Nate leaned against the wall, trying to keep out of the way of the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff who were rushing back and forth. The hospital was running well beyond its capacity, he was sure of that.
There were wounded people everywhere you looked.
People like himself, with minor injuries never even saw a ward. A harried looking Doctor had examined the wound on Nate's head briefly, declared that it wasn’t serious and left; leaving an equally overworked nurse to dress the wound and strap his broken fingers up.
Then you had the more severely wounded, those with serious injuries, but not life threatening. They stood around, leaning on each other for support, and were treated as soon as someone could get to them. He watched as one youth, gray faced and sweating, with a very obviously broken arm was lead away by a nurse.
And finally there was those who were in imminent danger of death. They were normally brought in on stretchers of gurneys, accompanied by paramedics. No waiting for them, they were rushed straight through the waiting area and into Accident/Emergency.
He didn't even want to think about what it would be like if the hospital didn't have an emergency generator.
When the Grid went down, there had been uncounted road accidents, ranging from minor bumps up to multi-car pileups. Then there were the more serious accidents, like the train crash he'd survived.
To top it all off, he was hearing rumors of that an office block and caught fire down town, people were trapped on the upper floors and the buildings (electrical) fire suppression system had failed.
The fire service was having trouble getting through the stranded traffic to where they were needed.
All the emergency services were running beyond their limits.
To make matters worse, the crazies were crawling out of the woodwork, and violence was springing up across the city.
A temporary call routing station had been set up here in the hospital. From where he was standing, Nate could hear the voices of the operators and those they talked to, as they struggled to co-ordinate the limited manpower and machinery as efficiently as possible.
Nate did his best to keep out of peoples way. He'd been told that a message had been gotten through to Alicia, and that they were waiting for a reply. We think she's on her way here, kid. Wait over there and stay outta the way.
We watched as the doors slid open to admit another gurney, a blood stained woman on it, staring sightlessly up at the ceiling. There was two medics with it, one was pushing it, almost running, whilst the other kept pace alongside, trying to restart the woman's heart. A doctor and nurse came running out of Emergency and headed straight for them, the Doctor slipped into place opposite the medic and smoothly took over CPR as the medic stepped back. The nurse grabbed the front of the gurney, and pulled it through the doors, running backwards, looking over her shoulder.
The medic pushing the trolley let go and stopped, staring after the gurney. Then he shook his head and walked back out the front door.
The other medic watched him leave, then found her way to a seat and collapsed into it.
Recognition finally clicked for Nate, it was Jess. He made to cross the room, but jumped back as another pair of medics burst in, pushing a gurney with a screaming girl on it.
He waited for them to pass and scooted across before anyone else came on.
As he approached, Jess reached for her radio, missed it looked down and tried again.
Exhausted, she flicked the send button. 'Central... this is M1-7... I'm off the air till I get some shuteye.'
She tried to reattach the radio, gave up and left it in her lap.
Exhausted, she watched the doctors rushing back and forth and didn't notice Nate till he sat down next to her.
She gave him a tired smile. 'Hey….'
'Heya. You look beat.'
The smile turned wry 'Good, cause I'd hate to look fresh with how I feel... How you holding up?'
Yeah thought Nate. They might send you out again. You'd probably fall asleep and fall off your bike. He smiled inwardly.
'Well, it hurts whenever I do this.' He prodded at the head wound with his broken fingers.
Jess looked at him blankly for a moment, then started to chuckle. 'Then don’t do that.'
Nate put on his best mock surprised face. 'I never thought of that…'
She gave Nate a tired smile, which he returned.
'I'm much better actually. Once I got outta that tunnel, I was fine.'
Jess nodded. 'I can definitely understand that, give me a nice bright room with plenty of exits…'
Nate looked at her, his eyes narrowed in puzzlement. Again, I am left wondering what happened to you.
He shrugged. 'The dark itself don't bother me, I'm a Poltergeist Shaman, it comes with the territory. It was the combination of blind AND trapped that freaked me, mainly the trapped bit, like I said, don't mind the dark.'
Jess spoke very quietly, mainly to her self, oblivious to Nate's presence. 'Things hide in the dark…' then she seemed to remember where she was and looked round at Nate. 'You did really well in there. Kept your head.'
Nate shrugged and looked down at his strapped up fingers. 'I tell you something, my tutors wouldn’t be impressed with my control method.'
Jess considered that for a moment. 'But you do what you can with what you got.'
Nate smiled. 'Yeah. No point wishing for the mental calm to control myself the way I normally do. Wasn’t gonna happen.'
Jess nodded an agreement. 'There are some places and situations where … nothing works.'
Nate nodded and stared at the floor, suddenly morose. 'Yeah, you should see what happened to the place I grew up.' For some reason her comment and brought back memories of his parents, the environment he'd grown up in, and how he'd come to leave it.
He examined the toes of his shoes glumly.
Jess tilted her head slightly and looked at him. 'Wanna talk about it?'
Nate frowned and leaned back, staring at the ceiling, lost in his memories. Mother, Father, where are you now?
Jess watched him, wondering what had caused this sudden shift in mood.
Finally, Nate spoke. 'Y'know, sometimes I wonder what good talking does.' He shrugged and sighed.
'You can't change what's happened. But maybe that's the point. Accept you can't change it, and move on…'
Jess lets her breath out slowly. 'Sometimes that's harder than it sounds.' It sounded as if she was speaking from experience. But Nate was lost in his own thoughts, and didn’t stop to think about it.
'Harder than it sounds? Tell me about it.' He looked down, stared at the floor for a few seconds, then said with unexpected directness. 'I lost my entire life in five minutes.'
Jess tilted her head, wondering where this was going. 'Life is like that … I know. I've seen it. Lived it.'
Nate must have heard the edge in her voice because he suddenly looked sideways at her, the puzzled expression passing across his face again. He tried to smile, but it faded quickly. 'That makes two of us.'
Jess shook her head gently. ' Sorry... I get philosophical when I get tired.'
Nate returned to staring at the ceiling. He shrugged. 'Shall I go first then?'
Jess nodded. 'Please.'
Nate sat staring at the ceiling for a few moments more, not really seeing it. His vision was turned inward, examining memories. Jess waited patiently.
Finally, he spoke. 'December 19th, 2059.' He switched his attention from the ceiling back to the toe of his shoe. 'What does that date mean to you?' When Jess didn't answer for several seconds, Nate looked round at her. Trying to place the date. He thought. Then he caught the look on her face.
Jess had gone completely white, her breathing erratic. She drew in a deep, trembling breath before she replied and her voice was barely a whisper. 'Nothing good…'
Damn, Nathan thought, You were involved too? 'Same here, I can see you know what I'm talking about. Maybe more than you deserve to. I grew up in there.'
When Jess looked at him, her expression was difficult to read, even to someone like Nathan who made a hobby of learning about people, understanding them. There was too much mixed up in there. Bad memories, remembered fear, concern and … an apology? 'You … you got out?'
Nate shook his head. 'No. You have the look of someone who did.' He sighed. 'I was outside at the time. Luck. Pure, blind, luck.' He moved his feet slightly, switched his attention to the floor. 'My parents, my friends, my old life. They're all still in there.'
Jess nodded, relief flickering across her face quickly. Relief that he hadn't been inside. When Nathan mentioned his family, she looked down, at the radio cradled in her lap. 'I'm sorry…'
Nate looked sidelong at her, then returned to regarding the white tiles of the floor, there was a line of muddy foot prints across them, left by one of the medics who'd brought a victim in. 'Is it your fault? ... ... Then don't apologize. Nothing that you, or I or anyone could have done would have changed what happened.'
Jess didn't look up from her radio. She fiddled with the switches on top of it. 'Took me a long time to realize that.' Her voice was still very quiet.
Nate nodded. 'Same here, and I keep forgetting. I've got magic. I've heard the rumors about what's happening in there. I believe them. Wish I didn't. Maybe, maybe if I was in there, I could have used my power to defend my parents, my friends.'
Jess shook her head slowly. 'No…' She looked up at him, her haunted expression showing that a lot of old ghosts had come out to play. 'There's nothing you could have done, except…' She tailed off.
Now I understand. Nate thought to himself. You've seen more than you should. How did you get out? 'except?...'
She looked at him and shook her head. 'Die... or survive... those were the only choices... and you didn't get to make them…'
Nate suddenly sat forward, looking almost angry. 'No. You've always got a choice about whether or not you die. I nearly killed myself in my first week Outside. Grief and anger. Ranraku just didn't seem to care about all the people trapped inside. They wanted their hardware back. Nothing more. But I didn't. I CHOSE not to.'
Jess was trembling when she replied, but her expression was gentle. Listen to me and understand was the message that it communicated to Nathan
'I tried... tried to survive... but you could only hide for so long... I...' She shook her head. Jess was surprised when Nathan suddenly looked up from the floor, directly into her eyes, subjecting her to an oddly piercing stare, like he was trying to read her emotions.
'You saw them, didn't you? You saw the rooms…'
Before Jess could answer, Nate's expression suddenly gentled and he looked away, leaving her wondering what he had seen in her face.
'I - I'm sorry. I shouldn't not talk of this…'
Pain probably, she decided.
Nate sat with his head in his hands, eyes closed. He breathed deeply, trying to calm himself the way his instructors had taught him. Well done. He thought. All you've done is stir up old pain. In her and you.
Jess reached out to him, but something held her back. She settled for folding her arms instead. 'It…' She stared across the room for a moment, not really seeing it, then glanced up at the ceiling. 'I… We… no one stood a chance.'
Nate raised his head from his hands, pain and anger in his eyes. He spoke quietly. 'That wouldn't have stopped me trying. Wouldn't have stopped me from fighting just as hard as I could have.'
Jess realized that a lot of Nathan's pain came from the fact that he had never even been given the chance to fight. He probably felt that he had betrayed his family and friends by not being inside that night.
'I tired... but... but...' She looked away, the haunted expression taking on a new dimension. 'It knew me… knew my weaknesses… Once they had me…' She shook her head. "I was rescued... took me a long time to come back... a long time.'
Nate's expression changed, a flicker of guilt showing before he looked away, he made to get up. 'I… I'm sorry. Sorry that I made you remember. I think that maybe I should go now. '
She reached out to him. "no... stay... "
Nate sat, gradually relaxing into the seat. He stared at the floor. 'I can't ever know what you went through. What anyone in there went through, but I know this. Rather than let it happen to anyone with me, Id have killed to defend them.
Jess lets her breath out slowly. It wouldn't have done any good...'
But Nate wasn't really listening. 'I'd have killed THEM, rather than let them be taken. '
'I did... I used a defibrillator… something that was meant to save lives… and so help me…" Jess stopped, looked around the waiting room.
'Nobody knew until it was too late... they had machines… psychotic machines... '
Nate nodded, he'd heard about them on the rumor mill. 'I've heard a little about them. Nightmare stuff, Spiders, mantas, medusas, talking dolls… '
Jess finished the sentence for him. 'People… wired… in…'
'Yeah, that as well.'
'I was almost out, when it happened…'
Nate looked up. 'Yeah?'
Jess shook her head. 'My sister was in town… we were supposed to go shopping…'
Nate almost smiled. 'heh. Similar. I was out with friends.'
'She had a cold… wasn't up to it… so I switched shifts, figured we'd go shopping another time. Funny, it's almost like I was meant to be there.'
Nate gave her a puzzled look, and Jess explained. 'We were going to go to the … there. The mall on the lower floors. But she was ill. I ended up getting a call, cardiac. Right in the middle of the mall area. We were on our way out, patient was stabilized. I was pushing the gurney, my partner was in the lead. The doors… the doors, they just came down, almost crushed the gurney. I shoved it through.'
'And you were trapped.'
'That's pretty much the opposite of what happened to me. Like I said, I was out with a few friends. We heard there had been an incident, and decided to head home earlier than we had planned. We saw the doors come down as we were walking up the street toward them. We ran the rest of the way their, too slow though. The damn riot shields were down by the time we actually got there.
I remember, as I was running, looking through the transparent doors that were blocking our way, and seeing people in the mall. Some were banging on the door, trying to get out. But there were others, behind them, fleeing. Running from something just as hard as they could. Then the riot shield dropped into place and I lost sight of them.'
Jess nodded. "I was luckier than most... knew the lay of the land... I helped setup the emergency aid stations, almost made the mistake of plugging in… … I've spent my life trying to... protect life... '
She snorted. 'Always thought that while there's life there's hope.' She paused a long time. 'There was no hope in there...'
'Spent your life trying to save life, and suddenly your a rat in a maze. Killing to survive. I can't say I understand, but I can imagine.'
Jess shook her head again. 'I've... killed before. Some of the places I work are... less than safe...this was... They had me.... No one had any hope, it was just a matter of time.'
Nathan suddenly looked up, like he'd had a revelation. 'You said there's was no hope, But there is don't you see?'
Jess looked up. "They ... I almost... " She shook her head. 'No, no hope.'
'You almost, but you DIDNT. You haven't. There IS still hope. One day, we're going to break that place open.' Nate believed what he was saying, but he could see what Jess was thinking: Forget it kid, something's are impossible.
'Fewer and fewer are getting out now…' her voice was very quiet. I almost didn't make it...'
Nate tried again. 'Almost is as good as by a mile. You are here. It is now.'
Jess nodded, she decided that there was some truth in that. "Sometimes... sometimes are better than others."
Nate sobered again, quieting down suddenly. 'Yeah, I can't argue with that.'
They sat in silence for a few moments; each lost in their own thoughts. Finally, Jess spoke again.
'The tunnel was pretty bad…' she admitted
Nate looked up, puzzled. 'For you as well?'
She nodded. Her expression became a little drawn as she thought back on the tunnel. 'Dark... crawling…'
Nate thought for a second, he was beginning to understand her a little better now. 'I get it, I think.' He smiled faintly. 'Having me freaking out on the other end of the radio and damaging myself cant have helped any, sorry.'
Jess looked round at him. 'It helped a lot....'
Nate gave her a look that seemed to say 'It wouldn’t have helped ME'. She continued. 'I've learned that I'm not invulnerable, I'm just one person. But one person can do a lot. You just mustn't beat yourself up when something is beyond you.'
Nathan thought for a moment 'Yeah. I'd do well to remember that. Can't protect everyone. Even now, in my new life, I try.' He smiled wryly. 'It usually goes wrong, somehow.'
She smiled. 'But you try.'
Nate looked at her. 'Yeah. I try. Got no family now. Very few friends. They're valuable. And some, some are more precious still. So yes, I try.'
Jess nodded. 'I know that one too.' She leaned back, relaxing into the chair before she continued. 'Came out here to find my brothers...'
'Yeah? I'm an only child.'
'I've got six siblings…'
'Man, big family.'
She shrugged. 'And highly dysfunctional…'
Nate smiled. 'Show me a family that ain't.'
She chuckled quietly. 'I can think of one or two.'
Nate continued: 'You should see the guy I share a flat with, Mike's his name…HIS parents and sister only live about twenty minutes away from out flat on the university campus. Its just his mom bugs the hell out of him...'
Jess chuckled again. 'Matt... he was always into marital arts... Alan, he was a mage... curious about everything... and Andy... Andy just loved anything technical.'
Nate nodded. 'Curiosity is a fairly common trait in the awakened.'
'And among Millers it would seem.'
'Runs in the family does it?'
She nodded. 'I'm learning that sometimes it can be a dangerous thing…'
Nate shrugged. 'So can breathing. What's your point?
'True, its not like its stopped me or anything...'
Nate shifted position, glanced at the people scattered around the room and checked his watch.
He settled back into his seat, a faintly unhappy look crossing his face.
Jess interpreted that easily enough. 'Still no word from your friend?'
Nate shook his head and looked around again, even though there was no need. Nightones were fairly distinctive.
Jess started to heave herself out of her chair. 'I'll go take a look…'
Nate was about to thank her, then remembered how tired she had looked when he first sat down. He stood quickly. 'No. Sit. Your tired. I don't know how long you've been up, but it's too long. Rest.'
She looked at him for a moment, then flopped back into the chair. 'I think…I'll just rest then…'
'Good.' I'll be right back.'
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