God Does Not Play Dice
(Part 1 of 2)
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“Stop dropping her,” House hissed as Tracy lost her grip on Gwen’s shoulders for the fifth time.
“Yeah, well, most men leave the legs, which are lighter, for the woman to lift,” Tracy retorted.
“Cripple,” House said, rolling his eyes in the general direction of his leg.
Tracy grinned. “I have to admit, it was quite clever, breaking the cane to get rid of it.” House was willing to admit he’d been quite pleased with himself as well, but that was no longer true, because Tracy had taken it upon herself to find him yet another replacement, and now he had a pink cane with frills on the end and a sticker that read “World’s Greatest Grandma” a third of the way down its length.
“Drop her again and I’m going to make you carry her on your back.”
“Threaten me again and I’ll put you in a walker,” Tracy snapped back.
“Shut it, you two!”
They both froze, looking around for the unwelcome commentator, before they lowered their gaze to the person they were half-carrying and half-sweeping-the-floor-with. Gwen glared up at them. “In case you’ve forgotten,” she snapped in an uncharacteristically vindictive way, “there are soldiers around.” Well, the stroke might have turned her into a crazy bitch, House mused, but at least she remained perceptive.
“Why are you awake?” House snapped back, his mind racing with possible answers. “You’re not supposed to be awake.”
“Oh yeah, that helps a lot,” Gwen replied, then gasped and grabbed at her chest. “Oh, my heart.”
“Adrenaline surge,” House muttered to himself, feeling disappointed. At the same time, the fact that it wasn’t a mysterious new symptom supported his diagnosis. Nevertheless, it was a rather boring diagnosis, and while he wanted to be searching for the cause of the pheochromocytoma, he needed Gwen alive to do so. As such, he had to put up with the tedious task of dealing with a live human being, who was rather...
“Ow!” Gwen’s leg slammed into the corner of a wall as Tracy turned the corner while House kept going straight, causing her body to contort before slipping out of his grip.
“Walker!” Tracy said, looking ready to kill rather than maim.
“Oops.” House picked her up again. They rounded the corner without further delay and found themselves outside an operating room. They were about to enter when Tracy stopped, causing another unfortunate contortion of Gwen’s body structure as House neglected to synchronize with Tracy’s movements. “Now what?”
“There’s someone inside,” Tracy replied. “I saw something move through the window.”
House lowered Gwen’s legs to the ground in as smooth a manner as he could manage and peered through. “Oh, it’s Dr. Weinbacher. I phoned ahead for a surgeon because I’m already over my medical malpractice lawsuit budget this month, and while Cuddy’s breasts do heave in a majestic manner when she’s upset, I’m really over the allotted amount. In fact, I think I’ve spent all of Wilson’s too.”
Tracy’s mouth moved silently for a few seconds before they dropped wide open. “You called for a plastic surgeon?”
“You don’t suppose he could make my nose bigger, do you?” Gwen asked. “I’ve always wanted a bigger nose.” Upon seeing House and Tracy’s looks of surprise, she added, “I can pay.”
“I think her brain’s addled,” Tracy said.
House feigned shock, putting on as horrified an expression as possible. “Think of her feelings!”
“I mean, she looks gorgeous right now, so she has to have a self-image problem,” Tracy said, sounding so genuine that Gwen cooed and said: “Aww, thank you.”
“Right, in you go,” House said. “And no hugging while I’m not looking.”
House’s first impression was that the operating room had been prepared in a rushed manner. It wasn’t that the tools weren’t sanitized or laid out in a neat row, because most surgeons were meticulous enough about operating conditions that these preparations occurred as a matter of habit, rather like breathing, which no one ever forgot to do, except in short intervals of time followed by lengthy periods of catch-up. It also wasn’t that anyone had forgotten to bring in a crash cart and all manners of medicine appropriate to every possible contingency except an alien exploding from Gwen’s abdomen--though House now considered that a real possibility. Rather, the detail that gave away the urgency of their situation was the large puddles of blood splattered across the floor from the previous operation--which hadn’t gone very well--and that no one had taken the time to mop up.
Weinbacher was not a man to be caught off-guard, however. In fact, House had demanded Cuddy hire him after finding out he’d once given a woman breast implants in the middle of a west Congo village amidst a Lassa fever outbreak during a guerilla attack by an insurgency known for flailing people alive. The fact that, once he returned to the States, he had gotten away with performing the surgery illegally only added to House’s respect for him. In keeping with his can-do spirit, Weinbacher had brought along shoes with suction cups on the bottom, to allow them to keep their footing during the surgery. Some overenthusiastic intern had added his own little touch to the shoe’s design and placed the manufacturer’s little check mark logo on every single suction cup.
“Are you sure about this?” Tracy asked, eyeing Weinbacher as he kissed a little device that looked to be a liposuction vacuum and whispered to it: “Wish me luck, honey.”
“Oh absolutely,” House said, dragging her along to scrub in. As they passed the surgeon, he picked up two pairs of shoes from Weinbacher and handed one to Tracy. “Just do it.”
A Honda Civic pulled up in front of Drumthwacket, the official residence of the Governor of New Jersey in Princeton. It was accosted by a guard who quickly waved its occupants through when the passenger showed him his credentials and apologized for his forgetfulness in leaving behind his personal chauffeur’s papers.
“Personal chauffeur?” Tosh said testily once they were let onto the grounds.
“What else was I supposed to say?” Monty replied. “I got us through, didn’t I?”
The mansion was built in a Georgian fashion with large Greek columns and a plantation style lawn. In other words, it looked like the White House, but flatter and possibly belonging to a film about poltergeists. With the moon half-concealed by a veil of wispy, dark clouds, the mansion glowed white amidst a shower of shifting moonbeams, adding to its ethereal impression. It was grounded by the yellow glow of incandescent bulbs through the windows, but the warm color seemed polluted by its passage into the outdoors and became a sickly orange, like bruises tingeing pale, virgin skin.
Tosh shifted the car into park and turned off the engine, handing the keys back to Monty who pocketed them wordlessly. Now that they were here, a sinking sense of unease filled them, cutting short their chatter. While Tosh could understand why Monty might feel this way, she was at a loss to explain her own fear. Even up in Brecon Beacons, when she was about to be chopped up by cannibals, she hadn’t felt such a pure sense of terror, as though some ghostly hand was tickling her spine and she didn’t dare look back to see what it might belong to.
“Well, onward!” she said, more tremulously than she’d planned. Then she tried to step out of the car and forgot she still had her seat belt on. The subsequent flailing and gagging sounds did little to enhance her heroic image, but once she disengaged the clasp, she at least managed a halfway decent swagger.
They encountered no more guards. Tosh mentioned this to Monty, but he shrugged and said the others would have been alerted to their presence by now. “It’s not unusual for me to come.” He withdrew his Blackberry device. “Look, the governor’s secretary is already updating me on the situation. It looks like he’s in a meeting with the attorney general; those always take forever, so we should have plenty of time to do a quick search, and then I can introduce you if you want.”
Tosh watched his face for any sign of a lie but failed to find one. “Sure, of course.” Realizing she was frowning, she put on her brightest expression and proceeded onto the lawn with a slight bounce to her step. “‘Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky.’”
Monty hesitated, then followed. “‘And indeed there will be time to wonder, “Do I dare?”’” He gave her a wry smile. “Any reason for choosing a poem about love unattained?”
Tosh blinked. “I never actually read the whole thing, you know; it’s one of those things you save and never have the time to read. I was just thinking about the way the house looks.”
“With half-deserted streets and one-night cheap hotels.” Monty grinned. “Well, New Jersey never had that great a reputation, did it?”
“I hear the Drumthwacket gardens are beautiful.”
“You know, I’ve heard that too.” Monty looked thoughtful. “I’ve also heard that there are secret passageways in them.”
“We should check out the main house first; we don’t have that much time.”
Monty nodded. “Of course, of course.”
They both paused mid-step and looked at each other, really looked at each other, and they could each see their own thoughts shining in the other’s eyes. “Then again, my scanner could probably locate hidden passageways in no time,” Tosh said.
Their grins made perfect mirrors.
House lowered the mask onto Gwen’s face and asked her to count to ten. Her body responded to the sedative as expected and she was out before four, her eyelids fluttering shut. Weinbacher picked up his scalpel with a little too much glee and elbowed House.
“I never had the chance to repay you for getting a good word in with Cuddy; what say I make her a little bigger while we’re at it, eh?” he said, cupping his own nipples and then winking.
“You’re sick!” Tracy said.
“That’s just the fatty lip talking, Kindle.” Weinbacher leered. “Since you’re a friend of House, I can fix that for you; only fifty dollars.”
Tracy slapped him.
“Just cut out the tumor,” House said. “After all, I’m not sleeping with her.”
“Oh.” Weinbacher tugged his ear. “I thought she was another one of your hookers.”
Tracy slapped House. “Innocent until proven guilty,” House reprimanded her as he rubbed his cheek. She slapped him again, sending him reeling, but the shoes kept him from hitting the ground, and instead, he bent backward like one of those punching dummies that keep getting back up until you realize you need studded gloves to make an impact. His spine creaked ominously as his back bent into an upside-down “U.”
“Careful,” Weinbacher warned. “Stomach stretch marks are almost impossible to fix.”
Flailing his arms around, House finally heard a loud crack, and his body snapped back up. With one hand clutching the small of his back, which was now throbbing, and the other outstretched to keep himself from slamming down against Gwen and releasing a surge of fatal adrenaline, he bounced back into position, his shoes having stayed firmly anchored throughout the experience. Of course, he’d forgotten Tracy was in the way, and his palm slammed into her with full force, sending her bobbing backward. She screamed, and her hairnet went flying before she caught herself against the ground in a manner that clearly indicated she’d had gymnastics lessons some time in her past. Her very, very recent past. She pushed off and used her return momentum to slap House as hard as she could.
“Goddamn it, stop!” House roared as he arced backward again. On his return, his head accidentally slammed into Tracy’s and following a loud CRACK, they both found themselves on the floor, the suction cups having finally lost their grip.
“If you’re quite satisfied,” Weinbacher said mildly, “I think we should be getting on with the operation.”
“Right, right,” House replied, rubbing his forehead and moving back into position, glaring at Tracy all the while. He re-anchored his shoes by stamping down hard on the ground, and Tracy responded by doing the same thing, only harder. This was accompanied by a number of loud glops which, considering they were now covered in blood, was quite unsanitary.
“Does anyone know what type the blood on the floor is?” House asked.
“I think the important detail you should know is actually that it’s HIV-positive,” Weinbacher said.
House and Tracy both froze, staring first at each other and then at the plastic surgeon. “What?” House said, his voice suddenly dropping two octaves.
“Ahaha!” Weinbacher brushed his right hand over his chest as he emitted a high-pitched giggle, kind of like the sound a mad scientist would make if he was a seven-year-old girl. “I am only kidding. It was a joke!”
House punched him, failing to notice there was a countertop behind Weinbacher, which the man’s head promptly came into contact with. That left the surgeon looking like the girl from The Exorcist, assuming she’d fallen asleep halfway through her memorable descent down the stairs.
Tracy patted him on his left hand. “It’s okay, if you hadn’t done it, I would’ve.”
House sighed, picking up a scalpel. “Remind me why I called another surgeon?”
Tracy shrugged. “I’ve heard you’re eccentric.”
House gave her his best pot-calling-kettle-black look which she ignored, and then he bent over Gwen’s exposed abdomen, preparing to make the first incision.
“Shit!” cried House, his hand jerking wildly and missing Gwen’s nipple by about half a millimeter as he straightened to search for the source of the disturbance. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Tracy had grabbed a drill and was preparing to throw it at the doorway.
She was facing in completely the wrong direction. Instead of soldiers breaking in, there was an old man standing in the corner of the room with meticulously-combed white hair, in a suit and--most disturbingly--a cravat, which in many mythologies (House remembered reading) denoted the wearer as a bringer of great evil. He had disturbed a trash can upon his abrupt appearance, which had been, as far as House could tell, out of thin air.
“Did you just materialize from nothing?” House asked, feeling it was important to get these matters into the open as soon as possible.
“Of course,” the man said in a refined and confident voice. “Would that be Miss Gwen Cooper half-undressed on the table there?” He made no attempt to peer beyond House, as though trusting that all things would be revealed in good time. House supposed that was true, though he didn’t think Gwen would want to be revealing any more than necessary of herself to this clearly perverted old man.
“No, it’s the Queen of England,” House responded.
“Goodness, really?” the man said, sounding mildly curious. “She looks very young to be so old. Er, she is old right now, isn't she?” House didn't know quite how to respond to that, so he fell back on the safety of sarcasm.
“Yes. And you look very old. And British. And damn it, get that cravat out of my sight! Who are you?”
“My name is Bilis Manger,” the man calmly stated, then fixed House with a patient stare. It took House a moment to realize he was waiting for the courtesy to be returned.
He hesitated, but anyone so unwisely named Bilis must have had a traumatic childhood, and no one in a decent state of mind would think someone would believe that was his given name unless it was truly his real name. So House said, “I’m Dr. House, and this is Nurse Tracy Kindle.”
“And that unfortunate, depraved man you’ve knocked unconscious?” Bilis glanced at Weinbacher with interest, and House decided the man was sex-starved in addition to being perverse.
“Gerhard Weinbacher, plastic surgeon.”
“Most talented with a knife, then?” Bilis said. House noticed the man had a shiv attached to his belt and took a step back before he could control himself, or at least, he tried to, but the suction cups held firm and all that happened was that his foot shifted a little inside his shoe.
“What do you want?” House snapped.
“To see Miss Cooper, of course,” Bilis said, as though he couldn’t imagine any other goal in life.
“We are... old acquaintances.”
The pause made House suspicious. “Are you sure she’d like to renew this acquaintance?”
“Oh, she will. She most certainly will.” For a moment, House thought he saw the cravat glow bright red. Then it was just an ordinary cravat again. An ordinary, unglowing, evil, genocidal--but in no way demonic--cravat.
“Hey, what’s that?” All three of them turned to the door as voices drifted in from outside.
“It’s a sign,” a second voice said. “It reads: ‘Surgery in progress.’”
“Yeah,” the first voice answered. “But there’s no surgery scheduled for now.”
“You think terrorists might be hiding in there?”
There was a tense pause. A drawn-out pause. A silence filled with so much anxiety that the air could be cut with a sharp pointy object and, rather than yielding, would probably pull out a sharp object of its own and stab back.
Then the soldier said, “Nah, everyone knows doctors just work really slow. All that hand-washing and stuff.”
House and Tracy let out a sigh of relief. Then House noticed that Bilis had taken advantage of the distraction to slip past him, and he was now standing by Gwen’s head and caressing her cheek with an index finger.
“Wait,” the second soldier said as the two marched past the door and saw all of them standing in plain sight through the window. “Is that doctor wearing a cravat?”
“Day-um! He is!” The two soldiers exchanged terrified glances, then they screamed, “TERRORIST!” and began firing madly into the operation room.
Tracy and House barely ducked in time. Bilis, however, held up his hands and disappeared before the bullets reached him. The two soldiers rushed in.
“Are you all right, ma’am?” the first asked Tracy, offering her a hand to help her back up. The other soldier rushed over to House and pulled him up, then handed him his cane.
“That was a close call,” he said.
“Oh yeah, yeah,” House said, tensing and preparing to knock the man out. “Thank you so much for rescuing us! We were helpless hostages, and all the while, he kept waving his cravat in front of us and saying, ‘Bell-bottoms are back in fashion again, mwahahahahaha!’”
The soldiers shuddered. “How terrible!” House raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah, can’t trust those damn terrorists to play fair anymore,” he added. The other man shook his head in disgust. “Bell-bottoms.” He spat on the ground, but House decided not to comment on the issue of sanitation, given the more pressing problem of broken glass and plaster lying all over the place.
As House was returning his gaze from the puddle of spittle to the soldier’s face, his eyes fell on the man's belt, upon which hung a small, cubic device, on which there was an LCD screen displaying rows and rows of multi-colored spikes. The device looked familiar, but he couldn’t place what it was or where he might have seen it.
Following his gaze, the soldier turned so that the device swung out of sight, and he said to House: “Are you all right, mister?”
“Yeah, yeah, fine. Now if you don’t mind, we need to continue the operation.”
“Oh, of course!” The two soldiers sprang to attention and saluted him. “Just remember, there’s always someone a holler away if the cravat man comes back.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” House gave him a friendly wink, which sent them on their way. As soon as they were gone, he turned to Tracy. “Well, now that all that madness is done with, let’s aaaarrggh!”
The exclamation came because at that moment, Bilis popped back into reality. He looked around, glanced at his wristwatch, and content that all was well, approached House, apparently not bothered by the slippery floor.
“How the hell do you do that?” House snarled.
“A simple bending of space and time. It’s sort of a you-get-it-or-you-don’t type of proposition in terms of putting it to practice.”
House’s mind raced for a means of getting rid of Bilis, because the most primal part of it was screaming Don’t trust him! Underneath that plea came the inexplicable sound of goats baa-ing in the background, but he put that down to fatigue. He settled upon the simple, all-purpose statement of: “That’s unsanitary.”
“I’d rather say it’s more sanitary than anything else in this room.” Bilis’ eyes flickered down to the suction cup shoes and then back up as though they didn’t want to linger for fear of being caught doing something unspeakable and improper.
Tracy took House’s cue, though, and glopped quite menacingly toward Bilis for one wearing suction cup shoes and walking as though sinking into quicksand. Bilis backed away in disgust as the shoes sent forth a spray of blood with each step, and as he fell back faster than Tracy could advance, she stopped moving and beckoned for him to come to her. Bilis came, possibly drawn by the strength of Tracy’s conviction that the world would operate exactly as she wished so long as she wished hard enough, but more probably because she was no longer splashing someone else's blood. When he was close enough, Tracy slapped him.
“Goodness, my dear, you must be gentle; I just had my cheeks botoxed.”
Tracy’s jaw dropped. Bilis leaned forward and whispered: “Gwen likes her lovers a bit on the young and spry side. Rowr.” He made a clawing gesture with his right hand and winked.
“Get out now!” Tracy said, her face twisted in disgust. “Or I’ll slap you so hard the injections come out of your ears.”
Bilis leaned away from her and took a step back. “Feisty little devil, aren’t you. Would you be interested in a threesome?” Tracy pulled her hand back in preparation for the godmother of all slaps and Bilis popped back into thin air, vanishing with as little fanfare as he’d arrived. Tracy lowered her hand and wrung them with a satisfied air.
“That ought to take care of him.”
It didn’t. As soon as she turned, Bilis was back, but before either of them could react, he said, “Oh, my dears, I did forget to mention; I met a friend of yours just before I came here, one James Wilson, you know, the sexy doctor with the well-shaped bottom.”
House had never heard Wilson described quite that way before, but now that he thought about it, it wasn’t that far off the mark, so he contented himself with a nod.
“Yes, he was trying to help me find Miss Cooper,” Bilis continued. “But then we were rudely interrupted by men with guns and he was dragged away screaming. It was quite a terrible sight. I do hope they don’t hurt him.” House didn’t find him quite convincing on the last statement, though Bilis’ honesty was now the last thing on his mind.
House advanced so menacingly even the suction cups knew better than to impede his progress. “You got Wilson captured?” The statement was not an inquiry so much as an inquisition, his voice so low it by rights should have belonged to a sub-woofer, yet Bilis and Tracy heard the question more clearly than they wanted.
“Well, in a manner of speaking,” Bilis said, sensing that he was now in danger of suffering far more than a simple slap.
“Get. Him. OUT!” House roared. “You free him with your little teleporting trick--and don’t you dare tell me it won’t work on other people, you will find a way--and if you fail, the fact that you will never see Gwen Cooper again will be the least of your worries, do you understand?”
“Yes, yes, alright.” Annoyance and fright warred for dominance on his features. When he straightened his back once more, he raised a finger and said, “Incidentally, what sort of procedure are you performing on Miss Cooper?”
House reached for a scalpel but Tracy quickly said, “A pheochromocytoma removal.”
“Andisthatdangerous?” Bilis said, mashing his words together in his haste to get all the information he desired from House before the doctor-turned-madman placed the scalpel in an unmentionable part of his anatomy.
“Not so much with the right training and equipment,” Tracy said. “Good-bye!”
Bilis didn’t stop to thank her before he vanished. House looked at Tracy. “Do you suppose that was relevant to saving Wilson?”
“Well, no,” Tracy replied. “But people do tend to work better when their mind’s at ease, which is why I think you should wait a moment before you continue with the operation.”
House set the scalpel down, his mind buzzing with little bees whispering things they would do to anyone who hurt Wilson. No one was allowed to hurt Wilson. Wilson existed for House’s sadistic pleasure alone. And money-lending, of course. All of this left little brain capacity to ponder what Tracy was talking about, but then, a knock on the door was followed by a team of seven doctors in crisp green scrubs wheeling in cartloads of equipment appropriate to operating on a dangerous tumor in the adrenal gland.
“We’re looking for Miss Cooper,” the lead surgeon said, surveying the room with distaste but no obvious surprise. “We were sent by Mr. Manger.”
“Uh.” House said.
Tracy pulled him out of the way, handed the surgeons a pair of suction cup shoes each, and pointed at Gwen, indicating her to be the person they were looking for.
“He said he could travel in space and time, remember?” she whispered to House.
“Oh,” House said, looking thoughtful. “That’s quite useful.”
The interior of Drumthwacket was the typical combination of white walls and painted wood with wallpapers and curtains of different but always bold color schemes in each room. There was no doubt a Victorian would have been entirely at home there, which was another way of saying the decorations were unfit for modern eyes. The halls were devoid of people, which Tosh admitted wasn’t out of the ordinary for the middle of the night, but she couldn’t help feeling the house was too quiet for comfort. Anywhere else, and she would’ve been tensing in preparation for an ambush or the closing of a trap, yet here, she kept letting down her guard without even noticing.
No, it can’t be psychic influence, she thought, knowing that her training would have given her at least some small warning. She tried not to think about the man beside her, the big, dark, handsome, strong... No! Bad me, bad! Not the time!
“You think we should search the bedrooms?” Monty asked, looking reluctant to venture the suggestion. “It’s just that the staff goes in and out of his offices here all the time, so if he truly wanted to hide anything, it wouldn’t be in there.”
“Pervert,” Tosh replied, but she didn’t disagree, and since the living quarters were closer to their current location, she let Monty lead the way.
The first room they entered bore signs of having been partially redecorated, with a pink and flowery pastiche sort of wallpaper covering the walls and even part of the roof. Similar floral patterns had spread onto the curtains and bedding, and while the carpet remained defiantly navy blue for the time being, that didn’t stop a purple and orange throw rug from sprawling on top of the region between the bed and the door. A grey tabby had been curled up on it before their entrance, and now the cat fluffed up and hissed at Tosh, arching his back and showing his teeth. Monty fumbled in his pockets, came up with a packet of cat treats, and tossed some onto the ground. The cat decided they were his new best friends.
“They’re so much easier to bribe than dogs,” Monty remarked. “The bloodhounds Governor Streed keeps are evil.”
“I thought you said this was a guest bedroom,” Tosh said.
“So why does it look like it’s seeing long-term use?”
Monty frowned. “Trouble with the wife?” Then he brightened. “That’d make sense if an alien body-snatched him, right?”
“You realize that would mean he’s dead.”
“Oh. You mean, they don’t sort of just clone him and lock him up in a spaceship somewhere?”
Tosh patted him on the shoulder. “You watch too many cartoons. Come on, let’s try under the mattress.”
They positioned themselves on each side of the bed and through their joint efforts, heaved the mattress half a meter into the air. A quick glance revealed nothing, but Tosh ran her hand along both box and mattress. They dropped it back into place and smoothed down the sheets.
“You check the bathroom, I’ll check out here?” Monty suggested, pulling open a drawer. Upon seeing a bra with “Tiger” monogrammed on it, he slammed the drawer shut and said, “I can check the bathroom.”
“Are you sure?” Tosh grinned as she walked to where he’d been and re-opened the drawer. “You might find used panties in there.”
“Don’t you try to frighten me.” Monty’s voice echoed out of the three-chambered bathroom, accompanied by the tap-tapping of his footsteps on tile. “I’ve seen my fair share of used panties in my thirty year lifespan, and I can tell you, I’m more than prepared to deal with... Playboy?” Monty burst through the doorway, waving the magazine at Tosh, causing it to unfold, revealing a rather revealing centerfold. “Playboy?” he repeated. “No wonder they’re having marriage trouble.”
“I thought you said you could deal with seeing undies.”
“But, I mean, I’ve met his wife before!”
Tosh brushed her bangs aside as she looked away from him. “Nothing wrong with steamy lesbian sex.”
Monty scoffed. “Well, of course not, it’s just that the last time we met, she slapped my ass and called me... tiger....” A hunted look appeared on Monty’s face, and he waved his index finger at her. “We shall not speak of this again.”
Tosh shrugged and nodded. “No problem.” She whipped the bra out of its resting place and threw at him. “Catch, tiger.”
Monty juggled the incoming brassiere as he might a jar filled with poisonous spiders. Rather than batting it away, however, his frantic motions caused it to tangle about his head, so that he had to flail even more wildly. In the end, he managed to rip it off and dash it against the bed with such force the sheets became ruffled again. “You’re never going to let me forget this, are you?”
“Roar,” Tosh replied.
Monty threw the magazine at her and retreated back into the bathroom. Tosh took a look at the centerfold and nodded. “She has good taste in women.”
That was the last interesting discovery they made in the room, as a search of the wardrobe, the bathroom, the walk-in closet, and the storage space above the closet all turned up nothing. Monty was disappointed because he’d come up with a theory that both the governor and his wife were aliens--“See, the alien’s just sexually confused, because it’s stuck in a body of the wrong gender”--which Tosh didn't want to tell him made no sense whatsoever, because why would an alien have a human’s sexual urges to begin with?
As they were about to leave, Monty bumped the dresser by the door, knocking down a box that was doubling as a picture frame, containing seven photos of the woman and her estranged husband. The back of the frame knocked loose, revealing a hidden panel within. Monty pounced on it and pulled out a clear bottle containing an amber-colored liquid.
“Aha!” he exclaimed. “What do you suppose this could be? A conversion serum, alien secretions, a top-secret hallucinogen?” He tilted the glass container side to side, watching the contents slosh back and forth. His eyes contained a sort of manic glee.
“I think it’s whiskey,” Tosh said.
“Oh.” Monty replaced the bottle and righted the frame, taking care to return it to its original position. “The governor’s bedroom is just down the hall.”
Before he could open the door, though, Tosh grabbed his hand. He frowned, eyebrows knitted together in confusion, but Tosh didn’t explain and instead, led him to the bed without a second word.
“I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t think now’s the time,” Monty said as they sat, the bed sinking beneath their weight.
Tosh rolled her eyes. “I know this seems like a game to you, Monty, and sometimes I think that’s the best way to treat my job; you can’t take it too seriously or else you’ll go insane or, worse, become obsessed. But the longer we’re together, the more I realize you’re not cut out to do this: clandestine, alien-hunting, put-your-life-on-the-line sort of work.” He opened his mouth to protest, but she put a finger over his lips and cut him off. “Or maybe you are, or will be with time, but even so, I’m not ready to put your life on the line. If this is the alien headquarters, then this is the heart of the danger, and I can’t keep pretending you’re safe with me any longer. So now’s the time to say this, even if it’s coming a little late; I want you to get out of here, Monty, pretend none of this ever happened, or maybe use your position to get back to the hospital and make sure the National Guard hasn’t shipped your aunt off to Guantanomo. But don’t stay here. I can’t even begin to explain the risks to you, and you might be willing to stake everything on this operation, but I’m not.” She paused, then rushed on, “And maybe when this is all over, I can visit you and we can have some real time to ourselves.”
There was also the fact that if he couldn’t be trusted, now was the time to rid herself of a spy, but she left that unsaid and wished she could leave it out of her mind altogether. She studied Monty’s face for any hint of his true feelings, but his expression remained flat. His eyes roamed her face for a few seconds, likely searching for the same thing, before he said one word: “No.”
“Monty, you could die.”
“I don’t care.” When he saw Tosh grimace, he put both hands on her shoulders. “No, really, I don’t. All my life, I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen. I’m not going to let it pass me by.”
“Aren’t we wasting time here? If you’re serious about not getting caught, sitting around talking about my childhood isn’t going to help.”
“Listen, I understand the drive, the need to know what’s out there; guess how I got involved? I was a scientist, minding my own business, when an alien ship crashed into Big Ben and I landed the autopsy job. Ever since that moment, that one fleeting glimpse of something greater, of unfamiliar life, knowing it was thriving out there in the stars, visibly hidden and out of reach, and I knew that given the right opportunity, I could seize the knowledge out there and understand and feel like all the information building up and accumulating in my head would tie together and make sense. But it doesn’t, Monty, you just get more numbers, more facts, more strangeness to add to all the rest until your head feels like it’s going to explode, and still you’re hoping for that little bit more.” But even as the words flooded out of her, she could see they weren’t the ones Monty needed to hear. If anything, he looked more confused.
When she finished, he scratched his sideburns a little and said simply, “I’m not leaving you. All this alien-hunting, it’s great fun, I’ll admit, but that feeling, that sense of the one piece of information that makes everything click together? It isn’t running around after aliens, it’s running around after aliens with you. I just, I just feel like whatever it is I’m doing with you, it’s the right thing to do.” He leaned closer. “And frankly, if I die doing it, then that’s what’s supposed to happen. And I don’t want you feeling guilty, because it’s how I want to live my life.”
And with that confession, Tosh knew.
“All right.” She nodded. “Then let’s go.”
Monty’s gaze lingered on her for a moment, trying to assess the reason for her sudden change of heart, but then it snapped away and he bounded to the door with a wide grin on his face. “His quarters are right there.”
He pointed out the door as they exited the room. Just as he did, it began opening, and Tosh grabbed his arm and pulled him back into the bedroom. Keeping a crack open between the door and the frame, they peered out to see two men leaving. The first, Tosh recognized as the governor from the portrait of him hanging up in the office back in Trenton. He was middle-aged and portly, though his bulk was from muscles atrophying from disuse, yet he carried an air of authority about him, part confidence in his political power and part confidence that if it came down to it, he could still win a fight. He reminded Tosh less of a politician than of a mob member, though his hair and suit were both rumpled, diminishing the appearance of poise and danger. He smoothed the hair down as he proceeded down the hall, however, and straightened his tie as well.
“See? Confused,” Monty whispered as they took in the governor’s associate’s harassed look.
“Who’s the other man?” Behind the governor was a much smaller man, though a second glance told Tosh this impression was only in relation to the governor. Given the governor was almost 200 centimeters tall, the other man must have been around 182, which was still taller than the average. There was no denying that he was thinner, though; where the governor was big and commanding, he was lean and forgettable, the sort of man who could appear from the shadows to cut your throat and then vanish again without a trace. His was a face you didn’t forget, provided you could catch a glimpse of it in the first place.
“Attorney General Craig Howell. I told you they were in a meeting, though I didn’t know it was that kind of meeting.”
“Excuse me, text from Jack,” Tosh said, dodging back to the bed as she took out her cell. She made a show of reading the blank screen. After a period of time she judged long enough for reading an imaginary message, she began typing. The internet application popped up, and before long, she had a picture of Craig Howell on her phone, the face matching the man she’d seen perfectly. She nodded and closed the window. “Sorry, he just wanted to let us know he’s almost at the hospital and that he’ll ‘straighten things out’ once he’s there.” Tosh smirked, partly at her choice of words and partly to cover the grimace she wanted to make at formulating such a terrible lie. “Wishful thinking, in my opinion.”
Monty accepted her words at face value. “It’s clear,” he said, dodging into the hallway. Tosh jogged after him, and they both slipped into the bedroom before its previous occupants had disappeared around the corner. Neither looked back, however, and once inside, Tosh locked the door.
The room was a mess. There was unwashed clothing draped all over the wardrobes and mirrors while the bed itself looked like it hadn’t seen a housecleaner in days. Beneath the window was a desk with lamp and computer, and though the monitor looked to be collecting dust, papers leaned in several precarious stacks that appeared to have seen more recent use. Tosh also noticed the glint of metal from objects hidden amidst the mess, and upon moving closer, found a cell phone, pager, and something she didn’t recognize that resembled a cigar case with LED lights running the length of it.
“He’s forgotten something,” she whispered, realizing their absence would be temporary. She ran up to the desk and picked up the case without regard for security measures. At her insistence, Monty unlocked the door and then retreated to her side, eyeing the door as though it would open at any moment. She ran her fingers along the smooth shell of the device and felt a number of indentations, so shallow as to be invisible in the dim light, but combined with its appearance, she knew the device was alien.
“What do you think it is?”
Tosh brought it up before her eyes and peered at it, the flashing lights glowing against the lenses of her glasses. She let her fingers move of their own accord, exploring the surface and piecing together the grooves as one would roll out a tapestry, watching the details unfold until at last, a pattern emerged….
“I’ve got it,” she announced, pressing her fingers down into four of the indentations. At once, the device lit up, its skin becoming transparent as the intensity of its own light increased. The device also seemed to expand, turning from solid into gas into fog, until it became a translucent screen, like one gigantic hologram one meter square, floating in the air before them. It shimmered and different shades of gray flashed along its surface in what seemed to be a fractal pattern. Then the image settled and a map of New Jersey appeared. “Of course,” Tosh breathed. “It’s a remote!”
“A what?” Monty’s eyes darted toward the television.
“That’s sort of the right idea,” replied Tosh. “Look at these dots on the map, they indicate signals, like television channels, and the remote lets us control the state of whatever alien tech is present at these locations, like a super control panel.” The thickest cluster of lights gathered but a few miles from their present location around the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. She pressed her finger there, and the map zoomed in, the landscape expanding until they were peering down at what seemed to be a real-time satellite feed of the hospital. There were even little soldiers marching through the parking lot, and humvees patrolling the perimeters. Blockades had been set up around the building to prevent any more people from coming in and out, and lights blinked atop detour signs diverting motorists away from the surrounding roads.
Most of the blinking dots remained centered on the hospital, but one was located on the parking structure. Monty noticed it at the same time Tosh did, and he pointed at it. His finger darted a little too close, however, and the picture expanded further. Tosh caught a glimpse of their rental van, and as the image zoomed in, the background faded to black and the car became a rotating three-dimensional image. Text floated atop it, pronouncing: “Torchwood Rental Vehicle” and then, in smaller font, “Temporary Prisoner Holding Location.” Beside the image, the question “Disable Shields?” appeared. Monty was startled by the sudden change, as he hadn’t expected to touch the screen itself, and he flung his hand aside with a soft yelp. Tosh tried to grab his arm, but it was too late. Monty’s hand flung through the “Yes” part of the prompt, and the screen vanished.
A brief whisper drifted through Tosh’s mind, as though it were a memory rather than a new message, but the words were clear enough either way: “Shields disabled.” Then the device folded back up into a tiny metal casing, but this time, all the lights were flashing red. Tosh felt her heart sink as Monty put voice to her worries: “It doesn’t know we’re not the governor, right?”
“Well,” Tosh said, setting the device back onto the desk, “we needed to disable anything holding the car anyway.” The lights stopped flashing, and all seemed well until they all lit up at the same time. “But maybe we should’ve waited until we were away from the building.”
The device let out an ear-splitting, shockingly human shriek, and at once, they heard voices from outside the door. Footsteps thumped toward them, and Tosh looked around for a place to hide, but of course, they would search the room now that they knew intruders had been present. They had one chance.
Tosh threw open the window and jumped through it, smashing apart the screen and crashing into the bushes below. She had but an instant to roll to the side before Monty followed her out, thumping into the ground where she had been lying moments earlier. Part of her felt misgivings at letting him follow her any further, as he could then report her position any time, but the logical part of her brain told her that trying to lose him now would be tantamount to admitting she didn’t trust him, and that would be even riskier than letting him tag along, so she whispered, “Hurry up!” and, still in a crouch, began running along the side of the house.
Monty was close behind as they rounded the corner just in time to hear the governor yell, “They went out the window!” He poked his head out, looking this way and that, but they flattened themselves against the ground behind a rosebush, and though Tosh thought his gaze lingered in their direction a little longer than anywhere else, he soon retreated back into the room, and they both breathed a sigh of relief.
“They didn’t take anything,” a low, sort of guttural voice said.
“But they might’ve seen,” the governor replied, his own voice a little higher and stronger, less animalistic and more calculating. “They must not get away. I’ll have the guards release the dogs.”
“Oh hell,” said Monty.
“Help! I’m being kidnapped!”
Heads turned all along the hall in time to see Wilson being dragged between two grim-faced soldiers. His arms waved frantically and his feet kicked about, so that it looked as though he was trapped in a high-powered wind tunnel, but all to little effect. Most people turned away again as soon as they located the source of the commotion. Most doubtless had enough problems of their own--they were, after all, in a locked-down hospital--and didn't want to be dragged into someone else’s.
The thought of other people suffering calmed Wilson down somewhat, or at least made him feel a little better. Pain, whether physical or psychological, wasn’t pleasant to deal with, but at least it gave him focus. He was good at treating other people; that was his job, his duty. And getting arrested isn’t going to help me help them, he thought, and realizing that, he settled down, letting his body go limp. The soldiers didn’t react at all. Probably figure I’ve given up.
They reached the elevators, one of which opened right as they arrived so that there was no awkward wait with the two soldiers standing at attention and Wilson bedraggled on the ground between them. No, that awkwardness was reserved for once they were inside and the doors had closed. Wilson took advantage of the wait to ask once more: “So why am I being arrested?”
Still no answer, but rather than press the point, Wilson let the silence drag and drag. He could see the tension increase in the soldiers’ shoulders as the elevator continued its journey. Even Wilson was shocked at how long it took, but glancing at the panel, he realized they’d gotten into the wrong car, for this one was bound up before it would descend to the lobby. And someone had hit the top floor before leaving.
Wilson grinned. Well, he deserved to be lucky at least once today. He started humming. His captors really didn’t like that.
At last, they reached the top floor. The doors slid open, found no one waiting, and shut again. The elevator began descending. Wilson whistled a little louder, hoping to annoy an answer out of the soldiers soon. Then the lights went out, the car jerked to a halt, and a tinny whining died away amidst the snarling of the dying motor. Wilson saw the men’s eyes go wide.
“Wow, a blackout,” Wilson said smugly, carefully keeping the surprise out of his own voice. “What are the odds of that?”
To Chapter 7: Part 2
Back to Chapter 6: You Owe It to the World
Summary: Been a long, long time, but we hope this chapter’s worth the wait as we build up steam to the big Princeton finale. In today’s episode: House and Tracy engage in the medical equivalent of mudwrestling, Jack and Cuddy bleed all over each other in her office, Monty and Tosh are emo, Ianto gets mauled by attack dogs, Wilson is stuck in an elevator, and everyone else is stuck in Torchwood’s car trunk. This is the halfway point of Arc 1, which will have 13 chapters.