Chapter 5

Duncan screamed.

The agony of young hands inside his body burned through him at every level of his being. Fire coursed in his veins and along nerve channels. The boy extracted his hands from the flesh of Duncan’s back and whichever internal organs had been his focus. As the flesh had parted initially it now sealed up giving no hint of the agonizing ordeal he’d been through. The least he could have done was to leave an interesting scar so Duncan could tell stories later!

The boy walked around to face Duncan with a thoughtful look on his young face. Duncan corrected himself. This was no mere child, and certainly not young. The muffled tears of the boy’s sister seemed to have subsided. Duncan looked away from the child scanning the room. Cushions were scatterd where the children had been playing cards. Against the wall was an overstuffed shelving unit containing a riot of toys, stuffed animals and books. Duncan scanned around the room. No sign of a door. Two beds and a window.There seemed to be something that looked like mist hovering between the beds. As he watched the mist gained cohesion and colour. A large brown and black shape materialized as the last of the mist dissipated. The little girl squealed with delight, dropped her bear and rushed over, “A puppy!”

The boy lost interest in Duncan and stepped over to the brown and black lump. He prodded it and pushed until it became clear that it was a huge rottweiler dog curled up with tail between its legs. It seemed to be out cold. What had the dichotomy said earlier – that immortals passed through their domain, and they didnt wake?

Both children seemed fixated at head level of the dog. Quiet words were exchanged and they counted to three together. On three both plunged fingers inside its head, closed their eyes and appeared to concentrate for an age. Duncan glanced at the clock on the wall and shook his head – how foolish – he knew that absolute time meant nothing here yet he felt the passage of time internally. Relative time spent with handed penetrating his flesh crawled by at an agonizingly slow pace.

The children pulled their hands free of the dog’s head and Duncan watched its flesh seal without a mark. Barely a hair seemed to have moved out of place. Mist seeped out around the body and they children backed away carefully as the dog’s form faded from sight. They turned and looked at Duncan with matching grins, “Thats only the second time we’ve seen the puppy!” the little girl told him, innocent dimples bringing an involuntary smile to Duncan’s lips.

“I want to play a game.” she said.

“Mummy?” the boy suggested, pointing to a set of russian dolls stacked side by side next to each other on the shelving unit. Duncan shuddered at what macabre purpose the dolls would serve in the hands of the boy.

“No. You cheated. You said no changes, ” the boy didnt seem purturbed by his sister’s accusation, “I wanna play boatman

Her hands were cool on Duncan’s skin. It was still burning from whatever the boy had done to him and the blood pounding in his veins still carried fire from his core to extremities. She guided Duncan to lay down on the table and two plastic coins were placed on his eyes. He allowed his arms to be folded over his chest. She moved around to head level and leaned down and whispered, “Sleep now.”

The last thing he remembered were two sets of young finger’s playing along his ribs on either side then the children counting slowly to three…

—-

Mary strode ahead of Joe through the corridors of the science building. There was something in the way she walked that unsettled Joe, a hint of anger, with deadly purpose. Her head swung from side to side and her hair bobbing to and fro. Each door they passed gained perhaps half a glance and lightly dismissed. Joe struggled to keep up with her and rapidly found himself falling behind.

“Mary!” he called a little out of breath.

She glanced back at him and he fought an involuntary intake of breath. Her eyes were two blazing coals set under furrowed brows, lips a tight and determined line. One glance was all she spared him before returning to her determined search along the corridor of closed doors. Joe felt like a bug barely worthy of notice and lucky not to have been squashed under the grinding heel of a giant.

Joe gave up following Mary and he started reading the doors and signposts along the walls. They passed through physical sciences without a window or open door. He assumed that industrial scientific drones were slaving away inside the various laboratories they passed. The doors became closer together and started sporting names and job titles. Private Offices. They fell into three groups: obsessively neat and tidy with files and books on shelves, cluttered and lived in to the extreme or simply locked. He imagined what his office would look like, settling on the cluttered. The life of a field researcher verses that of the true academic – Joe nodded to himself – a blues bar in Paris and another back in the States seemed far preferable.

He stopped at a door labeled “Stuart Heron, Systems Administrator” an idea forming. The door wasnt locked, good. The room was littered with computer equipment where others had been filled with the trappings of research. Joe was counting on Stuart being as sloppy with the computers as the room’s organization seemed to suggest. He picked his way between the clutter to get behind the desk. Two screens on the desk showed different pictures of unclothed women, cycling through a slow slideshow. A box between the monitors had a riot of cables and a large rotary switch with settings “A” and “B”. A keyboard littered with crumbs, hair and sticky looking patches made Joe pause – he’d read an article that messy keyboards carried more germs than the average toilet seat. With a shudder he pulled it closer and hit the spacebar experimentally. It stuck slightly suggesting it had come off the worse of spilled soda. The leftmost screen responded by removing the naked slideshow and replacing it with a series pale yellow windows hovering over a desktop wallpaper of a red BMW.

Joe cracked his knuckles and began exloring the system. It wasnt hard to switch between windows – one showed uploads and downloads to a filesharing network with filenames that made Joe blush, another was flashing a red prompt indicating that “Windoze Box 1851” had crashed, another was caught paging through a text file “18% Complete” at the bottom. Finally Joe found a window which looked promising. Poking around the security software lead him to his user ID in the database listed as having “Guest” access. He corrected it with a satisfied “Yes!” to read “Administrator”.

A loud crash pulled him from the screen. It came from the corridor outside. As he listened there were other noises, splintering of wood and what might have been an electrical discharge. He hurried outside to investigate. A door hung mostly off its hinges at the end of the corridor. As he approached he saw a numeric keybad on the wall as fused with a sooty stain extending outward from it. He raised his hand to guage, yes, the radial soot seemed to be roughly hand shaped.

Mary was sitting inside the office at the desk of “J. Douglas Workman PhD” leafing through a small black book. Joe glanced behind her at the shelves spotting a gap in a section marked “Watcher’s diaries: Midwest region”

“What the hell happened here?” he demanded.

Mary looked up from the book, “He stole my diary.”

Joe waved a hand at the splintered remains of the door, “And that?”

She shrugged, “I let myself in.”

“So whats the deal with the diary, huh?”

“Its mine. He had it.”

Joe let out a theatrical sigh. This woman was morphing back into the harpy he’d thought was gone, banished. What had possessed him to step into the hearing and speak for her? Why? Life would have been uncomplicted. Doors would be on their hinges.

He tried again, “Ok, so the diary is yours and …” Mary looked up at him, then looked through him into the distance, without warning she stood and walked directly at him. He hastily backed away as she strode purposefully through the mangled doorway and headed along the corridor toward the laboratories. As he struggled to keep up with her he thought he could hear a dog barking. A big dog. They approached a lab with a small biohazard symbol next to its name, “Biological Samples”

Mary paused at the door tilting her head slightly in thought. Unlike the previous door, this one was opened with great care. The door had closed by the time Joe reached it. As he was about to open it there was a nasty metalic screech. Metal on metal. Joe’s mind went to a picture of fingernails on blackboards. The barking stopped. Concern for the poor dog rose and he hurried inside.

The first thing he saw was the body of Duncan MacLeod stretched out on an examination table. Flourescent lighting gleamed off needles that protruded from his torso, face, hands and feet. A messy pair of desks were on the left and to his right Joe caught sight of Mary kneeling next to a large metal cage. The cage door had been torn off and it sat on the ground by the wall. The cage had a single occupant, now freed. No wonder the barking had stopped. He was a big dog. Boy-howdy was he big. Joe took an involuntary step backward. A monster of a rottweiler, weighing in at a good 150 pounds. Mary was kneeling and scratching the dog between its floppy years.

She looked up, “Meet Gabe.”

Joe openned and closed his mouth not sure what to say. The dog looked at him with big brown eyes. There was something there. An intelligence.

Joe met Gabe’s gaze, “Hi Gabe, I’m Joe.”

The dog nodded a greeting back to Joe much to his surprise. A fluke? Had the dog really understood first Mary, then Joe and also responded? How was this possible? Joe grabbed a chair from the desk and sat down.

—-

Morning came far too soon for Nigel. He wandered down the hallway searching for the showers and a wave of guilt hit him as he realized he was, in fact, the last of the barracks to have stirred. With a sinking feeling he realized that as last man out the shower would be cold, the hot water exhausted. The communal showers were empty and the floor slick where feet had tramped to and fro. Nigel’s fears over water temperature proved to be prophetic, even exceeded by the reality. The icy stream hit his skin and he gasped. By the time he was done showering he was fully awake and alert with a blue tinge.

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