Chapter Eighty-Six


Sweaty hands immediately dropped Christine's upon her pillow. Erik sucked in a ragged breath as he stepped back away from the bed. Vice-like, self recrimination squeezed at his core. What was he thinking? Where had he allowed his mind to go? Of course it wouldn't be Erik she dreamed of.

Trembling legs turned him around to the window. Absently he pulled aside the curtain to stare at the darkened parking lot.

A familiar glass edged voice whispered in his mind, "Of course she would whisper the doctor's name. Why would she dream of a walking death's head?" Long, cold fingers clenched as the tingle of her warmth tortured his hand. A pain he thought long conquered lacerated his racing heart. The voice of reason tried to filter through the pain. Jaw set he questioned; stranger still, why would he want her dreams to be of him?

How had he forgotten? He was an aberration. She had somehow cleansed his body, but it seemed his face and soul were still damned, forever doomed to languish behind a mask.

The Phantom suddenly crushed the curtains in his hand. Not even the most powerful secret the Core possessed could rid him of this curse. He had waited years to claim her gift, only to have the whole situation backfire in his mangled face.

Heaving a great sigh, Erik didn't notice the hapless scarab scuttling down the curtain nor did he hear tiny curses that floated upon the air. The insect glared up at his tormentor, gingerly it tried out legs the man had suddenly crushed.

The mental voice refused a reprieve, "This hideousness carried since your birth, not even a Healer can reverse." Thin shoulders sagged as he once again glanced at the sleeping woman.

The scarab turned to shake its tiny wings, sending minute particles into the air. The Phantom inhaled deeply. Lungs filled with bravado, Erik's frame stiffened into a familiar posture.

"No matter. I will rid myself of Core and Mardom once Sorelli is stopped. I will keep Madame Daae forever if I have to… until she is able to completely reverse this hideous infection!"

Whipping from the window his narrowed eyes landed on the forgotten pile of dirty clothes. Striding over with a renewed purpose, he spoke confidently, "First the transponder."

Betty sadly shook her head at the crowd facing her. Who knew that so many were unhappy in someone else's reality. Simply being alive wasn't enough. Understanding weighed in her heart. Heaven only knew how often she battled melancholy, her father had been right, she was made of stronger stuff than most.

"How do we know you will go through with your promise once Dugan is captured," a voice rang from the back.

Raoul licked his lips. "Those who survive the oncoming skirmish will have the option of assisted suicide."

Meg whipped her head around, eyes wide, to whisper, "What about your doctor's license?"

Overhearing, Sorelli stepped forward, "I am leader here. I will carry through with their wishes. If you would lead me to the correct procedures, Dr. Chagny."

Raoul studied the woman silently. He had been wrong about Sorelli. A strong woman of stature and character was standing before him. One that had lived a living hell since in her teens.

A low rumble of voices bounced across the room as the group discussed this new option.

Sorelli faced them without flinching, "Since time is of the essence, Dr. Chagny will have to find the quickest, non-painful method available to us."

"Ok, this group has the promise of quick release, what about the others who want to stay?"

"That is why, you all are given one more night to decide if this is what you want to do. You will be our eyes and ears. Dugan has commandeered all our modern weapons. This will be a battle of primitive proportions."

A sad eyed woman stepped forward and the crowd fell silent, "What about the children, Sorelli?"

"I cannot condone the suicide of a child. They will be given a choice as adults when they can make informed decisions."

The woman sighed as most in the room nodded in assent.

Sorelli nodded to the bed rolls stacked in the corner, "You understand I can't let you go back to the others. If you have spouses and children you want to say goodbye to, we will rendezvous with them in the morning."

"You understand Dr. Chagny, these are people I've watched grow up and become close to," Sorelli wiped a hand over her weary face.

Raoul grasped her shoulder and turned her toward him, "Unlike the others, these subjects are the most dangerous. Men and women who want to live at all costs. Fear and mistrust will predominate in this unspeakable position that we find ourselves in."

"Divide them into groups to hide the data, bury it and take shifts in sleeping. They will be the second wave in the attacks," Sorelli turned from Raoul, "Are you sure Hawke will be successful? Not only is Connie Daae at stake, but she is incarcerated where the children are kept. He will have to supervise their escape."

Without warning, Meg slapped Sorelli, "How could you? More obstacles? Don't you think he needed to know this tidbit of information?"

Hissing and setting her jaw, the officer stared into her attacker's face, "He did not need more to worry about during the preemptive strike. Once Connie Daae is found he will have discovered the children. He needed a clear mind to carry out the first part of his raid."

Before she could reply, Raoul placed a restraining hand on Meg's arm, "Can't be helped now. We wait on Roy's report."