Thanks for coming back to read!
It's so weird to realize last chapter actually had a twist
I've been living with this story for a little more than a year and a half, so it's pretty obvious and normal for me now
Thank you all for your reviews!
Edited to add
: Just like in last chapter, there's a flashback/memory scene here. In case it's confusing to anyone, these scenes are always separated by . . . and start in italics.
Around. A shadow at the edge of his consciousness. He wasn’t sure if it was real. He wasn’t sure of anything, really. Max was trying to hold on to something that would anchor him to reality, but this shadow was making him nervous. It made him feel observed.
He shivered. It was unintentional, but it was the anchor he was looking for. He was waking up, the last four or five days being a blurry composition of fear and barely remembered words. He had no idea where he was or what was going on. He felt heavy, and cold, and exhausted.
And still observed.
The feeling wouldn’t go away, and so he half opened his eyes, his aching body making him take things easy. Slowly. In fact, he wasn’t moving at all; it would have required too much of an effort. The room was dim, and everything was diffuse around him. It was an unfamiliar room, but he was used to waking up in motel rooms by now. Yet he felt uneasy, almost… trapped.
A shadow moved at his left, but trying to focus on it didn’t do much. Nothing was sharpening in his sight, no matter how hard he tried. Another shiver went down his back, making him close his eyes.
Even if he wasn’t looking at it, he knew the shadow was getting closer.
“Do you remember Phoenix?”
It was just a whisper, a woman’s voice that he didn’t recognize. Her voice was eager, even if a little fearful. It was back to questions again, he thought, trying to remember why he was there and why he should be careful about Phoenix. Nothing made sense. Nothing was coming into focus.
What’s your name?
the question echoed in his mind, but somehow, he knew it was from before. Another room, another time… another shadow.
“Were you there?” the whispered voice asked again, focusing Max’s thoughts in finding that single answer about Phoenix. They had been in so many places by now, he couldn’t even tell where he was anymore. But something about Phoenix sounded important. Like some sort of highlight he shouldn’t forget. Something had happened in Phoenix, hadn’t it?
You have another name… an alien name… What is it?
the echoes continued. Max ignored them. He had already answered them. Phoenix. Had he been in Phoenix?
“Yes…” Max finally said, his answer still incomplete in his own head. He had
gone to Phoenix, some cold night. He had gone because… because…
“Did you heal them?”
Images exploded in his mind. Two girls, three boys, all lying on their beds looking asleep, but not really sleeping… All sick, Max remembered now, all sick, and he couldn’t leave them like that.
“They were… sick… they were… kids…” Max answered, his voice a bit raspy, his throat dry again. He tried to half open his eyes once more, tried to make sense of the shadow that was now by his left side. It was a slender, not so petite woman, her hair knotted in a pony tail, her hands in her doctor’s white coat pockets. She smelled nice, Max noticed, and she seemed frightened about something. Like she didn’t want to be there, or was afraid someone would catch her in the room.
Why are you here? What is your plan?
he tried to shut the voice out. It was hard enough to concentrate on the new questions as it was.
“You really healed them?” she insisted, her voice still a whisper, but this time there was an urgency to it, a need for him to answer. Just like them
, Max absently thought, half remembering the other voices that had been questioning him not so long ago. All urgent, all needing his answers.
He nodded twice and then stopped as he shivered again. He was getting cold once more, and he wondered where his mom had left the other comforter. But he wasn’t at home, was he?
“Why?” she asked with the same urgency as before, pushing away Max’s thoughts about home. He concentrated on Phoenix. Had he been cold in Phoenix? It had been a cold night, yes, it had been raining. He remembered the smell of the wet road and the feeling of the humid air.
He remembered a cold night at the palace, Antar’s three moons shining brightly, the whole world so full of possibility and—
“I need to know why,” she said, shattering his memory, getting even closer to him, her hands still in her pockets. He couldn’t see her very clearly in the dim light, but he thought she looked worried.
“How could… I not?” he answered, thinking about Liz in her room, getting ready for midnight service, looking so beautiful. “They were… sick. I could… heal them…” It was difficult to speak, and it was getting difficult to breathe too. He shivered yet again and he closed his eyes. He needed to get warm.
? How do you heal them?” the voice chased him into the darkness, one of those questions that he couldn’t really answer. It was just natural to him, like walking or writing. He just knew how to do it.
” she asked one last time, this time her hand grabbing his arm, maybe to focus him on her demand, maybe just to let him know she was really there. Whatever the case, the instant she touched him he couldn’t stop the connection from forming.
It was seeping his energy just as fast as the cold was taking over his body. He wasn’t getting anything from her, and he couldn’t let go since she was the one grabbing him and not the other way around.
He couldn’t move.
He shivered one last time as an intense beeping started somewhere at his left. She had let go of his arm, and for that, he was relieved. The last thing he vaguely saw was that other people were coming into the room, and the last thing he heard was the woman’s voice, anything but a whisper now, practically shouting to them, Don’t touch him!
And then all was dark.
* * *
Dr. Susan Lake's night was stretching for far too long. At 4:00 a.m., the sun couldn't come any sooner to end it, maybe then taking all this nonsense away as well. The idea that some bizarre Twilight Zone
had taken over the hospital for the past eight hours had never felt more real than now, when she was standing here, in front of the mystery man with the glowing handprints, and for one instant the young pediatrician really considered that this whole thing was just one gigantic weird dream.
But of course, she was awake. And he wasn't.
Dr. Hayden had sent her the picture from Phoenix via e-mail less than an hour ago, and she had had little doubt that one of the two young men in it was the same guy she had seen Dr. Holt admitting into the ER right when the first ambulance had arrived. Not to mention that two hours after that, she had practically yelled her lungs out right in his face when she had thought he had harmed a little girl.
It had taken her no small amount of detective work, and overhearing dozens of nurse conversations to finally find the John Doe Dr. McConnell had attended at the ER. There were so many unidentified patients in the hospital right now, that being in this room was nothing short of a miracle. But she knew that finding it had been the right decision.
She wasn't sure what exactly she wanted to accomplish. She knew she wanted to know if little Sarah Meyer was going to be okay. She also wanted to know if the five kids in Phoenix had been truly healed. She needed to know how someone could -seemingly- heal with a touch. But most of all, she was dying to know why had this stranger healed -or attempted to heal- all these children. Why had he risked so much... or rather, what exactly was he risking to begin with?
And could he heal more kids?
She had actually found where he was twenty minutes ago, right when he was being returned to his room in the ICU from an MRI. She had been surprised to see Dr. Cramer there, since she had told the cardiologist about what she had seen barely two hours ago. She actually felt a little hurt and betrayed. Something was going on, and it was no coincidence that Nikolas Cramer was quietly talking with McConnell and Holt as they settled in their patient.
Didn't nurses have to do that? And why hadn't he told her he had found her mystery man?
Oh yeah, her three male colleagues were hiding something, and something big. By the time they had left the room, undoubtedly on some emergency call from one of the dozens of victims, Susan hadn't known how exactly to proceed.
What was she expecting to find, anyway? And what exactly was she going to say? It wasn't as if the guy hadn't done a truly remarkable thing… A Christmas miracle indeed. That was, of course, assuming that all was pure and white intentions. But what if he had had far less altruistic motives? What if what he did was dangerous like Cramer had first said? And the three doctors must have had their doubts as well, if they were all pretty much hiding the man in that room.
So she had entered with silent steps, and had remained in the shadows of the room, biting her lower lip, trying to decide what to do. It wasn't difficult, actually, since the man was unconscious, so all she was doing was staring at him. What was wrong with him?
Deciding to check for herself -and in the process making a plausible alibi as to why she was here, "just checking on a patient"- Susan had left her shadowy corner and fully entered the room. She hadn't taken two steps before he started to stir. She doubted he would stay awake, and it took her a split second to decide that, if he was up to it, she was at least going to get some answers.
His answers didn’t make much sense. She knew he was trying, he just needed to try harder. She barely got a handful of words out of him when she felt he was slipping away into unconsciousness again. She grabbed his arm to get his attention back, and that was the instant that her whole world was turned upside down.
Images flashed in her mind, bright, loud, fast and very much unstoppable, none making sense individually, but completing a very grand scheme as a whole. She had asked him how he healed, and he was showing
her. She was there, with him, healing those children at Phoenix. Shouts and knocks at the door mixed up with far away sounds, boys' and girls' faces merged with those of teens, and the ever present fear of discovery twirled with the fear of failure. He was going to heal those children, even if something inside him knew
that it would cost him dearly to spend so much energy at once.
He was risking his life, and those of his friends, the teens she had seen. Those who were like him, but not exactly
like him, making him the only one with the ability to heal. And it drained him. Oh, how much it drained him to place his hand on their little bodies, pouring out his whole essence, instinctively searching and mending what was wrong. He was sweating, and dizzy, and warm, but all he could think about was that he had to reach the next kid before it was too late.
Other images circled around Susan's mind. Images about running through streets, and hiding someone. About a bright place and endless questions. About voices that urged him to run, and others to stay calm. And through it all, she felt his confusion and disorientation. Who was she? Where was he? And at last, as she saw him fainting after healing the last kid, she felt his panic. She was taking away his energy just as surely as healing did, but he had no control over it. He didn't understand what was happening, but she did. She was holding his arm. She was making something he thought of as a "connection", except he wasn't seeing anything, and didn't know that she was.
She let him go. She couldn't have been grabbing his arm for more than ten seconds, but it had felt as if she had seen in real time everything he had done in Phoenix, right with snatches of the last few days, or maybe few months. She didn't have time to contemplate it as the monitors' alarms went off. In her haste to get answers, she had failed to check the chart. As long as he had been stable, she hadn't cared to find out what was wrong with him.
Now that was the central thought of her entire being, as his heart rate reached 192 beats per minute. He was going to have a heart attack any second now, and all because she had touched him. She froze for a second, not knowing what she should do, random bits of information about what she had just seen going through her mind. She knew he wasn't human, but she didn't know what he really was either. Most importantly of all, she knew she couldn't risk touching him.
As footsteps sounded behind her, she twirled around to say exactly that.
"Don't touch him!"
It was Dr. Cramer, practically skidding into the room, his big baby blue eyes going round at seeing her there. She thought he looked as if he had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
"Are you all right?" he asked, now slowly walking to his patient and her. "Did he hurt you?"
The alarms were still going, and Susan found it surreal that they were both standing there, not really hurrying in helping the man in the bed. Funny, she had seen into his darkest fears, yet she still didn't know his name. "No!" she exclaimed, turning once again to look at the monitors, "I
hurt him. If you touch him, you'll hurt him too."
It sounded crazy. In fact, it was
crazy, and she knew he was thinking the same thing when she saw him frowning, moving past her to get a better look at the monitors. "We've been touching him all night long, it didn't seem to hurt him one bit." And then, he cursed.
A nurse was entering the room in response to the alarms. Cramer turned around without losing another second, "Bring Dr. McConnell here, now!" Then, turning to look at Susan, he said, "Get me the cooling blankets."
She did as she was told, glancing as Cramer went to the crash cart. She returned with the blankets and the ice packs as he was inserting the needle he had taken out of the cart into the IV. He hadn't touched the man so far, and for that she was relieved. Her main concern now was his temperature, and she turned to look at the thermometer: 103.1. Cooling blankets might be a little bit too much, she thought, but right before her eyes she saw the numbers changing: 103.7. 104.1. 104.4.
“What the hell—” Susan said, cooling blankets frozen in midair. She had never seen a piece of equipment malfunctioning so badly, and with such ill timing.
“It gets down as fast,” Cramer said as he practically snatched the blankets out of her inert hands, “if
we manage to get it down, that is…” he corrected himself.
It was insane. Fragments of the things she’d seen and felt were still swirling in her mind right now, but she hadn’t been able to process any of it. For one moment, she thought she knew, that she understood what Cramer was saying; that it was somehow expected that their patient’s temperature would rise so fast. And then she lost that idea, and thought that it was crazy. Completely and utterly crazy.
Even the certainty that this man wasn’t really a man didn’t make things right. A body’s temperature couldn’t go up and down like that, the fact that touching someone shouldn’t make connections either conveniently forgotten for the moment.
“What are you talking about?” Susan said, rooted to the place, seeing how Nikolas was breaking the ice packets, cold water splashing over their patient’s chest. The cardiac alarm was slowing down thanks to whatever drug Cramer had chosen to give this man, but his temperature was not giving an inch.
“Your mystery man has more than just one mystery going on,” Nikolas humorlessly said, “Give me a hand, will you?” he said, indicating with a movement of his head that she should help him with the blankets.
“I don’t want to touch him,” she practically whined, afraid that she would take more energy out of him.
“What’s going on?” It was McConnell’s voice this time, approaching the bed. He hadn’t skidded like Cramer, but he hadn’t been far from it.
“Nothing you’d like,” Cramer answered, not even turning around, all his concentration on placing the blankets. “BP 160/100, T104.7, HT 120—” His eyes widened as he stopped in midsentence. Their non-human patient was trying to wake up. His eyelids were fighting to open.
McConnell went past her to him, and she was sure
the older doctor would touch the young man.
“Wait!” she said as she finally moved from her spot, making Cramer turn to look at her as he too understood what she was trying to say.
“Don’t touch him!” they both said at the same time, McConnell literally –and rather comically- freezing in midair.
“You’ll hurt him,” Susan started to explain, but she never got past that. Her “mystery man” finally opened his eyes and all but lurched forward as if he were trying to jump out of the bed and start running towards the door.
It didn’t matter if they were going to hurt him. He was going to hurt himself if they didn’t stop him. And it took them less than a fraction of a second to realize that. Both Cramer and McConnell tackled the man back into the bed as all three men struggled with each other.
“They’re taking the palace!” the man yelled, fighting with a strength Susan would have believed impossible just a minute before. She ran to the crash cart in search of an Ativan dose to sedate him.
“Max! Max! It’s okay! No one is taking anything!” McConnell practically yelled back, and it occurred to Susan that his name had always been right there, at the tip of her tongue. Max. She found the Ativan and went for the IV. 2mg would be enough.
“They’re coming for me,” Max said in a rather menacing low voice, his eyes set on the door as if the two men holding him down were not really there. His right hand was outstretched over McConnell’s shoulder. All this Susan noticed by the corner of her eye, and as she injected the clear drug, she heard a low thud
from behind her.
She turned for a second, and had to do a double take. Dr. Holt was pinned against the wall some six feet from the bed, papers floating to the floor. He had been entering the room just two seconds before. Now he was struggling against the invisible force that held him in place, his face turning red as it became obvious to Susan that he wasn’t breathing.
And she knew exactly why.
She turned to look at Max, and she too stopped breathing. His outstretched hand was sending the energy that was pinning Holt to the wall, alright, but on his forehead there were five shining blue dots, forming a V. His elaborate breathing started to dwindle as the drug began to take effect.
“Jesus, he’s strong…” Cramer muttered beside her, both he and McConnell practically throwing their weight at Max to keep him on the bed, oblivious to their colleague right behind them.
Max finally lost the grip on Holt, who promptly slid to the floor and started coughing. Susan ran to him, her mind conflicted with what was happening. Max had been using telekinesis like some sort of Jedi using the Force
, and though she knew this to be true, she also knew it couldn’t be.
“It’s okay Max, it’s okay…” she heard McConnell say as she went to her knees in front of Holt, who was getting his air back. “No one is going to hurt you.”
Susan thought, but who’s to say he won’t hurt us?
And suddenly, being in that room didn’t seem like the right decision anymore.
* * *
Lieutenant Colonel William Anders was not having a good day. In fact, he hadn't had a good day all week long, and things were just getting worse.
His old friend and mighty doctor, Peter Shore, had humorlessly said that alien biology was one huge gigantic headache. Anders had answered that alien politics were way beyond that. You'll lose a patient. I might lose the entire nation.
Anders took a deep breath. His nerves were tense, but things weren't lost yet. Granted, they had
lost Max, but their fugitive king was not dead. God, he truly hoped he was not dead.
Funny how that thought had been with him for the past four days. Please don't die
. It was a shameless plea to a being that couldn't listen to him and that had nothing to do with Anders' concern for Max's wellbeing, and everything to do with gaining information.
It was all that mattered to Anders right now. What had always mattered to him. The entire diplomatic world revolved around what one knew about when, where, what, and who. Right now he had one version of events, and Washington was still recalling the remaining Special Unit Agents that had actually been at the Eagle Rock Base when Max had been captured the first time around.
There was so much conflicting information from all parties that all the Tylenols in the world were not going to help him with his headache. And by the looks of Shore beside him, he was thinking exactly the same thing.
They were both submerged in piles of files, information from the past four days as from the past fifty years becoming one messy blur. They were still collecting data on everything they could put their hands on about the crash, its survivors and the kids of present day, a not so easy endeavor when it meant collecting information from the Army, the Air Force and the FBI.
He could still see it in his head so clearly: Shore's eyes as they had arrived at their destination, clearly thinking, What the hell am I doing here?
And then turning to look at him, his gazed had changed to What are you dragging me into?
Anders' mind got lost in that moment, the fatigue of the last four days threatening to take over, as both men were waiting for news that Max had been found. How could it be that someone that Anders hadn't known about less than a week ago had become so important now? The whole thing was surreal: Aliens, royalty, civil war… a crash, survivors, hybrids… Now he was in the middle of a secret facility trying to find the truth beneath mountains of paper, as if he were somehow going to find it highlighted in yellow in some lucky report.
Besides, this place gave him the creeps. Which was appropriate, Anders reflected, because just as Max, it didn't look like what it truly was. And just as he had recalled in perfect detail Shore's expression when they had arrived, he could now recall those first hours when they had actually entered their so deceptive headquarters four days ago . . .
. . . The car had stopped outside where Max was being held without making
a sound, neither of the two men knowing how events would unfold in the next 96 hours.
The warehouse had seen better days. At one point, it had been light gray, but now big chunks of paint were falling off, giving it a kaleidoscopic mix of blacks, grays, blues, and even some reds. The coppery glimmer of oxidation was everywhere, and letters that had once formed coherent words were now half erased by time and too obscured by night for either Anders or Shore to distinguish them. Not even the flickering yellow lights that were scattered around could make the place look inviting.
It was in the middle of a wide parking lot, the next building being half a mile away, also looking very abandoned. In fact, most of the places around looked –and actually were- abandoned. It somehow seemed that not even rats would venture near it. That nothing was alive in there. The stillness of the entire scene, even with the snow falling, gave it a forbidden look.
It was a damned good disguise.
The two soldiers that had silently ridden with them stepped outside first and opened the car doors, saluting as both men came outside. If Shore found it annoying, he didn't show it.
He couldn't really fault Shore for not noticing. Anders had just dropped one hell of a bombshell on his friend. One that Anders had had barely hours to digest himself. The chill wind slapped their faces as if to wake them up. It was with a strange hesitation that Anders made the fist move towards the place. Yes, there had been an alien space craft that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. Yes, one of its survivors was inside that place. And yes, whatever happened, it would have grave consequences for the future of the planet.
Talk about pressure.
"There doesn't seem to be much security," Shore stated. He always had had an eye for tactical plans: How to enter and how to exit a place. It looked like the soldier in him was very much alive and kicking.
"We're lucky we could actually get this place," Anders explained. "The mission was to take the prisoner out of the state, remember?" Shore nodded once as they both kept moving forward, one soldier in front, one taking the rear, "When it became obvious he couldn't be moved, we needed a medical facility with enough clearance to keep this a quiet operation."
"So, the middle of nowhere became important. Do they even have first aid kits in that place?" The wind blew rather harshly, making both men hide their hands in their pockets.
"They are fully equipped, actually. In fact, this place is just as secret as the patient inside it, and as isolated as we needed it. And, most importantly, the timing couldn't be better. The project that was taking place there cleared out last week, though minimum personnel were left behind. They were going to start cleaning out by the end of this month when the next project would have taken over."
"Hence, the low security," Shore remarked, the group of four men now a few feet from the main entrance.
"With Max out cold and the storm coming, Washington felt we could manage. We'll move him as soon as we can. The Pentagon is waiting for our briefings to decide where."
The soldier walking in front reached the door and slid a white card. Maybe the place didn't have much manpower but, as they would discover a few minutes later, entering it was no piece of cake.
At first sight, it was, indeed, an abandoned warehouse. Nothing inside but ruined walls, bare concrete columns and a dirty floor. Dirty, but not dusty, Anders noticed. No footprints or any trace that about six hours before their most valuable prisoner had been rushed into this place.
The dim yellow light from outside gave form to strange shadows as they kept walking. The real entrance was in the middle. Anders wouldn't have known it was the entrance had the two soldiers that were pretty much sandwiching them had not stopped at attention at a seemingly random point. The floor moved downwards. A nine by nine foot section, to be specific, taking all four men to an underworld of halls, labs, offices and rooms. And one alien king.
They descended about two floors. They went from almost absolute darkness to stark whiteness as the lateral wall moved sideways. More soldiers met them, four of them, along with Colonel Harrington, the Head of the Special Unit for the last year.
Jurisdiction was a tricky thing that the Army was trying to sidestep by "joining" forces with the FBI. Agents were still in the field, not soldiers, but it certainly was not an FBI Agent who was running the show. If any information was gained from the operations of the Unit, Anders doubted that the FBI would get its hands on much of it, or its uses.
"Lieutenant Colonel. Doctor." Harrington acknowledged each with a nod, as Anders and the privates who were accompanying them saluted. He saluted in response. "This way."
If there was any saving grace in this whole mess, it was Harrington. Anders had not worked with the man himself, but had heard very high praise from colleagues and others in the trade, good things to have in mind. Still, to have good references was half the game. It was now the Lieutenant Colonel's turn to judge.
If references were accurate though, Colonel Harrington was the quiet, practical kind. With almost six feet, broad shoulders and an intense gray stare, the man was quite frankly an intimidating sight. He liked well achieved results, was realistic about obstacles, and had a cool mind when things were literally exploding around him. With no family of his own, he had dedicated his entire life to his country, climbing the ropes of the Army to the high point where he was now. He believed in order and the chain of command, and because of that sole fact, Anders knew Harrington was not exactly happy to have a civilian walking in his –provisional- headquarters. Even if that civilian had been a Lieutenant Colonel not so long ago himself. Maybe that was the only reason the Colonel had accepted Shore in the first place.
"How's he doing?" Shore asked as soon as they started walking.
"My technicians tell me he's been stable for the last hour, but they're nervous about the effects of his next shot."
"I'm assuming it's not of the bullet kind," Shore dryly said, the group of nine men walking at a fast yet almost coordinated pace.
"He's been given a serum, an inhibitor that was developed to stop his… special abilities. The doses are supposed to be administrated every six hours."
"But after the cocktail of drugs you've already given him, it doesn't seem like the wise thing to do," Shore summarized for him.
"You'll tell me. You're about to become the expert," Harrington said without missing a step, the well lit corridors clean to the sterile point, white walls marked with colored lines that at each turned indicated where they headed: Labs, quarters and testing. No doubt each section would have its sub-division; maybe more colors would join the yellow, blue and red lines.
"Has he said anything else, sir?" Anders cut in as they crossed another corridor, now only the labs and testing lines marked on the wall.
"No, and we haven't pushed for it either. We were waiting for your arrival to decide a course of action."
The corridor divided in two again, this time double doors halting their progression in both directions. Labs and Testing marked on each set, the four soldiers that had accompanied Harrington staying a couple of steps behind. Harrington moved to the bio scanner and placed his hand for verification. A green light lit, accompanied by a loud beep. Calmly taking his own handgun, he pointed it at Anders' chest.
"We need to verify your identities," he said in a neutral tone, the soldiers behind them taking aim as well. It took him a second to realize that there was a real possibility that they could be shapeshifters in disguise. Michael had passed the security scan in Eagle Rock, their records had shown, so chances were, anyone coming from the outside could be an alien as well.
He moved first. The sooner they finished the security procedures, the faster they could get into the heart of things. His hand checked positive for bone structure, and his fingerprint and dark brown iris matched with those of the computer's file. He was, indeed, who he said he was.
Shore went through the same procedure, and so did the two soldiers who had escorted them. The whole thing lasted about ten minutes, no one saying anything, the weapons carefully trained on them. Anders wondered if tranquilizer darts would come out of those guns should the security system prove them non-human. He suspected as much.
All of them cleared, the soldiers lowered their weapons and stood their positions, as Harrington, Shore and himself went through the "Testing" wing. No apologies were given, no questions asked about what had just happened. It was only procedure.
A man in light blue scrubs met them at the end of the corridor.
"Agent Cooper, this is Dr. Shore," Colonel Harrington introduced both men, "Doctor, he'll get you to your patient. Lieutenant Colonel, we still have some debriefing to do. We'll watch them through the observation room." The Agent and Shore started to go to the right, and just as Anders was going to go to the left, Harrington called them back, "Doctor, if you have any questions or need anything, don't hesitate to ask. We haven't come so far to fail."
Shore nodded once, and instantly turned to the Agent to get the information that had so obviously been left out of the two pages that had been faxed to Washington about Max's health, and had landed less than thirty minutes ago in Peter Shore's hands.
Harrington guided Anders through the corridor in the opposite direction.
"Shore seems like a capable man," Harrington said, gray eyes betraying no emotion.
"He really was our best choice, sir," Anders assured his superior as they reached the other corner where a flight of stairs was guarded by one more soldier. The Afro-American private saluted and let them pass.
"How many men are stationed here, sir?" Anders wondered out loud, Shore's remark about security coming to mind.
"Not nearly enough. Six agents, eight privates and two technicians. But we can't afford leaks, and the place is a small fortress in itself. We're counting on the fact that Evans was sedated when he came here, so he has no way of knowing –or telling anyone- where he is."
"Do you believe him, sir? About Antar?" Anders asked as they reached the observation room, one floor overlooking the sick bay, turned off monitors that would show vital information on both side walls silent since neither man in here would know how to interpret them.
"Oh, I believe he believes it," was all his answer as the Lieutenant Colonel took his first look at Max Evans.
The room below was well lit and spacious. It was certainly not meant for one man only, but then again, Anders didn't know what this place was usually meant for. Right in the middle, on a narrow hospital bed, lay the man that had the capital of the United States wide awake and worried at 2:00 a.m.
He was wrapped in several dark blue blankets, colorless IV bags dripping fluids through equally colorless plastic lines that invariably ended in a vein somewhere below those blankets. An oxygen mask was attached to his face, while silent lights turned on and off on machines both by his side and at the far wall of the room. Cordless monitors, Anders guessed, his breath caught in his throat at the thought that this man could very well die in their care without them having a definite answer to their diplomatic problem.
"They've been having trouble keeping him warm," Harrington quietly said, as he too contemplated Max, both men aware of the political dangers that had drawn Lieutenant Colonel William Anders to this observation room.
"I thought you'd said he was stable," Anders said, movement catching his eyes below at his right. Peter Shore was cleaning himself up and getting ready to enter the room.
"He is," Harrington said, "as long as you don't take him out of those blankets, the warm IV and the warm oxygen."
"Wait… as if he were hypothermic?"
hypothermic," Harrington corrected. "He doesn't seem to retain any warmth of his own. The problem started about three hours ago. Once his temperature reached a normal level and the technicians started to take the blankets off, it dropped like a stone. Our head technician, Captain Whitmore over there," the Colonel signaled the man that was with Shore in the antechamber to the improvised ICU, "thought the serum might have damaged, or at least inhibited vital functions from the hypothalamus."
Anders' eyes narrowed to get a better look at Whitmore, obviously debriefing Shore as the newly added doctor was putting on the same light blue scrubs Agent Cooper had been wearing before.
"That's when you called in a qualified internist. You realized you had a bigger problem on your hands than you could handle."
"I was hoping Whitmore was just partially right," Harrington said, not arguing the fact that Anders was right. "That it was a side effect that would resolve on its own. Except the time for the next dose has come and gone, and he's not improving one bit."
, Anders thought, his eyes returning to Max, so pale and still and… lifeless. And for the first time –but certainly not for the last by a long shot- he actually whispered, Please don't die.