Thank you, 'Just a Reader', for correcting my numeric blunder, sorry 'bout that.

Chapter Eleven.

More heat. Olivia picked a direction and ran.

The soles of her boots were made of 70% recycled rubber, and they were melting and sticky, now. The rest of her clothing steamed as the rain water escaped, clinging to her limbs as she moved. The marble floor had somehow crumbled to give way to steel mesh and boiler plating, and she was terrified that at any moment the steel would give away, dropping her into the hot, dull glow beneath. Ash flittered about like a snow globe, brushing her face like moth wings as she sprinted, calling again, "Walter!" Something about the world around her had grown so loud, it was hard to hear her own cry.

Melted plastic ran down the walls in long, globby strings, boiling and sizzling into dust as it met the floor. The flashlight leapt away from her hip and Olivia scrambled for it, her fingertips only brushing it before in struck the steel and splintered, pieces scatting across the floor before jointing the back plastic ooze slowly bubbling and dripping out of site. She cursed and stumbled to a halt, the last of the steam of her clothing whisping away like a ghost to be swallowed up by the heat.

She had chosen the right direction. The hulking, dark form of the helmeted creature from the hotel lumbered forward, his skin splotched with red, angry burns and slashes. He limped, as he drug his long, cruel blade with him, jagged angles perforating the steel as he went. He paused, now, his helmet angling back and fourth, as if searching for her.

Olivia's next breath burned in her throat, as she chanced a sidelong glance to an empty doorway, heat blurring the edges of the ingress. It was all she had. With a last look back at the cage-headed beast, she made for the room. Inside was stiflingly hot, small, cluttered with an oversized hospital bed, overturned. She scrambled over it, wedging herself behind the cover of a ruined chair, hugging her knees to her chest and clutching her crowbar tightly.

The noise around her appeared to have vanished quite suddenly, and his footsteps were somehow perfectly clear; thump, scrape, thump. Thump, scrape, thump. Thump, scrape, thump. It was almost the rhythm of her pulse, now, growing louder and closer. But her heart seemed to seize in her chest, when she knew he had stopped before the doorway.

Thump. Thump. Silence. Had that been her pulse? It was so hard to tell, her head was throbbing with pain.

Scraaaaaaape.

Something inside her shoulder moved. Olivia had to slap her hands over her mouth to keep from screaming, as her skin was separated from her muscle in a sick ripping noise. She swallowed down her whimpering as her shoulder moved again, her scab tearing open and blood beginning to seep down her back, drying her shirt to her skin in the thick heat. It felt as if something were chewing and clawing as it drove itself deeper into her shoulder, and Olivia squeezed her eyes shut, uncontrolled tears of pain blurring her vision.

Thump. "Olivia?" He rasped, his voice a deep whisper, like death rattle.

Olivia's eyes sprang open in horror, the pain of her wound momentarily forgotten as realization settled her wild thoughts, killing them with a chilling shiver that trembled her entire body, her pores boiling with sweat. Acid dried the back of her throat.

Thump, scrape, thump. Thump, scrape, thump.

It was Peter.

xXx

Exhaustion was a strange thing. Pure, dead exhaustion, where her thoughts and movements slurred together only to be separated by pure, instinctual feelings; thirst, hunger, cold, ache. Her shoulder had stopped behaving strangely after He had gone; taking the heat with him, but still her wound throbbed and burned, as if infected. Perhaps she could find Walter, and he could look at it.

She no longer called out for Walter, she hadn't in the fear that He might return. She merely continued onward, now, shivering in the cold fog that had returned, as quietly as she could manage, methodically checking each room, pausing if she heard a noise, perhaps not as carefully as she should have.

Olivia could not recall when or why she fell, only how badly her skin itched and burned; her shoulder was on fire, and she let out a small cry as she shifted, trying to rise, and her shirt tugged away from the wound, a strange, musky smell filling her nostrils. Something inside the gash moved again, and she tensed with dull pain, too exhausted to utter protest. Her slow shuffling made her appear as a crushed bug on a window, dragging her limbs about feverishly, slower and slower.

"Nurse."

Olivia heard her breath escape her lips in a whisper, feeling a warm touch on her cheek, "Walter," she murmured, shutting her eyes.

"Nurse, this patent appears to have gotten lost. Please escort her back to her room, and see that she is comfortable."

"Walter, what are you...?" She suddenly felt arms wrapping around her, lifting her, moving her. Her shoulder throbbed, and she mustered a sobbing cry, "Walter!"

"I'll be in to examine her shortly." His blue eyes were dark, no shine of mirth or warmth in them. She only knew him from his voice, his face had changed so much, "Until I arrive, please sedate her."

Her head was cocked against the pillows at a strange angle; her arm under her had fallen asleep, feeling cold and foreign. She curled her fingers against the linens to be sure they were still her own.

"Scalpel."

Her head felt foggy and thick, and her nose was running. She instinctively moved to wipe her lip, but found she could not. Instead, her eyes eased open a sliver, too dull to squint in the glare of the operating lights.

Steel hit steel, and Walter uttered another command, behind his mask, "Forceps. Hold that open. Yes, just like that."

There was a long, pulling sensation, in her shoulder, as if he were pulling out the muscle, when he applied the long, steel tweezers to her open shoulder. Otherwise, she felt nothing.

Walter stilled, his eyes widening behind his thick framed magnifying lenses, "Dear god," His eyes did not leave his task as he demanded, "A jar, give me a jar."

A shill chattering filled the air, high-pitched screaming, as the large beetle struggled under the grip of the forceps, jagged limbs trembling and feeling the air for grip, ash color darkened to black under the tint of the blood, "A jar!" Walter demanded, using both hands to hold the insect at bay. Needle-like pincers nipped at him as it continued to scream.

A faceless nurse hurried to hold up a yellowed glass Mason jar, and Walter plunged the thing inside, pinning it against the bottom of the jar as he scrambled with the lid. He withdrew the forceps and clapped the jar shut, the beetle leaping to get out, screaming muted, and he twisted down the lid quickly, peering inside. The insect shivered the blood free of its four wings, and he breathed "Incredible."

How corny, Olivia thought blurrily, it's like some b-rated horror film. Like the ones Astrid and Walter watch, in the lab at three in the morning. A bug? How is that scary? How did it even live in that girl's shoulder?

And she could almost hear Walter telling Astrid, It's possible. Insects search out food and shelter, good places to lay their eggs. When it hatched, it would have eaten her muscle tissues and burrowed in deeper and deeper, until the infection was too sever and the host started to die.

Assuming it only laid a single egg.

Walter was watching her now, as the small, drugged-up smile slid back and fourth across her face, and his eyes looked more like his own now; grave and full of sadness, "You shouldn't have seen that," he said, and removed his eyes from hers, "Nurse, more morphine."

xXx

Olivia awoke as if from a nightmare, and for a few, fleeting seconds, she wondered if it had been- if she would be warm and safe, now, with Walter holding her and Peter laughing at her awkwardness from the doorway.

It was not.

The roof above her was discolored plasterboard, frilly rings of water damage like bad camouflage, and the overhead lights were naked of covers, bulbs cataract white and specked with grey, long burnt out. It was the same brightness as when she had fallen in the hall- how long had she been unconscious? Did it matter? Did time even pass, in this place?

Her breathing was lighter now, Olivia realized, and she shifted to sit up, her shoulder and chest tight with bandages, under her tattered tee shirt. Her jacket was draped on a nearby chair, her boots at her bedside. She was leaning out to gather them when a figure appeared in the doorway, and she froze.

The nurse shambled forward, arms outstretched, and Olivia searched about wildly for her crowbar, finding nothing, and she tried to scramble backward, before her shoulder gave weakly and she found herself sprawled out on the bed once more, struggling to rise.

Grey arms pinned her down, freakishly strong as dirty nails dug into her skin, and Olivia strained away from the horrifyingly blank visage that loomed over her own, shifting to kick before another seemed to appear amidst the commotion, gabbing her legs, "Walter!" she found herself calling.

The nurses stilled.

"What in the world is going on here?" Someone demanded from the doorway, and the nurses' heads whipped around, necks cracking at the unnatural motion, "Unhand that woman immediately, she is a patient in my charge."

The two creatures released her almost immediately, straightening and shuffling away. They stood nearly at attention as they faced Walter, heads tilted, awaiting his command.

Walter's hands were in the pockets of his stained lab coat, and he was frowning crossly, "Out." he nodded his head backward, "Allow us to convene privately, if you would. Find some more bandages or something, make yourself useful." And they limped out.

Olivia only gaped from the bed, "Walter... what the hell is going on?"

"How are you feeling?" Walter asked as he shut the door, "I'm sorry for the fright, I fear that I have to be strict, with a staff like this..."

"What are you talking about? What are those things?" Walter sat at her bedside, taking the sides of her face in his fingertips to peer into her eyes.

He smiled, "To be perfectly honest, I have no idea. I think they fancy themselves nurses, if I'm not mistaken. And they seem to be entirely useless, without a doctor to give them orders."

"You?" Olivia questioned in disbelief, "They... they listen to you?"

"Sometimes. I have to be strict with them, but they're sweet girls," Walter moved to begin pulling down the collar of her shirt, checking her shoulder.

Olivia thought back to the way they moved and clicked, and rubbed her bruised wrists with a wry smile, "Sweet girls, huh?"

Walter paused, and a small blush touched his face, "They're busty, too," he added with a wink and a grin that made his face look even dirtier.

She couldn't tell him about Peter.

"I think it would be best," Walter continued, raising a hand to touch her forehead with his wrist, "if you addressed me as 'Dr. Bishop', for the time being. I know it seems strange, but the girls seem to be of the jealous type, and I think it would be safer if they continued to believe that I had no concern to your condition other than professional."

"Alright," Olivia responded.

"As far as I can tell, you're doing well. The infection is gone, and your fever seems to have broken. I cleaned your shoulder as best I could, and that bandage should hold you at least a little while. I'm gathering a few supplies, and when you're feeling well again, we should be able to set off in rescuing Peter."

Olivia swallowed, and nodded, "What about something to clear our heads?"

Walter shook his head sadly, "There was nothing. It seems we have only out wits to keep us- meaning I'll need you at top performance to get us out of here alive, agent Dunham."

xXx