And Hell Followed With Him


Back to: And Hell Followed With Him Part 1

Part 2

Norton Drake sat in front of his computer terminal and watched the screen, knowing that the Cray was capable of monitoring the aliens' transmissions on its own, yet he found he could not leave the room. He did not really want to be by himself anyway, it gave him too much time to think.

Blackwood had been missing for over six hours and everybody at the Cottage was uptight. Suzanne had put her sign out stating she was working, but Norton knew that she had been looking at the same slide in the microscope for the last hour. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. 'Yeah,' he thought, 'and I've been watching the same screen for just as long.'

He took a large swig of coffee and grimaced, it had long since gone cold. He considered making a fresh pot, but vetoed the idea when he remembered that he would have to go and grind the beans... for some reason he did not want to leave the computer. He knew that Blackwood's disappearance had something to do with Ironhorse, and he also knew that the astrophysicist would contact him at some stage, and he wanted to be ready when he did. As if on cue the phone rang and, snatching up the headset, he put it on, answering before it was firmly in place, "Norton here."

"Ah... Norton," came the calm voice of his friend.

Drake felt his anger grow; he could almost see the smile upon the other's face. "Harrison," he hissed, not wanting to attract Suzanne's attention, "where the hell are you, man? General Wilson's gone ape, and the Omegans have made this place so tight I can't even get a paper plane out of here."

"Calm down, Norton," came the quiet voice. "I've found the colonel."

The computer expert felt a wave of relief flood through him. "Alright, where are you? We can pick you up within half an hour."

There was a long pause on the other end of the line, then Blackwood answered slowly, "Er... it's not that easy."

"Harrison," Norton butted in, anger again rising, "this is the Big Guy's life we're talking about. Now, just give me the location and..."

"Norton," the voice at the other end of the line was tense. "Ironhorse does not want to come in, and..." he paused again, "he's not alone..."

"Are you being held hostage?" The thought sent a trickle of fear down the computer expert's back.

"No... No, nothing like that. It's just that I've decided to do this Paul's way, and he has agreed to... turn himself in if this fails." Again the pause. "But, first, we have to try to capture an alien."

"Harrison," screeched the black man. "Are you totally out of your mind?"

"Harrison..." Norton looked round to see Suzanne standing by the door to her lab. "Is that Harrison on the line?" she asked, advancing towards him.

He waved her to silence as Blackwood continued, "I know it sounds crazy..."

"Crazy..." repeated the other man, "Harrison it's not just crazy, it's insane."

"Damn it Norton, will you let me finish?" snapped Blackwood, his patience fast running out.

Drake put a hand up to his forehead and wiped it across his face. "Sorry," he muttered.

"Right, now I know it's crazy, or insane, but that's what Paul wants, and I'm willing to go along with him. If we can't capture an alien, he will voluntarily return to the hospital, and he will be in a better frame of mind to accept whatever we suggest -including the operation. If we try to drag his butt back and do the operation against his will, we could lose him... if not physically, then mentally." Norton heard the fear behind the other's words and knew that - to Blackwood - this was a real possibility.

"Okay Harrison," he finally conceded, "we'll do this your way. What do you want?" He felt Suzanne hit his arm and shake her head, but he ignored it, waving her to silence.

"Alright." The relief in Blackwood's voice was plain to hear. "Are we still getting those transmissions from the aliens in San Francisco?"

"Yes, the last one was a few hours ago."

"Were you able to pinpoint their location?"

"Nearly, they seem to be coming from a warehouse in the Central Bay area."

"Have you got the exact address?"

"Harrison, I'm not sure if this is the best way..." Norton made a last ditch effort to get through to his friend.

"Norton, if there was another way I would be the first to back you up. I don't like this any more than you do," he conceded, "but Paul is determined... and I would much rather he did it with OUR HELP than on his own."

"Our help?" queried Norton, suddenly realising that Blackwood might not be on his own. "Alright, Harrison, I think I understand, and I'll put the Omegans on alert. Do you have any idea as to when you might go in?"

"Norton, I promise I'll call you sometime tonight, if you just give me the address."

"Okay," the other man replied with a large smile. He looked round and gave Suzanne the thumbs-up sign, and she backed off, anger still showing in her eyes but she was prepared to let Norton play his hand. He quickly gave Blackwood the address, along with what little information he had on the company who owned the warehouse and what possible goods might be stored there.

"As I promised, I'll call you back tonight, and I must admit to looking forward to not seeing your ugly face for a few days," Harrison finished, after repeating the address back to Norton.

"I'll see that the Omegans are well hid, Doc, don't worry about that."

"Good, I knew I could trust you not to tell General Wilson. He can be so strait-laced about this sort of thing."

Norton gave Suzanne a quick look, then replied, "I'll explain to Derriman. I don't think we'll have too much trouble in that department, and the good general had to return to Washington this afternoon."

"So, what he doesn't know won't hurt him," finished Blackwood. "Or, as the colonel likes to say, need to know... and that man does not need to know."

"I've got to go now, Norton."

"Okay, Harrison, but take care and look out for the colonel. It's taken me months to get the starch out of his pants, I don't want to have to start all over again."

"I'll keep that in mind," Blackwood replied before he replaced the receiver.

As soon as the connection was cut, Suzanne pulled Norton's chair round and confronted him with a face of fury. "What the hell was all that about?"

Norton held up both hands in surrender and answered, "I'll explain all if you promise not to hurt me." He grinned, then, looking serious, he went on, "But let's get Derriman down here... I don't want to go through it all twice."

"Is Paul alright?" she asked.

Norton looked surprised, then blushed. "I forgot to ask, but if Harrison left him to make a call he must be in a fairly stable condition."

"Can you trace the phone number?"

"Yes, it was on automatic search, but Suzanne, Harrison wasn't alone so he couldn't say too much. I'll play the tape back once Derriman arrives."

Suzanne took a step back and, seeing the determined set of Norton's face, knew that she would get no further information out of him until the sergeant arrived.

***

Blackwood turned to face Lococco. The man wore a slight smile, and the astrophysicist felt a sudden twinge of unease.

"Let's get back," Lococco said as he headed back down the block towards the hotel. Blackwood hurried to catch up with him and they walked side by side, silence their twin companion.

"You've got no idea what we are going up against," Blackwood suddenly snapped at him.

This did not get the kind of response he expected as Lococco laughed and, holding up his hand, he stopped Blackwood, saying, "Man, I've been up against some humans who make these aliens look like kittens."

"You think so?" came the sharp reply. Blackwood's eyes blazed with anger.

"Chill out, Buckwheat. The enemy is the enemy, whether it's a foreign power, an alien, or your own government." Blackwood looked surprised: the last had been said with great bitterness. "Besides, you just invited the colonel's Omegans to attend the party," Lococco went on with a smile. "If you had asked me, I would have told you the time we're going to hit the warehouse... that would have saved them sitting in the cold all night."

"The Omegans?" he questioned.

"Oh, come on, Blackwood. You sounded like a James Bond movie: 'I'll call sometime tonight' and 'see your ugly face for a few days'." Lococco reached up and rubbed his nose. "Paul might consider you to be a genius, Blackwood, but you're no warrior."

"Thank God," Blackwood replied vehemently.

"No, thank Ironhorse. Without him, you would have to face the reality of this war, and that, Buckwheat, is something..." He stopped, as if realising that he was saying too much. He looked down the road and, taking a deep breath, got his emotions back under control. "We'd better hurry, I don't like leaving Paul for too long."

Blackwood would have said more, but Lococco did not give him the chance as he picked up his pace. Soon they were climbing the stairs to the hotel room.

"You don't object to the Omegans being there?" Blackwood asked as they made their way along the corridor.

"No, we'll need them for a diversion."

"Diversion?"

"Yes, they can go in the front and back, we'll use the side, and hopefully capture one of the aliens in the middle."

"And if not?"

Lococco stopped and pulled Blackwood to one side. "Listen, I said I would try, and that's what I'm going to do. I don't think in 'maybe's; we have to do this and we will." He let go of Blackwood's coat and straightened it out, continuing, "He's been on the morphine for five days now. I'm not willing to give him any more after tonight, it will be too..." he paused, "...dangerous. He knows that as well as I do. If we fail, I think he will go back with you."

"Why are you doing this?" Blackwood questioned. He knew that the rivers in this man ran very deep; he could see determination and courage behind the carefree mask he firmly wore.

"Because he's a friend," Lococco snapped, starting down the hall again.

Ironhorse was asleep when they entered the room. Lococco moved over and gently laid a hand upon his brow; he groaned in his sleep but did not wake. "His temperature's still up," Lococco stated.

"I'd better change the dressing before we go," Blackwood said, moving to lay his own hand upon his friend's brow. He frowned at the heat he felt radiating from the body beneath his hand.

"Do it after the next morphine shot, it won't cause him so much pain," Lococco replied, moving to lay on the other bed. "If I were you, I'd try to get some shut eye. It's going to be a long night."

"I'm fine as long as I get one hour's sleep every five," Blackwood informed the other man, while pulling up the chair and setting it nearer his friend.

"Yeah, well I'd get a couple now, because you won't be getting any during the next twelve or so," shot back Lococco, getting comfortable upon the bed. Closing his eyes, he finished, "Paul said you were weird."

Blackwood opened his mouth to demand an explanation, then closed it again, realising that Lococco was asleep. He sat for a few minutes, watching the rise and fall of Ironhorse's chest, letting his mind drift into meditation mode... he did not realise when his meditation stopped and the sleep began.

***

The alien's three-fingered hand reached for his body and he struggled to fight it off; if it reached him he would die like Ironhorse, his life ebbing from his body. He began to struggle in earnest with the hand that held him down.

"Damn it Blackwood, that hurt," cried a voice outside his dream, and he awoke with a gasp of breath and, sitting up, tried to calm his rushing emotions. The nightmare had seemed real. He reached out and touched Ironhorse's outstretched hand. "Sorry if I woke you," he gasped, sitting up straighter. He looked across the room and saw Lococco standing by the small cooker.

"I was already awake," Ironhorse said, reaching up and rubbing the back of his neck. "I think I've got a stiff neck." He smiled again, rubbing the offending muscles.

"Here, let me," Blackwood offered. Sitting on the bed beside the Indian, he reached up and gently massaged the offending area. Silence filled the room for a few minutes, then Ironhorse moved under his hands, indicating that he had had enough.

Moving his neck from side to side, testing the stiffness, he smiled, "Thanks Harrison, I never knew you could do that."

"Just one of the many useful things I know," he replied. Standing up and stretching, he went on, "I didn't realise I was so tired." He moved to the window and noticed that it had, in fact, grown dark outside.

"I guess your one hour in five got turned about slightly," smiled Ironhorse, coming to stand behind him. Blackwood could see his friend's reflection in the darkened window; Ironhorse looked concerned, but it was not for himself.

"I'll be fine, Paul, it was just a nightmare," Blackwood stated firmly, not wishing to add to his friend's worries.

"Come and get it," came the call from across the room. As they moved towards Lococco he placed two bowls in front of them, saying, "One chicken and one vegetable."

As Ironhorse ate his food, he casually asked, "Have you got the morphine, Roger?"

Blackwood met Lococco's eyes, and the other man suddenly looked away. Both had heard the strained tone and realised that it was the first sign of addiction. It caused Blackwood's stomach to knot and the food suddenly lost its appeal.

"I'd like to give it another half hour, if you think you can manage it?"

Ironhorse nodded. "Right, six hours between shots." He nodded again, "The pain's not too bad, I can wait that long." He continued to eat his food, unwilling to meet the glances the others shot at him.

Blackwood searched frantically for something to say. "This soup is good."

Lococco's eyebrow shot up, and he answered, "The best tin money can buy."

"Do you remember that stew you made in 'Nam..." Ironhorse put in, a smile lighting his face. "He found these vegetables in a burnt-out hut and decided that he wanted to cook a stew." He paused, then added, "We were about a day behind enemy lines. Anyway, Lococco was determined to make this stew... so, I acted as lookout, and Joey got some wood and made up a small fire, and Lococco here, well he went to look for some meat..." He laughed at the memory.

Lococco also smiled and finished, "Best damn rat stew you'll ever eat."

"If I remember correctly, you were going to do a rat cook book once you got Stateside, what happened?" Ironhorse enquired with a raised eyebrow.

"Well, that's easy to explain. I just told the local Chinese take-out what I was planning to do, and they paid me off. Seemed they didn't want any competition for their livestock."

Ironhorse's face fell, then he laughed and resumed eating his food. "Still the best damn stew I ever ate," he said between mouthfuls.

Lococco looked serious, then added, "I think it had a lot to do with the company, Buckwheat."

Ironhorse looked up and their eyes met, a flash of understanding went between them and Blackwood suddenly felt the odd one out. It was a strange feeling; usually it was the colonel who was the one out of place between Norton, Suzanne and himself.

Lococco stood up and placed his empty bowl on the side by the cooker. "We had better start to get ready."

As he spoke, he prepared the needle of morphine. Blackwood could not help but notice the eager gleam that entered Ironhorse's eyes when he saw what Lococco was doing. He reached out and touched the Indian's hand, distracting his attention and letting the other man see his concern.

Ironhorse caught and held his glance, then smiled sadly. "It's only for the pain, Blackwood. I wouldn't take it otherwise." "I know that, my friend, I know that." He gave Ironhorse's hand a quick grasp, which he was pleased to feel returned.

"Okay, are you ready for this?" Lococco asked, moving to kneel beside Ironhorse. They could see the war of indecision crossing his face.

"Take it, Paul. You need to be on top form for tonight," Blackwood urged, not liking having to play devil's advocate, but hoping that this would be the last shot Ironhorse would need before he got to hospital. He felt his heart wrench at the grateful look he received from Ironhorse, who then closed his eyes to accept the injection.

He sat there with his eyes closed and only opened them when he felt someone touch his injured shoulder. "I'm just going to change the dressing." Blackwood began to remove the tape, and pulled a face as it pulled against the colonel's skin.

"Hey, man, don't worry. I can't feel a thing," Ironhorse slurred, a smile on his face.

Blackwood shot Lococco a startled glance, realising that the other man had given Ironhorse more morphine than the last time, but he only met a defiant look. He tried to control his anger, knowing that Lococco would not have given it to Ironhorse unless he thought he needed it. After he had finished, he left Ironhorse resting in the chair and threw the discarded dressing in the bin. Standing near to Lococco, he quietly asked, "How much did you give him?"

"Only enough to get him through tonight." Seeing the look in Blackwood's eyes, he sighed and answered, "It'll take about eight hours to wear off, but we don't want him too drugged up, so I gave him the kick now and can just top it up if he needs it later with a lesser dosage."

"Top it up? This isn't an engine we're talking about! You keep 'topping it up' and you're going to get him totally hooked on the damned stuff."

"Blackwood, I know what I'm doing. And, for your information, that man happens to be a friend of mine and I would do nothing -and I mean nothing - to hurt him." He finished by shoving Blackwood out of his way and storming into the bathroom.

Blackwood stood for a few moments watching the closed door; Lococco had spoken with such sincerity and emotion that it had thrown him. Lococco may hide behind the words of 'helping a friend', yet it was obvious to Blackwood that, like himself, he now considered Ironhorse to be more than a friend. War, he realised, made brothers out of the strangest combinations. "He knows what he's doing, Harrison," Ironhorse stated quietly, watching him.

"I know that you have total faith in his ability... but I'm still not too sure that we're doing the right thing." He stopped when he saw the defeated look that filtered across the other man's face. "I said I was going to go along with you, and I will, but I don't have to like it."

"No," Ironhorse repeated wearily. "No, you don't have to like it." He leant back and again closed his eyes. His voice was so tired, and the light of the room cast a shadow that gave him a young, vulnerable look. Blackwood had never seen him look so... innocent.

He moved to kneel beside his friend and, reaching out his hand, touched an arm. "How do you feel?"

"A bit dizzy... light-headed."

"Do you think you should come tonight? Couldn't Roger and I..." Blackwood hesitantly enquired.

"Blackwood," Ironhorse's smile was genuine this time. "If I let you go off alone with Roger to capture an alien, you would come back hog-tied." He leant back. "He doesn't like civilians much, either."

"And I thought you were starting to like us civilians." He said it as a gentle jest, and was surprised to see anguish cross his friend's face.

"I once told you that combat taught me not to get too close to people..." Ironhorse paused, then raising his hand he gently placed it over his wound. "This is the reason why. In war, people die, Blackwood, but not just 'people'; it's friends and, in some cases... family." He stopped. "I'm not afraid of dying, but..." he paused again, swallowing hard, "but now... now I am reluctant to leave my family."

"Paul... you are not going to die." He saw Ironhorse look away, but Blackwood snarled, "Damn you, Paul, look at me when I'm talking to you." The other's eyes snapped back to meet his own intense look. "You are not going to die," he repeated slowly. "Your family won't let you. Suzanne has spent night after night in her lab, working on a formula, Norton has dug into every file he can find appertaining to the aliens and their cell phase matching." He smiled slightly. "He's even come across a few we never knew about before, and I won't tell you where he found those, and Debi..." He stopped, seeing the look of pure pain cross the other's face. "Even Debi had been running herself ragged, getting this and getting that, and not a moan... you know she usually gripes about fetching and carrying. So don't you talk to me about leaving your family, because we won't let you." His own voice cracked with emotion, and he sat back on his heels and swallowed, feeling his lips wanting to turn down and fighting against this action.

Ironhorse raised an eyebrow and answered slowly, "Civilians, you never know where you stand."

"Don't you?"

"If we're going, you guys had better get ready," came a quiet voice from the bathroom doorway.

Blackwood jumped up and helped Ironhorse to stand, saying, "I've got nothing to change into, so I guess I'm ready."

Lococco looked him over and stated, "They're dark enough to pass." Then, turning to Ironhorse, he passed some combat clothes and, smiling, said, "I got the same size you were in 'Nam, I do hope you haven't put on too much weight."

Ironhorse's head snapped up and his eyebrow raised an inch as he replied stiffly, "I have not put on a pound." As he spoke, he snatched up the clothes and, with eyes flashing, he slammed into the bathroom.

"Do you think he'll need any help?" questioned Blackwood, looking towards the closed door.

"Nope, he'll manage. And Blackwood..." Lococco waited until the other man looked at him. "He needed that little talk. Sometimes a man forgets he's worth saving." He glanced back at the door and added quietly, "And he _is_ worth saving."

"You don't have to tell me that."

Again the deep eyes caught and held his. "No, I guess I don't."

***

They had arrived at the warehouse twenty minutes earlier and now sat in the van that Lococco had acquired. Blackwood felt he ought not to question too deeply where he had come across the vehicle, as it was a bakery delivery van.

Lococco had faded into the darkness upon arrival with a terse,

"Wait here, I'll once-over the place."

Ironhorse had nodded and, taking a hand-held machine gun, had slumped back in the seat, his head continually turning to scout the area. Once he had left the van and done a quick perimeter check. Blackwood had offered to go, but shook his head at the gun Ironhorse had held out. The colonel shook his own head at the denial and, opening the door, moved off. Blackwood had made to go with him, but the colonel had caught and pushed closed his door, hissing, "Stay here."

Blackwood spent a few anxious moments watching the other man scout about the car park, then the door opened and in slipped Ironhorse. He was breathing hard, and sweat stood out on his face. "Lococco must be round the other side. This section is closed and quiet."

Blackwood nodded, even though he did not understand the pidgin talk Ironhorse sometimes used when talking to his own men on a mission. He had a suspicion that Ironhorse knew this, and that was why he did it. Blackwood jumped when Lococco suddenly opened the door. He noticed with annoyance that Ironhorse just smiled at his friend.

"Well?" the Indian questioned.

"The Omegans are round the other side," he stated.

"Omegans," gritted the colonel, fire flashing in his eyes. "What the hell are they doing here?" He directed this question at Blackwood, who smiled weakly and pointed at Lococco.

"He saw them, not me."

"Well?" Ironhorse turned his attention back to Lococco.

"As I was saying, I spoke to a Sergeant Derriman, and he's going to arrange for a little diversion," he looked at his watch, "in about fifteen minutes."

"Derriman." Harrison had to marvel at how Ironhorse made the name sound like dog meat. "I guess General Wilson is taking the far side, Suzanne is waiting in the car, Norton is by the back door, and I suppose that Mrs Pennyworth and Debi are laying on tea and cakes during the interval," snarled the injured man, raising his hand to his wound as his breath ran out.

"General Wilson is not on this mission - to my knowledge, he doesn't know of it - and Derriman has two squads, one on the north side and another one on the south, diversion only. From what we can scout out, the aliens are mainly situated in the middle of the warehouse so they are going to attack from the end and try to divert some of the aliens to their location, so we can take the middle section." Lococco paused, and added snidely, "And as for this Suzanne, Norton, and others, they're on the west side to catch any stragglers."

"Excuse me?" snapped Ironhorse, glaring at Lococco, who laughed out loud and, holding up his hand, ventured...

"It's a joke. Derriman has five men stationed there."

"You're hell to go on a mission with Lococco, do you know that?" snarled Ironhorse, reaching for his door.

"Yeah, and you're so starched that you can't run straight," snapped back the other man. He stopped Ironhorse from leaving and handed him a bulky gun. "Don't forget this." Seeing the confused look upon Ironhorse's face he explained, "Derriman gave it to me, it's a dart gun. Apparently this Suzanne says it should knock out an alien long enough for us to secure it." The Indian snatched the weapon up and pushed it into his belt.

Blackwood shot looks from one to the other. If this was the way they began a mission, it was surprising that either man had made it through 'Nam: not so much because of the enemy, but because of the intense emotion flowing between them... almost like an electric charge.

Ironhorse's face was set in rigid concentration, and Lococco was almost casual and joking about the battle to be fought.

Realising that they were going to leave him behind, he scrambled from the van and ran to catch up.

"Back to the van, Blackwood," snapped Ironhorse, motioning him back with his gun.

"Not planning on using that on me, were you, Colonel?" Blackwood could hear the tension in his own voice and knew that the others could not miss it.

"Two minutes and counting," put in Lococco, looking at his watch. He readied a hand grenade.

"Alright, Blackwood," snapped Ironhorse, knowing that he would not go back, and also realising it was safer to have him with them than in the warehouse looking for them. "But stay with Lococco, he can offer you better protection."

Lococco looked up at the mention of his name and glared at the Indian, then reaching for a gun he held it out to Blackwood, who began to shake his head. Lococco glared at him, then looked pointedly towards Ironhorse snarling, "Take it." Only Blackwood heard the 'I have to keep him alive'. Slowly he reached out and grasped the weapon; it felt strange and bulky in his hand, and he tested its weight.

He looked up into Ironhorse's surprised eyes and, smiling, he said, "Reality of war, Paul." He nodded towards Lococco, who gave him a grim smile in return. Blackwood was about to say more when all hell broke loose. The left side of the warehouse lit up with an explosion and, within seconds, the right side joined suit. Lococco shouted a warning about getting down and the side door blew off its hinges, then both of the combat-trained men were through the door and into the darkened warehouse. Blackwood swallowed his fear and followed. As he entered the door, he was grabbed and yanked down behind a row of machinery.

"Keep low, keep up," Lococco hissed at him. "And don't talk," he added, seeing Blackwood's mouth about to open. It snapped shut as he scurried off.

The noise was deafening; explosions seemed to be coming from both sides, as well as the sound of gun shots. He saw that Ironhorse had gained the lead and was scouting ahead, then motioning them on. They weaved further into the place in this snake-like fashion. First Lococco would dive forward, then Ironhorse would leap in front. Blackwood could tell how well they worked together, not talking, but communicating by action and signs. Suddenly a shadow passed over them and both armed men spun their weapons upwards, ready to defend their position, but the spectre had gone. Blackwood saw Ironhorse swallow hard and crouch down beside a crate. Lococco reached him first.

"Alright?" Blackwood caught as he came even with them. The Indian nodded, but the other man could see the paleness of his features and the sheen of sweat that covered his face. His breathing was uneven, but he kept nodding as if to convince them of his ability.

Lococco's eyes narrowed and he nodded to himself, "Alright, Blackwood, you take rear, I keep the front." He gave Ironhorse a hard look and finished, "you between us." Then he was gone.

Blackwood crouched down beside Ironhorse who was leaning around the crate, watching Lococco cut the path. "Keep up, Blackwood," he suddenly said. "Just keep up." Blackwood felt the shiver course through the other's body and knew that it had been insane to bring him along.

Lococco must have motioned him, because Ironhorse was up and running. Blackwood was moving with him - not touching, but ready to offer assistance should the other falter.

When they joined Lococco, he indicated a bulky machine off to their left. "I think I saw one duck behind that machine, by the office door." He looked at Ironhorse, judging his ability, then added casually, "Did you remember to bring the net, 'cause I forgot."

"What net?" questioned Ironhorse through clenched teeth then, seeing the other's smile, he shot back, "I told Blackwood to fetch it." Both men turned to regard Blackwood, who just looked back at them, totally confused.

A noise from the suspect machine brought them back to the matter at hand. Lococco held out his hand and Ironhorse placed the dart gun into it. As he checked it over, Lococco said, "Each of Derriman's squad has one of these and they are also trying to capture one of these bastards." He tilted his head and listened for a few moments. "It sounds like they have their hands full. They should start to flush them back towards us, so we should expect a few more visitors soon." He finished checking the gun and took another look at the machine by the office door.

"Suzanne said this should drop an elephant," Lococco smiled, then finished, "she sounds like my kind of lady."

"We don't even know if that's going to work," hissed Ironhorse, "so keep your gun ready..."

Lococco smiled at him and replied sweetly, "Now's the best time to find out. Here, Blackwood, you still got your gun?"

Blackwood looked at the weapon he held clutched in his hand and nodded, determination filling his features.

Lococco shot off to the left and Ironhorse motioned for Blackwood to follow him. "You look to his rear and keep that gun handy," snarled Ironhorse, pushing him after his friend.

Suddenly a movement above them pulled Ironhorse about and he fired towards the leaping alien. It began to dissolve before it hit the ground.

"Go," Ironhorse shouted at Blackwood, who chased after Lococco, torn between staying and keeping an eye on his friend.

Lococco disappeared round another crate, and Blackwood spun round it to trip over his crouched body. "What the hell?" cried Lococco, pushing him off. "You're a bloody menace, Blackwood," he snarled, yanking his gun out of the way and shoving him down. Ironhorse appeared beside them, looked at their position and guessed what had happened but, apart from giving Blackwood a hard look he kept his own counsel, just stating, "I had to take out two."

"He's still there, I just saw an elbow slip out before the Marx Brother here showed up," snapped Lococco.

"It sounds like Derriman and the others are being kept busy." The fight was getting closer, but it was a slow process which indicated that there were more aliens here than they had suspected, and that they were fighting back.

"Let's hope he keeps a few alive then," snapped back Lococco.

Ironhorse said nothing, just sat back, breathing heavily and, raising an arm, wiped it across his too pale face. "Let's just do it." He closed his eyes against the pain.

Blackwood's eyes riveted to the injury on his friend; the bandage was showing through the torn uniform, and he saw the telltale sign of blood as it wept through the material. 'Take out two,' Ironhorse had said. Blackwood had seen him shoot one with his gun, but he now noticed the knife was missing from its sheath. He had obviously taken on another one, hand-to-hand. Anger flared, but the astrophysicist held it in abeyance.

Lococco reached over and pulled back the uniform, seeing the weeping wound more clearly. "Bastard," he hissed, but whether to Ironhorse or the alien, Blackwood could not tell. The hard look in the other's eyes bore into the lieutenant colonel.

Ironhorse just met his gaze and mentioned, "It was sighting on you two, I didn't have much choice."

"Your gun broken?" hissed back Lococco, then, seeing that it was pointless to argue with an alien hiding ahead of them, he turned his eyes back to the situation. "It's not made a move to run or defend itself."

"Maybe it's a human hostage, captured and brought here?" put in Blackwood. From the reaction of the other two, that had not been far from their own minds. "What should we do?" he finished.

Lococco shrugged, then nodded towards the tranquilizer gun. "Go after it. If it's human, apologise when it wakes up."

"That shot might kill him," put in Blackwood, shocked at the coldness in the other's voice.

"No it wouldn't; it might knock him out for a few hours, and he looked quite a big person anyway," Lococco added, hopefully.

"We have to do it, Harrison. I don't think that it's human," stated Ironhorse, sliding further down the crate, his face now deathly pale, eyes glazing.

Seeing his friend's state pushed any further concerns from his mind. "Okay, let's get it."

As if on cue, the creature leapt from its hiding place and all three could plainly see its pock-marked face and the oozing sores. Lococco brought the gun up and fired; it caught the creature in the chest and it clawed at the dart. The alien disappeared behind another machine and then crashed to the ground, one foot stuck temptingly out from its shelter.

"Keep your gun ready," Ironhorse gasped. "Just in case it's not totally out," he finished, struggling to his feet.

"You stay there," ordered Lococco, but Ironhorse just glared at him.

"I'm coming to cover you," he snapped back. Blackwood stayed by his side and nearly caught him as he swayed dangerously over, but he righted himself and, shaking his head, determinedly followed Lococco.

He took a position away from the fallen alien, but within easy firing range. He kept looking about the building, ceiling, other aisles, tense, ready to repel an attack. The sound of shooting from either end of the warehouse was becoming spasmodic. It was obvious that the aliens had fought a pitched battle, and that Derriman had resorted to killing them, rather than risk his men's lives. At least, that was what Ironhorse hoped. He watched while Lococco checked over their fallen alien.

Blackwood was unable to prevent himself from joining the other man as he knelt and began to secure the alien's limbs. The handcuffs clicked shut, and then Lococco edged down to the feet.

Suddenly he was kicked aside, sent sprawling into a machine. He landed hard and slid down, shaking his head. The creature reached up with cuffed hands and grabbed Blackwood's jacket, pulling him down to within reach, his legs coming up to sweep the startled man's feet from under him. In seconds, Harrison lay on the floor and the alien was astride him, cuffed hands fixed around his throat. Lococco had recovered and had the alien's head in a nelson grip, trying to pull it from Harrison.

Ironhorse cursed and edged towards them, trying to get a clear aim. Suddenly, a sound from above alerted him to another source of attack and he spun round just in time to have his weapon knocked from his hand. He was sent spinning into a crate, and cried out as his body was jarred and his wound flared up anew.

The alien reared up over its fallen prey and yelled a victory cry. Suddenly a hole appeared in its body and it was thrown forward, dissolving over Ironhorse. It took him a few seconds to realise that the danger had passed, and that the hole that had appeared in his attacker had been from Blackwood's gun, which now lay several feet from its owner.

He groped for his own weapon as he took in the scene before him: Harrison was still under the alien, its hands still about his throat, but now its third hand was reaching towards his face, intent upon mutilating the astrophysicist before it died. A single shot rang out and the creature lurched to one side, taking Lococco with it as it slowly melted.

Blackwood lay coughing and dragging air into his lungs, one hand rubbing his bruised neck. Lococco slowly knelt up and leaned over him, a steadying hand resting upon his shoulder. Slowly Blackwood sat up and looked at his rescuer, who was gradually slipping to the ground, falling into the goo left from his own attacker.

"I couldn't let it kill you," he kept repeating over and over again, as he slowly tilted to the side and became quiet.

Both men jumped up and rushed to his side, Lococco taking a defensive position to protect the fallen man. He shot a glance at Blackwood, who was searching for a pulse. Finding it, he let out a sigh and pulled Ironhorse up into a protective hug.

"Let's hope that Derriman or his teams got one," Lococco said quietly, looking towards the remains of the near-captive.

Blackwood gently touched Ironhorse's face, wiping some alien goo from his brow. Then, sitting down more comfortably, he pulled him across his legs and held him closer, not knowing if this would be the last time he could hold him in this fashion. "Don't you dare die on me, Ironhorse, you hear me?" he spoke quietly. "You've got a family now, and we..." his voice caught, "we all need you." A hand fell upon Blackwood's shoulder and he looked up into

Lococco's pain-filled eyes. "He's got a reason to hang on. Don't worry, Paul's not a quitter."

***

Suzanne looked away from the slide she had been studying for the last hour and, sitting up in her seat, stretched her aching limbs. She felt as if she had been working non-stop in her lab for the past fortnight - which, in effect, since the colonel's injury, she virtually had been. Yet they were still no nearer to an antidote to the poison that was seeping through the colonel's body.

She glanced at the wall clock and noted that the Omegans had been gone for over four hours, and still no word of how the attack had gone. She wondered if the attempt to capture an alien had even begun yet.

"Any luck?" Dr Mitchell asked, coming to stand behind her.

"No.... I just can't seem to tie this thing down..." she sighed and, moving aside, offered for him to look at the slide. "The cells die once they are removed from the host, but while they are attached to the human body they just keep growing."

"But not really multiplying?" he asked, looking up at her.

She took a step away, leant back against the table and sighed.

"No... while they are growing, they're multiplying... they're eating away at the host body, destroying all human tissue they come into contact with, but the alien cell dies with the human one it's destroyed. In the meantime, however, it's reproduced and that's what goes on to the next cell...."

"We need to build up a wall of some kind that would prevent the reborn alien cells from progressing on to the next healthy human cell," Mitchell stated.

Suzanne's head shot up at his words and a gleam came to her eyes.

Seeing it, Mitchell asked, "What?" Getting no answer he repeated, "WHAT?"

She held up her hands to prevent his speaking further and gave herself a few moments to think. "What would happen if we gave the alien cells something else to attack?" she finally asked.

Mitchell frowned. "Such as what?"

Suzanne felt frustration well up inside her. "I don't know," she admitted, pushing away from the side and pacing the room. "If Harrison were here we could toss this into his court, and I know he would come up with some off-the-wall idea and...." She stopped, knowing that Dr Mitchell did not have the absolute faith in the project leader that they all had.

Mitchell shook his head and replied quietly, "I don't think there is an 'off-the-wall idea' that will save Lieutenant Colonel Ironhorse. I believe the only thing that will save his life is the operation." He paused, seeing her reaction to his words. Swallowing, he ploughed on, "By removing the affected area we should effectively stop the disease from spreading."

"But at what cost?" questioned Suzanne quietly.

"It could save his life," Mitchell pointed out.

Suzanne felt sudden tears of frustration spring to her eyes. "The operation would not save his life... how long would he survive with the loss of his arm?" She moved back towards the microscope and stated firmly, "There is another way, and it's in here." She tapped her head. "We have to find another way to destroy those alien cells. What if we do the operation... but to a lesser degree; don't remove all the tissue, just enough so that we can run some more tests?"

Dr Mitchell stepped away from her, anger in his movements. "The longer we leave the operation, the more damage is being done to Colonel Ironhorse's body.... If we do the operation, it must be a total attack on the aliens cells, remove them all...."

Suzanne sprung up and faced the man, her own anger flaring. "And he will lose that arm.... No, we've waited this long...." She stopped, took a deep, steadying breath. "I need to have time to complete my tests. I have some ideas... theories that should be followed up...." She replaced the slide with another and resumed her study. "I'm going to give Paul every option I can and, if he's prepared to take the risk, then I think we should."

Mitchell recognised defeat when he saw it. Both knew that by now the alien infection must have spread and the loss of the arm was imminent, so a few days longer would not really make much difference. "You know, if the alien cells have entered the chest region this is all hypothetical?" he said quietly.

Suzanne looked slightly ill at his words and replied, "I wish they would contact us or something. This waiting...."

"I've just had word from General Wilson." Norton's voice caught them both by surprise and, turning, they saw him waiting by the lab door. From the hard look he gave Dr Mitchell it was obvious that he had not just arrived. "He's been in touch with the medical unit at Fort Streeter and has arranged for us to have the full use of one of their isolation units... also a lab and sleeping facilities." He paused, then added, "I know that Harrison will want to stay with Paul."

Suzanne gave him a brief smile, "We would have a hard time getting him to leave."

"You don't think that maybe Dr Blackwood is too close to the situation? I mean, his actions of late have not been very rational," commented Dr Mitchell, looking from one to the other.

Yet, instead of defending Blackwood, Suzanne gave him a small smile and said, "Harrison is Harrison. He's a brilliant man, and that in turn means that he has his own funny little ways, but he is as stable as he is ever going to get." Looking towards Norton for support, he nodded his agreement and she continued, "As long as Paul needs him, he will be there. The time we have to worry is if Paul dies: I'm not too sure if Harrison can face another loss to the aliens."

Seizing on this, Mitchell commented, "Then maybe it's not such a good thing to have him in constant contact with Ironhorse. He might weather the loss better if there was some emotional and physical distance between them."

Suzanne stood up and began to pack her slides away. Returning to gather her notes, she added, "I think we should get to Fort Streeter as soon as possible, for when they arrive." She paused by Dr Mitchell and finished, "If you can get Harrison away from Paul then good luck, but I will not be a party to forcibly keeping him away. Paul Ironhorse is his best friend... more than that, he is the rock that Harrison needs in all this madness, and I don't think you could prevent him even if you have the backing of the President himself."

"I know what you're saying, Suzanne, but for the sake of your project.... Blackwood is too important a person to lose just because...." He stopped when he saw the flash of anger again ripple in her eyes.

"Because of what? Paul's death? His instability at the loss of his arm? The thing that makes Harrison so important is his human feelings, his ability to think beyond our own petty problems. Yes, I agree that this might have a lasting effect on him... it might even drive him over the edge.... Don't you think that terrifies me? I have a daughter, and her very existence on this planet may depend on Harrison... so I will do my best to make sure that Paul survives this, and you would be of more help to us doing the same, and not worrying about what the outcome might be until after it's happened." She stopped, out of breath, and held Mitchell with her defiant look. She was not about to apologise for what she had said, and he could see that from her expression.

He stood there for a few moments, apparently shell-shocked by her outburst, then he nodded once as if coming to an agreement within himself. Finally he asked, "Do you want that stuff to go as well?" He pointed to the batch of slides and computer printout she had been working on the day before.

"Yes, I think it would be wise to take everything we have," she replied as calmly as she could.

He gathered the equipment and left the room. As he passed by her, Suzanne closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them, she found Norton grinning at her. An eyebrow raised, he said, "I'm glad you said that. It's needed to be said for a few days now."

She returned his smile, if somewhat shakily. "I guess his doom and gloom finally got to me."

"Well, if it keeps him off Harrison's back for a while, it's worth it."

"Norton, what will we do if Paul dies?" she questioned in a small voice.

The computer expert moved his chair closer to her and, grasping both of her hands in his, answered firmly, "What he would want... we'll carry on... and don't worry about Harrison; he's a lot stronger than anyone gives him credit for."

"I can't help but worry though," she confided to him. He smiled and, giving her hands a squeeze before releasing them, replied, "Hell Doc, everybody's allowed to worry... it's the giving up we don't like." He turned to leave the room, then stopped. "I think I'll just do a little checking on our Dr Mitchell."

Suzanne stopped and looked at him. "Why?" she enquired, slightly surprised. She had thought that Norton liked the doctor. Norton smiled, yet it did not reach his eyes. "Methinks he doth protest too much about Harrison...." He paused. "Almost like he doesn't want us there."

"I'm sure he's just concerned."

Norton grinned at Suzanne and shot back, "So am I, woman, so am I."

The microbiologist was used to Drake's way by now and, knowing that he was never happier than when he was digging into a file he should not be near, she decided to let him have his way. After all, it could be interesting.

***

Suzanne and the others had been at the hospital on standby when the news came in that Blackwood and Ironhorse were arriving by helicopter. After a frantic few minutes, they were ready to greet them as Ironhorse was unloaded. He was placed straight onto a gurney and rushed into the welcoming light of the hospital.

One look at Blackwood's features informed Suzanne that they had not been successful in capturing an alien; he was nearly as pale as the man on the gurney. Reaching out, she searched for a pulse from the unconscious man. He looked so pale and vulnerable that she wanted to just capture him up in a hug and let him know that she was there. Instead, she sighed when she found a shallow pulse fluttering in his neck.

"Quickly, we have to check the wound and see how far the alien cells have progressed," she said as she moved along with the trolley, then she reached out with her other hand and gripped Blackwood's arm to offer reassurance.

"We couldn't do it, Suzanne. We couldn't capture one." His voice was tired, and his whole body bespoke of a great failure.

"Oh, Harrison," she said, moving closer and letting the trolley speed away from them. "Look, we may be a little while....

Norton's set up a computer station down the hall... last door on the left.... Go and see him.... We'll come and see you there as soon as we're finished."

Blackwood nodded. Suzanne knew that he had not really taken in a word she had said, his eyes still fixed upon his friend on the gurney. "He's... he's been on morphine," Harrison said. "It was the only painkiller he could get hold of...."

"Morphine!" Suzanne said, a fist tightening about her heart. "For God's sake, Harrison...."

"He's been on it for the past week; it was all they could get besides hard drugs."

"Alright," she said, knowing that to yell at him now would achieve nothing... he already looked as if he was about to fall flat on his face.

Ironhorse had disappeared into the isolation unit that had been assigned to them. Moving to follow him, Suzanne paused at the door and said, "Harrison...." Seeing him standing there, looking lost and forlorn, she swiftly moved back and gripped his arm, giving him a slight shake. "End of the hallway.... Norton's waiting for you.... I'll come and let you know how he is as soon as I'm finished." Then she was gone.

Blackwood stood looking at the closed door for a few moments, fighting the battle to follow them. He took one hesitant step, then stopped. It was now out of his hands; he had tried to do it the colonel's way... now he had to let Suzanne have her turn. Slowly he began to walk down the corridor.

He let his mind drift back over the past few hours. Derriman and his squad had found them; Blackwood holding Ironhorse in a grip that he seemed unable to break, Lococco standing guard over his fallen comrade. The sergeant had given the order to surround them and defend their position from any further attacks. None were forthcoming, and it soon became evident that the warehouse had been cleaned of aliens.

Lococco had finally reached out, gripped Ironhorse's hand and, looking into Blackwood's eyes, had quickly said, "I've got to go... if I'm caught here... I'll have to do some fancy explaining."

Blackwood looked up, confusion filtering across his face. "How will I contact you? I mean, to let you know how Paul...."

"Don't worry, I'll contact you.... Just..." Lococco's glance fell upon Ironhorse's pale features. "Just make sure you give him the best shot you can."

Blackwood had started to nod in agreement, then realised that Lococco was no longer a part of the small circle, he had faded into the darkness of the warehouse. "Report," Blackwood asked Derriman in his best Ironhorse tone.

Derriman shot him a startled glance, then answered, "Squad A captured one sir... but it attacked and we were forced to kill it."

"The tranquillizer wasn't strong enough," Blackwood agreed. "We had one but before we could secure it, it broke free and attacked us."

Silence hung heavy for a few moments and finally Derriman said, "I've ordered the helicopter... ETA is three minutes, sir."

Blackwood glanced down at his friend and held him tighter. He knew a stark moment of fear, and realised with a start that the fear had been with him since the attack had begun.

Coming back to the present with a sudden jolt, he gave himself a mental shake and carried on down the corridor. Suzanne had said that Norton was in the room down the hall, he might have some more news about the aliens. Reaching the door, he entered without knocking.

***

Suzanne watched as the orderlies placed the sleeping man into the hospital bed. The nurses attached the monitors and placed the IV leads with calm efficiency then, turning, they acknowledged Dr Mitchell and headed towards the door. Suzanne opened it for them and closed it slowly after they had departed.

Dr Mitchell was still fussing about his patient and Suzanne resisted the urge to assist him. She knew that there was nothing further they could do until after the last batch of tests had been run. Three hours had passed since Ironhorse had been admitted to the hospital, and already she had run a short series of tests on his blood and was pleased to note that, although his physical condition had deteriorated, the actual alien infection had slowed in its advance through his system. It had progressed further along the injured arm, but had not, as yet, affected the chest region, which had been one of their main concerns.

Dr Mitchell finished drawing a fresh sample of blood from Ironhorse. "This sample should give us a fairly clear idea of how fast the infection is travelling," he said, passing the vial to Suzanne.

She nodded and commented, "Hopefully it won't show any change." Dr Mitchell glanced back towards the bed and replied almost sadly, "The process does seem to be slowing down."

"Maybe it has something to do with the morphine he was taking?" Mitchell looked surprised, "Morphine?"

"Could be... it might be worth looking into...."

"I don't know, we might cure him of this only to have him addicted to the drug." The doctor shook his head. "Which is worse, the illness or the cure?"

"We can cure the addiction," she stated.

"Suzanne, it might just be a natural state for the alien cells to slow down reproduction after a length of time."

The microbiologist met his sceptical look. "I guess I'd better get this sample tested and see what it tells us." As she turned to go, she added defiantly, "And I'll run a few slides with morphine and see what happens."

"Fine, but don't get lost down a track that might lead to a brick wall," he snapped back. Just as suddenly his anger vanished and he smiled. "Sorry, but time is not on our side. If we are to operate, it might be best to do it while the alien cells are dormant."

A steely glint entered Suzanne's eyes. "I thought we had settled this argument about the operation."

"Suzanne, Colonel Ironhorse is your friend, but he is my patient and I took an oath to do the best I could for my patients... and I believe that the operation is the only way to safely remove the infected cells without killing him."

Dismissing the issue, Suzanne opened the door. "I'll be in my lab if you need me. Harrison is with Norton, I suggest you give him an update on Paul's condition. And Douglas, I would suggest that you keep your operation theories to yourself until we have proved that there is no other way."

As the door closed behind her, the smile fell from Dr Mitchell's face and he slowly returned to the man laying on the bed. "You have a lot of friends, Colonel," he commented to the sleeping man. "It's a damn shame they can't detach themselves from that fact and see this problem as a whole." He stopped, unwilling to voice his concerns even to a person who could not hear.

Reaching out, he checked a monitor and, fiddling with the IV, he removed a filled needle from his pocket and injected more sedative into its flow. He knew that the patient did not need it, but he wanted to make sure that Lieutenant Colonel Paul Ironhorse remained unconscious and unable to voice an opinion of his treatment. Mitchell was sure that Suzanne would not check such a standard procedure, and he knew he could always cast the blame - if discovered - onto one of the attending nurses.

He smiled again, a cold distant mirthless grin and, looking about the room again, realised that he was fighting the urge to experiment with his patient. Morphine indeed.... The operation would give him only a small amount of the tissue he would need to further his experimentation. No, Ironhorse was progressing nicely as far as he was concerned.

He picked up a cloth and gently, almost lovingly, wiped the beads of sweat from his patient's forehead. Did they actually believe that they were the only government team working on this alien problem? Ever since he had been assigned to care for the wounded colonel, he had found himself looking at the man more as a possession and less as a patient. He knew that it was only a matter of time....

It was not that he didn't want the colonel well.... No, he just wanted him well on his terms. General Wilson was prepared to back Dr Blackwood on this and, at the moment, that was not a problem. Suzanne's input was invaluable, but if they kept insisting on getting in his way then he might have to take the matter higher up and have the Blackwood team removed from this project.

He had waited too long to get an alien-infected human for them to destroy the chance with their loyalties to a man who had given up his rights when he joined West Point.

***

Blackwood sat back and watched the myriad of emotions cross Norton Drake's features. He had just finished explaining the events that had taken place since he had left the Cottage to meet with Lococco.

"So you don't really know who this guy is, apart from his name and the fact he was with Ironhorse in 'Nam?"

"No, but they are very close. I mean, would you walk into an alien-infested warehouse on the say-so of a delirious friend?"

"Maybe... but, then, I've been around you for a while, so there's no telling what I might do next. You do have a habit of rubbing off on people."

That last comment earned him a glare from Blackwood. Adjusting his glasses, the astrophysicist went on, "I'd still like to know a bit more about him. He must have some grounding with the government - he mentioned a few things that indicated he had no love for the way his country had treated him."

Norton turned back to the computer console and tapped in a few commands. "Sounds heavy; I'll see what I can turn up... though I'm a bit tied up at the moment doing research on Mitchell."

"Dr Mitchell?" exclaimed Blackwood, coming to stand behind his wheelchair-bound friend.

"He seems awfully keen to get the big guy under the knife, also he keeps passing comments on your ability to handle the situation."

Blackwood raised an eyebrow and sighed. "I can see where he's coming from.... I mean, I've either been chasing after Paul or disappearing into the night. To someone who doesn't know us, that might seem a little over-possessive."

Norton swung the chair about and replied, "Harrison, I've known you for years and I'm still trying to figure you out, but this goes beyond that. This is almost..." he paused, searching for the words. "I can't explain it, but it's almost like he would prefer it if we weren't here at all."

Blackwood reached out and rested his hands upon Drake's shoulders, then gave a gently reassuring squeeze. "I'm sure he's just concerned about his patient, but... if it will make you feel better...." Turning away, he finished, "After all, it never hurts to know about the people you're depending on."

Drake watched him move away and suppressed a worried sigh. He had broached the subject with Suzanne earlier, and her reaction had been much the same as Blackwood's, yet Drake could not let the matter rest so easily. Maybe it was his street instinct coming to the fore, but he just did not trust the guy.

"I wonder what's taking them so long?" queried Blackwood, changing the subject back to his main concern.

"I'm sure as soon as they know anything, they'll tell us," soothed Drake, knowing that Blackwood was about to start his pacing again. "Why don't you have another cup of coffee?"

Blackwood glared at him, "I've drunk enough coffee to keep me awake for a year, and I've showered and been fed and had a nap... and," he stressed, "I'm getting tired of waiting."

Drake considered mentioning that Blackwood now knew what it had felt like for them during the past week, but wisely decided against it. "I don't know what to say Harrison."

Blackwood looked slightly shamefaced and gave a weak smile by way of apology. "I'm not very good company at the moment, am I?"

"You've had better days," Drake replied, rubbing his face.

"Ah... Harrison, I swear I'm starting to get stale sitting here. Why don't we take a wander and see what we can find out?" He tapped a few more keys on his terminal. "This little baby can stew on its own for a while."

"Do you know where Suzanne has her lab set up?" Harrison questioned, a gleam entering his eyes.

"I don't think she would be too keen on you interrupting her... even if she's there," finished Norton, moving towards the door.

"I was just going to say hello," came the injured reply.

"Yeah... right... sure... silly of me to think otherwise," smiled Drake in reply. As they wandered down the corridor, Drake continued, "I did a preliminary scan on Dr Mitchell, but I only got the barest details about his medical background." Noting the interested look this aroused on Blackwood's face, he ventured, "You know: high school, college, where he did his internship. But, once he joined the army... nothing."

"Nothing?"

"Nothing... joined in May 1976 and is now a lieutenant. Apart from that - nada... it doesn't even say where he was stationed before he was assigned to Ironhorse."

"Well, the army is notorious for their need to know..." Blackwood said slowly. "But I got the impression from General Wilson that he had been stationed here at Fort Streeter."

"No way, I spoke to some of the nurses." Seeing Blackwood's look, he held up a hand in defence. "I'm a friendly person, Harrison. Anyway, they had never heard of him before two weeks ago."

"Maybe he was transferred here because of his experience?"

"On alien attacks! And injuries of Ironhorse's type!!" Norton said, slightly incredulously.

"Not exactly," Blackwood shot back drily.

"Well then, what? It just doesn't make sense, Harrison. There is something about him that rubs the wrong way," Norton concluded.

As if on cue, Dr Mitchell left a room down the hall and, seeing them, walked forward. "I was just coming to see you," he said. "You'll be pleased to hear that Colonel Ironhorse is resting comfortably, and Suzanne is of the opinion that the infection has stabilised." Seeing Blackwood about to ask a question, he held up his hand, stopping any comment and finished, "We are still running tests; until we know why it's slowed down, we can't say if it's permanent or just a pause in the infection's progress." He motioned them to walk in front of him as he continued, "It is looking promising, although he's still weak. I think it would be for the best if we kept him sedated."

"I would like to see him," Blackwood stated.

Mitchell pulled a face. "Well, like I said, he's sleeping at the moment and I don't really want him disturbed. If you could wait... it might be for the best."

"I am not going to... disturb... him," Blackwood shot back indignantly. "I just want to make sure he's...." He came to a halt.

Mitchell gave him a bright smile and answered confidently, "I'm sure you wouldn't intentionally, but I feel that you are a little... er... caught up in the situation, and it might be best if YOU had breathing space as well."

Blackwood took a deep, calming breath and gave Dr Mitchell a hard look. Now that Norton had pointed it out, he could sense that the doctor was stonewalling him and, he decided, he did not like it.

"Nevertheless, I would still like to check," he said with cool determination.

Dr Mitchell's face flashed annoyance before it fell into neutral blankness. "As project leader you have the authority, I was merely considering my patient." He paused, looking down at his watch. "I was going to check on Suzanne's progress, but I guess that can wait."

Blackwood and Drake exchanged looks as they followed Mitchell.

The blinds had been drawn across and the room was in semi-darkness. The second thing Blackwood noticed was the bleeping of the monitors attached to his unconscious friend. He moved swiftly to stand beside him. Feeling Mitchell's eyes upon him, he made no attempt to touch Ironhorse, content to just stand and watch the deep, even breathing, reassured by its steady in/out motions.

"The monitors will alert the duty nurse if anything changes, but," Dr Mitchell stressed, "he should sleep for a while." "You said something about the infection not spreading?" commented Norton, moving up closer to the bed so that he too could see the colonel.

"It has definitely slowed, yes, but that is not an indication that the danger has passed. It could be a short-term respite, or the cells could be mutating, or...." He shrugged. "Who can say? Suzanne has a bee in her bonnet about morphine; she's running some tests to that effect, but I don't want her to spend too much time on that theory and neglect other avenues."

Blackwood felt the hackles at the nape of his neck rise at Mitchell's tone and spoke in the woman's defence, "Suzanne has had far more experience dealing with the aliens, and any avenue she pursues will be to Paul's advantage. I doubt that she would waste her time if she did not think it would be useful."

"Please, Dr Blackwood, I am not trying to demean her work. From what I have seen, she has discovered invaluable information concerning the enemy... but, like yourself, she only sees her friend laying there. Speed in the short term might not be the permanent cure." He spoke placatingly, and Blackwood felt a twinge of guilt. Had he been judging the man harshly? - after all, they were all on the same side.

Ironhorse groaned under his breath and twisted his head, as if trying to shake off a bad dream. The monitors jumped a few times before settling back into their normal pattern of steady bleeps. "I think we should leave. He could be picking up our voices and it's making him restless. I don't want to increase the medication," Mitchell said pointedly, while motioning them towards the door. Blackwood reluctantly allowed himself to be guided out.

As they left, they passed a guard stationed outside the room. He had only just taken up his position and saluted as they passed. Blackwood turned to the doctor. "Why the guard?"

"I don't want him waking up and leaving again," stated Mitchell firmly. "I thought it would be for the best."

"Why not one of the Omegans?" put in Norton, knowing that neither had ever seen this soldier before.

"Colonel Ironhorse is used to commanding the Omegans, I merely thought that personnel unknown to him might be better." He paused, annoyance at being questioned again slipping into his tone. "If you want me to change the guard for an Omegan, I'm sure it can be done."

Blackwood regarded him for a few moments and slowly said, "I think that might be a good idea, but don't you worry about it. I'll contact Sergeant Derriman and get him to arrange a rota."

Mitchell met Blackwood's look, his own cold and distant. "Dr Blackwood, I am trying to do the best for my patient, and yet you are questioning my every action and undermining my authority in this hospital."

Blackwood brought the full force of his intense intelligence to bear upon the other man and replied, "I can understand how it must seem, but all I want is the same thing as you... but I know Colonel Ironhorse better than you, and he would rest easier knowing that his own squad was here guarding US. I do know that he has left standing orders to that effect." The astrophysicist finished by acknowleding, "Where MEDICAL matters are concerned, you have my complete faith." He gave the man an encouraging smile.

Dr Mitchell swallowed and, refusing to meet Blackwood's look, said quietly, "I have things to attend to. I'll leave you to sort matters out to your satisfaction." He turned and walked stiffly down the hall.

Blackwood felt his eyes narrow as he watched the man's retreat. "Norton," he said. "Let me know as soon as you finish your...." He threw a look at the guard, "That little matter we discussed earlier."

"Where are you going?" Drake asked as Blackwood moved off in the opposite direction to Mitchell.

"I'm going to see Derriman about that rota."

***

End Part 2

And Hell Followed With Him Index On to: And Hell Followed With Him Part 3


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