³Pulse: Bells³ By M.L.

Zambrana

(Author¶s note: atmosphere music for this piece: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y883JoFyRv4)

³Do you think this is the only place that does this, Hannah? Do you think I¶m the only one involved?´ Those words continued to repeat themselves in Hannah Carter¶s mind as she trotted along the sidewalk, her gaze all but hypnotized by the steady waxing and waning of her shadow beneath the streetlamps. The low heels of her shoes could barely be heard above the busy street, and she weaved swiftly around her fellow pedestrians with a practiced city-borne grace, her head down and the collar of her winter coat pulled tight around her neck. The heavy brown lump from the knot in her scarf rested high on her

neck, and she snuggled her chin against it in the desperate need for some basic sense of comfort. She¶d been walking for about a half-hour, desperate to get away from the familiar yet now-sinister grounds of the teaching hospital and with no concern for her destination, but nothing could shake the deep, gruff voice of Nick Gates and his parting words from her consciousness--not the steady rumble of traffic, nor the shallow, cheery holiday music that seeped out from every shop along the street. As she reached the corner, she flinched and took in a quick breath as several children ran by her and shrieked out in joy around a holiday display with an animatronics Santa« but not even their ear-piercing screams of happiness could take away the feeling of terror that had engulfed her consciousness. Hannah¶s legs scissored back and forth at a quick and steady pace as she tried to distance herself from the happy scene, moving out towards the edge of the sidewalk to avoid the slower foot traffic. Her world held no happiness now. Her mother had been dead for over a year now, and with her absence, Hannah had lost any connections to any holidays that had come up. Christmas seemed like a cruel joke. Joy to the world? Peace on earth? Oh, but the world didn¶t know just how un-peaceful things happened to be« and would they ever? And now that she knew, or at least knew some of the clandestine activities going on at the hospital, what would happen if those involved tried to silence her-The sudden blast of a bus horn not three feet away startled Hannah, and she felt a scream form in her throat. She forced it down with some effort, but could not control the stutter of her steps and the sudden forward-thrust of her arms. Luckily, her thin fingers found the lamppost next to her rather than some stranger who just happened to be

walking by, and she gripped the cold metal tightly and pulled her body up next to it for a moment. A bit further down the sidewalk, a young couple turned and gave her a curious glance, then turned around and ignored her again in typical London fashion. They

shuffled forward along with several other people, and Hannah watched as the bus pulled up to the curb and opened its doors. With a certain amount of difficulty, the would-be bus passengers squeezed on to the packed transit system. ³Hannah!´ Hannah¶s head whipped around. Rafee Hussein, a fellow medical student at the hospital with her, leaned out of his car window and waved to her, then curved his arm in and waved her towards him. She took a step in his direction, somewhat relieved to see a familiar face, then froze. What if he knew? Rafee¶s brother Adam, a close friend of Nick¶s, might or might not be a part of things, but Rafee--more reckless than his sensible older brother--seemed to know that something didn¶t quite fit at the hospital. Rafee had expressed his ³theories,´ but perhaps he actually knew more than he let on? Perhaps those theories of his had grounds in reality, and he¶d created them as a smoke screen? It hadn¶t taken Hannah that long to figure out the mystery; Rafee would know that others would find out as well, and that they¶d have to be steered away from the truth. Overcome with a bolt of fear, Hannah stumbled towards the front of the bus. She stuck her hand in her pocket as she ran and pulled out the small leather case that held her oyster card, then tapped it and weaved her way deeper into the packed bus. The crush of people--something she would have normally avoided at all costs, given her more delicate psyche ever since her nervous breakdown--came as a welcome embrace, and she even

managed a slight smile as she watched Rafee¶s car get left behind in the traffic crush. The smile faded quickly enough. Had he been following her for the past half hour? Would he follow her now, if he hadnµt done so before? The sudden lurch of the bus made Hannah lose her footing. She¶d been leaning a bit forward, towards the window in order to see the flow of traffic, and the unexpected movement almost sent her into the arms of an elderly gentleman seated in front and beneath her. Well, it had been unexpected for her, at least. His strong fingers closed around her forearms and held her up, and with his help she managed to regain her balance. ³I¶m so sorry,´ she apologized. His wide blue eyes, which must been quite stunning at one time but which now stared at her half-clouded over with cataracts, danced as he let out a quick laugh. ³Not to worry, darling. Just watch yourself, eh? Not every old codger on these buses is as quick as I am.´ Hannah managed to chuckle, too, as she welcomed the unexpected, very human moment that had snapped her out of her panic. The elderly man glanced around them at the crowded bus, then gave a shrug of his shoulders and gestured towards one knee. ³I know it¶s a bit strange,´ he said, ³and I do beg your pardon, but please, my dear, sit down. You look a bit« flushed.´ As he said the last word, a bead of sweat rolled off Hannah¶s nose and dropped onto the bottom of the man¶s coat, and she quickly wiped at her face. ³Oh, I¶m so sorry,´ she said in a low voice, repeating the same words sheµd used just a few moments earlier but this time with noticeable embarrassment. She hadn¶t

realized how the walking might have been affecting her; the sheer horror of all she¶d been encountering lately had all but consumed her consciousness. Now she could feel her body covered in a thin sheen of sweat. She shivered as another bead of water ran down the middle of her back. ³It¶s fine,´ he said with a dismissive wave. He indicated his leg again. ³But, please. Sit.´ With some reluctance, but knowing that another jerk of the bus would only throw her in his direction again, she managed a hesitant nod and sat down on his lap, then blinked in surprise. Her gaze traveled over to the cane beside him. ³Fake leg,´ he informed her with a playful wink. ³Lost it in the war. It¶s sixty-odd years gone now, but I can¶t say my life would be any better with it than without it, to be honest. Never was much for football, anyway.´ He smiled. ³Makes for a handy seat for pretty young girls.´ The open, honest and humorous tone of his voice brought a smile to her face--perhaps the first genuine smile she¶d had for days. ³I¶ve never had a prosthetic seat before,´ Hannah joked with him. ³Hmmm. A prosthetic seat? Correct me if Iµm wrong, but I believe that would

something entirely different!´ The two enjoyed a brief laugh, then the elderly man cocked his head to one side. ³So you know the word, eh? ³Prosthetic³? I thought you seemed clever. You must be a doctor.´ Hannah¶s smile faded a bit as reality crept to the edges of her mind. ³No, I¶m just a medical student.´

His gray eyebrows went up. ³Really? So was I, at your age. Again, this was in the war. Of course, in those days, it was quite different. You didn¶t need any

qualifications or training. If you knew how to do a proper tourniquet, you got assigned to a hospital, no questions asked.´ He paused. ³So you¶ll have to excuse my

non-medical presumptions, but you looked pretty well terrified a few minutes ago, getting on the bus.´ She swallowed and the last trace of her smile disappeared. ³I was. You¶re not wrong there. Things have been«´ She sighed and wiped at her face again. ³I don¶t even know how to explain it. It¶s like reality has turned in upon itself. teaching hospital, and« quite frankly, I¶m seeing things that simply can¶t be.´ The elderly gentleman sat there in silence for a long time, studying her face. His own expression, so jovial and pleasant, had drained of emotion« except for his eyes, and in those slightly rheumy eyes, Hannah sensed fear. And then« he named the hospital. I¶m at a

As Hannah went through and described--in as brief a detail as she could--the strange events that plagued her, Jacob Tipley (³so sorry, my dear, where are my manners today, forgetting proper introductions and all?´) sat on the windowsill of his flat, one hand on his cane and the other against the wall, listening without comment. He stared at the floor most of the time, or glanced at the bare walls of his small flat, then when she pulled her words into a conclusion, riveted his attention on her.

³What you¶ve told me about the teaching hospital,´ Jacob admitted, ³is more than I expected to hear. But then again, almost seventy years have come and gone.´ Hannah sat back in the room¶s only chair and crossed her legs. ³You¶ve seen this kind of thing before,´ she stated flatly. ³No,´ he said slowly. ³No, I think what you¶ve seen is extraordinary unto itself. I saw the beginning of this thing.´ With a grunt, Jacob forced himself to a standing position and shuffled across the room, where he¶d left his cup of tea on the small table beside his bed. He picked it up and sipped at it a couple of times, then sat it back down into the saucer and went back to resume his position on the windowsill. He glanced out the glass and down at the street. About halfway through Hannah¶s speech, holiday carolers had walked up to occupy the street corner and started singing. As Jacob looked down upon them, their voices faded to silence at the end of ³Good King Wenceslas´ and shifted to ³Carol of the Bells.´ His back stiffened and his kind features turned cold. ³I¶ve always hated that song,´ he confessed in a near-whisper. ³It¶s always struck me as« sinister, somehow.´ He puffed out a breath. ³Ironic that they should be singing it now, just as I¶ve got to tell you--´ With another loud grunt, Jacob stood up again, straightened his head and stared at Hannah, then began to speak. ³Medical experimentation is nothing new, as I¶m sure you¶re aware. You¶ve heard about the experiments done during the war? Josef Mengele at Auschwitz and the like?´ Hannah nodded.

³Well, as much as we might like to think, Mengele was not some isolated lunatic involved in atrocious practices. What no one likes to talk about are the experiments that were done here, on the home front.´ He waved one hand in a dismissive gesture. ³Oh, and this country wasn¶t the only one to be doing such things. The Russians did them. America did them. Sometimes the focus of the experiments was purely war-related, aimed at understanding situations that our soldiers faced. Things like hypothermia, for example. And sometimes it was to better understand diseases contracted while in The tests would involved prisoners, or even

service, like syphilis or malaria.

soldiers--people who could be ordered to participate, with no choice and no say in their own lives.´ ³That¶s barbaric,´ she muttered. ³It was wartime.´ Jacob shrugged. ³Everything we did was to keep the

Germans from knocking on our front door, and if you didnµt participate in ways to help your country, then you were no better than the enemy. The whole process was

something that those in charge saw as« justified. And those patients who died or were made sick, or sicker, or who were--´ His teeth clicked together quickly, then he

continued. ³--changed in some way from whatever experiments were conducted on them« well, they were seen as acceptable losses.´ Hannah licked her lips. ³You know what¶s going on, then? At my hospital?´ Jacob hesitated and took in a slow breath. ³When I told you that I was saw this thing from the beginning, I can¶t say for sure that it was the very beginning. For

example, I don¶t know how it was created by the doctors, or if it even was created, at least in the way that we think of science these days. Perhaps this was something that we

found and brought it over from Europe«´ ³Where it comes from isn¶t important. At least, not to me. What itµs doing to people does matter.´ Hannah leaned forward. ³What happened, Jacob?´ He pulled in a slow breath, closed his eyes for a moment, then began. ³It was late 1944 when I was injured in France. We were on patrol and I stepped on something in the dark, which cut through the leather of my boot and sliced open the side of my foot. Infection set in, and so I was sent back home. There was a special ward set up at the hospital--YOUR hospital--and I was sent there for experimental treatment.´ ³But not by choice?´ He let out a quick, humorless laugh. ³Define µchoice.¶ I knew that any regular hospital treatment I received would be« well, acceptable. But I¶d seen enough neglect in serving with the Corps to know that it might not be enough to save my leg. It was worth a gamble. And at first, it seemed to have been the right choice. The wound healed over, the infection went away, and I was hobbling about in no time.´ Jacob massaged the top of his thigh, his eyes glazing over. ³They labeled me as Patient One. I remember that they never let me see what they did, and that was the only odd thing« at first. I¶d always have a leather blindfold put over my eyes when I went in for special treatment. Twice a week, they¶d wheel me in to the operating room and numb my leg up, then do whatever it was they were doing.´ Hannah swallowed. ³What went wrong?´ ³I donµt know,´ Jacob replied slowly. ³In actuality, I don¶t know if anything did go wrong. I got the impression from the doctor that I was responding exactly as he

wanted me to.´ He paused. ³Then one day, I looked down and saw that the skin around my foot and my ankle had began« to crawl. And it felt as if I carried something in there. Like a tapeworm or something that squirmed and shifted. The oddest sensation.´ She shivered as her mind flashed back to the cancer patient she¶d encountered in the hospital and that first time she¶d pressed down on his belly, only to have something press back. ³You were the first?´ Hannah breathed. Jacob nodded. ³I believe that I was, yes. It all took place under the jurisdiction of two doctors and one nurse. Any other support staff were always dismissed before my procedures.´ He shook his head. ³I don¶t know how to say it, but I guess it felt like they were cultivating this thing inside me.´ ³Two doctors and one nurse? Who authorized it?´ ³The War Office, of course,´ Jacob answered right away. ³They not only

authorized my transfer from the battlefield in France to London, but they sent« whatever it was« along with me. It was in a small crate, about this big. Captured from the German army somewhere by the border.´ He held out his hands about two feet apart, then dropped them by his sides and gripped the window frame again. ³I thought nothing about it at the time, of course, though I do wish that I¶d read the paperwork. All I know is what I was told, and that¶s that it was being transferred by the Germans from Egypt to Berlin. Therefore, they knew it had to be something important.´ Hannah stood up and crossed her arms, then took several steps around the tiny flat. ³They knew more than that,´ she added. ³Someone must have opened it up. Even if they didn¶t know exactly what they had, someone figured out that it was for

medical use, and that¶s why it was sent specifically to the teaching hospital.´ ³Which, during the war, was an actual working hospital,´ Jacob pointed out. ³It was only about twenty-five years ago that it was made into a teaching hospital.´ ³Exactly. But I don¶t think they knew how dangerous it was.´ He sniffed and looked away. ³Neither did I. I was a good soldier. Followed orders. Never asked questions. I think that¶s one of the reasons that I was chosen.´ He swung his gaze back towards Hannah. ³But this was something too odd not to remark on, and after a few weeks, I did start to ask questions. Questions which they wouldn¶t answer. The thing in my foot ventured from my ankle to my calf. I asked more questions, and the doctors and the nurse simply stopped talking to me.´ Jacob stood up and turned his back to Hannah, staring out at the light flurry of snow on the other side of the window. ³It was during the Christmas broadcast that I first overheard the doctors talking about me. I was up for a bit of a walk on my crutches, a little something to get the blood flowing because the place was very cold and it didnµt do to sit in bed all the time. There was a radio was playing down the hall, and I went in that direction, towards the nurses¶ station.´ ³¶The Carol of the Bells,´ Hannah whispered. ³The two doctors responsible for my procedure were talking in low tones, staring out the window. I heard one of them say something along the lines of, ³He¶ll be uncooperative soon,´ and the other muttered back. The only words that I caught came about a minute later, and they were µit may be time to terminate the patient¶s participation¶ and ³fatal injection during surgery.¶ But that was enough. I went back to

my room, got dressed and left.´ Jacob turned and scratched at his thin gray hair, then rubbed one hand along his chin. ³I had nowhere to go, though. No family--that¶s why I joined the Army in the first place. No friends except for the ones I¶d made in service, and they were all in Europe. Only this thing inside my leg, which the government wanted to monitor and use. I went outside and started making my way down the street, thinking the whole time. This thing inside me had felt unnatural for quite a while, and I¶d managed to live with it by telling myself that I was doing my duty. But now I was downright frightened by it, and began to doubt that earlier belief. What I carried had been intended for Hitler¶s army, not for ours, and that alone struck me as very un-British.´ He paused, swallowed, then squared his shoulders. ³I knew that I had to get rid of it. The train yard was close by. I gathered together some materials to make a tourniquet, went to the nearest line, sat down« and waited.´ ³Oh, God«´ Hannah breathed. ³I couldn¶t go anywhere with it,´ Jacob continued. ³Another hospital might have seen the odd thing moving about inside my leg and agreed to amputate, but there was no telling what they¶d have done while I was under--´ ³Or what might have happened to them,´ Hannah breathed. ³Or how long it would be before the doctors located me,´ Jacob continued, ³and came to reclaim their property. Even if they¶d changed their minds and decided that they needed me alive, I¶d have been taken into custody, tied down and forced to continue with their experiments.´ With a soft grunt, he settled himself back down on the

windowsill. ³No, this was something that I alone had to deal with. A menace such as the one I had inside me had to be dealt with and disposed of for good. For the sake of mankind.³ He lifted his head again. ³For Queen and country.´ Hannah sank back into the chair and clutched her knees. ³I put a potato sack around my foot and stuck it out over the metal rail. It only took about five minutes of waiting before a train came along. Severed my leg just below the knee. I had the tourniquet settled pretty quick, which was lucky as the pain caused me to pass out directly after I tied it. I came to a short while later to find the leg on the other side of the track. I pulled up the sack around the leg, somehow got to my« well, I stood up with the crutches« then limped the leg over to a nearby barrel and threw it in. There was some kindling next to it, and I threw that in on top of it. Set fire to the kindling with my lighter--I didn¶t bother leaning in. I just flicked it to life and threw the whole thing in.´ He smiled grimly. ³Never have smoked since that day, by the way.´ Jacob bit his lower lip and tilted his head back. ³It« screamed,´ he whispered. ³In the barrel. I heard it« make a noise. Like a scream.´ He drew in a sharp breath. ³Anyway,´ he continued in a strained voice, ³I managed to get out of the train yard before passing out again. Someone found me on the street, sent me to the hospital--the same one, only this time to Casualty rather than the isolated ward that I was in. I was treated and put into recovery before the two doctors found me, by which time I was under guard because they thought me to be mentally unstable. Because I told them that I didn¶t want to go back to the war, and I¶d cut off my leg deliberately.´ ³And they just let you go?´

³They knew that I wouldn¶t say anything, because I¶d liked about how I lost my leg in the first place. I donµt know that it was right to protect them, but« I did my duty.´ Hannah forced herself to her feet, stepped up to Jacob and gave him a hug. Jacob chuckled, pulled one arm up and hugged her back. They separated a few moments later, and Jacob reached for his cane and escorted her back towards the door of his room. ³I¶m sorry to hear that it¶s started again,´ he said in a low voice. ³I wish that I could give you some advice, but what happened to me was a different time, my darling. A different era. Same menace, but«´ Hannah nodded. ³I know.´ ³If you ever need me, you¶re welcome to come back. But for now, I would suggest that you have more important matters to deal with.´ He patted her on the arm. ³You said earlier that where this comes from isn¶t important, but I think it is. Because if I didn¶t have the only one of it, then there might still be others there.´ Nick Gates¶ words flashed back to her, and she shivered. ³Youµve seen this thing in action,´ Jacob remarked. ³Now ask yourself how much back-up it might have. How many samples just like it might be buried within the hospital. And what has to be done about it.´ ³It changes people,´ Hannah said in a low voice. ³So far, it¶s under controlled conditions. The question is, what might happen if it gets out of control, isn¶t it?´ ³Yes.´ Jacob opened the door and Hannah stepped into the hallway. ³That¶s one question. But a more important question right now is, how much do you want to get involved? You have to ask yourself. How far will you go to stop it?´

Her gaze moved down to the odd-looking pants leg around Jacob¶s missing limb, then back to his kind blue eyes. She forced a smile, mouthed ³thank you,´ then headed down the stairs and out of the building. The carolers had gone from the street corner, and normal foot traffic had grown sparse as the night progressed. Hannah trotted across the street to the nearest bus stop, and a few minutes later a bus came along the route. She had no problem finding a seat this time and slid into a window seat, he mind such a whirl that she barely felt the cold of the evening. It took about a minute of being on the bus before she began to register her surroundings, to listen to the music playing over the speakers« And when she did, her entire body trembled in reaction to the music that reached her ears. ³The Carol of the Bells.´

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