by Judy (Wishes)
Chapter 14 - Epilogue
Caroline looked at Elizabeth in disbelief. "Deliver you? To Dr. Stephens? Are you crazy? Do you have any idea what he has planned for you?"
"I have a pretty good idea," Elizabeth answered. She leaned forward in the chair, and Caroline's hand went automatically to the BeRt. Elizabeth sat back a little. "Listen, time is running out, and we just can't let all these people die."
"What about Doo? Won't he say something when he sees there's no evacuation?"
The other woman shook her head. "He's long gone by now, probably boarding a shuttle to another country. The plan was for him to report for work, plant the bomb, and then take off. Another member of his organization was to call in the warning about the bomb."
"I'm getting you out of here," Caroline said stubbornly. "That's all I can do."
"We've got to convince Dr. Stephens that the bomb is real. There's still time to evacuate the building if we do it now. If we don't, think of all the people who will die. Some are helpless prisoners. Some are staff, people you've considered your friends."
"Why do you care about any of these people? I don't The ones down on Yellow
are so gorked they don't know where they are, and I don't imagine the ones on
Green are much better. And the ones up here? You know how they're going to end
up. All of those people are better off dead. And the
staff? The people I thought were my friends? And the doctors, the 'gods' I wanted to be like? All liars, torturers, and, some of them, murderers. How can you care about people like those?" She paused for a breath, near tears more of anger than sorrow.
"They're all human beings," Elizabeth said. "They all deserve
a chance at the life they were given, to live out whatever destiny is theirs.
Ask yourself this, Caroline, if you're so hard and cynical, why don't you just
take me down and turn me over to Dr. Stephens? Tell him I told you about
the bomb plot. Be a hero, and save everyone's lives. Then, when the rubble has been cleared and a new facility built, Dr. Stephens can give you your first anatomy lesson--on me."
Caroline wouldn't answer her.
"You can't go through your whole life caring only about yourself and one or two other people, Caroline," she pleaded. "That's a start, but it just isn't enough. Sometimes you have to care about people just because they are people, and worry later about what they deserve or don't deserve."
Caroline pulled the BeRt from the holster and shifted it to her left hand. "Sit all the way back." With her right hand, she fastened Elizabeth's restraints to the chair and made sure they were securely locked. "You want to see Dr. Stephens? Fine. We better hurry."
Jeannie looked up sharply as Caroline wheeled Elizabeth past the control station. "You're still here? I had to step away for a few minutes, and I figured you were gone."
"Long goodbyes," Caroline answered. "You know how that is?" She stabbed the elevator button.
"Wait, Caroline," Jeannie called. Caroline pushed the chair into the elevator and stepped in after it, but caught the door. "Have you seen Doo?"
"Not since before I came upstairs. Why?"
"Oh, the Supervisor called a little while ago, and is she ever angry! She sent Doo on an errand right after he came on duty, and she hasn't seen him since." Jeannie smiled. "I know you and Doo had a tiff over that one matter, but since you're friends, I thought. . . ."
"Nope, haven't seen him," Caroline responded and let the doors close.
Elizabeth was trying to get a look at Caroline's watch. "What time was the warning phoned in?"
"I don't know for sure." She glanced at the watch herself as the elevator halted. "Must have been at least a half hour ago, probably longer."
She pushed the chair to the suite doors and stopped. "Aren't you going to ask what I'm going to do?"
"I guess I'll know pretty soon."
Caroline gave a short laugh and pushed the chair into the suite. Dr. Stephens was already standing at the dissection table, and his expression was impatient. "What took you so long? I called for the subject a half-hour ago."
"Sorry, sir. The 'subject' had an interesting story to tell me."
"Really." He looked at Elizabeth for the first time. "I'm sure she's very imaginative." He walked to the PHQ machine. "Get her on the table. We'll get her hooked up and sedated. I like to use a light sedation so that. . . ."
"Dr. Stephens, I think you need to hear what she has to say." His eyebrows raised, but he turned to face Elizabeth. "Since you're about to make a contribution to science, I suppose you should be allowed a few words. A very few, if you please."
"The bomb is real."
"Well, that was short, if not very sweet." He picked up a syringe. "We'll sedate her before putting her on the table. It may be easier that way."
Caroline stepped between the doctor and his subject. "You have to listen. What she's saying is true. If you don't order the evacuation of the building, people are going to die."
"Step out of my way, young lady," he ordered and started to push her aside. Then he added, "Everything this morning has been very confusing and upsetting to you, I know. Change your attitude now and do what's right, and you can still keep your new position."
"Do what's right?" Caroline asked. "Yes, sir, I will."
She stepped aside, and he smiled at her, the kindly mentor again. As he leaned
over and pulled the blanket from Elizabeth's arm, Caroline drew the BeRt and
gave him a light shock. He dropped the syringe in Elizabeth's lap and looked
confused. Caroline grabbed him and propelled him toward a wall intercom just
inside the double doors. She studied it a moment, then pushed the combination
of buttons she thought would take his message
throughout the facility and even into the hospital next door. Dr. Stephens's eyes were beginning to lose their glazed look. "Identify yourself and say this is a code red," she instructed him.
"No," he said. "There isn't any bomb."
Caroline stepped back from him. She placed the BeRt against his neck and said, "Obey all staff members." When he shook his head, she flicked the intensity to midlevel and pulled the trigger. He spasmed and fell against the wall.
"No!" Elizabeth yelled. "Caroline, stop it!" She was struggling to free her hands and to move the chair.
"He can't take it as well as you, can he?" Caroline shoved the doctor
toward the intercom again. "I'm changing the setting to maximum."
She placed the instrument in the center of his back. "When I push the intercom
button, you identify yourself and say it's a code red. If you refuse or if
you say anything else, I pull the trigger and hold it until the battery dies or you do."
She pushed the "speak" button on the intercom and held it. Dr. Stephens immediately said, "I'm Dr. Stephens. This is a code red."
"Good boy," she congratulated him and, letting him rest against the floor, walked over to Elizabeth's chair. She knelt and began to unlock her restraints.
"Look out!" Elizabeth's warning came too late as the doctor wrapped
his hands around the small woman's neck. Caroline fumbled for the BeRt, but,
as he shook her violently, she was unable to reach the holster. He thrust her
against the table, and Caroline was sure something in her back had
broken. She raised her hands, trying to force his wrists apart, a technique she had learned for dealing with violent patients, but his hands were too strong. As she weakened, he took one hand off her throat and slapped her repeatedly across the face. He started to chant, "I am in
charge. You don't do that to me. I am in charge. . . ."
Suddenly he stiffened and was silent. At first, his hold on Caroline's throat
didn't lessen, and the black spots in her vision grew larger. Then he fell to
the floor, and, the pressure gone, she dropped to her knees and drew long, shuddering
gasps of air. When she could see again, she looked
up into concerned blue eyes. "What did you do?" she whispered.
Elizabeth held up her one free hand. In it was an empty syringe.
"You sedated him."
Elizabeth nodded. "We have to get out of here."
Caroline's hands trembled, but she managed to unlock and remove the other three restraints. Elizabeth jumped up. "Help me get him into the chair." She took hold of the doctor's right arm.
"You have got to be kidding."
The stubborn look came into her friend's eyes, and Caroline took the other arm and helped slide and lift the doctor into the chair. "My friend," she said.
"Never mind. Let's get the hell out of here." They were almost to the double doors when their world exploded.
Caroline and Elizabeth found themselves walking along a riverbank. Around were trees, grass, and flowers, pink, yellow, and blue. They themselves were still dressed in the hospital scrubs and were apparently whole.
"Is this Heaven?" Caroline asked.
Elizabeth stopped walking and looked down on the golden-haired girl. "Heaven? You're assuming we're dead."
"The bomb went off right behind us, didn't it?"
"That's what it felt--and sounded--like."
Caroline nodded. "Then the choices are limited. We're either badly injured or dead. Are you feeling any pain?"
"Then we're dead."
"Or unconscious and this is someone's dream," Elizabeth suggested.
Caroline looked around. "This place. I knew it looked familiar. It's from my dream."
"So I'm just a figment of your imagination?"
Elizabeth flexed her arms and then spun around, enjoying the feel of the springy ground under her. She laughed. "I don't feel like a figment. I feel. . . .alive!" When Caroline's expression remained serious, she grabbed her by the arms and spun her around and she, too, began to giggle.
"Stop! I'm getting dizzy."
"See? If this were a dream, would you feel dizzy?"
"Maybe I have a head injury," she answered, but continued to smile.
"No, I think you're right. I don't think this is a dream. But I don't know where we are." She looked around. "It's very beautiful here, more beautiful than anyplace I've ever been."
"Well, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."
"Kansas?" Caroline studied her companion. "We never were in Kansas. Maybe you're the one with the head injury."
"Sorry. I was referring to an early twentieth-century movie. I used to be a real film buff." Elizabeth took a deep breath. "You know, more than anything, I feel like I want to run, just run around and yell that I'm free."
"Then do it."
The tall woman looked doubtful. "Really?"
"You don't have to ask my permission."
"Well, if it's your dream. . . ." Then Elizabeth started jogging toward the trees, slowly and self-consciously at first, then, as she felt her heart begin to pound a rhythm, and blood to spread warmth through her limbs, she lengthened her stride. At the line of trees, she turned and raced back toward Caroline, arms pumping, feet lightly skimming the soft ground. Her face showed such joy that Caroline felt tears sting her own eyes. Elizabeth threw herself on the grass and pulled the smaller woman down beside her. Her breath came in small gasps. "I'm out of shape," she explained.
Caroline blushed. "You heard me. I've wanted to tell you that before. Now that we're dead, I figured why wait."
Elizabeth chuckled and said, "You're pretty cute yourself."
"Do you think the others got out?"
"A change of subject, huh? I don't know. There wasn't much time."
"I know one other person who didn't make it."
"Dr. Stephens?" Elizabeth guessed. She scanned the countryside. "I don't see him anywhere around here."
"That's good," Caroline stated. "Another positive sign about where we are. Not that I'm real hopeful, in my case."
"What do you mean?"
"Some of the things I've done, how I treated you--and others." She
gazed toward the trees, not wanting to meet a pair of clear blue eyes. "I
told myself for a long time that it didn't matter. I had a rough life, nobody
was going to look after me but me. My mother, my "stepfathers," well,
used all the things that had happened to me as excuses."
"No, Caroline, listen, what happens to us in life does affect what we do, the decisions that we make."
"But they were my decisions, and I knew even as I made them that they were wrong." Now she did face Elizabeth. "I'm sorry for every time I hurt you or humiliated you, every time I tried to make you less than you were."
"I know. I forgive you."
"Just like that?" Caroline shook her head. She picked one of the tiny blue flowers and studied the delicate petals. She had seen a picture of an orchid once, and this tiny bud seemed as wonderful and as complicated as that.
"Just like that." Elizabeth's voice was soft. "Caroline, you were never as tough and as selfish as you think you were. Besides, I always forgive my friends."
Caroline picked another wildflower, pink this time, and handed it to her friend. Friend. She liked that word and hoped she would get to use it often. "Oh, you. You're easy. You forgive everyone."
"Not everyone. There's one person I may not be able to forgive."
Elizabeth shook her head. She reached over and put the tiny pink bloom in Caroline's shining hair.
"You? But you were the victim in all this. You suffered because you wanted to expose what was going on and because you wouldn't betray the people who told you."
"Oh, but I would have."
"I didn't know their names or what they looked like," she explained. "We only met a few times, and the informants wore masks and used code names. I had no idea who they were."
"But Doo. . . ."
"I recognized his voice the first time he came into my room, the day you
and he. . ."
Her voice trailed off.
Caroline finished for her, "The day I used the BeRt on you just to prove that I was tough and that I could do it."
Elizabeth nodded. "He realized that I had recognized him and started coming by every chance he got. Just to talk. He needed to talk."
"But didn't you tell the authorities you didn't know anything?"
"By the time I did, they didn't care." She sighed, and for a few seconds, seemed far away. Then she continued, "But that's not what I regret. None of that. It's this: I knew about the bomb, and I didn't do anything about it until it was too late."
"But. . . ."
Their attention was drawn toward the forest by a rumbling sound. Suddenly, down a path that hadn't been there earlier came a team of four black horses and, behind them, a dark chariot carrying one man.
"The Black Knight," Caroline breathed. Elizabeth quickly rose and
pulled the smaller woman to her feet. The chariot was almost upon them when
the driver pulled the horses to a halt. He jumped lightly down and strode over
to stand beside them. As Caroline had described him, he had dark hair and
was dressed in black leather and armor, but he carried no helmet under his arm.
"Back again so soon?" he greeted them. "It seems like you just left."
"Hades," Elizabeth whispered.
"You remember me?" he asked, surprised.
"No," she said. "I used to study Greek and Roman mythology. It was always an interest of mine."
"And you?" Hades asked Caroline.
"I used to dream about you, but I didn't know who you were."
"Are you here to judge us?" Elizabeth asked, trying to remember the myths about what happened to the dead. "Is that the River Styx?"
"Not the Styx, no," he answered. "That's the Lethe, a much pleasanter
meeting place. And, since you've already made the other trip, I thought that
would be a waste of time. As for judging you, yes, that would usually be the
next step." He held Elizabeth's gaze. "Your soul has made much
better use of this sojourn above. Given ample reason for despair and hate, you held onto hope and love. Perhaps you had enough vengeance in your previous life." He swept an arm toward the forest and the lovely meadows. "This should be your home for eternity."
Caroline claimed his attention. "And me? Where should I be?"
"You, my dear, would be a closer call." He smiled for the first time,
a kindly light in his eyes. "After this life, your soul does not shine
as brightly as before. You made the right choices in the end, but whether one
good day would outweigh hundreds of days when you chose evil . . . ." He
shrugged and stopped smiling. "I'm glad that's a decision I won't have to make."
"A decision you won't have to make?" Elizabeth questioned. "Then who will make it?"
"No one." He spoke as one not happy with what he had to say. "You're going back, both of you."
"Back?" Caroline echoed. She turned to Elizabeth. "See, that's what I thought. We're in comas. This is a near-death experience or something, and now we're going back."
"To the hospital? And then where, another "facility" or prison?" Elizabeth asked. "Not me. I'm not going back."
"You have earned a choice," Hades responded, "but you're not going to get it. My brothers and I have already made this decision. A wrong was done by one of our own, a wrong that kept you from fulfilling your destiny to change the world."
"Change the world? Me?" Elizabeth's laugh was tinged with bitterness. "I tried that once, remember? It didn't turn out very well."
"Maybe when you tried, it was already too late." In his hand there was suddenly a jeweled goblet. "You're both going back, but not to the short lives that were just ended." He walked to the river and, bending down, filled the goblet to the brim. "Come and drink, Xena and Gabrielle."
The two women exchanged glances, but stood where they were.
"Elizabeth and Caroline," Hades amended, "drink and return to find your rightful destinies. Return the world to what it was meant to be."
It was Caroline who spoke their thoughts. "Will we be together?"
"For eternity, I think."
Grasping each other's hands, the two women, one tall, one small, dark hair and light, walked bravely to stand before a god. He held out the goblet, and each drank deeply.
Xena knew they were in trouble when the raiders continued to pour into the
village out of all proportion to the numbers she had expected. Standing her
ground at the village's center, she used taunts and sword flourishes to draw
as many bandits as she could to her position. "Fall back," she
shouted to the villagers who had not already cut and run. Hoping they would remember these words signaled a retreat, not a rout, she chanced a look over her shoulder to where she had last seen Gabrielle. What she saw chilled her heart. Gabrielle stood with her back to the village alehouse
and, with skillful use of her staff, was more than holding her own against two of the raiders. However, a dark-robed and hooded figure had just emerged from the alehouse door, and, from his demeanor, Xena instantly concluded this was no friend.
The tall warrior yelled her battle cry, and, in the instant of hesitation this engendered in her attackers, she whirled in a complete circle, her sword cutting down all who were opposing her. Before leaping toward her friend's position, she launched the shining silver disk she wore at her side, and, when it hit the sword that was poised above Gabrielle's head, Xena was already there and pushing the smaller woman to the ground.
"No!" she yelled, but the deflected sword started another deadly
downward arc. This time it was her sword that stopped its descent. The hooded
figure laughed and shot out a hand that struck Xena in the face. Putting both
hands on the hilt of her sword, Xena pushed upward, and the attacker
staggered back. He quickly recovered and, after feinting a strike at Gabrielle, which drew Xena slightly off-balance, he directed a hard kick at her left leg. The tall warrior bent, taking the blow on the side of her thigh, instead of in the front of her knee. Then, coming on around, she kicked the man just beneath the ribcage with her right boot and followed with a stunning blow to his jaw with the hilt of her sword. Without a sound, the man went down.
Xena looked around and realized the other raiders were gone. Chasing the villagers? Running away now this man, probably their leader, was down? Gabrielle had regained her feet and was holding her staff in a threatening position over the unconscious man's head. "Are you all right?" Xena asked.
"Fine. I was scared for a minute. I don't know why, but I thought he had the advantage over you."
"Strange. Me, too."
Xena bent over to pull back the man's hood. The raider was blond, with a scraggly beard. "Just another bandit," Gabrielle commented.
"Yeah," Xena agreed. "Ready to go after the others?"
Gabrielle nodded and the two ran down the path to the forest's edge, toward whatever destinies were theirs. Together.
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