Opposing Forces: Hospital Visitorsby Paul McManus
After our success at closing down so many of The Emperor’s drug factories we were big news. The Ministry had made sure that there was plenty of dramatic footage of The Militia in action, and that always went down well with the public.
You often hear of our types being shy and avoiding the media but we were quite happy with the attention. It was usually the unregistered vigilantes who weren’t too keen on being in the spotlight. For us it was ideal, mainly because we made more money. Sales for Militia action figures and associated merchandise went through the roof and we were getting offers of contracts from all over the place. When I say “contracts” I don’t mean working as hired muscle, I mean chat shows and advertising. It was all I’d hoped for when I joined up. As long as I invested wisely I was set for life.
You may be surprised to know that Sabre was as happy as the rest of us. It wasn’t that he wanted to be a star, or show the world how wonderful he was, but he did want to be a success. As far as measures of success went in those days this was about as good as it got.
Pete was probably the most publicity shy of us all but he wasn’t going to turn any opportunities down. It was great seeing him on TV advertising the Rugby World Cup. He was in his Bombardier costume in the centre of a scrum, squeezing the life out of the blokes either side of him. He was excited about mixing with the England team, although he did find time to complain that he wasn’t allowed to play.
Helen made a series of ads for Volvo. It was quite fitting really that “safety-first” Helen got a contract with them. They offered her a fortune to put their badge on her armour but she drew the line there. Jenny was in the most demand because of her good looks and flashy powers. Offers were coming in from the big fashion houses and perfume companies. After spending some time seeing what was on offer she settled down to become the face of Yves Saint Laurent for a while.
Steve didn’t do any advertising but he appeared on all of the big chat shows. The women went mad for him even though all they could see was the lower half of his face. Muscles, charisma and a sense of mystery really did the trick.
What about good old Disc? Well, I was a difficult one as far as the advertisers were concerned. I wasn’t particularly good looking from what they could see and I wasn’t a mountain of muscle, so what to do with me? In the end I went with Microsoft for a series of ads using the slogan, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.” Corny I know but the money was good, very good in fact.
We were in great demand to make appearances as a team but that was always a dodgy one as security was a big deal. If we appeared individually there was still a chance of a hit but at least it would only be one of us. Comforting.
As you might imagine, they were good days. Our families were filled with pride, although they couldn’t tell anyone, and Lockway was a nicer place to live. House prices even increased.
Enjoy the good times while you can because there’s always trouble ahead.
Saturday nights were always the worst. Alcohol, drugs and football all combined to create a mob that ancient Rome would have been proud of. That was why we usually took it easy during the daylight hours and let the bobbies deal with things; we came out at night. For that reason, an early afternoon call was both unexpected and unwelcome.
There was no surprise that the trouble was in The Dip but what we hadn’t expected was for it to be at The Queen Victoria Royal Hospital. It sounds a lot nicer than it was, believe me. The QV, as it was known, was a crumbling, under funded hospital that served The Dip as best it could with insufficient staff and old equipment. If you planned on getting ill in those days you needed medical cover, the National Health Service was all but dead by that time.
As was often the case, we got the call out but there weren’t any details available; they came en-route.
The roads were likely to be pretty jammed with traffic at that time so we travelled by helicopter.
Pulse was the last one to climb in, much to the irritation of Sabre.
As we left the security of The Fort behind, I looked down on the urban sprawl that we called home. They say that sometimes when astronauts see Earth from space it gives them a sense of unity. It seems strange to them that different factions fight each other when really we’re all clinging to this lump of rock together. I thought of that as we gained height above the city. Lockway was one city in name but two in reality, up-town sparkled with its brash glass and green parks, whereas The Dip looked like a red-brown blood stain that wouldn’t wash away. As I looked down I understood exactly why people fought, stole and killed just to get closer to that next rung of the ladder; I was only surprised that they didn’t howl at the moon too. Then again, some of them did.
Sabre started speaking, “Your attention please Militia. I’ve got limited information but it looks like someone’s going through a Mutation Phase and it’s got the hospital staff rattled.” And so it should. A Mutation Phase meant that someone was suddenly developing powers, and they weren’t likely to be enjoying the process. Fairly recently there’d been some bloke in Edinburgh who’d killed over thirty people when he mutated. It explained why we’d been called out because you never knew what you were going to get. More often than not it all worked out fine but it was potentially a very explosive situation. “We need to find the subject and make sure he doesn’t cause himself or anyone else harm.”
We touched down on the car park at the front of the hospital. I could see how the building had been beautiful once with its spires and ornate brickwork, but then it looked grubby and grim. Not the sort of place you’d want to see your loved ones getting cared for.
As we entered the foyer we were greeted by a crowd of medical staff and patients, all on their way out. Evacuation was a must in those kinds of situations. When I said a Mutation Phase could be an explosive situation I meant it literally.
A young doctor came forward to speak to us and I immediately became aware of how much money I’d been making lately. I said he was young because his face showed it, but it also showed stress and long hours with very little sleep. His white coat didn’t live up to its title and was closer to the yellow of the hospital walls. The hospital we’d visited Bombardier in was miles away from this place in every sense.
“Hello, I’m Dr Raim, thanks for coming.”
“Sabre. What can you tell me?” They exchanged a quick shake of hands.
“A male in his late twenties to early thirties came in complaining of pains in his limbs, head and chest. We were suspicious from the start, then he started having spasms. We have an old tester unit but we couldn’t get it working so I made the decision to call you.”
“So you aren’t certain he’s mutating?” What did he want, a ripped shirt and cut off denims?
“No but it looks like that’s what it is to me.” He looked concerned.
“I agree, you did the right thing. Okay, do you have somewhere to take these people in case this takes a while?”
He smiled, “Yes, we can go over to the Livingstone Wing. We have plenty of space, it’s everything else we’re short of.”
I felt ashamed of myself then. I was getting paid a small fortune and being praised for my good deeds, while that poor bugger was working himself to death for small thanks and smaller wages. He could have had an easy life at one of the many private hospitals but he chose to help Lockway’s poor instead.
I didn’t ponder this too much at the time, we had other things to think about. The civilians were nearly all evacuated and we were heading into the unknown.
You might think we were less than happy about this situation in view of our surprise encounter with Hob and you’d be right. I glanced at Bombardier to see how he was doing; he looked okay but then he always did.
We walked briskly down the corridor, waiting to see what was ahead. Sabre’s camera-bot was leading the way, nudging through the chipped fire doors that divided the corridor. When it reached the treatment room I caught a glimpse of Sabre’s wrist screen as he spoke; the room we were heading for looked empty. “Come on, it looks as though our man’s on the wander.”
We followed Sabre’s orders and ran. The heavy double doors to the treatment room opened with a pneumatic hiss as we approached them. At least something worked in the place.
I suddenly found myself shouting, “Stop!”
Everyone looked around and then at me, “What’s up mate?” Bombardier was puzzled.
“I don’t know, give me a second.” I knew something wasn’t right but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“Disc. You’ve either got something to tell us or you haven’t, now what’s it to be? We can’t waste time.” Sabre was right of course but he was still irritating.
Pulse came to my rescue, “It’s the doors isn’t it?” They still stood wide open in front of us; the red light of the motion detector beaming brightly.
“Yes, that’s it.” I was relieved Pulse had spotted what I couldn’t put my finger on.
“None of the other doors we’ve passed or come through have opened automatically, they’ve all been broken. And don’t these look kind of new?” She tipped her head to one side and smiled at Sabre, “Now wouldn’t you think you’d have spotted that?”
Sabre ignored the sarcasm and was reaching for something at his belt as he spoke, “Okay, everyone bac...”
The explosion was sudden and almost unexpected. We had the briefest of moments before it hit us. If we’d been in the room we wouldn’t have had any reaction time.
As one, we dived for the floor. Bomb and Scarlet would have tried to get in front of the rest of us if they could but they were too surprised.
I was as close to becoming part of the floor as it was humanly possible to get; while what felt and sounded like an exploding train screamed over my head.
As my vision and hearing began to return I became aware of the clanging of the hospital fire alarm and the weak spray of the sprinkler system.
Scarlet was on her feet and checking Pulse who looked as stunned as I felt. Bombardier raised his head from the floor and looked at me; I won’t repeat what he said but he certainly captured the mood.
Incredibly, we were all buffeted rather than lacerated, or shaken and not stirred as Mr Bond would say. Vicious looking metal shards were embedded in the corridor walls, but they were all above waist height. Thank God for all of that training.
Sabre was already in the smoking treatment room when the rest of us got there. He was looking at a very new and very solid locking mechanism on the back of the doors; the lock was trying to click into place automatically even after the blast. The angle the wrecked doors were hanging at made the lock useless but if we’d just walked in it would have made getting out a slow process.
None of us said anything, as the realisation of what had nearly happened sunk in. I felt sick; it must have been the explosion
The room was peppered with the same metal shards that had escaped into the corridor. Maybe Scarlet would have survived the trap but there would have been little chance for the rest of us. Even Bombardier couldn’t heal himself if he was scattered around the room.
***** After the initial shock, Sabre was organising our potential escape. He was speaking to John, our chopper pilot. “We’re coming out now, get ready to leave.”
“Roger Sabre, the blades are already turning, I heard the blast. I’ve called for back-up.”
We left the building quickly but cautiously, bombing the exit route was an old trick.
It turned out that there was only one bomb and we reached the car park unmolested. The helicopter’s blades were spinning furiously, and John gave us the thumbs-up for take-off.
Sabre’s voice sounded in our ear pieces, “Ok John, it looks quiet but we could do with some security. Get some height and let me know if you can see anything.”
“It looks like we’ve really pissed The Emperor off, wouldn’t you agree?” That was my best guess for what had happened anyway. The bomb hadn’t been a Lockway thing; it was The Emperor, there was real planning behind this. I didn’t know the half of it.
Sabre nodded, looking around and giving a wave to the pilot as the helicopter started to rise.
“Well, it’s a compliment really; we’re obviously doing what we’re paid for.” Good old Scarlet, she always had a different angle on things.
Pulse didn’t see it the same way, “It’s a compliment I could do without, I’m doing this for a reason and it’s not death.”
Bombardier and I shared a look. Of course she was right, none of us were doing the crime-fighting thing expecting to get killed, but then most of the soldiers on the beaches of Normandy thought they’d be alright; it was everyone else that was in trouble. You had to be realistic without dwelling on it; Bombardier must have been well aware of that at the time.
We were just discussing the bomb; who was responsible, and what we were going to do about it, when it became very clear that we were suffering from a very dangerous case of overconfidence.
The helicopter was just clearing the height of the hospital when we heard the familiar chup sound of RPGs being fired. The shooters were on the second floor of a building over the road.
We all turned, startled, watching numbly as two of the four projectiles hit the helicopter. John was a great pilot and might have managed a landing if one of them hadn’t hit the cockpit.
Our second moment of shocked distraction was over when the shooting started.
One minute we were in a deserted car park and the next a helicopter was spinning madly to the ground in a cloud of smoke and flames.
Once again our training took over and we started work. The gunfire came from a group of men who were running through the main gateway. Fortunately, they were firing wildly or they could have found me or Pulse easy targets. I don’t think Sabre would have been caught out that easily.
We wasted no time mourning our pilot--professional you see--and attacked; Sabre gave the order and we used a standard decoy manoeuvre. I took the left flank behind Bombardier and Pulse took the right behind Scarlet. Sabre ran ahead, drawing their fire and bounding into them. Their guns were more of a danger to themselves when he did that.
Within seconds we were in close combat and working away quite comfortably, knocking hell out of our opponents. The trouble was that there always seemed to be a replacement arriving. They were a mixed bunch armed with all manner of weapons from pistols and rifles to baseball bats and kitchen knives; someone had handed out a lot of money to a lot of people. I soon started to get an uneasy feeling about the way things were going.
Although our assailants weren’t all armed, the gunfire seemed to be getting more intense. There were more gunmen outside of the melee in the surrounding buildings and they didn’t seem too concerned about hitting their comrades. A couple of particularly psychopathic types even fired rocket propelled grenades at us regardless of there own people in the area. I managed to intercept two of them before they got too close.
Sabre was in his element and taking a dreadful toll as he re-directed shots aimed at him or one of us with a timely shove or kick.
Bombardier had none of our leader’s subtlety but his flailing fists and grabbing hands sent bodies crashing against the crumbling brickwork of the hospital walls.
Pulse stayed on the ground, picking off the shooters in the surrounding buildings. This made her something of a bullet magnet but her disorienting glow made her a very elusive target, especially as she was firing back with pinpoint accuracy.
Scarlet had made her way forward and was outside the hospital gates trying to see who else was coming. Bullets sparked off her polished form as she casually batted a machete wielding idiot aside. I often wished I had a suit like hers when the bullets started flying.
I was doing my thing making sure the gunmen couldn’t relax enough to shoot properly and taking as many of them out as I could.
We were fighting steadily, furiously at times, but it was a situation we were used to; the only real problem was the constant flow of replacements. It was getting wearing.
The battle was coordinated overall by Sabre but the odd phrase, warning or instruction was passed between us as we worked like the skilled team we were.
“This is looking bad Sabre, I don’t think we’re going to be able to win this one, the streets are filled with these lunatics.” Scarlet’s voice was calm but I knew her well enough to pick out the seriousness of her tone.
Sabre casually dropped a couple of blokes with an arcing kick. Bullets were still whizzing around us but Pulse and I were doing a good job of messing with their aim.
“Okay Militia, back in the building. Pulse and Disc first, Bombardier and Scarlet take the rear. Move!”
We ran, not frantically but there was definitely a sense of urgency. Those gang members close to us made a half hearted attempt at pursuit us but I think they were pretty relieved really. As soon as Pulse and I got to the doorway we turned to cover our comrades’ retreat. They were running through thick grey smoke, courtesy of Sabre.
Scarlet blocked the doorway as we returned to the foyer of the hospital. There was still some gunfire but it was random.
Scarlet was reaching up to pull the metal security gates down over the doorway when I noticed a small dark shape cutting through the smoke at high speed. I screamed my warning, “Rpg!”
Scarlet saw it the moment I started to speak; she also saw that if she moved it would fly straight past her and into the foyer, where we were.
There was a crack and a flash as the grenade exploded on Scarlet’s chest; she hadn’t moved. I expected to see her fly across the room or burst apart but she did neither. For a silent second she stood motionless in the smoky haze, like a robot that had run out of power, then she straightened up and looked down at herself.
“You ok?” Bomb asked.
Scarlet knocked a gauntleted fist on her chest and probably smiled, “This isn’t just for show you know.” I was sure she hadn’t known how that was going to work out.
Scarlet’s poor acting lightened the mood and helped restore our confidence.
Once the gates were pulled down and we’d closed the heavy oak doors we felt as though we were safe, at least for the moment.
Militia is © and ™ 2006 Paul McManus.