The door below swung open with a creek, and I aimed downwards, splattered the bottom of the stairwell with water as two people moved not-quickly-enough for the steps.
Third floor and I advanced into the hallway through another loosely hung swinging wooden door. Exit signs glowed red over various doors, and about one in ten overhead lights were lit.
It was dark.
There was another huge laminated map nailed to the wall ahead, and I crossed the hall, stood in front of it, and tried to figure out just where the hell I was.
Ah. “You are here.”
Far away I heard the sounds of running feet and a distant splash. At least I was in somewhat the right place. I hit the map with the flashlight’s beam again. Nursery….there.
I glided down the hall, heading deeper into the building. Gurneys and bigger rolling medical beds lined the walls along with portable equipment not easily identifiable. Stepping from one section of tiled floor onto demo’d grout gave me the impression that the hospital was undergoing some construction.
Up ahead was an intersection, and I ducked behind the head of a gurney as people dashed past. One caught the wall as he past, crouching down at the foot of the gurney to shoot from the cover of the corner of the wall.
This was ridiculous.
I looked back for Keith. Nowhere. He seemed to have dematerialized. Probably shrunk back into a shadow somewhere, snapping IR pictures of me looking confused and pissed.
Oh well. Not like he helped.
I stood, stepped around the gurney, and shot the guy at the foot twice in the back of the head as I stalked past.
The intersection ahead was a four-way. Two nurses desks at stations on either side closest to me. Across the way on the left, closed offices. Across the way on the right, a glass-walled nursery the elevated, wheeled cribs that hospitals use waiting in empty row after empty row.
The temperature of my blood dropped and I rotated around the corner, snapped the Surefire on in someone’s face, and shot them in the chest.
Water snapped past, splashing off the earth-toned stucco wall. I tracked its trajectory backwards as I dropped to a crouch beside the right nurses’ desk, my own stream splattering on the left side desk. I launched myself across the hall, sliding on my side into the hallway between the offices and the nursery, kicking off the wall and rocking to my feet. I snapped the light on again, just a flash, I stood at the same time as the girl behind the left desk did. She was looking the wrong way though, and had to track back to me. I was already aiming for her, and I stepped into two shots. The first one slapped into mist against the wall behind her, the second hit her in the throat.
I moved into the intersection, aiming right, and the first person I’d shot was gone, but there was someone new. Apparently they hadn’t drawn a bead on me when I’d jumped across the intersection.
It didn’t matter though. My sidestep bounced me off the left-hand desk, and I one-handed the pistol, pointing into the hazy darkness. I beat him to the trigger, three quick shots to his two that flashed through where I’d been. Unlike his, mine collided.
From where I was – pressed up against the waist-high desk – I flashed the Surefire around as people filed out. No one else.
Something tall caught my eye. A vase on the right-hand desk, a few familiar red flowers emerging from the top.
“You gotta do something Sam, the world ain’t gonna wait for you to get comfortable with all the decisions you’re gonna have to make.” I heard Stephanie – my best friend, my brother’s girlfriend – as clear as day.
“You think I don’t know that?” had been my reply.
I walked over and pushed the vase over. The glass shattered, spilling greenery and water all over. I turned on my heel and pulled the nursery door open.
The bright light of Surefire left a burn in my vision as I bounced it off the blindingly white walls. Two doors at the back of the room probably led to more offices and examination rooms. I’d never gotten to see a nursery before, I had no idea. One dim overhead light in the room made the room seem even more oppressively shadowed. I let my hand drift over the edges of the cribs as I past between them. There were blankets in a few, awaiting occupants.
I flashed the light around again, caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. Another mylar-wrapped box. I ducked down below the level of the cribs and after a quick flash of the light, punched the numbers in from memory.
Sitting on the floor in the darkness, phone pressed to my ear, I could feel the ghosts whirling about me, and angry swirl like a funnel-cloud of regret, spinning up to critical mass. Was I the creator or the eye of the storm?
The voice on the other end had no advice for me other than “Landing Pad.”
I’d not noticed the blue barrels next to the door as I walked in, and I refilled the Triple Shot before leaving. I took a moment to remember the layout. I was deep middle of the third floor. The helicopter pad was on the roof of the garage. There’d have to be some way to cross from that roof to the hospital.
So. I had to get to the roof.
Keith was waiting for me by the nurses’ desks as I exited the nursery. “Real help you are,” I muttered in passing.
He fell in behind me as I moved down the corridor. I’d transferred the pistol to the satchel and held the Vanquisher at low ready. The roof was probably better lit with ambient city light than in here, and there’d be better ranges for rifle work. “How do you mean?”
“I mean you’re supposed to alert me to ambushes, look out for me, that sort of thing. That was the deal, remember?”
“I must get pictures first. That is my overriding concern.”
I looked back at the bearded weirdo following me through the gloom. “Nobody talks like that, dude.”
The door to the stairway we’d used pushed open, and it didn’t even require conscious thought to raise the Vanquisher to my shoulder and fire a short blast, sidestep to the right and fire another.
Those had been the first two shots I’d taken with the soaker. The trigger moved smoothly through its range of motion, letting the water out with a clicky snap-hiss as it left the nozzle. The stream arced through the shadow, smooth and laminate like a glass rod thrown through the air.
Both shots impact the man who’d pushed through the door, and I waggled my fingers at him in a wave as he brought a hand up to touch the plate-sized water spots on his shirt. “Hi” I said brightly.
“Hi.” He turned and pushed through the door again.
Round and round the stairs went, spiraling upwards. I button-hooked every corner, whipped past every landing. In the last ten hours I’d run more steps than I’d set food on in the past seventeen years.
There was a yellow metal ladder descending from the ceiling at the top landing. I aimed upwards for a few seconds, expecting fire from above. That’s what I’d do.
Nothing, and I slung the Vanquisher, put my hands on the rungs, and started pulling myself up two rungs at a time.
I emerged from an open trap door in the roof of the hospital. The roof was a black, tacky gravel, like a point zero one grit sandpaper. Clumps of HVAC equipment dotted the roof, mechanical and borg-like, they rumbled and groaned quietly. At the back of the roof, another building rose up even higher, unlit windows looking down like dead eyes.
A small building stood at the end of a concrete path set into the black gravel, wide doors presumably opening onto an elevator. The path led to the edge of the roof and to a fenced in walkway extending to the helicopter landing pad on top of the detached multi-story garage.
I looked back to see Keith climb through the trapdoor. “I hear people down below,” he stated as he pulled himself to the roof.
We ran across the roof to the walkway. Wide enough for a gurney and support staff on either side, it was caged in with chainlink. We crossed it to the helicopter landing pad.
It was actually wider than the roof of the detached garage, with chainlink fencing laid out on all sides like some kind of see-through floor. The way it was fenced off with highway railing made me think it wasn’t designed to be walked on. A target was painted onto the roof, presumably to give the pilot a reference point. Lights blinked, set into the gravel around the outside edge and the center of the target.
In the exact center of the target, someone had written a telephone number in spraypaint. I flashed the Surefire on it, then dialed.
“Department Of Pediatrics. Room Three.”
I put the phone away. “We gotta retrace our steps.”
Keith lowered the camera to let it hang against his chest. “I got what I came here for.”
“Wonderful. Let’s go.”
At the edge of the walkway I stared down the chainlink tunnel at the five people ahead, on the other side. I think we were all so shocked to see each other that none of us made a move for oh, about point zero three seconds.
My Vanquisher swiped across the two in front, hosing them with one stripe across the front of their shirts. I backpedaled as water sped up the tunnel towards me, angling to my right. The remaining three charged across the walkway, and I expended the rest of my water supply snap-shooting two through the chainlink. If they’d been smart, they would’ve shot back. Linear thinking at its worst will get you shot.
He split left, I circled right as my left hand went to join my right on the grip, and I pulled the trigger time after time after time, jetting water into his path. He ran into one arcing blast of water, and I didn’t stick around to watch his reaction.
My feet hammered the walkway and the concrete path, and I shouldered between his friends, nearly jumped down the trapdoor. Keith could catch up or not. As I ran down the stairs I checked the clock on my phone.
Ten minutes to go.
I shoulder-checked the swinging door at the bottom and painfully hip-checked the floor as I wiped out on a puddle. I skidded along the tile on my side as water shot overhead, and I rolled right, shooting past my knee, blowing mist off my attacker’s chest with two splats of water. I rose to one knee, steadied my elbow off that bent knee, and shot twice more as someone came through one of the connecting hallways at the back of the lobby. The water splashed of the wall and I rose all the way, walking and shooting. When they peeked out from cover I snapped a stream into their third eye, and then I was bulling through the wide, revolving glass doors.
I managed to catch my breath by slowing down to a half-sprint on the way back to the parking lot. I pumped the pistol back to something approximating full strength on the way there. It’d been a lot of pistol work this hour and I was running down.
I heard footsteps pounding the pavement behind me and extended my arm, turning my head to stare down the gun at Keith. “Hey,” I called back as I kept running.
We rounded the corner to the Pediatrics building and I paused at the door. Small lobby with more doors just inside. Desk ahead and I could barely make out a grim looking little waiting room in the gloom past that.
I transitioned back to the rifle, pulled the door open and moved in quick and low. Keith walked in straight and tall behind me, slipping in and narrowly missing getting smacked by the door. He didn’t mind the thought of getting mistaken for a competitor and getting shot at, though that hadn’t happened yet today. Probably everyone saw the camera and assumed he was either staff or just didn’t want to shoot at a five grand piece of equipment.
Once more through a set of doors, and I pivoted, scanning a hundred and eighty degrees around me. Fenced off pharmacy to the left. Desk and waiting room ahead. Hallway with elevators to the right, blackness further down the hallway.
Time was running down, I’d have to be quick about thi – damn it! Water streaked by my face while I evaluated the area, and I jerked myself out of my thoughts.
I strafed towards the desk, pulsing out a rain of water down the right hand hallway. I bounced off the desk in what had become an almost expected maneuver, and tagged out one of the two who’d shot at me. The other spazzed out and tried to sidestep into a wall, bouncing off that in a move even more ridiculous than mine because they then bounced off their buddy. My gun hissed water at them, and I pumped as I calmly stepped into the waiting room. “Room Three” the voice had said. Probably ground level.
There was a massive children’s playhouse set into the right back corner of the waiting room and two doors in the left side wall. Looked like some sort of admitting desk with access to the street behind at the back. Plastic chairs lined the walls and stood in two rows in the middle of the room.
For a moment I could hear the squeals and happy shouts of children bouncing around frenetically inside that playhouse. Hell, I could hear one of them crying as their parent comforted them while they waited for a doctor. It wasn’t nostalgia that washed over me, it was…something else. Regret. Sadness. Self loathing.
Taking care of their kids.
I kicked the closest door in. I’d expected it to swing like the hospital doors had, but apparently this one wasn’t meant for gurneys or people in a hurry, because the lock door the door frame away with a satisfying splinter like a spine snapping. I was in a hallway with exam room doors on either side.
I turned the knob and barged in. The room was done up in pinks and reds, like a little girl’s room. Barbie crap on the walls, a ballerina border meeting the ceiling. Two chairs right hand wall, then a desk and cupboard. Two blue barrels looking very much crammed in along the back wall. I flashed the Surefire around the room, then walked over to the examination table and punched the telephone number markered into the paper on top into my phone.
I didn’t dial, it wasn’t ten yet. By, like, two minutes.
I stepped out into the hall and bumped into another woman. The creak of plastic as I collided with something hard told me that she was a player in this game, same as me. I fired the rifle from the hip, Tommy-gun style, before she could get over her surprise.
It was probably her husband who was guarding the waiting room, and he didn’t see me as I edged around the doorframe I’d shattered.
He paid for his inattention to detail with one hundred dollars as I snugged the tank of my rifle into my shoulder and fired twice, tagging him out. It was a good shot, I could barely see in the hazy shadow.
Keith was right behind me as I pushed out into the hot night air. The sweltering breeze rattled a beer can in the gutter, and I took a moment to push my hair back out of my face. I flapped the hem of my shirt a couple of times and succeeded in doing nothing but fanning warm air across my skin. At least it pulled my sweat-soaked shirt away. It stuck to me, a tacky uncomfortable layer.
I got in the car, took a few deep breaths, and dialed the next phone number.