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Not much further now...
Shelter was round the bend... just... round the only bend in this interminably long, straight road. He knew it, though how he knew it he didn't for the moment remember.
But the distant bend that he had been aware of for far too long was exactly that - still distant. Once he reached it, though, stumbled round it, there would be shelter. Shelter from the relentless rain that battered his frozen body. Shelter from the cold wind that blew in his face, trying to push him backwards, hampering his efforts to make progress.
He should have reached the bend in the road by now!
Stumbling, he nearly fell; with an effort, he remained on his feet, knowing that if he did fall, he would find it more than difficult to push himself upright again, although crawling might be faster - there would be less of him for the wind to push against. He was exhausted; he had been walking for miles in this steadily worsening weather.
Odd, though; in a moment of clarity he realized he had expected there to be cars on the road, whether or not one stopped, its driver aware that anyone walking in these conditions had to have come from the car left standing forlornly at the side of the road... how far back?
But there had been no cars travelling in either direction in all the hours he had been walking down the road, at first striding out briskly, but now trudging wearily as only his stubborn will kept him walking - plodding - on.
If he could only reach that bend, get round the bend... there was shelter there. The garage where he had stopped for gas that morning. Yes; that was how he knew there was shelter there...
Stumbling again as he finally - finally - reached it, he staggered around the long curve... and saw only the road continuing, no garage in sight, no house, no shelter. Not even a tree he could stop under, sitting on the leeward side to give himself a breather, a brief respite from the wind and the unrelenting rain.
How long had he been walking? How far had he come since... since...
What had happened to his car? It had stopped, but why? He hadn't run out of gas, it hadn't made any weird noises to indicate a mechanical problem. He had been able to coast to the side of the road, stopping when the vehicle wouldn't be a hazard to other traffic...
Other traffic? Ha! What other traffic? There was none.
And that was weird...
Had he gone round the bend? Metaphorically as well as literally?
No. No, no, no. Even if he'd gone a bit crazy, he wouldn't have missed seeing other cars passing. It wasn't as if this was a back road, a rough track that was barely passable for a car. There had been a garage... he'd bought gas there - gas and a bottle of water. He'd debated getting a sandwich too, but even though they'd looked fresh - he knew too well that these sandwiches could be two or three days old, possibly even out of date, their 'use by' date conveniently hidden by a sticker - he hadn't felt hungry enough to spend the money.
How long was it since he last ate anything? He couldn't remember... This morning? Or some time yesterday? but he still wasn't hungry.
And to add to the weirdness... The bend in the road was a full right angle. The wind should be pushing him sideways... but it wasn't. He was still walking full into it.
He forced himself onwards, but he knew that he couldn't go much further without a rest.
And then, not too far distant, he saw a building... but when he finally reached it, he realized that it was a ruin; four walls, but no roof. There was a gap in the wall facing the road, obviously where there had been a door; he went through it. Inside the ruin, the walls at least protected him from the wind and the worst of the rain. The relief was incredible.
He crossed to a corner and sank down, glad to be off his feet. He couldn't afford to stay here for long - he had to keep moving, get to... get to where? No, he should have gone on after his car broke down, not back, the way he had... but he remembered... thought he remembered... getting gas and water, and the breakdown wasn't terribly long after that... was it?
Or was he misremembering? There was no sign of the garage, and he couldn't remember passing this ruin. Thec road was so featureless, he would have noticed it. Instead of turning back, had he carried on, intent on reaching... reaching where?
Where was he going?
He could hear the wind above his head as it rushed past the ruin, and shivered, glad of the respite. But he couldn't stay here long, tempting though it was to delay. He had to carry on. It was important that he reach... reach... where?
"How is he?"
Jim jumped, his attention so totally fixed on the man lying in the bed he had been taken completely by surprise, unaware of anyone entering the room. "Simon?"
"Yes, me Simon. How is the kid?"
Jim shook his head. "No change. He's still running a fever, and the doctors have no idea what's caused it. They don't think it's an infection. And Blair's not the only one - there are at least thirty other Rainier students hit by whatever this is. The best guess is that they all ingested something that's caused it, possibly something contaminated from one of the vending machines."
"So is anything being done to check that?"
"A couple of the hospital's research staff have gone over. They'll bring back samples of anything they think might be suspicious and test them."
"You don't sound confident."
"I'm not. I keep remembering the Golden incident. What if it's someone in the science department trying to come up with another designer drug, who found some way to test it on some of the students?"
Simon scowled. "Proving that... "
"I know. I should go to Rainier, do some asking around... but I don't want to leave Blair. Not until I know he's on the road to recovery. I've at least persuaded the doctor here to let me know if the check on contamination shows up anything."
"He'd have to, though," Simon pointed out, "because as Blair's designated next of kin you'd have to be told what caused the fever, once they found out."
Jim gave a wry, unamused grin. "I know. I just didn't want to take for granted that they'd remember."
"However," Simon went on, "I'll send Brown and Rafe over to Rainier, get them to ask around. I know they don't have your advantage when it comes to knowing if someone's lying, but they are good."
As Simon left, Jim turned his attention back to Blair, and drifted into the blankness of a zone as he listened to the unsettling sound of Blair's slightly elevated heartbeat.
It was nice to be out of the wind.
He was out of the rain, too, because it was being blown almost horizontal by the wind, so the wall he was crouching against was sheltering him from it as well.
But this was only a temporary respite; he had to go on. He had to force himself to leave this haven, had to go on, had to reach... where? Or was it... was it who?
Suddenly he realized that he was no longer alone. A man was sitting on the ground beside him, staring vacantly across the ruined building.
Jim? But... but Jim hadn't been with him. How had Jim managed to find him in this weather?
No answer. Oh, no - had Jim zoned out?
He reached out, put a cold hand on Jim's arm. "Jim. Jim, man, wherever you are... come back. I need you... "
Jim jerked back to full consciousness. "Blair?"
Blair blinked at him, still only half awake. "You were zoning... "
"You were unconscious," Jim whispered. "Yes, Chief, I was zoning... but you were unconscious. How did you know?"
"No... you were there, you found me sheltering, but you were zoning. I... "
"Where are we, Chief?"
Blair looked around. "Hospital?"
"What happened? I was trying to get somewhere but my car broke down and I kept on walking, but the weather was lousy - "
"No. You and a lot of other students collapsed quite early this morning. You all had a fever but the doctors don't know yet what caused it."
"Oh. Fever? But I was so cold."
Jim reached out to touch Blair's face. "You're still a bit fevered, but nowhere near as bad as you were. Do you remember... did you eat anything after you got to Rainier this morning?"
Blair shook his head. "Didn't need to - I had breakfast, remember? I did get some water from a dispenser - "
"That might have been it." Jim leaned over to press the call button, and seconds later a nurse came briskly into the room.
"Mr. Sandburg! You're awake! I'll get your doctor." She hurried out again.
"We thought you might all have eaten something contaminated, but maybe it was the water," Jim said. "You've been dreaming. So... your car broke down?"
"And it was raining and blowing a gale - if it had been snow you'd have called it a force ten blizzard."
"So what else is new? Take that dream as a warning, Chief - you need to get a new car!"
"Hey - my car's a classic, man!"
"No, Chief; even in the middle of the day - it's a nightmare."