'Listen, I've got to get you somewhere safe, so they don't finish what they started.' She frowned. 'They cycle people through every four days, moving new patients sequentially through the procedures starting in the basement and ending on the third floor. It's a house of death.'

'I'm on the third floor,' Borland said and then coughed. A chill shook him and he chuckled. 'My stuff's there, if we're running.'

'Exactly! And none of the civilians will feel like giving us any trouble,' she growled and stabbed a button to hold the door closed. 'When we go out of here, we run to the right. Get as far down the hall as we can go. Once we get our bearings we'll grab your stuff.'

'Sounds good,' Borland snarled, balling up his bloody right fist. His left hand still pressed against the open slit over his navel. It was starting to feel heavy.

'Ready?' she said, raising the pistol in her right hand.

Borland nodded, and lifted his fist.

'Let's roll! ' the woman shouted and slapped the button that opened the doors.

They slid aside to reveal the nurse with the German accent standing by a patient in hospital blues. The nurse raised her e-board like a shield. Borland's rescuer bowled the woman over as he followed in her wake. The startled patient stepped back but not fast enough to avoid Borland's right cross. The man crumpled.

They ran past.

A trio of patients staggered out where the hall turned right. The woman kicked one in the groin and he went down howling. Borland blasted through the others like a tank.

A deep pain ran around from his chest to his back.

But the morphine dissolved it as he rumbled along after the strange woman.

Keep going.

He felt light-headed then and dropped to a knee. The jolt caused a spasm of pain to clench his belly and lower back. Then the morphine haze descended.

Not far.

This time, though, he had to grind his teeth against a shadow of the pain-the painkiller unable to handle it all. He dispelled his companion's concern with a nod as she looped a hand under his arm and heaved him to his feet.

He screamed as white-hot agony clenched his stomach muscles.

'I'm fine,' he gasped, recovering quickly. 'Keep going!'

They hurried along the corridor casting looks left and right.

'Up here!' she shouted, elbowing another patient into a wall. He crumpled crying out in pain.

Borland checked his chest for his nametag. They told him never to remove it. But it wasn't required during the operation. Another sharp stab of pain in his gut, and he tumbled against the wall, dizzy-leaving a great red smear.

'Don't know my room number,' he said and coughed as she grabbed his arm and pulled him wheezing along with her.

'Bastards knew I was coming for you,' she snarled and then pointed up the hall with her gun-the last door on the left. 'That'll do for now.'

She reached out and gripped Borland's shoulder; steadied him as another spasm of pain brought a sheet of sweat over his face.

Behind them, down the hall he could hear the shouting and clamber of pursuit. The noise echoed dully, distorted by a hollow ringing in his ears. His vision blurred, and another chill shook him.

The woman whipped through a door pulling a reeling Borland close on her heels.

Inside it was the exact duplicate of his room, except there was a man in the first bed. Some old chap was out cold, asleep with painkillers. He'd already had the operation.

But they finished his.

The strange woman shut the door and ran to the window in the far wall. Checked it, saw that it didn't open.

'We'll make a stand here!' she announced and then reached out to Borland, pulled him down by the bed beside the window.

He collapsed against the wall pressing the wound over his stomach. His lower back was aching now, and his testicles answered a shift of position with a blast of pain.

What's happening?

'Okay…good,' he said, looking down at the big hole over his navel. He wadded up the lower half of his smock and pressed it against the opening. 'I got to stop this bleeding.'

'I know,' she said, waddling forward on her knees to peer around the end of the bed. She grabbed a pillow and threw it to Borland. He hugged it against his wound.

The old man in the other bed snored.

'I still think I got you in time,' she said bleakly and then held her own abdomen. Tears sprang into her eyes.

'All right, I'm Joe Borland,' Borland said wincing. A spasm shook his gut; the contractions caused a hard knife of pain to strike deep. 'What's your name?'

'Judy Martin,' she said, glancing quickly to the door.

Voices were gathering outside. People were calling and shouting. There were loud thuds as other doors were forced open.

They're looking for us.

'Okay Judy,' Borland said, looking down at his wound. Blood continued to seep out. It wasn't gushing but… 'I'm going to need a doctor, soon, and painkillers.' He nodded toward the door. A wave of dizziness passed and he slurred, 'So, what's going on? What do they want?'

She sighted along the gun barrel, trained it on the door. 'Same thing they took from me.'

Sweat glazed Borland's forehead. Pain throbbed against his hand, pushed through the morphine.

'They got mine,' Judy said, finally, allowing herself to rest against the wall, still aiming at the door. 'But I won't let them take your baby.'


Borland lost track of time pretty quickly. All he had to mark it with was the growing pain in his guts, and the sporadic attempts at communication made by hospital staff and he assumed, the police.

At first a doctor started talking through the door.

He said that Judy wasn't going to be in any trouble.

He explained: the people she assaulted were shaken up but they were going to be fine.

And, he said, it was possible the whole thing was a reaction to the medication.

You're not in any trouble.

The doctor described going over her medical file and finding her anti-depressant medication might have reacted with the anti-anxiety pills and painkillers she was given. In rare cases it could cause a psychotic break if she was taking both.

Not that you're psychotic, Ms. Martin.

Was she still taking her medication? Going cold turkey could have the same effect.

The doctor said there were two things she had to do to resolve the situation. She had to put the gun down and come out of the room.

Mr. Cumberland was all right. That was the old man who was still snoring off his post-op medication. So no harm, no foul.

And the other thing was: 'Judy, we really have to get Mr. Borland back to the operating room.'

At that point, they'd asked to talk to Borland, but Judy warned him before he could speak.

'Remember, they're after your baby,' she said in a cautioning tone. 'They're tricky so watch what you say.'

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