WHEREIN Our Hero Attempts a Graceful Exit
The ward was sealed, as Amys had said, and every other room in the ward was empty. While convenient, it wasn’t something Grif found particularly reassuring: empty rooms were rooms that didn’t make money, and Grif was fairly certain MediCorp could fill the rooms with little difficulty. If a ward was empty of everyone but one patient, it was done so deliberately. The important question was “why?” The first answer that sprang to mind wasn’t one Grif liked very much.
They slipped into a room near the sealed door. Grif could see the nurse’s station through the door’s window, and a bit of the bustling hallway beyond. He sighed.
“We really need to get out of here.”
Amys’ mouth curled into a crooked half-smile. “Brilliant. That’s why you’re the captain.”
“That and my sterling moral character,” Grif said. “Where’s the nearest exit. Where’s the easiest exit?”
Amys thought. “Hangar one floor up. That’s where they brought you in. Exit to the first city is ten floors down.”
“Ten floors down is easy?”
“Easier than the hangar,” Amys said. “Unless you have access to an official hospital transport. Or Station Authority credentials.”
Grif shook his head. “First city exit it is. If we can get down there. Steal me some clothes, will you? There’s no way I’ll make it wearing pajamas and boots.”
“You do sort of stand out,” Amys agreed, handing Grif her rifle. “I’ll be back soon.” Grif heard the ward door unseal and reseal as she left, then all was silent.
Grif slung Amys’ rifle across his good shoulder, leaned against a wall, and rubbed his weak arm gingerly. It almost felt normal until he tried to do anything with it, then his arm erupted into spasms of pain. He could almost, but not quite, raise his arm level with his chest before the pain became too much to bear.
The ward door hissed as the seal broke and the door opened once more. “Grif?” Amys called softly.
“Here,” Grif said.
Amys poked her head into the room. “We’ve got help,” she said, and threw him a bundle of clothes. She stepped into the room, followed by a very perplexed Bennet Jax.
“Bennet!” Grif placed the bundle of clothing on the empty patient’s bed, unslung the rifle, and handed it back to Amys. “Welcome to the part where we seriously piss off a corporate barony.”
Bennet stared at Grif blankly. “Exactly what the hell is going on?”
“Long story,” Grif said, and kicked off his boots.
“Station Authority wants to hand Grif over to a Sword,” Amys said.
“OK,” Grif said, disrobing and reaching for the bundled clothes, “apparently not a long story. It feels like a long story, though…”
“A Sword.” Bennet stared at Grif, no expression on his face whatsoever. “You’re sure?”
“Yep.” Grif slipped on a pair of pants. “They do show up in Trade Baron space from time to time. Not very often. Barons get twitchy around them, because… well. You know. They’re insane telepaths.”
“So this Baron has seen fit to overcome her innate twitchiness to hand you over to a Sword?”
“Sounds stupid, I know, but we’ve got five dead men in a back room laid out as a testament to the willingness of governments to do stupid things.”
“Right…” Bennet nodded. “Well, that won’t do. We’ve got to get you back to the Fool’s Errand and get the hell out of here. I better contact the Major…”
“First of all, no.” Grif pulled a shirt over his head. “Second, comm links can’t get out of the first city without tying into their comm network–we are underground, after all. And I wouldn’t count on the comm network being a secure line. And third? Hell no. I’d almost rather get caught by the Sword…”
He tucked his pulse pistol into his waistband at the small of his back, and pulled the shirt down so it fell to his hips, concealing the weapon nicely. The clothing was more expensive than he preferred, but it was infinitely preferable to the thin material the guards had given him, and it fit well–especially the shoes, which was a relief.
“Better,” Grif said.
“Much better,” Amys agreed.
The ward door hissed as its seal broke, and it slid open. Grif, Amys, and Bennet pressed themselves up against the wall, out of the line of sight of the hallway. Grif gripped his pulse pistol with his good hand, and Amys readied her rifle. Bennet, Grif noticed, was now armed as well. He wondered how Bennet had smuggled it past hospital security.
“Well all I can say is it was very irregular.” It was the doctor who’d treated Grif. “Station Authority never acted like this before, even with prisoners. There are protocols and guidelines, and the hospital is supposed to be notified in advance…” The voice grew softer as the doctor and whoever he was with continued down the hall.
“I know I’m the new guy,” Bennet said, “but I think we should leave.”
Grif nodded sharply. “Amys, you better leave the rifle behind. It’s going to attract attention.”
Amys nodded and set the rile against the wall. Bennet offered her a second pistol, which he had pulled from… somewhere. She took it, nodding her thanks, and tucked it under her waistband. A few clothing adjustments later, it was hidden from view.
“Come on then.” Grif stepped into the hallway, unsealed the ward door, and walked into the reception area.
It was a spacious room, rectangular in design, and opened into wide hallways on the left and the right. The nurses’ station was set up next to the door, a u-shaped station with two terminals built into the desk. Chairs, couches, and small tables were arranged in the room so that people could move from one hallway to the other without obstruction. A wall on the far wall displayed a Tyrelos Barony newscast.
A few people sat in the reception area, half-watching the news, or reading. One nurse was at the nurse’s station. He didn’t bother looking up. The hallways were fairly busy, but there was little crossover traffic from one hallway to the other.
Directions and arrows were stamped into the floor in various places. On the right hallway floor, the word EXIT was stamped in large red letters. Grif walked quickly but casually down the right hall, Amys and Bennet in tow, following the EXIT marks until the hallway ended. At the end of a hall was a door, the right and left walls had three lifts each. Over the door a sign read STAIRS.
“Ten floors down,” Amys murmured.
Grif nodded, went to a lift, and pushed the down button.
The door opened almost immediately. Grif stepped back, startled, as four Station Authority guards stepped out and rushed in the direction of the waiting room.
“Not reassuring,” Bennet said.
“No,” Amys agreed.
“Let’s not take the lifts,” Bennet suggested. “If there’s trouble they might cut the power.”
Grif nodded reluctantly. They hurred to the door at the end of the hall. Amys pushed a button to the right of the door, and it slid open with a soft “whoosh.”
“You there,” a voice commanded. “Stop!”
“Running now,” Grif said, and rushed through the door.
“Stop!” the voice called again.
“Running now!” Grif shouted, and ran down the stairs.
The whine of a pulse rifle cut through the air; energy burned into the arch above the door. Grif ran down the stairs two at a time, pulling out the pulse pistol he’d tucked under his shirt. Amys, her own pistol in hand, ducked behind the door frame and returned fire. Someone down the hall shouted in alarm.
“Shoot later!” Grif shouted. “Run now!”
Half a flight down they heard Station Authority enter the stairwell above them. Someone shouted an order, and bolts of energy burst over their heads.
Grif grabbed the rail with his left arm and vaulted over the side, aiming to land on the stairs below. He shrieked as his arm collapsed, and he toppled forward, tumbling headlong down the stairs onto the next landing.
Amys and Bennet crouched behind the rails and fired back. The guards fell back behind the door, and Amys leaped over the rail, reaching the landing as Grif picked himself up off the floor.
Amys helped him up. “You OK?”
“No.” Grif grimaced and picked up his gun. “But I’m getting used to the agony.”
The door opened. Grif and Amys immediately opened fire as a group of Station Authority guards backed out of view. Bennet appeared above them, firing up the stairs as he retreated.
Grif closed the door and shot the control panel, stepping back to avoid the sparks. “This isn’t good.”
Amys looked over the rail. “It’s about to get worse.”
Grif heard the sound of booted feet below them.
“They’re coming up,” Amys said.
“They’re not coming down,” Bennet said. “I think I got ’em all.”
Amys fired a few shots over the rail. Grif heard cursing, and a shouted order to pull back.
“A plan would be good right now,” Bennet said.
“I’m thinking,” Grif said. The door on their level shuddered.
“That door won’t stay closed forever.” Bennet sounded slightly impatient.
“I know!” Grif shouted. “You’re the super-spy, right? Think of something?”
“This isn’t the kind of thing we plan for,” Bennet snapped. “This is the kind of thing we plan on avoiding.”
Amys fired a few more shots down the stairs, then stepped back. Energy slammed into the railing and the stairs above them.
“This isn’t going to get any better,” Grif said. “Back up the stairs. Hurry!”
They sprinted back up the stairs. Halfway up they found the bodies of five Station Authority guards. Amys took one of the rifles. Bennet took another.
They nearly reached the landing when the door to the hall opened: a guard stepped through, with more behind. Amys and Bennet fired in unison, and the first guard fell. Grif fired and missed, shooting through the doorway and hitting the ceiling. The other guards pulled back.
Grif heard something moving behind him. He turned and saw the barrel of a rifle peeking up over the edge of the stairs.
“They’re coming up!” Grif pointed his pistol over the rail and fired blindly into the stairs below. He heard cursing and the sound of people scattering. Amys and Bennet were at the stairwell now, shooting into the hall.
A piece of the door frame exploded, and the lights in the stairwell flickered as the conduits along the ceiling began to overheat.
Grif saw another barrel and fired over the railing again. This time the rifle returned fire. Grif pulled back.
“We’re working on it,” Bennet said. “It’s not as easy as it looks…”
“Well I can’t hold these guys off much longer.” Grif tried to peer over the lip of the stairwell without exposing himself. “Sooner or later they’ll realize it’s just one pistol…”
From below someone shouted “it’s just one pistol!”
“Damn it all to hell,” Grif muttered.
Amys rolled her eyes. “Nice work.”
“You know,” Bennet said, trying to sound calm, “I didn’t really think we’d run into any trouble until we actually tried to get into Ur Voys.”
“Oh yeah,” Grif said. “About that…”
Bennet narrowed his eyes. “About what?”
A guard popped up from under the stair. Grif opened fire and hit her in the shoulder, knocking her back down.
“Hall is clear,” Amys said. “Come on.”
Grif shot down the stairs again, turned, and ran for the door. At that moment, the guards decided to rush en masse.
Part of the wall melted as Grif, Amys and Bennet ran through the doorway, out of the stairwell, and into the hall. Amys and Bennet positioned themselves on either side of what was left of the wall and returned fire. Grif started searching the bodies of the dead guards in the hall.
“Now is not the time to loot corpses!” Amys shouted.
“I’m not looting!” Grif shouted back. “This has nothing to do with money whatsoever!”
“What was the misunderstanding?” Bennet asked. A terminal next to the doorway exploded in a shower of sparks over his head.
“What?” Energy smashed into a set of lift doors, scoring them.
“Misunderstanding!” Bennet snaked around the doorframe and fired two quick shots. “You said there was a misunderstanding!”
“Yes!” Grif cried, and pulled three oval objects off of a dead guard’s belt. “I knew one of them would have these! Amys! Crowd control!”
He threw one of the ovals to Amys, who caught it, twisted it, and pushed both ends together. The oval beeped and she threw it down the stairs. Grif heard a panicked shout, and an instant later the stairwell shuddered.
“Compression grenade,” Amys said. “Technically non-lethal.”
“We were lucky,” Grif said. “He was getting ready to use one when Bennet shot him.” He handed the other two ovals to Amys.
Bennet turned to look at Grif. “You were saying?”
“Not right now, sorry,” Grif said. “Priorities. Avoid death by armed guards now, awkward confessions later.”
Bennet narrowed his eyes but said nothing.
“What are we going to do?” Amys asked.
Grif’s mind raced. “You said there was a hangar one level up?”
Amys nodded. “That’s where the medical transport dropped you off.”
“We’ll give that a shot. If we can get to something that flies I can try and get us some place safe.”
“This way,” Amys said, and ran toward the recovery ward.
As they raced through the lobby, more guards appeared from the other hallway. Grif and Bennet managed to get behind the nurse’s station as the guards opened fire. Amys took cover behind the sliding door that led to the recovery rooms.
“One… two… three…” On three, Grif and Bennet each popped up over the nurse’s station and opened fire. Grif missed completely, Bennet felled a guard. As they drew back, the guards returned fire, obliterating a good fourth of the nurses’ station.
Grif started to laugh.
“Is now a good time for confessions?” Bennet asked. “I don’t like to die curious.”
Amys opened fire from the doorway. Bennet and Grif rolled to the edges of the nurses’ station—now somewhat narrower than it had been moments before–and opened fire. Three guards fell that time, but more were coming to take their place.
Grif and Bennet crawled back behind the nurses’ station. It shuddered as energy tore off the ends even further.
“Oh, all right,” Grif said. “As it happens, I never actually…”
Another piece of the nurses’ station disintegrated near Grif’s left hand. He yelped and moved a bit to his right.
“I never actually broke into Ur Voys, per se…”
Bennet was so surprised Grif had to pull him back as the nurses’ station continued to diminish in size. “Per se? You didn’t break in per se? Define per se.”
“Not so much ‘per se’ as ‘at all…'”
Another chunk of the nurses’ station blew away, and Grif and Bennet rolled out to return fire.
When they rolled back behind the station–now barely wider than the two of them shoulder-to-shoulder–Bennet asked “anything else I need to know?”
Grif considered the question.
“I’m a lousy shot,” he admitted.
“Heads down!” Amys shouted. Grif and Bennet covered their heads as something beeped. Amys threw an oval object over the nurses’ station and into the room.
There was a shuddering boom. Bits of chairs flew across the room. When the dust cleared, the room was quiet.
“Took you long enough,” Grif said.
“I was waiting for a decent crowd,” Amys replied. “Didn’t want to waste it.”
Grif stood and looked around cautiously. The guards were lying on the ground, moaning and twitching. “Let’s go,” he said. “Amys… after you.”
Amys nodded, and helped Bennet to his feet.
“Grif says he never broke in to Ur Voys,” Bennet said, bewildered.
“I know,” Amys said. “That’s what you get for trusting a smuggler.”
“You realize,” Amys continued, “that Bennet is going to have to tell your sister exactly what you told him.”
Grif’s grin widened. “You’re assuming we survive this. You big softy.”
“You’re both crazy,” Bennet muttered.
Amys moved carefully across the waiting room to the other hall. Grif followed.
“We’re crazy?” Grif shook his head. “You’re the one working for a top-secret Alliance organization that hired an infamous liar to break into a place you had no proof he’d ever been.”
“So how did you get the anagathics?” Bennet asked.
“Luck,” Grif said.
Bennet shook his head. “She’s going kill me right along with you,” he muttered.
“Uh… let’s table that discussion for another day,” Grif said, looking around suspiciously. “Has anyone else noticed anything strange?”
“What,” Amys asked, “Like people shooting at us in a hospital?”
“No,” Grif answered. “Like people not shooting at us in a hospital… and no doctors in the hospital… or nurses…”
“Or patients,” Amys added, frowning.
Grif’s eyes stung. Bennet coughed. Grif felt his lungs burn.
“To the recovery rooms!” Grif choked.
Station Authority was flooding the hospital with gas–from the smell of it, a particularly nasty crowd pacifier.
Trying not to breathe, Grif ran through the door into the recovery room hallway. He rushed into the first room he found and started opening wall panels at random. Finally his eyes locked onto a small white canister with the words OXYGEN stamped on it. It was a quick breather, used by first aid and trauma teams.
Or, as circumstances warranted, when a hospital was being flooded with gas.
Grif twisted the face mask to the “on” position and placed it over his nose and mouth. He waited a second and then took a deep breath, coughing as he did so.
Amys staggered into the room, clutching the wall. He pushed the quick breather over her face and held it steady as she took a breath. He left the quick breather with her as he went back into the hallway and ducked into the next room down to get another. He found two. When he returned, Amys and Bennet were sharing the first.
He handed a fresh breather to Bennet, who quickly turned it on and placed it over his face. Grif did the same with his, and realized that he was now completely useless. Quick breathers didn’t come with straps: they were held over the patient by a nurse or an orderly. Grif’s good arm was stuck holding the oxygen… he couldn’t fire his gun.
“Let’s try and make it to the hangar,” Grif said, voice muffled through the mask. He suspected they had a little time before Station Authority came back in force.
Amys nodded and headed back into the hall. She walked as quickly as she could–not daring to run, half-blinded as she was by the gas–down the opposite hall.
Tears streaming down his face, Grif stumbled after her, dimly aware of Bennet stumbling behind him, coughing behind his mask. Eventually they came to a lift door. It was deactivated.
Amys opened a door to the right of the lift. Before them was another set of stairs. Amys pointed up. Grif and Bennet nodded.
At the top of the stairs they found a door and a ladder that led up to a closed maintenance hatch. Amys pointed up at the hatch. Grif looked at it in frustration.
How was he supposed to climb up there with only one good arm?
Amys took a deep breath, set her quick breather on the floor, and climbed the ladder to the hatch. It was an old-style mechanical hatch, with a wheel in the center that set and released the seal. Amys needed both hands to move the wheel. Eventually it turned, and the hatch cracked open a few centimeters.
Amys peered through the crack cautiously, waiting. Then she climbed back down and grabbed the breather, inhaling deeply. She walked over to Grif, and put her head close to his so he could hear her through the mask. “I didn’t see anything,” she said.
Grif shrugged. “How am I supposed to climb that ladder?” He asked. He raised his left arm and winced from the effort.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “We’ll help.”
Tucking the breather under her arm, she quickly scaled the ladder. She reached up for the hatch, hesitated, then pushed the hatch completely open and climbed up.
Peering up through the hatch, Grif saw that the room beyond was dimly lit and filled with thick, insulated cabling. When he saw Amys again, he noticed she wasn’t using the quick breather.
“There’s good air up here,” she said. “Grif, you next. Bennet, try and keep him steady down there, if we can get him up a third of the way I’ll pull him up the rest of it.”
It was an awkward process, but eventually Grif made it up the ladder and into a small room filled with machinery. Bennet came up soon after, gasping for breath, and Amys quickly closed and sealed the hatch behind him.
“Air,” Bennet gasped. “Good.”
Grif nodded, wiping his face with his sleeve, waiting for his eyes to stop stinging.
Amys grinned. “That was almost fun. What’s next?”
Bennet looked from Grif to Amys and shook his head. “I’m not sure which of you is crazier,” he said.
Amys pointed at Grif. Grif shrugged modestly.