Tom struggled to stay conscious, but the pain going through his left side was excruciating. It felt like he had a needle jabbed into his shoulder, and his tongue had gone numb, making it difficult to speak.
He looked around in the vehicle, to see a big soldier driving, and Markus Vitaly looking at him with grave concern. "Bog, I hate that thing!" he grumbled, referring to Brock. His concern for Tom's suffering was written in stress lines on his face. "What can I do?"
Tom rolled around on the seat. "If you have a first aid kit, maybe you could give me some antihistamine. That might help."
Vitaly administered some meds he found in their kit and waited for them to take effect. Once Tom's breathing had become more regular, he asked, "Mischa, why are you helping me?"
He took a few minutes to respond. "I deed not agree with Harold on thees one. That we had to stop you from performing your surgery. Everyone knows that you want to do it to save your woman. And I don't think that that is bad."
"I have to say I'm surprised. But won't this get you in trouble?"
"He is my friend, and also my benefactor, or boss, for no better word. But he does not control my heart." Vitaly looked down at his hands. "He did force me to leave a woman I loved, because he said that it was not politically advantageous. He found out that I kept seeing her behind his back, and he was furious. He forgave me, and I retained my position in his inner circle, but in many ways, I never forgave him. Now, after today, maybe we can be even."
"This is great and all, Mischa. I really appreciate it. But it will be for nothing if I can't get back with Dr. Elias Wirtham. He's the only one who can perform the surgery. How do I find him?"
"No problemo," replied Vitaly, in a vain attempt at American slang, "The same way we find you. We ask U.S. Border patrol chopper to tell us location."
Soon they were hot on the heels of Elias and the rest of them in the pickup. Tom was able to communicate with him via megaphone, and soon they were all in Mischa's truck.
"Where are we going?" Elias asked.
"Airport. You will use private jet to go to New York," Mischa answered.
"Won't we need passports to fly? I thought even on private flights the Federal Aviation Authority checks the flight manifests and runs identification.
"Here are your ID's," said Mischa, handing them a stack of passports. "On private flights, especially for customers such as Oscorp, they tend to not look too carefully."
"Thank you so much, Mischa," Tom said, genuinely moved, as they were dropped off at the plane. "I really mean it. I won't forget your kindness."
The flight was uneventful, and before they knew it they were in New York, racing through the busy streets in Tom’s car to prepare everything for Mariah's surgery. Elias drove, while Tom started researching on his phone where they might be able to 'borrow' an OR to perform a top secret and illegal surgery, Elias filled Tom in about the gaps in his plan. "What were you thinking? That the two of us were just going to perform the whole thing ourselves?"
"Alright. I admit that there were a few particulars that I didn't consider. Pardon me."
"Look, you need the Cardiac surgeon, the First Assistant…"
"Right that's you and me," Tom interrupted.
"I'm not sure if you're quite up to it, my young scholar, but that's not the end of it. You were hoping that it would be possible to perform a minimally invasive surgery."
"Well than we'll need an Interventional cardiologist to feed the catheter through the artery to the defective valve. And we can't perform the surgery without an Anaesthesiologist. We'll probably have to stop the patient's heart's momentarily, so we'll need a perfusionist to operate the heart/lung machine (we'll need access to a heart/lung machine) and not to put to fine a point on it, but we'll need a team of OR nurses who are very familiar with heart valve operations."
Tom tired face was starting to sag. "Fine," he snapped. "I'll try to call in some favours and ask for all of those things."
"Then while you're at it, you may as well ask for a pet unicorn that farts out lollipops, because I cannae see how you're going to get all that."
"Look, I'll ask for it, and we'll figure out the deficiencies later. First we have to go check on the patient and start getting her prepped for surgery."
They pulled up to Mariah's house, and Tom actually felt really nervous to knock on the door.
They waited, and no one answered. Tom and Elias exchanged concerned looks, while Tom focused on pushing the worst possibilities out of his mind. He distracted himself searching for the extra key. Finding it under a planter, he opened the door.
"What are you doing?" asked Elias.
"I didn't come all this way to not try to see this through to the end," Tom sputtered. Whatever end that might be.
He cautiously made his way through the house, looking from room to room, his own breathing sounded deafening in his ears. Finally he made his way to the bedroom, and hesitatingly pushed open the door. His heart was pounding, but he had to know.
There was Mariah, lying in bed; substantially more pale and thin than the last time he had seen her. Just as he was about to suspect the worse, she moaned a little and rolled over, the sound of her laboured breathing was welcome music to Tom's ears.
He gently sat on the bed next to her and ran his fingers across her forehead as he placed his hand against her cheek. She welcomed it and rested her face against his touch.
After a few moments her eyes weakly opened, and recognition brought a smile to her face.
"Tom," she said, pleasantly surprised, "Is it really you, or is this a dream? I thought that I would never see you again."
"You know that I would never leave you," he said softly. "How are you feeling?"
A slight crease went across her forehead as she closed her eyes. "Not good," she managed to get out. "But I'm glad you came. I'm glad you're here with me. I don't want to be alone, when… when…"
Tom blinked away his sense of regret and self-pity and tried to get down to business. "Mariah, we have to move you. We have to get you to the hospital. We're almost ready to perform your surgery."
Tom was starting to get anxious, and he felt like he was wasting time talking to her, when she obviously was not in her right mind. He tried to remain calm. "Remember, honey? We have an operation ready for you that will save you. Come on, we just have to get you to the hospital."
"No, no. I don't want to go."
Tom looked back at Elias who was standing in the doorway, as they contemplated this unexpected development. Tom beckoned Elias to come and help him get her up. "Really, Mariah, it will be okay." Tom did his best to sound soothing with his voice. "We just have to get this part over with, and you'll have your whole life ahead of you." He put his hand under her back and could feel that her nightgown was thoroughly damp with sweat.
"No, I told you, I'm not going."
Tom put his hand out to touch her forehead. "Mariah, I think you have a fever. You're confused. Listen…"
She shook her head and pushed his hand away from her.
"Listen. This is Tom. I love you, and I am going to help you."
"No, you listen Tom. I already said that I want to stay here at home. I don't want to die in some cold and sterile hospital room, in unfamiliar surroundings. This was my grandparents house, and this is where I want to go."
"But you don't have to go at all," Tom's exasperation was starting to come through in his voice.
Mariah rolled her head to look out the window and weakly raised her hand to point. "Look," she said in a faint voice, like she was hallucinating, "Look at how the shadows hold their breath, and how when the wind blows gently, the landscape kindly listens." Tom sadly looked out the window as well. "There's a certain slant of light, on these gloomy afternoons, that I find so oppressive. I feel like I'm listening to chamber music as I'm being softly pushed out the door." She turned and looked back at Tom with an earnest expression in her eyes. "Inside, the pain I feel is a heavenly hurt, one that leaves no scars. And as the light slowly fades, I can already see into the distance, upon the look of death."
Tom was momentarily at a loss as to what to say, but then he vigorously shook his head. "No. Listen, Mariah, dear. You're not well and you're not up to making a decision. You have to listen to me."
"You're wrong. I am thinking clearly, and I've decided this long ago, that I was ready to die in peace. I didn't know exactly how the sun would set, but I saw the shepherd on the other side, dressed in grey as he welcomes his children. He's gently putting up the evening bars, as he prepares to lead away his flock."
Tom's eyes hardened into a look of grim determination. "Listen, honey. You can't give up. Not yet. You don't understand…"
"No, you don't understand. My brittle substance is prepared for the ethereal blow. I'm…"
Tom lost his patience. He slapped his hands against his forehead. "Look," he yelled, "you don't realize what I've been through to get this far. We are not going to give up on you now. Not yet!" His violent outburst shook her out of her dreamy deliberation. She looked up at him in shock. "Now come on!" he continued yelling, grabbing her roughly by the arm. "Let's get your stuff and go. We're wasting valuable time here talking like this. If you can get out of this bed, and get this over with, then you'll have plenty of years to write your poetry. But God help me, those will not be the last verses you ever speak! Now come on! Come on, come on, come on."
She gave a frightened look to Tom, but slowly complied as he pushed herself out of bed and went to the bathroom to get dressed.
Elias tapped his watch. Tom nodded, "I know. We are running out of time. What do you make of her condition?"
Elias shrugged. "I'll need to examine her more closely, but if we're going to do this, we'll have to proceed regardless. Poor girl's already living on borrowed time as it is." He looked at Tom closely. "That being said, you might want to work on your bedside manner. Freaking the crap out of a patient with an advanced heart condition will not contribute to a positive outcome."
Tom threw up his hands. "You saw her! She was being impossible and is not thinking clearly. I didn't pass through fire and death to bandy crooked words with someone who's lost all sense. She'll thank me later, if we can reach our objective before it's too late."
"Yeah, but I'm just saying we have to be careful."
Tom was staring at Elias numbly as he talked when they were interrupted by a crashing thud from the bathroom. They threw the door open to find Mariah passed out in a heap on the floor.
"See I told you!" yelled Elias. "You stressed out the patient and strained her already severely weakened…"
"I know!" Tom yelled back. "Just forget it and let's get her to the ER!"
Tom and Elias rushed Mariah through emergency at the St. John's Episcopal hospital in Queen's. Having informed the reception of her heart problems, she was advanced to the front of the line.
She had soon regained consciousness after passing out, but was still very groggy as the doctor and nurses examined her. She offered confusing answers to their questions as they tried to document a history, which they chalked up to the fact that she wasn't very lucid.
Elias and Tom tried to stay with her, but once they had established that she hadn't had a heart attack and she was resting comfortably in a gurney, they were ushered out into a waiting room while the nurses administered fluids intravenously for dehydration.
Elias sat there staring into space, looking completely worn out. Tom drummed his fingers on his chair agitatedly. "You look completely spent," he said to Elias. "Why don't you get some rest for an hour, while I take a bit of a look around."
Elias looked up as Tom got to his feet. "You're going to snoop around? What the hell could…? Oh, why do I even ask anymore? Go. Go. I'm too tired to care right now."
Tom walked casually through the hallway of the hospital, 'accidentally' bumping into an orderly so that he could borrow his ID badge. He had brought Mariah's laptop with him and, putting it under his arm, he walked past offices, scanning their occupants until he found what he was looking for.
He knocked at the door of a doctor who looked like he was in his mid to late fifties, had a salt and pepper beard and was currently frowning through his bifocals at his computer screen.
"Somebody call for IT?" Tom asked.
The distracted doctor looked up, bewildered. "I don't…" he paused, trying to recollect his thoughts. "I don't remember calling, but thank God you're here. This damn application keeps freezing up! This morning I lost almost twenty-five pages of reports! How did you know?"
"Oh we have alerts installed and receive a page when there are problems in the system," Tom lied, "Anyway let's have a look at what we're dealing with here."
Tom pulled up a chair and started delving into the doctor's computer. A warning flashed up that read 'Critical error!'
"Uh-oh. This is going to take me a bit longer than I thought," Tom said. "Look. You seem like you're feeling frustrated, over worked. You must have a thousand other, more productive things that you could be doing. Why don't you leave this to me? I should be able to sort this out so it won't cause you any more problems in like, let's say, thirty minutes."
The doctor stood up and stretched his back. "You're right, this is a waste of my time." He looked at Tom and grabbed his jacket. "I'm going to go outside and have a smoke."
Tom gave a half smile. "There you go. You go on and enjoy your, uh, smoking. You earned it." He shook his head to himself as the doctor closed the door behind him.
Tom got busy accessing the Hospital Information System, and frantically worked on hacking into the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine's database and the affiliated Medical Center. He was able to readily observe that they had many qualified doctor's available that would able to assist in Mariah's treatment. He checked their ratings as a hospital in Aortic valve replacement. UPMC was a top rated hospital, and was rated average when it came to heart surgeries. Well, Mariah didn't have time to shop around for hospitals now. The other factor was that she had Dr. Elias Wirtham, who knew the advanced subtleties of working with transgenetic treatments. Now, how to set up the surgery through official channels without raising suspicions? First, he worked on drawing up credentials for Elias and entered him into their database, so that he could officially perform the surgery, even if it would under a different name.
He gave him the alias Dr. Elijah Balfour, from Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston. He added many accolades to his CV, and listed him with a recommendation from Mariah's personal physician. He was just putting the finishing touches on Elias's cover when the man himself, opened the door, crouching, quietly slid into the office.
"Shhh!" he hissed. "We have company!"