Disclaimer: I don't own House, MD. Or Independence Day, or even my car (a wince-worthy 53 payments to go). No sue.
A/N: Taking House, M.D. AU after "House Training", Season 3 Episode 20 – so post Tritter, the fake brain cancer, and Wilson has never dosed House with antidepressants. Crossover with Independence Day, which is pushed up from canon 1996 to 2006. Don't ask me where this came from, because I really don't know. Also, I've made up entirely the details of the alien culture from Independence Day. In my effort to keep made up words to a minimum, I sadly failed to avoid using an unreasonable number of hyphens. Whoops. (Or should that be, "Whoopee!"?) Title from Susan Cooper's Silver on the Tree.
A FIRE TO WARM THE WORLD
-- 07.04.2006. Area 51 --
Earthling air-fighters rushed through the lower atmosphere, screaming missiles a startling contrast to the comforting phwoomp of Ne'ila plasma-bursts.
Several images of fire and wreckage and twisted soft bodies wasted amid debris arose simultaneously in the technician's mind, projected by the commandant. The scenes were echoed by his clutch, seated in their fighters and yearning to bring winged death to the Earthling resistance. The thought that came next was laden with the quick excitement of engine ignition and the well-traveled memory, from other flight-clutches, of soaring through the vapors of this world.
Easy, so easy to crush these lower life-forms. Dangerous, yes – but only so much as a cornered revest, biting and scratching in the knowledge of impending death. The unprepared would be bloodied, but take no further hurt.
Ne'ila were never unprepared. Couldn't be, when every mind-voice could reach out and touch another, forming a chain that linked all of their people at the speed of thought itself.
The fighter technician shifted curved forceps on the controls, dropping back with another of his flight-clutch to catch an unwary Earthling between their plasma-bursts. It exploded in a flash of red. So red, everything on this planet. Red and yellow and orange, from the blood of the Earthlings to the fires that spread in the wake of their great world-destroyers. The greatest of their species' weapons, the world-destroyers housed fighters in preparation for the full invasion that would trammel through every atom of this world, removing everything of value and eliminating any life-form that would attempt resistance.
The technician faltered as shock exploded into his mind from the world-destroyer. An instant later, the emotion was silenced in an explosion of commingled blue and red, and the sudden emptiness in his mind dazed the technician long enough for an Earthling air-vessel to achieve target lock.
Then there was only a void, where thought had been.
-- July 11, 2006. Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital --
The folder hit his desk with a thin slap. House looked up from his PSP to Cuddy's face, white and strained. Well, more strained than usual. Given the events of the last two weeks, they were all feeling it; even Wilson was showing something less than his usual unflappable calm.
"New patient. One that you will see yourself, and that you will treat with respect, House." Tension in the shoulders, but far more telling was the lack of her usual cleavage-baring shirts. Cuddy was dressed as they all were – for practicality and with the knowledge that they might not have a home to go back to. Comfort and durability triumphed over professionalism in the wake of attempted alien invasion; jeans were the order of the day.
This ought to be good. He perked up, intrigued. Cuddy rarely insisted on professional demeanor for patients, knowing what he was capable of. "A month off clinic duty."
She scoffed. "Right. We're going to be cleaning up the aftermath of a dozen riots and an alien invasion, and you want to sit in your office playing video games? Nice try, House."
"That's all been localized to Manhattan," he waved it off. And Houston, London, Tokyo, Cairo, Las Angeles, Chicago, Mexico City, Paris, Berlin, Shanghai, Moscow, Sydney, Rome - His leg twinged as he shifted, pulling his feet down off his desk and ignoring the folder entirely. And anywhere else even vaguely important or heavily populated.
His boss's body, already radiating stress, jerked arrow-straight. "Those saucers were fifteen miles across. The blast radius from their – weapon – was fifty miles of pure destruction," Cuddy snapped, eyes flashing. "And that's only what we could see; who knows what the fallout from possible radiation will be." Or worse; something we've never seen before, have no idea how to counter. "If there's a problem in the general populace, we'll see patients appearing in the clinic first. As this hospital's Head of Diagnostic Medicine, you are the person we can least afford to have sitting around somewhere else doing nothing."
"So far all we have is an epidemic of headaches," House growled back, irritated despite the compliment. Boring, mundane, mediocre headaches; aside from the rare honest injury from riot or fear, nothing even remotely interesting or alien had shown up. At all. And with the number of aliens who'd been circling in orbit, there was no way the human militaries had killed all of them. "Stress, shock, cognitive dissonance and occasionally grief. Mix and allow to sit before baking at three-fifty and bam! The world has a tension headache." If House had to treat one more damn headache from someone still stuck in the 'aliens aren't real' delusion, he wouldn't be responsible for his actions.
"Be that as it may, there could be repercussions we won't even know to look for," Cuddy's words came slowly; this admission necessary enough for her to make the grudging concession of actually saying it. "You're our best chance of spotting anything that might be out there. Besides. The patient flew in all the way from Nevada to see you."
Huh? "I didn't think the airlines were back up and running yet," he frowned, knowing he was being diverted but unable to ignore the bait. House rested interlaced fingers on his stomach, leaning back from his desk rather than reaching for the records.
Cuddy smirked at him, a flash of her usual lack-of-humor. "It's in his file." And she turned on her heel, the glass door to the Diagnostic Department closing soundlessly in her wake.
House ignored the folder for a full five minutes out of pure principle. Then curiosity overcame him, and he flipped manila open to get to the medical records inside. At least the ducklings weren't there to see it; like Wilson, they were tied up elsewhere in the hospital. Clinic duty, urg.
Okay, differential. Patient was male, early forties, no outstanding health problems. Fighter pilot – accustomed to pulling G's that might strain the system, and had probably done so recently, given the givens. Classified might explain why the file was so thin and bare – medical details, but not a note of who or what or when. And the signature of every physician was conveniently unintelligible, though House knew his peers well enough not to take messy handwriting as an affirmation of his paranoia, tempting though it might be.
Still. No mention of current symptoms, or why this guy was here at all, much less insisting on a personal appointment.
In a last-ditch effort to glean another clue, he turned to the first page that he always disregarded; personal information. Blue eyes were caught by the first line on that page, and House blinked.
Name: Whitmore, Thomas J.
"The President of the United States?"
-- Area 51. Subterranean Hangar --
The low, hesitant hum skipped.
Brown eyes narrowed. Oh, you wanna mess wit' me? Bring it.
The soothing sound returned, stuttering for several endless seconds before chugging tentatively along. The man sat back, still not completely comfortable with the keyboard under his fingers. For long moments his entire posture was tense and waiting, ear cocked and every sense alert for another change in the steady hmmm of whirring processors.
One by one, as the noise stayed constant, muscles relaxed. Okay. Scroll up and send, where's the send button -
Immediately the hum sputtered, choked, and died.
"- the hell -"
"- is wrong -"
"- with this piece of -"
The pilot jumped, startled out of his frustration. One hand reached for the gun on his thigh as he whirled.
David was striding across the hangar, hands reaching for the computer from feet away. "What are you doing to my laptop?!"
"Nothing." Steve righted the chair that had mysteriously found its way to the floor in the midst of his swearing fury.
"Nothing! You nearly ripped the screen off -" The computer whiz had jumped the stairs to the platform, his tread heavy against industrial steel.
"I did n-" Steve took a deep breath before this situation could devolve any closer to fifth grade. "Look, wouldja stop lookin' at me like I killed it? The damn thing shut itself off, right when I was about to send an email to my folks tellin' them I'm okay." And about Jasmine and Dylan. Jimmy. God, that loss burned like a bitch. He'd lost a friend to a training accident in '04, but at least then there'd been someone to blame. "Now I'm gonna hafta do it all over again." It was hell the first time. Hot anger rekindled. "On a computer that works."
Blue eyes wrapped in an incongruous mix of plaid and combat boots glared at him. "Yeah, well, good luck with that. There was a low-level electromagnetic blast that accompanied the opening of the alien weapon in preparation for firing." David winced, and Steve fought back his own flinch at the realization that they'd nearly been too late. "Anyway, it wasn't enough to knock out the power for more than a few minutes and make some of the systems hiccup, but everything's a been out of whack since."
"That a technical term?" he poked back. He couldn't resist the mild jibe. Despite helping Steve blow up an alien mothership, David was still a cable guy who hugged trees. Probably literally, with his luck.
And apparently was capable of getting so absorbed in his work he didn't notice the little things. Like people talking to him. "Dave?"
The head bent over the upturned laptop didn't shift from its perusal of computer guts. Low muttering drifted Steve's way, and the pilot shook his head. "At least the harddrive hasn't been trashed. What did it do, the motherboard doesn't look fried -"
An electric crackle snapped through the air; David yelped. "Yow!"
"I didn't do anything," was the extremely irritated response. Steve grinned. "A fuse blew." There was a complicated pause. "I think."
The pilot propped his butt on a nearby tabletop, more leaning than standing. "So your computer's a bust. Tell me something I don't know," he muttered, mostly under his breath.
A frustrated snarl met his comment, followed by the ominous ka-thunk of plastic against steel and a sudden, panic-stricken silence. The former cable guy was wrist-deep in circuits and computer chips, setting aside a small pair of pliers in favor of a handheld soldering iron, before the silence morphed into something more relaxed.
A thought niggled at the back of Steve's brain. He fiddled with a half-consumed can of Coke someone had left dangerously close to an expensive-looking modem's keyboard. "If that electromagnetic blast was so low, what's the point? It didn't knock everything out, and with a weapon that could destroy cities, you'd think they'd be able to shut down our computer-based defense capabilities, right?"
David's ears had apparently come back online. Can't say the same for the laptop. "Not without destroying their own."
Huh. The laws of physics didn't change just because an alien culture was using them. Though if they took their whole civilization to space, shouldn't they have more advanced computers? Or shielding, or some bullshit like that? If he never saw Star Trek again, it would be too soon. Missing something. "Then why bother?"
"Maybe it was just a side effect. Like radiation from the H-bomb, or something. I don't know." The computer geek really wasn't paying attention; Steve watched him set the soldering iron back with care, fingers absently sifting through the tools to hand as his attention stayed firmly on the pieces of laptop scattered across the table.
"No. No way. Tactically, everything they did had a purpose. And I saw the reports of when the power grids died." Steve wouldn't be forgetting those anytime soon. They hadn't come close to losing everything, but it still made the hairs on the back of his neck snap to attention. "That EM interference came with the primary weapon, but not from it."
"But – it didn't do anything." Worry clouded blue eyes; David's face was lined with care, attention finally arrested.
"Maybe not yet. Maybe not anything we can see. But it did something, I'd bet on it."
The silence that fell then was full of ominous contemplation.
David jumped, biting back a yelp.
Steve grabbed at the phone just to shut the damn thing up. "Hello?" The voice on the other end treated him to the first good news he'd had in hours. Hanging up, the pilot grinned. He smacked David on one shoulder as he passed. "Hey. C'mon, leave that thing for later. We finally got our tow."
--Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital--
The throbbing in his head had only gotten worse when they'd landed, leaving him squinting past the distinct sparkling edging his vision. Not a migraine, not quite. Noises pounded deep inside his ears, but the light didn't stab his eyes. There had been a low-level ache hounding him since the - the death of Dr. Okun, but it hadn't been this bad –
"Daddy?" a soft whisper emerged from the spot of warmth curled against his side.
Whitmore cracked an eye open, tilting his head down from where it was leaning against the wall. At least this hospital had comfortable chairs. "What is it, Munchkin?"
There was a long silence as his daughter assessed him. My eyes, in Marilyn's face. "D'you feel any better?"
He couldn't lie to that face, but he wouldn't scare her either. "It's not that bad, sweetheart."
A moment later, he felt a small hand pat his knee. "Don't worry, Daddy. The doctor'll be here soon."
God. What a world; where aliens appeared out of nowhere trying to destroy the human race, where countries that couldn't see eye to eye plotted together to save one another. Where children comforted their parents. Did I really leave Connie and Will in charge?
The vice-president and joint chiefs were long since dead, buried under the rubble of NORAD. He didn't have a Secretary of Defense anymore, and his staff had been decimated. At least Will would make sure the country didn't go any further to hell while he "recovered", and Connie had a level head on her shoulders as well as a comprehensive grasp on the President's duties. It's just a damn headache.
There was a cursory knock before the door burst open. Whitmore jerked in surprise, setting off a barrage of internal bangs and thumps that made him wince. A dark-suited Secret Service agent entered, preceding a man braced by a cane who obviously hadn't bothered to shave since the attempted invasion. Whitmore opened both eyes, but didn't stand. "Dr. House, I presume."
The man's mouth twisted. "Mr. President. So. What brings you to my humble abode?"
Sarcasm. A nice change of pace.
"My daddy's not feeling well," his daughter piped up.
"Hnn. Let me guess," Dr. House thumped further into the room, blue eyes like a laser and disgust dripping from every syllable. "Headache?"
Fingers rubbing his temple, Whitmore worked up the energy to glare even though a tiny part of him was starting to be amused. No prizes for that one, Doctor. "Yes, as a matter of fact."
The doctor's eyes rolled. "Cumulative stress. Take two Excedrin, delegate to whatever members of your staff haven't gotten themselves blown up, and get some more sleep."
"I did that after the first twenty-four hours," Whitmore bit back. "It's just been getting worse."
That got him a flicker of interest. The doctor pushed himself up onto the examining table a scant two feet away, leaning down to peer closely at him. "How long have you had a headache, then?"
"A week, just about. As far as I can tell, it's the same one."
Dr. House frowned. "Describe the pain."
So he tried his best to find words for the fiery throbbing that licked at his brain; sometimes pounding out a tempo in his temples, other times a pickaxe behind his eyes. Sometimes diminishing, sometimes almost overwhelming, shifting and roiling throughout his skull and now a more constant companion than the stress and worry that came with presiding over America.
"Any nausea or vomiting?"
Whitmore swallowed, remembering the first startling slash of pain. "Right when it first started, but not since then."
"Abdominal pain? Fever?"
"None that I'm aware of."
"Any history of headaches?"
That made him pause. "Nothing like this. I'm not prone to migraines. I get tension headaches sometimes, from work, but nothing that won't clear up with a few Tylenol and some sleep."
Next, the flashing penlight came out. His daughter watched with undisguised interest as Dr. House had him follow a finger with his eyes, answering more questions about everything from his birthdate to his wife's favorite color as he muttered things like "pupils equal and reactive", and "mild photophobia."
That inquiry wrenched at his heart, but he answered regardless. It was whether he supported the Mets or Yankees that scraped the last of his patience away. "Just why is this necessary?" he strained through a throat caught tight with grief. Dr. House didn't glance his way, punching something into his pager.
"Standard neuro exam. Also, I was curious." The doctor didn't even look up as the Secret Service agent clenched his fists, knuckles cracking dangerously.
Fury reared up, red-hot and righteous, spiking agony through Whitmore's skull. He opened his mouth to say something, but the only sound that emerged was a pained grunt. Will wasn't kidding. This guy is a bastard. Any other time – when aliens hadn't almost destroyed the world, when his wife hadn't died – he might have been more forgiving. "You son of a bitch."
Dr. House snorted. "Is that the best you've got?"
"You should be nicer," a small voice cut in sternly.
Patricia was on her feet in front of him, little fists planted on her hips as she glared indignantly upward. "You're a doctor. You're supposed to be nice."
Dr. House clicked his tongue. "Only one out of two. I am a doctor. I'm supposed to fix people. That doesn't mean I have to be nice to them, especially if the people in question are incurably stupid."
"Daddy's not stupid!" she fired back immediately. One sandaled foot stomped irritably against linoleum. "You're stupid!"
Dr. House opened his mouth, presumably to cut loose another scathing remark.
Whitmore managed to speak first. "Patricia."
His daughter knew that tone of voice, but the hazel eyes that met his were shaded green with rebellion.
Whatever might have happened in that moment was interrupted by a second knock on the examination room's door.
--Outside Area 51 Main Complex, location undisclosed.--
Panic threw her into overdrive, adrenaline hitting her like a fist to the stomach. OhGod ohGod DYLAN oh God -
"Jazz, honey, listen t'me, okay?"
Hands, warm and gentle on her shoulders. Tugging, softly. She couldn't look away. Black metal shell, alien curves against American desert, sucking in the sun. Huge. Deadly. So very, very unfamiliar. "D- Dylan. Where's -"
"He's right here, babe. Dylan's right here."
Her eyes were locked on the spaceship. Heavy. So big. Her son so tiny, standing in its shadow. Moving, crushing him-
A murmur of low voices, ones she knew but couldn't make out with her focus so narrowed. Where's Dylan!
Jasmine gasped, feeling small fingers curl around her own. Her knees turned liquid, and she barely registered the heavy shaking that accompanied her drop to the ground. Dust kicked up from the desert floor, catching on the wind to blow back on them.
"Mommy, you're squishing me!"
Air sped into her lungs, gritty, dry, and tasting of relief. Anger seized her, and she loosened her grip on her son just enough to meet his gaze. "Dylan Michael Dubrow!"
Brown eyes skirted away from her, locking on scuffed sneakers.
None of that! Jasmine took a deep breath, feeling her whole body tremble. "You look at me, Dylan." She barely waited for her son's dark stare to meet her own before the worry and fear overflowed into anger. "You could have been killed! Don't you ever run off like that again, d'you hear me?"
Tears welled. "M'sorry," Dylan wailed, burrowing against her.
Pressed close against her, she could feel his heartbeat. It's okay. It'll be okay.
Comforting pressure on her skin, fingers resting over hers where they clutched at her son. "Jazz?"
"Babe? You okay?"
Her baby was safe in her arms; her husband's warmth spilled over her skin, comforting and protective. "Yeah," Jasmine breathed, blinking tears back as her eyes found Steve's. One hand rubbed soothing circles on Dylan's back. "Yeah, we're okay."
Steve's face tightened under the desert sun. "No -" her husband's lips pressed tight together, breath huffing through his nose. "Honey, the ship's powered down. It – it wasn't hovering by itself."
Sound crept back into her world, evident now by its absence. Where there had been the shouting of men manning machines, there was silence broken only by barely-audible murmurs. Jasmine blinked, able to see beyond her panic, beyond the image of her son frozen in fear as gravity grabbed the spaceship and pulled it down on him. David and Connie were a few steps away, worry spilling off them in waves. The cranes and huge trucks had been turned off, clusters of soldiers gathering in the shade.
Why's – Jasmine turned her head, just to make sure. Wide eyes and pure tension radiating from every group huddled in the meager shadows available from the sun's blasting rays. Everyone's staring. Then Steve's quiet words registered. "What d'you mean?"
Her husband took a deep breath. "The engineers said the ship's power source was damaged. It can't hover by itself. When the chains snapped -"
Her fingers dug into his arm in remembered panic; Jasmine clutched Dylan tighter. He was running all over. Staying out of the way, but not far back enough. And God, she'd just been so relieved to be alive, have her husband and son safe – It's my fault. I wasn't watching him close enough. Steve scooted forward, gathering them both against him. Dylan's tears were soaking her shirt, his small chest shuddering with hiccupping sobs.
"But it didn't fall." She didn't understand. Jasmine could feel the vortex a breath behind her; the sucking pull of worryfearhorrorDYLAN that had made the outside world disappear. Not going back there. "Babe. It was going to – but it didn't fall."
Strong arms tightened around her. "I – Jazz, I think that was you."
--Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital--
Wilson had answered hundreds of House's pages over the years, for everything from actual professional consults to plots for the latest trick calculated to throw the nursing staff into an uproar. He was prepared to find anything behind the door to room 351, up to and including one of the aliens that had so recently made them aware that they were not alone in the universe.
Still, seeing House in a face-off against a girl of no more than six with the President sitting in a chair against the wall wasn't quite what he had expected. It was no surprise that House's blunt manner had pissed somebody off; Wilson's disquiet was more localized to the dark-suited man who was clearly a bodyguard, poised a mere three steps from the President's side and glowering at the entire room. With a gun.
Great. This keeps up, someone's going to get shot. Something dark and cold curled strangling tendrils around his heart. Again.
Every head in the room turned toward him as he entered, closing the door behind him. Wilson held up his pager, gaze fixed on House. "You rang?"
"Took your sweet time getting here," House grunted, shooting one last sardonic glance at the little girl. Long dark hair, couldn't have been more than six, with a decidedly stern scowl on her face. Sticking out her tongue, she stomped back to the chairs where President Whitmore sat, and plunked down at his side.
What is that all about? Fighting back a surprised smirk, Wilson felt the jackhammer at his temples increase but managed to keep the pain off his face. "Interesting phenomenon, actually, you may have heard of it. Sick people show up at the hospital, expecting doctors to treat them. It's inexplicable, really."
That got him an untwisting of lips. Better than nothing.
Wilson stepped further into the room, tucking the black plastic pager back on his belt. "You need a consult?"
"Yep. Forty-one year old male with mixed headache syndrome and possibly a cluster headache or two thrown in there. Acute onset, duration approximately one-hundred seventy hours. And watch out for the brat. I think she bites." House twirled his cane even as President Whitmore's face clenched in a combination of anger and pain.
Surprise made it past the barrier of low-pulsing agony in his own skull. A week-long headache? Well, House wasn't wearing gloves, and the President's daughter had an expression on her face that boded ill for anyone thinking to get within an arm's length of her father. Forget the bodyguard – Wilson had been taken out before by children soured on the idea of a visit to the doctor by a close encounter with Greg House. He moved to wash his hands instead of shifting nearer to the patient. "I'm Dr. James Wilson," he introduced himself before anyone could speak, working antibacterial foam into a lather. "Welcome to Princeton-Plainsboro, I suppose. I hope you had a safe trip?"
Rinse, dry, and – gloves in hand, Wilson stepped a little closer, doing his best to stay out of whatever mental radius of protection the bodyguard and Patricia Whitmore had drawn around the President. One step at a time.
He met the young girl's eyes squarely, but spoke to President Whitmore. "There are several things that can cause severe headaches. I'd like to rule out the most obvious first. I'm going to check your ears and throat, if that's alright?"
Wilson waited, and was rewarded by a fraction of relaxation in the President as well as his daughter. As for the bodyguard – well, those guys probably never relaxed. "Fine," President Whitmore croaked, but the man wasn't quite as pale as when he'd first walked in.
Otoscope in hand, Wilson crouched. "Say 'Ahhh,'" he said wryly. Miniscule lines disappeared from around hazel eyes as the President calmed even further, clearly familiar with the drill. His daughter leant forward in her seat, still on-guard but obviously interested. The throat presented was pink and healthy, as well as devoid of tonsils. Clear. A request of "Ears," got the President to turn his head, but both were free of inflammation.
Nothing too obvious. Maybe it'll keep House occupied for a bit. Explaining each step, he gently palpitated the cervical lymph nodes just beneath President Whitmore's jaw, and applied careful pressure to the man's cheekbones without getting so much as a flinch. Wilson glanced back at House and the man looked like he was barely paying attention, but Wilson knew better. He's not caught, because there isn't a puzzle just yet, but not one snide comment in five minutes? He's interested. Or maybe just exhausted. They all were.
Well, at least I know what it's not.
But oh, this next step was going to be tricky. Neither daughter nor bodyguard looked like they'd be willing to detach themselves from President Whitmore's side, but the youngest definitely had to go. Maybe House . . .
The blue eyes that met Wilson's glance were infinitely amused, but for once House didn't seem inclined to let his acerbic manner get the job done. A sudden throb of pain took Wilson off-guard, eyes closing briefly on a sigh. I'm too tired for this. "Well, you don't have a sinus or ear infection," he listed, stripping thin rubber from his hands. "Your lymph nodes aren't swollen, throat's clear, and no fever, which would argue against something like a cold or the flu. I'd like to get a complete physical."
The President pressed at his forehead, rubbing briefly at one temple. "A full exam? But other than -" one hand waved in the direction of lank blondish strands, hanging sweaty and bedraggled, "this, I'm fine."
Wilson resisted the urge to shrug, balling up the used gloves in one fist. "If you are, headaches aside, then we'll get a CT scan and MRI, and hopefully see what's going on."
A line appeared between President Whitmore's brows. "An MRI? That sounds serious." The frown deepened, Whitmore's arm curling around the little girl clinging, limpet-like, to his side. "What exactly is your specialty, Dr. Wilson?"
"Well, it's not Diagnostics," Wilson muttered under his breath, searching for a way to answer without alarming the President. More than necessary, at any rate. Four quick steps brought him to the trash, giving the room's other doctor the space to wriggle from examination table to linoleum floor. "I'm -"
"He's the Head of our Oncology Department," House butted in, cane smacking against the ground. "Savior of the bald cancer-freaks, the champion of chemo, messiah of the metastasized -"
"Yes, exactly. Thanks for the glowing endorsement, House," Wilson said dryly, rolling his eyes. The edge of the countertop adjoining the room's small sink dug into his spine as he leant back, arms folding over his chest. So much for not alarming anyone. "If you're through terrorizing the patient?"
"What can I say," his friend muttered, a decidedly wicked twinkle peeping out from behind blue eyes. "I believe in truth in advertising."
Despite himself, Wilson felt a smile curling the edges of his mouth. The confusion in the three faces staring at them only made it worse. Well, at least there's still time to salvage -
House turned, leaning a little more heavily on his cane than usual. "Wilson's here to make sure you're not growing yourself a fat, juicy tumor."
The throbbing in his head increased exponentially; on their own, Wilson's fingers lifted to pinch the bridge of his nose. Or not.
Artificial light cast shadows over his subordinate's face as the man submitted his report.
Grey kept his shock under firm control. After spending the last week and a half dealing with an extraterrestrial threat of biblical proportions, he'd had good practice. "You're joking."
"No, sir." Mitchell's eyes were quite firmly fixed on the opposite wall. Stress was radiating off every inch of his frame; the Major kept his hands firmly folded behind his back, at perfect parade-rest. "There's two more cases of, ah, psychokinesis, besides Captain Hiller's wife. Plus a man whose mood changes every time someone goes near him, and another who's . . . seeing auras. An older woman who's started picking up images from objects. And a girl who's – um, sparking."
General Grey blinked at that. First aliens, now this. Whatever 'this' was. "Sparking?"
He could see Mitchell's throat bob as the man swallowed uncomfortably. "She's – throwing off miniature bolts of lightning, sir. They're down in the lab trying to get voltage and amperage measurements on it now, but she zapped one of the R&D guys real good. Accidentally."
Then again, I never had to report anything like this to my superiors. Grey could practically feel his blood pressure soaring. "Any chance that this is some sort of hoax? Or psychological disorder?" Please, let it be some sort of stress-induced hysteria.
But he knew in his gut it couldn't be.
Grey had seen combat, and post-combat nerves, PTSD, and everything that came with it. And none of those had ever included lightning bolts. Who the hell was he trying to kid?
Mitchell's mouth turned down in supreme discomfort. "No, sir. Definitely not. Base doctors are examining everyone who presented with – abilities, after the . . . uh, incident, this afternoon. Their preliminary report is at the end of the file."
Grey picked up the file – less than two hours old, and already over thirty pages thick. The doctors' report was a good third of it. Phrases jumped out at him. Telekinesis. Psychometry. Empathy. Tests inconclusive. And the one that kicked the unease swirling in his gut into churning tsunami. Physical cause as yet unknown.
The demographics were clear as well – the majority of the people coming in were from the wandering population of refugees who had taken shelter in Area 51 when the alien vessel had zeroed in on their location. A roughly equal distribution of men and women, ages ranging from fourteen to seventy-six. Only one, so far, was military personnel. All were American citizens.
What did those bastards do to us?
"Sir," Mitchell caught his attention as Grey lowered the file.
He hadn't liked Mitchell at first. Too pompous, too by-the-book, too rooted in denial when they didn't have time to waste and their people were dying or already dead, by the millions. But he'd snapped out of it remarkably quickly, and proven himself more than capable of upholding his duty. And protecting his people.
"There's a graph you should see. On page four."
Grey had skipped the beginning, getting to the most immediately pertinent information before he took the time to read through the entire report. Flipping back, he found the steep curve, hand-drawn on graph paper and punctuated by seven data points. The horizontal axis read Time, starting with the first satellite sighting of the alien craft and marking each attack up until and beyond destruction of the mother ship. The vertical was a much more shakily written Number of People Displaying Symptoms.
The dotted line projection continued its abrupt rise. Conservatively, thirty percent of the population who had been exposed to whatever was causing this would be showing signs within the next two to three weeks. It's a pandemic.
Unlike any one he'd ever heard of before – but how on Earth were they going to deal with this? How would the people afflicted adjust, what would the effects of this be? And what made those not affected immune? We need more answers. More doctors, more tests, more information. Grey saw the thirty-page file for what it really was; not a summary of what had been quantified, but an outline of just how much they didn't know.
The younger man's face was pale, the sweat along his hairline gleaming in the white-yellow light. "Yes, sir?"
Gray placed the folder with care on the table in front of him. I didn't want to do this. I don't want to do this. But there's no choice. "Call the President."