The plan was simple. Steal a defibrillator. They had debated finding parts to make their own, but Megan simply didn’t have time for that. A working machine was the only way they could help her right now.
‘Or not even a working one,’ Shona2 had suggested. ‘One that is out of commission will do. So long as it mostly works, we can do the rest.’
‘Of course, you’ll also need to get hold of some conductive gel for the paddles,’ Shona1 had added. ‘And we’ll need a syringe of adrenaline on standby too.’
It hadn’t taken them long to get themselves ready. Nick had been kitted out this time with his own cuff and his own pistol. Chris had even given him an impromptu tutorial on how to use it.
Switch it on. Point. Fire. That was it. No time for target practice and off they went.
They were heading for a world that was similar to Nick’s home, where the mirror would be in the same fairground and there was a hospital not far away. Nick knew the hospital in his own world well. It was where he had been taken aged twelve with suspected appendicitis. It had been that particular hospital visit that had put him off the idea of becoming a doctor when he was older, as he had fainted at the sight of the rather large anaesthetic needle.
As they made their way along the row of mirrors, Nick glanced up ahead to where Chris and Jacob were deep in conversation, no doubt devising some plan for when they made it into the chosen world.
“I’m guessing this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often,” he thought out loud.
“What doesn’t happen often?” Imogen asked, walking beside him.
“Someone getting infected with a shadow like that,” he clarified.
Imogen shook her head. “No, I’ve never seen it happen before. Alastair has, but that was a long time ago.”
“Who was it?” Nick asked.
“Horatio,” Imogen replied. “He was Alastair’s research partner. Most of his old notebooks and papers are still in the library archives. Alastair doesn’t talk about him much.”
“What happened to him?” Nick’s curiosity was piqued.
“What do you think?” Imogen replied sharply. “He got infected and he died.”
She seemed to regret her tone as soon as the words were out of her mouth, but Nick didn’t resent her for it. Clearly, the subject was too close to what was happening to Megan now. But before he could re-assure her, Jacob called from up ahead.
“This is it,” he said. He and Chris has stopped by one of the mirrors. As Nick and Imogen caught up with them, Nick noted the number at the top: 2165273 omega.
Chris went through first, followed by Jacob. Nick was about to do likewise when Imogen gently caught his arm and help him back for a moment.
“Nick,” she said seriously. “This is your first time in a different world. Just remember things will be different and you must do exactly what we tell you, OK?”
Nick’s mouth suddenly felt dry. He nodded in response and swallowed hard, trying to steady his breathing. He nodded in reply to Imogen’s warning. He balled his hands into fists to stop them from shaking with nerves as he broke the mirror’s surface.
The mirror was in the middle of the fairground as it had been in Nick’s world. But the fairground here was not abandoned and boarded up. It was thriving and teeming with activity. Children and laughter bubbled all around the rides as they clattered and spun on their tracks. Screams rang up from the Waltzer and the ghost train. The rollercoaster roared overhead and the carousel sang as its horses danced up and down. The sweet smell of fresh, sugared doughnuts drifted on the air, mixing with the salty taste of the sea. Nick felt as if he had stepped into his own childhood as he stared around at the vibrant and colourful venders and stalls near the hall of mirrors.
He looked back as Imogen stepped though the mirror and the disturbance on its surface faded back to its perfect glassy façade. Ahead of him, Jacob lowered his goggles back over his eyes and smiled.
Nick looked at all of the people milling around them, laughing and enjoying the fayre. His forehead creased.
“No-one’s staring at us?” he said. “Four people just step out of a mirror and no-one saw it?”
“You’ll find most people don’t pay any attention at all to Outsiders,” Chris said as he took the lead. “You could slap most of these people in the face and they’d still look right through you.”
“So how come I noticed Megan?” Nick asked. “And Jacob, for that matter.”
“I guess you’re just special, Nick,” Chris replied with no attempt to mask the sarcasm in his voice.
He walked away from Nick without another word and led the way to the fairground’s entrance.
“OK,” Nick said, walking next to Jacob. “What did I do to tick him off?”
A snort of laughter escaped Jacob. “Trust me, it’s not you. It’s him. Chris is somewhat lacking in, how do I put this… people skills. I’ve given up trying to work out what on earth Imogen sees in him.”
“So he’s always like this?” Nick asked.
“Yes.” Jacob smiled. “But don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. And if you’re really lucky, he may even warm to you.”
“Hurry up!” Chris called over his shoulder.
“But I wouldn’t hold your breath,” Jacob added as they jogged a few paces before settling back into a more natural walking speed.
The fairground was soon behind them as they made their way towards the hospital.
They split off into pairs. Chris and Jacob were tasked with finding an almost-working defibrillator. Nick and Imogen went off in search of the gel and adrenaline. It had been agreed that if either pair ran into trouble, the signal would be the hospital’s fire alarm. Jacob had assured Nick that in a tight spot, blending in with a crowd was the best way to slip out of harm’s way. As he had said this, Nick had been unable to draw his attention away from the very large goggles covering half of Jacob’s face.
Blend in, he thought. Chance would be a fine thing.
He and Imogen now found themselves in a very long, clinically white corridor. The fluorescent lights overhead made Nick’s eyes ache, and the buzz they emitted only served to remind him why he didn’t like hospitals at all.
They didn’t pass many people in this part of the hospital. They were far away from the bustle and chaos of the A&E Department. Here, it was mostly staff members returning from their breaks or starting their shifts. As with the people at the fairground, those they passed paid very little attention to them. Occasionally, someone would glance up and smile as they walked by. Nick noted one or two who looked wary of their presence, but it seemed to be that, by the time they had made any conscious decision to question them, he and Imogen had already moved several paces on, and the effort of pursuing them seemed too much like hard work. Nick could only hope that Chris and Jacob were met with the same level of indifference.
“You seem nervous,” Imogen commented as she casually held a door open for a staff nurse who came hurrying out of the STAFF ONLY zone. She and Nick stepped inside and continued on their way.
“Is that surprising?” Nick replied.
“Suppose not,” she said. “It’s certainly not the introduction to this life we usually go for.”
“Really?” Nick’s sarcasm was amplified by his nerves. “You usually save trespassing and burglary for the second date, do you?”
“Something like that,” she replied, ignoring his tone. “When I found the mirror in my world, I spent the first few days at the hub thinking it was all a bad dream I was going to wake up from.”
Nick nodded but didn’t say anything. He was still hoping he would ‘wake up’ and find his old life waiting for him.
“I promise once this blows over, we’ll sit down with a pint or two and you can fire as many questions at us as you want,” Imogen assured him.
“I can’t wait,” Nick said dryly, remembering the burn in his throat caused by her beer.
“I’m sure Megan will –” Imogen cut herself short. Her expression saddened as thoughts of her friend played across her face.
Nick rested his hand on her shoulder to comfort her.
“We’ll get her back,” Nick said gently. “I may have only been here for, what, a few hours? But I’m pretty sure the Shonas know what they’re talking about.”
A sudden burst of laughter from Imogen caught Nick off guard.
“I’m sorry,” she said pulling herself together. “But you’ll learn.”
They came to a door marked Supplies. Imogen turned the handle and smiled as the door opened with ease. Inside, the walls were lined with shelves, each carefully labelled, and each perfectly stacked with boxes of latex-free gloves, sterile-packed surgical masks and equipment, bandages and slings, neatly rolled and sealed in plastic bags. There were hypodermic needles – Nick made sure he didn’t linger on those for too long – vials of clear liquid, and boxes of tablets of all shapes and sizes. Towards the back of the room were gallons of hand-sanitiser, sterilising fluid, and portable oxygen tanks.
Nick and Imogen scanned the shelves looking for the two items they needed – the conductive gel and adrenaline.
“So what was your world like?” Nick asked idly as he skimmed past boxes of amitriptyline, naproxen and pregabalin.
Imogen paused before answering. Nick wondered when the last time could have been that someone asked her this.
“It was pretty similar to this one, I suppose,” she said eventually. “Most of the worlds in the quadrant have relatively subtle differences. The mirror in my world wasn’t in a fairground.”
“Where was it?” Nick was studying the labels on several small glass bottles.
“At the back of an archive room in a museum,” Imogen replied. “I was working there as an assistant to the curator when I found it and…”
She didn’t need to finish the sentence. Nick could guess that curiosity had got the better of her as it had him.
“I’ve got the gel,” she said waving a plastic bottle in the air.
Nick turned his attention back to the shelf at his eye level. It was filled with vials of liquid that were destined to be drawn into syringes. His many hours of watching Holby City and ER had taught him that much.
“Aha,” he said picking up one of the vials. “Adrenaline.”
He turned back to Imogen as she stuffed the bottle of gel and a couple of needle packs into her bag. He handed her the vial of adrenaline and waited for her to close the bag once more.
“That’s everything,” she said. She opened the door and peered out before nodding to Nick that the coast was clear.
As they made their way back along the corridor and out of the STAFF ONLY area, Nick felt some of the tension release from his shoulders. He was remarkably surprised at how easily they had been able to slip in and out without running into any trouble.
They followed the signs back to the main entrance by the A&E Department. Chris and Jacob were due to meet them outside the little shop that was just inside the entrance.
They were nearly at the shop when Imogen suddenly gasped. She pulled Nick almost off his feet into an adjoining corridor.
“What?” Nick asked when he had his balance back. Imogen held on to both of his arms, keeping his back turned on the corridor they had just been in.
“Nothing,” she replied, unconvincingly. She glanced nervously over his shoulder.
Nick tried to turn his head to see what had spooked her so much, but she all but slapped him back to face her.
“You can’t look,” she insisted.
“Just trust me, OK. And do as I say.” Again, her gaze darted worriedly to the corridor behind him.
“Please just tell me what’s going on,” he pressed, hoping she would appreciate the touch of politeness.
Imogen didn’t reply. She kept her eyes fixed on a point over his shoulder. As her attention remained there, Nick felt her grip on his arms loosen a little. He took the opportunity to turn around quickly, before she could catch hold of him again.
“Nick, no!” she protested.
But it was too late. Nick was already looking back into the corridor. By the Reception desk at the entrance was a doctor. He was talking casually to one of the nurses and paying no attention at all to Nick or Imogen where they stood partially concealed in the adjoining corridor.
It didn’t take long for Nick to understand why Imogen had pulled him off course as she had done. The doctor’s face was all too familiar. It was his own.