"Countdown to what?" I demanded.
"I have no idea!" Winterhawk's voice got a little faster, a little higher, like
it always did when he was nervous. "Do you want to wait 'round and
It only took me a couple of seconds. "Okay," I
said. "Let's pile all three of 'em on the gurney and get the hell out
of here." I emphasized my statement by picking up the little boy and
laying him out on top of Tommy.
Together, 'Hawk and Jean wrestled the dwarf off his gurney and
draped him over Tommy's legs. Tommy stirred, muttered, then dropped
back to sleep. "Come on!" I said urgently.
"I almost hate to say this, but what about the cylinders?" Jean asked
as I started to push the gurney toward the door, 'Hawk on the other side.
I looked at the cylinders, the gurney, and 'Hawk and Jean. "Take the gurney,"
I told them. I glared at Jean. "Don't film this."
She nodded, quickly putting the camera inside her vest and taking up a position
on the opposite side of the gurney from 'Hawk. "Hurry up," she said, with a
glance toward the unseen console.
When 'Hawk and Jean had pushed the gurney outside the room, I raised my
assault rifle at the cylinders, hesitated. They were alive. They didn't ask
for this. They were innocent. But there was nothing I could do for them but
give them a decent death, instead of this dehumanizing ritual they'd been
"Sorry," I said to the room.
Carefully, passionlessly, I directed a burst from the assault rifle into
each of the cylinders in turn. The heavy glass cracked, spilling the waterlike
substance out on the floor. The bodies danced momentarily in the deadly rain,
and then didn't twitch anymore.
I rejoined Winterhawk and Jean in the corridor. They were waiting with the
gurney down by the elevator. "Go, go," I said urgently, looking again at
my chrono. We had less than two minutes now, before whatever was going to happen
The three of us shoved the gurney into the elevator and got in after it.
There was just enough room for it and us, almost like it had been designed for
that very purpose. Jean wrestled her way around to the back of the elevator
and stabbed her finger down on the "UP" button. The elevator creaked, groaned,
and slowly started to rise. "What's the matter with it?" she demanded.
"Our reception committee must have damaged it with their gunfire," Winterhawk
said. "Come on, elevator. You only have to make this one last trip."
It seemed like an eternity before the thing finally came to a stop, but at
last, with one final creak like an old lady settling herself into a low chair,
the elevator dropped just a little bit and was still.
The door didn't open.
"Force it!" 'Hawk ordered, but I was already doing just that before he got his
sentence out. A minute and twenty seconds now. I grabbed hold of the sliding door
and pulled with all my augmented strength. With agonizing slowness, it slid open,
a little bit at a time.
As soon as it was open wide enough, 'Hawk and Jean shoved the gurney through it,
using it as a brace. Jean had to clamber over the top from the rear of the
elevator, but she didn't seem to be worried about giving Tommy and Co. a few
extra bruises at the moment. As soon as we were all out in the kitchen, we pulled
the gurney out and the door slammed shut again.
This time, there was no reception committee.
We were all on the same wavelength now. Heedless of what was awaiting us outside
(it didn't even occur to us that the countdown might herald something nasty
out in the yard), we shoved the gurney through the narrow halls, flung open the
front door, and barrelled down the stairs with me holding up the front end of the
gurney and Jean and 'Hawk holding up the back. It's a wonder we didn't end up in
a disorderly heap at the bottom, but I guess maybe desperate shadowrunners fall
into the same category as drunks and little children sometimes as far as divine
favor is concerned.
When we hit the ground we ran, forcing our way across the grass with our patients
bumping and rolling around on the gurney. Once the dwarf almost rolled off, but
'Hawk, showing more strength than he ever had before, grabbed him and wrenched
him back on and kept going. We were all bleeding, but we didn't care. We had to
run. We didn't know why, but we had to run.
We had made it about twenty meters from the house when the explosion came.
First came the boom, loud and muffled and almost otherworldly. Then
after that was the force, moving out in waves and contacting us, a gentle
warm wind that blew us into the air like leaves and deposited us, with various
thuds, around the front yard of the Elysian Fields Hospital like little
I think I might have blacked out for a minute, but it couldn't have been long.
When I came to again and looked back over my shoulder, the Elysian's cheery yellow
Victorian house was aflame, the orange tendrils flicking around its windows and
playing with its collapsing structure. The roof had caved in; between the fire
and the light rain and the explosion, the whole thing seemed to be imploding.
I was quite sure that the bulk of the explosion had been centered in the basement,
and dead certain that nothing recognizable would remain of the grisly experiments that
had been occurring down there. I didn't even spare a thought for any patients
who might have been staying on the upper floors.
I looked around me. Far to my right, a dark figure was struggling to its feet.
Tall, thinhad to be Winterhawk. So he was okay. I limped over to him, favoring
my left leg. Must have landed on it funny. "'Hawk?"
He looked up. "You're all right." His face was bloody and streaked with grime,
but he looked mostly whole. "Where are the others?"
I didn't know, so we started looking. Jean was reviving, checking her precious
camera for damage, about ten meters away. We got ourselves together and gathered
our patients, piling them back up on the slightly-worse-for-wear gurney. They were
all still alive, but unconscious. The dwarf had sustained a cut on his head, which
we quickly patched up, and the little boy might have broken his arm. No time to
fix that until we were out of here. "What now?" Jean asked.
"We go back," I said. "Back to the van. We take Tommy, you get your story."
She nodded. Looking up at us, she started to say something else, then decided
not to. The three of us took up stations around the gurney and began forcing its
protesting, twisted form through the grass toward the underbrush. I noticed that
'Hawk took a couple of backward glances toward the burning Elysian
as we went; I didn't.
We were almost back to the van when we heard a groan coming from the gurney.
I looked down at our patients. Tommy's eyes were fluttering open. He stared numbly
up at us, questions written on his face.
"Just stay quiet, old boy," Winterhawk said. "We'll soon have you out of here."
"But..." Tommy whispered. "Where am I? What happened?"
I grinned at him, in a manic sort of way that was the best I could muster right
now given the circumstances. "You're okay, Tommy. We've been looking for you for
a long time, but we've got you now and you're gonna be fine. Now just lay down
and be quiet like a good boy, okay?"
Tommy got one good look at the faces surrounding the gurney and decided to take
my advice. Bright boy.