Even during the chaos, Mat would not have the opportunity to reach the street. Blocking the crowd's way in the lobby were five security guards. The doors were locked and barricaded and the faint sound of sirens could be heard seeping in from the outside. As the crowd bombarded forward, they were shoved back by the guards.
"This hospital is quarantined!", one said.
"Back off! You have to stay inside!" another shouted.
The crowd was not listening and persisted. One man shouted "there is a mad man up there!" and others cursed about civil liberties and health risks. The lobby was quickly becoming a mob. Mat found himself shoulder to shoulder with the rabble, being tossed around like garbage.
--Laveaux 00:57, 11 December 2005 (CST)
Back door, there was always a back door. Mat started moving through the crowd. He had done so at Yanky stadium many times, it would get worse then this. He moved through the crowd with �Excuse me� and �Pardon� as he moved, looking for a way into one of the halls on the first floor. He looked for the agent, just in case the agent was still looking for him.
Burrowing through the crowd, the young musician finally broke free on the other side of the lobby. It was well worth the effort to keep an eye out for the agent, because at some point during his escape, the agent came into the lobby. Able to keep himself hidden, he managed to eject himself down one of the many hospital corridors. Passing a gaggle of curious nurses, he crashed through double doors and into another corridor.
This was surely the emergency room. Numerous gurneys were set, helter skelter, throughout the hallway. Doctors quickly barked orders at nurses while critically injured patients were hauled into operating rooms. The staff busily moved gurneys, diagnosed patients, and administered drugs.
On his quest to reach the back door, he came into a back hall that lead to the well-trafficked area leading to the ambulance dock. Three police cars were parked outside under a flurry of drifting snow. Six officers were heading into the hospital and one was speaking to an ER doctor.
--Laveaux 00:57, 11 December 2005 (CST)
Mat sighed. He was not getting out that way. The place was being closed off and he did not have a way out. He looked around the emergency room. He was stuck here, for now.
He turned back, looked like he was going to be here for a while. He wondered if he could find that cute nurse. He started back for the lobby. Yeah, may as well do something fun while he passed the time. Let the officials take care of this, wait for a few hours, then be let go. It was all cut and dry really.
He straitened out his coat, cleaning up as much as he could to meet the nice girl.
Retreating back to where he first encountered the flirtatious nurse, there was now a mob of malcontent. Visitors and staff alike protested the police as they marched in and secured the front doors. There were easily half a dozen. One policeman could be overheard saying, "No one is going nowhere until the Department of Health gets here."
The young man at last found his prey, but not at the desk where she was before. Standing amidst the crowd with frightened eyes, she hugged herself and kept a keen ear on what was being said around her.
Engaged in what the policeman said she didn't notice Mat approach her at all.
--Laveaux 00:57, 11 December 2005 (CST)
Mat took off his jacket slipping it over the shoulders of the nurse. �No need to worry, really.� He said in a soft voice. �You did not stay at your desk like you said.� He draped the coat over her shoulders.
He looked at the police. �Mat.� He offered her his hand. �Mat Summers, you have a name?�
At first alarmed, the young woman's face softened when she saw Mat. Taking his coat tightly, she twirled girlishly for a second.
"Why, there he is. I would have stayed there, of course, but I thought the mark of a true man was his ability to find me in a crowd. Your tracking ability is uncanny, Mr. Summers."
Offering her hand in greeting with a slightly limped wrist, she said, "Elsa Banks. Miss Elsa Banks."
It was her left hand she offered and there was no ring.
"I would say we should have a drink, but it appears the city of Washington D.C. has other plans."
Her playful nature dissolved only for a moment, "I hope it isn't serious."
--Laveaux 00:57, 11 December 2005 (CST)
Mat looked around. �Well, we have a commissary, we could go get a drink there, Elsa.� He said with a smile. �Might even be able to get a meal.� He did his best to look unconcerned, but what he had seen a few flights of stairs above was still fresh in his memory.
Something had made the man mad, perhaps rabies. He had seen a dog like that once in New York, rabies made it foam and act all aggressive. He was not bit though, so he was safe. �What do you say you show me where it is, and I buy us a dinner?�
Elsa Banks's brown eyes looked up with feigned shock, "Why, Mr. Summers, are you asking me on a date??"
She took his arm and directed him down several corridors where they finally encountered the commissary. A large tiled room held a forest of tables and chairs with a cafeteria, deli, and bar. Elsa brought him to the bar, where they found a cocktail table free amdist the massive throngs of people who'd just learned they were locked in.
The flustered cocktail waitress hurridly tossed down napkins and said, "What'ya having, darlings?"
"Brandy sour," Elsa said.
After Mat gave his order, she removed her hat and leaned forward.
"So, did you find your book?"
--Laveaux 00:57, 11 December 2005 (CST)
Ordering a highball, Mat wanted something to help his inside feel as cool as he was trying to make his outside look.
Mat held up the book and smiled. �Yes, but I fear the delivery of the book will be delayed, and so will my chance at stopping by the book story to buy my own books.� He added,
He looked at the ceiling wondering if what was going on up there was in check. He wondered how the agent was doing, and what they were all doing.
�So, you from here, Elsa?� He asked, starting to make some small talk. The usual stuff, colors, foods, music, all the things to help a guy know what kind of bird he was drinking with. �How long have you been a nurse?�
Mat and Elsa had arrived just in time. More and more people shuffled in. With no one able to leave the hospital, the place was getting packed and waitresses had a hard time manoeuvring through the crowd.
Elsa toyed with a napkin and smiled at her companion. �Dad used to be all about jazz. Saved up his drinking money to see The Duke at Carnegie Hall.� She laughed at the memory. �Endless discussions when a band member left and another joined.�
The harried looking waitress reappeared at their table. Even upon her arrival, a man in a brown suit bumped into her, mumbling an apology. Liquor had splashed from the glasses onto the tray and she sighed. �I am sorry.� She apologized, sounding tired. Napkins soaked up the excess liquor when she set the drinks before the pair. �Everyone has gone mad. No one knows what is going on. That will be nine bucks , please.� She collected the cash and disappeared back into the masses.
Elsa took the orange slice from her brandy sour between thumb and index finger and dropped it on the table. Taking a sip, she resumed her story. �In 1943 Dad got ill. The nurses at the hospital were just brilliant. � She smiled faintly and shook her head. �They worked so hard and handled him just right. Up to the end Dad was joking with them. I went back to school after that. A year later I started here.� Taking another sip, she let her eyes drift from Mat for the first time since the waitress had brought their drinks.
"Looks like Doctor Joneson isn't taking this too well." She remarked, refering to a lanky, grey haired man standing nearby. Beads of perspiration had gathered on his forehead, trickling down his neck to the pristine white of his coat.
Mat looked at the doctor; a shiver went down his spine. He looked like the other guy did, just before he got sick. This was not good, where was that agent when you needed him. He was really getting concerned now.
He drunk down his highball and patted Elsa�s arm. �Hey, I saw you had a radio out by your desk, it is kind of crowded in here. How about we do some dancing?� He smiled at her standing up and offering her his arm.
�How about we get away from this guy� was what he was thinking.
The pretty nurse blushed rosily at Mat�s suggestion. �Mr Summers, you are a romantic!�, she accused him playfully. Delighted with this discovery, Elsa wasted no time in accepting his gallant escort.
Getting out of the bar proved a formidable challenge. Not only had almost every soul in the hospital decided to join the crowd, most of them were moving in while Mat and Elsa were moving in the opposite direction.
Behind them, a stampede rolled towards their empty table. Elbowing, cursing and argueing, several young men had forgotten their manners in their zeal to claim the empty seats.. Doctor Joneson too tried a few faltering steps towards the table, but was soon overtaken by younger and quicker contestants. "Give him space! He's not well, can't you see?" A young woman's shrill voice shouted. " OH MY GOD, HE'S HAVING A HEART ATTACK!"
Mat was torn. His guts felt like rocks and he feared this man getting sick would be like that agent. He could not just drag the nurse away, that was not right. She had a duty, and she was passionate about it, it would be like asking him to not play when his band needed him.
�Well, if your going to have a heart attack, this is the place to do it.� Mat jested with a small nervous laugh. �You want to stay, or do you think they will have this covered?� Mat asked as he tried to keep a hold of Elsa in the throng of people.
�If we can get to him..� Elsa tried to turn around, look back to the fallen doctor but a man twice her size shouldered her aside. She tumbled against Mat, clasping his arms to keep from falling. For an instant her blonde hair brushed his shirt. �Usually, I am a better dancer than this�, Elsa joked nervously. �Can you help me get thro��
A woman screamed.
A split second of silence fell over the commissary. No one moved.
Elsa ducked a little closer to Mat.
If they were going to try and get to the doctor, now was the time. The excited crowd mostly pushed away from the fallen man, but some seemed caught in morbid curiosity and attempted to edge toward him, against the stream. One of the watchers gave Mat an opportunity to squeeze through - either back inside ... or out.
Catching her he smiled. �You seem like a good dancer to me, I don�t mind holding you at all.�
Mat gritted his teeth and nodded to her. She wanted to get to the man he would help her get to him. They would have to dance later.
He shoulders his way in seeing the opening. Keeping her close to him and watchful at what the crowd was looking at.
A circle had been cleared around a body on the floor, a circle that was slowly expanding like ripples on water as people backed away from the unfortunate man. A young woman with bouncy pigtails vigorously wiped her sweaty palms on her skirt as she scurried away. The whispers that fell from her lips sounded like prayers.
In the midst of the circle lay Doctor Joneson. Sweat had drenched his shirt and caked his hair to his scalp. Bloody phlegm dribbled over his chin. Elsa let go of Mat�s arm to move towards the sick man.
Another shape pushed through the crowd and stopped beside Mat. �Bloody hell�� Richard said, staring down at the crumpled form on the floor. �Spreading like the goddamn plague� The agent cast a desperate glance at the many, too many people and cursed under his breath. Attempting to catch Mat�s gaze, he breathed a warning. �Be ready.� His gun held low at his side, he poised himself between Doctor Joneson and the crowd.. and waited.
When he heard the words of the agent he knew it was bad. He turned and reached for her. "Get back, do not touch him." He tried to grab her arm and ynk her away from the doctor. This was bad, very very bad, and Mat could feel it was not going to get better.
Elsa was already reaching to wipe the sweat of the poor doctor�s face when Mat yanked her away from the patient. With a startled gasp, Elsa stumbled back. �What did you do that for?� More surprised than angered, it spoke for her trust in him that she didn�t move away but stopped to search Mat's eyes as if she could read his reasons therein.
The young nurse was not aware of the agent's presence. To her, Richard was nothing but another face in the crowd, and it was to Mat that she turned. �He�s dieing, Mat! What is going on?� She whispered, her voice strained with anxiety.
Doctor Joneson screamed. His body was shaking uncontrollably now, his back arched and the severe convulsion lifted him off the ground. Beside the thud of the doctor's body hitting the floor, the only other distinct sound was a soft click as the agent readied his gun.
"It is some kind of sickness." Mat whispered back, then looked at the agent. "Give me back the book, we need to stop this, it has the cure."
The scream of the man brought Mat back around to the sick doctor. "Damn... just... damn." He tugged on Elsa and started for the door like he should have a while ago. "Come on, we need to get out of here."
Without taking his eyes off doctor Joneson, the agent dipped his free hand in his pocket and slowly pulled the book out. �Here�, he said gruffly. �For all the good it will do you.� Richard hazarded a quick, sidelong glance at Mat and � coming to a decision � he reached into his pocket again. The gun Richard held out to Mat was of sleek black metal and seemed ready for use. �You'll need this." He said gruffly. "I hope you know how to use one."
"Mat!" Elsa screamed.
Doctor Joneson was sitting upright. The being's dead eyes locked on Mat as it laboured to its feet. There was no recognition in that gaze. If there was anything left of Doctor Joneson in that creature, it was only skindeep.
A crashing sound nearby pulled the former doctor's attention away from Mat.
Sprawled over a fallen chair lay a podgy man in a striped suit. He had tripped in his haste to flee the monster and now crawled away on a frenzy.
Elsa frantically tugged on Mat's arm, pulling him with her towards the exit. "Mat.. Mat, Let's go!"
This is just what he feared, like a horror comic or something. Looking at the Agent he smiled. �I can shoot, I am from New York.� He grabbed the pistol and the book. �Lets go Elsa.� He watched to see if the Doctor was coming at him, willing to pull off a shot as they fled the room.
It was like a disease, and that is why they locked down the hospital, to contain it. He rushed for the door, pushing it open. �Elsa, we need someplace safe. Someplace with only one way in and windows out.�
Shots sounded and Elsa threw one frightened look over her shoulder as she hurried through the door Mat opened. �This way!�
Behind them Richard was taking careful aim at Joneson�s head, which already showed darker shades between the grey. The doctor had crouched beside a motionless shape on the floor in an absurd semblance of a doctor/patient-pose. A sullen thud could be heard but Mat was spared a visual as Richard edged closer towards Joneson and blocked his view.
�Second floor.� Elsa needed no further explanations. Moving as fast as the crowd allowed, the pretty nurse waved at Mat to stay close. When she was recognized as hospital staff, people reacted to her hurry and stepped aside. Several men and women paused their conversation to throw curious glances at the distressed nurse and her companion in civilian clothes. Elsa didn't notice. �We call it the reading room. Just chairs, tables. One door.�
Only stopping at the bottom of the stairs to turn to Mat, Elsa scanned his face, searching for a token of approval or reassurance. "Will that do?"
Mat was not believing what was happening. He ran with Elsa. �Everyone, get out of the hospital, stay away from anyone who falls down.� He shouts to them.
At the stairs he looked at Elsa, his eyes carried worry, but tried to convey resolve. �Yes, it will do, we can bar the door or block it?� He asked starting up the stairs with her. �How many floors until the roof, and is there a fire escape?�
The young nurse responded with a solemn nod. �Four floors. There should be a fire escape at each floor.� Elsa reached for Mat�s hand, giving his fingers a nervous squeeze. �We can�t stay here..�
Behind them, in the lobby, people had begun taking matters in their own hand. One man had grabbed a chair and slashed it from left to right as he advanced on a small group of hospital staff. �Let me out of here! NOW!� he barked, echoing Mat�s advice. His cry got picked up by others who joined the first man in his menacing approach of the retreating personnel.
With the crowd turning into a mob, it was all the more obvious that some were not joining. If Mat tried he could find them, the ones that were either weakly leaning against a wall or collapsing into chairs to hold their head in sweaty palms.
Mat nodded in agreement with her. �You can say that again sister.� He took hold of her hand. The whole place was going crazy. This sickness was spreading fast. He did not know if the ones that were not fighting were sick, or just confused and scared. He did not have time to sort that out.
�Lets go.� He tugged on her hand as they went up the stairs. �We need to read this book. It has the key to fixing this problem.� He informed her holding out the black book he acquired yesterday. �This was starting out as such a nice night too, have the car, have a date with a pretty nurse, all things were looking up.� He commented as they raced up the stairs.
Aside from a tired looking, elderly couple holding hands, they were the only ones on the stairs. Passing the second floor they heard sounds of glass breaking in the distance. Elsa kept up with Mat right till the final floor where a locked door blocked their path. �Staff only�, a sign told them.
�It�s not as good as a date but maybe this comes in second?� A key ring lay in the nurse�s open palm, holding together an odd assortment of perhaps 15 keys. She winked at Mat and selected a key, trying the lock. It took three turns and perhaps fifteen seconds before Elsa had unlocked the door.
�Where are you going?� A voice wheezed behind and below. The two elderly people were standing one floor beneath Mat and Elsa, looking up over the railing with the man supporting the old lady.
Matt looked at Elsa and smiled. �Usually I wait until later in the date to get the girl alone in a room, so easily better then a second.� He was relieved when he heard the door unlock. This was good, once alone they could read up on the cure.
He had not even really noticed the elderly couple on the way up, but now that they spoke he fixed his gaze completely on them. �We are going someplace safe.� Should he take them with him. He gritted his teeth, was it even a question.
He ran over to the older woman and took her arm. �Come on, lets get you in there with us. It is not safe out here.� He stuck the pistol in his jacket pocket and the book in the other. �I am Mat, that is Elsa.� He introduced. �We are going to be pretty close for a bit I think, may as well know our names.�
�We wanted to visit our granddaughter, Lesley. She�s an historian, like Martin.�
�That�d be me.� The elderly man interrupted with a kind smile. He introduced them as Martin and Elisabeth Vaughn from New York. �Now don�t you start telling them our life�s story, mother. These young people have better things to do. They know a safe place, do you hear?�
The woman smiled and gratefully accepted Mat�s aid, favoring one leg as she climbed the stairs on his arm. Both were dressed immaculately, he wore a brown checkered coat over sharp pressed pants and Elisabeth wore a flower printed dress that was decidedly out of date. She smelled of bleach and lavender, he of cigar smoke.
Once provided with direction, the old couple hurried as well as they could. Martin hovering near Mat and Elisabeth like a protective mother hen. Elsa held the door for them, closing it after all had passed.
They stood in a small passageway, only barely enough room for the four of them, opening at one side to a few steps leading up and out onto the roof proper. The January air greeted them, crisp and cold.
Matt looked around. "I thought we were going to a room, this is the roof?" He asked looking at Elsa. "Are we going the right way?"
�Yes and no. We avoid a long corridor by going this way and you mentioned the fire escape? I thought to give you a tour.� Despite the lofty words, the young nurse�s eyes mirrored unspoken fears as they sought Mat�s. �Come�, she said quietly.
Elsa pointed them to a gap in the railing lining the rooftop. Iron stairs led down, with a tiny platform at every floor. Down in the alley, at the bottom of the stairs, three men with rifles could be seen. �There. First door on the left inside.� Elsa whispered. The elderly couple remained quiet, although Martin looked towards the three guards down below with more than casual interest.
Mat sighed and sat down on the roof. The snow was cold, the night was cold. Nothing seemed to fit the mold of real life. If they tried to come down the fire escape, they would be shot.
He took off his coat and draped it over Elsa�s shoulders. He checked the corners of the building, a drain spout, anything to climb down that he could do without being seen. �Well, if we can get down we could get to my car.�
He took out the book, stepping into some light, he opened it, looking at the first page.
There were various opportunities for an athletic young man to climb down. Not only was there indeed a drain spout, there was also a vertical row of metal hooks parallel with the most left windows on each floor, leftovers from the building stage oh so long ago. Whether the rusty bars would support Mat�s weight was another matter entirely, and one that could only be proven by testing. Martin Vaughn walked beside Mat and leaned over the railing here and there when the young man stopped to read. �They�ve got the entire goddamn army over here at the entrance!�
�Martin!� His wife chastised him, but the old man paid her no heed, staring down at the streets below in bemused silence.
Elsa had accepted Mat�s coat with a grateful smile but even she was shivering in the cold. With the occasional glance and encouraging smile at Mat, she walked around as well in an attempt to stay warm.
The first page of the book was written in neat, orderly letters and sentences.
We were all honoured when the assignment was given. It started, the past tense seeming a deliberate choice.
I�ve been told that we had the largest budget ever for medical research and judging by the equipment, this was no boast. Kevin, John and me, we thought we�d never see those things other than in magazines but here it was, right before us and ready for use. To us, it seemed too good to be true.
We did not know how right we were.
The writer paused his story for a recount of equipment that went on for several pages.
It was a challenge. They asked us to mutate a virus to its limits, make it strong enough to survive any antidote. We laughed and pointed out that the common cold had beaten us to the task. It was just a joke then, a challenge and all in the name of science.
They gave us several samples to work with, several seemed workable until Kevin found an antidote against every one of them. That�s how we had decided to work, two of us tested the virus and the new ones we were created and Kevin would offer means to counter them. Each time Kev offered a viable solution, we�d change course. It seemed the best way.
We should have stopped when Kevin died, but it had become OUR challenge by then. A way to beat the system, to create the unbeatable foe.
And we have done it.
A fat red line had been drawn under that sentence.
Three pages had been left blank before a different handwriting filled several more pages.
Mat blinks in surprise. �What does all this mean, Elsa?� He asks turning the pages to look a head a bit. �What is all this?�
He looks again, getting down would be impossible, he would be shot before he could reach the ground. �Elsa, does any of this make sense?� He wondered if he could shoot one of them, he shook his head, not without alerting the other man.
He moved around the building looking for a blind spot they could get down.