Paradigms Lost — Chapter 29

Chapter 29: Intensive Combat Unit

The hospital was quiet; at three-thirty only the emergency crews were around. I parked, checked my gun, and put the viewer on. I looked weird but that didn’t worry me; the only thing I was worried about was that the werewolves would be able to hide from anything technology could think up. I didn’t believe that… but what if I was wrong?

I went in through the side entrance; I got some strange looks but no one got the courage to ask me just what I was doing before I was past them. I’ve often noticed that if you look like you know where you’re going and why, people just don’t ask questions. And once you get past them, they’re too embarrassed by their hesitation to go after you.

I got to the fifth floor, where the ICU was set up. Outside sat a familiar figure.

Renee raised her head, looked, and looked again, a startled expression on her face. Then she smiled. “Hello, Wood. I thought you’d be home getting some shuteye.”

“I thought the same about you. Why are you here?”

“Winthrope and I both agreed she should have some kind of watch over her. I took this shift.” Renee glanced inside; Sylvie was sleeping. Renee turned back to me. “What the hell is that on your head?”

“An idea that doesn’t seem to be working out.” I’d looked at everyone I’d passed through it, and even glanced at the patients. I could tell when someone had a fever, but if there were any werewolves around the viewer didn’t seem to be able to spot them. I looked at the magnetic indicator and the radio meter; none showed anything helpful; hell, with the MRI unit in this building neither one would be likely to pick up anything.

“Well, it’s been quiet as hell here. You might as well go home. I’ll call you if there’s any change.” She gave my shoulder a tentative pat.

I noticed a movement behind her.

Sylvie’s eyes had opened suddenly. Her head turned weakly towards me; her eyes widened, and it felt like ice water was running down my spine as I saw her face: her “feeling” face.

I nodded my head sharply; the viewer dropped down, and I looked through it.

Renee Riesman’s face sparkled in infra-red, a network of tiny sparks and lines rippling across it.

Everything froze. I had never looked at anyone through the viewer at this range; it could be just what moving muscle looked like close up. If I was wrong, I’d be killing a police lieutenant and a friend.

But if I was right…

It only seemed to take a long time; my body made the decision even as I glanced down. The 10mm fired twice before I was quite sure what I should do.

Renee staggered back, shock written on every line of her face, and I realized I’d made a horrible mistake; it wasn’t a werewolf at all! I started forward… just as claws and fangs sprouted like deadly weeds from her twisting form. But the werewolf was dead even as it lunged for me; only one claw caught me, leaving a thin red trail across my left cheek.

Screams and shouts echoed through the hospital. Three figures appeared around the corner. When they saw my gun out, they dodged back. “Who are you?” one called out. “What do you want? This is a hospital, for Christ’s sake!”

“I’m not here to hurt anyone,” I said, realizing how utterly asinine that sounded coming from a man holding a pistol in front of the ICU. “I’m just trying to protect my friend in here.” I could just imagine their thoughts: a homicidal paranoid is holding ICU patients as hostages.

“Look,” one said very quietly, reasonably, “I’m going to just step around the corner, okay? I just want to talk with you, is that all right?”

I heard another voice mutter something in a heated undertone; it sounded like “Are you nuts? Don’t do it!”

“Sure.” I said. “Just do it slowly.”

A young orderly, my age or a little younger, eased carefully around the corner. He had his hands raised. “See, I’m not going to hurt you.”

“I know what you’re thinking, but I’m really not crazy.” I gestured to the body. “Just look at that; you’ll see what I’m up against.”

He walked forward slowly, hands over his head.

As he got closer, the viewer image slowly started to sparkle.

“Hold it right there. You’re one of them.”

The expression of sudden terror, the pleading look, they were perfect. I had another attack of doubt.

The claws almost took my head off before I fired. The werewolf howled in agony and died quickly. I saw two pairs of eyes staring widely in shock as the creature that had been playing their friend expired. “Friggin’ Nightmare on Elm Street, man! What is going down here?”

“Werewolves,” I answered, “and if you’re smart you’ll get out of the hospital.”

“I’m history,” one said, “But I’ve gotta go through where you are.”

“If you aren’t one of them, go ahead. Otherwise you’ll be number one with a bullet.”

He had more guts than I would have. He just walked out, crossed the hallway to the nearer door, and started down the stairs. Once his friend had gotten across safely, the other one walked across with his hands up, then bolted down the stairs.

Just then I heard the hall window shatter. A tall blond man, rather like a young Robert Redford, dropped lithely into the hall from outside. He straightened and looked at me. “You are most extraordinarily annoying, Mr. Wood. I have been considering how best to kill you.” The deep, warm, yet strangely resonant voice was chillingly familiar.

I raised the pistol, centered it on his jacket. “Virigar, I presume.”

He bowed. “At your service.”

If Virigar was here… God, had he already killed Verne? “What are you doing here? I thought–”

“Yes, you thought I would be at the warehouse.” For a moment the good-humored mask dropped. My blood seemed to freeze at the sheer malevolence in his face; had he attacked then, I couldn’t have moved a muscle to stop him. Then he regained control. “In point of fact I was; then that thrice-damned vampire began his attack and I knew precisely what you had planned. I, also, believe in keeping my word, so I came to make sure the young lady was killed.” He glanced around at the two bodies. “A wise choice, it would seem.”

He inclined his head. “You have been lucky and resourceful so far. I look forward to tasting your soul; it should be a strong and, ah, heady vintage. Then I will finish with Domingo. Your interference has been really quite intolerable.”

“Aren’t you overlooking something?” I asked.

“Such as…?”

“The fact that I’m going to blow you away in the next two steps?”

He laughed. “I doubt you could hit me. I am not one of these younglings.”

I wasn’t going to dick around with him. Before he could react, I put three shots in the bulls-eye where most people keep their hearts.

His eyes flew wide; he stared at me, then down at the three neat holes in his suit. He sank to his knees, muttered something like “Impressive aim …” and then his eyes rolled and he fell.

I waited a few minutes, keeping the gun on him; he didn’t move. I went forward a few feet just to check.

Something hit my hand so hard it went numb, picked me up and hurled me down the hallway. I fetched up against the far wall, disoriented. When I focused my eyes again, I saw Virigar standing there with my gun dangling from his hand. Grinning pleasantly, he shrugged off his coat, revealing the bulletproof vest beneath.

“I should have blown your head off.” I shook my hand, trying to get feeling back into it.

He nodded cheerfully. “Yes indeed, but I depended both on legend and training. The legend of three silver bullets to the heart for a Great Werewolf, and the fact that most people are taught to shoot for the body rather than the smaller target of the head.” He tossed the gun aside. “Your friend Renee lasted for a few minutes, Mr. Wood. Let us see how well you do.”

He began to change. I froze. I had seen another werewolf change… but this was not another werewolf.

This was Virigar.

This was no transformation like a morphing, but more; a manifestation of the truth behind the facade. The air thickened and condensed, becoming black-brown shaggy fur. The eyes blazed with ravenous malevolence, flickering between blood-red and poison yellow. The head reared up, seven feet, eight, nine towering, hideous feet above the floor, the marble sheeting cracking and spitting powder from the energies that crackled about Virigar like black lightning. It drew a breath and roared, a shrieking, bellowing, rumbling impossible sound that shattered every window on the floor and deafened me. The head wasn’t really wolflike… wasn’t like anything that had ever lived. Dominating it was the terrible mouth, opening to a cavernous diameter, unhinging like a snake’s, wide enough to sever a man in one bite, armed with impossibly long, sparkling diamond fangs like an array of razor-sharp knives…

For a moment all thought fled; all I had was terror. I ran.

Virigar let me get some distance ahead before he began following; I remembered what Verne had told me, that they fed on fear; obviously Virigar wanted a square meal. I ran down the steps, taking them two, three at a time… but I could hear his clawed footsteps closing in on me.

I remembered a trick I’d first read about in the Stainless Steel Rat series. If I could do it I might gain a few seconds.

I jumped as I reached the next flight of stairs and hit them sideways, one foot raised above and behind the other, both slightly tilted. My ankles protested as the stairs hammered by underneath me like a giant washboard; I hit the landing, spun, and repeated it, then banged out the doorway, sprinted down the hall, ignoring the ache in my feet. It worked!

My heart jumped in panic as Virigar smashed out of the stairwell fifty feet behind me, the metal fire door tearing from its hinges and embedding itself in the opposite wall. Nurses and orderlies scattered before us, screaming. Oh, the bastard must be gorging himself now.

Somewhere in the distance I thought I heard gunshots. Too far away to make any difference now, though…

Around the corner, trying to find another stairwell. Oh, Christ, I’d found the pediatric wing!

A young girl with dark hair in two ponytails blinked bright blue eyes at me in surprise as I raced past her wheelchair, her attention to her late-night sundae momentarily distracted. With horror I recognized her: Star Hashima, Sky’s daughter, just recovering from double surgery. Virigar skidded around the corner after me, growling in a grotesquely cheerful way. I faltered momentarily, realizing that the monster was already trailing blood; he wouldn’t hesitate to kill again.

Her face paled, but at the same time I could swear there was almost an interested expression on her face as she saw the huge thing bearing down on her. Then Star calmly and accurately pitched her sundae into the King Wolf’s face.

The laughter in its growl transformed instantly into startled rage and agony; blinded, Virigar stumbled and cannonballed into a wall, smashing a hole halfway through and clawing at its face. Star spun her chair around and rolled into one of the rooms, slamming the door behind her.

Virigar roared again, shaking the floor. “Bitch! I’ll have your soul for that!”

I ran, praying this was the right decision. Would Virigar waste the time taking care of Star right now, or would he chase me first because of what I knew? And what in the name of God had that girl done? As I half ran, half fell down the back stairs, I suddenly remembered a faint sparkle from the ice-cream bowl. Silver-coated decorations.

No, Virigar couldn’t afford to waste his time now. If I got out to Mjolnir, I could draw him off, outrun him probably, and then too many people would know too much. I shoved open a door, ran out.

Oh no. I’d come down one floor too many. This was the basement! Ammonia and other chemical smells from the labs filled the air. Above me I heard the stairwell door smashed open.

I ran.

Technicians and maintenance gaped at me. Signs flashed by, Hematology, Micro Lab, Urinalysis, Radiology…

At Radiology I scrambled to a halt, dove inside. A last-chance plan was forming. Behind me screams sounded as Virigar charged after me.

I shoved the technician there aside. “Get the hell out of here!”

Hearing the screams, and the approaching snarls, the tech didn’t argue; he split. I ducked into the next room, grabbing a bucket that stood nearby, slammed and locked the door. I worked fast.

Heavy breathing suddenly sounded from the other side of the door. “Dear me, Jason; you seem to have cornered yourself.”

I didn’t have to fake terror; I knew my chances were hanging on a thread.

The door disappeared, ripped to splinters. “It’s over, Mr. Wood!” Virigar leapt for me.

That leap almost finished me; but the door had slowed him just enough. With all the strength in my arms, I slung the contents of the pail straight into Virigar’s open mouth. The sharp-smelling liquid splashed down the monster’s throat, over his face, across his body, soaking the fur. Even as that pailful struck, I was plunging the bucket into the tank for a second load.

Virigar bellowed, a ragged-sounding gurgling noise of equal parts incredulity and agony. He was still moving too fast to stop; one shaggy arm brushed me as I leapt aside and he smashed into the tank itself, tripping and going to his knees, one arm plunging into the liquid. The metal bent, but then tore as he scrabbled blindly at the thing he’d run into, disgorging its remaining contents in a wave across his thighs and lower legs. Momentarily behind him, I doused him with my second pailful, soaking him from head to toe.

The Werewolf King’s second scream was a steam-whistle shriek that pierced my head, but lacked the awesome force of the roar that had shivered hospital windows to splinters. Foul vapors like smoke were pouring from him, obscuring the hideous bubbling, dissolving effects the liquid was causing. The monstrous form staggered past me, mewling and screaming; incredibly, I felt the earth itself heave as Virigar wailed wetly, and a flash of yellow-green light followed. Lamplight poured through a ragged gap in the far wall and was momentary eclipsed by the horrific silhouette of something half-eaten away as Virigar clawed his way to the outside… and disappeared into the night.

Cautiously, a patch of light approached. The flashlight ranged across me, then went to the tank, broken into pieces and leaving its sharp-smelling contents flowing harmlessly across the floor. The light showed me the way out, its beam illuminating the wall just enough to show the sign painted there:

X-Ray: Developer, Fixer, Silver Recovery