“I don’t know if my story will count,” Ricky Nolan, known to Spectrum as Captain Brown, said, leaning back in his chair in the Spectrum Lounge. Around him, the other Captains and the Angels sat or lounged around.
Halloween was less than a week away, and among the off duty Spectrum officers, the talk had naturally turned to ghost stories, with the agreement that all stories told had to have directly affected the participants. Captain Brown had sat uncharacteristically quiet through stories of ghostly hitchhikers and dead friends met in the streets. But he now spoke up, quieter than was usual for the Chicagoan, but with a sincerity that could not be denied.
“Because it isn’t, strictly speaking, a ghost story, more something I can’t explain.”
“Why don’t you tell us and let us decide if it counts?” Paul Metcalfe, also known as Captain Scarlet, suggested.
Captain Brown nodded. “That sounds like a plan. Certainly if anyone can explain what happened, I’d be grateful. I’ve being over that night about a thousand times in my head and never come close to it.” He shifted, fumbling in his body jacket for his electronic cigarette, despite the rules that forbade smoking of any description on Skybase.
“It was nearly ten years ago, during the Terrorism Wars. I was stationed in Basma, about five miles from Becklin. Things weren’t as bad as they were in the Capital, but the city was still under heavy siege from the country Security services, and the rebel forces within the city weren’t very particular about who they attacked. I was part of a group sent by the UN to try and restore some form of order.” He snorted. “How we were going to do that, no one explained, other than trying to avoid getting ourselves blow up fairly frequently. I went in there with thirty guys, less than ten of us made it out.”
He looked wistfully at the cigarette and continued. “It was 28th of October, when it happened. I was part of a four men team. We had being searching through some houses we believed the rebels were using as a base, when we discovered that the houses were booby-trapped. With Luminous gas.”
He paused, letting the hisses and wincing of his companions die down. Even if they had never personally encountered it, there wasn’t anyone who’d had any contact with the terrorism war who hadn’t heard of it.
Similar to Napalm mixture, which had caused such devastation in Vietnam, Luminous was a flammable liquid. In fact, it was more deadly than Napalm, as the mixture ignited whenever it came in contact with a sufficient source of water, including the human skin. Large areas of the Middle East were still uninhabitable as a result of the gas.
“In one sense, we were lucky. All of us were wearing protective gear and there was an Aid Post less than ten clicks from where we were. So we were doused with the antidote and packed off there.” He paused for a moment, staring into space and none of the other captains could doubt that he was seeing that scene again before his eyes. “Cain was DOA. Poor bastard’s gear had a flaw in, just one of those random things that happened. John,” he nodded to where John Roach, also known as Captain Indigo, Ricky’s partner in the field, sat. “Had burns to the throat, but we arrived just before the convey was supposed to leave the city, so they just flung him on board.”
“I try not to think about the face of the person whose place on that convoy I took,” Captain Indigo volunteered quietly.
Everyone was silent.
Basma had being luckier than Berklin, which had being under siege for twelve months with no aid getting in or out. The Red Cross had being able to negotiate a two hour cease-fire to allow aid to get into the city and the worst of the casualties to be transported out. Unfortunately, unlike Syria, where this method had first being tried in the early 2000s, the rebels had interpreted the cease-fire as starting the second the Red Cross trucks entered the city, not from the moment the Red Cross trucks reached the aid posts. As a result, the volunteers and medical staff trapped with the city had often only had ten or twenty minutes to load up the casualties and had being forced to make devastating decisions about who lived or died. Much had being written on the effect it had had on those who survived the siege.
“Anyway,” Ricky said, drawing everyone back to his story. “I was alright, just some first degree burns to my arms and some second degree burns on my legs, where the trousers joined up with the boots, so I was just covered with water gel and given a bed. The fourth member of our team, Haining, he was a bit of a different story. He’d actually breathed in some of the gas. In addition, he’d got caught by the delivery mechanism, thousands of small cuts, all laced with the salt.”
Everyone knew that the salt of Luminous gas was at least as deadly as the gas itself, if not more so. The gas, you could get rid of it, if only by addition of oxygen diluting it sufficiently. The salt... One part per billion was enough to cause full thickness burns on any part of the body unlucky enough to come in contact with him.
“How he was alive when we reached the post, I don’t know. But his condition was serious and I think they knew that if they didn’t treat him there and then, he wouldn’t have survived the trip on the convoy. So they kept dosing him with the antidote and jacked up him up on painkillers.” He shook his head. “But it was never going to do much good, not with the medicines they had. All they could do was keeping him alive and hope that he survived to the morning.”
He paused. “I mentioned the date, as it is significant in a way to what happened next. If you remember, throughout October, the government was negotiating with the rebels, trying to find a way to end the conflict. By the 28th, the BBC was talking about an end being in sight, but the end seemed equally likely to be the Security Services retaking the city and massacring everyone there as anything else.” He paused. “There was a radio in one corner; I remember that and a member of the team sat there, with headphones on all the time. Occasionally she’d write down things on a piece of paper and tear them off and hand them to the head doctor.” He smiled. “I suppose they did try and keep the news from the patients, but it was impossible. The medics gossiped among themselves and if you lay quietly you could hear them fretting about the situation.” He paused again and added: “You’ve all heard the accusations about Becklin and Basma? That the medics there sometimes aided death?”
“The four specifically accused were acquitted on the grounds that the overdoses were given to relieve pain, not to cause death,” Rhapsody Angel volunteered and Ricky remembered that she was friends with Kate Aitkins who was the President of the Red Cross. Aitkins had a commendation for her work in Becklin. “It was controversial, but I can’t remember anyone who actually served there ever criticising them.”
“Yeah,” Ricky agreed. “Well, like I said, Haining was in a bad way. They had him on the maximum dose of morphine and he was still moaning and groaning, like an animal. I heard a medic and a nurse having an argument about it. They were whispering, but…” He gave a modest shrug. “… My hearing’s always being good.”
“The medic wanted to up the dosage, the nurse was saying that relief was coming, that they just had to wait. But the medic...”Ricky shrugged again. “Well you know how it is, Doctor knows best, right Doc?” He directed this remark towards Doctor Gold, seated alone at the other end of the room. Gold looked up from the book he was reading and waved his hand distractedly to indicate agreement.
Ricky ignored this, staring into the distance. “I watched the medic fill up the syringe and inject it.” He paused. “I’d like to say I felt something, disgust or something like that, but Basma wasn’t like that. It hardened you.” He looked around the room. “I know what you’re thinking. This all sounds perfectly normal, the story you’ve heard a thousand times from various people in our line of work. Sad perhaps, but sad things happen in war.” He grinned, looking a little more like his normal self. “I’m getting to the weird part, the part I’ve never being able to explain.”
“I couldn’t sleep. I felt sleepy, sort of out of it from the drugs, but I wasn’t asleep, at least not properly. It was about ten, maybe eleven, when I heard a voice yell out “MURDERER!”
He performed the action as he said, grinning at the way the Spectrum officers jerked and jumped around.
“I opened my eyes, and looked around, but no one else seemed to have heard it. The radio operator was still sitting at her desk. The nurse was on the other side of the room, bent over another bed. There was no doctor on duty that night. I remember that had being another subject of a row.” He fiddled more determinedly with the electronic cigarette. “I was about to accept it as a dream, or one of those strange things that happen when you’re half way between waking or sleeping, when I realised I wasn’t alone, or at least I wasn’t alone in my corner. You remember I told you the doctor had given Haining an overdose? Well, he’d being quiet for about an hour, so I assumed he’d slipped away. But then I saw him.” He laughed. “Sorry, that sounds dramatic, and it wasn’t, not really. There was just a doctor bending over the bed, an older man whom I hadn’t seen before. The only thing about him that stood out was that he was clean. And I mean hospital clean. Not like we’re used to, in war conditions.”
He glanced around to check that they’d understood. They all nodded. Aid stations tended to have lower standards of cleanliness than hospitals, simply for practicality. They were rarely bad enough to put patients at risks, but were certainly never as clean as the hospitals.
“He was gripping Hainings wrists, taking a pulse and he muttered, “My God, I’m not too late.” Ricky licked his lips slightly nervously. “He filled up a syringe and shoved it hard into Haining’s thigh. He waited a couple of seconds and then he pulled a bottle out of his pocket. He filled it and then carefully, very carefully inserted the needle just below the skin and pushed the plunger.”
They all sat silently waiting for the next part. It was Adam who finally dared break the silence:
“Then what happened?”
Ricky shrugged. “I fell asleep.” He smiled. “Or I assume I did. Next thing I knew it was morning and the UN troops were pouring into the city, evacuating us.”
“So what’s the mystery?” Adam, down to Earth, practical Captain Blue asked. “The nurse found another doctor to override the medic’s orders and the cry you heard was just a dream?”
Ricky grinned. “Yeah, I’d think that,” he said, watching his fellow countrymen. “Only I saw the label on the bottle the doc took the second injection from.” He finally replaced the electronic cigarette in his body jacket and quoted: “Seacain.”
There was a silence as the room processed this.
“Hang on.” Paul said, frowning. “You said this happened ten years ago.”
“Almost to the day.”
“So that would be 2053, 54?”
“But Seacain wasn’t invented until 2060.”
“And wasn’t in general use for another year or so after that,” Adam added.
Ricky shrugged. “I know what I saw.” He paused and added, “Plus one of the UN medics commented that the only reason Haining must still be alive was that his skin was so dry. Almost like paper.”
They all knew that the main side effect of Seacain, one of the few things that could help anyone exposed to the Luminous gas salt, was that it left the skin incredibly dry as it withdrew all moisture from the skin, allowing the natural salts present to react with Luminous and render it harmless.
Silence reigned for a moment, when a voice spoke up from near the back of the room: “Forgive me, but could you describe the man you saw?”
Ricky blinked. They all knew Doctor Gold was in the room, but by some tacit agreement, the doctor had mostly been left in peace for the evening, but he was now standing close, staring at Ricky with an intensity usually reserved for Scarlet’s healing.
Ricky screwed up his eyes trying to remember. “Er, he was tall, maybe 5’11, well built. He had blond hair, I remember that ‘cause you didn’t see much of that in Basma, and...” He opened his eyes staring at Doctor Gold. “…His lab coat had GWMH on the pocket. I remember that, but never really thought about it. I mean, Basma was in trouble. There were guys from all sorts of organisations there and a few with none, so you didn’t really pay much attention to that sort of thing unless you knew they were hostile, you know?”
Gold nodded. “How did he move?”
Ricky screwed up his face again. “Quickly, but carefully, his bones hurt.” He paused and added. “The nearest I can describe it was some guy I knew in Levin. Got blown up and Docs had to pin him back together. Tried to get us to call him Wolverine, like the comic book character.” He leant back in his chair, regarding Gold suspiciously “Now, Doc, I never said anything to suggest there was anything strange about the way the guy moved, so how the hell did you know that there was?”
Doctor Gold paused and asked. “Just one more question. Did he have any scars that you could see?”
“Not really,” Ricky began, “but when he was handling the syringe, there was a sort of mark like a...”
“… Like a thin pencil line around the ring finger of his right hand,” Gold finished.
Ricky stared at him. “Yeah.”
Gold nodded. He was about to head back to his chair, but Ricky grabbed his arm. “Come on, Doc. If you know something about this, explain it. We promise not to laugh. Did you know him?”
“No,” Gold said, sounding suddenly very old and tired. “No, I did not know him. Or at least not well.” He paused. “But I presided over his trial.”
Gold nodded. “The man you saw was likely Dr. Robert Orme. He was on the staff when I was at the George Washington memorial Hospital. He was a good and respected doctor, the last man in the world I would have expected to have become involved in something like that.”
“Something like what?” Harmony asked, causing both Ricky and Doctor Gold to jerk. Both had evidently forgotten that there were others in the room.
Gold continued. “Doctor Orme became involved with a student, Chelsea Ira. She was...” he sighed. “She was a troubled girl and one who did not have the respect for medicine that I would have liked.” He sighed. “The investigation showed that she was almost certainly the initiator of the proceedings, though Orme never denied participating.”
“Participating in what?” Paul asked curiously.
Gold’s eyes behind his glasses were very grave as he replied, “Flat lining experiments.”
“Isn’t that where people send themselves into states of hibernation?”
Gold nodded to Blue’s question. “The practise is of course dangerous and illegal. But Chelsea was fascinated by it. Her beliefs on the subject were controversial. She believed that in this state one could travel through time, and put things right. At the time, I thought it ridiculous, but...” He shrugged. “Now I am not so sure.”
Ricky was frowning. “Doc, are you saying…”
“I don’t know exactly,” Gold interrupted. “Anyway, Chelsea and Orme’s activities were discovered when it turned out that a number of drugs were missing. The whole matter was brought to the attention of the board. Orme freely admitted that he had taken them.” He paused. “Most were what you’d normally expect to see in a case like this, but there were two that were not. One was Seacain.”
Silence reigned in the room following Gold’s announcement. The Captains and Angels shuffled and exchanged uncomfortable looks.
Gold shook his head. “I remember I’d asked Orme why he’d done it before the board, after all it seemed such a waste of his career. And he just smiled at me and said, ‘I know she won’t ever forgive me, but at least I can forgive myself’. I later learnt from staff gossip that Doctor Orme had previously being engaged to a nurse. That they had served together in Basma and it was generally accepted that something had happened there to cause the engagement to end. What, no one knew, but most people said that she was the one who broke the engagement and that he hoped that they would be recoiled. But that didn’t happen.”
“Why not?” Harmony asked. Gold sighed.
“She was killed later on in the conflict.” He looked around. “It could of course just be a remarkable coincidence.”
There was an uneasy silence in the room, before someone (and it might have being Adam) dared ask: “What was the other drug?”
Gold shrugged. “One that made slightly more sense in the case of flat lining experiment, except that no morphine bottles were missing from the stores. Naloxone is its medical name. It’s most commonly used as antidote to Morphine overdoses.”
This story was beta-read by the Spectrum Headquarters beta-reading panel. Picture for title art from "Call of Duty 4 - Modern Warfare".