You pick up a kidney tray from a hospital gurney and toss it with a clatter down away from you. The guards' heads' jerk and track the source of the noise and they shuffle and lumber fitfully in the direction of the noise giving you opportunity to dart forward and push through the heavy fire door into the next section. This area seems to lead into the operating theatres and you're probably not supposed to be here, ever. The whole place feels and smells much cleaner than the rest of the hospital, reeking of disinfectant - but also stinking of fear.
There seems to be a place you can get to where you can observe the operating room, or another doorway that is guarded - this time the guard, masked and breathing in rasping gasps through the mask, seems to be asleep in his chair. The gun held loosely in his hands.
(I suddenly have a lot of work on, hence the delays, I will keep this going though, there just may be longer delays)
After some discussion it is decided that you will be dropped into London, taken as far as possible by the Royal Navy and then making the rest of the way yourself on a powered inflatable. The Major discusses this and makes notes of equipment that might be needed, checking it off against a list of material kept on the laptop that was used for the presentation. You only half pay attention, your mind racing, wondering what you've let yourself in for as the cilvilian government and the military representatives hammer out the details and then finally, the meeting ends and you're left to your own devices.
Determined to see a little bit more of this place you make your way out from the hospital, suddenly realising when the cool fresh air of the outside hits you just how thick with the stink of disinfectant the hospital was. The air is cold, frosty, outside and stings your mouth with a metallic tang as you breathe in deep and exhale, expelling the last of the dank hospital air from your lungs, driving your hands into the pockets of your hooded top and striding away.
Outside of the hospital grounds things seem a little more lively. There are people, lots of people, everywhere. They're just not driving and there's no power for the streetlights or the houses. It seems only a few places, meeting places that can provide for lots of people, have power. Supplied by generators. Even with airlifts and assistance it seems fuel is in short supply and as you pass a small park - dotted with tents and miserable looking people - you see that they've attacked the trees for firewood and now there are only stumps left.
A pub is lit up like Christmas, and heaving with people, more huddled around its picnic tables in the cold, they would have been tourists in happier times. A group, dressed up in hiking gear for the warmth, leaves just as you arrive and you insinuate yourself into the pub, squeezing through and finding just enough elbow room at the bar. There's no beer, precious little spirits and most are just drinking water. The chalkboard above the bar informs the clientele that they'll be brewing their own in the cellar soon and most people are getting their food and drink with ration books that seem to have been hastily made on some laser printer. You find one in your pocket and get yourself a meal.
They've done their best, reconstituted potato made with smash and powdered milk, a little wild herb mixed in, corned beef fried up with some onion powder. Its simple fare, but filling enough. As you eat people seem to naturally give you space, seem to sense that you're strange, 'other' somehow, but through the hubbub you catch snatches of conversation.
"...and then it all went black. I mean real black, like underground, but this was midday..." "...My daughter's still over there. I'm going to fucking swim back over unless something gets done..." "...and I swear to you, I heard something growl from under the bed and I don't mean a dog..."
You leave the meal half finished and leave them to their stories, wandering out onto the roads, picking your way through the throngs of people, following some instinct out onto the northern cliffs overlooking the ferry port and the yachts. The ports groan with ferries and boats, even little ringhys and rowboats. The larger yachts are lit up and have people staying on them, the ferries seem to have been turned into refugee camps. Off the shore you can see elements of the Royal Navy, strung out like a cordon between the island and the shore of England beyond. The sky is a riot of stars from the lack of light pollution. The island is dark, England is darker and if you squint through the crisp, cold night air you can make out the hint of the land in the far distance.
It makes you uneasy though you can't say why and your feet lead you back to the hospital.
Breathing the chemical air again you wind your way through the corridors, seeking your room when you hear a terrible shout, swiftly silenced. The faint glow of light coming from a corridor off to your right. Your room is the other way...
(Apologies for the delay, things to see, people to do and all that)
When you agree a palpable sense of relief fills the room and you can just about see everyone's shoulders slumping slightly, the collective release of breath from the people around the table like a single giant sigh.
The Major speaks, earnestly, leaning forward to speak directly to you, his voice raised slightly so all can hear.
"Very well then. Since you're immune the plan would be to, ah, reinsert you into the mainland to try and discover what, precisely, is going on. What the state of things is there and so forth. A fairly open ended and ill defined mission to be sure but since we're almost entirely in the blank on this intelligence gathering would be the best possible help in any case. We can equip and arm you, just in case though it is probably best if you avoid conflict."
"There are three ways we can insert you into the country. Bristol, where we lost contact with an outpost. Portsmouth where we still have a small presence or London, via the Thames estuary. We don't know the situation in Bristol, though something, ah, interesting must have happened there. Portsmouth would be safest, at least to start, London fell rapidly but would most likely have the most information from before the infrastructure went to pieces. As an unrecommended fourth option we could drop you in by air somewhere in the countryside, but extraction from a non-coastal region would be extremely difficult especially since the Europeans and Yanks are making noises about shooting down planes that breach quarantine."
"You're the one being put into danger so the choice is yours, time is of the essence so we can give you, perhaps, a day to recover. I'll arrange some equipment for you."
Doctor Wyndham speaks up once the Major has finished.
"I'll need to vaccinate you against various diseases that may be spreading if things like water, sewerage and mortuary services have broken down. We can deal with that straight away and then you are free to wander, so long as you turn up back here by morning ready for duty."
The rest of the experts and hangers on slide back in their seats, out of the way as the PM speaks to you directly...
"As I think has been adequetely explained we have only the most barebones understanding of what has even happened to our beloved country or the fate of the people who remained on the mainland, infected. We don't even know if they're able to feed themselves, how many have died, what the long term effects of the contagion are."
"Nothing. We know absolutely nothing at all. What we do have though, is that we have nothing to lose."
"The Americans and Europeans are making noises, but they're unlikely to take any risks at this stage. All we have to barter with is information and with nothing left to lose we can, perhaps, get hold of that information and barter it to preserve our independence and nation status. Believe me, these things are at risk."
He shuffles his notes and coughs, once, nervously into his fist.
"You... ah... seem to be immune, without the drawbacks of the immunisation process. There might be others like you we can use, we're checking the evacuees already, but meanwhile you're what we have. We should like to send you over to the mainland to investigate, for which you would be suitably rewarded, feted and considered a hero of course. We'll do whatever we can in our power to see that you're amply rewarded. The King might even confer a knighthood, if that matters to you."
You consider for a moment as they watch you, half fearfully, half expectantly.
"Could I have something to eat and drink?" You ask first and one of the soldiers is dispatched to fetch you something, returning with some hot sweet army tea and a 'Granola Bar' after a short time. Meanwhile you continue with your questions, trying to satisfy your curiosity.
"How do you know I'm not contagious, how do you know you're not already affected?" You ask. Doctor Wyndham answers for the rest, as what passes for a medical expert.
"We can't be 100% sure. We all saw what you looked like when you were brought in, remotely as well as in person, which suggests there's something more than simple insanity at fault here. You were isolated, as we all have been relatively isolated for the past while, just in case, but nothing to suggest that the problem has come with you has occurred. I should prefer to keep you isolated for longer, just to be on the safe side, but that doesn't appear to be an option."
You take that in, no wonder they're nervous, you looked strange, your very presence shook up their understanding of what was going on. Now something they care about seems to ride on you. That's a lot invested in one person.
"If you don't know the cause... how did you create an immunisation process?" You'd seen the way some of the guards looked... and acted.. covered up in their ABC gear and, well, shambling... they'd been rather unsettling to say the least. Again, Wyndham tries to - tactfully - answer.
"As the contagion spread a few useful pieces of information were discovered. Those already suffering from a strong mental illness, brain damage and other reasons for unconventional thought patterns and brain structure were, for the most part, unaffected. Those soldiers were volounteers for an...uh... surgical program to render them immune."
"And me... if I'm the key to all this, what do you want to do with me? Are you sure you don't want to cut me up?"
There's a ripple of nervous laughter at that, Wyndham seems to posess more natural authority even than the PM who tries so hard, the questions seem to naturally fall to him to answer.
"No, we don't want to cut you up, it would be pretty much pointless, it's all in the mind, not the body. Well, that's still the prevailing theory."
"Did anything lead up to this?" You leant forward over the table, frowning as you considered. "Was there any warning? Anything going on that might explain it?"
"Nothing we've been able to find out. Records are a mess of course but nobody is aware of anything that could have lead to this."
"And how was I retrieved?"
The Major speaks up for once on this one. "We were desperate for information. A unit of immunised troops were expended, along with a volounteer Captain, to get you retrieved. He seems to have lasted long enough to give the immunised troops orders to bring you back. Which they managed. Just. Of course, the outbreak may have progressed in the days you've been here."
Your questions satisfied they go on to make their pitch.... (Next time...)
The Major begins to give his presentation, the curtains drawn, the projector plugged in to the power supply coming from the portable generator outside. The putt-putt-putt sound of it underlies everything he says, lending it a strange and slightly surreal air, this military man forced to speak over it, it undermines his authority and the seriousness of what he is saying.
"We believe it started in Scotland, at least, before communication lines broke down but it spread rapidly by means unknown to all the major population centres, apparently by indirect infection of some sort. As Doctor Wyndham has covered in previous meetings we don't yet know the vector for the condition."
The slide changes to show an image of Northern Britain, focussing on Scotland and highlight the few large cities in red.
"Within a very short time, less than a day, we completely lost contact with Glasgow and Edinburgh and already the first hints of similar problems were occurring in England and Wales., starting wherever there were large concentrations of people and spreading outwards to market towns and villages."
"At first the police were overwhelmed with calls, murders, rampages, theft sprees and other, stranger reports which, given the existence of our friend here..." He gestures to you. "...we can no longer entirely discount."
"At the same time hospitals began to recieve people with injuries, suffering from hallucinations, flare-ups of mental illness and so forth. All of this happened extremely rapidly, too rapidly for us to be able to cope and the deployment of the military and police, many of whom were already 'infected' just made matters worse. Within two days every major population centre was affected by the madness and the last order we recieved down the wire was to affect an evacuation."
"As of now the free and uninfected population of the United Kingdom, so best as we can tell after only two weeks, is around half a million people, not including ex-pats, diplomatic staff and military personnel stationed overseas when this hit. Spread between Wight, Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man and some of the Scottish islands. We have small forward observation bases in some of the Port cities but, as we have discovered, these are no longer secure."
"Our problem, Prime Minister, is that we have no real idea what is going on. We do not know how the ailment spreads, what its origin is. Our friend here is the only successful sample to be returned from an infected area. Attempts to explore in force either meet with failure - the immunised troops lack imagination and capability - or infection, when we send a mixed or non-immune group."
"The few reports we have managed to analyse appear to be nonsense but, as I said, in light of our friend here they might need to be reassessed..."
He pauses a moment, looking embaressed.
"There were reports of....uhm... 'goblins' attacking a hospital in Cornwall. A V2 rocket, apparently, exploded in the East End of London, not an unexploded leftover from the war you understand, but a new one, falling out of the sky. This is just the tip of the iceberg and we have many of the reports transcribed for your later examination. Many of them will be hallucinations of course but we've all seen or heard things since this started that don't make any sense."
The slide show changes from population census data and maps of the spread of the insanity to blurry photographs of strange and distant shapes, one of which looks very much like a pteranodon, the rest are too indistinct to make out in any meaningful way.
All of this sparks memories in you, the ground rippling beneath your feet, the sound of snapping scissors, colours in the sky... but it just won't quite come back to you for some reason.
"We have a short space of time to understand what is going on and to begin to work towards some kind of solution before our sovereignty is no longer respected. Despite the naval blockade several fishing trawlers have been stopped and even sunk by the various navies enacting the blockade and scavengers and looters will begin to get the same idea before too long, as will nations. The US command in Afghanistan and Iraq has already taken control of our troops stationed there and what remains of the Royal Navy is spread out around the world."
"We are the only ones able to investigate properly because, at present we are still being respected and are being allowed to enact the blockade ourselves across the channel using Navy elements and HMS Ark Royal. Already we could not continue operations if we were not generously recieving supply from our European and American allies whom are also providing food and other supplies to the secure islands by airlift. We have already taken advantage of this... ah, privelidged position to fly a few recon missions using an old Optica aircraft flying out of Sandown and refitted microlights. The lack of truly decent camera equipment and skilled operators is a problem but we did get these pictures of London.
The slide shows a montage of shots showing London completely shrouded in dark fog that somehow sends shivers up and down your spine.
"And that is pretty much where we stand at the moment. Diplomats believe we have up to three months before these markers start getting called in and some cruder solution to the problem is sought. Our near neighbours are increasingly paranoid about a breach in the containment of the mainland and our friends further afield seem to view this as some sort of opportunity. Sooner or later the mask will drop and some extreme elements of the French right wing are already calling for a scorched earth policy toward containment."
He sits and immediately everything is shut down and the generator cut off again to preserve fuel, the curtains opened to let the sickly winter light back into the room.
The Prime Minister looks to you again, steepling his fingers and considering for a long time.
"Do you have any more questions or shall I just get right to it?"
You cast your eye around the table at those present. Rarely have you seen a more non-descript or nervous group of people. Most of them seem to be anonymous suits of no real consequence, all of them look like they've slept in their clothes. Behind them stand a couple of soldiers in fatigues and armed with pistols, standing at parade rest, just as nervous as the people they are acting as guardian over, though they don't seem as... odd as the soldiers that escorted you here.
One of the people around the table seems slightly more familiar, but you still can't place them, from the way everyone is deferring to them and the layout of the seating you assume them to be the most important person in the room. This is confirmed as the person sat next to them leans over and whispers and you catch the words 'Prime Minister' though given that you've no real idea who they are that seems a little out of place and almost makes you laugh.
Besides the suits, Doctor Wyndham and the military man who escorted you take their seats anda quick round of introductions is made by Doctor Wyndham, most of them go in one ear and out of the other though you take note of the Police Chief Superintendent Morgan, a grey haired woman who seems somewhat more flustered than all of the others. Prime Minister Jaspers is introduced with rather too much formality, perhaps the retention of old order is the only way some of these people are staying sane, and finally the military man who escorted you is fully introduced as Major Donovan.
"Well..." Says the Prime Minister after an awkward silence stretches just a little too long. "We need to decide how to proceed now that Mister, uhmmm... well, now that you..." He points towards you. "...have joined us. Do you have any questions before Major Donovan briefs us?"
(Commentary/discussion/investigation easter egg discovery welcome in this or previous comment sections)
"I'm not going anywhere until you people tell me what's going on." You snap, pulling away from the doctor with a savage tug of your arm.
The military man stiffens at that, his hand twitching over the holster as though he is expecting you to go crazy and start trouble any moment and your snarled insistence that they fill you in clearly makes him tense but the doctor backs away slightly, pushing down on empty air with his palms, motioning for you to calm down.
"Alright, I suppose that's fair... to tell you some of it anyway..."
He sighs and pats his pockets as though looking for a cigarette and then sighs again, shifting to sit on the edge of your bed.
"Something went wrong, over on the mainland, it wasn't my field or my concern for the few days it was happening and we're none the wiser as to what it really is now... but it seems like some sort of communicable mental illness, a madness. It started in the north, fortunately, or none of us would probably be here now and it spread like wildfire. Hallucinations, delusions, insanity, rage, catatonia... almost everyone exposed seems to have been affected. You're the only one of the infected that we managed to pull out safely and so far as I know the only person to have recovered. We need you and your immunity to get some idea... any idea of what's going on. What's really going on. We can tell you more, but I'd rather talk elsewhere."
(Comment/Discussion/Spotting of easter eggs or investigation of information for this or previous entries welcome)
"I don't... I don't remember what happened." You mumble in answer, your brow furrowing as you try to remember what happened to you. You had an inkling... something... you remembered something.
You remember madness, you remember screaming, but its all a jumble, seen from many eyes, many points of view and all so terribly, terribly confusing. Blood seeping from walls, eyes in the dark, the sound of scissors, the sky - alive with bright red butterflies - a child, clutching their knees and rocking back and forth, mumbling to themselves and clutchinga stuffed toy elephant that trumpets and raises its trunk as you look at it.
You remember soldiers, you remember being grabbed, pulled, taken as the world melted away around you into insanity, into colour and light and sound and that's all you remember until you woke up here, nothing before, nothing since, until now.
You shake it off and repeat yourself, lying because telling the truth would probably make you sound insane.
"No, I really don't, I don't remember a thing."
"Ah well." Comments the Doctor. "That's not so surprising, there's a hell of a lot of mental trauma going around."
The military man seems a little less willing to let it go but rather than press his plummy accent asks something else of you.
"Now that you're up and about you need to come with me. We have things to ask of you while we make sense of this whole situation."