Authors: Nora Roberts
He thought too much of her abilities, of her spine. But his hand held tight to hers, and she felt his power vibrate. Whatever she had, she pushed toward him.
She trembled from the effort, felt everything inside her shift andÂ â¦ expand. And with a jolt, like blowing on a candle, the span began to lower.
“It's working. Butâ”
“Stay focused. We're going to make it.”
But they were going too fast, and the span was lowering so slowly. Behind them, sirens screamed.
Together, she thought. Live or die. Closing her eyes, she pushed harder.
She heard a
, felt the car jump and shake.
“Lift it!” Max shouted.
Through the buzzing in her ears, the buzzing through her body, she pushed again. Opened her eyes. For a moment, she thought they were flying.
She whipped around, saw the span lifting, foot by foot behind them. The pursuing car screeched to a stop at the far edge.
“Max. Where is this coming from? How can we do these things? This power, this kind of power, it's terrifying andâ¦”
“Exhilarating? A shift of balance, an opening. I don't know, but can't you feel it?”
“Yes. Yes.” An opening, she thought, and so much more.
“We got out,” Max reassured her. He brought her hand to his lips, but didn't slow down as they zoomed over the tracks. “We'll find a way over. Get some water out of the pack, take some deep breaths. You're shaky.”
“PeopleÂ â¦ people are trying to kill us.”
“We won't let them.” When he turned his head to look at her, his eyes burned dark gray and fierce. “We've got a long way to go, Lana, but we're going to make it.”
She let her head fall back against the headrest, closed her eyes to try to steady her pulse, to clear the fear haze from her mind.
“It's so strange,” she murmured. “All the time I've lived in New York, this is the first time I've been to the Bronx.”
His laugh surprised her as it rolled out, so rich, so easy. “Well, it's a hell of a first trip.”
Jonah Vorhies wandered the chaos of the ER. People still streamed or stumbled in, as if the building itself offered miracles. They came in hacking and puking, bleeding and dying. Most from the Doom, some from the Doom's by-product of violence.
GSWs, knife wounds, broken bones, head injuries.
Some sat quietly, hopelessly, like the man with the boy of about seven in his lap. Or the woman with glassy, feverish eyes praying with a rosary. Death spread so thick in them, so black, he knew they wouldn't last the day.
Others raged, screaming, demanding, spittle flying out of snarling mouths. He thought it a shame their last act in life would be one of such ugliness.
Fights broke out regularly, but rarely lasted long. The virus so destroyed the body that even a world champ would drop after giving or receiving a couple of punches.
The medical staff, what was left of them, did what they could.
There were beds available, he knew. Oh, there were plenty of beds, open ORs, treatment rooms. But not enough doctors, nurses, interns, orderlies to treat and stitch and staunch.
No beds in the morgueâhe knew that, too. No vacancies there, and bodies piled up like grim Lincoln Logs.
Most of the medical staff? Dead or fled. Patti, his partner of four years. Patti, the mother of two who'd loved head-banging rock, horror movies (the grislier the better), and Mexican foodâdon't spare the Tabascoâhad fled, kids in tow, to Florida during week two. She'd fled because her fatherâavid golfer living the good life in Tampaâhad died, and her motherâretired teacher, literacy volunteer, ardent knitterâwas dying.
He'd seen the Doom in Patti, along with her fear, her grief, when she'd said good-bye. He'd known he'd never see her again.
Her, or the cute nurse who'd liked scrubs with kittens or puppies on them. The gum-snapping orderly, the eager intern who hoped to be a surgeon, and dozens, dozens more.
They dropped like flies, some at home, some struggling to work. He'd brought in a few himselfâby himself now. Like the hospital staff, paramedics, EMTs, firefighters, cops had all seen their ranks decimated.
Dead or fled.
Rachel livedâpretty, dedicated Dr. Hopman. He'd see her fighting against the tide of the Doom. Overworked, exhausted, but never panicked. He'd come to look for her, to look into her.
She gave him hope.
Then he'd stay away, locked in his apartment, locked in the dark because hope hurt.
But he'd come back, looking for that tiny spark, that bit of light in a cruel world. And all he saw was death, pressing at him, clawing at him, mocking him for his ability to see it and do nothing.
So he wandered the ER, wandered out of it, accepting the decision he'd made in the dark. This would be his last time to search for hope.
He looked to treatment rooms, saw death. Looked at supply rooms, saw the ravages there.
Maybe he'd take a tour, one last tour.
Outside of the ER, the hospital echoed like a tomb. Maybe that was appropriate, he thought. Maybe that was a sign. And God knew the quiet soothed.
Everything would be quiet soon.
He walked into the staff break roomâhe had some good memories in there he wanted to take with him. He saw Rachel sitting at one of the tables, drawing her own blood.
“What're you doing?”
She looked up. Worry, fatigue, still no panic. Still no Doom.
“Close the door, Jonah.” She capped the sample, labeled it, set it with others in a rack. “I'm drawing blood. I'm immune. More than four weeks, and I'm asymptomatic. I've been exposed multiple times, and show no signs of the virus. Neither do you,” she observed. “Sit down. I want a sample.”
Calmly, she opened a fresh syringe. “Because everyone I've treatedâevery single patientâhas died. Because I believe you brought Patient Zero into my ER: Ross MacLeod.”
When his legs went watery, Jonah sat.
“I sent a report to the CDC weeks ago when I looked at the timeline, but I never heard back. They're dying, too. I can't get through, but I'll try to send another report tomorrow. I want time before they get to us. Take off your jacket and roll up your sleeve.”
“âGet to us'?”
“They're in New York nowâNew York City, Chicago, D.C., L.A., Atlanta, of course.” She snapped on the rubber tourniquet. “Make a fist,” she said before she swabbed the inside of his elbow. “Doing sweeps. Looking for immunes like you and me, taking them in for testing. Whether or not they want to be taken.”
“How do you know?”
She smiled a little, sliding the needle in with barely a prick. “Doctors talk to doctors. I have a friend doing her residency in Chicago. Had. I think she's dead now.”
When her voice broke, she sat a moment, breathing in and breathing out until she steadied.
“They came inâhazmat suits, tested staff. She didn't pass, but they took away the ones who did. That was three days ago. Her brother worked at Sibley in D.C. They've taken that over. A combination task force sort of thing. CDC, NIH, WHO. They moved the sick to other area hospitals. Culled some out for observation, testing. The immune are in quarantine. Military quarantine. Her brother managed to get out and contact her, warn her. She did the same for me.”
“I've been listening to the news when I can get it.” When he could stand it. “I haven't heard any of this.”
“If anyone in the media knows, they'll keep a lid on it. Or find themselves in some holding area. That's my guess.” She capped and labeled his blood sample, put a cotton ball and a Band-Aid on the tiny needle mark.
She sat back, looked into his eyes. “Healy's immune, too.”
“I don't know Healy.”
“Right, why would you? Lab ratâa good one. He's been running his own tests. We ran plenty on the infectedâstarting with MacLeod. But we'reâhe'sârunning them on the immune now. While he can.”
Rachel looked around the break room like a woman who'd just surfaced from a deep pool.
“We're a small hospital in Brooklyn, but they'll get to us. If anyone finds my initial report, they'll get to us faster, and I'll be in quarantine, a test study.
“You, too,” she added, then pressed her fingers to her exhausted eyes. “You should stay away from here.”
“I just came to say good-bye.”
“Good thinking. We're not doing any good. You bringing in the infected, me trying to treat them. A hundred percent mortality rate once infected. A hundred percent.”
She covered her face with her hands, shook her head when he touched her arm. “Minute,” she murmured, blowing out a long breath before she lowered her hands again. Her eyes, deep, dark brown, shimmered, but tears didn't fall.
“I wanted to be a doctor all my life. Never wanted to be a princess or a ballerina, a rock star, a famous actress. A doctor. Emergency medicine. You're there when people are sick and scared, hurt. You're there. And now? It doesn't make any difference.”
“No.” He felt the darkness close around him. “It doesn't.”
“Maybe our blood will. Maybe Healy finds a miracle. Long odds, but maybe. But I'm going to do what I can while I can. You should go.” She laid a hand on his. “Find a safe place. Don't come back here.”
He looked down at her hand. He knew it to be strong, capable. “I had sort of a crush on you.”
“I know.” She smiled at him when he looked back up at her. “Kind of a shame neither one of us acted on it. Iâfor various reasonsâavoided entanglements. What's your excuse?”
“Couldn't get my guts up for it.”
“Our mistake. Too late now.” She drew her hand back, rose and picked up the rack of samples. “I'm going to take these up to Healy, stand as his lab assistant since he's all that's left in his department. Good luck, Jonah.”
He watched her go. No hope, he thought. He'd seen no hope in her. Strength, yes, but that spark of hope had died. He understood.
He rolled down his sleeve, put on his jacket. He didn't want to go back through the ER, through all that death, but knew it would help him follow through on the decision he'd made.
He ignored the screaming, the retching, the terrible racking coughs, and stepped out into the air. He'd thought to finish this inside. If he had the balls, he'd have gone to the morgue to end it. Make it easy on everyone. But he just couldn't face that.
Right here, he considered, at the doors of the ER? But hell, they had enough to do. In his ambulance? That seemed like good closure.
Behind the wheel, or in the back? Behind the wheel, or in the back? Why was it so hard to decide?
The act itself? No problem. He'd handled enough suicides and attempted suicides to know the best way. His grandfather's old .32. Barrel in the mouth, pull the trigger. Done.
He just couldn't live seeing death all around him. Hopeless, inevitable death. He couldn't keep looking at the faces of neighbors, coworkers, friends, family, and seeing death in them.
He couldn't keep locking himself in the dark to stop seeing it. Couldn't keep hearing the screams, the gunfire, the pleas for help, the mad laughter.
Eventually his depression and despair would turn to madness. And he feared, actively feared, that the madness would turn him into one of the vicious who hunted others and caused more death.
Better to end it, just end it and go into the quiet.
He reached into his coat pocket, felt the reassuring shape of the gun. He started toward the ambulance, glad he'd had the chance to see Rachel, to help her, to say good-bye. He wondered what Healy would find in his blood. Something tainted with this horrible ability?
He turned at the blast of a horn, but kept walking even as the minivan squealed up, bumped onto the curb. More death for the death house, he thought, hunching his shoulders at the call for help.
No help for it.
“Please, please. Help me.”
No more death, he vowed. He wasn't going to look at any more death.
“The babies are coming! I need help.”
He couldn't stop himself from looking back again, and watched the woman drag herself out of the bright red van, cradling her pregnant belly.
“I need a doctor. I'm in labor. They're coming.”
He didn't see death, but life. Three lives. Three bright sparks.
Comforting himself that he could kill himself later, he went to her.
“How many weeks?”
“Thirty-four weeks, five days. Twins. I'm having twins.”
“That's good baking time for a two-pack.” He got an arm around her.
“Are you a doctor?”
“No. Paramedic. I'm not taking you through the ER. It's full of the infected.”
“I think I'm immune. Everyone elseÂ â¦ But the babies. They're alive. They're not sick.”
Hearing the fear in her voice, he tuned his own to easy reassurance. “Okay, it's going to be okay. We're going to go in that door up there. I'll get you to Maternity. We'll get you a doctor.”
“Iâ Contraction!” She grabbed on to him, digging her fingers in like claws, breathing in hisses.
“Slow it down.”
“You slow it down,” she snapped, hissing her way through it. “Sorry.”
“No problem. How far apart?”
“I couldn't time them once I started driving. About three minutes when I left. It took me, I don't know. Ten minutes to get here. I didn't know what else to do.”
He got her inside, steered her toward the elevators. “What's your name?”
“I'm Jonah. You ready for twins, Katie?”
She looked up at him, huge green eyes, then dropped her head on his chest and wept.
“It's okay, it's okay. It's all going to be all right.”
Bringing babies into this dark, deadly world? He hadn't thought of it. Told himself not to think beyond getting her to Maternity.
“Did your water break?”
She shook her head.
The elevator doors opened onto an empty reception area. That same echoing silence made him realize he might find no help for her there.
He led her backâempty rooms, unmanned desk. Didn't anyone have babies anymore?
He steered her into one of the birthing suites. “Prime digs,” he said, working to keep cheer in his voice. “Let's get your coat off, get you in bed. Who's your OB?”
“He's dead. It doesn't matter, he's dead.”
“Let's get your shoes off.” He pressed the nurse's call button before he crouched down, pulled off her shoes.
They wouldn't bother with a gown. He didn't know where to find one, didn't want to waste time looking. She was wearing a dress anyway.
“Here you go.” He helped her into bed, stopping when she dug her fingers into his arm again. Pushed the call button again.
“Are they all dead?” she asked when the contraction passed. “The doctors, the nurses?”
“No. I was just talking to a doctor downstairs, a friend of mine, before I walked out and you drove up. I'm going to see if I can find one of the OB nurses.”
“Oh God, don't leave me.”
“I won't. I swear, I won't. I'm going to see if I can find a nurse, and I'm going to get a couple of warming trays for the babies. Good baking time,” he said again, “but they're preemies.”
“I tried to get to thirty-six weeks. I tried, butâ”
“Hey.” Taking her hand, he waited until her teary eyes met his. “You're right on the edge of thirty-five. Damn good job. Give me two minutes, all right? Don't push, Katie. Breathe through it if you have another before I get back. Don't push.”
He stepped out, then ran.
He didn't know this wing, had only been in it a handful of times, and only as far as the desk. He tried to take heart when he saw three infants behind the glass in their nursery cribs. Somebody had to be on the floor. Somebody had to be caring for the babies.