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Chapter 4 - Can’t Trace Time by A.J. Hall

He had, eventually, turned in - the bed had turned out to be everything he’d hoped for, except shared - but found it hard to sleep. And then, just as he was drifting off, there came a noise from the stairs; the ones just behind the fire-exit in the far corner of his sleeping quarters. There was a particular quality about hospital noises. Owen had grown, over the years, into a connoisseur. This set sounded bad; not sirens-and-loud-bangs, everyone-fit-to-hold-a-clamp-into-A&E-now bad, but booted-feet-moving-in-haste, subdued-muttering bad, at least.

He dived into the bathroom for a towelling robe, flung it on over his underpants, and, after a moment’s hesitation in case the exit was alarmed, slipped through the door and onto the bare cold concrete of the back stairs.

Just in time to collide with someone - a muscular, uniformed, armed someone - double-timing it up from the basement.

“Sir!” The security guard, thank God, had been properly briefed on who he was. And mercifully didn’t appear to be the shoot first, ask questions later type.

“What the fuck’s going on?” The strangulated note in his voice could pass, he hoped, for the effects of being semi-winded; hell, were steroids legal round here? That guard had muscles on his muscles, and if he’d ever had a neck it was back when Preston North End was a serious force in the League.

“Situation, sir. On the roof.”

There were, in Owen’s experience, only a strictly limited set of Situations which took place on hospital roofs. And security wouldn’t be packing heavy duty heat just for a jumper. He sighed.

“Who’s the hostage?”

The security guard blinked, once, but his training held. One answered one’s superiors’ questions even if - especially if - they seemed telepathically inspired.

“Doctor Comienski, sir. That mutie from Ward 20 musta jumped her -“

A voice, enhanced to a bellow by the acoustic properties of the stairwell, sounded from above their heads. “Karolides! Get your ass up here with those stun grenades or you’re going to be scraping bits of that frill off the pavement for the next fortnight.”

Much to Owen’s fascination, the guard besides him essayed a demure cough in his superior’s direction. “Er, sir. Shouldn’t you - That is, I mean -“

A head suddenly appeared, leaning over a banister two or three flights up. “What, Karolides?”

The security guard gestured. “I’ve got the Director with me, sir.”

“Oh.” There was the brief sound of booted feet on concrete stairs. A second or so later another uniformed man was standing next to him, the badge on his uniform proclaiming him to be Head of Security. By contrast to Karolides’ crude muscularity this one was sparely built, wiry. Grey-haired. And worried. Profoundly worried.

Owen extended a hand. “Harper.”

The head of security nodded, curtly. “Kirov. Sorry you had to run into this on your first day, sir.”

“Don’t be stupid. First day, three months in, what’s the odds? Do you think they’d have employed me if I’d been an amateur?” His lip curled. “Doctors and patients. Does it ever occur to you to wonder which of us is winning this particular war?”

Karolides looked at him wide-eyed, as though he might sprout an extra head any moment. Kirov rubbed his hand over nose and jaw in a profoundly weary gesture. “Wonder, yes. Been wondering for years. Not come up with any answers yet, though. You, sir?”

Owen shook his head. “No. Nothing. Anyway, I’m here. For what it’s worth. So hadn’t we better be doing something about this - Situation?”

Karolides made a sound rather like a squawk. From his perspective, anyway, the last thing he wanted was one of the hospital top-brass in the middle of a hostage stand-off. Kirov, by contrast, exhaled with profound relief.

“Waiting for you to ask, sir.” He paused, his face in a wry grimace. “After all, if I let you go back to bed now, I’d have to wake you in half an hour or so. To fill in the forms and speak to the holovids, if nothing else. Belike.”

They made it up the steps in record time, paused behind the thin service door which led onto the roof.

And from behind that door came a voice which Owen recognised instantly, which twisted every nerve in his body, which resonated straight to the pit of his stomach.

“You wanna know what I want? What my demands are?”

The voice was raw, shrill-edged with desperation, trembling on the edge of hysteria. But surely those tones - that accent - could belong only to one person.

There was a murmur - Dr Comienski saying something, no doubt, something soothing, something bland.

Something which betrayed how profoundly she had mistaken what she was dealing with.

The voice sounded again. “You tell me you can help me. Well, help me with this. I want my name back. I want my memories back. I want my life back. I want to know who I goddamn well am.”

It was time and past time. Oddly, Owen’s hand on the smooth metal bar of the service door was barely sweaty at all; remotely, part of his mind thought that was something he might, if he survived the next few seconds, legitimately be proud of.

He turned to Kirov. “Right. Once I’m through the door, throw the floodlights to the roof. I’ll need all the light I can get. I need to be seen. Trust me; don’t think of surprise. We’re outmanoeuvred on that front before we even start.”

Kirov paused, nodded, touched a brief hand to his shoulder, flitted somewhere in search of a switch. Owen braced his shoulders, pushed at the bar, and stepped out to confront Jack.