Freedom of Choice

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Chapter 6

Freedom of Choice . . .

Chapter Six:

I'm back. Sorry, washing up and changing my clothes took longer than I thought.

No problem. I'm on the clock.

Speaking of clocks, weren't you supposed to be here two hours ago?

Some juvenile delinquents rigged up a smoke generator and strobe lights beneath an overpass around ten miles from here. So many drivers called 911 the highway patrol announced an Amber Tunnel Event Alert. Homeland Security and TSA agents stopped all traffic in both directions to conduct a Missing Link sweep. Traffic was backed up for miles.

So why aren't you still out there?

Me? I've seen the real deal. The colors were all kinds of wrong. Besides, have you ever heard of a Tunnel Event lasting over a minute? One look and I could tell it was a joke . . . I do work with lighting systems every day, after all. The cops escorted my car here as a favor after I volunteered to go down there and switch it off.

I hope they catch those idiots.

Kids will be kids. The workmanship I saw was pathetic. I could've thrown the whole thing together, with a lot better soldering, in fifteen minutes when I was twelve . . . speaking about time, I've got to hurry.

What's the rush? Didn't you just say you get paid by the hour?

I need to be gone in under five hours and twenty-nine minutes.

You ran into Nester, didn't you?

Around six foot six, two hundred and fifty pounds, face like a badly chiseled boulder, mirrored sunglasses, covered head to toe in black ballistic armor, shiny combat boots, and likes to point a twelve gauge pump shotgun at people? Nah, never meet the psychopath.

I wouldn't be too hard on, Nester. He's still extra wired after what happened.

What about? Someone scuff his shoeshine?

You didn't see . . . wait, the lights are out. You wouldn't have.

What I miss?

Let it be a surprise. I'm going to be busy for a few minutes longer. This is the first chance I've had to look through the bag that came with Number Nineteen. Take that flashlight of yours and go to the loading dock. It's only around twenty feet further down the same hallway that brought you to this room.

Might as well, I need to stretch my legs anyway.

Be careful. What's left of the fire doors aren't in the best shape.

Fine, I'll be right back.

I've no doubt about that.


* * * * * * * *


Kind of messy, isn't it? And please stop screaming, it's upsetting Number Nineteen.


There's torn up walls and blood everywhere! And I mean everywhere! I've never . . . I've never seen! And the bullet holes!

Relax . . . that's why I need you to fix that power panel. We ran a few extensions cords to power the equipment the cops and crime scene people used, but our repair crews got to have more than that to get their work done. And it's starting to smell pretty ripe with the air conditioning off line. As you undoubtedly noticed, air fresheners aren't cutting it anymore. The hospital director wants it spic n' span ASAP.

I could've had a heart attack! Why didn't you warn me?!

Nester isn't the only that's out of sorts right now. It was immature of me. I'm really sorry.

What . . . what happened?

Nine members of a street gang hired by a local branch of the fanatical Second Chance cult raided the hospital just before sunrise yesterday. Using a stolen ambulance they got past the parking lot security gate and crashed through the loading dock doors. They murdered two members of my cleaning staff and almost an entire off-duty six man security team that bunks down here. They nearly made it to the stairs.

Why in Hell would they do that?!

San Fran General is the main safe depository for newborns in the entire city. There are rarely less than forty or fifty blank babies on hand in the third floor nursery. Elderly, and extremely wealthy, cult members are willing to pay anything for a nearly microscopic chance to be reborn . . . so to speak . . . in a Tunnel Event. And they can only get away with that if the newborn they hope to Link with isn't old enough to have been scanned and subdermally tagged into the system. If not for the security detail's lone survivor, the death toll could've been far worse.

Lone survivor . . . you're talking about Nester, aren't you?

The one and only.

How could one guy do all . . . that?

You know how some people have a love affair with cars. Well, ol' Nester gets downright emotional polishing than bandoleer of hand grenades he lugs around. I'm pretty sure he sleeps with it under his pillow. After emptying all his weapons, he pulled the pins on four M67's and lobbed them down the hallway. With about a second to spare, he ducked inside the same elevator that brought you down here. Lots of the ceiling lights were out by then so those assholes never saw 'em coming. The explosions shook the whole building.

Who in their right mind uses grenades inside a hospital?

That's a first. I've never heard Nester's name and the words in-his-right-mind before in the same sentence. I've been told painting walls, ceilings, and floors with human remains is like an art form with him. The shock waves must have been brutal inside that elevator, but he woke up in the emergency room with the widest smile I've ever seen.

Wait a second. Security guards carry nonlethal concussion and smoke grenades to take down whacked out Linkers. Since when are they authorized to turn people into jerky?

Nester is ex-Army special forces and on semi-permanent loan from the sixth floor. I asked that same question when he was first assigned to our civilian security team. They told me to mind my own business. Or else. That same bunch is the reason you'll never hear a word of about any of this on the news. By the way, would you like a piece of advice, John?


Do us all a favor and don't push Nester too far. We're stuck with him and he's already replaced all the grenades he used.

Gotcha! What now?

Now you're going to fix that thing so I can get some work done, and the air conditioning can suck the funk of pregnant cow out of here. Grab your tools and follow me. Darn it! Where did I put those buckets?!

They're over there, behind that strange looking vacuum cleaner.

You really have never been to a farm. That's a portable milking machine, it came with the trailer. I got almost six gallons out of that udder early this morning. I thought it'd never go dry. Let's go, on the way I'll dump all this milk down a sink and stock up on a few things, too.


* * * * * * * *

There it is.

That's freakin' gross! Couldn't you have at least cleaned off the bloody hand prints before I got here?

That's why I brought this bucket of soap and water. Give me a minute to put some gloves on and I'll have this scrubbed off in a jiffy.

I think I'm gonna be sick!

And that's why I brought an empty bucket. You wouldn't be the first to lose their lunch down here.

Nester did all this?

There were no other guards left; the rest of his team was cut down in their bunks. I've seen him prowling around several times since the crime scene and coroner's office people left.

Doing what? Reminiscing about his dead buddies?

Nester? Does he strike you as the touchy-feely type? He was picking up pieces of grenade shrapnel they missed and taking pictures of the blood splatter. I'll lay odds he's working on his scrap book. Okay, I'm done. Clean and sanitized for your protection.

I'm about to puke my guts out and that's the best you can come up with?

Sorry, janitor joke. It's a classic.

Never mind, just hold that light steady while I remove the retaining screws. One, two, three, four . . . holy crud! Look at this mess! The boss is sure going to be happy.

Why is that?

This job just went from a freebie warranty call to a hundred and seventy-five bucks an hour very expensive parts not included visit. Look here . . . something ripped through the main motherboard, the auxiliary backup, two switching servos, and cracked the emergency breaker. I'm going to have to rebuild this thing nearly from scratch and do a complete reprogram with the manufacturer's diagnostic computer.

You sure it wasn't some kind of factory defect?

No one uses large caliber bullets to put these things together, nor do they drill holes through the back before it ships from the warehouse. Look down there. See what's left of those three slugs. They took this electrical panel out from the other side of this cinder block wall.

Great. Now I have to go upstairs again. Budgeting isn't going to like this.

What's back there?

The security team's armory, bathroom and bunking area. I was told the lights went haywire when the shooting started. Now I know why. Can you fix it?

No problem, around two or three hours tops. I've got enough parts on hand to do a total rebuild if necessary. Wait a sec; I have to call the boss for a work authorization number first. Your warranty is ancient history.

Don't bother with that cell phone. You're going to need to use the land line in my office. It's the nearest.

I'm afraid to ask . . . why?

Not only is this floor underground, the whole hospital is a wireless dead zone. Portable phones and walkie talkies don't work unless they're issued by the sixth floor. Anyone trying to punch a signal through their jammers gets a friendly visit from Nester and company. Not good.

This no-cell deal is going to slow me down. Can I borrow yours?

Sorry, I was never issued one. I'm way too low on the totem pole. Unless you're in hospital management, a doctor in scrubs, wear a white lab coat, or one of the black suit and tie crowd, you don't get one.

Fine, run me an extension cord down here. I need to hang a drop light.

I left one right over there, that good?

Perfect. It looks long enough to reach. Let's go to your office now.

Follow me, and watch where you step.


It's on the other side of this wall next to the bunk house. The floor is still kinda . . . moist.

Give me the bucket.

* * * * * * * *

That was . . . unpleasant.

You think so? I punched in about a fifteen minutes after it happened. I was sent down here to check on the power problems about the time they carted Nester away. One of my crew's body parts were still dripping down my office door.

Can we talk about something else?

Fine by me. Where you want all these cardboard boxes?

Right there is good, thanks.

Anything else I can help you with?

You want to put your hands near two hundred amps and two hundred and forty volts?

Not particularly.

I guess not then. I'll come back for the tool cases I won't need when I'm done.

Don't worry about your trash. I'll have someone dispose of it later. The ambulance those jerks stole flattened the dumpster outside, it hasn't been replaced yet.

There won't be much. As repairs go, this is a simple plug n' play module replacement job, but I might get thirsty.

There's an employee cafeteria on B, but you aren't authorized to go up there. If you'd like me to bring something, or need to use the bathroom on B2, just bang a few times on the wall and I'll hear you. Since there isn't much else I can do until you get the power going, I'll head on back and keep the Stevenson twins company.

< Stevenson twins? >

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