And after the short delay (and a change of betas)...
The past twenty-four hours had been chaotic in Polaris Institute. The Rockets eventually disappeared from the complex, no doubt retreating to prepare for another attempt. The Inner Ring was in shambles. Most of the data the research team had gathered was lost to the destroyed computer banks, and the laboratories were left in debris (mostly caused by the chaos and panic of an army of Rockets storming the halls). Already, many members of the team relocated to the Median Ring while many others struggled to salvage anything they could from the destruction. Meanwhile, the Institute was quiet. The outer gates were locked, and the laboratory doors of the Outer Ring were shut tightly – all part of the citadel's computerized self-defense system.
In the infirmary of the Outer Ring, Nettle and Oak stood over one of the hospital beds, next to a Nurse Joy trained in general medicine. All three of them looked down at the occupant of the bed with solemn faces. Bill lay stretched on the bed in an anesthetic-induced sleep and had been for the past several hours. A cotton sheet covered up to his hips, while his chest with the parasite still half-buried in his flesh remained exposed. Long bumps radiated from the parasite, as if snakes slithered under his skin.
"What do we do now?" Nettle muttered. "We lost both McKenzie and the specimen."
Ignoring her for lack of a response, Oak turned to Joy. "What's the latest news?"
Joy shook her head. "I'm sorry, Professor. Officer Jenny is working as quickly as possible to get the security system disarmed. We won't be able to get a surgeon here and ready to operate until tomorrow morning. Until then, my chansey and I have been sedating him. It's the only thing we can do."
Oak closed his eyes and exhaled. Nettle, meanwhile, crossed her arms.
"So, do we wait until it devours him before we can get the specimen?" Nettle asked.
At that, Oak opened his eyes and cast her a grave glance. When he spoke to her, his voice was emotionless. "We aren't letting him die. If there's anything we can do to help him, we will. In the meantime, the chemistry team found eggs in the green substance you took from the rattata. I heard they've hatched only a couple hours ago. Go on and use one of the newborns. I know the team can't wait much longer."
She hesitated slightly in an attempt to read his expression. Oak hadn't slept for nearly two days straight. How could he? Between inspections, reports, repairs, and ensuring the well-being of everyone who should be in the complex (and the ejection of those who weren't), there was absolutely no time to so much as breathe. His weariness was taking a toll on his sense of humor, although given the fact that he adamantly refused to believe one of his own colleagues was about to die, she couldn't blame him. Nonetheless, her own weariness was affecting her own patience with the man.
"That's not exactly my point," Nettle responded flatly. "With all due respect, you realize that there's nothing that can be done to save him, right? We don't even know what it's doing to him right now! Those things under his skin. What are they? What will happen if we try to remove them?"
Ignoring her again (for lack of a response without any evidence to back it up), Oak turned to Joy. "Has anyone notified Professor and Mrs. McKenzie of Goldenrod City?"
Joy blinked and shook her head. "No. We were waiting for your word."
Oak sighed. "I'll contact them. They'll want to know. Maybe we can get them to come see him in the next few days."
Nettle frowned slightly. "Even you think he has little time left."
Turning towards her, Oak gave her a forced smile. "Professor Nettle, until Bill recovers, I'm afraid you'll have to work with three people on your team instead of four. In the meantime, I'll call his family. Cornelius McKenzie. He's working with the Johto branch in New Bark Town, isn't he?" He paused slightly and looked towards the ceiling in thought. The question wasn't directed towards anyone in particular, but he still hesitated as if to wait for someone to respond. "Yes, I think that's right. It's only right that he and his wife know that an accident's happened."
Without another word, Oak turned and swiftly walked from the room.
Night in Polaris Institute usually found the halls of the Median Ring almost devoid of people. A few researchers continued to work on the new hatchlings in the laboratories. Otherwise, activity was transferred mostly to the Outer Ring, and even then, most personnel had retreated into their respective dormitories by midnight.
Just after one in the morning, a whistle floated down the hall. One of the janitors, a bulky man in a gray jumpsuit, wheeled a yellow bucket past the doors of each laboratory. Every so often, he stopped and drew a mop out of the bucket. With a wet smack, the mop's medusa head hit the linoleum floor and left a shining trail of soap and water across the cold surface. Unaware of much of his surroundings besides his work, the janitor continued to whistle a lively tune as he pulled and pushed the mop and dunked its head into the bucket every now and then.
He didn't realize anything was watching him. With his back turned towards the areas he'd already mopped, he failed to notice the small, red glow traveling quickly towards him. The thick polyester of the jumpsuit blocked the feeling of the parasite's legs climbing up the back of his calf, thigh, and torso. It wasn't until the parasite found a patch of flesh just above his collar when he finally felt something: the sensation of a pinch. Slapping his neck, he felt only something small, cold, and wet, just like the surrounding sweat-drenched skin. Shrugging, he continued pushing along the hall.
Daybreak came five hours later. By then, the janitor retreated into his room, unaware that anything was wrong. He was fast asleep by the time the institute's only operating room erupted into a flurry of panic.
Bill lost track of how much time he spent asleep. He'd retreated into a haze less than a half an hour after the thing burrowed into his chest. Since then, he had been dreaming.
The dreams were strange and incomprehensible. At some points, he had torn off his own skin to find that a metal exoskeleton slick with his blood and the parasite's acid had oozed from unseen pores to cover his body. His bones slipped out of his hands to leave behind flesh-colored gloves, and in their places were silver masses with sharp claws for fingers and garnets in the palms. He would have thought them beautiful if their creation wasn't so grotesque.
He dreamt of internal changes. As if he had eyes inside his body, he watched organs melting, reforming, reshaping, and rearranging to take on new and strange functions. Twice, he died in this dream, but it brought him back – the second heart pulsing on his chest as it reached inside him and pumped him full of its light until his organs throbbed again. It was so warm. Too warm.
The other dream, woven between inner and outer transformations, was the most horrifying of all. Bill knew he should have felt pain. The thing inside him was ripping him apart and reassembling him just as violently. Yet, he felt nothing. He could remember no pain, no torment, nothing to indicate that he was suffering.
Someone else did it for him.
Helpless inside his own mind, Bill could only watch his body move as if it wasn't his. It thrashed. It screamed. It struggled desperately as Nurse Joy's team of chansey tried to restrain it. Between these moments were gaps in which he sensed morphine crawling through his veins or watched his bones crack and reassemble.
He saw glimpses of people he knew. Professor Oak hovered over him at one point. Bill could hear the elder's voice, but it said nothing to him. It was gibberish, spoken with a distant tone. The strips of skin Bill (or whatever was acting in his place) had ripped off his own body were being taken away at those moments along with little red vials of liquid Nurse Joy prepared. (He never felt the needle or the tourniquet, let alone his blood rushing out of his veins.) For the life of him, he couldn't understand why.
Sometimes, there were people he didn't know. At one point, he found himself under bright lights. That caused a flurry of screams and shouts from voices he'd never heard before. Someone masked – a surgeon – stood over him, looking from his face to the people around him.
Bill felt no pain then, even though he knew he was bleeding. He wasn't sure how he knew. In any case, his body reacted, convulsing and crying out without his consent. Something lashed out from his side. It was a flash of red and silver – something he knew he never had before the dream began. Whatever it was, it slashed across the surgeon's wrist, the one that led to the hand that held the scalpel.
There was a spurt of red. He could almost taste the surgeon's blood on his lips, and that seemed to aggravate his body. The surgeon screamed and backed away, and his hand rolled off Bill's chest and onto the floor.
From his place somewhere behind his own eyes, Bill heard the wet thump of dead flesh on tile, but for whatever reason, his brain refused to make sense of it.
Another gap stretched across his memory. Darkness became more frequent than the few glimpses of the dream he had. There were times when he saw himself being wheeled down the corridors between the Rings. He could swear he was strapped down, but because his body didn't react for once, he couldn't move to see. All he had was simply the feeling that he was confined.
Then, there was the glimpse of the empty room, bright white with a bed and a table and a window.
That last image repeated itself several times before finally, he turned over to fall into deeper sleep.
It was a terrifying dream – one that he felt was almost over. But that's all it was.
"I don't think it's appropriate to think about euthanasia."
Oak crossed his arms and shifted uncomfortably on his feet. The word felt so dirty, and it left a sour taste on his tongue. He gave Nettle an uncertain glance, tearing his eyes away from the window for just a moment.
For the past several days, he'd been in and out of that room, a room that he'd set up to look almost exactly like Laboratory F. The difference (other than the fact that, given that it was the Median Ring, the doors didn't lock quite as tightly as he'd like) was that beyond the window, instead of a massive tank full of blood-tinged water, there was another room. In that room, for the past several days, his young colleague had been fading in and out of consciousness. It scared him to know that when Bill woke up next, there was no way to tell whether it would be him or whatever attacked a number of doctors.
Nettle seemed to know this fact, even if he never voiced it.
"With all due respect," she said, "he cut off the hand of a surgeon, Professor. One of the finest brought in from Cinnabar's hospitals. What's more, we're not even sure what he used to do it." Her eyes trailed back to the window. "Whatever it was, it was not human."
"I know, but…" Oak paused to think of the best words. "This is Bill. He couldn't have meant to do it."
Nettle frowned. "McKenzie might not have meant to do it, but we're not sure who or what that is in that room."
Oak shook his head. "We can't just give up hope that we've lost Bill completely. After all, it wouldn't be right to let a colleague die when there may be something we can do to help him. Besides, you know how I feel about euthanasia."
"They put down growlithe that get too unruly."
At that comment, Oak frowned, but his voice held no trace of anger. "I'd rather see them be released into the wild."
Although Nettle knew better, she couldn't help but raise her eyebrows. Her mouth drew back into a tight but amused smile.
"Are you proposing to release McKenzie into the wild?" she asked. "Perhaps we can send him to Hoenn with his fellow monsters."
"He's not a monster."
Nettle shook her head as her smile faded. "Perhaps McKenzie wasn't. However, the creature we're dealing with now is not McKenzie. Remember, Professor, if you say McKenzie would never attack another human being, then what attacked those doctors?"
Oak furrowed his eyebrows. "It's too early to think about putting him to sleep. He was a human being." He paused and rubbed his forehead. "I think it would be best to wait until we learn a bit more about him."
"How long do we wait?" Nettle asked without bothering to mask her irritation. "Until he kills someone? And what about the parasite? What if it finishes whatever it's doing to McKenzie, detaches itself, and tries to do the same thing to someone else?" Her voice lowered to a harsh whisper. "We still don't know what we're dealing with here."
"Bill won't hurt anyone. I'll make sure of that, and anyway, even if he attacked Dr. Hawthorn in the operating room, he's still a reasonable human being inside. Maybe there's a part of him that remembers."
"A part of him that remembers," Nettle echoed before Oak could respond to her other question. "Of all the ridiculous things…"
She shook her head once more and looked through the window at the silver creature lying on the bed. From the back, she couldn't see his claws or the parasite nestled in his chest. All she could see was the shiny surface, segmented with a pair of small spikes on the shoulder blades. He looked like an armadillo that way, curled on his side with each sheet of metal angled slightly away from his body. His legs were covered by a thin, white sheet, and behind them, something moved every so often. He'd lost the soft, green curls crowning his head sometime during the transformation (namely, at the time he'd been busy ripping off his own skin), and in their place were silver bristles, still growing to cover his head like a wire brush. In the middle of the field of bristles, two rounded horns rose from both sides of his head, horns with dull points and no apparent purpose. Nettle could only wonder if they would become just as dangerous weapons as the creature's limbs.
"Perhaps there may be an alternative," she said.
Oak looked her way. "Alternative? What did you have in mind?"
"Conditioning," she replied. "We can bring in a hypno or other pokémon capable of hypnosis to control his behavior. If not, we could possibly train him to restrain himself in the presence of human beings."
Oak raised his eyebrows. "Hypnosis? That sounds a little extreme, Professor Nettle."
Nettle sighed. "Professor, I don't mean to overstep my boundaries, but you must stop thinking of him as your colleague. He is a dangerous creature now, one that could seriously hurt members of this organization if we leave him unchecked. One that already has."
At her words, Oak swallowed hard and looked back towards the window. She had a point; Bill could seriously injure someone. As difficult a fact as it was to accept that, Oak had no choice but to admit it was true, especially after the incident in the medical wing and how much trouble the staff went through to restrain him and transport him to this room. As much as he respected Bill, he knew Nettle was right about needing to confine him now too. Yet, on the other hand, he couldn't help but continue thinking of the creature in the other room as being human – or a living creature at all, not some vicious monster that had to be put down or forcibly controlled. His frown deepened.
"I'll call the Committee," he said. "Maybe they can shed some light on what should be done."
Nettle heaved a small sigh. "You don't have much of a choice, Professor."
Oak turned towards the door, but before he walked away, he forced himself to smile. His expression was weak and weary, but it held the flicker of warmth he had several days ago.
"If it was you in that room, Professor Nettle, I think you'd want me to ask the Committee too," he said.
He waited for her response. When he saw her merely stare at him, he gave her a firm nod and a reassuring smile, though she wasn't quite sure why he was reassuring her at all. With that, he walked quickly beyond the rows of computers and out the door.
She stood where he'd left her. For several moments, she waited, turning over his last words in her mind. Eventually, she turned back to the window and peered at the subject, still lying quietly in the bed. One of her pale hands reached up to adjust her wire-rimmed glasses as a scowl crossed her lips.
"Weak old fool," she murmured.
When the dream receded and Bill felt his body for the first time in days, he awoke with a start. Immediately after, he wished he hadn't. The pure, white walls reflected the light of the fluorescent lamp overhead (despite the fact that the light itself was fairly dim), and as a result, the transition between perfect darkness and intense white sent a stabbing pain through his eyes. He winced, shutting his eyes tightly and turning his head away for a moment. Slowly, he opened one eye and let it adjust to the light. Then, he opened the other and blinked several times until he could finally see.
The second sensation he felt was a shiver running through his body. He wasn't cold. In fact, he was actually quite warm, but it was his muscles. Each one felt like a vibrating current was running through them. On top of that, he felt like he barely had any energy, and his stomach felt like it was trying to twist itself into a knot. He groaned, the sound rumbling painfully in his throat as he curled a bit tighter into a ball. Eventually, he was aware of the thin blanket covering him, and in a futile attempt to stop himself from shivering, he tried to pull at it to cover the rest of his body and convince it that it wasn't cold.
That, naturally, didn't work. Doing his best to keep himself from getting frustrated at what minimal control over himself that he had, Bill opted for ignoring the shivering altogether. Instead, he craned his neck and peered at as much of the room as he could. It was exactly the way he saw it in his dream. The bed was in the middle of the room, and across a small gap was a metal table with only one chair placed beside it. There were no other furnishings in the room, nothing to use to amuse himself. The walls were bare except a door on the wall to his left and window beside it through which, from that angle looking over his shoulder, he could only see the tops of machines. Otherwise, no windows looked towards the outside, and no pictures decorated the walls.
Well, this is rather austere, Bill thought. It was a trivial matter, but he felt he had to keep himself thinking.
Carefully, he forced himself to sit up, keeping his eyes on the window. His stomach continued to radiate pain, to which he responded with a wince and a slightly more violent shiver. Exhaling a shuddering breath, he wrapped his arms around himself.
Instantly, he knew something was wrong.
He heard the sound of metal on metal and felt his fingers trail along something smooth and hard. An overwhelming sense of fear gripped his mind as he felt his breathing grow slightly more rapid. Slowly, he looked down at his hands to find the silver claws from his dream. A shudder ran down his back again as he carefully lifted them in front of his face to examine them carefully. The smooth surfaces of the red jewels in his palms glinted in the light, and the sharp edges of his claws seemed to shine.
With a shocked cry, Bill pushed himself out of the bed and nearly fell to the floor. Instead, he stumbled to clawed feet – or rather, the clawed toes of them, given that his feet had somehow taken a more reptilian appearance while he'd slept. He tried to back away from the bed, but something else tangled around his already awkward feet. In seconds, he was sent sprawling with a bang across the hard floor, and a bolt of pain shot up his spine. Shaking with terror and weakness, he curled into a ball for a moment until he could convince himself to look. With careful movements, he forced himself to sit up again and gazed down at his strange, three-clawed feet again. Across one and under another, a segmented wire was draped. Its silver, arrowhead tip lay just beyond his right foot, and the beginning looped out of Bill's sight. Part of him felt like he didn't want to know what it was. The other part of him, the one that was infinitely curious, forced him to reach out and touch the tip.
He felt it on both ends: the metal of the tip on his fingertips and the metal of his fingertips on the tip. Like electricity, sensation shot through the wire and shocked Bill's spine for a second time. He sucked in a gasp as he winced at the feeling. Opening his eyes slightly, he stared at the arrowhead tip again and wrapped his arms around himself. He didn't want anything to do with it, but the curious part of his mind told him to move it.
It twitched on his command. Drawing in a breath, he tried to get it to do something else. Slowly, it wove its way back around his feet and slipped behind him. Glancing over his shoulder, he could see his smooth back and the other end of the wire where it was connected to him at exactly where he expected the base of his spine to be.
"A tail," he murmured. "A tail."
As if it had a mind of its own and was incredibly happy to be acknowledged, the tail rose and curled in the air in a lazy wag. With another shudder, Bill buried his face in his hands.
"This is a dream," he said. "This is another dream. That's all this is. I'm dreaming. Yes."
His fingers felt something rough on the top of his head. He swallowed again as he let his left hand play across the bristles where there were once curls. Eventually, they came in contact with something hard, and with a numb feeling, his fingertips traced the smooth edge of a horn. It seemed oddly sensitive to his touch, and a cold pain laced through his skull. He clenched his teeth and placed his hands on the floor, spreading the fingers out with soft scratches.
With a deep breath, he took another look at his body – namely, at the other occupant of it. The parasite remained where it was, latched onto the front of his chest. Now, he couldn't tell that it was ever a separate living creature, rather than just a piece of decoration. The only clue to its true nature came in a red pulse of light that ran across its surface every so often. He trembled at the thought of what it might be and lifted a hand to touch it. In his horror, he realized he could feel his claws brushing against its smooth surface as if it was just as much a part of him as anything else. He thought about bracing himself against the pain and pulling it out with his hands, but his eyes caught sight of the small lumps that radiated from it – tendrils that snaked under his metal skin and disappeared a few inches out from all sides into smooth armor. No doubt the tendrils were meant to ensure that pulling out the parasite would result in far more damage than he'd want.
"This can't be real," he whispered. "It's not. It's… it's just a dream. That's all."
Clenching his teeth, he turned his gaze sharply to the window. Questions filled his mind to the point where they crashed into each other and left him in a dazed fog. Words pulled apart sentences to form muddled, incoherent thoughts. He whimpered slightly as he pulled himself to the bed and placed his hands on the edge of it. His eyes tried not to look at his claws as he struggled to stand up. All he knew was he wanted answers, but to what? He couldn't quite think of the right questions. His mind couldn't sort through all of them at once to find the most important ones.
Some of them, of course, were simple. What happened to me? What am I? What is this place? But then, there were others, questions within questions and questions, like the first, that he wasn't sure actually had answers.
His feet felt strange when he put weight on them – proper weight. He resisted every temptation to look down. Instead, he closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. All six of the clawed toes that were supporting him spread and took his weight as if he was born with those reptilian feet. Meanwhile, his mind couldn't help but notice this came a little too naturally for his liking.
He wasn't sure if the thought came from the back of his mind or outside himself, but a voice echoed those two words through his skull as if they were both whispered in his ear and came to him as internal monologue. It didn't occur to him that it might have been strange. Instead, he agreed. Awkwardly, he placed one foot in front of another to work his way around the bed. At first, he swayed at each step as if he was about to fall backwards, but little by little, as if he was relearning something he knew all along by touch, he began to understand how his legs worked. By the time he reached the door, he no longer had his arms outward to keep his balance, and he walked stiffly but without the threat of pitching off his toes. A nagging thought at the back of his mind made him realize he'd learned how to keep his balance a little too quickly. Part of him felt a sense of shock at that fact, and he hesitated at the door when that shock gave way to fear.
What's happening to me?
The question repeated itself as a mantra through his mind for a few moments. His hands began to shake, and the metal began to feel cold against… against what? Did he even have skin anymore underneath all that armor?
Closing his eyes, he leaned forward and placed both hands on the metal door. Metal, like everything else. He felt his heart beat a little faster and his hands shake against the door.
No. You've got to control yourself.
He opened his eyes.
Calm yourself. Think. There's no one to help you here, and you won't help yourself if you let yourself panic.
It took a moment of repeating those words over and over again before Bill finally felt himself calm down enough to think about his situation. Eventually, he came to the realization that he needed to get out. Get out – that's how he'll get his questions answered. He needed to find someone, and he wasn't going to find anyone to help him if he stayed in that room.
One of his hands slid downward towards where he expected a knob or handle to be. When it felt nothing but the smooth surface of the door, he looked down and found that, in fact, there was nothing there. No handle, no knob, nothing to open the door from his side.
Right about then, he realized they'd locked him in.
Panic rose in his chest again, and he stumbled to the side, towards the window. Trapped. All he could think about was being trapped.
When he looked out the window, he could see a near replica of Laboratory F. His breathing still came in heaved gasps, as if he'd been sprinting, and his eyes went wide as he gazed at the rows of computers and the men and women in white coats fluttering from one to another like bees in a hive. He swallowed cold saliva as he tried to calm his breathing enough to address them. One of his clawed hands reached up to the glass, palm pressed against the cool surface as his fingers fanned out. None of them seemed to notice him.
"Hello…?" He realized his voice came across quietly. Taking a deep breath, he tried again. "Hey!"
The closest workers looked up. Their faces paled slightly as they examined Bill's face. All of a sudden, he felt naked and wondered if it would have been a better idea to use the blanket to cover as much of his body as he could. Still, it was too late to go back, and it wasn't important except to make him look slightly more human. He would just have to convince them he didn't mean any harm.
"Please," he said. "I need your help. I don't know what happened."
The two workers exchanged glances, then looked over their shoulders towards the other scientists. He saw their lips move, but not a word filtered through the glass. It succeeded, however, in getting the attention of the other scientists, who each looked towards the glass with startled glances.
By then, Bill knew things weren't going his way. He placed his other hand on the glass to show he had nothing to use to threaten them.
"No, don't panic," he pleaded. "Please. Could one of you tell me what's going on?"
All of them seemed to ignore his request. Instead, they broke away from the machinery and bustled through the room, frantically hitting buttons and flipping switches. One of them even picked up a phone and began placing a call on the other side of the room, but from there, Bill couldn't see which number was being dialed to tell who that one might have been calling. Distracted by the scientist at the other end of the room, he didn't notice one of them grab a microphone on the machine nearest to the window.
"Step away from the window."
Bill jumped at the booming voice that filled his silent room. He glanced at the walls and corners to find some speaker that he might have missed, but he could see nothing. Glancing back at the window, he retreated to the bed and sat down.
"I'm sorry," he said as loudly and clearly as possible. "Is there anyone who can tell me—"
"Professor Nettle will arrive shortly," the voice replied before the question was finished.
Although Nettle wasn't his first choice for someone to speak to so soon, Bill still felt a wave of relief. He would have spoken to anyone as long as he was given the explanations he wanted desperately.
"Thank you," he said after a long moment.
No one responded, and once again, the room fell into silence. Bill didn't mind this time; the relief of knowing someone was coming excited him too much. Minutes couldn't pass quickly enough, and ten minutes felt like an eternity and a half. At first, Bill kept his eyes on the glass as he let his tail wag back and forth. Part of him was conscious of it and felt each muscle move fluidly to amuse himself. That distracted him for the first few minutes before his restlessness got to him again. Rising to his feet, he began pacing back and forth in front of the window. His thoughts stumbled over each other again in a mad rush of excitement. They would know what to do, surely. And if not, he would at least be let out of that room and be led to someone who could help. All he wanted, more than anything, was to leave that room and find someone to talk to. Anyone could be comforting enough.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of new movement. Looking up, he saw Nettle standing at the window, flanked by two scientists working on machinery in front of her. With a smile, he approached, remembering to put some distance between himself and the glass.
"Professor Nettle!" he exclaimed. "Thank goodness! I'm very glad to see you."
She raised her eyebrows for a moment as she stared at him. Then, she turned her head and began speaking to the scientist on her right. Once again, Bill couldn't tell what she was saying, and part of him felt a little alarmed by that.
In an attempt to get her attention again, he added, "Professor, perhaps you could tell me what's going on."
Falling silent, she turned her gaze back to the window. The scientist she had addressed pressed a button on his console. Suddenly, Bill began to hear a strange hiss coming from the corners of the room. Glancing towards them, he started to see white puffs of smoke rush from unseen pipes.
By then, Bill knew without a doubt things weren't going his way.
He took another step back and looked at Nettle with a horrified expression. "What is that? What's going on? Professor Nettle, please tell me!"
She said nothing. Instead, she watched as the white smoke quickly filled the room and obscured the creature within it. In an attempt to avoid the cloud, Bill ducked and dodged to remain in clear patches of air, but soon, there was nowhere left to go. He coughed and gagged as the smoke dried his throat and entered his lungs. Stumbling, he hunched over and reached out for the bed.
His head felt heavy, as if it was filled with cotton. Swaying on his feet, he realized with horror what was being pumped into the room.
"Sleeping gas," he murmured.
Glancing back towards the window, he stared with wide eyes towards Nettle. Her silhouette remained framed in white, but otherwise, the smoke obscured her features. Slowly, even her outline began to blur as Bill found it harder and harder to keep his eyes open.
"What ha…?" he whispered.
The last syllable came out as a heavy sigh. Unable to fight his drowsiness, Bill closed his eyes, and seconds later, he was on the floor. He'd fallen into a deep sleep before he even hit the cement.