|janecarnall (janecarnall) wrote,|
@ 2009-08-02 11:32:00
In The Mouth Of The Wolf: Part 5
I leave for Montreal very first thing tomorrow, but I promise I will post Part 6 either tomorrow or soon after: (or possibly, very late tomorrow evening). Part 7 is *still being written*, but I do know what happens and I won't keep you waiting any longer than I have to. I am taking my laptop with me to Montreal.
The previous stories in this series (my Keptverse) began with The Games (six parts) and continued with The Network (one part), The Players (seven parts), The Gambler (seven parts), The Pieces (seven parts), and End-Game (5 parts).
There are parts one two, three and four of "In the Mouth of the Wolf", the sixth and final section of this story.
The story may be regarded as fanfic set in poisontaster's Keptverse. There is a species of cast list here.
You may want to go back and re-read parts 3 and 4 (at least) before you begin on Part 5. Or not. As you please.
There was no sense of familiarity about the hospital corridors. The colour was wrong. They seemed emptier than Kimble remembered, quieter. The smell was the same. Kimble knew the way, but it felt as if he were seeing everything from the wrong angle, as if his height or his eyesight had changed in five years.
The door to research lab one was locked. There was no one in the outer room – the whole research area felt deserted. Kimble had seen no one, heard no one, for some time as they moved through the hospital, and these corridors and offices felt empty.
Sam sat down on the nearest chair. He looked exhausted: his mouth opened as if he were trying to say something, but Kimble turned away. There was a noticeboard with memos and lists of researchers and supervisors, mostly names he did not recognise, but Doctor Charles Nicholls was listed, head of pathology: Kimble stopped to look, to remember. There was a white lab coat hanging by itself on the row of hooks over on the far wall. Underneath the coat, someone had put a postit note on the wall with an eight-digit number. The security rules had been to change the lock codes every quarter, and for weeks afterwards, almost everyone hid a note somewhere with the new number. Who would break into a research lab to steal damaged slaves?
There was an airlock kind of arrangement inside: a double door. The outer door closed automatically: the inner door was controlled by a switch outside the outer one.
Kimble stared at the door: he hadn't thought about it until this moment. The cages inside were locked: probably – his mind fumbled along, feeling awkward at his own stupidity – probably each research project had its own code. He would have known that. He hadn't thought about it. He hadn't known about the double door, but it made sense when he thought about it: why hadn't he thought about it? He hadn't thought about how he was going to get them out, or get their collars off, or get their chips out...
“Richard?” Sam said. Kimble heard him as if from a very long way away. He turned to look at him. He could wedge the chair in the outer door. If Sam were left outside, he could close the switch, he could lock Kimble inside. He still didn't know how he was going to get the cages open.
“Get up,” Kimble heard himself say. Sam came to his feet without saying anything. The chair was light enough to be lifted with one hand: Kimble took hold of Sam's forearm with his other hand. He opened the first door, and dropped the chair across the outer doorway. When he turned the switch the smell of the inner room came out to meet him with greedy, seeking fingers. He firmed his grip on Sam's arm and together they stepped inside.
The room was brightly lit: he only felt as if he stood in darkness. Down both sides of the room, the cages, each one large enough to hold an adult man.
The people in the cages were lying on the floor. The stench in the room was of cooked meat, and burned plastic with charred metal, and cooked meat with blood, and shit from loosened sphincters, and cooked meat.
A weight caught him like his own horror behind his knees, bringing him down: Sam was falling with him, as if they had been felled by the same death.
Richard put his hands to his own throat, trying to wedge his fingers under the collar. He was cold all the way through. He was cold and he could not get his fingers under the collar, though he could feel it burning him.
Death stood over them, skeletal-thin, chained by the throat: death was a slave and he was dead. The people in the cages were cooked meat. He could not get the collar off. He was burning.
There was a narrow thread of sound that seemed to be real. Richard rolled over and pushed himself up and looked at the man curled on the floor next to him, his mouth open and his face wet: Sam, he knew, while he could not think if Sam was a slave or his owner.
“Are you Doctor Richard Kimble?” The man leaning over him was a slave.
“No,” Richard said, without thought. “Not any more.” He sat up: his neck hurt savagely. “Sam, did you fall on your hands?”
Sam's mouth closed, his breath and the sound stopped. He shook his head.
“Sam, did you know they all had convict collars?”
Sam didn't move. His face was wet in tracks from his eyes. He shook his head again.
“Don't lie to me, Sam,” Richard whispered. “You knew.” When he stood, the other man scrambled backwards, staring up at him, his face twisted up in a frown. Richard took hold of Sam's arms above the wrists and pulled him up. The other man used the wall to get up, and lurched to the door: Richard followed, almost heaving Sam with him.
The other man had gone to the water cooler, still limping, and was drinking, one cup and then another. Richard pushed Sam into a chair and took a cup of water. He was opening the container when the man said “Vicodin?”
“Yes,” Richard said. “Did you hurt your leg? Want one?” Sam had stopped making the thin breathy noise, but he was still shaking. If he hadn't fallen directly on his hands, he had hurt himself in the fall. He glanced at the clock: in half an hour's time, night shift would start at the arena. The injected painkiller would be wearing off anyway. The burns unit would need to know what Sam had been given. Richard shook out one Vicodin and handed the container to the man: he had to put the pill into Sam's unresisting mouth, and Sam gulped at the water to swallow.
The man closed the container and handed it back. “Who are you?”
Sam swallowed. He said, without any inflection, “Samuel Gerard, United States Marshal. Retired. Who are you?”
“Greg,” the man said. “Doctor Kimble – ” Richard flinched. “You are Doctor Kimble, aren't you?”
“No,” Richard said, flatly. “Not any more. I'm looking for Doctor Nichols.”
“Well, you won't find him in there.” Greg filled the cup he'd drunk from again, swigged it down, and stared round the room. “What time is it? What day is it?”
“I had it figured,” Greg said. He was leaning back against the wall, most of his weight on one leg. “I had it all planned. You're early but that's good. I had it all planned.”
“What?” Richard stared at him.
“Well, it's no good now,” Greg said. “I planned on being dead right about now. I had it figured I'd probably get shot even before I got a drink.” He laughed. “And you show up with Vicodin. Doctor Richard Kimble. Where did I dream you up from? I didn't even like you all that much.”
“Do I know you?”
“Former Doctor Wilson's former body-slave,” Greg said. “But I don't think my face was ever higher than your belt, any time I was in the same room as you.”
James Wilson had been investigated, charged, and convicted of buying ex-body-slaves with hospital funds, supposedly for Final experimentation, in practice for sexual use: he'd been permanently suspended six years ago, and the rules about purchase and disposition of Final slaves had been tightened up. Chicago General had of course been compensated with all of Wilson's property. That might have included any slaves he'd bought with his own money – Richard didn't remember.
“I need to get Sam to the burns unit,” Richard said, after a moment.
“Thought you wanted Doctor Nichols. He's Pathology. He was down in the main hall last time I saw him, sorting out slaves. They're probably all dead by now.”
“I need a wheelchair,” Richard said.
Greg shrugged. “I haven't got one.”
“I don't need a wheelchair,” Sam said. He sounded impossibly tired, his words slurring. “I heard gunfire. Earlier. Sounded like a firefight. Off thataway. Get out of here, Richard.”
“I heard something blow up,” Greg said. “Twice. Felt it more than heard it, those walls are soundproof. What happened?”
Sam was learning back in the chair, his shoulders slumped and his head down. Richard took a deep breath and said, “Sam says there's a revolution. To overthrow Commerce and free all the slaves.” It sounded less absurd to him now he'd seen the smoke of buildings on the wind, but he was still standing in a lab at Chicago General talking to a collared slave about a change that couldn't happen. He touched his neck again and realised as if through opening fog that he had hurt himself, digging his own hands into the burn mark. “Sam says Commerce triggered the convict collars when they took the threat seriously.” He stopped.
Greg wasn't looking at him in disbelief, at his words or his very existence, but nodding as if what Richard was saying made sense. “They were saying, last night, in the dorms. There was going to be a massacre today.”
“There was,” Sam said. He whispered it. His head came back with a lurch and he stared at Greg, at Richard. “Two thousand slaves. Ten percent of the workforce at Devlin Macgregor. They started the killing this morning. The slaves fought back. We'd been smuggling arms into the country. Arms and explosives. We meant this to happen. I knew Commerce would trigger the convict collars.” He was still not much more than whispering. “I knew it. I did it.”
Greg was still nodding. “Yeah,” he said, as if agreeing with a commonplace. “Makes sense. Devlin Macgregor owns a chunk of this hospital, they'd know we knew about the massacre, if I'd cared I'd have told them to shut up about it last night. That's why they rounded us all up this morning. All the slaves in the hospital – ” he began to laugh, not hysterically but as if he really had seen a joke “ – except for us, that is – are probably dead by now.” He was still laughing. “I'm not hallucinating you. You're actually here. I couldn't hallucinate this.” He straightened up from the wall and stood on both legs, lurching to the right and grabbing on to the chair Sam was sitting in. “My leg doesn't hurt. You really are here. I took two Vicodin and I think I'm too stoned to care but we're probably all going to get shot. Where did you say you wanted to go?”
“Burns unit,” Richard said.
“Oh?” Still clutching at Sam's chair, Greg stared close-up at Richard's neck, and then pushed himself upright and looked down at Sam's hands in the puffy, battered-looking green gloves.
“Okay,” he said at last. He was no longer laughing. “Who cut your collar off? When?”
“How badly are his hands burned? Because if he kept his hands in between the collar and your neck until the collar burned off, he wouldn't have any hands left, and you probably wouldn't be alive either. Someone must have cut your collar off – how long did it burn his hands for?”
“Minutes – ” Richard shook his head. “I don't remember.”
“If we can find a gurney, that's better than nothing,” Greg said. “We won't get there, you know? If they've started shooting, they'll shoot us.”
From the corridor outside, footsteps. Booted, fast-moving: the sound of guards, Richard thought: soldiers. He glanced back at the Final lab. If he'd gone to find Doctor Nichols first, he might have got here in time to kill him.
“Too late,” he said, quietly, and put a hand on Sam's shoulder. It wasn't likely that, here, a US Marshal's ID could be used to save either himself or Greg, but they might not shoot Sam if his badge was visible.
The door opened. Half a dozen uniformed soldiers, all armed. Richard froze. Neither of the other two spoke or moved. Two of the soldiers stopped, guns pointing at the three of them, one stayed out in the corridor, the other three went on into the Final lab. They came out after only a minute.
“All dead,” one of them reported.
“I know,” Greg said.
“Were you in there?” A corporal, from the stripes. There was something odd about the uniforms. Richard couldn't place it.
“I belong to Chicago General,” Greg said. “They all died in there.”
“Yeah, we got that,” the corporal said. She gestured at one of the other soldiers, who caught Greg by the collar and did something so abruptly that Richard hardly realised what had happened till the heavy chain fell with a clatter on to the ground.
“We are the United States Free Military, representing the Free People of the United States,” the corporal said. You could hear the capitals. “You are now a free person. You will receive a full explanation of your status and current events via the news channels: we recommend you find a television and bring yourself up to date. If you have any medical training kindly report to the ER, this hospital is now an official emergency aid station under the International Red Cross. What are those two?”
“Slaves,” Greg said. He was rubbing his neck. “They work in the offices here. They came to get me out.”
“Either of you collared?” the corporal asked. What was odd about her uniform was that the USNA insignia had been clipped off.
Richard shook his head. Sam lifted his head and stared at the corporal, who looked back at him for an instant, frowning.
“No,” Sam said.