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"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 find out?"

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 subjected to.

"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 happened.

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 broken playthings.

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, thin—had 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.

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