A nurse escorted Daryl down the clinic hallway. On both sides he passed exam rooms some with doors closed and charts outside, others with open doors showing examining tables and various bits of a physician’s tools of the trade. At the end of the hall she knocked on an office door and then popped her head in before anyone answered. The door had an inset frosted glass window with black lettering that said Andreas Nichols, MD.
“Doctor, a Mr. Wellington is here to see you. The front desk said you were expecting him.”
“Yes Jill, send him in.”
She turned back to Daryl and gestured him into the room. It was a cluttered office, stacks of paper were everywhere. A lopsided pile of journals sat on the floor next to the desk looking for all the world like it was about to topple over. There was just enough clear space on the desk itself for someone to put a notebook down and write and just enough for the person sitting behind the desk to see anyone who sat in the chairs opposite them for visitors to sit in. There were two chairs but one of them was also piled with more papers.
“Please sit down,” came a deep voice from the other side of the desk, “I’ll be right with you.” Daryl couldn’t actually see who spoke, they were completely obscured from the angle he entered the room from.
‘Not safe’, he thought to himself, ‘if anyone were trying to kill him he wouldn’t even know to duck’. Of course this was a well-respected physician, loved even. Even Daryl had heard of him and that was saying a great deal. ‘He’s not really one of us, who would want to hurt him?’ the question sprung unbidden to Daryl’s mind but he had any number of answers to it.
Daryl took a seat in the uncluttered chair, taking care not to disturb any of the piles around him. From here he could see between the stacks of papers and journals and look at the face of the man he came to see. Dr. Nichols was not as old as he expected, he looked about fifty, which was young for a man of his accomplishments. Of course with healing you never can tell. He had a short beard and his brown hair was speckled here and there with grey, he wore glasses with small rectangular gold wire frames, he was furiously writing on a sheaf of papers. The only other thing on this lone clear area of the desk was a single picture frame, it faced toward the desk’s occupant and Daryl couldn’t tell who or what it was a picture of.
He sat there waiting for further acknowledgement from the doctor but the scratching of the pen on the papers was the only sound to emanate from him. “Sir,” he said breaking the silence, “Harold sent me to speak to you.”
“Yes, yes, just a moment,” he replied in an annoyed tone. “Harold always wants favors on his time. He knows I’m busy and can’t simply drop everything at a moment’s notice like he expects.” He turned to another paper and made a few marks on it before looking up. “Why do you think he sent you instead of coming himself?” he asked Daryl with a grin on his face which made him look even longer.
Daryl laughed at the question. While there likely was a piece of that in Harold’s assigning this visit to him, there were many other reasons. He doubted this doctor knew all that much about Harold so he kept those reasons to himself. “How much did Harold tell you Dr. Nichols?” he asked cautiously.
“Hmmph, a damn sight more than you expect he did,” the annoyance was again written on his face. “Harold knows not to keep secrets from me. It doesn’t work well with getting my cooperation. The bigger question is how much did he tell you?”
Daryl shook his head, “look we can sit here all day playing ‘I know more than you do’ or you can actually tell me what you know. If not, we can just sit here until Harold walks through the door having sprained his ankle outside your office or some shit and needing to see a doctor.”
The doctor laughed and slapped his knee almost knocking over a stack of papers. “Yeah that’s pretty much how we met in the first place. I didn’t have an office then and it was a gunshot wound not a sprained ankle. Harold kept muttering about how he never gets shot, he seemed almost more confused than hurt.”
“Anyway to answer your question,” he said sliding one of the piles of paper over to reveal a button inset into the wood of the desktop. He pressed the button and Daryl could just make out the hum of a white noise generator. “I have TS and SCI clearance and on top of that I have Yankee White Omega clearance,” he looked directly at Daryl, “just like everyone else.” Daryl didn’t fail to notice the almost never used confirmation signals the doctor was showing him.
“Damn it Harold, how many times are you gonna pull this shit on us?” he asked to the air. “Sorry Doc, someday maybe I will learn the extent of what we belong to.”
“Yeah, don’t hold your breath for that,” he said with understanding, “I’m good at keeping people alive for extended periods of time, but not that good.” He emphasized the words ‘that good’ just a bit too much. ‘Either he’s had to deal with this aspect of Harold’s annoying personality before’, Daryl thought, ‘or he actually is a damn good healer… maybe both… knowing Harold, probably both’.
“Alright Doc,” Daryl decided to take the bull by the horns, “I don’t know exactly what Harold told you. But he told me to come speak to you about finding us healers to enlist in Force Ops. Does that about cover it?”
The doctor turned to one of his piles of papers and ran his finger down the stack till he stopped at a manila folder about a third of the way down. He deftly pulled the folder from the pile barely disturbing the papers resting atop it. He handed the folder to Daryl.
“This is a list of every known healer in the United States and its territories,” he said in a matter of fact tone. “It also includes many healers unknown to any other government agency.”
“Looks extensive,” Daryl said as he glanced from page to page in the folder.
“Over seven hundred and fifty,” the doctor replied, again in that matter of fact tone.
“Mind if I ask how you got this?”
“Hmm, well to start we have the entire list of supers the DVA keeps track of, that gives us anyone in a registered position, HCP students and applicants, heroes, villains, anyone with any interaction with the law, etcetera.”
“Well we felt that was likely incomplete,” his voice took on a lecturing tone, “healing doesn’t have to be showy after all. Once we have this list, we then investigated all sorts of potential healers. We checked on reports of faith healers, rumors of miracles, we spoke to herbalists and naturalists, homeopaths and followers of Eastern medicine. We talked to most of the crunchy granola sorts in the alternative medical paths.” He put clear disdain into the word alternative.
Daryl wondered briefly what Nichols would say if he told him he regularly went to see a chiropractor, but he didn’t voice the thought.
“Most of those were dead ends,” Doctor Nichols continued. “However, some gave us people with an unregistered healing ability. This is our recruitment list for the MCP. We are making it available to you.”
Daryl could tell that Nichols wasn’t happy that he was turning the list over. He looked like someone just asked him to give up his first born child. “Looks like a lot of potential people,” was what he said out loud.
“Not at all.”
“What do you mean? You said there were over seven hundred and fifty names here.”
“Yes, but a large number of those are otherwise occupied and won’t be recruitable. Some are heroes or in the midst of training, MCP or HCP, some are already in Force Ops. Out of the remainder, many won’t be interested. Even if they are interested, how many do you think are strong enough to fit your needs?” He stood up almost knocking over several piles and then started pacing. “How many do you think are psychologically capable?”
“I see your point.”
“Do you Mr. Wellington?” he asked in a manner suggesting Daryl saw anything but his point. “Do you really?”
“I think so,” he replied mildly. ‘This guy might be good at intimidating medical students, residents, and his colleagues’ thought Daryl. ‘But I don’t get intimidated. That’s a central fact of my life. I couldn’t do what I do if I did’.
“I don’t!” he replied with actual anger in his voice. “Most healers find the idea of taking life reprehensible. They find the idea of the military reprehensible.” His pacing sped up and this time he actually did knock over a pile.
“Calm down Doctor,” Daryl said keeping his tone mild, “I understand but this is necessary.”
Nichols just gave him a flat stare. “Necessary! The very word Far From Noble threw in our faces when they started this. Doctors understand when they need to amputate diseased tissue, it doesn’t mean they like doing it. Far From Noble needs to be stopped. I understand that too. Doesn’t mean I like healers having to be trained to kill.”
Daryl had enough of this smug doctor and his condescending manner. He didn’t get intimidated but he sure knew how to intimidate others. He grabbed the knife he had concealed under his jacket and pulled it out. It was eight inches of black coated steel with a serrated back and a blood groove running down it. Every time he pulled it out all he could think of was Crocodile Dundee saying ‘Now that’s a knife’. He leaned forward placing his free hand on Nichols’ desk and said “Shut up!” in his best command voice. He trusted to the white noise generator Nichols had activated to keep this exchange just between them.
Nichols looked at the blade in his hand his face turning pale. “What are you doing? I…”
“I said shut up!” he commanded again. “Now you are going to stop trying to lecture me and listen. I was going to talk to you later about security around here but clearly I think I’ve made my point on that one.”
Nichols swallowed hard and nodded. ‘Wait a minute’, Daryl thought as if he had a sudden realization, ‘I think I know why he doesn’t worry about security. If I push him too far this could actually turn very bad. God damn you Harold, at least I have some idea why I got picked for this assignment now’.
“Now I didn’t come here to threaten you, I came here to work with you. This isn’t a threat, it’s a visual aid.” Daryl suddenly brought the knife down and stabbed himself through the hand he had resting on the desk.
“Don’t…” came the cry from across the desk but it was too late. Daryl pulled the knife back out, a gout of blood soaking into the bottom most papers in some of his piles, and a deep furrow cut into the mahogany surface of the desk.
The doctor moved to help Daryl, forgetting immediately that a moment ago he pulled a knife on him. This time he did knock over two of the piles of papers. Despite his haste, before he could move around the desk the blood stopped seeping from Daryl’s hand and the flesh knitted itself together as if the wound were never there.
Nichols just stared at Daryl and the hand that a moment before had a gaping hole through the palm.
“I did this to make two points,” Daryl said, pressing forward while Nichols was confused and off-balance. “Well three if you count my concern for some real security,” Daryl figured there was no point in letting his suspicions about the good doctor slip.
“First, I do see your point,” he waved his now perfect hand at him flexing the fingers as he did so. “I understand it intimately.”
“No don’t interrupt,” Daryl went back into the command voice for that one and received silence back in reply.
“Second, no one likes the fact that anyone, healers or anyone else, has to go to war and kill their fellow man.” This was a speech that he was used to giving at least. “But make no mistake, this is war, we are defending ourselves from an enemy who has ruthlessly attacked and savaged us. To do that, we need healers to keep the soldiers alive. And in this particular war we need those healers to fight, and perhaps die, right alongside the rest of us. If they don’t, and we lose this war, all the ethical quandaries in the world will amount to exactly nothing. Ask the dead about ethical quandaries, see what they tell you.”
“Far From Noble got exactly one thing right in their speech. It’s all about necessity,” Daryl stressed the word necessity. “Necessity in this case is imposed from the outside. We do what we need to do to defeat this enemy that has no morals, no ethics, and no scruples about using whatever they have to not just kill us, but to maim us, to make us suffer. Go try and heal their living victims and tell me what you think about healers fighting them.”
Daryl stopped but his eyes were still reflecting fury. “Now you can speak,” he told Nichols.
“I… I apologize. I didn’t know you were a healer. You realize you aren’t in that list?”
“I know,” Daryl replied declining to correct Nichols assumptions.
“I’m sorry I let my passions get the best of me.” He looked at his ruined desk and the bloody papers. “Well my secretary has been trying to convince me to just throw it all out and go digital anyway.”
He pulled out another smaller manila folder from one of the piles. “These are your best bet at healers to recruit.”
“What makes you say that?” Daryl asked cautiously. “Did you approach them?”
“No, nothing like that.” He said as he started to try and straighten out piles and save what he could from the now congealing blood. “Do you know of the super who calls himself the Observer?”
Daryl thought about the many reports he’d seen on high profile supers. “Yeah corporate guy,” he said recalling some details, “a consultant for large multi-nationals mostly, stays out of politics though. Reports are he’s an advanced mind. Broad range telepath but he doesn’t get thoughts exactly, he’s more like a combination of a Myers-Briggs test and a competency exam rolled into one. He comes in and tells you who are right or wrong in a company moves people around, makes sure your employees fit and are effective.”
“That’s right,” agreed Nichols. “We hired him for a full year to approach as many of that list as possible and get us details of who they were and where they would fit.”
“How in the world did you afford that?”
“The Medical Certification Program is as important as the HCP in its own way. At least some members of our government see and agree with that. In theory it’s the eventual solution to the rising costs of medical care.”
“Training a bunch of doctors who are also healers?”
“It’s more than that. We are learning how healing interacts with medicine, someday we hope to duplicate what healers do with technology. Then the limits come off the system. All the healers we have, even if they all had the highest possible power level couldn’t heal everyone. And most healers can’t deal with disease or genetic issues,” he paused for a second and stared at the picture that Daryl still hadn’t seen, his eyes showed a deep sadness, “the goals of the MCP are the elimination of human suffering from disease and injury, nothing is more important.”
Daryl simply nodded, he wasn’t going to start another argument or mention that there needed to be a human race left to heal for it to mean anything.
Nichols took up the conversation where it had been interrupted. “That folder contains the fifty that on review I think could fit into what you need.”
“What we need Doc,” Daryl corrected. “You are part of this, with your Yankee White Omega clearance.”
Nichols continued without comment. “The numbers are even more limited than the fifty you have there. Those are the ones who have the potential to fit, none of them are a guaranteed fit. Only the top ten in that folder would likely work in the end. Not all of them are classic healers.”
“Why cut out the other forty?”
“Some are in important or high-level positions. Some are still in training,” Nichols stopped Daryl before he could get his next question out, “and before you ask training this level of healer directly in potential combat situations isn’t a good idea. Just take my word on that. Please?”
“Alright,” Daryl replied cautiously giving some ground.
“Twelve of the best are assigned in two rotating groups to direct emergency support of the President and Vice President. None of them are the next Hallow but if our leaders are attacked, and aren’t killed instantly, they can save them.”
“Doctor, I can appreciate your insight but I’m going to want to review all fifty of these with you. I might want your help in approaching some of them.” Daryl could see the stubbornness returning to Nichols’ face but he continued. “Maybe some could move, maybe some are far enough in training to switch, maybe anything can change.”
“Mr. Wellington, I…” Nichols started but Daryl silenced him again.
“Doctor, I won’t force anyone to do anything. But I think the nothing is more important than having a world for human existence to continue in, whether there is suffering or not. We have some disturbing intelligence that Far From Noble may be the biggest threat to that we have ever seen.”
Nichols sat there staring at him for a long time before he slowly nodded. “It’s really that bad?”
“It’s really that bad,” Daryl nodded in affirmation.
“In that case there is one other healer,” he paused before continuing, “of sorts, that we should discuss. She isn’t on that list.”
“Because Mr. Wellington,” he said with a sigh, “she’s not someone I was considering before. She didn’t make the initial list because she was never identified through any of the means I mentioned. She only rarely uses her abilities to heal people. It can cause… issues.”
Daryl looked at him confused by what he was saying.
“You see Mr. Wellington, she’s not my student, she’s my patient.”
“It’s an MVA, pedestrian versus SUV, guess who won.”
The EMS crew wheeled a stretcher into the emergency room at University Hospital and pushed straight ahead into the shock trauma room. Fifteen beds were set aside here for true emergency cases, the kind of case that shows like E.R. and Rescue 911 made you think were all that was seen in the emergency room.
A team of doctors and nurses were ready to take over. “Get X-Ray in here, we need a complete spine series. Get the ultrasound to check the belly. Get two 16 gauge IV’s in, get a central line if you can’t get the peripherals right away. I want labs, get me a crit, chem 7 no wait get a chem 20, type and screen, and coags. Someone do a guiac and get me a set of vitals.”
Work proceeded rapidly around the victim of the accident. His clothes were cut away, he was hooked up to monitors and varies tubes were placed in his body. There was a tremendous amount of blood on the stretcher. His clothes were soaked in it.
“God damn, how is he still alive?” one of the doctors exclaimed. He turned to one of his residents and said, “Ron, go get me the story. Find out what the hell happened to him, he looks like he should be DOA but he’s still hanging in there.”
“But, Jack, I should stay here and help. I’m…”
He was cut off before he could finish his thought. “We have this Ron, now go get me the info I need. And don’t call me Jack, call me Dr. Keller.” When Ron didn’t move immediately he added, “Now, Dr. Boyd!”
Ron turned and walked out of the shock trauma bay to find the EMS crew who brought the patient in. He’d have to speak to them to get the story. He was sure he knew the answers that Jack wanted, he couldn’t explain it to him but he was sure he knew. Of course even if he could explain it to him Jack wouldn’t listen and he couldn’t make him listen. ‘God damn bastard thinks he’s god’s gift to medicine,’ he thought, ‘and really? Don’t call him Jack, the asshole was a resident alongside him just last year, just because he became an attending I’m supposed to forget two years of being residents together. The annoying thing is he could be a great doctor if he just would work with others’.
Ron walked over to the ambulance bay where there was a small waiting room for the EMS personnel. Inside he found the crew he expected as soon as he saw the condition of the patient. “Hey guys,” he said by way of greeting, “did you bring in that train wreck of an MVA?”
“Yeah,” answered Judy, she was the driver, cute too he’d been out with her a couple of times. Neither of their schedules was really conducive to dating but she was fun. “He was a bad one. Impact to the chest, then under the car and dragged thirty feet until the SUV hit a divider,” she shivered before going on. “He was trapped under there a good twenty minutes before we got him out.”
“Damn,” Ron swore. “Hey guys sounds like a rough one,” he pulled a plastic card off his ID lanyard and held it out to Judy, “why don’t you all go get coffee on me. There should be enough left on my call card for all of you. Evan, could you stick around? I still have a couple more questions and you’re the lead EMT.” He looked at Evan knowingly, “OK?”
“Yeah sure,” Evan replied as Judy grabbed the card and the others headed up to the cafeteria.
When they were gone, Evan started to say something, but Ron stopped him. “Not here, let’s go to my call room. We need privacy for this talk. How long do we have?”
“About fifteen minutes left.”
“OK then we’ll make it quick.”
The two of them walked down the hall where a series of small bedrooms were set aside for the overnight residents to try to catch some sleep when they could. They were almost never used in the ER but the medicine and surgery residents covering the floors could occasionally take a nap and every now and again when the ER had a slow night.
Ron tapped a code into the electronic lock of the door and opened it. Inside was a narrow bed, a small desk with a computer on it, one chair, and a door which led to a stall like bathroom. When they were both inside, a tight fit, Ron closed the door behind him.
“As soon as I saw that guy, I knew you had to have picked him up Evan.”
“Of course I picked him up. He wouldn’t have even survived getting him out from under the wreck if I hadn’t been there.”
“Evan, you keep doing this and you and your crew are going to get a reputation. Get a reputation and someone will start trying to figure out why. Do you want that?”
“What would you have me do Ron?” he asked with frustration and weariness showing equally on his face. “Should I have let him die?”
“No… no, of course not but… Evan why are you hiding it?”
“Because it’s not enough. You know that, you know my limits.” He looked right at his friend, “a better question is why are you hiding it?”
Ron suddenly looked about as tired and frustrated as Evan did. He sat down hard on the bed and put his head in his hands, rubbing them back along his hair till he got to his neck. “Look at us. A couple of god damned miracle workers and both of us afraid to perform miracles.”
“You may be a miracle worker, I’m not. At best I’m a hack magician.”
“Don’t sell hack magicians short, I’m still amazed by card tricks,” he laughed. He looked at his watch, “five more minutes and I need to get over there. That should give me five to help get him into shape before times up.”
“No, not this time, you need to do more than just get him in shape. His system is in full collapse. I’m surprised I was able to get him here alive. He needs major work or he’s gone.”
“Shit. I’ll be lucky if Jack lets me get close enough to do anything.” Just then his pager went off. He pulled it off his waistband and looked. “Shit… he’s coding.” The overhead speakers blared to life “respiratory to shock trauma stat for intubation.”
Ron and Evan ran from the room together, were around the corner and going through the automatic doors of the shock trauma bay almost before they slid open.
Inside there was chaos around the crash victim. Doctors and nurses were in constant motion, a crash cart was next to his bed and Jack was looking at an X-ray on the screen of the bedside computer.
“His mediastinum is widened on the chest X-ray, he’s got a traumatic dissecting aortic aneurysm we need to get him stabilized and into surgery,” Jack said.
“Where the hell is respiratory with the vent?” asked another doctor who was squeezing an ambu bag hooked up to a tube going into the patient’s lungs.
“Never mind that, keep bagging him and get the pads on him, if he goes into V-Tach we need to shock him out of it.” Jack looked up at the monitor as if expecting him to already be there. “Let’s roll to the OR, get whoever is on for thoracic down there now. We’ll get the patient prepped while they scrub. It’s his only chance.”
Evan leaned over to Ron. “If he goes to surgery, he has no chance,” he whispered in Ron’s ear. “His entire heart and aorta are being maintained right now. They open him up, it all goes splat. His whole chest cavity fills up instantly with whatever blood I managed to keep penned up in his circulation.”
Ron didn’t move. He just stood there as they started moving the bed out.
“Ron,” whispered Evan loudly in his ear. “What are you going to do? Let him die?”
It shocked Ron out of his inaction. He knew what he had to do. He could still try and do this subtly. He got to the bed and started to help push it along. If he could just grab a hold of the patient’s arm, he needed contact for so much damage.
“Dr. Boyd!” Jack’s voice rang out. “Where do you think you are going?”
“With the patient,” he replied, ‘not now Jack,’ he thought, ‘fuck with me all you want later but right now just let me go. Please just let me go’. “I was going to help get him to the OR.”
“No, someone needs to stay here, you are low man, it’s your job.” The others kept pushing the bed as the automatic doors opened to let them out alarms on the bed monitors started going off.
“He’s coding again!” yelled the doctor bagging him. “It’s V-Tach, get ready to shock him.”
Ron turned again to get back to the patient, he could help him. He knew without his help the patient was dead even if Jack and the others didn’t.
“Clear.” Everyone stood back and the patient’s body jerked suddenly as electricity coursed through him in an attempt to reset the electrical system in his heart.
“Still in V-Tach.”
“Again… Clear.” The body jerked once more, the rhythm on the monitors still in V-Tach
Ron’s senses reached out, he would need to touch him to fix this much damage but he could tell what was wrong with him from here. He examined the heart in more detail than EKG, echocardiogram, CT scan, or MRI could. There was no way they could shock him out of this rhythm, he was dead, it was just that no one knew it yet.
‘Dead unless I do something. Now!’ his thoughts one with his actions.
He moved toward the stretcher just as he heard them yell “Clear” again. Jack saw what he was doing and reached out for him. “Boyd what are you doing?” came his shout. It was cliché but everything actually did seem like it was moving in slow motion. His hands circled around the patient’s wrists just as the buttons to send another shock were pressed.
He could feel the electricity start to course through his arms, cause the muscles to start to spasm. He was completing a circuit, the electricity was arcing through his chest, right through his own heart. Current that could fix a bad rhythm and could also disrupt a good one. He could feel all the damage it was doing to him and he could stop it.
He turned his power inward healing himself, keeping his rhythm normal, undoing the electrical burns as they occurred, preventing his muscles from going into spasm. At the same time he turned his power outward. It flowed into the body in front of him, the body that was only alive because of Evan, and he healed it. Heart muscle regrew, blood formed faster than the body could possibly make it, the arteries and veins reknitted themselves. He repaired the fractured bones. He undid the damage to the brain. Even the abrasions to the skin. While he was there he cured a small cancer that was not yet noticeable in his colon, the damage to the liver he had done with alcohol, and the damage to the lungs he had done with cigarettes. If he was going to do this he was going to do it right. He exerted so much power he began to glow and the glow spread and enveloped the patient. How long he stood that way he couldn’t tell but when it was done the patient lived.
He stood up and took a step back from the body, he wobbled a bit, it was more power than he expended in a long time. Everyone stared, half at him and half at the patient now sitting up in the stretcher looking confused and pulling leads off his body. All around him were whispers and murmurs. “He’s a super… He healed him… What was that… If he could do that why’d he let Mr. Anders die…” Too many to count, too many to distinguish, exactly what he was afraid of. Only one voice truly registered.
“Dr. Boyd,” came the angry voice of Jack, “you and I will be meeting with Dr. Worth first thing in the morning. I assure you when that meeting is over, so are you.” He pointed at the automatic doors leading out of the shock trauma bay, “now get out before I call security!”
Dr. Worth was his residency director. His career here was probably over, and all for actually fixing someone. He wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, in the end he did neither. He shook his head sadly as he exited the room, confused murmurs and looks all around him.
Evan caught up with him before he exited the building. “What the hell was that?”
“I healed him.”
“Yeah I know you healed him. What was that with Dr. Keller?”
“Oh that, the end of my career I guess.”
“Why, you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Sure I did.”
“I told you, I healed him.”
“That’s doing something right!”
“Yeah but it’s also wrong.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Yeah I guess you wouldn’t know. You ever wonder why more healers don’t work at hospitals?”
“What? I always figured they could make more money outside the hospitals.”
Ron laughed. “Well that’s true. But no there are issues of liability. Liability for the patients we treat, liability for the patients we don’t treat.”
“People sue hospitals when they have healers on staff and don’t use them and someone dies. They don’t care about the good the healers do. They don’t care that it might have been beyond the healer’s abilities. They don’t care that the healer might not have even been there, that they were asleep needing to recover their strength before they could heal again. No all they care about is that they couldn’t have the miracle.”
“But hospitals do have healers on staff sometimes. Some of them are very prominent doctors.”
“Right but the admission papers patients sign when there is a healer on staff spell out some very specific limits and liability waivers. They wrap it in so much legalese to protect them from these suits. The courts go along with it because it’s better to do that than to remove the healers from hospitals completely.”
“So they’re gonna get rid of you because the patient whose life you just saved might sue over it?”
“No they are going to fire and blacklist me because I just opened them up to liability for every patient that’s been seen here since I started two and a half years ago.”
Evan just stared blankly at Ron, shocked disbelief written on his face for everyone to see.
“You know, the most ironic part of it is no one I could help has died in my time here. I can’t cure really advanced cancers… well I can sort of… but essentially I can’t. And I can’t cure old age. The only ones who died couldn’t have been saved by anyone but Hallow himself,” he paused and thought about it for a second, “and maybe Willowbark.”
Evan still stood there mute and motionless. Ron used the simple expedient of grabbing Evan’s shoulder and steering him down the hallway to the exit. “I need a drink. Wait no, I really need a drink! In fact I don’t know that anyone has ever needed a drink quite as much as I need a drink right now. Care to join me Evan?”
“Ummm…” he started, slowly shaking off his lethargy. He glanced down at his watch before actually answering. “Well, it’s ten minutes after midnight and my shift is over. So, hell yes!”
Ron led them out to the parking lot and to his car. Evan seemed a bit surprised.
“Ron, should we be driving? I mean we are heading out with the express intention of getting shitfaced. Why don’t we just go to Dr. B’s down the block?”
“You just gave the answer,” responded Ron, “Dr. B’s is down the block. Its clientele is from the hospital, doctors and nurses off shift. I don’t want to see anyone we know right now. As to driving while shitfaced, don’t worry about it. I don’t stay drunk. My power can rev up metabolisms, I can take someone from passed out drunk to sober as a judge in about twenty seconds. Of course you’ll never forget the experience,” he added with an evil chuckle.
The bar he drove them to had a couple of advantages as far as he was concerned. It was far from the hospital, and it was quiet. The noise of a lot of people was not what he wanted. He wanted a serious drunk, an end of the dream drunk, a drunk to match the monumental stupidity he put himself in.
He and Evan settled into a small booth in the back of the bar, food was available but he didn’t want any. When the waitress or bar girl or whatever they called them now came over he ordered Wild Turkey, bourbon was his favorite vice, well his favorite alcoholic vice. Evan ordered a whiskey sour.
“That’s an old man’s drink,” Ron said.
“Well I’m an old man,” replied Evan.
He looked over at him more closely and opened up his special senses just a touch. “Dude, your no older than I am,” he focused, “maybe a year or two younger. Early thirties isn’t old.”
“Well, let’s just say I’m prematurely aged then.”
“Aren’t we all?”
The waitress brought the drinks. Ron pulled out a credit card. “OK,” he said, “start me a tab. If, when we are ready to leave, you have replaced our drinks as soon as they empty, you can add a fifty percent tip onto our bill.” He looked up at her face, “How does that sound?”
“Just fine to me,” the waitress answered smiling as she took the card and walked away.
“OK Ron, there’s something here I don’t understand.”
“You are a healer, and from what I can tell a damn powerful one.”
“So why didn’t the hospital know? If healers train to be doctors all the time why didn’t you just register with them and go into residency with your powers out in the open?”
“Yeah, that is the million dollar question. And I have answers for it but they’ll probably sound pretty stupid to you.”
“OK well first of all, most healers aren’t doctors you should know that.”
“I wouldn’t call me a healer, I’m just a patch,” he said shaking his head. “The things I don’t know about healers… well let’s just say I really know only a bit more than the average person on the street.”
“Alright, well let’s start with this. Not all healers are the same. You already know that. You are one of the weakest types, the patch, all you can do is preserve someone temporarily, you can’t actually heal damage but you can get them to a doctor or a healer or whatever so they can deal with it.”
“Yeah that’s about what I can do.”
“That’s incredibly powerful in its own way,” Ron added, “never forget that. That guy tonight owes you his life just as much as he owes it to me. You give time, that’s a precious gift.”
“Well the next level up are the stiches. Think of them as super surgeons, they pull things together and work around injuries. They are very good at trauma but can’t usually deal with illness.”
“Alright, I’ve met one or two over the years.”
“The next level are the accelerators, they rev up the body’s own healing ability to super level. That works great assuming the damage isn’t too great and it’s something that could heal naturally given time. An accelerator couldn’t have done anything for that guy I just saved.”
“OK I can see that.”
“They actually work really well with patches and stiches. Keep the person alive or get them healed to the point they live, then rev them up to let their own healing fix the rest.” He shook his head again, “most healers never learn to work together properly,” he said, it sounded like something rote that he memorized.
“Why would they have to, all the healers I ever hear about just heal,” Evan blinked owlishly at Ron through the drunken haze that was starting to take him. “Doeshent really matter how their power works,” he slurred at Ron.
“Sure it does,” Ron corrected him, “the healers you here about, the ones in the news, the ones in the HCP, those are the strongest of all of us. You think a guy who can only heal cuts and scrapes ever applies to the HCP? You think they ever make the news? Of course not,” he said answering his own question.
“Shuure,” Evan said, the slurring worsening so Ron reached out and gave him a little surge, halving the alcohol’s effect on his system. Evan shook briefly like he just dove into icy water then continued. “Wow… yeah what you said… that makes sense… wow!”
Evan looked a bit uncomfortable. “Can you excuse me Ron?” he asked. “I need to hit the head.”
“Sure Evan,” he smiled. “You go ahead.”
He waited a few minutes for him to returns and had another couple of drinks while waiting. When Evan returned he continued with his descriptions.
“The last major group of healers is the regenerators, that’s what I am and most of the great healers you hear about. We actually heal what can’t be healed naturally and we do it fast. The strongest among us can regrow limbs or replace a heart that someone tore out of the chest. Hallow can even reverse aging but he’s the only one ever who could do that.”
“Jeez, the stories about that are true?”
“Yeah they are. Oh and then there are always oddballs. People whose powers only work on a specific illness or injuries, absorbers who take away physical damage and hold it for later, self-healers, mind-healers who are half healer and half telepath, rejuves, reconstructors, microbicides, there are more exceptions than rules when you get right down to it.”
“OK so what does that have to do with healers being doctors?”
“I’m getting there. You need to see the stage before the play makes any sense.”
“Yeah right, get to the play. What did Shakespeare say? ‘The play’s the thing?’ Wasn’t that it?”
“Yeah, Hamlet,” he answered then went on when Evan clearly was getting annoyed. “OK so you have all these different kinds of healers but to the public we’re all just healers. What could you do if someone came up to you with a broken arm?”
“Yeah well I couldn’t fix it, I could make it functional for a while but it would wear off.”
“Exactly, we are all different in what we can do but to the public we are all just Healers with a capital H, miracle workers. They think we’re all Hallow.”
“That could be a problem.”
“So most healers don’t put themselves into the role of a doctor where they will often deal with things their powers can’t handle.”
“OK so what do they do?”
“They just hang out a shingle and take on cases they want to take on.”
“Wait how can they do that? Won’t they have the same liability issues?”
“You would think so but no. They fall into a series of exclusions there for any number of other things like faith healing, herbalists, people who think magnets or crystals heal people, etc. etc. They aren’t allowed to claim their abilities will work, though they all do. It’s like the warning you see on the side of herbs or dietary supplements. ‘These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Not intended to diagnose or treat any disease’, except that’s exactly why people buy them. It actually was challenged in court once the argument in defense of the healers was something like, ‘if all that crap which doesn’t work is allowed how can you stop something that actually does work?’ they actually listened to that,” Ron laughed. He stopped laughing took a drink and then laughed again. “Funny though, it’s the things that actually work that have the most problems with those laws. I think it would have been blocked if the public outrage at not allowing healers to heal people wouldn’t have been so huge.”
“OK, so the system is crazy. Why didn’t you just hang out a shingle?”
“A lot of reasons, too many to name, but here are the main ones,” he started ticking them off on his fingers. “One, I want to understand what it is I do. Healers who just use their powers don’t really ever understand medicine and I wanted to. Two, I wanted to help everyone, not just the people who could afford it. Remember if healers aren’t doctors they can’t take insurance.”
“Didn’t the Affordable Care Act add in some provision to cover the services of healers?”
“Don’t get me started about the Affordable Care Act. We’ll be here all night.”
“Anyway, there are other reasons. But in the end a healer is not a doctor and a doctor is not a healer and I wanted to be both.”
“OK so you wanted to be both and there are doctors out there who are healers, they must have gone through residency. So I come back to the original question. Why didn’t you just let them know you were a healer?”
“Well, I wanted this residency and it didn’t accept healers. Kind of stupid I suppose. I could have gone anywhere, Mass General, UCLA, Hopkins, anywhere. But then it wouldn’t have been me the program wanted. It would have been my power. I’m an MD PhD, trained at NIH, I have more publications than you would believe, but it would have just been about my power.”
“I didn’t know you were an MD PhD,” he looked at him closer, “for that matter I don’t really know all that much about you. If you hadn’t sensed my work keeping people from going belly up before they got to the ER and came to me, I wouldn’t have even known you were a healer. Where did you get your degrees?”
He looked closely at him through what was quickly becoming a drunken haze, ‘in for a penny…’, “Well… my diplomas say Georgetown.”
“They say Georgetown?” he asked unbelievingly, “Ron are you telling me you never really went to medical school?”
“No, I went to medical school, I even went to Georgetown.” He shook his head, “I can’t believe I’m telling you this.” He looked around; the table was covered in empty glasses. “Shit, I’m drunk… no wonder I’m babbling.”
“Just finish, drinking is clearly an excuse to talk.”
“Alright… alright… just, just give me a second.” He stopped talking took a couple of deep breaths and revved up his metabolism. The alcohol processed through his system in seconds rather than the hour it would normally take. He developed a hangover just as quickly but cured his headache almost before it appeared. Evan stared as he watched Ron go from drunk to sober in front of his eyes. “Damn,” added Ron looking uncomfortable, “that always leaves me needing to pee.”
“No bathroom breaks. Answer the question. What’s the story with you and medical school?”
“Yeah, well… um… you see…”
“Just say it!”
“Alright, Georgetown is the site of the first MCP program.”
“Georgetown doesn’t have a hero program.”
“Not HCP, MCP.” Ron sighed, “Medical certification program.”
“What the hell is a medical certification program?” Evan asked a bit too loudly.
“Shh, keep it down Evan,” Ron ordered in a loud whisper while looking around. “God damn it, I knew I shouldn’t have opened my mouth.”
“No… I’ll be quiet,” Evan whispered back, a bit louder than a whisper but good enough for Ron.
“OK, you know almost no healers make it through the HCP right?”
“Yeah most can’t really handle the combat in the end.”
“Well this gives them an alternative. They get healer training, a medical degree, maybe even get a PhD which focuses on the study of healing and other super powers all at the same time. They also get special training in dealing with supers’ combat injuries and all the stuff a healer who goes through the HCP otherwise wasting his time would get without the need to waste three or four years only to fail out and get memory wiped.”
“No shit? Why haven’t I heard of this?”
“Because, it’s a god damn secret!” he said exasperated. “It’s only been in existence for six years. I was part of the first class. The plan was after the first four classes are out and they see where it’s going they were going to announce it and open up two more. I heard Harvard, Stanford, and Mayo were all in fierce competition for it.”
“With places like those, I’m surprised Georgetown was the first. No offense to your Alma Mater.”
“Yeah whatever,” he blew off the comment. “Georgetown got it because it’s in DC and the whole thing was planned among DVA, NIH, CDC, and the Department of Health and Human Services.” He stopped and took another drink, suddenly wishing he hadn’t made himself quite so sober. “Anyhow, doesn’t matter. I didn’t exactly follow the planned path. I was supposed to go for one of those residencies you mentioned before and didn’t. Now my residency is about to be ripped away from me all because of a doctor who is just a small soul.”
“Sorry man. What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I’m sure I will be black balled at every residency worth having at this point. I guess for me it’s either go back to research or hang out a shingle. What about you? You know your little trick of saving people ready to die is going to stop working so well when there is no healer waiting for them when you get them to the hospital.”
“Yeah, before you started only about one in four survived and not nearly as well as they do now. As long as you’re on when I come in they essentially survive. I suppose that one in four is still better than nothing.”
“Yeah,” Ron suddenly looked sad, “not when you’re looking at the loved ones’ faces.”
Evan’s expression also turned dark, “yeah, not then.”
The waitress brought over another set of drinks. Both of them lifted them and drank slowly, keeping their thoughts to themselves for the moment. The reverie was interrupted when the screen on the television set over the bar suddenly sprang to life. “Hey,” the bartender said, “there’s a new announcement.”
On screen the CNN logo came up and then faded to the corner of the screen as the face of yet another correspondent appeared. She was blonde and pretty but not too pretty, they didn’t want her distracting too much from the news she reported. “The bodies of over one thousand townsfolk from Meredith Falls have now been recovered, many are just parts of bodies and have been separated based on DNA evidence. All were found buried in basements and wreckage, it appears no bodies survived the blast that came at the end of Far From Noble’s attack.”
There was a strangled retching noise coming from across the table. Ron looked over, taking his eyes off the TV set. Evan was turning green and clearly choking down the urge to vomit. He opened his senses up but there was nothing physically wrong with him. Hurriedly he got up and helped him out of the booth and to the back door of the bar. There, in the alley behind the bar, Evan emptied his stomach of what looked like everything he ate or drank for the last week. When he was empty, Ron hit him with a small healing jolt to take away the residual nausea. He left the alcohol, he figured after something like that Evan probably needed it as a bracer.
“Man, I wish we had you around when I was in college,” Evan said by way of thanks as he sat leaning against the alley wall near the door to the bar.
“Nah you never would have learned that way.” He looked closely at his friend and carefully added, “What happened?”
“Too much to drink I guess.”
“Bullshit, you’re lying to the wrong person. Alcohol induced nausea and vomiting I would have sensed and I could have prevented. Try again.”
“Please, that was an intense fight or flight reaction to what you were hearing on the television. Anything physical I would have sensed and that’s the only mental thing that makes sense with the timing.”
“Listen Evan, you just spent the last hour prying out details of my life, now it’s time to pay up. What the hell happened?”
“The… the…” Evan couldn’t seem to get started with a coherent thought, then suddenly he looked almost angry. “Look the way they found not much but body parts. I could have handled it if I were sober. I could have clenched my jaw and made it through and been torn up about it inside.”
“I’ve been through it before Ron. I was in New York, thirteen years ago. I was a first responder. The only way I survived was because of my power. And… and…” he broke down in tears, “and I couldn’t save anyone! Not one person! Just myself! I… oh god it’s happening again but worse. This time it’s supers.”
Ron put his hand on the shoulder of his friend, kneeling in the vomit covered alley. He just left it there wishing he had a way to comfort him more. “It will be… no… it won’t be OK, but we’ll go on. The world has changed again. It changed in 2001 and it’s changed again now.”
“I… I feel so helpless. I felt so helpless then, it’s worse now. I’m not lying under a building, I’m alive, I’m intact, and I have my power. I could help. I could go to Meredith Falls and help. You could come, they could use a healer like you.”
“Evan, they’re all dead or damaged beyond healing. You saw the reports, none of the healers could help them and they have some there who make me look like a kid holding a pack of Band-Aids. You saw there was nothing left but body parts,” he paused, silent for a second, “no one could do anything with body parts.”
“I need to do something Ron, I can’t live like this again.”
“Evan, it’s survivor’s guilt. It’s normal, it…”
“No it’s not normal! You haven’t lived like this! I can’t sleep with a blanket because I think I’m buried under rubble again. I can’t let someone go when I probably should because… because it’s all I can do to feel like I could have helped.” His tears continued to flow, he was almost panting, his breathing coming in short bursts in between crying jags. “I should have saved them, I need to save them.”
“OK Evan, you need to save them, what do you want to do?”
“I… I want to help, too many people died, too many supers, maybe if I were there I could have saved some.”
“Unlikely but OK, it’s over for now, let’s hope nothing else like this happens again.”
“Ron, you saw the tapes, you heard that madman,” he rubbed his hand across his face to clear away the tears. “This is going to happen again.”
“No Evan, it won’t the heroes will stop it. The bad guys got in a surprise attack but they won’t let it happen again.”
“I’m afraid you are wrong Dr. Boyd,” a new voice interrupted loudly. “The heroes can’t stop it and unless something is done, it will happen again.”
A shadowed figure in a trench coat walked down the alley toward them. Behind him stood another man about thirty feet away, near the mouth of the alley. The figure slowly walked closer, soft soled shoes making little sound as he approached them and stepped into the circle of illumination created by the lights at the backdoor to the bar.
“Dr. Nichols?” Ron asked dumbfounded. “What are you?” he changed his question mid-sentence. “How did you?” and again “Why are you?” then he just looked at him with his mouth open to let in the flies.
“What am I doing here?” Nichols asked amused. “How did I find you?” he chuckled slightly. “And, why am I here?”
“Yeah,” Ron replied finding his voice again. “All of those. What the hell are you doing here?”
“I came to see you at the hospital and heard what happened.” He tossed his head in the direction of the alley mouth. The headlights of a car going by momentarily illuminated a man in a black suit waiting as if standing guard. “I called in a few favors, located you, and came to talk to you.”
“You came to find me because of what happened tonight?”
“No that was mere coincidence,” he stopped for a second, as if he suddenly realized what he said and then shook his head. “Anyway that wasn’t why I came. That was bad news though, for both yourself and the program.”
“Yeah,” he said dejectedly, “it was.”
“I’m sorry,” interrupted Evan, “but who in the hell is this Ron?”
“This is Dr. Andreas Nichols,” Ron supplied, “he’s the… uh… that is he…”
“What Dr. Boyd is so elegantly tripping over his tongue to get out Mr. Snyder is that I am the Dean of the MCP program,” as he said it he looked carefully at both Ron and Evan. “If you don’t know what that is,” he arched one eyebrow and stared at Ron, “you soon will.”
“And why is that?” Evan asked.
“Because,” he said, “I am here to offer Dr. Boyd, and yourself actually, a second chance.”
“What?” came from Ron’s mouth as “How do you know who I am?” came from Evan’s.
“Gentlemen, never mind the details, I am here to offer you a chance to solve your problems and at the same time help relieve the suffering associated with the recent attacks and maybe even fight back in your own way.” He paused with a questioning look on his face, “Is that something you might be interested in?”
“How, you aren’t going to get us into the HCP,” Evan shot back, “neither of us are hero material… well maybe Ron is. I’m not I was rejected thirteen years ago when I thought I could make a difference that way.”
“There are other options.”
“I hope this isn’t a corpies thing,” said Ron, “I’m not interested in selling my gift for the profit of some corporation.” That comment brought a proud smile from Dr. Nichols.
“No, you’re right, that won’t work,” Nichols said. “I wasn’t thinking of the PEERS.”
“Is this about HOPE?” Ron asked anxiously. “I remember you bringing in some of their healers during class. But, Dr. Nichols, I appreciate what they do, and I know they were at Meredith Falls but it doesn’t really solve the problem I created tonight.”
“Plus,” added Evan, “There’s almost no chance we’ll be in the right place at the right time, most of them are overseas.”
“No,” said Dr. Nichols, “not HOPE either. But there was another group who helped out in Meredith Falls and will be taking a lead in what is to come.”
Evan started to stand finally, but froze in mid-lurch an expression of amazement coming over his face. “Force Ops?” he nearly shouted, “you’re talking about Force Ops?”
“Who do you think is going to end up dealing with an attack against America?” Nichols asked them. “The military just like they did before.” He stood between Ron and Evan, both of them dumb founded. He placed a hand on each of their shoulders in a gesture of support or perhaps comfort. “And what branch of the military deals with supers?”
“Force Ops,” whispered Evan.
“You’re crazy,” said Ron
“No, fortunately, I’m still quite sane, it’s the world that’s insane.”
“Ron,” Evan said with belief in his voice, “I think this is a good thing Ron. I think we need to do this. It solves both of our problems. It gives you a place to practice medicine and healing, it gives me a chance to use my power and let those I use it on survive and a chance to make up for thirteen year ago.”
Ron stared at Evan with open faced astonishment. His eyes were wild, his movements shaky, “OK it’s time for you to sober up,” he said reaching for him. “This will only take a second. I’ll even give you some privacy to take a pee on the wall afterwards.”
“No, listen. Don’t you dare take away my drunk, it’s giving me clarity for once. What’s the expression? In vino veritas? Well this is one hundred percent Grade A veritas with a capitol V. It’s truth pure and simple.” A peaceful expression came over Evan’s face, “This is what we need.”
“He’s right Ron,” Nichols interjected, “this is what both of you need. And you are what Force Ops needs. It’s fortuitous happenstance that Mr. Snyder was here with you. Someone else would have contacted him tomorrow with the same offer.” He muttered “I’ll have to remember to let them know I already spoke to him,” under his breath.
“I can see how this might give Evan what he needs,” Ron said. “I can even see how it might give me something meaningful to do. What I don’t see is how in the hell it’s supposed to help me with the heaping pile of shit I buried myself in tonight?”
Dr. Nichols shook his head the way he would when a student gave him a mistaken diagnosis. The look told the unfortunate student who disappointed him that he was more upset with how he had failed so badly at teaching them. “Dr. Boyd,” he asked assuming the Socratic tone he used when about to ask a student one of those questions. “What happens to medical students who go to school on the military?”
“Huh,” the question surprised him but he started to answer it. “They do service time here and there during medical school, and when they graduate they…” Ron’s jaw dropped open.
“When they graduate they do their residency in the armed forces.”
“Correct Dr. Boyd,” Dr. Nichols said proudly.
The grin that suddenly sprung up on Ron’s face left shit-eating far behind.
Major Brendon Samuels stood staring through the window into a clean room. Inside men and women in white isolation suits worked on some of the worst pathogens known to man. ‘And some unknown to man,’ he added silently. He was in an observation room nearly a mile underground in Base 6, the top secret biological warfare laboratories of USAMRIID. Up in Fort Detrick all the defensive and political work took place but down here, down here was where the real investigations happened. Here was where every pathogen was dissected and twisted and examined for potential to be weaponized.
He was a man torn in many ways, he both hated and loved his job at the same time. The genetics of the pathogens fascinated him and scared him, drew him and repelled him. A sixty inch flat panel on the wall displayed images of men and women suffering various deadly maladies. Some of those were being worked on not five feet away separated only by six inches of double paned high impact plastic. Well and some sophisticated automated equipment that would turn the whole place into a firestorm before letting one microbe escape.
Colonel Gaim was late. He was supposed to be here ten minutes ago and that was distinctly unusual for the colonel. He was about to send off a query to his admin staff when the door opened and he walked in.
Major Samuels snapped a sharp salute to his commander who returned it and said, “At ease Brendon. I’m sorry I’m late but after Meredith Falls I’ve been pulled into non-stop meetings as you can imagine.”
“Yes sir, I understand completely.”
“What was it you needed? Did you finally break through the damned coding bias issues?”
“No sir,” he replied frustrated to no end over the issue the colonel brought up, “this is unfortunately about Meredith Falls as well.”
The colonel looked tired, he opened his jacket and loosened his tie before answering, “you too?”
“I’m afraid so Colonel.”
“Well,” he said, sitting down at the small round table in the center of the room, “sit down and tell me about it. Everyone else has.”
“Sir, I’m concerned over one of the supers involved in the attack.”
“Which one? At least two seem to be biologically based, at least on the surface they do. Most of my meetings have revolved around the coming zombie apocalypse.” He ran his fingers through his thinning hair, a habit that always indicated he was nervous. “I can’t believe how many people think all the movies are a conspiracy to hide the fact that there really are zombies.”
Brendon laughed. “Well sir, in a world where people fly or burst into flame or any number of other bizarre phenomena. How strange is it really to think that zombies could exist too?”
“I suppose so,” he agreed. “And enough with the sirs, we were graduate students together for god’s sake, if you hadn’t tried the HCP route I’d be saluting you. You do remember my name right? You haven’t been experimenting on a contagious form of amnesia have you?”
“No George, I haven’t. Though I may have forgotten,” he added deadpan.
George laughed loudly, “Oh I needed that,” he said. “Alright Brendon, hit me, tell me what you came to tell me.”
“George, this is the one I’m worried about,” he said and made the screen change to a clip from the Far From Noble video. It showed the woman in the isolation suit. “What she was doing looks like spreading intensely virulent pathogens.”
“Yes I’ve heard that theory, but analysis doesn’t show any method of targeting or spread, none of the survivors show any signs of unusual pathogens nor were there unusual pathogens found in any of the body parts that were recovered.”
“No, I realize that,” Brendon said agreeing with his boss. “Still, doesn’t this remind you of Rachel’s work?”
“In what way?” he asked a bit too aggressively.
“All she ever did was try to come up with fire and forget pathogens. Isn’t that what we are seeing here?”
“Come on Brendon,” he almost sneered, “I’m going to tell you the same thing I told her. The concept of a pathogen that you can release, let do its damage, and it self-destructs is ridiculous.”
“No buts. These are living organisms. Mutation alone would defeat the idea eventually. All it would take is for whatever suicide failsafe you build into the system to mutate once and it could be a plague the likes of which humanity has never seen.”
“I said no.”
“Sir,” Brendon said returning to formality, “I feel I must officially ask for permission to submit my report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
“Really Brendon,” he said with tired disappointment in his voice, “is that the way it’s going to be?”
“George,” he replied with desperation, “you are tired and overwrought, you aren’t being objective.”
“Neither are you,” he shot back, his voice rising higher than a commanding officer should let it go, “you haven’t let the whole Rachel affair go since her death. Let it go Brendon, there was nothing you could have done to save her. She’s gone and her misguided work died with her.”
“Did it? George, look at this,” Brendon led George over to the flat panel. “OK these are some of the diseases Rachel was trying to weaponize. Group A Strep necrotizing fasciitis,” he pointed at an image of a man whose limbs were rotting off. “Ebola,” a wasted figure with blood pouring from his mouth. “Plague,” a woman with swollen growths in her groin and neck. “Mucor,” a heavy man with his face dissolving and his eye black and shriveled. “And Malaria, specifically the Black Water Fever form,” a twisted man with yellow skin, dried vomit was visible on his face.
“What’s your point?”
“These are all images of victims of this woman at Meredith Falls,” he clicked his pointer and an image of a woman in a white isolation suit with an enclosed breathing unit. “Don’t you see George, whoever this woman is she’s working on the same ideas Rachel had. Maybe Rachel passed on her work to someone else. She wasn’t exactly sane at the end.”
“Enough!” George said clearly losing his temper. “Rachel is dead, you saw the body, and you were at the funeral. We traced all her contacts. We destroyed all her notes. We didn’t even archive them to be sure they could never be passed on. It’s over, I know you are still feeling guilty but it… is… over…”
“Sir,” Brendon said ignoring George, “I formally request that my report be sent to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their consideration.
“Sir, I request that I be reassigned as liaison to Force Ops who I understand will be heading the counter…”
“No,” George was furious now, flecks of spittle emerged as he spoke, “You are to stop this immediately or face disciplinary action. Our unit, the CDC, and the DVA are all involved and no evidence of pathogens was found in any of the victims. End… of… story…”
“You are relieved of duty Major.”
“Don’t make me call the MPs,” George added practically shaking.
“Yes Sir. I’ll be leaving then Sir. You’ll let me know when I should return?”
“Of course,” George replied starting to calm down.
Brendon headed for the exit.
“And Major,” George stopped him before he opened the door. “I don’t have to remind you that this is a matter of national security and Rachel’s work was placed under an SCI seal. That material is on the same level as the Nuremburg data, never to be touched. Any leak of this information will be treated as a matter of treason.” He paused, sighing before going on. “Am I clear?”
“Yes Sir!” Brendon replied and left the room, not so much as glancing back at the man who used to be his friend.
He stalked down the hallway toward the elevators which would take him back up to Fort Detrick as he stood waiting for the doors to the elevator to open a man he didn’t recognize stepped up next to him. That was a rare occurrence in Base 6.
“That was rough,” said the stranger, both of them still facing the elevator doors.
“What?” Brendon said turning to face him.
“That row between you and Colonel Gaim. Pity that, he’s a scared small minded man. It’s unfortunate that you wasted your time with those two years in the HCP or you would be in charge instead of him.”
Brendon looked up and down the hall before responding. No one was nearby. “You do know that this is an ultra-secure area? Everything is recorded. You know that, right?”
“Of course not.” Brendon looked at him more closely. Definitely no one he ever met. Six foot three, perfect teeth and hair, chiseled features, he would stand out in any crowd. He was wearing a three-piece suit and carrying a leather briefcase. He wore an ID tag which said Special Agent J. Alec Godwyn.
“No, really, none of this will make the tapes. Don’t worry. It’s taken care of.”
“Uh huh.” Brendon replied cautiously. “If you heard my conversation with Colonel Gaim, something I find difficult to believe in the first place, then you know I am under orders not to speak to anyone and living with the threat of a treason charge if I do.”
“Yeah not a problem,” Godwyn replied, “and if anything should happen, I know a good lawyer.”
The doors to the elevator slid open. Godwyn entered, “Are you coming?” he asked as he held the door.
Brendon entered the elevator with the strange man and the doors slid closed. This trip took seven minutes to get to the surface due to the scans and decontamination that occurred along the way.
“You know, not everyone sees things the way Colonel Gaim does,” Godwyn started again.
“I told you,” Brendon said keeping his response curt, “I am not speaking to you.”
“Clearly you are,” Godwyn replied. “Would it help if I told you that others believe the details of your report?”
“Just a minute,” Brendon spun on him, speeding himself up slightly with a small surge of adrenaline. “You’ve read my report? That was sealed and I never sent it to anyone except Colonel Gaim.”
“True, but that doesn’t matter. What an interesting tale. Proscribed research, bioweapons, love gone awry. Harlequin should buy it and make it into a romance novel.”
“Now just a minute,” he pointed his finger at Godwyn. An almost unseen drop of fluid now rested on his nail, just in case.
“Please don’t do anything we would both regret.”
Brendon paused, it was clear that Godwyn knew a hell of a lot more about him than he knew about Godwyn. Which thinking about it was nothing, his ID didn’t even say what agency he was a special agent for.
“Who are you?”
“J. Alec Godwyn,” he replied but didn’t offer to shake hands. “But you already knew that. It’s on my ID and you are nothing if not observant. Observant enough to know deadly diseases when you see them. Intelligent enough to put facts together about what’s going on.”
“Well let’s assume you are right,” he took a printout from his briefcase and handed it to Brendon. “That’s an early printing of tomorrow’s headline.”
It read ‘Far From Noble Revealed’, and there was a grid of pictures of each member. Below the picture of the woman in the isolation suit read ‘BSL 5’.
“Fire and forget pathogens, wasn’t that the description you used? Can you think of anything more potentially deadly?”
Brendon mutely shook his head as he scanned the article.
“Look,” interrupted Godwyn as he was finishing. “Our time is short. But let me put this all in perspective. I think you should be transferred to Force Ops as a liaison officer.”
“That’s great. I…”
Godwyn raised his hand palm out to indicate Brendon should stop. “I think you should, unfortunately Colonel Gaim would have final say on that. He is after all your commanding officer. But there is an option that will block his threats about treason as well.”
Godwyn removed two documents from his briefcase. “This one,” he said as he handed one to Brendon, “resigns your commission in the army.”
“And this one,” Godwyn continued as if Brendon hadn’t said anything, “are the documents needed to enlist in Force Ops.”
Brendon scanned both pages quickly, they had less than two minutes before the doors opened. “Wait this says I will enter Force Ops with the rank of Private.”
“Yes well,” responded Godwyn, “you can’t very well enlist as a Major. The resignation papers do preserve your rank for purposes of retirement.”
“Look Major, you can’t have it both ways. You believe in this? You believe in your report?”
“And you want to help deal with this problem?”
“Then sign the papers. If not at best you are going on administrative discipline for two weeks I figure before Colonel Gaim calms down. Maybe more when he sees that article. At worst you are going to be tried and convicted for treason because you pissed off your old friend. Then you go to ‘Elevenworth’ and you know what happens there.”
The mention of the military prison for supers, even by that stupid nickname sobered Brendon up.
“What do I have to lose?” he asked out loud.
“Only your rank,” replied Godwyn.
“Sign here,” he pointed to a place on the first document while he handed Brendon a pen. “And now here,” he pointed to a similar line on the second document. Then he signed as witness and pulled out a notary press sealing the documents and making them official.
“Congratulations Private,” he said as he handed Brendon his copies.
Brendon was momentarily distracted as the doors opened and when he turned back Godwyn was gone. If he didn’t have copies of what he just signed in his hands, he would have thought that he hallucinated the whole thing.
Daryl stood with Dr. Nichols on the steps of a brownstone in Washington DC.
“Sarah is a little shy around people,” Nichols said quietly. “She stands out as I’m sure you can imagine. Her brother does too as a matter of fact.” He put his hand on his forehead as if suddenly remembering something. “I didn’t tell you about Tom,” he added speaking quickly, “Tom’s a bit overprotective of his sister and…” he stopped speaking as the door cracked open.
“Hello Sarah,” Nichols said in a friendly manner. Daryl could barely see the outline of a person through the crack in the door she opened.
“I’ve brought the man I want you to meet,” he continued, “the one we spoke about on the phone. This is Daryl,” he pointed toward him by way of introduction.
“I’ve… I’ve changed my mind,” came a gravely woman’s voice from the other side of the door. “I don’t want to meet anyone.”
“Sarah,” the doctor said gently, “we spoke about this. I think this will be good for you, meeting someone new. Daryl wants to talk to you about a way you can meet lots of new people who won’t be judgmental, or if they are, how did you put it Daryl?”
“If they are, I’ll kick their asses from here to Sunday,” Daryl said without a trace of mirth.
Sarah laughed, even that sound was harsh as if she never laughed and her voice had to remember how it was done.
“Please Sarah,” Daryl said, “I’d like to meet you.”
There was the faintest motion from the figure behind the door, a nod Daryl thought, and the door opened into a dim entranceway.
The two of them went inside and Sarah closed the door behind them and walked off down a hallway. Daryl barely saw more of her, his eyes not having a chance to adjust to the dim light from the brightness outside. All he could tell is she was wearing a long robe or kaftan with a hood.
They followed her down the hall to a living room of sorts. It had piles of newspaper and magazines which reminded him of Nichols office. ‘They are her only connection to the outside world anymore’, Daryl thought in a moment of insight. There were two couches, a recliner, a coffee table on which a copy of the Washington Post was open to a picture of the crater at Meredith Falls.
The rest of the room held an old projection screen TV, a piano covered in dust, with an abstract life-size statue of something that looked like a man next to it. It was like something from cubism, all odd shapes and angles. But everywhere else throughout the room were shelves and shelves of books.
The most unusual thing about the room was that everything had soft padding taped down to corners and projections. It was like someone tried to baby proof the entire area.
“Please, have a seat,” Sarah said in that gravelly voice. She took the recliner leaving Daryl and Dr. Nichols to sit on one of the couches. He turned slightly to face Sarah which let him see the piano to her left, he still couldn’t actually see her well.
“That’s a lovely piano,” Daryl said to break the ice. “Do you play?”
“No, my brother used to,” she sounded sad, “but he can’t anymore.”
A slight shake of Nichols head told Daryl to stay away from the subject. “Dr. Nichols tells me you are a healer, but there is some sort of problem. Can you tell me about it?”
“You didn’t tell him?” she asked of Dr. Nichols accusingly. “You brought him here and he doesn’t even know? How could you?” she started to cry but the sound was more of a barking noise than sobbing. “Why would you do that?”
“You need to face people who don’t know Sarah,” he replied in a kindly manner, “it’s important for you to move on with your life?”
“So you put me on display?”
“Sarah, I…” before the doctor could continue his thought, he interrupted himself. “Now Tom, let’s not do something stupid.”
‘Tom?’ Daryl thought, ‘the brother? But he’s not’, then he realized. The statue started to move and put its massive misshapen hand down on Nichols’ shoulder.
“Sarah… Tom… please this is foolishness. You know I brought him here to help.”
“I think perhaps the two of you should leave.” Sarah said standing up again and walking over next to her brother… the statue, some sort of shifter, ‘no… that’s not it. What is he?’ Daryl wondered.
“Tom is it?” Daryl said standing. “I’m sorry we intruded upon you this way. But I’m not frightened or shocked, merely curious. What is it about you and your sister that makes you want us to leave? You’re supers, but so what, are you scared you’ll hurt us?”
“Really? You don’t know?” Sarah asked again. “You didn’t come to see the superfreaks?”
It all snapped into place for Daryl, superfreaks. It was slang, a slur really, for supers who had permanent body changes. Many supers had unusual hair or eye coloring, even odd skin tones. But this was different. Tom was massive and looked to be made of something… he took it for stone at first but looking closer it seemed more like horn.
“No, I came to meet you Sarah, because Dr. Nichols thought you might be able to help me.”
“Help you?” she cried with that barking sound, “I can’t even help myself.”
“Dr. Nichols said you were a healer, do you have something unusual about yourself as well?”
“Unusual?” she asked, the barks subsiding slightly. “You could say that.” She dropped the robe. She was wearing light pants and a loose half shirt under it. With the robe off he could see her entire body was crisscrossed with scars, old scars, fresh scars, faint and white, angry and red, blotchy purple. Parts of her hair were missing and the scalp beneath was also covered in scars.
“I see,” Daryl said quietly in response.
“Nature’s little joke,” she shouted at the ceiling. “I’m a healer, a wondrous healer, a magnificent giver of life. But I’m an imperfect healer. My healing causes terrible scaring which itself is nearly impossible for anyone else to heal. Who would want that?”
“My self-healing,” she continued, “is an order of magnitude higher than my ability to heal others but I can’t shut it off. Every little injury turns into scar. My muscles are stronger because that’s how they develop, tear and grow, tear and grow. But the rest of me? Look at me.” The barking started again and now that the robe was off Daryl saw she couldn’t actually cry, her tear ducts were scarred down. “Superfreak and powered all rolled into one,” she continued, “someone up there must hate me.”
“No Sarah,” Daryl said, “no one hates you.”
“Sure they do,” she laughed while the barking continued. “I can’t even kill myself and end it. The healing is too strong.” She pointed to her temple where a particularly bad scar was. “I put a bullet in my brain, right through here. It was closed before it came out the other side.” She turned and a much larger scar over the back of her head was now easily seen.
“I’m a monster, people look at me and that’s all they see.”
“Sarah,” Dr. Nichols started to talk but Tom squeezed his shoulder slightly and he stopped talking while he winced.
“Tom has it worse. They look at me like a burn victim but Tom is something out of a movie about alien invaders or something.” She pointed at her brother. “His self-healing is just as strong, maybe stronger. He’s definitely stronger than I am too. He can’t actually heal anyone else. But the worst part is instead of scar, he gets hypertrophic keloid. That’s what you get when a scar goes wild.”
“And his keloid is filled with dense keratin. That’s the stuff from your nails but his is about a thousand times as strong and thick, bullets wouldn’t even scratch that. He’s so strong he could lift that piano if it wouldn’t break apart in his hands. But he can’t feel anything. He can barely touch anything. He can’t play the piano anymore. Even if he could fit his fingers to the keys he doesn’t have the touch anymore. He’d just break it.”
She looked at him, a tear desperately trying to come out of her eye. “And he can’t speak, his vocal cords turned into the same stuff the first time he caught a cold.” The barking started again, “he had a beautiful singing voice.”
She dropped to the ground and where her leg hit the table Daryl could actually see new scar forming. This wasn’t his field, how did he speak to someone, two someones, who had nothing left?
He glanced around the room and an idea struck him.
“Sarah, it’s obvious you care about the world around you, miss it even.” He gestured to the piles of magazines and newspapers. He picked up the copy of the Washington Post.
“I’m just bored,” she replied, “there are only so many reruns of Law and Order or cooking shows I can watch during the day.”
“If you were bored you might read books, or play games, or do anything to while away the time. You read the news. You seek out information about the world you feel you aren’t part of anymore.”
“No, that’s not it, I…”
Tom let go of Dr. Nichols and stood in front of his sister looking down at her. He didn’t or, as she said, couldn’t speak, but he looked at her and nodded once.
“There are monsters in the world Sarah,” he said, “real monsters and they don’t all look like monsters.”
He flipped through the Washington Post that was still in his hands. He found what he was looking for and showed her a picture of De Sade. “This Sarah, this is a real monster. He looks like anyone you would see on the street but he took pleasure in driving hundreds of people at Meredith Falls insane. He made them kill each other, he made heroes kill other heroes, and he speaks for an entire group of monsters who look like men.”
“Sarah. I can’t say that I can help you but I want you to come and meet a friend of mine. Her name is Cindy and I think she can help tell you where you,” he paused and looked at the massive form standing next to her, “and your brother fit in with the world.”
“What can she do?”
“Well depending on what she says, she can give you a whole new way to look at yourself.”