Saturday, 24 January 2009 - 6:10 pm


Today, we left the hospital behind us.  Packed everything we could carry into our bags, picked ourselves up, and headed out into the broken world once more.

It feels so good to be moving again.  We had needed the rest and we had needed the chance to really figure out what we were doing.  But getting out onto the street, stretching my legs and knowing that we were on our way to where we wanted to be… that was so much better.

I looked back at the hospital once, with its hunched shoulders and dull, empty eyes.  It was both a disappointment and exactly what we needed.  I was sorry to be leaving one of our number behind, and I was sorry that we couldn’t help those on the ninth floor. 

The hospital didn’t hold what we had hoped it would, but it healed us anyway, I guess in the ways we really needed it to.  Nugget and Ben are operating under their own strength now.  We know that somewhere, there’s an organised fragment of the world that used to be.  A shard of hope, out there in the slopes of the city’s lower reaches.  We have what we need to carry on.


I turned to walk forward, but a couple of the others were also taking a moment to consider the place we were leaving.  Thorpe was frowning – nothing new there – but Dillon’s face perked up, brightly enough to make me look back again.

We were halfway down the block by then, but there was no mistaking the moving figures by the hospital’s listing doors.  There was no mistaking that they were leaning on each other as they came out, or that they were heading towards us.  I told the guys to stop and tried to make out who it was.  I tried not to hope.

Thorpe swore under his breath and I knew who it was: Sally and the doctor.  They looked awful, but they were alive and moving, and that meant more than anything else right now.  That terrible death we heard the other night didn’t belong to either of them; it’s terrible to say, but it was a relief. I couldn’t help it; I was smiling as they neared us.

It was hard to tell whether Sally was holding him up or the other way around, but it hardly seemed to matter.  They were both pale and clammy-looking, and the doctor definitely seemed the worst off.  They wobbled when they reached us – he was staring intently into space and breathing through his mouth, while Sally dared to look up at our faces.  She was braver than I thought; she even glanced at Thorpe’s thunderhead.

“They can’t come with us.”  Of course he was the first to speak.

I chose not to tackle that head-on, not right away.  Instead, I asked them, “How are you still alive?”  They had had no food or water up there, and it’s been days.  Longer, for the doctor.

“He found a stash,” Sally said when her companion didn’t seem capable of answering.  Her voice was wrung out and thread-thin.  “Some liquid stuff.  For patients.”

“Saline?”  It was hard to believe that they had survived on salt water, but here they were.  Barely.  “What made you change your mind?”

She looked off to the side then, evasive, and abruptly I saw the junkie.  I saw the girl who gives in to the itch in her veins.  “There’s nothin’ left.”

It wasn’t the answer I was hoping to hear.  I was hoping that this was a choice, and I was selfishly hoping that I had made a difference.  Instead, this was the last choice left for them, other than a painful death, because they had run out of drugs.  I had to swallow back the sick feeling in my stomach.

“So you’re clean?”  That was Sax, rumbling in from behind me.  Nugget was hiding behind his legs, a pair of big dark eyes peeking.

The defensive note to Sally’s expression said that she had been asked that many times before.  “Yes.  We… we ran out a couple of days ago.”

About the time that someone took that fatal dive out of the window.  That someone that I had feared was one of these two.  Was that why they jumped?  Because there was no relief left for them?  But these two hadn’t; here they were, over the worst of the withdrawal and asking to come with us.  They had made that choice, the one with a chance of life in it.

“You’re not seriously considering this?”  Thorpe again, looking between me and Sax.  Ben was being quiet, as he usually was, but he didn’t look upset with Sally and the doctor being here.  He was standing by my shoulder and he gave Thorpe a quelling look.

I shrugged.  Of course I was considering it.  “Can you keep up?” I asked Sally.

“Yeah.”  She tried to stand a little straighter, even with his limp arm over her shoulders, to show us that she could do it.  That they would try.

“Are you kidding me?”  Our big fireman wasn’t going to let this happen easily.  “They’ll take off the first time they come within a sniff of something to shoot up with.”

I watched Sally; she didn’t respond, didn’t even try to deny that.  She knew that there wasn’t any point, that it was probably true, that we wouldn’t believe her if she said otherwise. 

“They haven’t hurt anyone but themselves,” I said.  It would be different if they had endangered any of us, and even if they leave, the rest of us will be okay.  “As long as they don’t hurt anyone else, I don’t mind them coming.”

“We don’t have the supplies to waste on them!”

“Then we’ll get more.  They can carry their own, same as everyone else.”  They looked barely able to hold themselves up, let alone packs full of food and water, but my sympathy didn’t extend to mollycoddling them.  This wasn’t going to be easy for them, but it wasn’t easy for any of us.  And besides, we didn’t have anything to make them carry right now.

“I can’t believe this.”  Thorpe threw his hands up in the air.  “Are we seriously going to let her do this?”  He looked at the others for support.

Who the hell put me in charge, anyway?  “Well, why don’t we vote on it?”

So we did.  To my surprise, Sax voted to leave them behind.  Ben raised his hand with mine, and it was a dead heat.  No-one looked at Nugget, but Thorpe did give Dillon an expectant glare.  I was about to protest that it wasn’t fair to put that on a kid, when he spoke up.

“I don’t think we should leave them behind.”

I was so proud of him right then.  Brave kid, standing up to the big fireman like that.  I know he thinks a lot of Thorpe; it must have taken some guts to make his own mind up.

And so it was decided: they were coming with us.  Thorpe growled at them to keep up, and then turned on his heel to stalk away.  Sax ushered Nugget before him, his expression dark and closed.  I haven’t seen him like that before.  The rest of us brought up the rear, with a little gap for breathing.

Sally and the doctor managed to keep up all through the day, though they lagged behind.  I’m glad they’re here.  They’re a mess, but they’re ours and I mean to keep them for as long as I can.  They’ll get better, I know they will.  They’re on their way now, just like the rest of us.