She has refused to talk to me, but maybe you can do something. If you can convince her to eat something, it will be more than enough.” Mirembe got up and sighed, stretching her back with a grunt and heading to the door.

“I don’t think she will listen to m-”

“Can you try at least?” Angela thought for a moment, and knowing she could never refuse to help someone, she nodded.

“I will.”

“Thank you, Angela.” Mirembe stopped before closing the door and looked at her. “And good luck with your backpack.”

Maybe this was her bad feeling and Mirembe only came to warn her, or maybe it was just a coincidence. However, once hiding the backpack in the closet, she took her lab coat and went out into the hall, walking directly to Satya's door. What exactly did she have to say? That it wasn't her fault? That everything would be fine? But it was her fault, Fareeha died momentarily because of her, and maybe others did as well.

Fareeha had the great and extreme luck that Angela was there just when her heart stopped beating, and the doctor had a stroke of luck finding the experimental serum in her coat, but with Satya it was something completely different. There were no coincidences. There were no mistakes. Everything was for her and for her only, Satya was the only one responsible. And still, she locked herself in her room.

“Ms. Vaswani?” Angela called her, knocking softly and earning no response. “Satya, is Angela. I want to talk to you if you let me.” Not a sound. Angela knew she needed to be more delicate regarding such a matter. “Satya, I just want to know how you are doing since you have a couple of days without leaving your quarters. I won’t judge you, I promise you.” Not a sight, and then the soft sound of footsteps began to thump closer each time, followed by the fumbling of a lock and the know turning.

That was a sight Angela did not expect of Satya Vaswani, the most perfectionist and recollected woman she knew. Satya was wearing a loose shirt, as well as white pants combined. Her feet were bare, her hair -usually arranged in a perfectly braided braid- was a mess, tangled and matted. The bags under her eyes were visible from the moon, tiredness was easily seen. Satya stepped aside and let Angela in, closing and locking the door immediately.

The room was perhaps three times the size of Angela's, similar to a medium-sized apartment. Kitchen, living room, dining room, study, bedroom and separate bathrooms, Angela missed her home even more. The blonde sat on the couch when Satya indicated, and the Indian woman sat on the couch in front of her. At least she still didn’t lose the elegance and composure of her movements. An improvement. Small, but a step forward nonetheless.

“How are you feeli-?” Angela started after the silence followed for quite the uncomfortable few seconds, only to be stopped by Satya, placing a hand in front of her as a signal of a pause. Angela complied, and stopped mid question.

“I do not need the pity of the people around here, so save your sermons of motivation and encouragement.” Angela quirked an eyebrow clearly unsatisfied with such request.

“It would be pity if I didn’t care for you. However, I do, and that’s why I’m here.”

“And Mirembe sent you.” A pause.

“Yes, she did. My apologies for not noticing it sooner as I was taking care of… My patient twenty four-seven.”

“Your patient.”

“She is that.” Satya scoffed a chuckle, surprising Angela.

“She has always been the most problematic person in all the facility. Rebellious, aggressive, disobedient, a constant headache. And even after that last mission where she did what put her in trouble, she kept having me on the verge of madness.” Angela really wanted to defend Fareeha right there and then, she had her own reservations and a more than believable explanation on why Fareeha did what she did, but decided to stop herself and let Satya continue.

“She is that hard to deal with sometimes.”

“She has always been.”

A boiling kettle sounded a few steps away from her and Satya stood up carefully, going to the stove and turning the burner off as she poured the contents into a cup, sitting down again where she was, sighing and blowing the cup to cool the tea. Angela watched her closely, how each movement she made spoke for herself, and the defeat was more than visible. The doctor sat straighter in her seat, expectant.

“What I could never explain was how you could choose her as your protégé. Many doctors have tried to... Tame her. None has been successful, except you. You proposed to cure her both physically and mentally, especially the last, and I never thought that you could achieve it as nobody else has done it. She is a lost case.” A sip of her tea, and Satya looked to the ceiling, trying to contain a couple of tears. “That’s what I used to think.”

“What made you change your mind?” Angela knew the answer already.

“I-I saw the recordings… Those missions in which we sent them to deal with crime in nearby cities and towns were all a lie... For so long -years- I refused to revise that and I relied blindly on Vishkar and it's purposes, I never doubted its true purpose. More, however, I sent them, I was part of the people who caused those deaths to helpless people... I was, it was me, and I refused to believe it, for being too stupid and blind!" The cup was no longer in her hands, and it flew across the room, crashing near the kitchen and spilling its contents.

“Satya, you didn’t know-”

“But I refused to see the other side!” She cracked, she was a crying mess, the tears no longer restrained and her face of a darker shade. “I provoked dozens of deaths in the place where I was born! In the very same orphanage that housed me for fifteen years!” Angela was quickly at her side, sitting next to her and hugging her tightly. “It was me! I did all that! H-how many deaths have I provoked? How many?! What’s my toll?! I killed my own and many more!”

Perhaps for the first time in a long time, Angela indeed felt pity for Satya. It wasn't pity because of her obvious illness, but because, although several of her companions told her that Satya Vaswani had no heart, at this precise moment she was demonstrating the opposite. Satya was a delicate and innocent soul of which a multimillionaire corporation took advantage mercilessly.

It felt like hours holding her in her arms as she stroked her hair, until the scandalous weeping turned into a soft sob, enough to momentarily push her away and wipe away the tears that soaked her cheeks, chin, and even part of her neck and blouse.

“I don’t deserve this… I don’t deserve forgiveness.”

“You deserve a second chance, just like everyone else. Just like everyone down here. It’s up to you to provide such opportunity to both them and yourself.” She shook her face.

“They will never forgive me, especially RMAF006.”

“She has a name. Her name is Fareeha.” Satya ran her hand in front of her face, hastily and perhaps a little harsh.

“I did not even have the decency to do that. To look at their names, to know who they were.”

“You did what you had to do, even if it was not right.” Angela placed her hand on top of Satya’s, pressing it softly.

“…Will I have forgiveness one day?”

“That is something that you will know only if you are willing to face it. At least, today you have a person who forgives you.” Angela smiled, and perhaps for the very first time since she was there, so did Satya. The younger woman opened her mouth to speak, but a deafening sound, followed by red lights scattering across the ceiling, caught their attention. “Is this a drill?”

“We don’t have drills…” Angela was quick to go on her feet, but it stopped once it arrived at the door when seeing that Satya hadn't moved. She was still in her same position, looking at a fixed point on the wall and it was obvious that she had no intention of getting up.

“Satya, we need to leave.”

“You need to leave. If something happens to this place, I'd better sink with it.”

“This is no time for suicidal thoughts…!”

“She needs you, not me.”

That was the last thing, Angela immediately thought of Fareeha and how she was trapped underneath. Thousands of thoughts came to her head, as the source of that alarm, what was happening, and where Fareeha was. She had a bad feeling and it was this. Thinking about dealing with Satya later, Angela ran down the aisle, almost colliding with Fio in the process. The redhead immediately stopped in panic.

“What’s going on?”

“A fire in the laboratories. It is getting out of control and we need to evacuate immediately. Mirembe told me you were here so I came for you two, she is evacuating the ground floor.” The doctor felt it already, heat rising and smoke slowly filling the halls.

“Vaswani is still in her chambers and she’s refusing to leave.”

“I’ll deal with her. You worry about yourself and try to leave. The fumes are extremely toxic so hurry up!”

Angela nodded, and ran into a sprint once again, ending in her bedroom and taking nothing but the backpack she just readied when she was thinking about when to carry out the escape plan. It seemed that things would be sooner than usual. Backpack in hand, and Angela walked down the stairs to her office to get rid of everything she had worked on, an old habit that should never die in her mind, for the least she needed was another breach with her research just like happened with Moira five years ago.

Once she fumbled with her keys and opened the door, she was surprised to see the place wasn’t empty. Rather unexpected and not at all pleasant company.

“Tariq? What are you doing here?” She asked cautiously, the fumes of the fire already reaching that area of the offices and labs. He was looking out the window, his back at her, and turned slowly to look directly at Angela’s eyes.

“Of all the people, I didn't think you would be the one to brainwash Fareeha. How can a physically and psychologically strong woman be attracted to someone like you?” He took a couple steps, and reached behind his back. “The only thing that had me anchored to this place was her. I can be free whenever I want and yet I decided to stay for her, fight for her, only to be despised by her and her 'girlfriend'. How do you think I feel at this moment? Angry? Sad? Betrayed or a mix of everything? Perhaps.”

Angela put the pieces together. He wasn't downstairs with the others, he was inside of her office which she had locked, he was upset. He had a gun in his hand and was aiming at her.

“She meant everything to me. And you took everything of her, you snatched her from my side.” A click of the glock, and Angela raised her hands.

“You failed her-”

“She left me no choice!” A shot he missed on purpose just to startle her. “It was her or to be faithful to my own family, and I chose my family and my head! And at the first opportunity that is presented not only she gets to sleep with her employer, but also with a woman. How sinful and stupid of her to be let convinced by you.”

“That’s not my fault-” Another shot, and this time he didn’t miss. The bullet grazed Angela’s leg, making her hiss in pain and fall to the floor pressing the painful open wound.

“It’s very much your fault.” The fumes were reaching inside the office, and Angela felt them tearing at her throat, rasping voice and dryness above it all. She started to cough only sporadically, and looked at Tariq with nothing but challenge in her eyes.

“You think I fear you.”

“I think you should.” He readied the pistol once more, aiming back at Angela. “You think Fareeha’s going to save you, that she’s always the super hero ready to save her damsel in distress. Let me tell you she is all that, but right now? She’s trapped in the basement along with the others, and there’s nothing she can’t do now. The elevators are not working, the stairs are impossible to reach if you don’t have a Vishkar ID. She’s helping her own as she should, as is her duty.”

“And still you are here preparing some kind of revenge that will not fill you, all to have your love back?” He chuckled.

“If that’s what it takes.”

“You love her, and yet you refuse to let her be happy.” He flinched for a moment, Angela could see the crack. “Just because she’s not with you, you refuse to let her live a happy life with whoever she chooses. I’m not forcing her to anything, yet she’s always coming back to me. What does it say?”

“Shut up.”

“You’re selfish. You don’t know what love is for another person. You don't know how difficult it is to let a person go in order to make her happy, no matter how unhappy she makes you inside.” Angela’s eyes started to water, both from the coughing due to the toxic fumes and from the remembrance of her letting Fareeha leave, one of her biggest mistakes in life. “You don’t know because you’re selfish…”

“I said shut up!”

Tariq readied his pistol and was about to shoot. That was it, Angela was ready to let go once again. She closed her eyes and tensed her body, hearing the shot but never feeling the pain. As she opened her irritated eyes, she saw Fareeha in front of her, gripping at Tariq’s pistol and the firearm pointing to the ceiling. She was grunting, sweating, she was looking visibly tired and her clothes and skin were tinted of dark due to the fire and ashes, but she never looked more handsome in front of Angela’s eyes.

“Stop it! Let her go!” Fareeha yelled and kicked Tariq to the ground.

“What are you doing here?! You’re supposed to be in the basement with the others!”

“What are you doing here?! I came for her!”

“How did you-?!” He didn’t finish his sentence, as Fareeha punched him in the face, making him stumble only to fall back to the floor while quickly helping Angela to her feet. The doctor cried when she felt the searing pain in her thigh, making Fareeha's blood boil.

“What did you do to her, you fucking asshole?! Don’t you even dare to look at her!” She hissed, and looked back at the doctor with endless worry in her eyes. “Angela, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, is just a flesh wound. Nothing serious, I promise.” A hand touched her cheek, Angela reveling in the firm caress of her lover. “Thank you.”

“I’m glad… We’re getting out of here.” She was about to help Angela walk, when a kick in her back made her fall front face to the floor, her face crashing with the white tiles and tinting it in red due to a probable broken nose.

“Fareeha!”

“What the fuck!?” Fareeha hissed and stumbled when she got on her feet once again, gripping tightly at her nose and cracking it fix in one painful movement. “Why are you doing this?!” She put her body in front of Angela to defend her, backing up a little when Tariq showed her his pistol once again.

“You know…” He started smugly, his face like nothing Angela saw before. “My father told me you were trouble, and yet I refused to believe him. In the end, he was right but still I wanted to be with you.”

“Where are you going with this?”

“He gave me one simple task I couldn’t fulfill since I fell foolishly in love with you… So he postponed it, so he let you and your mother flee.” Fareeha’s eyes opened wide, Angela couldn’t put the pieces together. Yet.

“You’re not… Tell me you’re not-”

“You don’t know how many times I had the chance of killing you while you slept in my bed and yet I refused because I was stupid. Vishkar wasn’t helping matters, so I needed to make this. A diversion. How clever of me, don’t you think? I wonder how long the flames and the toxicity of the place will take to get rid of everyone here.”

“You’re Hakim’s son…”

Hakim, a name Angela heard before. A name Fareeha mentioned, and so did her mother. She didn’t know exactly who this person was and yet, she could tell it was an important piece in this whole messed up situation. Life and death pending on a thread. Fareeha backed up even more, the doctor could feel her trembling. Was she actually that scared of Tariq or his father? Or was that anger? Angela wanted to stay silent, but the toxic fumes were filling the room, and she was close to a cough fit and fainting.

“You were everything to me, Fareeha. When we met in the army, when we started dating… I met your mother, the legendary Ana Amari, and dating her daughter was both a dream and a nightmare. I guess in the end it was the later rather than the first… Father was right. I should’ve killed you since the very first chance I had.” He clicked his gun, and Angela in a desperate movement pushed Fareeha to the side, falling with her with a thud and launching herself to Tariq’s feet.

“What the-?!”

“Fareeha! Now!”

She didn’t need more words, for Fareeha took a momentum and kicked Tariq’s gun out of his hand and away from his reach, landing close to her as a golden opportunity. Taking the firearm in her hand, she stood up and pointed at the man she used to love, the one who betrayed her. Angela got on her feet as well and stood behind Fareeha, touching her back and feeling the stress go away with that simple motion.

“Your father and you might call us animals, and so do I call all the Amari’s ruthless and stupid, except for my mother… However, you threaten us, you threaten what we love the most, and you suffer the consequences. That you already knew.”

“So what? Are you gonna kill me for threatening your precious girlfriend?”

“You don’t know what I’m capable of.”

“I know what you are capable of. People feared you, Fareeha. They have always feared you and they’ll always will. You kill, you murder, you’re ruthless and don’t care of the lives you take just to fulfill a simply duty! Don’t you think Hana and the others don’t fear you?! The whole underground is under your hands not because they respect you and see you as a leader, but because they’re afraid you’re gonna rip off their-!”

He didn’t finish that sentence. A bullet pierced his forehead. Blood splattered all over the place, and Tariq’s dead body fell back to the ground, making a pool of dark tinted blood. Her face reflected nothing, even when tears gathered in her eyes. Angela didn’t expected that, she thought she changed, but far from judging her, she was more than ready to help her move forward. Both she and her together.

“Let’s go…” Fareeha whispered, Angela nodded as she was starting to doze off due to the toxicity of the vapors. “Stay with me, don’t sleep.”

“Okay…”

Angela was lift in a swift movement, being carried in Fareeha’s back as she ran along the hall slightly crouched with the doctor in her back, a backpack in her left hand and the glock in her right. Fareeha was clever enough to not leave the accessory, as she knew she would need it sooner than later. The fog was slowly clearing the further down they traveled, and Angela could finally say something to Fareeha and ease the tension she could painfully feel below her body.

“Don’t believe him… We all respect you, we all care for you. We feel protected and safe around you…”

Angela said, Fareeha smiling back at her and saying nothing but walking forward. Deep inside she knew Fareeha was at a phase where she did believes that, and thus, decided to approach that delicate topic some other time when things weren’t as rushed as now. They were close to the main floor, Fareeha knowing that was off boundaries for her, so she let Angela stand up once she felt the doctor was capable to hold herself.

“Are you okay?”

“Better at most… Yes.”

“Can you walk on your own?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Good…” Hesitation.

“What?” They were just a few steps to reach the main floor and Fareeha started to hesitate. Definitely not a good sign. The younger woman started to fidget with her fingers, taking a deep breath and looking at Angela with pleading eyes. “…No.”

“You know I have to-”

“You won’t leave me, Fareeha.”

“You need to go alone and escape.”

“And what about you? What about us?! Are you seriously wanting to do this all over again?!” Her Swiss accent became more prominent, rustic and thick. Angela was furious and it was obvious to the eye. “You think I’m leaving you here now when we have the chance to escape? Are you insane?!”

“I can’t leave without them!” She pointed down, meaning the basement and all of her teammates. “I cannot leave them down because I know that Vishkar doesn't care about them and they are more than willing to let them die in order to save themselves and save a few cents!”

“Well you're not worth a penny to me! You are worth everything and you want to leave me alone again! Do you know how painful it was to lose you not just one, but twice?! Fareeha, I can’t do it...! Not again… Please, Fareeha.” Angela resorted to begging when she couldn’t stand it anymore. “Letting me go is letting me die... I can’t bear it a third time, Fareeha... You better leave me here to die because I can’t.”

Angela felt the tears coming back, she wanted to sound serious yet the flush on her face wasn’t helping matters. Fareeha's face distorted in a mixture of pity, sadness and despair, but also pain, worry, love. She sighed heavily, and nodded, taking the doctor's wrist and pulling it in again, securing the gun and going exactly where she needed to go. She knew that Fareeha had a plan in her mind worked out in a matter of seconds. Or maybe hours since they separated.

“We need to get down one floor and into the armory. Our next stop is the control room.” She almost huffed her words as they both ran down the stairs and inside the halls. The place deserted, except for the smoke of the fire that Angela didn’t know was there as well. “The floor below is on fire and we need to hurry up!”

“We will not have problems in the armory? The ammunition could be detonated!” Fareeha shook her head.

“No. The place is very well sheltered and airtight, I have been there several times during these years just to be sure.”

“Okay. And the control room?” Both women stopped in front of some wide doors, Angela sliding her ID card in the slot next to it and sliding open the doors.

“I can’t arm every men and women down there. What's more, I don’t want to do it, it's very dangerous. So, I will simply deactivate the collars and open the doors, that way they can escape without harming anyone and being harmed in the process.”

“Sounds like a plan… Have you thought about it before?”

“Nope. I think as things happen. I like to improvise, is what makes the tragedy interesting.” Angela had to smile at the comment despite the precarious situation in which they were currently.

Once they were both inside the armory and closing the door again, Fareeha searched several compartments on one wall, dozens and dozens of weapons lined up perfectly behind glass doors. Fareeha simply took a glock very similar to the one she used to wear and Angela recognized as a precious memory of her mother, and taking a simple holster, she rummaged through other cabinets and took several rounds of ammunition.

Their movements felt so natural that they were even syncronized, but Angela relied blindly on what Fareeha had to do. But not in the following. Fareeha offered her a small weapon, but what the girl didn't know is that the doctor already had her special weapon hidden in her backpack, the weapon that Fareeha gave her before leaving and of which she had an infinite affection. Firearms were something that Angela hated, because they were the cause of several deaths, but this one was different. This one meant a new opportunity.

“I only need ammunition for my weapon.”

“You still have that?”

“Why would I discard such precious firearm?” Fareeha said nothing and went to grab 9mm bullets, handing two boxes to Angela, the doctor quickly opening the backpack Fareeha was wearing and stashed them inside. “My gun is loaded, we’ll be okay.”

“Okay…” Deep breaths. “Ready to go down?”

“As long as you’re there with me. Together from now on. Understood, Amari?” Her smile could truly lit the darkest room, one of the many reasons why she fell easily for her.

“We’re in this together, ma’am.”

As a signal to advance, both went to the door and went down the hall, but not before closing the armory again, and reaching the stairs Angela slid her card, giving them immediate access one floor below. Hell. The blonde was worried about just one thing: how others would react when they saw someone belonging to Vishkar with a gun in her hands. She could be easily attacked or worse with a single fault reaction. Fortunately, she had Fareeha at her side to protect her.

She just hoped that Tariq's words didn't reach her very deeply.

Angela had never been in that area. The place had a completely different vibe despite being the same walls, floors and ceilings. White. Fareeha ran in one direction and the doctor followed her firmly, her hands on the weapon just like Fareeha.

“We need to guide them upstairs, that's where the control room is and there's the exit that we use when we went to missions outside. That's the light at the end of this tunnel. The plan is to gather them all there, open the doors in one fell swoop and deactivate the collars so they can escape before Vishkar finds us.”

“Understood. I got you.”

As soon as the door at the end of the hallway opened, Angela felt the fear she knew she would feel: absolutely everyone was gathered in the cafeteria, the faces of panic, horror and despair were almost palpable, especially in those younger. One of them, whom Angela recognized as a Meka, took a few steps forward but stopped when she saw the doctor. Fareeha raised her hands in defeat, and Angela imitated her slowly once the weapon was placed in the pocket of her coat.

“When I came back you had the idea of a revolution, of a change to get out of here!" Fareeha started shouting, getting everyone's attention pretty quickly." This is not a revolution, but it's a way to get out of here together! Alive! The chance to take the reins of our own lives!” Damned be Tariq. Fareeha was a true leader, Fareeha knew how to inspire. "We needed the perfect opportunity and it has been presented for a single occasion right now! It's getting out of here alive or dead, and I didn't come back risking my freedom to let you all die here!" Fareeha knew how to make herself be respected. She was more than she believed in. She always was.

“What about her?” A massive woman with pink hair took a few steps forward, not fearing anyone. Angela on the inside did truly fear her.

“I’m not here to hurt you or anyone. I want to help you escape.”

“How can we trust someone from Vishkar?!” Another voice in the back, hidden among the crowd.

“I didn’t come to Vishkar with the intention of doing what they are doing. I was deceived, and I admit my mistake. I just want to correct it and help you escape with Fareeha.” Her hands were still up, immediately straining to see that this muscular woman gave her an inquisitive look and came closer to her, more and more, only a few centimeters apart.

“Fareeha, you trust her.” It was more of a statement than a question, and she smiled. “So do I. What do we do next?”

“We go upstairs. The doctor will help us navigate through the building with the use of her ID card. We must reach the dispatch area. I open the doors and deactivate your necklaces, and that’s your chance to run away.”

“Hm… I get it. I like the idea.”

“Very well. Move, people! Move! We’re all getting out of here!”

With one swift movement of her hand, Fareeha commanded the entire crowd with incredible ease. Angela knew that Fareeha had military training and a wide range of experience just like the others, but this seemed rehearsed, and in the end Angela took the lead by running through the corridors with hundreds of feet behind her, standing in front of the stairs and giving access. That was quick, and soon they found themselves in the office room, all allying themselves to wait their turn. Fareeha and Angela were in the control room just a glass wall away.

“This is it… I deactivate the necklaces, and all of Vishkar is coming right this way no matter if the floor is in flames. Ready?” Fareeha started to press a few buttons, the outdoor doors leading to a tunnel opening slowly.

“Yes.” Pressing a button, she contacted the other side. “Necklaces are off in three, two, one… Now!”

As Fareeha pushed down that black button, a louder alarm began to ring. The Egyptian ran as fast as she could and pulled Angela by the wrist, and along with the others, went out through the dark tunnel, illuminated by a few artificial lights. The end was near, the sunlight blinding, and Angela regretted having forgotten the hijab in her bedroom. At that rate it would have been consumed by the flames.

“Go! Scatter in the dunes! The guards are coming, do not let them see you!” Fareeha yelled as she kept running, jumping the fence like everybody else and taking Angela’s hand to help her as well. Gunshots. They were there already. “Go!” With a last pull, Angela was able to reach the edge and jump down to her freedom along with Fareeha.

Her legs screamed to stop the more she ran and the sand didn't do much to give her momentum, and Fareeha didn't look very different despite having better endurance, but she kept going. She kept dragging Angela despite of the tiredness, of the people following them, and after several minutes they came to stand in front of a train track, the carriage in the distance approaching slowly. One more opportunity delivered in gold tray.

Angela needn’t words to know what to do, and nodding to Fareeha, they both started a run towards the upcoming train. As they ran, a few figures ran along them, Angela recognizing the two young girls from Korea running desperately to catch them up. Fareeha was huffing, but slowed down just a bit so they could be at the same level, and once close to reaching the train, she prompted them to get up in one of the open wagons.

“Get inside!” Fareeha yelled to the girls, Hana jumping quickly inside the wagon and taking Yuna’s hand, pulled her inside, falling both to the metal floor with a thud. “Your turn!”

This time it was to Angela, she acknowledged that. As they kept running, the doctor took a momentum and jumped with her remaining energies and landed clumsily inside. A backpack landed next to her, and stretched her arm so Fareeha could take it, and so she did, being pulled inside the wagon. Angela’s arm was burning, but nothing like the fear of leaving Fareeha once again.

Breathing rapidly, agitated and sweaty like never before due to the exposure of the sun, the scorching wind and the sprint, both ladies flopped on their backs, catching their breath after what felt forever. Catching their breath at the end of the world and finally staying together. Angela turned her head to look at her, Fareeha’s eyes closed and her chest heaving, and the doctor took her hand in her own, intertwining her fingers, letting her now they were now in this together alive. Hope once again.