Need a Hand


bella_icon.gif bao-wei_icon.gif

Scene Title Need a Hand
Synopsis Bella gives Bao-Wei what helping hand she can.
Date July 17, 2010

Staten Island Hospital


Bella has not seen or heard from Bao-Wei Cong in some time. She has kept to the upper levels, trying her best to parse his dense, technical notes, much of it far outside her range of expertise and experience, all while trying to demonstrate acceptable progress on her own project, covering the fact that she's splitting her focus. Deception and misdirection are more in her line, so while her work on Bao's notes is slow, her concealment is, so far, doing the trick.

But she needs help. Dr. Cong, to her best knowledge, doesn't have long. And she cannot do this alone, not in any time. She is simply not equipped. She needs to seek the man himself. The man in the subbasement.

Subterranean levels are naturally chillier than the upper levels of a structure, and Bella notes only, at first, that Bao seems to have given up on the sauna treatment he had embarked upon. Her heart sinks at this. It is, to her, a sign of failing hope. A sign of the descent into resignation. Bella descends, herself, taking step after step. By the time she reaches the stairwell door, her legs are getting gooseflesh under her pantyhose, her arm hairs prickling up in response to the noticeable chill. Was it this cold down here before? Is this normal?

She presses her hand to the door handle, and the metal is chill to the touch. She turns it, walks on. Step after step, and with each step the temperature edging down, down. Soon her breath is emerging as a ghost from between her lips, and the doctor has pulled her lab coat tight around her. Her beloved sundress is doing her no favors. The next door she finds causes her breath to catch, her hand jerking back at first as the handle contacts her skin. Cold. Too cold. This… this isn't normal. She depresses it slowly, pushes… but the door resists. She pushes harder, and the door gives with a faint crackle.

Ice particles drift through Bella's field of vision as she breaks the fine layer of hoarfrost that has spread, like petrified cobweb, against the inner surface of the door, that spans across the floor and the walls, that walls the hallway in at all sides. Bella's eyes widen, and she hesitates on this icy threshold. Her breath, coming faster as she tries to combat her dread, forms a pale cloud with each exhalation.

"Dr. Cong?" Her voice travels where her feet don't yet dare.

Sound travels so readily in the halls of the upper levels. Down here, it does the same, yet there is an absurdly lengthy echo as it goes. The syllable rings like a little shallow bell. Behind the door, the frost has gotten thick enough to cram at the hinges. She'll have to force it open. The walls are lined with a finer frosty layer, glass of windows fogged, the other doors crusted over. There is at least one patch of ice visible, along part of the floor ahead- a jagged, shining patch of frozen tile.

Nothing here, except the cold, and Bella's breath curling into obtuse forms in front of her nose.

Bella is unsure if she should proceed. She perceives no obvious or immediate danger, but as the overhead illumination grows dim from refracting through the coating of frost, she feels memories of far, far too many films in which nervous but incautious women creep through hallways despite numerous signs that they should just turn tale. Danger, after all, does not always announce itself before falling upon one.

What drives Bella's steps forward is a strange combination of professional resolve and personal pathology. She made a pledge to Dr. Cong and, after her last fuck up, she's dedicated to making good. She is dedicated to someone liking her again. As if winning over Bao-Wei would be recompense for the animosity she has stirred in so many, the regard she lost before she even had it in numerous people she has never met, but knows know of her.

She comes to this next door, and tries to clear the frost from the hinge with the sleeve of her lab coat. When this proves ineffective, she braces herself against the wall and tugs off one of her low heels, using the heel as an improvised pick. A couple minutes' work and she feels ready to give one side of the double doors a shot. She replaces her shoe, presses down on the handle, and pulls. The door creaks open with great reluctance as Bella puts her back into it, scraping a gleaming wedge of floor free of frost as it gives foot after difficult foot.

The dark hallway beyond is shrouded enough so that it is pitch black, the lights either having been turned off, or destroyed by atmosphere. Bella's pulling is rewarded as the door slides open, trailing a reluctant groan.

That is, up until something makes it draw back. And roughly. Roughly enough to possibly jolt Bella off balance by tearing the doorknob clear of her chilled hands. At least it does not slam. In fact, it remains open about eight inches, enough so that if she does try to battle the shadow behind it and look-

Nothing there, aside from a vaguely human hand clutching from the opposite hall. The fingers are clear, and the joints- but the entirety of it is a rather unsettling color of blackened ice, four pointed fingertips curling on the opposite handle tinged with red. The thumb is the same, pressing onto the frosty metal. If she looks hard enough- there is very much a hand under there. Barely. Bones, scraps of flesh, frozen in place.

Bella gives a sharp, high pitched cry of fear. No steely nerved dame, this one. She's just a nice, well bred suburban girl who likes life in the big city. Her arms flail out to either side as her start upset her balance on the slick, frost floor. Her equilibrium shot by fear, her compensations becoming over-compensations and demanding further compensations, Bella soon finds herself landing hard on her rear, a yelp of pain to follow her cry of startlement. She folds her arms about herself, shivering as she stares at the now-ajar door. She gets very carefully to her feet, and steps, slowly, to peek through the aperture.

Oh god no. A hand?

Bella doesn't feel sick. She's a doctor, meat is meat. But this is something out of simple horror. This is something nightmarish and twisted and she feels the urge to get the hell out of there right away.

She doesn't though. She stays put, staring in half-tharn at the proverbial cold, dead fingers. Taking a a few deep, calming, but painfully cold breathes, she reaches out and attempts to pry the hand free of the handle.

It apparently doesn't occur to her that whatever was attached to the hand mere seconds ago- may still be there. It is. He is.A shape looms there in the dark. behind the other part of the door, a dull sheen on black- and out of the shadow of there comes another limb.

It resembles a limb, anyway. In this case, it is more of a giant, smooth textured crab that reaches out of the dark. Three thick, hooked phalanges stretch out, crackling, tips crawling into visibility by hooking around the still closed door's edge, near Bella's head as she is watching what she is doing. Each talon is as least as wide as one of her hands. The limb they are attached to is void of an actual hand shape, or palm, directly poring into the dark as a hefty cylinder of ice. The last thing is a thumb, however vestigal it seems, hooking up beside its fellows.

There is nothing to voice.

This is when Bella actually screams. A hand is a hand, she's seen them before. She worked triage after the Bomb. She's used to disembodied limbs and the sight of skin, terrible burned. But human limbs, and human skin. Not talons and chitin. She loses her balance again, stumbling back dropping the hand on the ground where its layer of ice cracks in a white webwork. She scrambles back, putting desperate distance between herself at that thing. She's hyperventilating, her head spinning, her heart hammering in her chest. She's scared. She's very scared. And she doesn't have a God to pray to.

Some time comes before anything happens, those claws sitting so very still on the edge of the door. They shift down, scraping on the metal lining down towards door handle.

"…May I have that back?"

The voice from behind the door growls, draconic- a hollow echo underlies it, originating from what sounds like a cavernous set of lungs. Or what used to be. But the volume, intones- the little things- are all too familiar.

That's not… is it? But then, who else would it be? But how could it be?

Bella extends her foot and, after a moment's trepidation, gives the dismembered hand a kick, sending it skimming smoothly, ice on ice, across the floor and to the gap in the door. She looks back up at the claw, trying to calm herself. Closing her eyes won't do any good, and she can't bring herself to look away. She's not quite able to speak yet. She's still working on regaining full motor control.

As the paw coasts down the door, it leaves in its wake a thin layer of white, foggy frost. Soon enough, it unlatches wholly, unfurling like a great bird to pick up the misbegotten hand. The digits curl in on it, crushing it into an apparent palm on the other side. Flakes of ice float into the air as it is demolished with ease. There is nothing left but bits of splintery bone and dried, black flesh when the claws open up again. The pieces left behind simply hit the floor and skitter further apart.

When Bella's voice returns, it seems to have some trouble settling in. It seems, too, to be effected by the cold, a verbal shiver in the form of a stammer. "D- d- d-…" she begins, her shoulder beginning to shake violently, both from the adrenaline that was dumped so suddenly into her veins, and the all-encompassing cold. She wraps her arms tightly about herself, grips, squeezes, pulls herself together. When she opens her mouth again, more than mist issues forth. Those same exploratory words, with an inquisitive lilt at the end.

"Doctor Cong?"

It may be an affirmative noise, or it may be residual sound. A grunt, of air being released from a captive space, issues from behind the door as the set of huge claws threatens to sink back again. The insides are now stained a faintly red color.

"Your effort has been most admirable, but I no longer require what you presumed I needed. I am not literally dying- metaphorically speaking- I am already." Speaking longer this time, his voice is indeed too familiar to mistake. His sound may have changed to something monstrous in itself; his mannerisms, on the other hand, cannot be lost.

"…There is no return from this."

Who is she to argue? Bella is not the sort to argue that humanity can never be truly lost. She doesn't even consider humanity a terribly admirable thing. An illusion, a dream ideal people use to cover up the real monstrosity of humanity.

Cynicism is easy when you are faced with no real terrors, however.

It's fear, then, that keeps her from trying to counter Bao-Wei's assertion. The body and the mind are one, Bella knows this, having been taught to tend to both. What changed form can change consciousness, and Bella cannot presume to know what Dr. Cong's appetites may have become, what new predilections may be tucked under his new skin. She very, very carefully gets to her feet, taking another moment to be sure she does not stammer when she speaks.

"Are there any arrangements you need made? Anyone I should inform?" Any virgin sacrifices needed? Bella can make things happen.

Another rush of air, this time thin- a hiss of it- steaming from between what may be left of his teeth, putting a cloudy plume of white out of the space.

"I have no one. Not anymore." Nobody to tell, that he will never be back. Not anymore.

"Lock the lower levels. Please."

"You… remain my colleague," Bella manages, smoothing her lab coat, standing before the darkness beyond the door, staring into, at the invisible and the unknown, "If you should require anything… I remain at your disposal. If you need to contact me…" she pauses, "Is there some way I could provide?"

It is sad, in some faint way, that Bao-Wei Cong has only one physical person in the entire world left to turn to in remotely good faith.

"…No." The response comes after a long, silent pause. "Goodbye, Isabella."

Bella gulps. That is as final as it gets. She pulls herself to her full height, and then dips in a bow. Not faltering. Not hesitating, not beyond the first moment of gathered resolve, directed intention.

"Goodbye, Bao-Wei."

She rises from the bow, stands there for a second. That's it then? Very well. She turns, and carefully walks across the gathered frost, heading towards the doors. She draws each of them close as she goes, with a grind and a 'clank', each door putting more distance between herself and what was once Bao-Wei Cong. Putting more distance between herself and that killing cold. When she reaches the last set of doors, she extracts a key from her pocket, and secures the first lock.

Bella understands the need for solitude. It's psychologically important, for us to have seclusion when we need it. This may be her last attempted act of kindness for her erstwhile colleague. Maybe this will be sufficient recompense.

It may not matter either way.


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