"Patients are lining the walls in emergency rooms across the nation as more women show signs of the Mavirus Carcinoma. The disease, first reported in Rochester, New York, continues to spread while scientists and doctors remain confused as to its origins. The troubling aspects of the case make it all the more important to locate the source of the disease." - A.P. December 20, 2181
July 18, 2010
"This is your last book tour, Reesa Zimms." The woman holding the gun said with such authority that Reesa's stomach knotted in reaction. "I need to know who Patient Zero is and I need to know now."
There were several different kinds of heroes, Reesa thought numbly as she stared at the gun. John Wayne's no-nonsense, hit-'em-with-the-butt of your weapon came to mind, but she had very little in common with the heroes he portrayed and she'd be the first to admit it. Clinging to Jake's belt, Reesa tried to work up the courage to at least think straight. Because if she didn't think of something very quickly, her publicist of eight years was going to be shot right in the middle of Brady's Belfue Bookstore. Her immediate instinct to run was curtailed by the chest-high bookshelves boxing them in and her legs refused to move.
Jake's shoulder blocked part of her view, shielding her from the gun. He stood poised and unmoving, his six foot frame a solid presence in the store front. His attention never wavered from the threat in front of them. Reesa's chest went tight; who would've thought Jake had it in him? Her mind ticked off several reasons why he'd place himself in danger for her, most of them dealing with their business relationship. She was his client, after all, but a publicist was a far cry from a bodyguard.
When Reesa still hadn't answered, Jake shifted just-so, bringing more of his body between her and the gun. He hesitated, but finally managed to speak; "She already told you she doesn't know."
Reesa heard the slight waver in his usually self-assured tone - even if the woman couldn't - and felt the muscles in his back coil. He almost sounded normal, as though there was nothing strange about a woman with a tattoo in her eyeball pointing a gun at them.
Hero, Reesa thought, her fingers tightening on his belt so hard she could feel the leather edge bite into her skin; maybe not John Wayne, but a hero just the same.
"In the first book, Martian Tribulation, page eighty-five, you wrote that the Mavirus had a starting point, a Patient Zero, but that scientists never found her." Tattoo woman continued to speak to Reesa, ignoring Jake's presence completely. "But that doesn't mean you don't know who she is."
Internally, Reesa decided she was going to try her hand at the young adult market. She doubted J.K. Rowling had ever been held up by a fan demanding to know where Diagon Alley really was. For that matter, Reesa had never known her fan base included the cult-like insane until two minutes ago.
The blonde woman was dressed in an overly plush jacket that seemed to swallow her in cadet-blue, stained fabric. Her face, however, was clearly visible - all smooth contours and elegant features, and Reesa was struck with a strange sense of recognition. She was familiar, even with the tattooed eyeball, but Reesa couldn't place her in her memory. She was beautiful like a diamond, Reesa thought; pretty to look at but cold and hard to touch.
For half a heartbeat Reesa hoped she saw conflict in Tattoo Woman's gray-green eyes. And then those eyes hardened, slitting into a glare that froze Reesa's blood. Tattoo depressed the trigger and the shot cracked into the little bookstore, echoed by the barely stifled screams of those unfortunate customers who'd come in for Reesa's autograph. Jake grunted in painful surprise, slamming back against her.
Scrambling to catch him, Reesa released his belt and wrapped her arms around his lean torso. But he was three inches taller than she was and at least fifty pounds heavier. They toppled backward, crashing into the book signing table, which promptly slid into the nearest bookshelf. Reesa's head connected with the hardwood floor an instant later, sharp lights bursting into her vision on impact. Jake landed heavily on top of her, his head smacking into her shoulder so hard that her fingers went numb.
Books showered around them, paperbacks plunking to the ground, their titles reflecting the halogen lights in a strangely innocuous way. Shocked out of the present, Reesa blinked at one cover in particular. Ender's Game, it read, Orson Scott Card's novel. Next to it was a copy of her third novel: The Jupiter Invasion, a Tale of the Lothogy. Its copper lettering taunted her from the floor just before Tattoo stepped back into view.
Tattoo's perfect mouth twisted into a scowl. "I tried to avoid this."
Jake groaned and cursed, his body rolling halfway off her so that he could grip his left shoulder. Reesa wrapped herself around him, her hands automatically covering the wound, trying to staunch the flow of blood. He had gone an unnaturally gray color, his face pasty with sweat. She could feel the slick of warm blood under her fingers, and for a panicked moment forgot that Tattoo was still there. Blood rimmed his baby blue shirt, making a rusty stain that peeked out from where she clutched tight to the wound. His hand covered hers, strong and clammy.
In the back of her mind, Reesa wondered if there was an exit wound. She'd never been shot but she'd written about it enough times that she knew that exit wounds were preferable to having the bullet lodged in his body. Her mind stumbled, unable to calculate distances, velocity, angles or location. All she could think to do was hold on, to stare at his handsome-set face and pray help arrived soon.