Every once in a while, magic saves your butt in such a way that
it's difficult to duplicate by mundane means.
When the elevator reached the bottom floor about thirty seconds later
and the door slid open, the fusillade of gunfire that ripped into the cans
of peaches and beans and cocktail weiners didn't find its three targets.
The expressions of surprise on the faces of the three armored goons standing
in the hallway were added permanently to my memory as they stopped firing and moved into
the elevator to investigate why nobody was there, only to be summarily
blown away by three levitating forms hovering near the top of the chamber.
It was almost like shooting fish in a barrel. And a whole lot more fun, since
fish don't usually try to kill you.
Silently, we dropped to the ground, each of us pausing to grab a gun from
one of the former goons before quickly vacating the elevator. "Good job,"
I said to the air in general.
"It's a good thing Ms. Wallace knew how to levitate," 'Hawk said, watching
the hallway for more goons. "Do you realize just how heavy you are? Must
be all that metal you've got inside you. I don't think I could have gotten
all three of us."
Jean grinned. "Learned that one early on. Good for sneaking around. Nobody ever
looks up when they're doing dirty deeds."
We were standing in a short corridor with a door at the other end. Nervously,
I took quick inventory of the corridor, checking for hidden cameras, small holes
through which gas could be pumped into the area, or anything else that looked
like it could be a problem. I found nothing: the hallway was smooth and featureless.
Moving down the hallway to the door, we examined it more closely. Well, 'Hawk
and Jean did. I continued to look back the other way, convinced that any minute
now the elevator would start moving again, going back upstairs to pick up another
load of goons. Even I couldn't fail to notice the cardreader next to the door,
though. "How are we gonna get in?" I whispered. "That door looks pretty sturdyI
don't think we can blow it with what we've got."
Jean shook her head. "No, I don't think so either. I have an electronics kit,
but if I screw it up, I might make it so we can't get in at all. I'll try it"
"Wait a second," I said, something dawning on me. "Keep an eye out." I hurried
back down the hallway and began a quick but thorough examination of the dead goons,
one at a time. I hit pay dirt on the second one, who, on closer scrutiny, looked
like he was dressed just a little better than the others. A commander? No matter now;
he was as dead as the rest of them. But he did have a cardkey, and that
was the important part. I grabbed the card, which was clipped to his belt and now
slightly bloodstained, and rejoined 'Hawk and Jean, holding it up.
"Excellent," 'Hawk said, smiling. He stepped away from the door. "Do the honors?"
"They'll be waiting for us in there," I said. "Same trick?"
Winterhawk shook his head. "No. They'll be on to it the second time. I'm sure
they were watching, or at least getting reports from those guards."
I had to admit he was probably right. I wouldn't get fooled by that twice either.
"Okay, thenlet's just stay flattened back against the walls, and get ready
to fire as soon as the door opens."
"Be careful," 'Hawk reminded. "There may be people in there that we don't want to
Jean slung her camera around her neck and set it running, hefting the SMG. She
shrugged when I looked at her questioningly. "They won't be great pictures, but
it'll be better than nothing. And definitely better than being dead."
I looked at the cardreader, then at 'Hawk, who nodded. "Okay," I whispered. "Here
I slotted the card and the door slid slowly open. We moved in.
Inside was the closest thing to a vision of hell that I hope I ever have to see.
I got a quick impression of huge cylindrical tanks, bodies on tables, and massive
machinery, and then everything was moving at once.
More goons were rising up from behind cover, taking shots at us with SMGs.
Jean staggered back as one hit her in the arm; another slammed 'Hawk back into the
wall. Again, though, it looked like their armor had stopped most of the impact.
I sprayed one of the goons with a burst from the assault rifle; blood flowered
around his neck and he dropped with a wet scream.
Another quick glance showed me three more goons, so there had been four in here,
along with three in the hallway and four upstairs. All of 'em wired, from the look
of how fast they moved. Pretty damn good security force for a hospital. Yeah,
sure. I concentrated on what I was doing and tried not to speculate about the purpose
of the machinery, except that it provided good cover.
'Hawk and Jean had already dived behind two separate bits of cover. 'Hawk was
bleeding; guess something must have gotten through, but he still looked okay.
Jean was flailing with the SMG. She was getting the hang of it, but without even
her smart goggles for targeting, I was afraid she might get trigger happy and blow
one of us away. Had to end this quick.
I raised up and took a shot at another goon, then winced in pain as a round
penetrated my armor and grazed my upper arm. The goon clutched his head and dropped.
'Hawk loved that manabolt spell, and I knew why: quick, effective, and deadly. Two
I became vaguely aware that there were other people in the room, too: people
dressed in white coats. Doctors? Whatever they were, they weren't armed and they
weren't coming after us at the moment, so I didn't worry about them. As soon as
they could, moving in what seemed like slow motion, they had all dropped to the
"Left!" 'Hawk yelled to me, pointing. I spun and hit Goon #3 squarely in the chest
as he was taking aim at me. He dropped, spraying blood.
The fourth goon, apparently like the rest not hired for his intelligence as much
as for his shooting ability, peeked up from behind his cover to try to identify
a target, and 'Hawk fried him at the same time as Jean, who'd switched her SMG for
her more familiar Predator, put a bullet between his eyes. Four down.
The sound of gunfire ceased, to be replaced by moans, a low mechanical hum, and
the sound of bubbling water. I raised up and looked around slowly, my assault
rifle ready to take down any more goons who had been hiding.
I had been right about hell. As Winterhawk and Jean joined me and we finally
got to take a good look around, I had to struggle to keep my dinner where it
The room was huge, about fifteen meters on a side. Most of it was dominated
by large stainless-steel machines with tubes and wires and digital readouts
all over them. Following the tubes and wires over to the far side of the room,
I saw six cylindrical enclosures, each one big enough to hold a small troll,
lined up one next to the other along the wall. Each enclosure was filled with
liquid and attached to two pipes and a bundle of wires from the machines.
Inside each of the enclosures floated a body.
My eyes widened. 'Hawk moved closer, as did Jean, her Predator forgotten now
in favor of her camera, which she was now operating manually. I hung back,
with no desire to get closer. I was watching for intruders. Yeah, right.
The bodies hung there in the cylinders, grotesquely
floating around like sinister giant-size infants in glass wombs. There were a
troll, two orks, a dwarf, and two humans. The bodies were in various stages
of dissection, their inner cavities laid open, bloodlessly, for the world to
see. My gorge rising, I could see that the troll was missing a lung, and
one of the humans was light both kidneys. The second human had only one leg;
the stump had been carefully sealed up. The dwarf stared at me through two
grotesque black sockets: his eyes were gone. They were obviously dead
Or were they? Did Imy God, it couldn't bedid I just see one move?
One of the white-coated doctors tried to raise up. With utter disregard, almost
as an afterthought, I blew him away. Jean started, but 'Hawk just glanced back
at me, his face set grimly, and nodded, then returned his attention to the
I stared at the one I'd thought I'd seen movingone of the orksdetermined
to convince myself that I'd been dreaming. It was a trick of the light, that's all.
These bodies were dead. They were
The ork moved again. He twitched.
My gorge rose again, and I fought to keep it down. I quickly looked away. "'Hawk?"
He was still examining the cylinders. "Yes?"
"I think" I paused, wrestling dinner down again. "I think they'restill
"I know." His answer came quickly, quietly.
Another doctor rose, started to speak. I blew him away.
"Guys?" came Jean's soft voice. We had been ignoring her; apparently she
had stopped filming and gone over to examine the bodies on the gurneys on
the far side of the room. "Is this Tommy?"
That snapped both of us out of whatever had taken hold of us. We hurried
over to where Jean was standing. She had pulled the sheet down from all three
of the bodies on the gurneys: a dwarf man, a human boy, and a human
man. All appeared whole, and all were breathing, though they were fast asleep.
She pointed at the human man. "Take a look."
'Hawk looked down at the sleeping man, and looked up at me. "Tommy. Pleasure
to make your acquaintance after all this time," he murmured.
I took a deep breath, still trying to control my roiling stomach. We'd found
the object of our search. Time to go. "Let'suhlet's get Tommy out
"What about these other two?" Jean asked. "We can't leave them here to become
like" she gestured over her shoulder without looking at the cylinders
Winterhawk nodded. "I concur. Do you think the three of us can get them all
I didn't get to answer that, because suddenly, behind us, there was another
sound. A quick, sharp shuffling sound, followed by the sound of a hand slamming down
on a button. I whirled around in time to see a third guy in a white coat triumphantly
standing over a console. I nailed him, but the expression on his facesort of
a mad gleemade me nervous.
'Hawk must have had the same feeling, because he ran over to the console, his
eyes darting quickly over the readouts. "I have a bad feeling about this," he
"Why?" I moved to join him, but he shook his head, already coming back over
"It's a countdown," he said. "From three minutes."