Fire With Fire – Snippet 27
Downing feigned intense interest in the cognac. “I’m sure you had a host of suitable volunteers already standing in line to become Riordan’s full-time guardian angel.”
“Well, strictly speaking, we do have one ‘volunteer’ — but not standing in line. In fact, standing is something our volunteer hasn’t done for a very long time.”
Downing frowned. “I’m sure that’s quite witty, but I have no idea what you mean.”
Half of Nolan’s face was hidden behind his raised glass: “Our ‘volunteer’ is another long-duration sleeper.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Think about it, Richard. Another sleeper will be in the same boat as Riordan. If we choose a person with the right temperament and attitude, the two of them will probably become close as a result of their common experience — and losses.”
Downing had to nod. “Yes, if we create the right kind of bonding events, the odds are good that they’d develop a strong affinity for each other.” He lifted his snifter. “I must say, it’s an inspired bit of madness, Nolan. It might even work. So tell me about our ‘volunteer’: who is he?”
“It’s not ‘he,’ Richard; it’s ‘she’ –“
The first thing she was aware of was nausea and the overpowering smell of chemicals: sharp, artificial, astringent. And the smell was not just around her; it was coming from her, too.
Hard on the heels of that realization came the sense of cold: deep, numbing, down-to-the-bone cold. And she was tired, so tired.
Hours of repetitive drill worked even though her mind refused to. Altered senses, deep cold, drowsiness: onset of hypothermia. I’m freezing, blacking out. Gotta move.
And then she was wide awake, as though someone had slapped her with an electric cattle prod — but the source of her sudden alertness seemed to be the hypodermic that was now sliding stiffly out of her left forearm. That was when she heard the oddly brief klaxon — two shrills and then off — and opened her eyes.
She was in a bed — a hospital? No, there was a panel above her, hinged like the lid of a tanning bed or a —
Coffin? She sat up quickly, looking around. A surge of nausea almost knocked her back down, blurred her vision. All she could see were angular shapes in the darkness of this large room in which she had awakened. Shapes in the darkness —
* * *
Shapes and voices in the darkness. Cold and wet. Sudden light in the eyes. Then gone. More voices, most American, some British, a few translating rapidly into — what was it? Spanish? Portuguese?
The light came back. And sound. “Captain? Captain?” The light was so bright. Seemed so far and so close all at the same time.
“Nonresponsive. I say we triage and move on.”
“Excuse me, Major, but that’s my CO. You are not ‘triaging’ her.”
Shapes with shoulders, with hides of brown and green mottling, swam above her and between eddies of light and dark.
“Corporal, I’m in charge here –“
“Doctor, you are in charge here. But this assault rifle has a special veto power, if you get my drift.”
The voices stopped. No, no; bring the nice voices back.
“Son, I know about her — she’s a good officer, but we can’t save her. Look.”
She felt waves with fingers move her body, roll her to the left. There was pressure — unpleasant — behind her.
— then the tide of fingers receded, lowering her, and she was flat and level and comfortable again.
“She won’t make it through surgery. And how long ago did she get hit?”
“About forty minutes now.”
“Evacced how long ago?”
“Twelve, maybe fifteen minutes.”
“Okay, then here’s the rest of the bad news: she’s been in her shredded MOPP for at least twenty-five minutes. And those weren’t all fragmentation devices you waded through. There were chemical rounds mixed in. Viral agent; that’s all we know so far, but I don’t like what I’m seeing around the wounds. If it had been anything other than the liver –“
“Doc, what about the cold cells?”
“I haven’t…we…How do you know –?”
“Major, I know you’re really a civilian, but understand: this is the army. There’s no way to keep a secret in the field.”
The voices stopped, but she could tell they would start soon again.
“Okay, she’s as good a first candidate as any. She signed the release?”
“Must have. Bitched no end to get us all to sign ours.”
“Okay. But, son –“
“You do know you’re never going to see her again?”
“Yes, sir. But it’s not about whether I see her again, is it?”
“No, I guess not.”
“You take good care of her.”
The best best best feeling was the warm blackness that came next. All warm and all black black black…
* * *
The room was not entirely black: but then this room was not that room — or had that been a tent?
No time to think about it now. Something was wrong in this new room: only dim red emergency lights, nobody around. Just a row-and-column array of long, dark boxes, most of which had small red and green lights of their own. Her eyes adjusting to the darkness, she looked over the edge of her bed/coffin: it confirmed her first impression. She was in some high-tech equivalent of a tanning cell. Except it was clearly not a tanning cell: an IV line tugged at her bicep, another at the inside of her thigh — and she was catheterized.
Okay, some form of medical life support. A phalanx of similar cells stretched away before her, into the dark, all closed. Definitely not a hospital; more like some kind of — her mind flailed for an appropriate term — a parking garage for sarcophagi. But it didn’t look like long-term parking: the cells were all on wheels — heavy-duty hospital gurneys — and if they had once been in a neat checkerboard arrangement, they were somewhat scattered now. There were gaps in the grid — whole rectangles were missing — and her own might have previously occupied one of those gaps, for she was not a part of the checkerboard pattern. Her cell was near the room’s one open door, pushed close to the wall, where a cluster of cables and hoses ran from sockets directly into the side of her cell.
She became aware of a growing ache at the midpoint of the right side of her back, then of distant noises: faint chaotic cries, stifled by fainter stutterings — automatic weapons with sound suppressors. Okay, that clinches it: time to leave.