And Hell Followed With Him
Back to: And Hell Followed With Him Part 2
Blackwood was furious, his every movement betraying his inner emotions. He had contacted Derriman and discovered that the sergeant had, in fact, arranged a guard of four to remain on duty at the hospital with a rota to take over every three hours, but he had been ordered to gather his men and return to the Cottage.
The astrophysicist had then contacted General Wilson, who had been shocked to discover that the Blackwood Project only had base personnel protecting them and had at once made arrangements for Derriman to return with a full squad, with another one on standby. Wilson had also vowed to discover who had issued the order for the Omegans to leave, and they would suffer the consequence of changing one of his standing orders concerning the protection of the team.
As he entered the makeshift computer room he considered the problem at hand; could it have been the aliens? That did not make sense... if it were, surely they would have pushed up their advantage. No.... Someone in authority had withdrawn the Omegans, and that person had enough clout to disappear back into the paperwork before their identity could be noted.
"Do we have Omegans? And who relieved them?" queried Norton, looking up from his screen.
"Yes and no," came the subdued answer.
"Meaning that an order was issued, but not by General Wilson, who is also mad as hell about it." He poured Norton and himself a cup of coffee.
"Spooks?" Drake said after contemplating the information.
Blackwood nodded, handing his friend a cup. "Maybe... it has the hallmarks... but who? And more to the point, why?"
Norton relished a few sips of coffee before placing the cup beside the terminal. Turning, he typed a few commands. "I've been following up a lead that I got on Mitchell. He spent some time in Houston over the last six months and...."
"Houston?" Harrison said: a flash of memory caught, but it floated away before he could remember. He shook himself. "Why does that remind me of being cold?" he questioned, confused.
Norton raised an eyebrow. "You've got me on that one, but I did learn that he's not all he seems." Blackwood cast him an interested look and drew up a chair. Norton continued, "He has appeared in some very interesting places, and I think his army history is a cover up."
"Could be, I had to dig real deep and cross some pretty fancy bridges to get that information."
"Can they trace you?" Blackwood felt a moment of sudden apprehension.
"No way man.... They may be good but..." he smiled, "I am definitely better.... As soon as the satellite link becomes available on the east side, I should be able to get some more information."
Blackwood patted Drake on the back with a "Well done Norton. Derriman should be here in about..." he glanced at his watch, "forty-five minutes. I'm going to sit with the colonel until they arrive."
"What about Mitchell?"
"I don't give a damn about Mitchell," flared the scientist. "I'm not leaving Paul alone until we have a guard on that door that we trust.... I'm still in charge of this project." He headed towards the door. "Contact Suzanne, I want to see her in Paul's room... but don't let Mitchell know."
Drake said nothing, reaching for the phone instead.
Suzanne did not know whether to be annoyed at Harrison, or relieved that he seemed to be coming out of the depression that had held him in its grip for the last two weeks. She frowned. Norton had been very mysterious during the conversation on the phone: she was to meet Blackwood in Ironhorse's room, but not to let Dr Mitchell know where she was going.
At first she had thought that Drake might be helping Blackwood with one of his practical jokes, but her reason supplied that they would never call her away from her lab while she was working on something so important. The nearer she got to the injured colonel's room, the more concerned she grew.
"Harrison... what's going on...? I was right in the middle of some tests," she accused as soon as she saw him. "And who's the guard?" she asked as an afterthought. She had believed that Derriman had arranged a guard, but the young soldier had been a stranger to her.
Blackwood looked up, obviously pleased at seeing her. "That's one of the things I want to talk to you about," he said, moving to give her a hug.
She accepted the brief embrace and, standing back, gave him a critical look. His colour was a lot better and he seemed to have managed a few hours sleep since she had last seen him. "I'm sorry I haven't been to see you before, but I wanted to get the results as soon as I could," she began to explain.
He stopped her from continuing by saying, "Suzanne, I know you've been busy and I don't want to keep you away from your lab any longer than necessary, but I do think this is important."
Sensing the underlying worry, she felt a twinge of fear bite at her gut. "Harrison, what's wrong?" She passed him to check on Ironhorse, who was still sleeping. She frowned and unconsciously brushed a lock of raven hair from his forehead.
Blackwood came to stand before her. "Do you think you could give Paul a check-up... right now?" he asked, his blue eyes intently scanning her face.
She swallowed, this was not what she had expected. "Well... I suppose I could, but Douglas... I mean, Dr Mitchell could tell you his condition, Harrison."
"I don't want Dr Mitchell to know about this," came the quiet reply.
The microbiologist felt confusion well within her and, placing her hands on her hips, demanded, "What's going on Harrison?" Blackwood could tell from her stance that, if he wanted her co-operation, he would have to tell her of Norton's and his suspicions.
"The Omegans were ordered back to the Cottage this morning, and no one here knows who gave the order."
"What does Uncle Hank think?" she asked, knowing that he would not have been happy with that arrangement.
"He wasn't impressed and has arranged for Derriman and the squad to be posted here until further notice." He glanced at his watch. "They should be here fairly soon, but," he continued, keeping the frustration from his voice, "that's not my main concern...." He caught and held her glance. "Suzanne, this whole operation has the feeling of Spook written all over it."
"Spook?" she laughed. "Harrison, you've been around Norton too much." Seeing that he was not joking, she fell silent.
"Who else has the ability to order the guards off and not leave a trace of that order? Not only that, Norton has been doing a bit of digging into Mitchell's past, and he's already discovered a lot of things that don't add up."
"Don't add up... Harrison?"
"His file has been tampered with: false information and records changed. Norton's positive of it, and he's still digging." Suzanne sat down, her whole expression one of disbelief. "Well, he's a competent doctor. I helped him earlier, and he knew what he was doing," she stammered, then stopped. Eyes widening, she looked at the sleeping man again. "OH.... Harrison, you don't think that...." She stopped, unable to finish.
Blackwood nodded and crouched down in front of her. "Suzanne, Norton said that Mitchell was keen to 'get his knife' into Paul; we would be naive to believe that we are the only people interested in the aliens. You know yourself what Alexander was like...." Suddenly he stopped, a gleam of comprehension entering his eyes. "That's it, Suzanne," he said, squeezing her arms. "What, Harrison?" Suzanne cried, grasping his arms in sudden fear.
He reached out to reassure her. "Norton said that Mitchell has spent the last six months in Houston...." He watched her confusion, then added, "Alexander worked out of Houston...."
Suzanne looked taken aback, then replied hotly, "Harrison, thousands of people work in Houston, that doesn't mean that they are on some secret mission."
Blackwood stood up and took a few deep, steadying breaths. "I know it sounds paranoid and far-fetched, but let's just follow this through.... 1. We know that Alexander was after contact with the aliens for primarily military purposes. 2. Paul has alien cells in his body. 3. Those alien cells would be very useful to a project like the one Alexander was working on." He stopped again, it was so clear to him now. His words tumbled over themselves to get out. "They need Paul in this condition. The operation Mitchell is so keen on would give him a grounding of alien/human tissue to work with, but they would have to keep the cells alive and to do that they would need a host body...." He stopped, realisation of what he was saying hitting him like a hammer. He could tell from Suzanne's expression that she was not only following him, but leaping ahead.
"My God," she whispered in shock. "They want to use Paul as that host." She looked at Blackwood, her eyes large with fright.
"Can they do that, Harrison?"
From the look on his face, it was obvious that he thought they could. "Can you check Paul over? I really would like him conscious, if it's possible."
"Conscious?" She frowned. "He should be waking up, the sedative wasn't that strong because of the morphine.... Paul...." She gently tapped his face, concerned at his lack of response.
Blackwood hovered in the background and watched while Suzanne tested Ironhorse's pupil response, then lifted his wrist to take his pulse. Frowning, she moved around the bed to check on the monitors. "This isn't right, he should be coming to by now." "Mitchell did say he would sleep until the morning," put in Blackwood, moving closer to the bed.
The biologist looked up. "The sedative we gave him would never have kept him under for that long... he must have given him another one."
"What can we do?"
Suzanne closed her eyes, pulling all the relevant data to the fore of her mind. She calculated all the information Blackwood had passed on to her. "Well, the rest won't hurt Paul... but I'll want him awake before I administer any more drugs to him. Also, I'd be inclined to suggest that we don't allow Mitchell to administer any drugs without first clearing it with me."
"Can we insist upon that? After all, he is the medical doctor," queried Blackwood.
"Well, normally it could be argued that he is in charge of all Paul's medical treatment, but this is not a normal situation and as far as we're concerned Ironhorse is still under our care.... Dr Mitchell is only assisting us. You are still the project leader, Harrison."
"Yes, but for how long?" he asked, voicing his concern.
"What do you mean?"
Blackwood stood beside her and answered slowly, "Suzanne, if they do want to use Paul as a host body, then they're not going to let us stand in the way. Look at how Alexander just came in and rode all over us at Spirit Lake; we had no say in the matter."
Blackwood smiled slightly. "Paul was madder than hell, but even he couldn't do anything. I think it might be safe to assume that General Wilson's hands would also be tied."
"They wouldn't get away with it," she said, shock colouring her voice.
Blackwood looked sceptical and added, "Yes they would, they don't have to play fair."
"God, Harrison, this is a nightmare. I can't believe that they could just use a human in this fashion, I mean it's...." She stopped, unable to put her revulsion into words. Blackwood's face was pale and expressionless, yet his eyes gleamed with determination. "They haven't got him yet... and if we play this right, they won't." He suddenly smiled at her.
"The sooner we can cure this, the better chance we have of beating them. I'm going to stay here until Derriman arrives, I plan to give him some very special instructions."
"Such as no one being allowed in this room without either you, Norton, or me being present."
"And Mitchell?" she questioned.
Blackwood smiled again; it was not his usual pleasant smile. "Don't you worry about him. I've had a lot of practice dealing with his type... we can handle him." He paused. "It might also be best to fill General Wilson in on what's happening, I think we might just need his help."
Suzanne nodded in agreement, then added, "The only piece of good news is the morphine." Seeing his look, she continued, "It's slowing down the spread of the alien cells. I want to run a couple more tests to see if I can localise the actual chemical; if I get the answers I expect to get, we can go from there, but it would help if Paul were conscious before we start him on the drug again."
Blackwood raised an eyebrow and replied, "Suzanne, I can guarantee that Paul will not be taking anything other than what you prescribe."
The pretty scientist smiled at her friend. "I'd better get back to the lab then."
As she reached the door, Blackwood said, "As soon as the squad gets here, I'm posting a guard down in the lab as well."
She nodded. "That might not be a bad idea, Harrison." Then she was gone.
Blackwood sat down in the hard metal seat that was stationed beside the bed and glanced down at his watch. He got the feeling it was going to be a long night.
Dr Mitchell had watched Suzanne leave Colonel Ironhorse's room and felt anger bite at him. He had remained in the lab for a short while, but his curiosity had gotten the better of him and he had departed in search of her.
Norton had merely glanced at him when he opened the computer room door. Noting that it was not Blackwood or McCullough, he had turned back to his machinery. Mitchell, satisfying himself that she was not there, quietly closed the door. Drake had been remote towards him for the past day, so he was not surprised at getting no acknowledgment.
He checked in the store room and another office before he realised that she must be in Colonel Ironhorse's room, and the absence of the astrophysicist from Drake's room indicated that he was with the injured man as well.
Anger welled again. He knew that the one danger to his mission was Blackwood. His ability to comprehend danger and his attachment to the colonel was the one inconsistency in Mitchell's calculation. The man was considered so important to the war against the aliens that the doctor had been advised to treat him with kid gloves. 'Kid gloves,' snorted Mitchell. Didn't those fools in Washington realise the opportunity Ironhorse's injured body would give them?
He continued to watch as Sergeant Derriman arrived with a few of his men and relieved the guard stationed at the door. The young soldier was reluctant to depart from his post, but a few sharp words from the battle-hardened sergeant had sent him scurrying for the safety of his barracks.
Positioning two of his own men by the door, Derriman knocked and entered. Mitchell waited in his position of concealment for a further fifteen minutes before the sergeant reappeared. He spoke briefly to the stationed guards, then motioned for the remaining three to follow him as he headed towards the computer room and lab.
Mitchell took a deep breath and pulled back on his emotions. They had no reason to suspect him. He was letting his imagination get the better of him, and he knew that he had to remain in tight control if he was to achieve his mission. He stepped out from his hiding place and advanced down the hall. Nodding to the guards, he entered the room. As he expected, he saw Blackwood sitting beside Ironhorse's bed. Mitchell raised an eyebrow. "I thought you would be catching up on your rest," he commented, friendly enough.
Blackwood looked at him for a few heartbeats. "I only sleep one hour every five." Glancing at his watch, he continued, "I've got a few more hours to go yet."
Mitchell let a small laugh slip out. "I'm starting to get worried about you, Blackwood, spending all your time with Colonel Ironhorse. Is there something you're not telling us?" He said it lightly, but there was an underlying tone to his voice that carried no laughter.
Blackwood met his look, anger flaring in the blue depths. Mitchell's barb had not missed. "I just like to see that my people get the best possible care," he replied, then added, smiling, "Besides, we are good friends." So saying, he reached out and lifted Paul's hand and clasped it in his own. Glancing back, he shot a defiant look by way of a raised eyebrow.
Mitchell snorted. "Touché," he smiled. "I guess I asked for that." Blackwood said nothing, but gently returned Ironhorse's hand to its former resting place, prepared to wait until Mitchell explained what he wanted. "Suzanne seems to be fairly confident about the morphine," Mitchell said, wanting to get the conversation back onto safer ground.
"Yes... she was just telling me." Blackwood frowned. "She was a little concerned at Paul's lack of response; she seemed to think he would have woken up by now?" He finished it as a question and shot Mitchell a look which obviously demanded an explanation. "I thought it best for him to get some more rest before she started."
"She agreed with that... but she is more concerned about the morphine withdrawal Paul is starting to exhibit. She'll have to wait until Paul is awake before she can administer any more." It was lightly said, but the intention was clear.
"And you're going to be here to make sure he does," supplied Mitchell drily.
"Either me, or one of the others," smiled Blackwood.
"And you now have your Omegan guards back as well," Mitchell said, realising what they were doing. "My.... You must feel very safe now, Harrison." He could not keep the anger from his tone.
"Where the enemy is concerned, one can never take too many precautions, Dr Mitchell."
"And you think the enemy is going to invade this base?" The disbelief was plain to hear.
A thoughtful look crossed Blackwood's features and he replied slowly, "The enemy comes in many forms, Dr Mitchell, and yes, I really do believe they could.... Why, they could be on the base at this very moment."
Anger flared anew in Mitchell as he realised that Blackwood knew what he was up to, but the knowledge did not give him an advantage, for he could not let the man become aware of the fact. At the moment, his hands were tied. "Well, I had better get back and see if I can be of any assistance to Suzanne. I'll leave the good colonel in your care."
He did not bother to listen to Blackwood's parting words. He was frantically considering his options and decided that, as Blackwood had called in assistance in the form of the Omegans, he would have to get some reinforcements of his own. His hands might be tied at the moment, but he hoped that a few phone calls would allow him to wipe that smug grin from the astrophysicist's face. He smiled to himself as he walked down the corridor, that one thought warming him as he planned his counter-attack.
Ironhorse floated up through the layers of sodden cotton wool that seemed to surround him. Occasionally pain would rip into his body, his muscles rippling in their craving. He wiped a dry tongue over his parched lips and tried to fight down his nausea. His mind seemed unwilling to acknowledge the fact that his eyes wanted to open, and his body did not seem able to insist upon the action. He lay there trying to gather his errant body and thoughts.
He could remember meeting Lococco at the bus depot, and the pain had pulsed through his being like a living animal attacking his body. Then the sweet release of morphine had claimed him and, while he had understood the significance of the drug, he had been unable to prevent its use... it had become too valuable in his fight against the crippling agony.
He recalled seeing Blackwood in the dirty hotel room and the dismal attack upon the warehouse, felt again the alien attacking him and the look of anguish upon Harrison's face as he held a smoking gun in his hand. That memory spiralled away from him, and he knew he would have to open his eyes if he wanted more information on his present situation.
A door opened and angry voices reached his ears. "Damn it, Blackwood. Lieutenant Colonel Ironhorse is my patient, and I will not have you interfering like this."
"I fully appreciate what you are saying, Dr Mitchell, but how can Suzanne check her findings on a man who is unconscious?" Blackwood shot back.
"I have given my medical opinion on that subject, and it too has been ignored," snapped the other voice coming to stand by the bed. "And it's preposterous that one of you should be here at all times."
"Dr Mitchell, if you are having difficulties working with us, I am sure an arrangement can be made and another doctor found." Blackwood's tone was hard as steel, and it made the doctor pause.
"This conversation is getting us nowhere. I will have to speak to my superiors about this," came the quiet reply. "I have never been subjected to this kind of behaviour, and I don't like it."
Ironhorse heard the door open. "Colonel Ironhorse should be kept sedated until the operation has been completed and the alien tissue removed from his wound."
"I think we'll give Suzanne's method a try first, if you don't mind," Blackwood said under his breath as the door closed.
Silence filled the room after Dr Mitchell's departure. Ironhorse's memory had been jarred by the mention of the operation, and he issued a slight groan as the realisation of his predicament became clear to him.
"Paul... Paul, can you hear me?" Blackwood asked, hearing the moan. Getting no immediate reply, he reached for the drink that had been left on the side. "Do you want a drink? Suzanne said you would be thirsty when you awoke."
Ironhorse was prepared to ignore his friend's question, but the offer of fluid was too much for him as he licked his lips with a dry tongue. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes.
"Hi pal, how do you feel?" Blackwood asked gently, helping him sip from the straw he held to his lips.
Ironhorse swallowed a small amount of juice and let his eyes get accustomed to the shadowed light. "I've felt better," he finally admitted, then, seeing the concern written across the other's face, he went on, "Sick, hot and fuzzy, pain's not too bad... just a little bit fuzzy."
Blackwood replaced the cup on the side when Ironhorse motioned he'd had enough and continued, "I'm not surprised. Mitchell has had you drugged for over twenty-four hours. You've had us really worried."
Ironhorse blinked a few times, not really sure at the anger he heard in Blackwood's voice but knowing that something must have occurred while he was unconscious. "What's happened?" he questioned, trying not to slip back into the clutches of Morpheus. "Did Lococco get away?" he suddenly questioned, fear for his friend rising.
Blackwood held out a hand to prevent him from sitting up. "Yes, Paul. He said he would contact me, but hasn't yet."
Ironhorse let his exhaustion and relief wash over him, trying to gain strength from the latter. "So, what do we do now? I don't want the operation," he stated firmly, meeting and holding Blackwood's gaze.
Blackwood nodded and smiled reassuringly. "Suzanne's been waiting impatiently for you to wake up... which reminds me." He jumped up and, walking to the door, spoke a few words to the guards outside. Coming back, he said, "She wanted to know the moment you were awake. Now, where was I...." He smiled again at Ironhorse, who just gritted his teeth, waiting. "Er... the process seems to be slowing down, and she thinks it might have something to do with the morphine."
"The morphine?" Ironhorse repeated. He could feel the slight grip of addiction clutching at his gut and had been trying to ignore it, but the mention of the drug had brought the craving back and he felt a shiver of expectation float through him.
Blackwood noticed the slight fading of colour from the already too pale face and could guess at the reason. Reaching out, he touched Paul's hand. "It might be better to wait until Suzanne gets here, she can tell you more about it."
Ironhorse glanced at the hand closed over his and nodded. "I guess so." He pushed the memory of the drug away and concentrated on other matters. "We didn't do too well at the warehouse," he stated with a slight frown. Harrison, remembering the alien he had been forced to shoot, shivered. "Was the unit alright? I remember some pretty heavy fighting going on in the background," Ironhorse continued.
"Everybody got out alright, just a few flesh wounds, nothing serious. The Omegans are here and everything will be alright," he said again, not wanting the injured man to worry.
"About that alien you shot...." Ironhorse began fighting another muscle spasm and felt sweat upon his brow.
Blackwood interrupted, witnessing his friend's suffering and knowing that it was morphine withdrawal. "Paul, it can wait... just concentrate on resting." The words came out harshly.
"I just wanted to say I would be here... if you wanted to talk." He saw the exasperated look on Blackwood's face and, smiling, added, "At least for a short while."
"Don't say that," Harrison snapped back, surprised at the anger he felt rise at the joking comment.
"Harrison," chided Ironhorse gently, closing his eyes briefly against the pain. "Suzanne knows what she's doing," he gritted out.
Blackwood continued to glare at him and shot back, "It's a pity you didn't feel that sentiment two weeks ago before you left the Cottage."
All motion in the room stopped and Ironhorse broke eye contact first. Seeking the far wall, he replied quietly, almost defiantly, "I did what I thought I had to do."
Blackwood closed his eyes at the broken tone. He immediately regretted the words and remembered a line from a children's book he had once read about a word once spoken could never be recaptured. 'God, how right that was.' He could feel the wall beginning to build between Ironhorse and himself.
Suzanne entered and stopped short; she could sense the tension radiating across the room. She flashed an angry look at Blackwood, but he chose to ignore it and continued to watch Ironhorse as he continued to look at the far wall.
"Paul," she greeted over-brightly, advancing towards the bed. "How do you feel?"
Ironhorse shot Blackwood a glance and answered, "Fuzzy, a bit sick and hot, really hot." He panted, realising that the pounding noise he heard was connected with his headache. "That's to be expected. You're suffering from morphine withdrawal; I'm going to give you a small amount of the drug to stabilize you, then we can talk." As she worked, she asked, "Has Harrison filled you in on the morphine theory?"
"I thought it best if you explained," Blackwood interrupted.
Suzanne paused again, looking from one to the other; there were times when she felt like hitting their heads together. They were best friends, depended on each other, risked their lives together, but if left alone in a room for longer than fifteen minutes, they were at each other's throats.
"Okay," she said, watching the body before her relax. She removed the needle and gently swabbed the blood away then, watching Ironhorse's features slacken, she began, "Morphine certainly has some effect on the infection. It seems to slow down the reproduction of the alien cells which are attacking you. I believe that while the alien cells are dormant, they're more susceptible to attack from viruses such as malaria, while your own immunization system will protect you."
She looked at Blackwood; she had explained all this to him last night. Smiling at them both, she carried on, "The good news is that it worked in the lab." She paused. "The bad news is... we have no way of knowing if it will work on you, Paul. Morphine is a narcotic and therefore addictive; you've been taking it for a few days now and, although it was strictly controlled and the minimum amount used to dull the pain, it has caused your body to build up a slight resistance to it."
Seeing Ironhorse's confused look, she sidetracked. "That's how you become addicted to it; the more you use, the more you need. And it's hypnotic, which means the more you have, the more you sleep. I don't really want you to sleep too much while undergoing treatment, you're going to have to help me gauge your condition." She stopped and watched the play of emotions cross Paul's face.
"How soon can we begin?" he questioned, raven eyes capturing her glance, a slight smile upon his face.
"Paul, this isn't that simple," she began, knowing that the drug had relaxed his will just enough to give him a slight buzz. "You've already subjected your body to incredible torment, and I want to take this very slowly and do tests every step of the way. There could be side-effects besides the addiction." She paused again. How could she make him realise the seriousness of the situation? "Depression is also going to be a major problem."
"Depression?" he repeated, surprise colouring his voice. "I don't feel depressed," he muttered.
"Not now, but later you will. The past two weeks have taken a toll on you; you can't feel it now, but once the treatment is concluded we'll have to wean you off the morphine. I'd feel better using a substitute drug, but I haven't found one that works on the cells and time is against us on this."
"Suzanne," Ironhorse said slowly, gauging his words, testing his ability to speak clearly. "Just do it. I'll worry about the... the side-effects after this..." he yanked at his wounded arm and winced at the sharp stab this incurred, "has been cured," he ground out from behind the pain.
"Paul!" the pretty doctor cried, leaping up and grasping his arm, surprised at the raw emotion she had seen in his eyes.
"Please, Suzanne," he pleaded, "just do it." He closed his eyes, unable to continue the fight to keep them open. Exhaustion still hung about his face, and his body still shook with slight tremors.
Seeing the fatigue on his features, Suzanne came to a decision and said, "I want you to get some rest.... Let the morphine counteract the withdrawal.... When you feel strong, we can give you a shot of the virus." Seeing Blackwood's startled look, she added, "I saw from your medical records that you had malaria in 'Nam." Reaching out, she touched his arm. "Your own body's immunization should be able to cope with it, along with the codeine."
He opened his eyes and smiled up at her. "Better than the flu," he mumbled. "Flu always made me feel real bad." The dark onyx eyes faded behind the long lashes and lids of the tired man.
"Oh Paul, I don't think you remember malaria very well," she returned, gently wiping his hair back from his forehead. Standing, she motioned for Blackwood to follow her, which he did. Once outside she explained quietly, drawing him away from the two Omegans who stood guard by the door.
"Harrison," she whispered, "he's so weak."
"Do you think he's unable to take the treatment?" he questioned.
She shook her head. "No, it's not that. I'm..." she paused again and rubbed her eyes; she had been up all night working in the lab, and now it seemed to be catching up with her.
Blackwood, seeing her tiredness and confusion, reached out and pulled her into a deep hug, saying, "Why don't you go and have a few hours' sleep yourself? You're almost out on your feet, and things will look better after a nap and a shower," he smiled.
"I don't know, Harrison," she began.
"Well I do," he insisted, pushing her away from him so that he could look into her eyes. "Paul will sleep now. You said yourself that there's nothing you can do until the withdrawal symptoms wear off." He pulled her back into the embrace and rested his chin on her head. "We need you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for him, Suzanne. And don't worry about him being weak... Paul has a lot of hidden strength."
"I hope you're right," she admitted, wiping at a tear that had found its way onto her cheek.
"Of course I'm right, I'm always right." He began to walk her down the corridor, saying over his shoulder to the guards, "I'll be right back." Both nodded and acknowledged that nobody would get by them while he was gone.
Blackwood guided Suzanne to the room that had been set aside for their use and, after taking off her shoes, watched her settle down and gently laid a blanket over her. Seeing that she was already asleep, he left the room, intent on rejoining Ironhorse. As Blackwood made his way back to Ironhorse's room, his mind played back over the conversation with Suzanne. He was fully aware of how physically weak the colonel was, but he also knew that the man would want them to attempt any cure rather than operate.
As he passed one of the store rooms he thought he heard a noise and began to turn. He never got to finish the motion as he was effectively grabbed from behind, a hand clamping over his mouth and cutting off any attempt to call for help. The hands that held him seemed to be of steel as he feebly struggled against being dragged back into the store room, but his attacker would not allow him any movement to defend himself.
The door slammed shut, cutting off the light, and darkness filled his vision. A whispered breath by his ear caught and held his attention. "How's things, Buckwheat?"
Blackwood stiffened in recognition and struggled even more, but his attempts were useless. The voice continued above his muffled protest. "I'm going to take my hand away now. Do you understand?" The hand remained in place until the astrophysicist nodded his consent.
"What the hell...?" began Blackwood, but a sharp blow to his solar plexus cut off any more words as he bent over to gather his breath. A light flicked on and the brightness caused the winded man to blink in a sudden confusion of colour. "What the hell did you hit me for, Lococco?" he gasped, trying to straighten and confront the smiling man before him.
"You were shouting, and I don't particularly want to announce my presence here," came the quiet, assured reply.
Blackwood stood for a few more moments getting his breath back. The blow had not been damaging, just effective. "I thought you were going to call?" he grumbled, looking around for something to sit on. He found a large container and sat himself down, still rubbing his middle.
Lococco eyed him with slight disdain. "I tried to call a couple of times, but this place is shut down tighter than a convent in hell city."
"Obviously not tight enough to keep you out," Blackwood said, eyeing him curiously. This man had quite a few hidden talents if he was able to gain access to Fort Streeter.
This earned him a toothy smile. "I have my methods..." a slight pause for effect. "...my contacts."
Blackwood looked towards the man, the tone of voice warning that it was not only his concern for a friend that had brought him into the lions' den.
"What have you heard?" Blackwood questioned sharply, eyes intent upon the man who lounged before him.
"How's Paul?" Lococco enquired quietly.
Blackwood took another deep steadying breath; the blow was wearing off and he knew that the best way to get answers from Lococco was to supply the information he wanted... so, starting from his arrival at the hospital, he explained all that had happened over the last twenty-four hours.
Lococco listened intently and only asked questions when he wanted more detailed information. His relaxed pose did not change, but his eyes reflected the steel mind behind them.
As Blackwood finished, Lococco stood up and nodded. "That ties in with what I have on Dr Mitchell."
"What do you know about him?" questioned Blackwood in surprise.
"He's not good news," stated the other man calmly. "Too many people around him die...." He paused, then added almost under his breath, "But not anymore."
"Suzanne wants to give Paul the malaria virus as soon as he wakes. The sooner we have it in his system, the quicker it will destroy... we hope... the alien cells."
"And once that happens, then interest in Paul as the... er, host body... will die out.... Is that your plan?" finished Lococco, standing upright. Seeing the confirmation upon Blackwood's face, he sighed and raised his eyebrows to the sky. "Great plan," Lococco complimented drily.
"It's the only one we have," replied Blackwood, standing up. "I have to get back to Paul... I don't like leaving him alone.... Do you want to...?"
He motioned towards the door, but Lococco held up his hand, saying, "Listen, Blackwood, it just might work... but not as long as you have Mitchell hanging around. He has to have called in reinforcements, and they'll make short work of your Omegans...."
Seeing Blackwood's look of surprise, he added with a slight smile, "Take my word for it: these guys only hire the best... I know, 'cause I used to be for hire and...." He stopped, then swallowed. A shadow passed over his face as he went on, "But that's another story." Giving himself a mental shake, he finished, "You take care of Paul, and I'll take care of Mitchell and his friends."
"How?" began the scientist.
"You don't want to know," snapped the other man, moving to pick up a heavy sports bag that lay at his feet.
"I can't just stand by and allow you to kill..." snapped Blackwood, anger causing his voice to rise.
Lococco stopped and looked into Harrison's eyes, then threw back his head and laughed... it was a full-bodied laugh, and Lococco wiped a tear from his eyes. "Blackwood, you are something else." Seeing the anger still reflecting in his companion's eyes, he relented. "I don't kill people anymore...." To him, this was a concession, and the end of the conversation.
Blackwood looked unsure but, realising that this was the best he was going to get, turned and left the room. As he closed the door, he heard Lococco finish, "But I'm not above letting them suffer a little."
Ironhorse crouched low in the long grass and scanned the area. He knew that the enemy was out there, waiting for him to make a mistake.
Reaching up, he wiped the gathering sweat from his brow and frowned at the obvious sign of dampness on his hand. He was hot... too hot.... He knew that if he was to become ill out here, alone, he would be in serious trouble... Charlie was a relentless being who would hunt a wounded man almost as if able to smell the sickness in the air.
He wrapped his free arm about his middle, suppressing the shiver that wanted control of his body. The urge to lay down in the sodden field was great, but he knew that if he did he would not wake again.
A sound off to his left caused him to spin in that direction, gun at the ready, his only sign of weakness the legs which threatened to collapse under him. He was ready for the attack. He had been trained to handle this kind of situation. He swallowed again and bit his lip to prevent the groan he felt rising.
Charlie was out there. That one thought kept playing over and over in his mind. He slowly began to crawl towards the edge of the field. This was his one route of escape and he had to act fast, before his strength gave out. He frowned. He could not remember entering the valley. He squinted his eyes in concentration: it was like he had just appeared in the field. He stopped and listened again. The noise did not repeat itself and he hoped that it was an animal seeking shelter.
He took a deep steadying breath. He was afraid. He had felt fear before, yet this was different; this was a helpless terror that bit deep into his gut and twisted there like a restless snake. Glancing down, he checked his weapon again, all the while evaluating his emotions. It was not capture he dreaded; he knew that if it was likely, then he would end it before they could get him. He was trained enough for that.
No... this was different. The enemy out there were not the Vietnamese. No, this was something even more terrifying. He screwed his eyes shut and tried to piece together the events that had caused him to be here.
He knew he had a fever... cramp... he felt nauseous and had a pounding headache. He'd had these symptoms once before.... Where? He remembered waking up in a hospital to find a friendly nurse wiping his brow and explaining about his illness.
Malaria.... Suzanne had spoken of it, had she given it to him? He shook his head, trying to clear his befuddled memory. Why would Suzanne want to hurt him? His head snapped up as the sound came again. Was Suzanne an alien? As if in answer to his realisation, a huge creature reared out of the paddy field in front of him and reached for him with its third arm.
He cried out in terror. Swinging his gun up, he fired point blank into the creature. His bullets tore into Suzanne's torso, ripping bits of her flesh from the grotesque body. Still she struggled towards him.
He let out another yell and began to scramble backwards, his legs not moving enough to get him away from the creature. He began to struggle with the arms as they came about him, strangling him... killing him. Darkness threatened.
He was still fighting, struggling to gain his freedom, but now it was Blackwood who held him. Not tightly, but securely, riding out his fevered torment, soothing him with gentle words. "Paul... it's alright... it's just a dream, Suzanne is safe...." He kept repeating the words, even after the colonel had ceased to struggle.
"Harrison?" gasped the injured man, fighting the waves of pain that assaulted him from his upper chest region.
Blackwood, realising that Ironhorse had returned to reason, relaxed his grip and leant back slightly to look into the other's face. He saw confusion and pain reflected there.
"It's alright, Paul," repeated the astrophysicist.
"I was in a field in Vietnam.... Suzanne... she... she... I had to kill her," began the conscience-stricken man, but Blackwood shushed him with quiet agreement.
"I know... you've had a fever.... It was just a bad dream, and..." He paused. Suzanne had injected Ironhorse with the malaria eighteen hours before, and Blackwood had watched with growing horror at the speed with which the virus had taken hold of the already weakened man. "Suzanne is confident that the virus is killing the alien cells," he finished lamely, not adding that she too had been concerned about Paul's sudden deterioration.
"I don't remember," Ironhorse said vaguely, struggling to release himself from Blackwood's hold.
The scientist swallowed his feeling of helplessness, saying, "You've been out of it for a while, Paul." He gently released his friend and moved back to the seat which he had occupied for the past day.
Ironhorse attempted to sit up, but failed. Sinking back, he gritted his teeth and began, "Damn it, Blackwood, what the hell's going on here?"
The taller man stretched his cramped legs out in front of him. Ironhorse's question chose to remind Blackwood that the other man had not forgotten his earlier betrayal. Avoiding Ironhorse's look, he stated, "Lococco's here." Seeing that he had captured the colonel's attention, he continued, "Roger arrived two days ago, just as Mitchell started to turn nasty."
"Mitchell? Nasty?" queried Ironhorse, frustration building within him.
Blackwood held up his hand, saying, "Colonel, I'll explain it all if you'll let me." He backed his words with a raised eyebrow. The other man subsided and lay quietly as Blackwood began again. "We found out that Mitchell's not quite the lowly doctor we believed him to be. He works for the Phoenix Mountain Project." Seeing the lack of recognition, he ventured, "Alexander."
"Alexander!" repeated Ironhorse as the memory of the fanatical commander at Spirit Lake surfaced. "What the hell do they want?"
Blackwood had to smile, despite his concern for his friend. "You, Colonel," he said, leaning forward to touch the man's hand. Ironhorse's eyes slipped up and held Blackwood's.
"Why?" he breathed, already knowing the answer yet wanting... needing to hear it.
"They needed a host body that could incubate alien cells; your injury provided them with the perfect opportunity."
Ironhorse raised his hand and covered his face, wiping away the last of the heavy sleep that had fogged his mind. "I remember Suzanne saying something about malaria?"
Blackwood nodded. "She injected the virus straight into your blood about eighteen hours ago. It affected you rather quicker than we thought, and you slipped into a fever."
Ironhorse nodded. "I recognise the symptoms; I had it in 'Nam... it took me quite a while to get over it."
Blackwood leant forward and touched the other man's hand. "We can cure it, and..." he paused, "you've not had any morphine for over thirty-six hours. Suzanne's last test showed that the alien cells are active again, but they're not killing the human tissue as before." He stopped, seeing the look of relief cross the injured man's features. "That doesn't mean that you're out of the woods yet," he hastened to add. "Merely that - at this precise moment - you're holding your own."
Ironhorse nodded his understanding and replied, "Usually the malaria attacks occur every twenty-four or forty-eight hours, but you said I was only injected eighteen hours ago?"
"We're using a slightly modified version of the virus; it acts faster, and the bouts of fever are shorter but hopefully more intense."
Ironhorse snorted. "'Hopefully more intense'.... You wouldn't say that if you felt how I feel."
Blackwood smiled and lowered his head, replying, "Maybe a bad choice of words, but if it's causing you distress, just think what it's doing to the alien cells."
Ironhorse settled back and closed his eyes, suppressing the slight after-tremors that shook his body. He was coming out of the first bout of illness that travelled with malaria; he knew what to expect, he had walked this path before. He also knew that, as the illness progressed, the bouts would get worse until coma - then death.
As if reading his thoughts, Blackwood continued, "Suzanne is keeping a very close eye on the alien infection. As soon as it starts to die, we'll begin to administer the antidote."
"And what happens if the alien cells survive longer than me?" questioned Ironhorse drily.
Blackwood had asked the same question of Suzanne, but she had merely looked at him and replied, "That is the one factor we can't calculate. If it looks like that might happen, we'll give him the antidote and try something else." Now, though, he just smiled and answered bravely, "Never happen, Colonel."
Ironhorse sighed. Although his body was enjoying being free of the fever and, for the moment, the craving for morphine, he was still too weak to fully appreciate the knowledge that the alien cells might soon be destroyed.
Blackwood watched him for a few moments, taking in the pale features, the shallow breathing. He could not set aside the mental image of the shivering, fever-racked man he had held in his arms a short while ago. It had almost seemed, at that time, that the pain and suffering was not worth it.
"Do you want something to drink?" he asked, standing and reaching to a jug that had been placed beside the bed.
Ironhorse opened his eyes. Although he did feel thirsty, he could not seem to gather the energy to lift his head. Blackwood, noting this, gently assisted him.
Finishing, Ironhorse sighed. "Better," he whispered then, taking a deep breath, he settled more comfortably against the pillow and requested, "You'd better fill me in on what's happened since the warehouse."
Blackwood opened his mouth to deny that there was anything wrong but, seeing the determined glint in Ironhorse's eyes and realising that the man needed to be kept informed for his own grip on reality, he nodded and began to bring the colonel up-to-date.
"And Lococco is lost somewhere on the base?" Ironhorse asked a short while later, trying vainly to get the details straight in his mind.
Blackwood opened his mouth, hesitated, then finished, "I wouldn't say lost exactly, although I've not seen him since yesterday." Then, as an afterthought, he added with a slight frown, "I've not seen Mitchell, either."
This earned him a sharp glance from the bedridden man. "Meaning?"
Blackwood spoke slowly, choosing his words with care. "Meaning that, although a few of Mitchell's friends arrived late yesterday evening, he was not around to greet them."
"And where are they now?" asked Ironhorse patiently.
Blackwood took a deep breath and replied, "That is also an interesting question; they buzzed about for a while, asked a few questions, then er... em... they left."
"Left?" Ironhorse repeated weakly. "Blackwood, I'm really not up to twenty questions, just tell me what you think has happened to them."
Blackwood opened his mouth, then closed it. Standing up, he offered the drink again and held the cup while Ironhorse drank, saying, "Paul, I really don't know what's happened to them, and," he went on, looking down at his friend as he swallowed the liquid, "I've had more important things to worry about."
"Thank you, Harrison," replied Ironhorse, motioning the cup away. Both men knew that it was for more than the drink.
"That's alright." Glancing at the clock, he went on, "Suzanne should be here soon."
Ironhorse yawned, his body no longer able to withstand its need for more rest. "Why is it I can never seem to stay awake when that beautiful woman is around?" complained Ironhorse, knowing that he would be asleep before Suzanne arrived.
Blackwood smiled. "I don't like competition, so I tire you out on purpose," he shot back, seeing the other man's eyes close against their will. "You rest, Paul. I've no doubt that she will wake you if she needs to."
>From the edge of consciousness, Ironhorse stated, "Roger wouldn't kill those men, not now.... He's changed."
Blackwood sat for a few seconds, watching the even rise and fall of his friend's breathing and, remembering Lococco's last words to him, he quietly commented, "I know... that's what I'm afraid of."
A short while later, the door behind him opened and he glanced back to see Suzanne entering. She smiled at him. "How's he been?" She spoke quietly, not wanting to disturb her patient.
"His fever's gone down. He's been awake and lucid."
His reward was another bright smile. "That's good; the first bout of illness didn't last as long as I expected." As she spoke, she moved to the bed and gently touched the colonel.
"Paul... Paul...." The dark head stirred on the pillow as he fought his way back to reality. She persisted. "Can you hear me, Paul?" she questioned.
He groaned and slowly opened his eyes. "Suzanne?" he mumbled.
"Welcome back, Paul," she smiled down at his confused look.
"I've just got the results to the last test, and the alien cells are definitely dying." She spoke slowly, wanting him to fully understand what she was saying. As she spoke, she glanced at Blackwood.
"Thank God," he said with feeling, his eyes shining brightly.
"How long before...?" Ironhorse stopped, not sure how to put the question into words.
Suzanne, realising what he was asking, went on, "I want to get you started on the P.Roquine tablets; they should take the edge off the malaria. The treatment is about two weeks, but you'll still suffer the fever and sickness until they take effect."
Ironhorse let out the breath he had been holding. "What about the wound... the morphine...?" He stopped; he felt as if a great weight had been lifted from him.
Suzanne placed a hand on Ironhorse's arm. "Paul... it's not over yet. The wound itself is deep and, after the alien infection is destroyed, it will take time to heal. And the morphine?" she paused. "I can wean you off that using a substitute drug, but that's in the future. Right now I want to control the malaria." She held out four tablets to him and, with Blackwood's help, he managed to swallow them.
As they settled him back in the bed, he smiled. It was weak, but the first true smile they had seen since he had been attacked. "I guess this means I don't have to have the operation?"
Suzanne feigned annoyance and answered, "I guess so, but the next time you don't want to do something, tell us before you disappear, okay?" She spoke the words lightly, but all could feel her underlying tension.
Ironhorse swallowed. "I guess I did rather make a hash of things."
Suzanne felt suddenly guilty at her words; the colonel looked so vulnerable laying there, his face pale, forehead beaded with sweat, slight shivers still attacking his body. "It's not that, Paul," she said with feeling. "It's just that we were so worried." Suzanne, realising that she was painting herself into a corner, looked towards the astrophysicist for help.
He smiled encouragingly back at her and said, "I think this discussion could wait until Paul is stronger, and then, Suzanne, both you and I are going to have a long heart-to-heart with him." He had leant down and caught the other man's glance, and smiled at the raised eyebrow this comment received.
Ironhorse wisely said nothing, knowing that whatever he did say would get him in deep trouble, and he had been a soldier long enough to know that the only way to get out of this situation was to play on their concern for him. "Is there any chance of some food around here? I feel as if I haven't eaten in a week."
Looking down at the wasted man, Blackwood nearly commented that it had actually been three days since the soup in the hotel room. He looked again at the clear fluid tubes feeding substance into his friend's body, then glanced at Suzanne.
"There's some soup in the kitchen," she advised.
Ironhorse grunted as he tried to move. "Not more soup," he grumbled, fighting off the weariness which weighed heavily upon him.
Suzanne raised her own eyebrow and commented drily, "I don't quite think that you're up to steak just yet, Colonel."
Blackwood, seeing the look this earned Suzanne, turned towards the door, saying, "Then soup it is. If you keep the good colonel company, Suzanne, I'll go heat it up."
She took the chair by the bed and replied, "I think I can manage that." Reaching out, she took his hand in hers and, looking down, commented, "You know, Paul, I never realised you had such a long life line."
Harrison entered the kitchen, a spring in his step. If Ironhorse was looking for food, then he must be feeling better. He began to open cupboards, looking for a brand of soup he knew the other man liked. After his fourth attempt, he found what he was looking for. He scooped up a saucepan and began to open the tin, emptying the contents into the fast-warming pan.
"You know, I never much pictured you slaving over a hot stove, Blackwood," came a dry drawl from the doorway. Spinning round in surprise, he saw Roger Lococco leaning casually against the door jamb, arms crossed as he surveyed Blackwood's expression with a grin of his own.
"Where the hell have you been?" snapped Blackwood, realising too late that he was waving the wooden spoon at the silent intruder.
"Don't hit me?" begged Lococco in a mocking voice, while moving further into the kitchen and closing the door.
Blackwood gritted his teeth and turned back to the simmering soup. "Well?"
"Have you noticed that we always seem to have our deep, meaningful conversations while heating soup?" commented Lococco, sticking a finger into the liquid and tasting it.
"Very funny, Lococco," snapped Blackwood, resisting the urge to hit him with the spoon. "Now, where the hell have you been and -even more to the point - where's Mitchell?"
Leaning back against the counter, Lococco sighed knowingly and answered, "Dr Mitchell is a guest of the Lynchboro County Police Department. He had a terrible case of drunk driving, and then..." he paused for effect, "he struck a police officer." Roger's outrage at this action was plain in his voice, but Blackwood merely raised an eyebrow. "Volchek owed me a small favour. I think Mitchell will be out of commission for a while," he finished, realising that Blackwood was in too good a mood to rise to the bait. "How's Paul?" He finally asked the question that had been biting at him since leaving Lynchboro.
Blackwood's smile was genuine as he relayed what Suzanne had said about the colonel's condition. "But it's still going to be a while before he's fully recovered," he finished, taking the bowl Lococco handed him. As he gathered the tray, he said, "I wonder why the others left, then?" Receiving a blank look, he explained further, "Mitchell called up reinforcements... they arrived the day you disappeared."
"Ah... well... that's easy." Lococco held open the door for Blackwood. "Some nasty little hacker had penetrated their project's computer by a back door and shuffled all their files about. They had a major security breakdown and they were recalled to base for the implosion," he finished with a smile: it was totally blinding, and purely evil.
"I thought Norton had been a bit quiet lately," Blackwood answered, hiding his surprise at the realisation that he had not realised that the two had formed a very effective team. He sighed and made a mental note to watch out for them in the future. Lococco had obviously helped Norton with the codes to gain access to the Phoenix Project's system, and it must have been a well-planned operation to swing into effect so efficiently.
Seeing the two Omegan guards slip to attention at his approach, and also noticing the glances they tossed in Lococco's direction, he offered, "It's alright, Jameson, he's one of us."
Lococco looked heavenwards and sighed, "Heaven forbid."
Ironhorse looked towards the door as it opened and broke into a wide smile when he saw who was accompanying Blackwood. Seeing the tray of steaming soup, he feigned shock and cried, "Tell me Lococco didn't cook it."
Blackwood raised an eyebrow then, remembering the rat soup saga in Vietnam, smiled and politely placed the tray onto Suzanne's lap, saying, "You can have the honour, Suzanne." Seeing her confused look at Ironhorse's words, he ventured, "I'll explain all later."
Picking up the spoon, she slowly began to feed the wounded man, commenting in a quiet, dry voice, "That should be interesting."
Three weeks had passed since their return to the Cottage from Ft. Streeter, and five from the time Paul had recovered consciousness to the news that the alien infection was being destroyed by the malaria virus.
Ironhorse had been forced to remain at Ft. Streeter until his course of P.Roquine tablets had been finished, and his system cleared of alien cells and malaria. He would still have to subject himself to treatment at regular intervals in case of a relapse, but that was in the future.
For the past three weeks, Suzanne had been weaning him off the addiction by replacing the morphine with methadone. Paul's moods had been a pendulum, swinging between high enthusiasm and deep depression, which had finally ended that afternoon by his yelling at Debi and storming to his room in disgust at his actions.
Ironhorse's recovery had been, as expected, slow. His withdrawal from morphine had been lengthened by his continual weakness and bouts of side-effects from the drugs he had to endure.
Blackwood looked across the dinner table at his silent companions. All were refusing to look at each other, and the colonel's empty chair stood slightly away from the table as if in silent testimony to his absence.
Debi grew bored with pushing her food about the plate and asked to be excused. Suzanne watched her daughter leave with growing concern; the mother in her wanted to inform the colonel exactly what she thought of him, but the doctor supplied the reason for his behaviour, and she made a mental note to explain this more fully to her daughter before she retired for the night.
"I think we're going to have to talk about this, people," Blackwood stated firmly, standing up. "Shall we go to my office?" He left the room, knowing that they would follow.
He threw himself into his chair and turned to face the others. "Suzanne, explain this to me?" he asked, knowing what she was going to say but still wanting her opinion to open the discussion. He had plans he wanted to put forward, and he needed a sound platform to build them on.
Suzanne, looking both confused and annoyed at the question began, "It's reaction to his illness, his addiction and... Paul's a very active man; his recovery is too slow for him and he's mentally pushing against the restraints, as well as physically."
"How much longer will he be on the methadone?"
"Well... the withdrawal from the morphine is taking a lot longer than it normally would, but he's down to a fairly low dose every twelve hours now, and I hope to be able to cut it entirely by next weekend. The dependence he's feeling at the moment is mainly habit, not addiction. We've talked about it and he is trying to control his..." she paused, remembering his harsh words to her daughter, "his outbursts, but... it's hard for him." She paused again. "He's been through so much," she finished lamely, knowing that she did not need to defend Ironhorse, but feeling the need to do so anyway.
Blackwood gave her an encouraging smile and informed her quietly, "Suzanne, we all want to help Paul, but his mood swings are tearing him up inside and..." He stopped, forming his words with care, "I think it might be better for both Paul and the project if he were to leave the Cottage for a while."
"No way, Harrison," Norton snapped, moving forward to plant himself firmly before the project leader. "Now I know he's being a pain in the butt, but - to be honest - I've known you to be more of a pain with less reason."
Blackwood shot a look at Suzanne and looked hurt at her nod of agreement. "I'm not suggesting that we just pack his bags and drop him off at the gates of the Cottage," he stated, seeing in their eyes this was just what they expected him to do. He swallowed the annoyance this caused and ploughed on. "I was going to suggest that both he and I take a short vacation to Dr Forrester's old cabin in the hills; that way he won't be brow-beating himself every time he loses his temper, and you won't be walking on egg-shells every time he appears."
"I don't know, Harrison," began the microbiologist. "He's still prone to bouts of illness, and he needs his injections regularly."
Blackwood held up a hand to stop her and supplied, "Suzanne, you said he was nearly off the methadone and, if you give me the dosage and times, I will guarantee he'll get it. I think between us we can cope with his other ailments... and the fresh air will do us both good."
He could see that they were not happy with the idea, but he was project leader and he had already made up his mind.
"What if we get alien activity while you're up there?" Norton asked, not so opposed to the plan as Suzanne. He could see the practical advantages to relieving some of the tension about the Cottage.
"We'll take three Omegans with us. I can't see Ironhorse letting us go there without them; they'll be in daily contact with you, so if you feel the situation warrants us returning, we can be back within a couple of hours."
Blackwood watched Suzanne as she chewed her lower lip. She looked tired, the rings of worry still rested about her eyes. She did not realise it, but she also needed a rest from the responsibility of Paul's health. His every mood swing bit into her reserve, and this afternoon had shown Blackwood just how much weight had been placed upon her shoulders.
Finally she nodded. "Alright, but I want you to check in with me every day, and you miss one day...." She let the threat hang and Blackwood smiled in acknowledgement.
"When do you plan to leave?" Norton questioned.
"First thing tomorrow: I sent Derriman and two of the squad up to the cabin this afternoon to get things ready. They'll be staying in the area while we're there."
"They won't be staying at the cabin?" put in Suzanne, concerned. Blackwood advanced around the desk and crouched down in front of her. "Suzanne, Paul would not settle down to a relaxing break with his unit about. He'd feel he had to put on a front... and that is what I believe caused this afternoon's flare-up." He paused, then continued, "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing." "You were pretty sure that we would agree to this, weren't you Harrison?" put in Norton. "I mean, sending Derriman to the cabin and everything."
Blackwood shot Norton a penetrating look and answered, "I knew that you would see the sense behind the suggestion."
Norton grinned and, sitting back in his chair, answered sweetly, "Well then, let's hope our good colonel also sees the 'sense in the suggestion' when you inform him."
Blackwood took a deep, steadying breath and replied with more confidence than he felt. "And that is where I am going now... so, if you will excuse me?"
The room was silent for a few heartbeats after his departure, then standing, Suzanne said, "I know he's doing the right thing... I'm just not too sure if he's doing it the right way."
Norton opened his mouth to make an answer then, acknowledging that he didn't have one, he closed it again and followed her from the room.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Ironhorse had drawn his curtains to once more allow the pretence of darkness to encompass his room, but he refused to lie upon the bed as his weary body wanted. He had spent too much time resting lately, and it was starting to feel too familiar for his taste.
He chose to sit instead, his mind deep in thought, replaying the scene that had taken place downstairs. He could not really remember what Debi had said to him, or why he had become so angry by her concern for him, yet he could remember quite clearly the expression of shock and horror on her pale face as he lashed out with his barbed tongue.
He closed his eyes again, trying to push her expression from his soul. He never meant to hurt her, in fact wounding her caused him far more pain than an actual bullet ever would.
The knock upon his door informed him that it was an adult who wanted to speak to him, and he pictured Suzanne standing outside, ready to demand an explanation for this afternoon's display. He could remember pushing through the gathering crowd as he made his escape from the living room.
"Come in," he called, ready and willing to accept her anger. He was surprised to see that it was Blackwood who entered and came to stand by the bed.
"How are you feeling?" Harrison asked.
Ironhorse felt his jaw tighten; if they only knew how tired he was of being asked that. "Fine," he snapped, unable to prevent himself.
"Good..." went on Blackwood, sitting down on the edge of the bed and making eye contact with the other man, "because we're going on a trip tomorrow."
Ironhorse sat up at his words and glared at Blackwood. "Where?" he asked, realising that he would get no information without asking for it.
"Dr Forrester's cabin in the woods; remember I told you about it once?"
The memory of that time came flooding back and Ironhorse felt his stomach contract at the pain. "I don't feel like a vacation in the woods, Doctor." Contempt crept into his tone.
"No, but I do... and unless you want me to go there alone, I suggest you get packed - we'll be leaving at first light tomorrow." Blackwood stood and headed towards the door, not giving Ironhorse a chance to answer. "And," he spun to glare at the colonel, "I don't think missing meals after your recent illness is very wise, so I'll ask Mrs Pennyworth to send you up a tray." The door closed quietly after him.
Ironhorse watched Blackwood leave with a slight feeling of shock. Normally he would have leapt upon the man's assumption that he would go with him to the cabin, but this time he just sat for a few moments weighing his torrent of conflicting emotions. Glancing at the clock, he noted that he had over an hour until his next methadone injection. Standing, he found his suitcase and slowly began to pack.
When Mrs Pennyworth brought Colonel Ironhorse his tray, she was able to inform Blackwood that he had finished packing and had once again returned to the seat by the curtain-drawn window.
End Part 3
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