She stepped inside, let the door close behind her and studied both Slaine and the bug man for a moment, then nodded knowingly.
It's time, her voice echoed in his mind, though her lips did not move.
Time for you to leave.
Slaine simply stared back at her, confused . . . by her . . . at himself. His world had gone mad. He looked down, stunned, slowly withdrawing the insulin pen from the bug man's unmoving body.
Deceased, she finished. Yes, I know. Now if you please . . . She gestured toward the door.
There are others coming for you. Others like him.
Slaine lifted his eyes from the bug man and he stood. Still confused. "Why?"
The woman turned and opened the door to leave.
Because you were . . . selected.
"Selected?" Slaine asked as he followed her into the hallway, not missing the fact the
MEN's restroom sign now said FOLLOW. "By who? And for—?" The words escaped him as he stopped cold, his eyes opened wide then narrowed as he studied the hallway.
Bodies were littered everywhere. Doctors, nurses, patients, visitors, security guards
and others. Some lying face-first while others lay on their backs and still more were slumped awkwardly against the walls or half-on and half-off their chairs, benches or gurneys. All deathly still.
They're alive. Merely unconscious, the woman said as she led the uneasy Slaine through the maze of flesh. The effect is only temporary, which is why you must be going.
"I—I don't understand," Slaine whispered while cautiously stepping over the immobile body of his surgery assistant, Pam. Her name tag, and literally every other visible sign reading, FOLLOW. They reminded him of the altered signs that led him to take the bug man's life.
Yes, she said, in reply to his thoughts. The "bug man", as you called him, was the living embodiment of the infirmity known as cancer.
She motionined for Slaine to stay close as she rounded a corner.
And yes, with his last breath, cancer has begun to vanish from the face of this planet. It will be totally eradicated in the next six hours.
Slaine continued to follow . . . and listen . . . in silence.
Now there are other diseases coming—more of the "Incarnate", I believe you called them—and they who will not hesitate to kill you.
The woman came to a sudden halt and turned to face Slaine. This caught him off guard.
And Doctor Slaine, while you think you have nothing left to live for, I assure you—they do. If one of these infirmities kills you, it shall become incurable . . . and ravage humanity with the greatest plague this world has ever known.
Slaine looked away. Hopeless. Helpless. "I didn't ask for this . . . "
The woman raised an eyebrow.
Did you ask for the patients who came to you? Did you give them their afflictions? Did you truly think you, with your human imperfections, could truly heal every one of them?
She turned back around.
And yet, now you are given that opportunity and you despise it?
Where Slaine once heard impatience, he now heard disdain.
Oh, the fickle, ill-contented arrogance of man. You have such limited knowledge or control of external influences, yet you deceive yourselves into believing you alone control your destiny. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The two continued on, quickly heading toward the hospital's Main Entrance.
Take your current predicament. Aside from everything I've already explained, you must escape now because the bug man's body will soon be discovered and you were the last person the security camera's recorded entering the lavatory.
Slaine felt like a child, waking from some naive dream. The ramifications for his actions were beginning to numb his mind.
That recording is backed-up in multiple locations, one of which being a third-party data center. It is impossible for either of us to erase or alter all of the recordings before the police see them and connect you to the bug man's murder.
As they approached the entryway's automated doors, Slaine noticed a young man lying on the rubber doormat, keeping the sensors activated and the doors open. Slaine knelt down and carefully pulled the young man's body off the mat and to the side, away from the sensors.
I probably don't need to tell you that, if you are captured by the police, it will be quite easy for The Incarnate to also find—and kill—you.
"But Cassidy . . ."
Your daughter is still at the zoo, unable to help and, quite honestly, not worth the risk.
Rising back to his feet, Slaine caught a glimpse of something else.
"Snow," he breathed softly and watched in amazement as the flurries fell in the moonlight and melted on the asphalt. Snow . . . uncommon, but it wasn't unheard of in Central Florida. Still, it was typically decades between snowfalls and this certainly hadn't been in the forecast.
The woman stepped up beside Slaine.
A side-effect of our . . . tampering with nature.
"Who is 'our'?" Slaine asked as he turned to look at her. "And who or what are
for that matter?"
I have many names. Most call me Persephone. She looked at Slaine and smiled, ever so slightly. Destroyer of peace. Bringer of death.
"Wonderful," Slaine muttered.
That is all I am permitted to say at this time. It is all you need.
Persephone turned back to toward the now closed automated doors, lifted her chin and closed her eyes, listening. Sensing.
They are coming, she said as she reopened her eyes. You must go.
"Where?" Slaine asked as he withdrew his car keys. "How will I know where to go? What to do?"
Not in your vehicle, Persephone said, irritated. That will be the first thing the authorities look for. As for what you are to do . . .
. . . follow the signs.
Slaine doubted Persephone would be any clearer or more forthcoming than that.
So he ran.
Into the night.
TO BE CONTINUED