"There really isn't a nice way to put this," said Laurie, "so I'm just going to say it. You're dead."
"Undead," Andrew added. He looked first at one man and then the other, uncertain. "Friend of yours, Laurie?"
"Arch-nemesis," said Bim cheerfully. "Met at a party once; quite a dreadful one, to tell you the truth." Then he turned and seemed to see Andrew properly for the first time. His eyes narrowed in faint approval, and he said, in a completely different voice, "Well, hello."
In hindsight, it was probably Laurie's own fault Nurse Evans was eating his brains.
In the early days of the outbreak, it hadn't seemed very sensible to run, even after half the hospital had gone feral in their beds and the other half ran screaming onto the street. He hadn't anywhere to go, and in the hospital there was at least food and clean water and blankets. He'd stayed with Mervyn until his mother arrived, and then he found himself the last patient in the ward, and the next thing he knew, he was on the floor, trying to crawl away on one knee while Nurse Evans screeched unintelligibly and clawed at his head.
The shot, fired at point-blank range, made a noise like the implosion of the world. Nurse Evans went sailing across the room and hit the opposite wall with a dull clomp. "Oh," said his benefactor from somewhere behind him. "I hope I didn't splatter you."
"Me too," Laurie said fervently. The voice was familiar. He turned around, and words left him.
A long moment passed, during which he engaged in a frantic search for a tactful comment or, at the very least, a reasonably clean surface on which to pull himself to a stand. He found neither. In the end he only said, "Good shot."
Andrew Raynes, who was supposed to be in London saving living people from other living people, gave the revolver a contemplative look. "Which is the philosophically thornier issue, I wonder," he said, "shooting an armed, breathing soldier or an undead adolescent nurse?"
"I expect you have to consider extenuating circumstances," said Laurie breathlessly. "Such as whether the subject in question was attempting to crack your best friend's skull."
"I agree," said Andrew.
He stuck out his free hand and helped Laurie to his feet. They stood looking at each other. It was a bit of an awkward moment (not at all improved, Laurie thought with helpless resentment, by the assortment of bodies lying around them in various stages of death). "Oh, don't be difficult," said Andrew presently. "They said Bridstow was a graveyard, but I had to come find you. I got your book, by the way. Dave made me disinfect it three times in case it was, you know, contaminated. He would have stopped me coming here, but that was before Tom ate him."
"Oh, God," said Laurie. "I'm sorry."
Andrew shrugged inexpressively. "Is there anyone else here that needs saving?"
"Not really," said Laurie. "Everyone's run off, even the staff. If anyone's still here they're probably—oh, Christ." He lurched for the door. "Alec and Sandy. I forgot."
"Friends of mine, doctors—actually, I'm not sure you could call them friends, and they aren't doctors either, but never mind." He limped into the corridor. Sandy had refused to leave his patients, Alec had refused to leave him, and Ralph, who could have been counted on to drag them out yelling and kicking, was still in quarantine at the Station after the unfortunate run-in with Bunny. "They'll be in the doctors' room, if they're still—get back!"
Something was moving and snuffling in the shadows of the half-lit corridor. The Sister had ripped down the blackout, as the creatures seemed to fear the sun, but it was four o' clock already and the daylight was growing weak. Laurie flung himself sideways, staggering clumsily into the wall. Andrew had not moved. He lifted the revolver over Laurie's shoulder and, aiming with both hands, fired close to the floor. The thing tottered and fell, and lay unmoving.
Andrew cleared his throat. "Anyone you know?"
It was necessary to make himself look. Laurie glanced swiftly. "No."
"Good." And then, "There are more."
Laurie hit the floor. The gun sang out above him, once, twice, thrice. He struggled out of Andrew's way, keeping his head down and doing his best to think of anything but Dunkirk. As he got back up, his gaze caught on something moving on the floor, crab-like, towards Andrew's ankle. It was a woman's hand, slim and fine-boned, with a plain wedding band on one finger.
With a cry of disgust, Laurie surged forward and trod on it with the heel of his ugly new boot. He stepped on it until he felt bone snap beneath his foot, and he was still stepping on it when Andrew turned. "All right?"
"Yes," said Laurie. The corridor had fallen silent. In his head, the guns rattled on. "Just—pest control."
Andrew kicked the hand away. "I've got one more bullet," he said. "After that it's up close and personal, the old-fashioned way. Did they ever find out how the virus spreads?"
"Blood," said Laurie. "Don't get too personal."
"Right," said Andrew.
The doctors' room was empty except for a dour-faced head lying under the table that, thankfully, did not belong to either Alec or Sandy. They picked their way through the debris of papers and files and stethoscopes, searching for any sign of the two, but found nothing. "Maybe they left after all," said Laurie, an exercise in blithe optimism.
There was an odd droning sound in the distance, not quite the sound of guns or the Luftwaffe. Andrew frowned. "We should keep looking, just in case. You barricade yourself in here and I'll go."
Laurie stared at him. "What, alone? With only one bullet? You don't even know what they look like."
"I don't have to," Andrew said. His jaw had set in the familiar contour Laurie recognised from Charlot's bedside, the night he had heard about his transfer. "I'll just save anyone who's alive and doesn't try to eat my brains."
The droning was getting louder. Even a raid didn't sound this bad, Laurie thought. "No," he said, half yelling to be heard over the racket. "Either I come with you or neither of us—"
There was a muffled flump, almost inaudible but very close to the door.
"—go," Laurie finished lamely.
"I'm going," said Andrew, and kicked the door open.
He fired their last shot into the darkness, and Laurie, having experienced a moment of pure exasperation, manoeuvred himself behind Andrew in such a way that closing the door between them would have necessitated slamming it in his face. There was an irregular shape lying on the linoleum out in the corridor. "We have to get up to the roof," Laurie shouted, his hands clapped over his ears. "I think they sent a helicopter."
"You're joking," said Andrew.
But he grabbed Laurie's hand, and then they were hurrying from the room, stepping over the zombie in their path. Laurie, glad to be of help at last, led the way to the closest stairwell. He barely felt his knee; nerves, and the shock of Andrew's immediate proximity, numbed him to all but the urgent need to get out onto the rooftop. He felt he could almost have taken the steps two at a time if he'd had to.
They staggered up and up and out into the brisk evening air, and then Laurie at once wished they hadn't; because there was a helicopter on the roof, but the man getting out of it had been shot down over Calais weeks ago.
"This," said Laurie, concluding the introductions, "is Andrew Raynes. He's a c.o., but he has no objection towards killing zombies."
Bim giggled. His eyes, bright and magpie-like, were fixed on Andrew. "My angel, my della Robbia angel, what should I do? Alas for Corporal Odell, he of little faith… Then again I suppose there is a certain poetic justice to our predicament, seeing as I thought he was undead the very first time I met him. I was all drugged up, you see, and I'd heard some rather misleading rumours."
Andrew, Laurie saw with alarm, was gazing at Bim with an expression similar to that of a man staring into the sun, or yelling into a chasm of unfathomable depth out of which, if he listens hard enough, the echo of his voice comes whispering back. Or, perhaps, if he had had a vision of Michael the Archangel juggling cupcakes. "There's a difference," said Laurie. "You died in France. I didn't."
"That is a matter of some contention," said Bim tartly. "Andrew, my dear, might I invite you to take my pulse?"
Andrew took a step forward. Laurie jerked him back, for reasons that suddenly had nothing to do with Bim's pulse or lack thereof, and everything to do with the fact that Bim had two good legs and a face like a young Apollo.
Bim made a sharp, elegant gesture of exasperation. When he spoke again it was in his flight lieutenant's voice. "If it makes a difference, Ralph sent me to get you," he said. "There are approximately one hundred and twenty-five walking dead in this hospital, and you're perfectly welcome to join them if you want, but there are some among us who are too handsome to die, don't you think?"
Andrew had flushed scarlet. "Laurie," he said desperately. "Come on."
Laurie remembered that they had, in any case, run out of ammo. He sighed. This was turning out to be a very trying day.
"I," said Bim, once they were in the air, "was one of the first beneficiaries of a French medical advance. One that the Nazis got their hands on and turned, as they do, into a form of biological warfare. Do you require to breathe into a bag, Corporal Odell?"
"No," said Laurie, very evenly.
"We were looking for two doctors," Andrew said. "They're acquaintances of Laurie's. I believe their names were—er—"
"Alexander and Alexander," said Bim. "Yes, they come as a matched set. I picked them up two streets away this morning." He surveyed Andrew from head to foot. "Do you know, you remind me of a friend of mine. It's the hair and the angel face, I think. And when I say friend I mean—"
"That's what Laurie said," said Andrew irritably. "I'm beginning to think I remind everyone of a friend of theirs."
"If it's any consolation," said Laurie, with his head in his hands, "it's the same friend."
Bim grinned. "Speaking of which!"
They had begun their descent over the naval station. With a jolt of his heart, Laurie noticed a small, neat figure pacing on the roof with uplifted head. Ralph had come up to meet them. "How touching," Bim said, with the air of a magician who has just produced a furry creature from an article of one's clothing. He winked at Andrew. "I'm sure Laurie is just dying to introduce you to Ralph and all his friends. You'll be a hit with Sandy's crowd; won't he, Laurie?"
"Oh, I've met—wait." Andrew was plastered to the window. "That isn't… Laurie, that isn't the man I hit."
Laurie groaned again. He was beginning to wish he had stayed with the zombies in the hospital, where it was nice and cosy, and no one ever said a word.