May and Cassie scooped up what they could of the lab equipment and hurried into the nearest stairwell. They had no flashlights, so they counted the stairs under their breath, fighting the claustrophobia of darkness as they climbed higher and higher. Finally Cassie tested a door and they stumbled into the dim hallway of the seventeenth floor. “This should be good enough,” she said. They selected a room, and while May settled in, Cassie started back down.
Far below, she heard the sounds of fire doors opening and slamming, of running feet, terse instructions and panicked protests. The Pharms weren’t taking over, were they? She hesitated on the eighth floor landing, unsure if she should continue down and risk capture.
Finally the stairwell was quiet again and she decided to see if Doc needed help. If the Pharms were after the laptop or information about the growth hormone research, all the evidence they needed was in that clinic.
She bypassed the direct entrance to the ward and peeked in the door of the waiting room instead. It was empty, but she heard rough, unfamiliar voices in the next room, the measured tones of Doc’s replies and the occasional snarled retort from Julilla. Great. Alex must not have sent anyone to help, if weak and unarmed Julilla was Doc’s only protection.
But what could Cassie do? She didn’t know how many Pharms were in there, what weapons they had, or what kinds of drugs they might have taken. She was about to slip away and get one of Alex’s people, when her eyes lit on a towel-draped bucket—the waste from the operation and Rochelle’s bout of vomiting. Fighting her revulsion, Cassie dumped the gasoline can of congealing blood into the bucket and added some brain matter for good measure.
With the reeking bucket in her arms, she kicked the door to the next room loud enough to be heard, but not so loud as to startle. From the other side there was a pause, then an order. Doc cautiously opened the door.
“How many?” she whispered.
Doc mouthed the word “two.” He recognized the bucket and his eyes widened as he guessed its purpose. He moved back so she could enter.
Cassie affected a polite and efficient air as she sized up the two Pharms with their greasy hair and filthy lab coats. They had the malnourished complexion of addicts and they turned dilated eyes upon her. “I heard you were looking for this,” Cassie said.
They stared at the bucket, uncomprehending.
Cassie moved closer, trying to time her move for maximum effect. “This isn’t all. But there’s more if you want it.”
“We want the laptop,” one of them said, moving toward her. “So unless you’ve been keeping it in a bucket—”
With a silent prayer for accuracy, Cassie heaved the bucket, drenching the two young men in blood and vomit. As they screamed and shuddered, Doc and Julilla dragged Cassie into the ward and shoved a desk against the door.
“That won’t hold them long,” Julilla said. “We need backup. Fast.”
“Is this a takeover?” Doc asked.
Cassie didn’t know but she had to get away. Her nostrils refused to let go the reek of vomit and it was choking her. “I’ll get help. You okay for now?”
Julilla took a scalpel from her pocket. “Armed and dangerous.”
From her mattress in the corner, Rochelle got to her feet. Clearly whatever was wrong with her was more than just disgust at the morning’s surgery. She took a few wobbly steps toward them. “I can help.”
“Right,” Julilla said. “If they come in here you can puke on their shoes.” She turned back to Cassie. “What the hell are you waiting for?”
* * *
The halls were quiet now. Cassie made her way to the spiral staircase and started down, keeping a wary eye out for Pharms. When she reached the lobby, she found it empty, without the usual gaggle of sullen children.
Conference Suite A seemed the most logical place to go, so Cassie hurried down the hall and found a knot of armed teens in fatigues, white coats and Kevorkian-style eye makeup standing around the door to the conference room. Two Regents guards were also in the group and they nodded at Cassie in recognition.
“What’s going on?” she said.
“It’s just a parley,” one of the Regents said. “Everything’s cool.”
Cassie’s eyes narrowed. “Everything is not cool.” She turned on one of the Pharms. “Two of your people are harassing our doctor and a patient in the clinic.”
“They’re on orders to do a search.”
“They were making threats.”
He shrugged. “They might’ve gotten carried away.”
“This is ridiculous.” Since no one moved to stop her, she pushed her way through the door, startling a motley group that included Mundo, Alex, and several Pharms.
Mundo glowered at her from the head of the conference table. “This is a private meeting, Cassie. Go about your usual business. The Pharms aren’t here to bother anyone.”
“Well, someone needs to tell that to the two in the clinic.”
Mundo turned to a long-haired teen in leather pants and a duster. “Did you send your people to harass my doctor?”
The Pharm leader gave an arrogant jerk of his head. “I told them to make some inquiries.”
“They were doing more than that,” Cassie informed him.
“I’m sure you’re overreacting. Your people probably provoked them.” At Cassie’s disbelieving stare, he added, “I’ll send someone to check it out.”
“No,” Mundo said. He looked at Alex. “I want you to check it out personally.”
“I’d rather not get drawn out of the meeting at this point.”
“So check it out fast.”
Alex glanced at Cassie in annoyance, then stomped out the door.
“Anything else?” Mundo asked.
Cassie looked around. “No, that was it.”
“Good. Shut the door behind you as you leave.”
EXCERPT FROM CASSIE’S JOURNAL:
The Pharms came nosing around today. They said they only wanted to know why we wiped out the Christian Soldiers, but we weren’t fooled. The Christian Soldiers didn’t believe in taking drugs, medicinal or otherwise, so as far as the Pharms were concerned, they were just useless troublemakers whose only saving grace was that they kept some of the smaller groups in line.
What the Pharms were really after was Dr. Brody’s laptop and any information we might have about what’s on it. I don’t think they knew for sure we had it, otherwise they probably would’ve done a full-out invasion. But they asked a lot of questions about why May and the twins had been coming around so often. May will have to be more careful and many of us are worried about her. The twins, of course, can take care of themselves.
Rochelle is sick. At first we thought she was reacting to the disgusting operation they did on the comatose guard. Instead, it appears she has food poisoning. Since no one else has it, I questioned her when she was feeling a little better. She didn’t want to tell me at first but finally she confessed that she got the rotten food from Eleven. She didn’t know it was bad, of course, and he told her all he wanted in return was a kiss. Once he had her alone, he demanded a whole lot more.
I’m furious that Eleven took advantage of her, and I was all set to go downstairs and tell Mundo, since apparently this isn’t the first time he’s done this to one of the girls. But Rochelle made me promise not to tell. She feels stupid and doesn’t want Doc to know.
Honestly, I don’t think anyone around here would care if they knew, except to maybe take Eleven off storage duty. If a girl sells herself for extra food, people nod their heads in sympathy. They’re all either doing the same thing or have seen too much of it to be upset any more. Even I’m not as outraged as I would’ve been a year ago. I think I’m more sad for her than anything else.
So it was a dramatic day with a lot going on. Jay missed most of it, out foraging. He, David, and the others heard rumors and hurried back just as the Pharms were piling into their police cruisers to go back to wherever they came from. David was disappointed he missed all the action, but Jay was just glad I was okay.
* * *
Dammit! Sasha just came by. Nisha’s water broke and Doc needs help. It figures this would happen while Rochelle is sick. What the hell? I don’t know how to deliver a baby. I guess I’m about to find out. I hope it’s not completely disgusting and that I’m not as incompetent as I feel.