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Still Life

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STILL LIFE

by
Linda Dennis (aka: Emannep)


[Originally published in JUST THE FOUR OF US 1 , a Real Ghostbusters genzine, originally available at KNIGHTWRITER PRESS]

 

Day One
11:45 a.m. EST

It was a mid-October morning in Manhattan, the kind of day where one could feel the changing of the seasons. The day had dawned bright and humid, as it had for days, the weather unseasonably warm. But as the morning had worn on, the wind had picked up, bringing with it dark clouds that hung ominously over the city. The forecast called for rain, to be immediately followed by a cold front that would break the final grip of summer. No one was complaining - the entire city seemed ready for the change. There was a near palpable feeling in the air, a tension that would be broken with the coming of the storm.

But it had been a quiet day for Ghostbuster Central. No calls had come in, so the morning had been spent on playing catch up. All four ghostbusters were on the ground floor, engaged in chores that usually took a backseat to paying busts. Even Dr. Peter Venkman, who studiously avoided work, had been busy with backlogged paperwork that should have been dealt with days ago.

"Okay, guys," Janine Melnitz said as she dug out her purse from her desk drawer. "I'm going to lunch."

Peter's head popped up over the file cabinets that separated his office from Janine's. "Yo, Janine - I meant to ask you earlier if you could do me a favor..." Janine's eyes narrowed and one eyebrow rose. Peter wondered how the heck she could do that. "Nothing major," he hurried on with a grin. "Nothing..." he paused, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively, "...bizarre."

"Watch it, Janine," Winston Zeddemore called, looking up from under Ecto's hood. He wiped his hands on an already-greasy rag. "Sounds like trouble to me."

"It does," agreed Ray, grinning. He closed the locker and dumped the dirty uniform into the waiting laundry basket, then pushed it along with one foot and opened the next locker. Peter's. "Yuck," he commented, screwing up his face and slamming the door shut. "What crawled in there and died, Peter?"

"I'd say Slimer, but he's already dead," Peter said as he came around from his office with a large envelope in his hand. "The spud's always gooping up my locker."

"Could be his boots," suggested Egon, deadpan. He didn't look up from the corner of Janine's desk where he had several traps lying around in various stages of assembly.

Peter swatted the blond physicist on the back with the envelope. "Thanks, Spengs," he said, injured dignity creeping into his tone. "I'll have you know that Dr. Venkman is a model of podiatrial hygiene." He turned his attention to the red-haired woman who stood impatient but mildly amused in front of him. "Anyway, Janine. Would you mind dropping this off?" He held out the envelope and waited expectantly.

Janine looked at Peter's handwriting on the envelope, the words "NYC Department of Environmental Protection" standing out prominently. She smiled, her eyes twinkling as she understood immediately. "Trying to avoid a certain someone, Dr. V?" Her smile grew into a grin and she leaned close to him and continued, teasingly, "Could it be - oh, I don't know - let's see; maybe, hmmm-- Sandra ?"

Ray laughed at her impersonation of the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live. "Wow, that's pretty good, Janine."

"Yeah, you definitely got that lady's number," Winston said with an exaggerated shudder. "I thought some of the ghosts we bust were scary, but they've got nothing on the Dragon Lady."

"Oh, come on, guys," Ray protested, his gentle nature springing to the defense of the woman that ran the Permits section of the city's equivalent of the EPA. "She's not that bad."

"In opposition to what, Raymond? Gozer?" Egon questioned. Pete grinned, but it quickly faded when the blond physicist looked up at him and said, "I suppose that envelope contains the renewal permits for the proton packs."

Uh-oh. Caught. "He shoots, he scores," Peter said reluctantly. "And don't start, Egon. I know they should have been submitted last month. But we've been a bit busy lately."

"Agreed. But imagine, if you will, the extended vacation if the permits are denied, due to exceeding the deadline."

"All right, Egon. I know I screwed up. But that's why I want to send our resident tiger lady in." He smiled, turning the full-force of his famous Venkman charm on Janine. "There's no way Scary Sandra will refuse our Melnitz. Why, I think there's nothing this lady can't do when she-"

"Not that I don't love the faith you've got in me," Janine interrupted. "Or that I don't appreciate a professional load of bull when I hear one, but don't you think you'd be the best qualified for the job? I mean, if anyone can melt the ice on Sandra Stein, wouldn't it be you? I mean, after all-"

"Uh, Janine, ixnay on the ushcray," Peter whispered warningly.

"What's this?" Ray asked, delighted. "Ms. Stein has a crush on you, Peter?"

Peter scowled. "I wouldn't call it a crush , Ray-"

"Why not? You just did," Egon pointed out in that annoyingly reasonable tone of his.

"What is this? Pick on Peter Day? I looked on the calendar. That's not until next month." Peter turned beseeching eyes on the secretary. "Please. Pretty please." When Janine pursed her lips and pretended to think about it, Peter sighed. "Okay. What's it gonna cost me?"

"I just love having a man right where I want him," Janine said with a predatory gleam in her eyes that proved Peter's earlier feline description of her. "Okay," she said, getting ready to deal, "Since I have to drive all the way to Corona -"

"No, you don't," Peter interrupted hastily. "They've moved the office right here to beautiful Manhattan. It's in Cityplex, you know, the new building down on Broad Street." He looked at her, hoping that the local drop would lower her price tag. If it didn't, he stood ready and eager to haggle - he really enjoyed going up against Janine - but he wouldn't put up much of a fight. He really didn't want to have to be the one to hand the applications to Ms. Stein. The last time he had business with her, she'd managed to keep him in the office all afternoon, then finagled an early dinner with him - at his expense. Peter shivered. The one-eyebrow look on women had never really appealed to him, and looking at it over dinner had really been highly unappetizing.

Janine looked disappointed at losing her main bargaining chip. She stared at him, obviously trying to come up with an equally difficult point to prove just how much she was being upon. Uh-oh. He knew that expression. This was gonna hurt. In defense, Peter put on his best Sad Puppy Look. That Look had been known to melt the hardest of women's hearts, but it was Janine he was dealing with here. If any woman knew his tricks, it would be her, but it certainly didn't hurt to try.

To his surprise, Janine smiled, her eyes softening. "All right, Dr. V. It's beyond me why I'm doing this. I must be getting soft. I'll go easy. Say, an extra hour for lunch?"

"'An extra hour for lunch'," Peter repeated dutifully. He concealed his surprise at the lowball sticker price she was asking. The Look couldn't have worked, could it? When she rolled her eyes at him, Peter slapped his forehead as if suddenly enlightened. He didn't want to push what he considered a victory too far. "Oh, you mean that's your price! Well, considering what I was willing to agree to, an extra hour for lunch is small potatoes." He handed her the envelope. "Thanks, Janine," he said seriously. "I really owe you one."

"You should have held out, Janine," Winston said. "I think you could have gotten a raise out of him for this one." He gently closed the hood on Ecto and wiped the oil stains from the paint job, getting the shine just right.

"Yeah," she agreed, "but like Dr. V is fond of saying, he'd have to start paying me first." Peter watched her put the envelope carefully into the side pocket of her purse. Smart lady. It wouldn't do to wrinkle the pages. Sandra hated wrinkled pages. Janine looked wistfully over at Egon. "You wouldn't want to go to lunch with me, would you, Egon?"

"I'll even spring for the eats," Peter jumped in quickly. He owed Janine, and he figured this was the best way to pay her back. Besides, it would do Egon good to get out and about with Janine, even if it was just running an errand and the weather wasn't going to be the greatest. He hid a grin at the image of the two of them sharing an umbrella. The expression, 'The long and the short of it' came to mind. "It's really dead around here today. Go for it, big guy."

Egon looked up, startled, seeing four pair of expectant eyes settle on him. "I'd like to, Janine, but-"

"-But you're busy," Janine finished for him, disappointed. "Never mind. I knew before I asked."

"Gosh, I'd love to go with you, Janine," Ray said eagerly. "I haven't had a chance to tour Cityplex yet. I heard it's really neat. It was even written up in last month's Architectural Digest as one of the ten best designs in America. You know, it's based on London's Crystal Palace that was built back in 1851. And the really cool thing, the original wasn't even designed by an architect. A gardener named Joseph Paxton had the idea and oversaw its construction. The finished product was so amazing that it became known as the 'Eighth Wonder of the World'. Wow, that's really something, isn't it?"

"Gee, I must've missed that issue," Janine said dryly, still looking at Egon. "I used to date an architect, you know." Her tone implied that her old boyfriend would have leapt at the chance of accompanying her. Egon raised an eyebrow at her, then went back to his work. Janine sighed.

Winston walked over to Janine's desk. "You know, even with it practically in our own backyard, we haven't seen the completed building. And we totally missed the Grand Opening. That was what, a week ago?"

"Last Monday, actually," Egon supplied, snapping one of the traps shut and frowning when it refused to open when triggered. "And it is supposed to be an architectural marvel."

This was interesting, Peter thought. It looked like Egon might be reconsidering about going along. But when Egon looked up and saw him staring, Peter knew the physicist wouldn't change his mind. The Spengler stubborn streak must be two miles wide, he mused.

Winston must've seen that Egon going was a lost cause, for he said, "Listen, Ray, I still got a few things to do to Ecto, but I've got time to drop in a few loads of laundry. Take off, my man."

"Well, if it's okay with Janine that I go," Ray said, looking over at Janine. Peter eyed the youngest Ghostbuster admiringly. That wasn't a bad Puppy Dog Look he had going there himself.

And again, to his amazement, Janine smiled. Let's go, Ray."

Wow, Peter thought. Two for two on the Look. He'd have to mark this down.

"Great!" Ray beamed. "Thanks, Winston. I'll grab an umbrella and you get the lunch money from Peter..."

"Lunch money?" grinned Peter. He dug into his back pocket, retrieving his wallet. "Now I'm giving out 'lunch money'. What's next, Ray? An allowance?" Before he could take out a few bills, a well-manicured hand slid into the wallet and pulled out the entire stash. "Hey!" he protested.

"Thanks, Dr. V. This should take care of our lunch," Janine said, flashing him a brilliant smile.

"That and feed Guatemala, too," he griped. "'Lightfingers Melnitz'. Didn't I see your picture in the post office?" He shrugged. "Oh, take it. Have fun, you two. Don't talk to strangers."

"They don't come any stranger than you, Peter," Ray said, grinning. He gallantly offered Janine his arm and together they left the firehall.

Day One
1:05 p.m. EST

"Let me take that, Janine," Ray offered, taking the large bag of toys from her.

"Thanks, Ray," she said, flexing her fingers to get the blood flow going again. She hadn't realized Star Wars toys could get so heavy. But then again, she hadn't planned on buying the entire line of action figures. Okay, maybe not the whole line, but with Ray helping her shop, and his numerous enthusiastic, "Oh, wow, you just can't forget's", she'd way overbought. Instead of the two toys she had planned on getting for her nephew's birthday, she now had figures of all the major characters, not to mention three, count 'em, three Luke Skywalkers - one wearing white, one wearing black, and one wearing some sort of camouflage gear. And Bubba Feta (or whatever the heck that bad guy's name was - and why was he named after a cheese , for cripes sake?) And don't forget that huge spaceship. Ray had bought the Millennium Falcon out of his own pocket, insisting that the Han figure would be just lost without it.

"This is so cool," Ray said as he dug into the bag. "I can't believe I found Han's original blaster. I thought all they had out now was that stupid looking orange one."

Janine stopped at the corner, looking across the street at the new Cityplex building. It was pretty impressive. She counted six stories, each one marked with distinctive white metalwork, lacy in design. Looking at it closer, she decided that the intricate work made each floor of windows look like it had a doily as its frame. When Janine used to check out buildings with Johnny, the architect she'd mentioned to Egon earlier, she'd found that she preferred older buildings with character to the newer chrome and glass monuments. But she had to admit this new building was beautiful, a cross between history and the future. She sighed, checking her watch. They'd spent way too much time shopping. Her lunch hour was over and she was into the extra hour Peter had given her. She really didn't have time to be waxing poetic at a building.

Ray nudged her. "Check out the sky. Neat, huh?"

She looked up, following his gaze. "Wow. That's a nasty shade of green."

"Lots of lightning, I'll bet," Ray said, putting the toy gun back in the sack. "I read that Cityplex actually attracts lightning, so they put up lightning rods on the roof to channel any strikes."

"That doesn't sound too practical," Janine said, squinting up at the roof. There were long poles attached at regular intervals around the roof's edge. Those must be the lightning rods , she thought.

"It's all the iron," Ray explained. "The architect wanted this building to be as close to the original Crystal Palace as possible. It had more than three thousand iron columns. I don't think they got anywhere near that here, though."

"Whatever," Janine shrugged. Trust Ray to know such odd trivia. "Well, I gotta say I think whoever designed it did a great job. It's really pretty." She took a moment to gaze at it again, noting how the white lace pattern stood out against the sickly green clouds that were moving in. She shivered, feeling the beginnings of a headache creep up on her. Suddenly she just wanted to get this done for Dr. V and get back to the firehouse. "Come on, Ray. Let's get this over with." As the light changed, she stepped off the curb and strode purposefully across the street, a woman on a mission.

"Then maybe after we could stop and get lunch for the guys," Ray said as he hurried to keep up with her, the bag of toys banging against his leg as he walked. He grinned. "You sure got enough money from Peter to cover it."

"I did, didn't I?" Janine commented with a sly wink. "Maybe even enough to buy lunch for everyone?" She reached the other side of the street and headed for the ornate, arched doorway that led into Cityplex.

He laughed, but Janine thought she could detect a note of relief there. "I just knew you wouldn't keep the money, Janine."

"Well, Dr. Venkman is a pain, and I do consider it my duty as a woman to keep him off the streets, away from unsuspecting females who might fall for his charms. Taking his money is one sure way of keeping him penned up and the women of New York safe, but I'd never steal from him, Ray."

Ray's eyes widened and he stopped. "Gosh, I'd never think that, Janine."

The headache that had been creeping up on her suddenly decided to make a full frontal assault. Grimacing, she stopped and backtracked the few steps to him. "Oh, I know that, Ray. You were just looking out for Dr. V. You guys all watch out for each other. I think it's sweet." She patted him on the arm, not wanting him to think that he'd hurt her feelings. "Hey, let's get this over with. I'm so hungry that I'm getting a monster headache. Whaddaya think about Chinese for lunch? We can pick it up after we get through here."

"Sounds great," he said, but clearly unconvinced that he hadn't hurt her feelings. She was grateful he'd let it drop, but she knew that he'd ask her about it later. Falling in along beside her, they climbed the few steps to the entrance. Pushing the glass door open, he held it for her as she went inside.

"Gee, what a gentleman," she teased fondly when Ray finally made it. He'd gotten stuck as doorman, allowing several more women the entrance.

He grinned. "Always." He took a second to adjust his hold on the shopping bag, then said, "Wow! Check this place out."

She was. Cityplex had an airy, open design, the foyer leading out into an atrium that allowed viewing of all six floors, capped with a clear arched roof. The storm clouds hadn't quite made it into the city yet, so there was still enough sunshine coming in to light the entire atrium. Smart , Janine thought. Saves on electricity . The floor was not the plain white tile that usually graced one of the City's public buildings, but a rich brown wood, polished to an almost mirror-like shine. The sound of flowing water made her look to the far end of the atrium where she saw a large, beautifully carved stone fountain, surrounded by greenery. Wow was right. This wasn't one of your typical city government offices.

"Gosh, this place is pretty impressive," Ray said.

"And pretty deserted," Janine commented, seeing that, for all the City departments this building was supposed to house, the lobby and vast atrium were fairly free of workers and citizens that had business to conduct here. She knew it was lunchtime, but it couldn't be for all the offices. She knew for a fact that Sandra Stein's lunch hour had come and gone. Peter knew her office hours by heart, turning avoidance of the Environmental Department head into a fine art.

"Hi, and welcome to Cityplex," a cheerful female voice said. They both turned and saw a bright-faced, extremely well-built young woman smiling at them. "I'm Roberta. Can I help you?"

This was a first, Janine thought. A smiling city employee . "Yeah. I'm looking for Department of Environmental Protection."

"Oh, sure. They moved here to the third floor," Roberta answered promptly. She pointed to their left. "Take the elevators and when you get to Three, take a left and go all the way to the back. Their offices are located in the corner." Her black hair, bound up in a ponytail, bobbed fetchingly as she indicated the directions.

"Thanks. Ray, you wanna stay down here and look around while I drop these off?" Janine bit back a grin at the way Ray was staring at the girl.

"Oh, you haven't been here before? I could give you a quick tour," offered Roberta. "That's what they pay me for."

"Uh, yeah, that'd be great," Ray said, still staring. Then he shook himself and looked at Janine. "I mean, if you're feeling okay. Your headache any better? I could go up with you . . . "

"Headache, huh?" the girl asked sympathetically. "I could track down some aspirin for you."

"Nah. I'll be fine. Ray, you go ahead and stay down here and take the tour. I don't know how long I'll be, but if you don't hear from me in a half hour, you call Dr. V and tell him he better get down here and rescue me - or I'll tell someone just how much Dr. V really likes them. You got that?"

Ray grinned. "I got that. Have fun."

"I wish," Janine grumbled and headed for the elevators. Punching the 'up' button, she spared one last glance at Ray before the doors opened. She just might be taking lunch back to the firehall alone, seeing that Ray had returned to staring at his perky tour guide. The elevator dinged, and Janine stepped back to let a flood of people exit, probably to lunch. Lunch , she thought longingly. Her headache throbbed painfully and she actually considered turning around and just going back to the firehouse. No, she'd made a deal with Peter, and if she reneged, she'd never hear the end of it. Squaring her shoulders, she entered the elevator and let the doors close behind her, since she seemed to be the only idiot heading up and not out to eat.

Day One
1:23 p.m. EST

Peter sighed and rubbed his eyes. The figures he was in the process of adding up seemed to be growing smaller and smaller until he was squinting to read them. He needed a break. Glancing at the clock, he saw that it was coming up on two hours since Ray and Janine had gone to lunch. They should be back any time now. And if Janine was late, she could just bet her paycheck would be docked. Teach her to steal from the boss . . .

He looked at the clock again. Yep, they'd be back soon. His stomach tightened suddenly, and he felt a vague sense of unease creep over him. He shivered. The cold front must be early, he thought, trying to define and erase the sudden feeling of . . . foreboding.

Ah, this is nuts.

He stood up and stretched, wincing as his back popped. It seemed that he was acquiring a symphony of creaks and cracks, and it was a nagging reminder that he was getting older. No way. He wasn't getting older. He was getting better.

Yeah. Right. Classic denial , he thought. Oh, well. He could live with it. Now, if he could just get past the weird case of nerves, he'd be in tip-top form.

Deciding it must be hunger, he went upstairs. He'd been halfway hoping Janine and Ray would come back early with take-out. No such luck. His stomach growled loudly, tired of waiting. He found Egon and Winston in the kitchen. Winston had his head stuck in the refrigerator while Egon rummaged through the cabinets.

"Hoping for take-out, too, huh?" Peter asked. "Should have gone with her, Spengs."

Egon stopped his search and frowned. "Perhaps I should have, and perhaps I would have, if I hadn't felt pressured, Peter."

The annoyance in Egon's voice caught Peter off-guard. "Gee, sorry, Egon. But in my defense, I don't think you could call that pressure. More like a nudge in the right direction."

Winston pulled out a head of lettuce from the crisper and tossed it to Peter, who caught it easily and sat it on the table. "I wouldn't push it, homeboy," he said lightly, but with a touch of warning.

Peter raised an eyebrow at Winston, who shrugged and returned his attention to gathering lunch. "Okay," he said shrugging. "I pressured you. Won't happen again."

"At least until the next time," Egon said. He pulled several cans of soup from the cabinet and set them on the counter - a bit too hard. One can of Campbell's tomato teetered and fell over, rolling off the edge and onto the floor. Both Peter and Egon stared at it as it rolled slowly toward the kitchen door.

Peter tore his eyes away from the soup's break for freedom. "I didn't want tomato soup anyway," he shrugged. He looked up at Egon, seeing the agitation behind the blue eyes. "You feel it too, don't you?" he asked suddenly. He knew Egon; the blond man's anger wasn't really caused by or directed at him. There was something going on here, and Peter was sure they weren't gonna like it.

Winston pulled out back from the refrigerator. "I thought it was just me."

Egon shook his head. "I had written it off as a result of the falling barometric pressure from the coming storm," the physicist said slowly, reexamining his mood. "It is something more, isn't it?"

"Where's Slimer?" Winston asked suddenly. "I haven't seen the spud all day. And you know that he's usually front and center for meals."

"I don't know," Peter said, "I haven't missed him." There it was again -- that creepy feeling he had downstairs had followed him. "Egon, what's going on here?"

"I don't know, but I think we should find out."

Lunch forgotten, the three Ghostbusters hurried to Egon's lab, where the physicist picked up a P.K.E. meter. He activated it, and did a slow sweep of the room. "This is interesting," he said as he monitored the readings, clearly fascinated.

"What?" Peter asked, dread creeping into his voice. He hated it when Egon said 'interesting' like that. It usually meant there was some major weirdness heading in their direction. "Well, lay it on us," Peter said, resigned to a major slimefest in the near future. As much as he dreaded hearing about it, he knew it was always better to know what was coming than have it spring up on them unawares. And, he thought wryly, it also made the terror that much more pronounced.

"Spectral energy is on the rise. But there must be something wrong with the meter. These readings can't be correct," Egon muttered, fiddling with the controls. "I'm getting some very unusual residual readings. According to this, several different classes of manifestations have passed very near the firehall. The meter's showing Class 3, 4 -- no, wait -- all the way up to Class 7."

"I don't like the sound of that," Winston said, looking around the room as if he expected an army of ghosts to materialize at any moment. "If there's so much activity, why haven't we gotten any calls?"

"So," Peter said, "there's a Not-So-Grateful Dead convention going on. Where? Not around here, I hope."

Egon frowned over the meter. "Give me a moment. I'm not sure."

"Whoa -- you're not sure? Egon, you kidder. You're always sure." Peter didn't believe for a minute that Egon was clueless. There was something he wasn't sharing yet, and that scared Peter.

The blond physicist fiddled with the controls of the meter and again swept the room. "I've set it to pick up Slimer. If he's around, I'd like to talk to him. He's certainly making himself absent today, and that might be an indication that he's aware of what's happening."

"Yeah. He usually disappears when a big baddie is on its way," offered Winston.

"Great. Now we're depending on the spud to tell us what's going down. Guys, I really don't like where this is heading," Peter said uneasily. "Don't be scaring Dr. Venkman."

He and Winston followed Egon up the stairs as the blond man tracked Slimer's readings. The trail led them to the roof. Barely pausing, Egon unlatched the door and stepped outside. He stopped suddenly and looked up. "There," he said, lowering the meter.

The sky had grown darker, much darker than it should be for mid-afternoon, but not out of the ordinary for the approaching storm. In the distance, lightning flashed, and Peter thought he could hear the roll of thunder. It was gonna be one heck of a storm, he thought. He turned his attention to Slimer.

The green ghost floated a few feet above them, staring anxiously out toward lower Manhattan, his little hands twisting anxiously. He darted a few feet left, then back a few feet right -- the ghostly equivalent of pacing. The hairs on the back of Peter's neck rose as he heard a low, strange moaning. He'd never heard anything like that coming from Slimer before, and he hoped he never would again.

"Slimer," Peter said, a bit more harshly than he intended, but that moaning was starting to freak him out. "What's going on, spud?"

Slimer squealed, startled. He turned and faced the three men. "Sad," he said, huge ectoplasmic tears in his eyes.

Egon approached the ghost carefully, not wanting to scare him. "Why, Slimer? Why are you sad?"

Slimer turned back and looked again at the city. "Wrong. Not time."

Peter exchanged a look with Egon. From the cryptic response from Slimer, Peter expected to see that Egon was still as much in the dark as much as he was. But the worry he saw in the expressive blue eyes made him realize that Egon did have some idea what was happening. "What is it, Egon?" he asked softly. "What's going on?"

Giving him an almost imperceptible shake of his head, Egon took a few more steps toward Slimer. "This is important, Slimer. We need to understand. What's wrong? What isn't it time for?"

"Many, Egon," Slimer said, shaking his head. "Many. Not time." He drifted a little away from them, toward the edge of the roof. "Should go. Be there."

"Slimer, wait!" Egon called, but the ghost ignored him, hurriedly flying south. Egon hurried after him, reconfiguring the P.K.E. meter as he went. He slid to a stop at the edge of the roof facing Mott Street and aimed the meter due south where Slimer had disappeared from view behind buildings taller than the firehall. Immediately the meter sprang to life, its sensor antenna unfolding to full extension.

"Well, that conversation was less than enlightening," Peter said as he and Winston jogged up to stand at Egon's side. "For all I know, Slimer and all these other goopers could just be flying south for the winter." He ran a hand through his hair as the wind began to pick up. "Okay, Egon. Give."

"Yeah, man. This has bad news written all over it," Winston said " Is there a big nasty trying to break through? A dimensional cross-rip or something?"

"The readings don't indicate that, Winston," Egon said. "But I'm do believe that it's a major spectral event. There are dozens of different entities, all converging on the same point, less than a mile from here." He looked again in the direction of the build-up, then back at Peter. "I think we should go there. Immediately."

Less than a mile from here, due south. Peter's stomach suddenly did a dive that Greg Louganis would envy. That would just about put the spook convention smack-dab in the middle of Cityplex. "Then why are we still standing here? Let's grab the gear and get." He understood Egon's worry. Half of the spooks in Manhattan had taken a sudden interest in the very area where Ray and Janine were.

Coincidence? Mama Venkman's boy didn't think so.

Day One
1:23 p.m. EST

"First, Dr. Stantz," Roberta said, "You'll need to check your bag here at the front desk. We don't allow packages like that in the building until they're scanned."

"Oh, yeah, I can understand that," Ray readily agreed, then realized that she'd said his name. He wasn't in uniform, so that meant she'd recognized him. Well, that explained why she looked very familiar. He'd met her somewhere before -- probably on a bust -- but hearing her name hadn't jogged his memory. Yeah, it must be from a job, he thought, trying not to stare as he followed her to a circular desk. He seemed to remember something about her and a ghost . . .

"Ohmigosh!" he blurted out suddenly. "You're Bobbi Blair! Horror of the Soul Leeches !"

She turned around and flashed him a megawatt smile. "You've seen it?"

"Oh, yeah! Last month on cable," he nodded. "I knew you looked familiar."

The greying security guard behind the desk snickered. "Gee, I wonder why he remembered you, 'Bobbi'. Couldn't have been for your lines. You had what, two? Three?"

"Four, actually," Bobbi said, her smile vanishing.

"Yeah, if you count that horrible death scream." The guard motioned for Ray to hand over his bag. "Like nails on a chalkboard. I hate that." The man shivered theatrically and scanned the bag of toys. He squinted at the x-ray monitor, then looked up, lifting an eyebrow at the Ghostbuster.

Oh, gosh. Han's blaster , Ray suddenly remembered. "It's a toy gun. From Star Wars ," he said hastily.

"Yeah, I thought it looked like Han Solo's blaster," the man said, nodding. "It the cheap orange one or the original?"

Ray gaped at him. "The original." Wow. There were Star Wars fans everywhere.

"Nick," said a smartly dressed woman as she approached the desk. The guard handed back Ray's bag and turned his attention immediately to the woman. "I'm gonna call it a day."

"You feel okay, Mrs. Piercy?" Nick asked solicitously. "Forgive me for saying so, but you don't look so good."

Ray had to agree. The woman did look ill, her face pale and forehead dotted with perspiration. And now that Ray thought about it, his stomach was beginning to feel a little weird. Well, it was time for lunch. Probably just hungry or maybe it was just nerves at meeting Peter's newest B-movie goddess.

"I'm not sure what it is, Nick," Mrs. Piercy said. "I've just felt 'off' all day. I just can't seem to shake the feeling that I ought to be home. Maybe I am coming down with the flu or something. At least that's what I'm putting down on my time sheet."

"Sure, that'll work," Nick agreed. "Besides, I think there is something going around. Bunch of folks out sick today."

"Well, whatever it is, I'm out of here. Would you make sure I got the office locked up? Graham won't be coming back after lunch either. Took some personal time." The woman smiled faintly. "Well, I'm gone." She hurried toward the exit, pausing once to look back at them, then continued on.

"Sick, my eye," Bobbi said, "She wasn't sick. She was scared. Betcha she's got an afternoon rendezvous and her husband suspects something."

"You're way off, Bobbi," Nick said, shaking his head. "Mrs. Piercy's a sweet lady. Crazy about her husband and kids. But she was acting kinda nervous."

Bobbi shrugged and turned her attention back to the security guard. "Anyway, that scream is gonna be my trademark, Nick," Bobbie said, warming up. "I'll be the next 'scream queen'. It worked for Jamie Lee Curtis, and now she's a big star. You just wait."

That sounded like an old argument, Ray mused, giving the older man a commiserating look as Bobbi launched into a well-rehearsed recital of other scream actress greats, most of whom even Ray, an avid 'B' movie buff, hadn't heard of. In all honesty, Ray wouldn't have remembered Bobbi either, except it had been one of the few times that Peter had managed to stay awake and interested in one of the cheesy, made-for-video movies that cable channels had a tendency to run in the middle of the night. The reason for Peter's interest was now standing right in front of him, wearing a heckuva lot more than she had on the screen. In Peter's opinion, the nudity had been the movie's saving grace, other than the chance to make some rude but mostly-hysterical comments at the television. Ray remembered thinking Peter would make a great guest host on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. And poor Bobbi's acting had been particularly bad -- which probably accounted for why she was working here and not on her next film.

The occultist found himself hoping Bobbie had forgotten him and her offer of a tour, afraid she might ask him what he thought about the movie or her acting. Ray knew he wasn't that good a liar. He hoped it wouldn't take Janine too long, and they could just get out of here, grab some lunch and go home. All of a sudden that appealed to him greatly.

"Scream Queen, huh? Well, Your Highness," Nick said with a grin, "looks like you're out of a job for today. I forgot to tell you. The grade school phoned. Your three p.m. tour canceled because two of the chaperones called in sick. Looks like you came in for nothing, sweetheart."

"You're kidding." Bobbi let out an exasperated sigh. "Well, at least I'll get a paycheck anyway. Wasn't my fault the tours canceled."

"You don't work here all the time," Ray said, phrasing it carefully as a statement and not a question so he wouldn't offend her. She apparently considered herself an actress, and he certainly didn't feel like coming under fire if she thought he didn't like her acting. He put a hand to his stomach, the gnawing ache growing more persistent.

"Oh, no. It's only a part-time gig. I only come in when there's a tour scheduled. Today I was supposed to have two tours -- one with some fifth graders and the other with some senior citizens. I didn't know which one I was dreading more. The old people called this morning and bowed out, now the kids. Well, my day hasn't been a total bust since I did get to meet you, Dr. Stantz. I was wondering if maybe you can give me a few pointers on how I should react to a ghost, since you're a Ghostbuster and all. I've got an audition coming up for a script that deals with a haunted house."

"Well, I don't know how much help I could be with that, since I love ghosts, but maybe you could come by the firehall and meet Slimer, see how you react to seeing a real ghost." And, he added mentally, he'd get to see how Peter reacted to meeting the great Bobbi Blair.

"Oh, that would be wonderful! And maybe I could do a scene from the movie for you after," she said, her eyes promising more than a cinematic re-enactment.

Nick snorted and shook his head.

Ray's cheeks flamed, and he cleared his throat, hurriedly casting around for something to change the subject. "Um, isn't it weird about your tours?"

She shrugged, changing the subject as quickly as he had. "Yeah, at first I thought so, but after I thought about it, it's only fair. I mean, I wasted all that time getting ready and coming in, when I could have been out auditioning, so I should get paid for it."

"No, no," Ray shook his head. "I mean, that both your tours suddenly canceled. That's odd, isn't it?"

"I have no idea. But then, I haven't had this job for long. Nick, is it strange?"

Nick shrugged. "Can't say. This tour is one of the new ideas the mayor had. Didn't give tours out at my old job. But I'll tell you what it is weird." He leaned across the desk and whispered conspiratorially. "We've had a slew of folks call in sick or go home early. My partner, Duane, he even called in and he's never taken a sick day in his life."

"Well, that is strange." Ray frowned. All of a sudden, this was starting to sound familiar. Chillingly so.

"Gee, what do they know that we don't?" Bobbi asked.

"I'll tell you what I think," Nick said. "I think we've got that 'Sick Building Syndrome' that I read about in the National Register . Yes, sir, they put something in this building, something they shouldn't have, to cut the costs of construction, and it's making everybody who works here sick. Took a week or so, but now it's showing up."

"Eww, you mean like that icky mold stuff I saw on the news? The stuff you breathe in and it can kill you?" Bobbi put her hand over her nose in an attempt to filter out any hazardous fumes or 'icky mold stuff'.

"No, I don't think that's it," Ray said calmly but feeling far from calm. He mentally tallied up all the unusual coincidences -- his own upset stomach, Janine's sudden headache, the nervousness of Mrs. Piercy combined with the large number of absences that day, the canceled tours. They all fit the pattern perfectly.

What do they know that we don't?

"But even you said it was weird that so many people have called in sick today," Bobbi reminded him, eyeing him, clearly distressed. "And you're a Ghostbuster. You must not think it's just a coincidence or you wouldn't have said anything."

Coincidence -- or premonition?

Back in his early years at Columbia, Ray had been fascinated by a study that had been conducted in 1958 by a sociologist and amateur occultist named Staunton. The man had compared statistics on some fifty plane crashes and more than two hundred train wrecks, using three factors: passengers on the plane or train that met disaster, those killed, and the capacity of the conveyance. He'd run it against a second study of an equal number of planes and trains that didn't meet disaster. His conclusion was staggering. Full trains or planes rarely crashed. His theory was this: people knew which planes or trains were going to crash, and avoided them, unconsciously predicting the future.

Staunton had interviewed 'survivors' of some of the crashes. Most had been reluctant to talk about why they had at the last minute canceled their plans and not taken the doomed plane or train. But the ones that had talked had told of a sudden malady, a headache or stomach pain that increased as the departure time had neared. Some had even admitted to just having a 'feeling' that they shouldn't go, and had wisely listened.

Ray had taken this study to heart. His own parents had died in a plane crash. And all that had kept him from taking the same flight was a sudden bout with what he'd been told was a case of stomach flu. He wasn't so certain of that anymore.

He could be way off base about this, but what if he wasn't? Ray had learned over the years to listen to his intuition and the long exposure to ectoplasm had seemed to boost all the Ghostbusters' 'sixth' sense. And if he was wrong - it would be a major embarrassment to him and the reputation of the Ghostbusters. But the guys would back him up on his decision, he was certain of it.

He looked at Nick and Bobbi, who were staring at him expectantly. And then he thought about Janine. He'd never forgive himself if he let anything happen to her just because he might embarrass himself. There were too many lives at stake if he was right.

Swallowing hard, he made his decision.

"Nick." The deadly seriousness in his voice made the security guard snap to. "Call your supervisor. We've got to evacuate this building."

Day One
1:46 p.m. EST

"Why didn't I make Ray take the cell phone?" Peter groaned as he threw open his locker. He grabbed his clean uniform, slipping out of his Nikes with practiced ease. He stepped into one leg of his jumpsuit, doing a little hopping dance to keep balanced in his rush.

"Man, we didn't expect ghosts to have a spook-in down at Cityplex," Winston said as he zipped up his own uniform.

"And we've not yet ascertained that Cityplex is the target area for the event," Egon said, taking out another P.K.E. meter from his locker. "I've got meters set for both Ray and Janine's biorhythms. We should be able to locate them fairly easily, since we know where they're supposed to be."

Winston slammed his locker shut and headed for Ecto. "I just hope we find 'em before whatever is that's supposed to happen happens ."

"We'll find 'em, Winston. Unless, of course, they've taken off to the Bahamas with my money," Peter said, trying to lessen their worry by joking. "You know how Janine loves those drinks with the little umbrellas." He tilted his head back a bit so he could zip up his uniform and as he did, he noticed in dismay that the floor beneath his work boots had begun to vibrate. He reached out a hand to his still-open locker door to steady himself. "What the heck is that? An earthquake?" He certainly did want to believe it was a natural phenomenon and not the pronouncement of a dimensional gate opening. But as much as he wanted to deny it, it sure as heck reminded him of the Goze.

Before the others could answer, a loud crash of thunder beat down around them and the front window above the main doors shattered. Peter ducked and put his arms over his head as glass shards pelted down on him. Outside the firehall, car alarms began to blare. Horns sounded as brakes squealed, followed by the sounds of crashing metal and breaking glass.

"That wasn't thunder," Peter breathed as he straightened up.

"It was an explosion," Winston said, getting out of Ecto slowly, a bit unsteady on his feet. "A big one."

" Peter ."

The psychologist had never heard Egon say his name like that before, and he hoped he never would again. His heart twisted violently at the raw pain he'd heard, and his first panicked thought was that Egon had somehow been badly injured. A quick look at the physicist reassured him that he was whole and unharmed, but then Peter saw his eyes. And in that moment, he understood. It was inevitable, the solution to the uneasiness and dread they'd all felt. The explosion had been centered at Cityplex.

Ray.

Janine.

Suddenly, what Slimer had told them made horrifying sense. Many, Egon. Many. Not time.

Somehow, the spud had known. Just like all those other ghosts who had passed over the firehall. It wasn't a Gate opening. It was nothing more than a bunch of supernatural rubberneckers getting there early for a good spot to witness the explosion. It sickened him to think about it. My god , he wondered. Just how many people died in that blast? Janine? Ray?

"No!" Peter shouted, denying it. "It wasn't at Cityplex, and even if it was, Ray and Janine weren't there. They went there first, then to lunch . . . " But what if they'd stayed around the complex to eat? There were tons of restaurants and open-air eateries around there. How far did the blast carry?

"My God," Winston said quietly, shutting his eyes. After a long moment, he took a deep breath and opened his eyes. "Come on, guys," he said, his voice too steady, too controlled. "We've got to get down there, see if we can help."

"Yes," Egon nodded. "Yes. We need to go. Peter . . . " he trailed off, swallowing hard. "Peter, we need to take the packs."

"Packs? Can we configure them to help? Clear away the . . . rubble?" God, saying that one word made it real, made his mind visualize what it must be like there.

Egon blinked; his mind had clearly not been on that train of thought. "That's a good idea, Peter." He nodded. "Yes. Excellent."

"You mean you had another idea for the packs? What -" Peter broke off, a sudden, horrible idea creeping into his brain. "No, Egon -- you're not suggesting that we go up there and start trapping the ghosts of those people who just . . . My god -- what if it's Ray? Or Janine?"

Egon gasped and Winston blurted out, "Peter! You know Egon wouldn't even think about that."

"You're forgetting about the readings, Peter," Egon said, struggling to regain his metal equilibrium. Ray and Janine are not dead , he told himself fiercely. He wouldn't even allow himself that thought. "I picked up some Class 7's, remember?" He turned to Winston. "Do you think we'll be able to get there in Ecto?"

Grateful that Egon had glossed over his outburst, understanding it for what it was -- worry for Ray and Janine -- Peter pulled himself out his shock and made himself concentrate on what this team did best. And it wasn't busting ghosts. It was being there for each other.

"I'll find a way, m'man," Winston assured Egon.

"Then let's go, " Peter said. On his way over to Ecto, he stopped and put a hand on Egon's shoulder. "They're okay, Egon. They are ." They had to be.

Nodding, but unable to speak for fear his voice would betray his doubt, Egon allowed himself the moment of reassurance and then the two headed for the car. Then he stopped abruptly. "The containment unit."

Peter pulled up short beside him, understanding immediately. "Oh, shit." That was the last thing they needed to have to deal with right now -- the possibility that the containment unit might have been damaged from the concussion of the explosion. "The alarms haven't gone off --"

"No, but it still might have sustained some damage. Even a hairline crack could eventually breach the protective grid. I've got to check it." His last words rose in frustration, wanting, no, needing to go with Peter and Winston. Peter took the P.K.E. meter that was thrust into his hands without protest, but Egon could see that the psychologist realized just how much it was costing Egon to not be able to go with them. Egon had to stay. Among the three of them, he was the only one that could give the containment unit a thorough enough inspection. For the first time in his life, Egon cursed his logical nature, wanting the luxury of being able to give into his panicked urgency to find Ray and Janine.

"Go," Egon ordered, already backing toward the basement stairs. "I'll join you as soon as I can," he shouted back over his shoulder as he turned and ran.

Day One
1:48 p.m. EST

". . . understand exactly what you're asking me to do here. I just can't evacuate on just anybody's authority-"

Ray gripped the phone tighter, the compulsion to get out of the building overwhelming. He didn't have the time to try to explain himself again. Whatever was going to happen, it was going to happen soon . The building supervisor was rambling on about procedure and Ray knew none of them had the time. Putting one hand over the mouthpiece and looking over at Nick, he asked, "Did you find my friend?"

"Talked to Ms. Stein up at the D.E.P," the security guard said. "She said she'd tell her to come right down. But Dr. Stantz, about calling 911 . . . I could get in big trouble and I've only got a few years left to retirement." He looked longingly toward the front doors that part-time tour guide and actress Bobbi Blair had disappeared through at the mention of the word 'evacuate'.

How could he make everyone understand? Ray wondered desperately. Couldn't they feel it - even a twinge of the panic that was threatening to consume him? They all had to get out of here. Now. But how to get them moving? As he looked toward the elevators to see if Janine had come down, he saw the answer. Dropping the telephone receiver, Ray sprinted over to the wall behind the security desk and hit the fire alarm. He grinned in sheer relief as a satisfyingly-loud bell began to sound throughout the building. He didn't know why he hadn't thought of it sooner.

"Oh, holy gee, Dr. Stantz, " Nick said in dismay.

"Raaay!" A familiar high-pitched voice shrieked. Ray spun to see Slimer splatting through the entrance doors. "Ray!"

"Slimer!" Ray was thrilled to see him and didn't at all mind the world-class sliming he was getting as the little ghost grabbed him around the neck in a fierce hug. He would be a great help. The fire alarm in combo with a ghost would definitely get people moving. "Come on, Slimer," Ray said anxiously. The ghost looked around, his large yellow eyes full of fear, but he pulled away from Ray, waiting to be told what to do. "We've got to get as many people as we can out of the building!" Ray broke into a full run, heading for the atrium. "Nick -- get out of here!" he shouted as he passed the open-mouthed security guard, standing frozen at the sight of Slimer. The older man shook himself and hurried to the exit.

That's one , Ray thought.

The fire alarm was doing an excellent job. A few people were already passing him, heading out. And he was right - seeing Slimer did put a little spring in their step. As he neared the atrium, he noticed how much darker it had gotten. The storm. Looking up through the arched skylight, Ray could see lightning as it illuminated the darkening clouds. Could the storm be the reason he had to get everyone out? He really didn't have the time to wonder. Pulling his attention back, he saw that the upper floors of the building were emptying out as the majority of employees followed the building's prescribed escape plan. Ray had never been so glad to see anything in his life. And then he saw a very familiar red-haired woman looking down at him over the railing on the third floor.

"Janine!" Even as he shouted her name, he realized she probably couldn't hear him over the shrill alarm and the noise of the people as they made their way to exits. He came to a stop, deciding that sending Slimer up to get her was going to be the fastest way of getting her out of the building. As much as he wanted to save everyone, Janine's safety came first. She was family.

He turned to the ghost. "Slimer, go up --"

He never finished his command.

Slimer shrieked "Ray!" and hurled his ectoplasmic form around the Ghostbuster, totally engulfing Ray's head and upper body. Ray felt himself being pulled up, his sneakered feet kicking in the open air beneath them. He tried to protest, gagging as his mouth filled with ectoplasm. No, he thought in despair, save Janine . . . He tried to pull the ghost off him, but his arms were pinned awkwardly and he couldn't put much strength into his effort. Then something that felt like the huge, warm hand of a giant pushed at his back, and Ray found himself hurtling forward. He was moving so fast that his eyes only registered a blur of shapes, all tinged green as he looked at the world through Slimer's body.

He came to a stop. Suddenly. And hard. As he hit the concrete somewhere outside of the building, his last thought before he sank down into unconsciousness was of Janine and how he'd failed to get her out in time.

Day One
2:01 p.m. EST

Winston and Peter had to leave Ecto a few streets away from Cityplex. As they'd neared the blast site, the roads had become increasingly littered with debris. Cars remained where they'd stopped, leaving most of the roadways impassable. Some of the autos were abandoned, some with drivers and passengers still inside, presumably waiting for someone to come by and tell them what to do. Peter and Winston jogged through the obstacle course, proton packs and extra traps bouncing with each step. They were silent as they ran, each lost in his own imagination of what they would find when they reached Cityplex. There was no doubt in either's mind that was where the blast originated.

Peter's body was on automatic as he dodged the chunks of concrete and twisted metal that seemed to be everywhere. Glass crunched beneath his booted feet and, ahead of him, emergency and police sirens howled, but he didn't hear any of it. His only thought was of finding Ray and Janine safe, and if he didn't . . . it would be all his fault.

Damn it! He shouldn't have to be worried about them at all. He should have sent the renewals for the packs in a week ago. Or taken them in himself. Why hadn't he done it? Famous Venkman procrastination, he berated himself. Just to get out of having to deal with a woman that just didn't meet up to his dating criteria, he'd put Janine and Ray in danger...

He stopped himself from going any further. This was not the time for self-recrimination. There was no time for a first-class guilt trip, even if his bags were already packed and waiting. He had to stay focused on finding Ray and Janine alive and whole.

"Oh, man."

Winston's soft voice reached him when the rest of the world hadn't been able to. Seeing that Winston had stopped, Peter halted, suddenly realizing they had rounded the last corner that led to Broad Street. Following his friend's horrified gaze, Peter sucked in a shocked breath as he saw what was left of Cityplex.

Oh, god . He'd known it, known it as surely as he'd known his own name, that Cityplex was where the explosion had been. But until he laid his own eyes on it, some small disbelieving part of him still held hope that they'd all been wrong, that the weird feelings of doom they'd all felt had been wrong. But now, that last hope had been extinguished, and it drifted away with the billows of black smoke that rose up from the wrecked building.

Peter had seen conceptual renderings of the building that the Times had run and at Ray's insistence, he and the guys had driven past Cityplex more than a few times during its construction. The sorry ruin that stood across the street in front of him bore little resemblance to what had been touted as 'New York's finest architectural achievement'. The entire front of the building had disappeared. Gone, as though it had never existed. The massive amount of rubble and debris that covered Broad Street and the parking lot across from it was the only testament to it ever being there at all. Most of the remaining three sides of the building still stood and Peter could see straight into the building, its interior hollowed out by the blast. The back and two outer side walls were supported precariously against each other, making a sort of inverted 'V'. Inside, he could see what was left of the office floors as they came together in and on each other, reminding him somehow of a botched shuffle on a deck of playing cards. Numb, he wondered how anyone could have possibly survived.

A wave of nausea rolled over him, and he shut his eyes. His heart pounded wildly in his chest and he knew it had nothing to do with the mad dash through the city streets. This was so unreal. All the weird things he'd seen, from the bizarre nightmare vistas of the Netherworld to New York's devastation at the time of Ragnarok, nothing had tilted his world so far off its axis as being witness to this man-made disaster. But those other times the situations had been supernatural in origin, and the supernatural was his business. He expected it. And the Ghostbusters were damn good at their job. But this time, he didn't think even Egon could come up with a last-ditch, brilliant solution that would return everything to normal. There was no super-technical gadget they could create that with just a press of a button would whisk them all away to safety. This was real, this was final. Ray and Janine were missing, and if they had been in that building when it had exploded. . . Just clap your hands together three times and Ray and Janine will be okay . . . Oh, man, he was losing it.

Then something, some indefinable feeling, made him open his eyes and look to his left at the parking lot. Cars had been tossed backwards as easily a child might throw Matchbox replicas. Some were on fire, brilliant orange flames licking out from their interiors, acrid smoke hanging all around. Firefighters and paramedics were already on the scene - somehow they'd found a way to get their emergency vehicles through. The paramedics were already at work on the survivors. Most of the victims were down and unmoving, but some were still on their feet, milling around, dazed and in shock. And there were several of the walking wounded struggling to make their way back toward the bombed building --

"RAY!" The occultist's name tore from Peter's throat. Ray was alive! "Winston, it's Ray!" Peter nearly collapsed in relief at the sight of him. Breaking into a dead run, Winston not far behind him, Peter continued to shout his friend's name, but Ray didn't stop. "My god, Ray," Peter gasped, blinking back sudden tears as he put a hand on the younger man's arm as he reached him. He winced at the cold sticky wetness there. "You're alive!"

"Let me go!" Ray shouted, shaking off Peter's hand and continuing his staggering walk. "Gotta go back..." He stumbled and Peter was quick to steady him, but as soon as he found his footing, he started again for the building.

"Easy, Ray," Winston said as he came to a halt in front of him, forcing Ray to stop. When the younger man tried to push blindly past him, Winston took him by the arms and held him, shouting for a paramedic.

"Stay still, Ray," Peter said urgently, turning him from Winston so he could look at him. "You're hurt." Blood was dripping down what was left of the right leg of Ray's tan slacks. Peter ran his eyes over him quickly, looking for injuries. There was a cut on his upper thigh, accounting for the blood on his pants, and there was some kind of green substance on Ray's head and upper body. It looked like -- but it couldn't be, could it? The psychologist gently wiped some of it off Ray's face. It was. Ectoplasm. Slimer ? Too overwhelmed to give it any more speculation, Peter checked Ray for more injuries. He found, to his immense relief and amazement, that the cut on his leg seemed to be the only thing wrong with him. Then he looked into Ray's eyes, checking for unequal pupils, and something tightened in his gut when he saw the stunned helplessness in the brown depths. "You're okay, buddy," he said hoarsely, "you're okay."

Ray blinked and looked at him. "Peter?"

"Yeah, Tex," he answered shakily. "It's me. And Winston. We're here, buddy. Come on, let's get you off your feet . . . "

"Peter," Ray said slowly, finally seeing him, then he gripped Peter's shoulders so tightly that psychologist winced. "Peter! She's still in there!" His voice rose, his words tumbling out rapid fire. "She didn't get out! I knew something was going to happen! I tried to get everyone out, I hit the fire alarm. Peter, I tried to evacuate the building BUT I DIDN'T GET HER OUT!" Ray was shaking violently, his voice hysterical. "JANINE!" The occultist let go of Peter and started again for the building, calling out again and again for the secretary.

Peter exchanged a horrified look with Winston. In the moment that he'd found Ray, his worry over Janine's safety had retreated as he assured himself that Ray alive and unharmed. He supposed he'd assumed that if Ray was okay, Janine was fine, too. She should be here with him. Had to be, that's how it worked. She was one of them, a part of the team. The Ghostbusters had come through so many close calls and narrow escapes that it was a given that their luck followed Janine too. Didn't it? Oh, god, didn't it? Shaking himself out of even considering the alternative, he grabbed Ray by the arm to stop him. Ray fought back, still crying out Janine's name, and Peter drew him into the circle of his arms and held on tight, needing the warmth and reassurance of his living body as Peter again faced the possibility of losing part of his chosen family.

Winston grabbed the P.K.E. meter that was dangling from his belt and whirled around to face Cityplex. With a shaking hand, he activated the device, scanning for Janine's biorhythms.

Nothing.

Peter uttered something that sounded halfway between a sob and a curse. Janine just couldn't be gone. She was more than just the Ghostbuster's secretary to him; she was his friend, his pain-in-the-butt kid sister. And to Egon she was so much more. God, how was he going to tell Egon if she hadn't made it?

But Winston hadn't given up. Hurriedly he fine-tuned the instrument, boosting its gain to maximum. An eternity or two passed until the meter gave a soft beep and its screen lit up. Peter hadn't seriously prayed in years -- his line of work had pretty much negated the religious teachings of his youth -- but when the readings grew strong and steady, he found himself whispering a few heartfelt words of thanks toward the heavens. Their luck was still holding.

"All right !" The jubilant words erupted from the black man. "I got her! She's alive!" Winston turned back to Peter. "I'm gonna see if I can pinpoint where she is." Without waiting for an answer, Winston started off carefully toward the building, his eyes intent on the meter.

"Be careful, Zed!" Peter yelled after him. A sudden clap of thunder startled him, and he jumped, holding Ray tighter. The storm was almost upon them, the sky darkening even more from the smoke of the explosion and the approaching clouds. The wind was very strong now, and Peter felt the first drops of rain splash on his face.

"Ghostbusters? What the heck are you guys doing here?" The paramedic didn't wait for an answer, instead turning his attention to Ray. "Let me take a look at this man." Peter reluctantly let go of the occultist and together the two men managed to get Ray off his feet. Peter dropped to his knees beside him. "Hey, easy there, guy," the sandy haired medic said gently but firmly as Ray fought them.

"Ray, calm down. Janine's okay," Peter hurried to assure him. "Winston's picking her up on a meter, she's alive. We'll find her." The loud roar of an engine made Peter look up momentarily from Ray. His eyes widened as he saw a very large man on a very large motorcycle, heading straight for them. And riding pillion was a very wind-blown and extremely welcome sight.

Egon.

Even with the incongruous sight of Egon on the back of a Harley, Peter's world regained some of its balance. The four of them were together. The motorcycle came to a stop a few feet from them and the physicist jumped off, a maneuver that should have been awkward with the proton pack on his back, but Egon pulled it off flawlessly. Peter was impressed; only Egon could ride a Harley behind a Hell's Angel and manage to make it look dignified. After giving his thanks to the biker who shrugged and said, "No sweat, man," Egon hurried over to Peter and Ray.

"Well, Egon, you do know how to make an entrance," Peter said, a smile touching his lips briefly as the blond man dropped down to his knees beside Ray.

"A motorcycle seemed the best way to negotiate through the streets," Egon murmured as he leaned over to check Ray. When he'd assured himself that Ray was alive and his injuries slight, he straightened and looked at Peter. "And I didn't have any subway tokens," he added in the same vein, seeing the strain on Peter's face. He looked around, realizing they were two short and his face paled dramatically. "Where's Janine?" he demanded. "And Winston?"

"Janine's alive," Peter said quickly. "Winston picked up her biorhythms and he's tracking her." His eyes flicked past Egon to Cityplex, then back to his friend's worried face. "But it looks like she's still inside," he said slowly, not wanting to voice it because then it would be real.

Egon shot to his feet and started immediately for the building. A policeman tried to stop him, but the physicist was not to be deterred. He shrugged off the cop's restraining arm, and even over the chaos, Peter could hear Egon's bass voice rising with impatient anger. When Egon gestured down at his P.K.E. meter then toward the building, the cop waved him on. Peter looked over at the paramedic, then down at Ray, who had calmed down considerably and was allowing treatment. "Tex, you with me?"

"Yeah," Ray answered, his voice small and miserable. "Go with Egon, Peter. Help him find Janine." He said something else, but it was drowned out by another loud clash of thunder. Lightning slashed across the sky, illuminating the scene eerily for a moment, like a ghostly photograph being snapped. Peter shivered.

"What was that, Ray?" Peter asked leaning closer, unutterably relieved that Ray was alert and seemed to be operating mentally on all thrusters. Ray shook his head and lifted a hand to him. Peter took it immediately and gave it a reassuring squeeze, looking a question at the paramedic.

"I think he'll be fine," the man answered. "But I'm going to have him transported just in case."

"Wouldn't have it any other way," Peter nodded. "Okay, here's the plan. Ray, you go with this nice man. I'll catch up with Egon and Winston, and we'll get Janine. Then before you can say 'three cheese and pepperoni pizza', we'll be down at the hospital to pick you up. Work for you, buddy?"

Ray looked up at him, knowing full well what the psychologist was doing with his casual tone of voice, but accepting it because he understood just how much Peter needed to believe that everything was going to be all right. "Works for me," he agreed, squeezing his eyes shut against the burning sting of tears. "See you guys later." He wanted desperately to stay and help look for Janine, but he knew he couldn't. Ever since he'd stretched out on the pavement, his back had been hurting like the blazes. The slightest movement sent him on a roller coaster ride of agony. It had taken every ounce of control he had not to alert Peter, and then Egon, to his pain. He knew that Peter would be torn by wanting to go with him to the hospital if he thought he was seriously hurt, and wanting to stay here and look for Janine. Ray made the decision for him. There wasn't anything Peter could do at the hospital but wait, and here he could be with Egon, helping him and Winston.

"We'll be there soon, Ray." Peter looked up intently at the paramedic. "You take good care of him." The man nodded, and Peter gave the occultist's hand one last squeeze before he got to his feet and ran after Egon.

By the time he'd caught up to him, Egon was at what had once been the front entrance of Cityplex, his ever-present P.K.E. meter trained on what was left of the inside of the building. As Peter hurried up to stand beside him, the rain finally began in earnest.

Egon turned to him, his usual wild curl wilted by the rain, his lean face white against the darkened backdrop of the interior. With his free hand, he pulled the thrower from his pack. "Power up," he said, the whirring charge from his own proton pack unnaturally loud even with the noise of the storm and emergency vehicles.

"What's up, Egon?" Peter said, immediately bringing his own pack online and his thrower ready to bear on whatever Egon knew was here. "The Class 7 you read earlier?" Peter gritted his teeth. They really didn't have time to go up against a nasty, not while Janine was counting on them to find her.

"Yes," Egon said, taking a careful step around a large chunk of concrete and debris. He brushed his dripping hair out of his eyes with the back of his hand that held the P.K.E. meter. He paused and looked over at Peter. "It's imperative that we capture the demon that I'm reading."

"Okay, I can understand that," Peter said, trying to put all thoughts of Janine needing them on hold while they dealt with the demon. "It's never a good idea to let a demon run loose. But why is it here?" His next thought made him start in anger. "It didn't cause this, did it?"

Egon shook his head, his mouth a taut line. "No, I don't think so, Peter, but it is here because of the explosion." From their right came a pain-filled moan, and as one they hurried over to investigate.

There was an arm lying on what was left of the wooden flooring. Just an arm. Peter grimaced and managed to execute a quick stutter-step to avoid it. Recovering his balance, he shot a concerned look over at Egon. The physicist had stopped and was staring down at the grisly sight, his blue eyes locked on the engagement ring that encircled the woman's finger. Peter reached out and laid a hand on Egon's arm. "You okay?"

Egon tore his eyes from the ring to look at Peter. "No," he answered honestly.

Drawing a shaky breath, Peter said, "Me either, Spengs. Me either."

Another moan sounded, this one fainter than the first. Peter released Egon and they both turned their attention to one of the piles of concrete, wood and metal that surrounded the severed limb. That had to be where the sounds were coming from. The danger of a Class 7 forgotten, Peter holstered his thrower and began to pull debris from the mound. Egon's eyes searched the base of the pile and cried, "Peter, here!" and Peter quickly shifted his efforts to the area that Egon indicated. The physicist dropped down beside him and together they began to clear away the rubble.

A few feverish moments later, they found the dying woman.

It was a miracle that she was still alive at all. Peter's stomach lurched as he saw her horribly broken body. They hadn't been able to uncover the woman totally -- several chunks of concrete had been too large to move. Peter was no paramedic, but it didn't take any great medical training to see that most of her lower body had been crushed. Somehow, the woman still had strength enough to turn her head toward the sounds of her rescuers. She looked up at them blankly, her eyes full of pain and confusion.Â

"Help's on the way," Peter told her automatically, quickly reaching across her body and taking her right hand, pressing it tightly between his own. He felt her weakly return the pressure, but the flesh was too cold. "You hang in there. Just hold on to me and don't let go." But even as the plea left his mouth, he saw the life fade from her eyes, eyes that were almost the same shade of blue as Janine's.

His vision blurred and he lowered her hand, placing it gently on her chest. "God, Egon," he said when he felt Egon's hand on his shoulder. Peter shut his eyes, and if there were tears mixing with the rain that wet his cheeks, Egon was kind enough not to notice.

"I know, Peter," Egon said, his voice rough with suppressed emotion.

The moment stretched as they both tried to get a handle on their emotions, then it shattered all together as a cold hand encircled Peter's wrist, gripping him with frightening force. The psychologist uttered a terrified squawk, recognizing a ghostly hand when he felt one. Tears abruptly halted, his eyes flew open and he looked down at the woman's body. His heart leapt into his throat as he saw her spectral hand holding him fast. "Egon!" he screeched, and pulled with all his strength to get free. He knew he was rapidly losing the famous Venkman cool, and he didn't care. He'd just seen this woman alive, had watched her die, and now was witnessing her crossing over.

Peter found himself suddenly and wholeheartedly considering a career change.

Letting go of Peter's wrist, the woman's spirit rose up from her body and hovered a few feet above them, her ectoplasmic form whole and unbroken. Peter had been pulling so hard to get free that when she suddenly released him, he fell backwards with a thud. He sat there staring up at the apparition, rubbing his numbed wrist. For the first time in years, he was frozen at the sight of a ghost.

From beside him, Egon's thrower lashed out. Blinking, Peter knew Egon couldn't be thinking of trapping her, then realized that the physicist was aiming a spot behind the apparition. A large black mass had materialized just beyond the ghost, and ugly, writhing tendrils were reaching out from it. One of the tendrils wrapped itself around the spirit, and the dead woman's ghost threw her head back and let loose an otherworldly scream of pure anguish.

Peter's paralysis broke and he jumped up, his proton stream joining Egon's against the mass. The blackness recoiled against the beams, and the ghost of the dead woman was thrown free. "We'll never hold it with just two throwers!" Peter yelled as the mass started to fade.

Right on cue, Winston appeared and added his thrower to the mix. That did it. The mass reformed and swirled in on itself, reshaping into a very large red demon, complete with horns, hooves and glowing eyes. It snarled at the Ghostbusters, its sharp teeth flashing in the staccato bursts of lightning, its voice a rumble deeper than thunder. "Release me!" it commanded.

"Yeah, right," Peter said and got a trap ready. "Geez, you'd think that demons would be a bit more original when they materialize," he commented, hoping that his voice didn't sound as shaky as he felt. Egon threw out a trap of his own and in unison, they triggered them.

"It simply chose a form that had been successful in terrorizing humans in the past," Egon yelled over the noise of the throwers and traps. "What better shape to take than that of the Devil?"

Peter had to agree as he watched the demon as it glared down at them, its eyes promising everlasting pain and torture on those who thought to trap it.

"Winston, we need another trap!" The demon bellowed and thrashed around trying to free itself, then it started to disappear into the trap's suction. Winston's open trap began to pull something out of the demon, tiny glowing balls of light that were almost too bright to look at. "Peter, close your trap now!" Egon ordered, as he did the same. The demon let out one more unholy roar of rage, then it was gone as the trap doors closed over it.

Egon looked at Winston. "Don't trap those -- let them go." Winston looked at him questioningly, but obeyed, triggering the trap closed before the glowing globes could be sucked in. Peter and Egon shut down their throwers and Winston followed suit.

The balls of light hovered for a moment, then glided silently over to the remaining ghost, weaving and bobbing around her. The apparition grew misty, fading as the light from the spheres grew in intensity. The woman cocked her head as if listening, and then the confusion and pain vanished from her countenance, replaced by quietly resigned acceptance. Then there was another brilliant flash of lightning and when the three men's eyes had readjusted, they saw that both the globes of light and the ghost were gone.

His chest heaving from exertion and stress, Peter tried to pull his thoughts back into perspective. "Okay," he said finally, "did what I think just happened happen?" The thrower seemed too heavy in hands, but he was reluctant to put it away.

Egon cleared his throat and tried to find a dry spot on his uniform to wipe his glasses on. "If you think that we witnessed that woman's spirit being taken by a demon and then released along with other victim's spirits to pass on to a higher realm, then the answer is yes." Peter could see how red and swollen Egon's eyes were and he knew that his own were in the same shape. They'd both been shaken deeply by what they'd just experienced.

"You mean that demon was here to take her soul?" Winston asked, appalled.

Egon gave up on his glasses and returned them to their perch on his nose. "That's right, Winston," he replied wearily. He really didn't feel like explaining now, and for him that must be a first, but the others needed to realize what they were going to be fighting. "There is a theory surrounding disasters that claim a high number of human lives, that the event acts as a kind of supernatural magnet, drawing ghosts and other entities to it."

Peter nodded. "Yeah, I kinda thought that was why all the goopers were heading here." Actually, the way Egon explained it made it sound better than ghosts just wanting to watch the carnage out of some sort of morbid fascination. Maybe they just couldn't help being drawn to a mass migration of new spirits to their realm of existence. Then another thought struck him. "That's what you suspected back at the firehall. You had some idea of what was about to go down."

Egon let out deep sigh. "Yes, I did," he admitted. "It all came together when we talked with Slimer. I'd been uneasy all afternoon, but I thought I was simply feeling guilty about not accompanying Janine. I had no idea that we were all picking up on the psychic undercurrents, or perhaps the impending danger to Ray and Janine." He shook his head in disgust. "I should have pieced it together sooner. At the very least, I should have listened to my intuition."

"Whoa - time out, Egon," Peter said quickly. "You couldn't have realized it any sooner than you did."

"Perhaps," Egon said, but clearly not letting himself off the hook. "But getting back to the demon and why it was here, it was attracted to this site not only to observe, but to expropriate the souls of the dead for its own purposes."

"For its own purposes," Winston repeated thoughtfully. Then he looked Egon, horrified, remembering the way the globes of light had been trapped inside the body of the demon. "You're sure it's not like a vulture waiting around for an animal to die so it can feed?"

Peter felt sick. "God, Winston, what a thought." But it seemed familiar to him somehow. Hadn't there been some awful movie on cable last month that dealt with people's souls getting sucked out? He shuddered. Life imitates art, if you could consider that so-called movie 'art'.

"No, Winston, I don't think so," Egon continued on hurriedly as if that particular idea hadn't occurred to him and, now that it had, he wanted to dismiss it immediately. "It would be more like the demon conscripting the new spirits for its army of followers. And Class 7's are powerful enough to enslave the other ghosts that are drawn here as well. I've often wondered where demons like Tolay get their seemingly-unlimited number of minions. I think we may have found the answer. And it also may explain why we've encountered so many bizarre ghosts and entities over the years. The demon may be able to shape a newly released life-force, like those glowing orbs we just saw, into any form it desires." He shook himself out of the fascinating theory. It really wasn't important right now. He looked at his friends. "I read two Class 7's. We trapped one."

"So that leaves one waiting to snatch up souls," Peter said succinctly, then wished he'd thought before he'd spoken. Egon flinched, and Peter knew he was thinking of Janine. She was alive now, her biorhythm readings proved it, but they had no idea of how badly she was hurt. The thought of a demon hovering over her, waiting for her to die so it could take her soul was something none of them could bear to consider. "Then we've got some work to do," Peter said. "No soul is gonna get snatched on Peter Venkman's watch."

Egon managed a wan smile. "Then I suggest we get started. Winston, have you pinpointed Janine's location?"

"Not yet, but I was close when I heard your throwers."

"Then we find her first, keeping a meter scanning for the Class 7 as we go." Egon turned at the sound of rescue efforts. He hadn't even been aware of other people being in the building with them, and from the surprised looks he saw on Peter and Winston's faces, they hadn't noticed them either. He wondered if any of the workers had witnessed the demon's capture. Well, if they had or hadn't, Peter had quite a public relations job ahead of him. To the shocked and grief-stricken general public and bloodthirsty media, it would appear that the Ghostbusters were on the scene busting the ghosts of the recently deceased. Even Peter had thought that very thing back at the station. Unless Peter explained their actions and intent quickly, it was probable that the Ghostbusters would be banned from the rescue efforts. Egon could not allow that. Janine was here, and he knew that they were her best hope of being located and rescued quickly.

And even though the thought of not reaching her in time was a slashing pain to his heart, he knew he had to consider it. There was another Class 7 here, and it was probable as the death toll rose, even more would be attracted. Egon would move Heaven and Earth to save her life, but if the unthinkable happened and he lost her, there was no way in Hell he would allow Janine's bright and loving essence to be corrupted and forced into the service of a demon.

Day One
9:23 p.m. EST

So this is what being dead is like. I've always wondered . . .

Then Janine tried to move, and when the pain coursed through her, she decided that the afterlife wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

Ray.

The last thing she remembered before she died was seeing him, his eyes wide and worried and then he had turned to Slimer -- Slimer ? What the heck had he been doing at Cityplex? And just what had happened, and come to think of it, why was she dead? Her thoughts were fogged and her head was killing her - killing me, good one, Janine -- and she felt like she was going to throw up. Did you throw up when you were dead? Slimer could, but the thought of having an afterlife that was even slightly like the Spud's held no appeal. Except maybe that she could still be with the guys. Egon . . . The thought of not being able to see him again hurt worse than it did to be dead.

Her thoughts drifted back to Ray. Had he died in the explosion -- what explosion? -- too? Explosion. That was why she was dead, and why her ears were hurting like crazy and she couldn't hear anything but a monotonous, nauseating buzz. Maybe if she concentrated, she could at least get the buzz to change its pitch a couple of octaves so that it would compliment the pounding drumbeat in her skull. Janine Melnitz and her Amazing Afterlife One-Woman Band. She managed a weak chuckle, thinking she'd been around Peter and his weird sense of humor way too long.

And then pain overtook her fuzzed thoughts and she let herself be pulled down into the darkness.

Day Two
1:30 a.m. EST

"And I don't give a rat's patootie where the architect is," Steven 'Superman' Reed, the United States Emergency Management Agency* coordinator said into his cell phone. It crackled with static and threatened to disconnect as another brilliant burst of lightning lit the night sky. "Get hold of him and get him down here." He savagely punched the off button and put the tiny phone back in his pocket. Six feet, two inches and 240 pounds, Steve was quite used to getting his way. And right now he was not a happy camper.

He stood just outside of the temporary command tent and watched another flash of what he'd been informed was 'protonic' energy rising up from the blast site. Damn, the Ghostbusters were at it again. He ran a hand through his jet-black hair and sighed in frustration. How the hell was he supposed to get this rescue effort fully operational when he had to contend with ghosts and demons?

It was a miracle that the Ghostbusters were still alive, the way they were charging around in the rubble of the building. Steve had assigned a six man team to accompany them and keep their butts from falling through the unstable debris. So far, it had worked, but the Ghostbusters had been out there for almost twelve hours and he knew they had to be getting exhausted and careless. It looked like he was going to have to reel them in soon, make them adhere to the twelve-hours on, twelve hours off schedule that all the rescue workers were working. He suspected he'd have a fight on his hands about it, especially from Venkman. That man was a born rebel to authority, telling and not asking permission to stay on site and do their 'ghost busting'. Only a call from the City's mayor had allowed them to stay.

"Steve, we got finally got the official blanket purchase approval from the City," his assistant Layne said, the younger man suddenly appearing at his side, juggling a handful of documents.

"That's good, since we've already 'hired' the heavy machinery," Steve said dryly. "What's the news on the Intelligence interviews?"

"Good," Layne replied. "You know, it really is amazing how many people weren't there when the bomb went off. Well, so far we've talked to almost everyone that was off work today and we even had the luck of speaking with the main entrance security guard. He had a pretty good idea how many visitors were in the building at the time of the explosion. I've also managed to get hold of a listing of the people that are normally in the building."

"Great," Steve nodded. "Add that to the prelim information from the early rescued and we'll have a pretty good idea of how many people we're looking for. It's good thing that other Ghostbuster - Stantz? -- managed to hit the fire alarm. Since most of the people were in the process of evacuating, we know to concentrate our search on the outside stairwells. That guy managed to save a lot of lives. But I gotta admit, I find it more than a little odd that Stantz called for an evacuation without evidence of an emergency."

"You're not thinking he had anything to do with the bomb?" Layne, a native New Yorker, asked in outraged tones. Not many people had the guts to stand up to 'Superman', but Layne had never been intimated by the big man. And the Ghostbusters were local heroes. Layne had followed their exploits for years.

"I'm not sure what I think anymore," Steve confessed tiredly, flashing an apologetic smile at the indignant man. "Sorry I brought it up. Anyway, Con-Ed, the water and the gas company have all shut down their mains, so that's covered," he said, returning to their progress. "And I see the Red Cross has set up to feed everyone. Now, if I can just get rid of my -" he looked again toward the building, "-- spiritual problems, we'll have everything running as smoothly as I'd like."

Day Two
10:57 a.m. EST

SITUATION REPORT 002
16 October 1997

MANHATTAN BOMBING
All times are Eastern Standard Time unless otherwise stated.

SITUATION: On 15 October, 1997, at 1:55 p.m., in the State and City of New York, Borough of Manhattan, one bomb of as yet undetermined origin and composition destroyed the Cityplex Municipal Building. The building normally housed approximately 350 people, and it is estimated that there were 100 visitors on the day of the bombing.

CASUALTIES: As of 10:00 a.m., 16 October, the National Health Organization reports 15 confirmed dead, between 100 and 150 injured, and 90 missing. NOTE: The initial low death count has been attributed to a timely warning of evacuation by a Dr. Raymond Stantz. REF: Police Report (See Attached)

WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasts continued thunderstorms on October 16, with highs in the mid-60s to lower 70s. The extreme amount of lightning connected with these storms has hampered rescue efforts, due to the high content of iron in the debris. Electrical discharge from repeated lightning strikes has interfered with communications and disrupted electronic searching equipment.

STATUS OF OPERATIONS: The United States Emergency Management Agency (USEMA) has activated its Response Plan and two Metropolitan (Metro) Search and Rescue teams with specially trained personnel consisting of rescue, medical and search components have arrived. These teams are from New York City and Virginia Beach, VA. Three additional teams have also been activated and are awaiting transportation.

METRO SEARCH AND RESCUE: MS & R teams are concerned by the structural integrity of the building and how the storms and their own rescue operations are affecting the building. Â Despite the dangerous search conditions, heavy debris removal has begun. REF: Construction Crew and Equipment Inventory; Zeddemore, Edward. (See Attached)

MS & R teams are being assisted at this time by the Ghostbusters, a local paranormal location and elimination team consisting of Dr. Egon Spengler, Dr. Peter Venkman and Winston Zeddemore. REF: Portable Nuclear Accelerators; Detection Equipment, Specialized (See Attached)

At this time, the entire MS & R Teams consist of 250 rescue workers, 18 dogs, and 1 Ectoplasmic Netherworld Entity. REF: "Slimer", Ghostbusters (See Attached)

END OF SITUATION REPORT 002

Day Two
12:03 p.m. EST

Someone was crying. Janine's mind swam once again to the surface of the darkness, wondering how long she'd be able to stay conscious this time. But she really wasn't certain that she wanted to be awake and alert for any serious length of time. It was too painful and too frightening.

She realized now that she wasn't dead. That had occurred to her some hours earlier, in one of the many brief periods of awareness she'd had. She remembered, or thought she remembered, the events leading up to the explosion. And she was certain now that it had been an explosion. She could remember the horrible way her world had ended, not with a whimper, but with an incredibly loud bang. Take that, T.S. Eliot, she thought inanely, I never understood your stupid poem anyway. Her thoughts still had the annoying tendency to sail off on wild tangents. It was frightening how she drifted in and out of lucidity. She must've hit her head really hard somewhere along the terrifying journey that ended with her arrival here, wherever here was. She had to be buried in the rubble -- or maybe it was in the Flintstone; Wilma, I'm hooome! She supposed there was a kind of symmetry to that weird train of thought, since she'd been nicknamed Pebbles since the third grade, but nobody had called her that in years, not since Bamm-Bamm had moved away and gotten married. And, now that she thought about it, Bamm-Bamm had been on her mind all morning, ever since she'd brought him up to try to get Egon to go to lunch with her. Hadn't her mom told her that Johnny had a son now? Well, she might have, but remembering that right now wasn't gonna help. Janine clenched her teeth and tried to keep her thoughts on track.

Okay. She was trapped. Got that, understood that, yes sir , she sure did. She was laying on her stomach, her left cheek pressed into the floor? ground? and there was an incredibly heavy something on top of her, keeping her pinned down and unable to move. She couldn't even free a hand to wipe off the water? blood? that wet her face. Oh, well, she'd clean up when the guys got her out of this. Even through her bizarre mental wanderings, the thought of the guys rescuing her was the one clear beacon she could lock onto and follow. If only they would just hurry the heck up. She had to be way past her lunch hour now, and Dr. V was sure to start yelling about her long lunch. Peter. God, where are you guys?

She felt a tear leak out from under her closed lashes and she suddenly remembered what had called her up from unconsciousness. Crying. She'd heard someone crying.

"Is anybody there?" She thought she'd spoken the words aloud, had felt her mouth move, but she hadn't heard anything. Maybe her ears were still messed up from the explosion. No, wait - she had heard someone crying, so her ears must be working. She tried again, this time forcing the words with as much breath as she could muster. She opened her eyes and tried to see through the blackness that surrounded her. She knew that she couldn't be totally buried; there was no light, but she was getting air from somewhere. She could feel it on her upturned cheek, like a gentle kiss whispering across her skin. Egon . . .

"I'm down here!"

The answer to her call startled her, but she couldn't jump at the sound. She thought she felt her muscles draw up, but there was no discernible movement of her body. It scared her. What if she were paralyzed? How am I gonna make it up the stairs in the firehall? Egon would rig her something. He's a genius, you know.

"What? Did you say something? I couldn't understand you."

She didn't realize she'd said the last aloud. "Uh, nothing," she answered. The voice sounded male, and the last word had been punctuated with a sniff. She had heard someone crying, but she didn't say anything about it, thinking it might embarrass him.

"You're not one of the rescuers, are you?"

The voice was petulant, a sick-bed voice, the voice Peter Venkman had perfected and used to the utmost when he wanted to be petted and made much of. She smiled, remembering how she'd even fetched and carried for him a few times. The creep , she thought fondly. "No, I'm trapped, too. My name is Janine. Janine Melnitz. How about you?" She was pretty sure that Ms. Manners had never published a book on Building Collapse Survivor Etiquette, but introducing herself seemed the logical thing to do. Hey, a logical thought. Maybe I'm not as far gone as I'd thought . . .

The voice didn't answer immediately, but when it did, it said, "Dave. Dave Michaels. You said you're Janine Melnitz? The secretary for the Ghostbusters?"

Gee, even buried I'm famous. Peter would get a kick hearing about this. "Yeah, that's right. Guess you've seen the movies." Her head seemed to be clearing, at least she thought she was making more sense now.

"Yeah, I did." Dave-Dave Michaels gasped, and it sounded to Janine that he was trying to shift his position a bit. At least he could move . . .

But he probably shouldn't. "Hey, Dave-Dave," she warned, "you better not try to move. You could be hurt."

"You think?" he shot back. "I mean, just because I got blown up and buried under a ton of debris, you think I might be hurt?"

Geez, he did sound like Peter. She loved it. This was something she was used to. "Hey, you always this charming or did the explosion bring it out in you?"

There was a pause, then he said, "Sorry. Didn't mean to jump all over you."

"Oh, that was nothing," she said. That hadn't even rated on the Venkman Scale of Barbs and Comebacks. She loved to keep score with Dr. V, and she tended to measure all sarcastic remarks, even her own, to his standard. That man was just too good at it, and she was torn most times between scratching his eyes out or laughing hysterically. Not that she'd ever admit that to him, though. "You've got to do better than that to irritate me, Dave-Dave."

"Then I'll try to do better," he said. He let out a pain-filled sigh. "And it's Dave. Not Dave-Dave."

"Have I been calling you that?" Had she? She didn't think so, but she supposed it was possible. And for some reason, it embarrassed her. "Sorry." Good grief, since when could she sound so pitiful?

"That's okay. And speaking of names, I thought you'd be Janine Tully by now. That last movie was made in what, Eighty-nine?"

Janine's mouth popped open in astonishment. She'd thought the fiasco of the second movie was long over with. Everybody knew that she and Egon . . . She was suddenly furious, and though her head still throbbed, the fog in her mind cleared, burned away by her anger. Okay, buddy, this means war.  And when I get out of here, Harold Ramis, you are Dead Meat.  And on that vow, Janine launched into Mr. Dave-Dave Michaels and read him the riot act.

Day Two
3:55 p.m. EST

"Ray! What the heck are you doing here?"

Ray turned at the familiar voice, relieved to have found one of the guys so quickly. At the sight of Winston, his face lit up with a smile. "I had to be here," he answered simply, knowing that the older man would understand. "I checked myself out of the hospital and caught a ride with the UBN news crew. Remember Cynthia Crawford?" He stepped carefully over another large puddle of muddy water. The rain continued unabated and Ray was glad of the rain slicker that one of the cameramen had loaned him. It also helped to cover the pants and sweater he'd borrowed from one of the orderlies at the hospital. The clothes nearly swallowed him, and it made Ray feel like he was kid playing dress up.

Winston hurried over to him, wearing a helmet and the heavy canvas overcoat and pants of a fireman over his regular Ghostbuster's uniform. The straps on his proton pack had been loosened to their limit to allow for the bulkier material. "Yeah, I remember her. I'm just glad it wasn't those creeps from that TV news show, '20-40-60' ." Winston inspected Ray critically. "You look like hell, homeboy," he decided. "And why are you walking like it hurts?"

"Sprained my back when I landed," he explained, wincing as he tried to shrug his shoulders to downplay the injury. "Hurts like the blue blazes and I'm little slower than usual, but I'm okay. They gave me something for the pain at the hospital, but I really haven't wanted to take it. I'm afraid it might make me sleepy and I want to be alert. But I took some ibuprofen, and I'm really okay," he added hastily as Winston began to look at him worriedly.

"You'd better be okay or you're gonna catch hell from Pete," Winston replied as he steered him inside a large tent. "You wanna sit down?" Winston gestured over to the tables and chairs set up in what used to be the Command tent, but now housed the temporary Red Cross station. There had been a new Command center set up a few blocks away, in one of the buildings that had only sustained minor damage from the explosion.

Looking around, Ray decided that it sort of reminded him of the mess tent from the television series, M.A.S.H. He wondered suddenly if all this was bringing back memories of Winston's tour in Vietnam. Winston never talked much about his time in the army, and they all respected his privacy about it. There had been a few times though, after a particularly nasty bust where one or all of their lives had been threatened, that Winston had retreated into himself for a few days and Peter had bugged and prodded the older man until Winston opened up and talked. Ray never knew what had been discussed, but Peter had once remarked that not all of the ghosts Winston faced were the ones the Ghostbusters had been hired to deal with. Ray made a mental note to tell Peter about his concerns about Winston, but he bet that Peter was already aware of the possible problem.

"I'd rather see Egon and Peter," Ray said, though the thought of sitting down sounded great. "Janine . . . she still hasn't been found?"

"No, we know where she is, Ray," Winston hurried to assure him. "We tracked her biorhythms. We just can't get to her yet. She's in an area of debris that's really unstable. They're clearing it away as fast as they can." Winston sighed. "Doesn't seem like it's fast enough, though. We even thought about trying to reach her from underneath."

"Underneath?" Ray frowned, then asked, "The subway?"

Winston nodded. "The design plans for the building show an old tunnel running almost directly underneath to where she's trapped, but it's too far below her. And most of it has been filled in and sealed. Egon thinks it's part of the old pneumatic system -- "

"The pneumatic system," Ray murmured. "Gee, I haven't thought about that in ages."

"I'm still trying to forget it. Vigo and his river of slime." Winston shuddered. "Anyway, even if we managed to access the tunnel, we'd still have to go through the building's sub-basement and basement to get to Janine. Egon and my dad went over the plans with the structural engineers the government brought in, and they all agreed it'd be best to rescue her from the surface." He smiled tiredly. "I'm really proud of Dad. He brought in all his heavy equipment and employees as soon as he heard, and he hasn't stopped since."

"I saw him on the news," Ray nodded, but his thoughts were still on Janine. Wincing, he tried not to imagine what it must be like for her. He found himself failing miserably. "Janine's biorhythms are still steady, right?"

"Yeah. You know how tough Janine is," Winston grinned.

Ray could see how forced the smile was. They both realized that with each passing hour, her chances of survival dropped. They still had no idea of how badly she was hurt. "I sure do," he agreed, playing along and allowing a hint of a smile to tug at the corners of his mouth. "I'm sure that Slimer has heard an earful. He has been keeping her company, hasn't he?" He'd seen on the news that Slimer had been helping to locate the buried survivors, marking each location with a prominent blob of green ectoplasm. He had gotten more 'hits', the term for locating a survivor trapped, than the trained search dogs. He'd even been taking water to some of the survivors. Ray was proud of the little guy.

"We had to send Slimer back home. It was too dangerous for him to be here." Winston filled him in quickly on the Class 7's and Egon's theory regarding why they were here and what they were
up to. "We've got 'em on the run, though. They're still here, but they aren't making any moves on the uh, recently deceased." He faltered on the last. There wasn't an easy way to say it.

Ray flinched, knowing that those people would still be alive if he'd put all the clues together and evacuated sooner.

Winston picked up on his guilt immediately. "Ray, you did a hell of a job getting most of the people out of the building before it blew. I've heard the rescue crew say so."

"Thanks." Maybe he'd come to believe that eventually. Ray shifted his stance, his back hurting and making standing uncomfortable. He resolutely pushed the discomfort aside, directing his thoughts to going back over what Winston had told him. It was horrifying, the demons coming here to enslave people's souls. "So, you've managed to convince the Class 7's to back off? Then they're concentrating on the rest of the ghosts that were attracted here. That's why you sent Slimer home. He could have been taken."

Winston nodded, seeming suddenly reluctant to add anything more. Then he looked over Ray with a keen eye. He must've figured Ray could handle it, because he said finally, "Slimer couldn't even get to Janine. There's a Class Seven staked out down there with her."

Waiting. "Oh, Winston, this is horrible." Ray blanched. "Egon and Peter. How are they holding up?" Not good, that was for certain. Not with Janine in this situation.

Winston sighed. "About like you'd expect," he answered. "Egon's pushing himself too hard. He's hurtin' bad, Ray. If we don't get Janine out alive, I don't know what it's going to do to him. And Peter, I think he's bleeding as bad as Egon. He's worried sick about Janine and Egon both, and there isn't a thing he can do to help either of them.

"Egon saw Janine's mom last night. There's a special place set up a few streets over for the families of the victims. He stayed with her for hours, when he should have been getting some rest. Peter had the watch then. And then when I took over so Peter could get some sleep, the man headed straight for Egon." He rubbed a weary hand over his face. "I don't think either one of them have slept. They're both back up at the site now. I was on my way up there when I saw you."

"Well, I'm here now," Ray said quietly, but firmly. "I can help out so they can get some rest."

"You can handle a pack and thrower with your back out?" Winston looked doubtful.

"Yes, I can. And it's not 'out'. It's just sprained." Ray faced him squarely, ignoring the pain. "You guys need me." Winston nodded and opened his mouth to speak, only to shut it again when a shrill whistle blew. It reminded Ray of a construction site, when a whistle signaled the end of a work day. But surely they weren't stopping the rescue efforts? It must mean something else. But Ray couldn't stop from crossing the few steps back to the tent's entrance and carefully poking his head out to check.

He was astonished at what he saw. They had stopped. All the machinery had been turned off, and he could see workers just standing around. The whole site was abruptly and eerily quiet, even with the constant spattering of rain and the rumble of thunder. "What's going on, Winston? Why have they all stopped?"

"They do that every hour on the hour," Winston explained, coming up beside him. "They shut down everything for a few minutes to listen for calls for help. Come on, homeboy. Let's get you suited up and we'll go try to get Egon and Peter to take a break."

"They'll take a break," Ray said, blinking furiously to clear the tears that had appeared at the thought of the poor people trapped and calling out for help. "Or they'll find themselves at the business end of my thrower."

Winston smiled. "Hey, that works for me."

Day Two
10:10 p.m. EST

Dave-Dave Michaels was dying.

Janine bit back an involuntary sob as she raised her voice to call for him again. They'd been talking for hours, both of them taking comfort in each other's presence. But as the hours stretched on, Dave had began to pause before replying to questions Janine put to him, and he hadn't initiated a conversation topic in ages. The last time he'd spoken, he'd gasped in pain, choking on words that sounded wet in his throat, and hadn't spoken since. She thought she'd lost him then, but after a few panicked moments, realized she could still hear him breathing.

He couldn't be dying. He had a wife and a son and they were all planning to go to his mom's house in Maine for Thanksgiving. His wife, Laurie, was an attorney. His four year old son, Cooper -- who had Laurie's blue eyes -- was going to grow up and be a pitcher for Yankees. He absolutely hated anchovies on his pizza, but loved pineapple. He just couldn't be dying. He was five years younger than she was.

"Hey, Dave, you awake?" Janine thought she'd heard him move a bit. "Come on, you gotta answer me. You never told me why you don't think Mulder will ever marry Scully, and inquiring minds wanna know." Janine wondered if it would be better to just leave him alone and let him try to rest, but unconsciousness wasn't resting, was it? She also knew how much she cherished the sound of a human voice keeping her company down here, so she was reluctant to remain quiet..

Silence, then a weak, "Huh?"

Yes! "Dave, it's really good to hear your voice," she said in sheer relief. "You scared me."

"Scared m'self." Dave's voice was soft. Janine had to strain to hear it.

"Hang on. I know the guys know where I am, and they'll be here soon," Janine said, believing it. "They've got P.K.E. meters that can track me, so they know I'm alive. You just hang on."

"Try." Another silence, then he said, "Your job. More. . ."

"Okay," she said, understanding. He did want to hear her voice, to know he wasn't alone, and she wasn't going to let him down. She swallowed, wishing desperately for a drink of fresh water. She'd managed to get a bit of water that had trickled down from somewhere above, but it had been gritty and tasted vaguely metallic. But it was better than none. "You just try to rest. I'll finish telling you about the guys. Let's see, I told you about Dr. V, Ray and Winston. So that leaves Egon. So, I'll tell you about Dr. Egon Spengler, genius-at-large. Well, first of all, he's not really like the Egon you saw in the movies. He's blond, blue-eyed and has a sense of humor that Mr. Ramis couldn't portray if he tried."

She sniffed disdainfully. "He got kinda close in the second movie, you know, when the guys were in the courtroom before they busted those ghosts that were going after the judge? The 'Do, Ray, Egon' thing? Well, you know, you saw the movie. Anyway, that was pretty close to the real Egon. But that Slinky deal . . . Egon's mom was pretty upset." She didn't think she had the right to say anything more, remembering how bad Egon had felt about that. The first time Mrs. Spengler saw Egon after the movie, the first thing she had said was, "My son, the Toyless Child."

So Janine launched into descriptions of some of the brilliant gadgets Egon had invented and how many times he'd saved the world. She prattled on, suspecting that Dave wasn't really listening, but that didn't matter. She was only talking to provide him a life-line, and she knew that she could talk about Egon for hours without effort. Her mouth on automatic, she found herself wondering why she'd left her favorite Ghostbuster for last. Maybe it was because he'd figured so prominently in her rebuttal to Dave's unfortunate assumption about her and Louis. Maybe it was because she loved Egon so much it hurt to talk about him, when she might not ever get to see him again. Or maybe it was because Dave might ask her the same question he'd asked her about Louis, but this time it would be why her last name wasn't Spengler. And that would hurt. Janine had given hours of thought to that very question herself. But lately, she'd thought she might have found the answer.

Cocoa.

One little word, one simple little thing , that meant the difference between the relationship she had with Egon and the one she dreamed of.

She couldn't count the number of times she'd come to work and found the evidence of a Late-night Cocoa Session. The mugs in the sink told her who had been in need of the comforting ritual. Egon's "Gone Fission" mug, a gift from Peter, was almost always there -- he was the one that made the not-to-be-matched cocoa. Most times it was Peter's mug that stood as silent testimony beside Egon's, but at times Ray's Captain Steel cup joined them, along with Winston's mug that bore his dad's construction company logo. The sessions usually followed a rough busting job that had put one or more of them in danger, and Janine could understand that. The guys were close, closer than blood brothers. They needed the quiet, normal time to unwind and put their lives and feelings for one another back into perspective, to reassure themselves and each other that they were safe and whole and together.

But where was Janine's mug? At home in her own sink, that's where.

She understood the guys' relationship. Approved of it. And at times, envied it. There had been more than one occasion that she'd been in need of a cocoa session herself. The guys had always been there for her, and she knew she was a part of the team. They'd even told her so, in both words and actions. And Egon had even fixed cocoa for her, at her apartment, and although it was usually late, after a date or because of over-time at Central and Egon had driven her home, it just wasn't the same. The cocoa was just cocoa, not the magic drink that allowed four very special men the opportunity to open up and confide in one another. There might come a day when she would be included, when Egon would want to come to her and open up like he did with the guys, but she wasn't holding her breath. She loved Egon, and she knew Egon loved her, and that should be enough. But at times, she still found herself longing for just a taste of the magic cocoa.

She pulled her mind back into what she was saying, and then she continued to talk until she grew exhausted and hoarse and she was finally forced to stop. When Dave didn't say anything about the silence and didn't respond to her raspy call, she let the sound of his breathing lull her into a fitful sleep.

Day Three
2:37 a.m. EST

"This is great," Ray said, peering at the small black and white television monitor. "I can see everything." He centered the rain canopy over the device, shielding it from the downpour as best he could. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled past, and the picture on the screen flickered for a second, then steadied. Ray wondered if the storms would ever stop.

Letting down more fiberoptic cable into the small crevice in the debris, Metro Search and Rescue Team member Daniel Dempsey nodded. "The Search Cam is one of the best tools we've got," he said. The Rescue teams had finally managed to safely clear away enough of the debris over Janine to try using the sophisticated search device to determine Janine's exact situation. "Put on one of the headsets, Dr. Stantz. You'll probably be able to hear if anyone is down there before we can see them. The microphone on this baby is extremely sensitive."

Ray winced as the end of telescoping camera hit against a piece of metal that glinted brightly in the camera's small but powerful searchlight. "You're not kidding," he said, as the headphones brought back the sound, magnified greatly. "And I already know that Janine is down there. I've got this to prove it." Ray patted the P.K.E. meter that sat next to him, confident with the steady readings. Ray looked away from the screen for a moment, his eyes scanning for the guys. They'd been called away to a different part of the site to bust another Class Seven that had shown up.

Lightning streaked a path through the sky. There was a quick and brilliant burst of sparks as the lightning once again struck the iron-laced rubble. The P.K.E. meter quieted for a moment, then sprang back to life. Ray didn't hear it, he was trying to see where the last strike had hit. One of the Rescue team had been struck by lightning last night, and he wanted to make sure that the guys hadn't been hit. He quickly located them by their proton streams, and counting three of them, he relaxed.

He hoped they hurried. Ray just knew that at any moment he'd be able to see Janine, and he wanted them all to be here. He bit back a groan as he returned his attention to the monitor. He'd moved his head and shoulders too quickly and his back protested the movement greatly. The pain had lessened, thanks to his regular dosage of ibuprofen, but it still hurt. He wished he could have gone along to help the guys, but he knew they'd be able to get there and back faster without him to slow them down. And in staying here, at least one of them would be here when the Search Cam operator located Janine. And he still had his proton pack. If the demon that had staked an early claim on Janine showed its face, Ray would give him reason to rethink his choice of location.

Daniel continued to lower the cable, watching the monitor to direct the lens around obstacles. "I think my boss would like to talk to you Ghostbusters about the possibility of adapting some of your tools to our needs. Those particle throwers of yours can really slice through concrete and rebar. I had no idea those beams could be controlled so accurately."

"We've had a lot of practice," Ray said. "But you're right. I'm sure we can fix some throwers up for you. Wait -- I think I saw something. Can you pull the camera back a bit?" Daniel complied, and Ray nodded excitedly, ignoring the pain that caused. "There, to the left. See that?"

"I do. Let me work it a bit closer. This is a pretty good-sized void." Daniel manipulated the telescoping arm that housed the camera and edged it closer to what Ray had pointed out. "How's that?"

"Janine," Ray breathed. He nodded, his eyes never leaving the monitor. "How can I talk to her?" The camera was situated so that he could only see her face, and her eyes were closed. His first horrified thought was that they were too late, but then logic kicked in and he remembered the P.K.E. meter and that it still read her living biorhythms. But he still needed to talk to her, to reassure himself that she was okay.

Daniel reached over and pulled down a slim microphone that was attached to the headset. "Just speak naturally into that. I'm gonna radio in that we've got her on the screen, then we'll use the camera to figure out exactly what her situation is, and how to best go about recovering her."

Ray only peripherally heard him; he was too focused on the image of her on the screen. "Janine?" he said, struggling to keep his voice calm. "Janine? Can you hear me? It's Ray." He looked at her closely, realizing that her face was the only thing that wasn't covered by debris. It was a miracle that he'd noticed her as the camera had passed by. There was something pressing her down, molding itself around her body, and Ray had no idea what it could be. He squinted at the screen as Daniel changed the camera angle to give a better view of how Janine was trapped. Was that a couch on top of her?

Janine's eyes slowly opened, only to immediately squint against the light. "What? Ray? Ray, is that you?"

Her voice was shaky and rough but it was the most beautiful thing he'd ever heard. "Yes, it's me. Oh, gosh, Janine. I've never been so happy to see you in my whole life."

"You've found her?" Peter was suddenly there beside him, leaning over his shoulder and gasping for breath. He sounded like he'd run the entire way back from the bust.

"Easy, Dr. Venkman," Daniel reminded him. "Remember, this whole area of debris isn't stable."

"She's awake and she talked to me!" Ray said jubilantly, holding his hand over the microphone so that he wouldn't be too loud for Janine.

Egon, also winded, snatched up one of the free headsets and pulling his borrowed fireman's helmet off, settled it quickly on his head. "Janine, it's Egon. How are you?" He knelt down beside Ray and looked anxiously at the screen.

"Hey, Egon," Janine said with a smile. "What took ya so long?"

Egon made a choked sound and when he answered, his bass voice was full of emotion. "I'm sorry. I got here as quickly as I could." Egon felt such colossal relief at seeing and hearing her that his knees went weak. He would have fallen had it not been for Winston's steadying hands. He flung back a look of thanks and settled himself on the debris beside Ray.

Peter jumped into the conversation, having donned a headset of his own. It was good that this Search Cam thing allowed for more than one. "Hey, Big J. How's the weather down there? It's really the pits up here. Raining cats and dogs." Thunder and lightning punctuated his statement, right on cue. He shot a quick look over at Egon to make sure he was holding up okay, then a grin split his face. Egon looked better already. Talking to Janine had gone a long way toward relieving Egon's worry. And his own, too, he had to admit. He was so glad to hear her voice that it made him consider giving Janine that raise he'd been promising her for years.

"Dr. Venkman," Janine acknowledged coolly.

Peter's grin widened, loving her tone of voice. It was so . . Janine. Nah, the raise could definitely wait. Why change the status quo?

"Winston up there, too?" Janine asked.

"Here, little sister," Winston said into his microphone. "How you doin'?"

"Great, now that you guys are here." Then her eyes flew open wide and she stared at the camera. " Dave . Guys, there's a man trapped down here with me. I don't know how badly he's hurt. We've been talking but he hasn't answered in a long time - "

"Miss Melnitz?" Daniel interrupted. "From which direction did you hear his voice?"

"Somewhere behind me. I can't turn my head to see if he's okay."

"Don't try to move, Janine," Egon said hastily. "We don't know how badly you're hurt. There's . . . there's blood on your face." Peter quickly moved around so he could put a supporting hand on Egon's shoulder.

"I'm fine," she replied just as quickly, obviously trying to reassure Egon. "But . . . but I can't move. I don't hurt anywhere, I just can't move." She bit her lower lip. "Can you see if I'm okay?" The fear in her voice was carefully masked, but the four men who knew her so well heard it immediately.

Egon drew a sharp intake of breath, his heart wrenching painfully. He didn't know if she was all right, and he couldn't lie to her. She'd see through it immediately even if he tried. Peter's hand tightened on his shoulder. "Janine --" he began unsteadily, not knowing what to say to her.

"From what I can see, Miss Melnitz," Daniel said as he pulled back the camera to get a better look. "There seems to be a large piece of furniture on you. It looks like a sofa. Its back and arms have been broken and it's lying flat against you." He held a hand over his microphone. "There's two fairly large pieces of concrete slab on top of her," he said. "There must be something shoring them up, but they're still bearing down on her pretty hard. You can see how the sofa cushions are pressed in around her. That's probably why she can't move." He lifted his hand and said to Janine, "You're not in any pain at all?" There was a sudden blaring of sound from Daniel's radio, and the man pulled off his headphones to answer the call.

"Well, a little," Janine admitted, "but not like I think I should be in. I can remember the explosion. I remember being pushed backwards and hitting something, then I woke up here." She stopped and let out a sigh. "Guys, I am so glad that you're here."

Daniel Dempsey motioned for their attention. "We need to talk," he said, and something in his voice made Peter's gut tighten. The Rescue worker spoke into his microphone to Janine. "Miss Melnitz, I'm going to have to make some adjustments to the equipment. You just hang in there for a second." He reached down and flipped off the audio so she couldn't hear what was being said.

"And what was that load of crap about?" Peter asked hotly, tearing off his headset. "You just cut off her only link to us."

"Look, there's no easy way to say this, so I'll just tell you. We have to evacuate. Another device has been found."

"Device - as in bomb ?" Peter stared at him in disbelief.

"Yeah," Dempsey nodded. "And until we can disarm it, or remove it safely, we've got orders to clear the area. I'm sorry. I know that doesn't count for much, but I am."

"You're right. That doesn't count for shit," Peter said, straightening and looking the Rescue worker square in the eyes. "You're telling us that we have to leave her? Well, I got a newsflash for you, Jack-"

"Where'd they find the bomb?" Winston asked, holding up a hand to silence Pete. "And what are the chances that it can dealt with safely?"

"I don't know," Dempsey replied, sounding like he hated the idea of leaving as much as they did. "They're sending for the Bomb Squad. But they don't want to take any chances. They want everyone out."

"But what about Janine?" cried Ray. "And anyone else that's still trapped? They can't get out. You can't just leave them!" He was shocked at the very idea. "They're counting on your help."

"I realize that, Dr. Stantz," Dempsey said in frustration. "But there's nothing we can do help them. There's a chance that the device will detonate. We can't risk any more lives."

"It's your job , Bunky," Peter said fiercely. "Where would New York, hell, the whole world for that matter, be if the Ghostbusters had cut and run when things got a little too hot?"

"I'm not going to stand here and debate with you, Dr. Venkman. I don't like it, and you don't have to like it, but I've got my orders . . ."

"Well, you can take your orders and stick --"

"I'm not going," Egon's quiet voice interrupted. "I won't leave her." He looked up at Peter, their eyes meeting. A look of total understanding and agreement passed between the two men, and Peter nodded, dismissing the Rescue worker as beneath his attention and put his headset back on. Egon turned back to the monitor and switched the audio back on. "Janine? Can you hear me?"

"Yes," she said, her voice full of relief. "Glad you're back. It was getting kinda lonely down here."

"You're not alone, Janine," Ray said. "We're here. We're not going to leave you, are we, guys?"

"You got that right," Winston agreed immediately. "We're all here." He turned to face the Rescue worker and looked at the man steadily. "The Ghostbusters don't leave one of their own." Dempsey stared back at him for moment, then nodded once. Turning, he began to pick his way around the debris to safety, casting one last look back at the four men gathered around the Search Cam's monitor.

Janine smiled. "Gee, thanks, Winston, but I knew that."

Then Ray gasped and pointed at the screen. The camera was pulled back far enough to see most of the space where was Janine was trapped. And off to her left, a writhing black mass had begun to materialize.

"No," Egon breathed. "Please, no . . . "

"What can we do, Egon?" Winston whispered fiercely, but knowing as he asked that there wasn't anything that could be done. He recognized all-too-well the chosen form that a demon assumed to steal souls. Why was it making a move on her now? The bomb , he thought suddenly. It was going to detonate. He didn't know how he knew it - he just did. It was going to explode and Janine was going to die.

And going to lose her immortal soul.

"What was that, Winston? I didn't quite hear you," Janine said. "Hey - you guys must be getting close to digging me out. I can feel how much colder the air is getting. Hear that, Dave?" she called out. "The cavalry's on its way."

Peter bit his lip so hard that he tasted blood. The utter helplessness on Egon's face had answered Winston's question. There wasn't anything they could do to help her. He had the sudden urge to start blasting away at the rubble, to do something, anything , other than just watching helplessly. He swallowed hard as a tendril reached out toward her, quivering with anticipation. Damn it , he thought fiercely, it should be me down there, Janine, not you! Oh god, I'm so sorry ... He ground his teeth over the urge to beg aloud for her forgiveness. Janine would never expect to hear that from him, not with the sparring sibling relationship they'd thrived on over the years. To do that now would alert her that something was wrong.

He couldn't do that to her. "Hey, Melnitz, you sure know how to stretch a lunch hour," he said, forcing himself to sound like his casually annoying self. He didn't realize how much effort it was going to take. "You realize that I'm going to have to dock your paycheck." Egon looked over at him gratefully, his eyes far too bright. Peter shrugged, his own eyes blurring.

Ray stared at Peter in wide-eyed disbelief, then suddenly understood when he saw Peter's expression. The psychologist was going to let Janine spend the last few minutes of her life doing one of her favorite things, no matter how much it cost him to pretend. "Peter!" he said, outraged, playing his part. "That's not fair!"

"That's cold, Pete," Winston threw in, understanding as well. "Besides, I didn't think you paid her at all."

"Well, I like that," Janine grumbled, but a smile touched her lips. "To my way of looking at it, Dr. V, I'm not on my lunch hour, I'm on overtime. You're gonna owe me big, Dr. Venkman."

Peter laughed shakily. "Says who, Melnitz? You already took all my money for lunch, remember?"

The blackness edged closer.

Lightning flared brilliantly, close and loud as it hit the rubble, then there came a sudden roar of sound and the ground beneath them trembled. The four men grabbed for each other and held on. The Search Cam's monitor flickered.

"Close your eyes, Janine," Egon whispered. "I love you."

And then the monitor went black.

Day Three
5:15 a.m. EST

Dr. Peter Venkman limped wearily into the firehouse. Just inside, Ray stood silent sentry beside Egon, the younger man's eyes shadowed and his face bruised. Egon looked no better, staring ahead blindly, and Peter wondered if he even realized he was home.

The last few hours had been hellish. The four Ghostbusters had escaped any major injury from the second explosion. The bomb hadn't been as powerful as the first and most its force had been contained to the lower basement levels of the building. The explosive experts from the Bomb Squad thought that it had been designed to explode at the same time as the first bomb, but something, most likely the electrical discharge from the lightning, had caused it to malfunction. A few of the supporting walls had been destroyed, causing some of the debris to shift and compress, but fortunately for the survivors that were still buried, it had been in areas already searched and cleared.

Except for where Janine had been.

Peter shuddered, remembering the broken voice that had cried out Janine's name when Egon realized the P.K.E. meter had stopped registering her biorhythms. The debris above Janine where they had been with the Search Cam had only dropped a few feet, throwing them down. Peter had twisted his ankle somehow in the fall, and Ray's back had taken a second hard jolt. Peter wondered how Ray was managing to walk at all. Winston hadn't been injured, and neither had Egon. At least not physically.

Winston had stayed behind on demon patrol, the rest of the Ghostbuster's proton packs going to a few men that were quick studies. Not that they were going to be needed, Peter thought, hating with all his heart the bastard demon that had stolen Janine's soul. It had just disappeared, along with the rest of the Class 7 readings. It was as if they had all been waiting to take Janine in retribution against the Ghostbusters for trapping their brother demons. He still wondered what had made all of the Class 7's leave. Perhaps Janine's was the last soul to be taken - the rest of the trapped survivors were going to make it out okay. Maybe there had been another disaster that had called them away to recruit another fresh batch of souls. Maybe it was a holiday in the Netherworld. Peter didn't know the reason, and he really didn't care. What he did know was that those Class 7's were about to experience Hell, courtesy of the Ghostbusters. There was no way Janine was going to be a slave to any demon, and if it took busting every Class Seven in the Netherworld to find and release her, they'd do it.

But first they had to recover. When they'd been certain the Class 7's were gone, Peter had insisted on getting Egon and Ray away from the site. Winston had agreed. Egon had at first resisted, but had finally allowed himself to be led away. Peter hadn't immediately realized it was because someone had to tell Janine's mother the news, but when he had, he'd tried to stop Egon from being the one to do it. Egon had quelled his protests with a look, and Peter knew that this was something that Egon had to do. But not alone. He and Ray had stuck to him like glue, silently supporting him with their strength.

The hour that Egon had spent with Mrs. Melnitz had seemed an eternity. The physicist hadn't spoken since they'd emerged from the family waiting area, his eyes hollow. Peter prepared himself for the time when Egon came out of his shock and the pain would hit him full force. Peter would be there for him, as would Ray and Winston. But for the first time, he found himself wondering if it would be enough. He'd never seen Egon look so lost.

"Come on, buddy," Peter said softly, going around and taking Egon's arm. "Let's get you upstairs." He motioned for Ray to take Egon's other arm, and between the two of them, managed to get him moving. Egon's shuffling walk and seeming lack of will reminded Peter of a zombie.

"Can you make it up the stairs, Ray?" Peter asked.

"I'm fine, Peter," Ray snapped abruptly, then immediately softened. "Sorry. I'm sorry."

"I know, Tex," Peter said with a sigh. They were all hurting. The psychologist sternly clamped down another sudden surge of guilt. Janine was dead. Amazing that every time he thought it, it managed to cut a little deeper into his heart. Peter felt he'd killed her, just as surely as if he'd been the one that had planted and triggered the bomb at Cityplex. He should never have made her go in his place. Egon might never forgive him, and Peter wouldn't blame him. He'd never forgive himself. But for now, his guilt would have to wait. The guys needed him. "It's just that I'm just not used to seeing you walk like a crippled geisha girl."

"I resemble that remark," Ray said, falling automatically into the familiar, comforting pattern of banter. "You think I'm walking funny now, just wait 'til I try going up the stairs."

Peter smiled at Ray's effort at normalcy and tightened his grip on Egon's arm, taking as much support as he was giving. As they reached the stairs, Egon stopped. "Egon?" Peter asked softly.

"Can you guys go up without me?" he asked. "I . . . I really need to be alone for awhile."

"Do you really think you should be alone?" the psychologist in Peter countered.

Egon nodded. "I do. Please. Just for awhile."

Peter looked at him critically. He shouldn't let Egon be alone, they all needed each other right now to help each together cope, but there had been desperation in the request, and Peter knew Egon well enough to realize that he did need some time to sort through his feelings before he confronted them. He nodded. "Okay, but you know that Ray and I are here." Don't you? And don't you know that we - I - need to be with you?

"I do," Egon said again. "I won't be long. And . . . thank you. Both of you."

"No charge, Spengs. Just remember what I said." Peter and Ray let go of his arms and the two started up the stairs without him.

Egon watched them go, then he turned around, his eyes falling on Janine's desk.

Oh, god. Janine.

He walked over to her desk and stared down it for a moment, thinking of all the times he and the guys had come home after a bust to see her sitting there. He saw her getting up and running toward him, her face worried or relieved or joyful, remembering the feel of her body against his as she flung herself into his arms. Oh, how totally above the open displays of affection he'd been, most times ignoring her or giving her the barest response. But Janine had known what she had meant to him, hadn't she? Dear god, hadn't she?

He pulled out her chair and sat down, his legs suddenly too weak to support him. He'd loved her for years, realizing it more and more as time had passed. But some part of him had always refused to open up to her totally, and again he found himself wondering why. Janine loved him without reservation, but had never demanded the same of him. Why had he held himself back? Had he been so totally absorbed in himself that he was afraid that loving her wholly and openly would somehow change some fundamental part of him? Make him weak in some way?

But deep down inside, Egon thought he knew the real answer. He had feared the changes that declaring his love to Janine would have brought about. Marriage would have meant an end of the part of his life he treasured greatly. The camaraderie he had with guys would still be there, he didn't think anything could ever change that, but it wouldn't be the same. Egon had long suspected one of the reasons he cherished his life here at the firehall with the guys was that he was finally being allowed to grow up. Oh, he'd technically been a 'man' for years, but age wasn't the only criteria for maturity. His childhood had been seriously lacking in the companionship of friends. His earliest memories had been centered around learning, his father stressing knowledge over transitory friendships. And until Peter Venkman had entered his life, Egon had believed his father had been right.

First Peter, then Ray, then Winston. From these men, Egon had learned how to have and to be a friend. How to give when needed and how to take when in need. And how to open up and not be afraid of ridicule. Whatever man Egon was today, he knew owed much to the unwavering friendship from these three extraordinary men.

And then Janine had entered his life, and as Peter would say, it was a whole new ball game. Egon had fought against it, hard, but had known he was lost almost from the beginning. He'd fallen in love with her.

And now she was gone.

In his mind's eye, he saw her. Small and determined, risking herself by going into the firehall alone to stop the genie that she had freed. Her scream as she had been pulled into the spiritual vortex still had the power to haunt his dreams. Saw her standing in front of the mirror that all four of the Ghostbusters had been imprisoned in by the demi-god Proteus, proton pack at the ready, cracking a joke about Lewis Carroll. Saw her standing in the snow outside the firehouse beside the unscrupulous Paul Smart, remembered the hot jealousy that had pumped though his veins. Saw her shielding him from the attack of the Lotsabucks with her own body, telling him to stand back as she endured the final transformation from the entity. Saw those times and so many more.

Saw her as the demon reached out to take her soul as the Search Cam's monitor had gone blank.

Oh, god. Janine.

Egon put his head down on her desk and wept.

He didn't know how long he'd been there - time really didn't have much meaning anymore - when he felt a tentative hand on his shoulder. He forced himself to look up, knowing it was Peter. He must have been down here alone for quite some time, for he saw that Peter had showered and shaved, his hair dried and styled in its usual fashion. Egon suddenly got the impression that Peter had taken great care in his ablutions, deriving a measure of comfort and control in the routine.

The psychologist stared down at him, the familiar green eyes dulled with pain. "Spengs," Peter began, his voice catching and he had to pause to clear his throat. "Egon. I'm so -"

Egon cut him off a violent shake of his head. He couldn't bear to hear Peter apologize for this. It wasn't his fault. But it was so like Peter to accept the blame when one them had been . . . hurt. From the beginning of the business, Peter had put himself in harm's way first, insuring that what ever danger lurked, he'd be the one to face it. He always put their safety over his, no exceptions. "No, Peter. Don't. This isn't your fault." He rubbed his eyes and forced himself to take a calming breath, knowing that Peter needed him. "Janine -" he choked on her name. He wondered if he'd ever be able to say her name again without experiencing indescribable pain. "Janine wouldn't have blamed you." God, he was already speaking of her in the past tense. "Neither will I. You know that."

"Yeah, sure. I know that," Peter said quickly. He pulled his hand from Egon's shoulder abruptly, as if he felt he didn't have the right of offering or accepting that comfort. "Look, I didn't come down here for absolution, Spengs. I just came down to check on you. You don't need to be alone now. Neither does Ray, and I left him upstairs by his lonesome."

Peter sounded so exhausted, so utterly spent at making the effort to sound normal, that it cut through Egon's sorrow. He got to his feet and Peter took a quick step backward as if to avoid contact with him. Egon took a step toward him, and once again, the younger man moved away. "Anyway, it's time to get upstairs. You need to get cleaned up, eat and get some rest, and not necessarily in that order. So let's get moving. We've got work to do in the Netherworld as soon as we're all up to it."

Egon stared, suddenly registering that he'd been wrong when he'd thought Peter was trying to conceal his feelings from him in attempting to sound normal. To anyone else, the words and the careful tone they were delivered in were logical and totally understandable considering the circumstances, but Egon knew Peter as well as he knew himself, possibly better, and there was a terrible coldness, a hardness to Peter's voice that he'd never heard before. Over the years, there had been times that Peter had tried to wall himself away from the team, times that the psychologist had fallen into patterns learned in his youth, patterns designed to hold pain and grief at a distance. But that wasn't what the physicist had heard, and more importantly, what he had sensed. This was different, and Egon felt the terrifying difference along every nerve. This was no wall Peter had erected around himself, this was a fortress. Peter blamed himself for Janine's death, but more importantly, he believed Egon blamed him. And Egon abruptly realized that in staying down here alone to deal with his own grief, he himself had laid the foundation for the cold and lonely stronghold Peter had withdrawn into. It was this withdrawal that he was trying desperately to hide from Egon, for to allow Egon knowledge of it would mean an attempt to breach the walls so carefully constructed, and for the first time in their long friendship, Peter didn't want the attempt made. The psychologist would not turn away from Egon's pain, nor Ray's or Winston's, he'd help them work though it, but for his own, Peter would not turn to them for the same assistance. And a Peter Venkman believing himself to be alone was a Peter Venkman that was dying on the inside.

Egon's heart did the impossible - it broke a little more. He'd just lost Janine. He couldn't lose Peter as well. "Peter, please - " he stopped, knowing just how important his next words would be. He had to break through to Peter before it was too late, before the walls around him became so thick that nothing he or Ray or Winston could do would penetrate them. Egon had to make Peter realize that he didn't blame him, that he couldn't do this to himself, that Egon wouldn't allow him to. But before he could speak, the phone rang and the answering machine clicked on.

"Thanks for calling Ghostbusters," Janine's voice began cheerfully.

Egon gasped as if struck. Peter threw himself past Egon, reaching for the machine. When the psychologist turned after mercifully turning the volume down to where Janine's message was inaudible, Egon gathered the shaking man in his arms. Peter stiffened at the touch, not returning the hug, not letting him past the walls. "God, Peter. I don't know if I can get through this," the blond managed over the lump of emotion that lodged in his throat at the sound of Janine's voice.

"Yes, you can, Egon," Peter said in a unsteady voice. "We'll be here for you - "

"I know that," Egon said, his own voice just as unsteady. "But will you let us be here for you, Peter?" He pulled back, letting it show on his face that he knew exactly what Peter had done and was doing even now. "Please. Don't do this to yourself. Or to us. It'll kill you, and I just lost Janine . . ." Egon bit back a sob, knowing he was about to fall apart, but willing to strip his emotions bare if that was what it took to bring Peter back.

The younger man stared at him for a heartbeat, then he brought his own arms up, pulling Egon close and holding him tight. "You know, Spengs, I really thought I could do it."

"I know," Egon replied, feeling walls melt away. Peter was Peter again. "And that's what scared me."

Day Three
11:25 a.m. EST

"Mr. Zeddemore?"

Winston jumped, startled. "Don't sneak up on anyone holding a particle thrower," he advised, bringing his thrower down and relaxing his automatic aggressive stance.

"Sorry. I thought you heard me," the man shrugged, shifting the cylindrical case he was carrying to his left hand so he could extend his right in greeting. "I'm J.D. Messinger. Steve Reed told me where to find you."

Winston supposed he wouldn't have heard the man approach if he'd been singing the National Anthem and tap-dancing. His mind really wasn't functioning as well as it should be right now. He shook the man's hand. "Reed?" Winston blinked, then the name clicked. "Oh, right, the disaster coordinator." One of Pete's favorite people. What was that Agency Peter said Reed worked for? The 'Now-You-See-Ma, now you don't?' Yeah, that was it - USEMA. "You with the government, too?" Messinger was tall, about the same height as Egon and his eyes were blue, but he was built heavier than the physicist, and his hair was close-cropped and white blond to Egon's golden blond.

"No, I'm the architect. I designed Cityplex." Messinger looked around at what was left of his creation and shook his head. "Anyway, to get to the heart of the matter, I need a Ghostbuster to accompany me. There's something I need to check out, and I've got an idea that your services might be needed."

Winston's eyebrows lifted. "Well, my services are still pretty needed right here, Mr. Messinger. Could you be a little more specific?"

Messinger opened the leather case he carried and pulled out a roll of blueprints. "Let me show you." Looking around, he walked a few steps over to a large outcropping of concrete slab that was relatively dry and hastily spread out the blueprints. Winston followed him, wondering what was up. "I understand that your secretary was trapped here." He pointed to one of the sheets.

Winston looked where he indicated, repressing a shudder at the memory of losing Janine. "Yeah, that's the spot. So?"

Messinger hurriedly rolled up the sheet and showed Winston another. "I know that the second bomb's blast was confined to the basement and sub-levels. And if you look here -- " he pointed to a spot. "-- you can see that directly below where Janine -- I mean, Ms. Melnitz -- was trapped --"

"Yeah, I know. It's a subway tunnel," Winston said. "We've seen these blueprints before." Winston thought he knew what the architect was going to suggest. When the second bomb had detonated, it might have opened up the floor and sent Janine into the tunnel, instead of just shifting the debris on top of her. He'd already thought of that, as had Egon, Peter and Ray. He remembered vividly the moment of hope as they'd considered the possibility that Janine might still be alive after the second explosion. And he also remembered vividly the moment that they'd all looked down at the silent P.K.E. meter. If she had fallen through, she would still have been in range to pick up her bio-rhythms. If she had been alive. "Look, Mr. Messinger, we've already considered that Janine might have fallen through. We even considered going down there to . . . search for her body, but the blueprints showed that most of the tunnel had been filled and sealed. We wouldn't be able to get through to look for her."

"That's what I thought," Messinger nodded. Once again he rolled up a page of the blueprints to point to another. "The tunnel isn't sealed anymore." He tapped the sheet impatiently. "When Cityplex was being built, we found one of the old pneumatic subway stations still intact. It was in almost mint condition. I approached the mayor with an idea to renovate it and open it to the public. He agreed, and I ordered that section of tunnel reopened." He nodded toward the blueprints. "The copy that was on file with the City didn't have the corrections to the subway." Messinger looked up, and Winston wondered at the concern in his eyes. "I'd like to go down there, and for you to go with me. With all the spiritual activity that there's been here, it's possible something might be down there that I can't handle with just a rescue team."

Winston was about to decline, thinking that Messinger wasn't going to need a Ghostbuster to guard him. There had been no more paranormal readings, and Winston was still needed up here for the living, helping to clear the debris with his thrower. But then he thought about Janine. She'd said there was someone else trapped down there with her. There had been nothing topside to indicate that the man had survived the second explosion either; the dog teams had turned up nothing, and the sensitive rescue equipment had detected no life. The lack of her biorhythms proved Janine's death, but he felt he owed it to her to check on the man. And, Winston thought sadly, now he might have the chance to bring Janine's body home. He'd never had the chance to do that for some of his buddies in Vietnam, and he didn't intend to let Janine down.

He let out a deep sigh. This was the last duty as a friend he could do for Janine, and it suddenly seemed pitiful little. He wondered if he should call the guys. None of them had looked too steady on their feet when they'd left. He didn't think any of them were up to searching for Janine's body. And he was certain that they wouldn't be able to handle seeing the condition her body had to be in. He wasn't sure he could handle it either, but better him than them. He nodded at the architect. "Then let's do it, Mr. Messinger."

The man gave a relieved smile. "Call me John."

Day Three
12:29 p.m. EST

The motorman keyed open the end door of the out-of-service #6 subway train, and Winston stepped out onto the platform of City Hall Station. For years, he'd heard of the 'ghost station' under City Hall Park, even seen the patch of concrete slab inset with glass tiles - the skylights for the platform - in the grove of dogwoods in front of City Hall, but until now, he'd never actually believed it existed. Standing here now, under the huge glass and brick arches, intricately designed colored tilework and brass chandeliers, the Ghostbuster still wasn't sure he believed it. He suddenly felt as though he'd stepped back into the past. With a tired sigh, he shrugged off the fanciful thought and reached for his P.K.E. meter.

"If you think this is impressive," Messinger said, coming out of the subway car to stand beside him, "wait until you see the Pneumatic Station. Well, it's technically not a station, more like a waiting room, since the train platform and tunnel is below it. Anyway, both of the stations have been granted Interior Landmark status, but Beach's Pneumatic Station puts this one to shame. They're both being renovated to be opened to the public next year."

"I'll take your word for it," Winston said, doing a quick sweep of the station. No readings. He returned the device to his belt but left it switched on. Not that he expected to run across any nasties down here, but it was always better to play it safe.

Messinger pointed to a stairwell off to their left. "We take those down to the lower level. We've got to access the old Brooklyn and Manhattan subway system before we can get into the Pneumatic tunnel that runs under Cityplex."

Daniel Dempsey, the head of the Rescue crew of twenty that had volunteered to accompany them, asked, "You're certain that besides the Cityplex entrance, this is the only way in?"

The architect shrugged. "I'm sure. The mayor thought it was best to keep entrances to the Pneumatic station at a minimum. When we get there, you'll see why. And it was blind luck that we stumbled into the Pneumatic system when we were building Cityplex. We had no idea that the tunnels even ran that far south."

"Egon was pretty amazed that it ran north all the way up to 77 th and 1 st ," Winston said, remembering when the guys had discovered the old Van Horne station under that intersection near Dana Barrett's old apartment. "Alfred Beach was one man who could definitely keep a secret. The original plan was for the tunnel to be only about 300 feet long."

The group started for the stairs, and Dempsey asked, "Who's this Beach guy?"

Winston started to answer, but Messinger beat him to it. "Alfred Ely Beach. He designed and built the Pneumatic system."

"Never heard of him," Dempsey said as they entered the BMT station.

"Not surprising," Messinger said, warming to the subject. "But I bet you've heard of the magazine, Scientific American. He owned and edited it back in the 1800's. Beach also opened a patent agency that Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Samuel Morse sought out for assistance. And he also won a Gold Medal at the 1853 Crystal Palace Exhibition for the first practical typewriter."

"Crystal Palace," Winston mused, "I've heard that recently." Then it clicked. "Oh, yeah. From Ray. He was telling us how Cityplex was modeled after it." He remembered how light-hearted they'd all been that morning at the firehouse. It seemed unreal that it had only been two days ago. It felt like years.

"That's right. And there's another building, the InfoMart in Dallas, that used the design. Anyway, Beach built the Pneumatic system to try to help the traffic congestion around City Hall."

"Sounds like he was a busy guy," Dempsey commented, his tone indicating he'd heard enough about Beach. The group moved onto the station platform and the Rescue worker nodded toward the south trackway. "I guess that's the one we need to follow."

"Yes. It'll hook up with one of Beach's tunnels, then I've got the directions to a throughway hatch that one of the restoration workers discovered. That'll take us right into the station, and from there we can access the tunnel under Cityplex." Messinger looked apologetic. "Sorry. I didn't mean to go overboard about Beach. When I'm nervous, I have an annoying tendency to run at the mouth."

"No problem," Winston assured him. "I'm used to hearing lectures about obscure subjects."

"I'll bet," Messinger said with a smile. "I've seen the movies and the cartoon show."

"Fan, are you?" Winston asked as he knelt down and eased himself off the platform down to the unused subway track.

Messinger dropped his long frame down beside him. "Let's just say I've always had an interest in the Ghostbusters."

The group headed south, Winston scanning with the meter as they went. Several of the Rescue workers took the lead with powerful flashlights in hand. They were silent as they walked, and Winston suddenly found himself wishing he had called the guys. It was quiet as a tomb down here and the analogy wasn't lost on him. He was here to search for Janine's body - my God, her body - and though Winston had seen violent death before, it had never happened to one of his family. Surrounded by Messinger and twenty Rescue workers, Winston had never felt more alone.

But as much as he needed the guys, he knew he couldn't subject them to this. If it was tearing him up this badly, he didn't want to imagine the pain this search would cause them. No, he could never to that to them, not when he could spare them by simply enduring the pain alone. Suck it up, Zeddemore, he told himself sternly, hearing the order in a voice that was reminiscent of his platoon leader back in 'Nam. And like in Vietnam, he felt a barrier of stone forming around his heart, preparing him to deal with what whatever he had to face. Gonna harden my heart; gonna swallow my tears . . . The words to the old song echoed in his mind. Come on, Zed. You can do this . But his steps were heavy with reluctance as he kept up with group.

After walking what seemed like miles, and having to climb over and through debris on the unused BMT tracks as they drew nearer to Cityplex, they finally reached the connection to one of Beach's original tunnels. Messinger, perspiration on his face shining in the flashlight beams, shouldered his way to the front of the group. "The hatchway should be right over here." He led them to the left and Winston could see the outlines of a round service hatch in the tunnel wall.

The architect examined the hatchway and breathed a sigh of relief. "I was hoping it hadn't been damaged in the blast," he said as he inserted the key into its lock. There was an audible click, and Messinger pulled the metal cover open.

A faint beep sounded at Winston's hip where the P.K.E. meter was hooked. Several of the Rescue workers looked down at it with apprehension. The Ghostbuster unhooked it from his belt and read the screen. "There's activity," he confirmed, "but nothing to worry about. Looks like residuals."

"I'll gonna hold you to that," one of the men muttered and a few nervous chuckles sounded in the dusty gloom.

They made slow progress through the service tunnel. Winston had to use his thrower several times to help clear enough room to allow them to squeeze through. Messinger seemed to be certain that the damage to walls and ceiling, while enough to block the tunnel in places, didn't threaten the tunnel's structural integrity. Winston hoped he was right. He wasn't claustrophobic, but he didn't relish the idea of getting trapped down here. He abruptly flashed on Janine and how she'd been pinned down in the dark for hours. He shuddered.

"You've got to be kidding," Daniel Dempsey said unexpectedly, mercifully pulling Winston's attention back. He was surprised to see that they'd finally reached the end of the service tunnel. Messinger had unlocked the hatch and the Rescue worker was holding a fabric curtain out of the way, training his flashlight on the darkness beyond them. Then open-mouthed, the young man stepped into the Pneumatic subway station, Messinger right behind him.

"John, you weren't lying." Winston said as he came in and stood beside the architect. The rest of the group filed in, adding more light to the interior. From the low whistles and awed intakes of breath, the Ghostbuster could tell that the others were as amazed as he was.

Even in the limited light, the station was spectacular. Ornate chandeliers hung from the ceiling, the dangling tear-shaped glass reflecting and refracting the flashlight beams, creating rainbow splashes of color on the men and the intricately tiled floor. Frescoes adorned the walls that weren't covered with damask curtains, some depicting life in the 'modern' world of 1870, others whimsical; children playing in fields surrounded by unicorns and fairies. Plush chairs and sofas covered in material that matched the curtains were arranged casually around the room, creating the air of an elegant hotel foyer. In the center of the station stood an elaborate water fountain, dry now, of course, but Winston heard in imagination the water cascading down from the golden vases held by three magnificently carved cherubs, their marmorean faces regarding the intruders to this forgotten place with quiet serenity. A grandfather clock stood in silent elegance against the far wall, and next to it a grand piano, its rich wood buffed to a high gloss, waited for a pair of hands to bring it back to life. If the City Hall Station had been like stepping back in time, Beach's Pneumatic Station was time standing still. Nineteen ninety-seven didn't exist; it was a far-off, impossible dream over a hundred years in the future.

"Okay. I'm impressed," Winston admitted.

"I was, too," Messinger murmured. "I still am. Now you can see why the mayor didn't want to have more entrances than necessary. This would all be stolen or vandalized within hours."

"Looks like the workers have been busy down here," commented Dempsey as he walked over to the piano. The young man touched a few of the ivory keys. Strong, rich notes sounded in the room, and given the impressive state of preservation, none of the men were surprised. "Not a speck of dust anywhere."

"No damage, either," Messinger said in relief. "This is so close to Cityplex that I was certain it had sustained some kind of damage. But there's nothing out of place. Incredible."

"Yeah, it is, isn't it," Winston said, the skin on the back of his neck suddenly prickling. He grabbed the meter and did a quick sweep of the room. Nothing. But Winston's instincts were suddenly on alert, whispering that there was danger and he found he trusted them more than the meter. "These steps go down to the tracks, right?"

"Yes," the architect nodded. "To the tunnel that runs directly under Cityplex." He peered down at the P.K.E. meter. "Are you picking up something? Your secretary?" he asked hopefully.

Winston looked up at him sharply, then he softened as he remembered that the man probably didn't understand that this meter wasn't configured to pick up biorhythms. Winston hadn't brought the meter that was set for Janine's readings. There was no point. She was dead, her soul stolen by a demon. He felt the shield around his heart harden a little more. "This only measures spectral activity," he said softly, wishing to God it was picking up her biorhythms. Even in gloom, Winston could see the color drain from the man's face as he understood. He must still believe that Janine's alive, he thought, wondering how the man knew her. It was obvious from the concern he showed now and earlier when he told of the reopened tunnels, but Winston had been too out of it to realize it then.

Messinger cleared his throat. "Come on. I'll lead the way." Taking one of the flashlights, he turned for the stairs.

Winston dropped the meter to let it dangle at his hip and he grabbed the architect's arm. "Wait." His instincts were screaming at him now, demanding attention and action. "I'd better go first," he said, unhooking his thrower. Lock and load . The old military phrase came to him automatically. He didn't have a shred of evidence that there was something down there in the dark waiting, but that wasn't very comforting when his senses told him otherwise. Winston turned to address the head of the Rescue crew. "Stay up here until I give the all clear," he instructed Dempsey. The younger man nodded, his eyes huge. Maybe he could sense something, too, but perhaps he was only reacting to Winston's caution. With Messinger shining the light over his shoulder, the Ghostbuster started down the stairs.

But there was nothing to greet him as he reached the platform. Behind him, the architect said quietly, "I don't see anything. Should I?"

"Not necessarily," Winston replied, "but it looks safe enough to go on." He raised his voice. "It's okay," he called up to the Rescue workers. A few moments later he heard them coming down the stairs. When they'd all assembled on the platform and were preparing to move on, Winston abruptly halted and held up his hand for silence. He'd thought he'd heard something . . . "Quiet!" he hissed. He was gratified that they all obeyed immediately, and Winston strained to listen.

The noise came again.

Footsteps. Soft, shuffling footsteps, echoing in the dark, coming toward them from somewhere down the tunnel.

Five bright flashlight beams instantly trained in that direction.

"Maybe another Rescue team?" Dempsey offered weakly.

"There's no other way down here," Messinger whispered, shaking his blond head. "The Cityplex entrance was hopelessly blocked. I know, I checked it myself."

There was something down here with them, something that Winston could sense along every nerve, something that seemed familiar somehow. But the P.K.E. meter was silent. Sweat popped out on Winston's forehead, and he gripped his thrower tightly. What the hell is it?

The footsteps drew closer.

"I say blast first and ask questions later," Dempsey said, suddenly and unexpectedly sounding so much like Peter that Winston choked back laughter.

And then all urge to laugh drained out of him when he saw exactly what was coming down the tracks toward them. Of all the horrible possibilities he'd considered and was ready to face, this was one that had never even entered his mind. Winston's heart lurched violently in his chest, the sheltering stone around it shattering, his blood turning to ice water.

Janine.

No, it couldn't be. Dear God, Janine was dead - it had to be her ghost . . . But the demon had stolen her soul, and the P.K.E. meter, it wasn't registering . . . but it was her! No, it wasn't - it couldn't . . . Winston's mind was a whirl of conflicting thoughts, and for a long moment, all he could do was stare in horror and try not to lose the tenuous hold he had on reality. He thought he heard Messinger let out a strangled gasp, but Winston couldn't take his attention off the Janine-thing as it slowly shambled closer.

The thing that couldn't be Janine, yet had to be Janine, wore the tatters of what the secretary had worn to work the day of the explosion. The red hair was matted around the face, making the blue eyes seem more vivid, making the streaks of bone-white skin underneath them - tear tracks? - more pronounced through the blood and dirt. The left arm hung limply at an odd angle, obviously broken. He cataloged all this in an instant, trying to make sense of it. And then Winston found himself drawn back to the blue eyes that shone unnaturally bright in the flashlight beams, eyes that stared ahead, blank and unseeing.

Dead eyes. Dead. Not Janine. Janine's body, animated. Possessed.

God, help me. And damn the thing that's done this to her to Hell.

It came closer. He couldn't let this appalling travesty continue. Tears streaming down his face, Winston took aim.

"No!" someone shouted. Messinger. "Don't shoot her!"

He felt the architect grab his arm, pulling his thrower down and away from its target. "Can't you see that it's not Janine?" Winston grated out. "Can't you just look into its eyes and tell?" The Ghostbuster violently threw off the restraining hand, and blinking hard to clear his vision, brought his thrower up again.

"There's nothing wrong with her eyes!" Messinger cried desperately. "For God's sake, look at her!"

And then Winston looked into the blue eyes once more.

Gone was the horrid blankness, the deadness , and he saw that it was Janine. He could tell the difference instantly. Or was there a difference? Had he imagined the whole thing and it had been Janine the entire time? But before Winston could sort any of it out, Janine blinked once, then twice, and then a small sigh escaped her lips as she collapsed on the subway tracks in a seemingly boneless heap.

Shock should have kept him rooted to the spot, but without hesitation, Winston stowed his thrower and jumped down onto the tracks, sprinting the few feet to her. He dropped down beside her, wanting to turn her over, but knowing he shouldn't, not until the medics checked her out. She'd fallen forward but her head was turned so that he could see her face, so he contented himself with that. He touched her cheek, felt her warm breath on his cold fingers, and he sobbed aloud. He'd quit praying for a miracle, but here was proof that his prayers had been answered.

Then why did he have the unnerving sense that God had very little to do with Janine's miraculous resurrection?

He fumbled for the P.K.E. meter. With a trembling hand, the Ghostbuster ran it over her prone form and checked the readings. Normal. Not a trace of psycho-kinetic activity. Desperate to believe it but not quite able to, Winston boosted the gain to max. Again, the meter remained quiet. There wasn't even a trace of the residuals he'd picked up earlier. He had to be right about this. He had to be certain that this was Janine. Switching the meter to its diagnostic mode, he sighed in relief as the device complied immediately, running the self-test and signaling its readiness. The meter was fine. It was Janine. She was alive.

"Let us get to her," one of the medics said urgently.

When strong hands pulled him back, he let them. Winston watched as they swarmed around Janine. He waited what seemed an eternity while they checked her over, then asked hoarsely, "How is she?"

"Looks incredibly good," one of them answered in amazement. "But we'll know more when we get her transported."

"The guys. I've gotta call them."

Dempsey shook his head. "I've already tried to radio that we've found a survivor. For some reason, the signal's not getting through." He tapped one of the workers on the shoulder. "There was a man trapped with her. Let's check out the tunnel. If there's no sign of any, uh, well, anything," he shrugged, nodding down at the Ghostbuster's P.K.E. meter.

Winston, digging for his cellular, shook his head. "No, it still reads clear." Even his instincts gave him the all-clear. Whatever danger he'd sensed earlier was gone. Had Janine been the source? Had he been right to believe that there had been something else, something that had taken control of Janine, in those first nightmarish moments? He looked down at her too-still but blessedly alive body, and the anxiety drained out of him. She was alive. That was all that mattered right now. Winston activated the phone, wincing at the sudden burst of static. "Damn."

"You can try again when you get closer to the surface," Messinger said, his eyes locked on Janine. "Look, I've got to go with the rest of them," he gestured at the Rescue team that had started down the tracks. "They've got a map of the tunnels, but they might need me." He gave Janine one last look, then turned to follow Dempsey's crew.

"John," Winston said. Messinger looked back at him, and Winston extended his hand. "Thanks."

The man shook Winston's hand solemnly. "Just stay with her and make sure that she's okay."

"Not a problem," Winston said as he saw Janine was ready to be moved. "She's not going anywhere without me."

Day Three
5:32 p.m. EST

The phone rang again.

"Leave it," Peter said tiredly. "The machine'll get it." And this time the machine would answer with his recorded voice. He'd been unable to bring himself to erase Janine's voice, so he'd replaced the tape with another and recorded a brief, to-the-point message stating the business was closed until further notice.

Ray shook his head. "It might be Winston."

"And it might be another reporter," Peter replied. He looked over at the phone, seeing the light blink insistently for attention. "It's not coming in on the private line." When Ray struggled to reach it from his supine position on the couch, Peter got to his feet and limped from his chair to him. He batted the occultist's hand. "Okay, you win. Stay still will ya, Ray?" He snatched up the receiver. "Ghostbusters." He listened for all of five seconds. "No comment," he said sharply, slamming it down. After throwing a 'what-did-I-tell-you' look at the younger man, Peter hobbled back over to his chair and lowered himself down.

"Sorry," Ray said with a sigh.

"No biggie." Peter looked up at the ceiling. Egon had been in the shower for over a half hour, and that was far longer than he usually took. The psychologist suspected it was a ploy for solitude, and this time, Peter wasn't going to give in quite so easily. He'd give him five more minutes, then he was going up after him. His ankle still hurt like crazy from when he'd launched himself past Egon to get to the answering machine, but at the time, Peter hadn't cared if he shattered the bone in the attempt. Anything to save Egon from more pain.

"You okay?" Ray's soft voice asked.

Peter slid his eyes from the ceiling to meet Ray's. "No, Tex, I'm not." But thanks to Egon, he was doing a lot better than he had been earlier. "But I imagine I'm doing better than Egon."

Ray sighed again. "Yeah, I know. Peter, this is killing him."

"I know, Ray, I know. We've just got to be there for him, help him get through this." The answer sounded trite to his ears, but Peter knew that was exactly what was needed for them all. And he had tried to fool himself that he could get through it alone. For a physicist, Egon Spengler was one hell of a psychologist.

The phone rang again.

"Geez," Peter muttered darkly.

"I'll get it this time," Ray said firmly. He raised up a bit but just as he reached for the phone, Peter swiped it away.

"Let me," he said, holding a hand over the mouthpiece. "I live to deal with the press." He uncovered the phone and barked, "Ghostbusters -- we don't have any comment now, and we don't plan to in the near future, so you can just take your story . . ." His eyes widened. "Winston? What did you just say?"

Ray twisted to look up at him, and as he did, he could hear the wail of a police siren becoming louder as it neared the firehall. Peter was staring at him, his eyes filling with disbelief, then hope. "What?" Ray asked anxiously. "What is it, Peter?" The siren grew louder, sounding like it was right outside.

"EGON!" Peter yelled ceilingward. "EGON!" Then Peter spoke back into the phone, "We'll meet you there!" Slamming the phone down, he grabbed Ray by the shoulders. "She's alive, Ray! Janine's alive! Winston's taking her to the hospital . . ." He trailed off, hearing the pounding on the door downstairs. "Our ride's here," Peter said hurriedly, letting go of him and making a move toward the stairs and to Egon. "Ray, can you make it downstairs, tell the cops we'll be right down?" Then he grabbed Ray up in a hug. "Ray, she's alive! I'll explain on the way, but right now I've got to tell Egon."

Ray was too shocked, too relieved and too happy to do more than stare as Peter raced up the stairs, calling for Egon as he went.

Day Four
11:58 p.m. EST

Close your eyes, Janine. I love you.

Close your eyes.

I love you.

I love you . . .

Egon's voice. Then a loud noise. Then the world shifted beneath her. Falling. Falling.

Then a horrible coldness surrounded her, enveloped her, terrifying her even as it cradled her tenderly and carefully. She thought she heard something shrieking -- she knew it had to be a thing because no human or animal could give voice to that unearthly cry. Then the cold that held her began to press against her, began to creep inside her, and then she heard and felt nothing.

Until she heard Egon's voice again, felt his hand holding hers, pleading with her to do something, crying -- was Egon actually crying? Over her ? And because she had to see it to believe it, she opened her eyes . . .

Janine opened her eyes, looking around wildly. It was another dream, she realized, seeing her hospital room. She was glad she had left the fluorescent lights on maximum - she'd discovered that she hated waking up to darkness. Janine forced herself to take slow and even breaths, shivering with the lingering coldness of the dream. The doctors had told her to expect to relive what she'd gone through in nightmares but she'd never expected the vivid 3-D, full-blown technicolor spectaculars she'd been having.

Wanting a distraction, she reached carefully for the television remote. The cast on her arm bumped against the bed railing. She sighed. But she knew how lucky she was. She only had a broken arm, a few cuts that needed minimal stitching, and several spectacular bruises to show for her ordeal. Oh, and the concussion. How could she forget about that, she wondered, frowning with the headache. Considering what she'd been through, she'd gotten off easy. The doctors had been amazed. The media had called it a miracle. Janine didn't know what she thought about it, except that knew something inexplicable had happened to her after the second bomb had detonated. Not that she was knocking it. As the saying went, she was glad to be alive and -- even though she didn't feel up to it right now -- kicking.

When she'd told the guys what she remembered, Egon and the guys - especially Winston, which had seemed odd since he was usually quiet when it came to the scientific end of the business - had taken numerous readings on with a P.K.E. meter, one that hadn't been fried by the electrical storm. The one they'd been tracking her with at the blast site had been totally zapped by lightning, and none of them had realized it. Not even Egon, who had chastised himself severely. Janine could still hear him. "I have been a fool. " But Peter had rapidly jumped to Egon's defense, saying that his mind had been firing on all thrusters at the time. Ray had told her privately just how broken up Egon had been. It had been nice to hear, especially after hearing them worry over the 'heavy psycho-kinetic fingerprints' that the P.K.E. meter had detected on her. She didn't want to think about that right now.

She pulled the blankets around her tightly. She couldn't seem to stay warm. The doctors had told her it was a psychological reaction to her ordeal, that she wasn't suffering from shock or experiencing physical symptoms from her injuries. Peter Venkman, psychologist, had agreed with the doctors after Egon had taken even more P.K.E. readings to reassure them all that the unnatural cold wasn't caused by contact with the demon. She shivered again. It still creeped her out to think that there had been a demon down there in the dark with her. She'd made the guys tell her about the Class 7's after she'd seen the news reports on television. It had taken all the Melnitz determination she could muster, but she'd gotten the whole story out of them, from what Ray said was 'Staunton's Theory' on down to the demon that had tried to take her soul. Egon had taken over the latter part of the narration, and Janine remembered how his eyes had been shadowed and how his voice had faltered when he told her about those last horrible moments. Janine's heart had warmed at how quickly Peter, Ray and Winston had rallied around him. She didn't have to worry about Egon. The guys would take care of each other. They always did.

Janine idly surfed through the channels, not really watching the television as it switched from station to station. She was suddenly glad that she'd gotten a private room - she would have hated to bother a roommate. Janine was pretty sure her insurance only covered semi-private, and she wondered if the guys had sprung for the luxury. More likely it was the hospital just trying to score media points, giving one of the bombing survivors preferred treatment. Well, she could live with that just fine, thank you very much. And the food hadn't been too bad, either. She was in good enough shape to be on solid food, and she smiled, remembering how Ray had brought her Chinese for dinner. It seemed years ago that she and Ray had discussed having Chinese for lunch. It was sweet of him to remember, and even sweeter that he'd thought to have all the toys she'd bought for her nephew's birthday replaced. Winston had taken the list - Ray wasn't allowed to go out shopping because of his back - and had dutifully filled it, giving the toys to Janine's mom, who had promised to pass them on. Janine hoped Ray had remembered to tell Winston to get another one of Han Solo's original guns. She'd have to ask about that. If not, when she got out of here, she'd go get Ray one herself. And she'd remember not to get the 'stupid orange one', she thought, her smile widening.

All the guys had been incredible, and even Slimer had been on his best behavior when he'd been allowed his visit. The coldness inside her retreated a bit as she remembered how the guys had been staying at the hospital with her, even when they weren't allowed in her room after visiting hours ended. They'd just moved to the waiting room. Janine had told them to go home, she was fine, really , but they hadn't listened. It had taken her mom to convince them that evening to go back to the firehall and get some rest. Nobody ignores Mother Melnitz , Janine thought with a proud grin.

Pausing in her channel surfing, she looked over at shelves that lined up along both sides of the television. Her eyes came to rest on a beautiful floral arrangement that had arrived late today. She'd should have been stunned when she'd found out who had sent them - she hadn't heard from Johnny Messinger in fifteen years - but she'd been expecting to hear from him since Winston had told her about the architect of Cityplex who had helped to find her down in the subway.

That evening during visiting hours when the guys were doing their routine of checking out the new arrivals of flowers, cards and get-well gifts, Peter had whistled at the obviously expensive arrangement of flowers. Janine had grimaced as he'd read the card aloud. "'Pebbles -- get well soon.' And it's signed, 'Bamm-Bamm.'" He'd grinned and looked up at her from over the card. "'Pebbles', huh? Why do I feel like I'm gonna love this story?"

"How do ya know that there is a story, Dr. V?" Janine had replied, not really wanting to explain. There was more than a good chance that Peter would call her Pebbles for the rest of her life. Knowing him, he'd probably even give her a bone-shaped barrette to wear in her hair.

"Has to be a story," he'd shrugged, and then had passed the card over to Egon who'd frowned over it. "And I'm very curious to know why we haven't heard it - or about 'Bamm-Bamm' before."

"As am I," Egon had said, and Janine had thrilled at the definite sound of jealousy in his voice.

So she'd told them about little Johnny Messinger and how the combination of her red hair and his white-blond hair had determined their Halloween costumes one year, and how the nicknames had just stuck with them all through school. She didn't explain to them any more than that, except that he'd moved away and how long it had been since she'd last heard from him. It had just felt too odd telling them - especially Egon - about Johnny. She'd never mentioned him around the guys before, at least not until the day of the bombing when she'd tried to make Egon jealous. It had just never felt right to use him in her campaign to win Egon, since Johnny had been her first Big Crush and Janine had at first wondered if she hadn't fallen for Egon because he reminded her a lot of Johnny. The romantic relationship she'd had with Johnny had never been serious, she'd grown out of the crush, but they had been very close friends. They'd grown up in the same neighborhood, sat by each other all through school - Melnitz and Messinger - and had dated on and off during high school and his college years. Janine had missed him terribly when he'd moved to Chicago to take a job with a prestigious architectural firm based there. Johnny had married soon after, and soon after that, Janine had stopped hearing from him. It had hurt and Janine had wondered what she'd done, then she had heard through her mom's connection with Johnny's parents that the new wife was a jealous sort. She'd never tried to contact him, not wanting to cause him any problems with his marriage. Not long after, Janine had taken the job with the Ghostbusters, and had promptly fallen head-over-heels in love with Egon. And since she'd never told them about Johnny before, Janine didn't see any reason to start dredging up ancient history now and boring them with details.

Ray had commented then how odd it was that she'd mentioned the architect on the day that fate would bring their paths to cross again. "It has to more than coincidence that Janine brought Mr. Messinger up then, after all these years," he'd said, excited. "Like in Staunton's theory, Janine was unconsciously predicting the future. She had a premonition, but had it in a way that she wouldn't readily recognize it as one. She didn't know how or even if he was going be in her future, but he just popped into her thoughts. Wow, I wonder what the odds are that Mr. Messinger would be the architect of Cityplex?"

"Never tell me the odds," Peter had quoted Han Solo-style. Janine remembered the warmth that had rushed to her cheeks as Dr. V had looked at her shrewdly. He must've realized that there was a lot more to the story than she'd told them, but he wasn't going to call her on it. But then he'd taken the card from Egon and handed it to her. "There's a phone number on the back," he'd told her, "and the area code isn't the town of Bedrock, Pebbles. It's here, in the City." His eyes held hers for a moment, then the psychologist glanced over at Egon. Janine had realized immediately that Peter was worried about Egon having to deal with a rival for her attention, coming on the heels of him almost losing her. She had thanked him for pointing out the number, but she'd already known it was there. She did she plan on calling Johnny and his wife to thank them for the flowers, and for helping Winston to find her. Peter had looked at her, relieved, and the subject of John Messinger was dropped.

The televison suddenly caught her attention, bringing her thoughts back to the present. UBN was running yet another story on the bombing. There were still no suspects, but the FBI was following a strong lead. The death toll stood at thirty-eight. She shivered. Dave-Dave Michaels was one of them. But Peter had told her Sandra Stein had survived. Go figure. Dave had a son and wife; she and Sandra had no one that depended on them. There was no logic to who survived and who didn't. It hurt her head when she tried to make sense out of any of it.

She bumped the sound up a notch when she saw a video clip of Ray as he had checked himself out of the hospital to return to the bomb site. She grinned as she heard that he'd been totally cleared of any suspicion in the bombing, and the mayor was making noises about giving Ray an award of some kind. She nodded. Ray certainly deserved one. He'd saved a lot of lives.

Her hospital door opened a crack. She looked over at it, expecting to see a nurse. Then a familiar curl of blond hair poked through the opening.

She muted the television. "Egon," she said, surprised. She glanced over at the bedside clock. "It's after midnight."

Egon hurried inside the room, carefully shutting it behind him. He held the handles of a cloth tote bag with a drawing of Einstein on it in one hand, and with the other, raised a finger to his lips, motioning for silence. "Shh," he warned. "I had to sneak in here."

She had to admit, a sneaking Egon Spengler was definitely a cute Egon Spengler. She smiled. "I'll bet. How'd you manage it?"

"I had some help," he admitted. He pushed one of the room's chairs over next to her bed, wincing as the metal scraped along the floor. "Shhh!" he ordered the chair frantically, then he looked up at her, sheepish. "Now I'm talking to a chair. And I'm supposed to be the brilliant one." Janine covered her mouth to smother her laughter. Egon grinned back at her, then settled himself in the chair. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine, except I'm still a little cold," she answered.

"Need another blanket?"

Janine's heart did a little dance at his concern. He looked ready to jump up and track down yet another extra blanket for her. "No, I'm fine. So, are you gonna tell me how did you managed to get in here?"

"The guys ran interference for me. The head nurse looked quite capable of exacting bodily harm on anyone foolish enough to try and get past her."

"Oh, the guys came too?" Janine looked toward the door.

"I don't know if they're going to make it," Egon said, pulling her tray table into place in front and over her. Janine adjusted the bed and her position a bit to make it easier for him. Mystified, she watched as he pulled out two smallish, gaily wrapped boxes from his Einstein bag and placed them on the table. "They're keeping, um, I believe that Peter has dubbed her, 'Broomhilda', suitably busy."

"Peter's probably getting her phone number," she said with a grin. "Christmas?" she asked, seeing the theme of the paper. "You do know that it's only October."

"I couldn't wait." He looked at her and Janine felt her cheeks warm. He had no idea the power those blue eyes of his held over her. Egon nudged one of the boxes closer to her. "Open it."

She peered at the gift tags. "One of them is yours. 'To Egon, From Egon'," she read. "Oh-kaay." She pushed his gift toward him and grabbed the one labeled as hers. Egon had to help her open it, since the cast made unwrapping a gift a bit awkward. "Oh, it's a coffee cup," she said, holding it up. It was pink, and there was a picture on it. She recognized the female cartoon mouse immediately. It was Billie, Brain's girlfriend from Pinky and the Brain , her favorite cartoon. The Brain had always reminded her of Egon, and when he was in the mood, Egon could sound exactly like the lab mouse that was bent on world domination. Not that he was in the mood often, mind you, but it was priceless when he'd turn to Peter who'd set him up by asking, "What are we gonna do tomorrow night, Brain?" and then Egon would deliver the line, "The same thing we do every night, Peter. Try to take over the Netherworld!" Janine grinned, delighted. The drawing of Billie had her dressed in a pink jumpsuit with a blue collar and cuffs, a proton thrower in one paw, and a steno pad in the other. It was adorable.

Egon had his present opened and Janine saw that his cup was blue, and of course, had the Brain adorned in a Ghostbusters' blue jumpsuit, complete with tiny proton pack. Okay. Time to say something smart and witty and defuse this Tender, Touching Moment, or she was going to start bawling like a baby. And as usual around Egon, even after all these years, she couldn't think of one smart and witty thing to say.

Egon must've seen that she was about to cry, for he put down his cup and reached across the tray table and took her hand. "Janine." She sniffed and blinked furiously, sternly ordering herself to dry up and get a grip. "Janine," he said again, and this time she looked up at him. The look in his eyes took her breath away. She'd never seen him so . . . so open . He swallowed hard and said, "Janine, I --"

But before he could say anything else, the door to her room opened abruptly. They both turned their heads to see Ray, then Winston, then Peter enter the room. Janine was glad to see them, but she certainly wished they could have waited just a few more minutes.

"Cheese it," Peter whispered frantically, leaning against the door. "She's on to us!" Ray was nodding feverishly, and Winston was doing his best not to laugh. "Broomhilda," Peter panted out, "the Nasty Nurse of the North at twelve o'clock!"

Janine felt Egon squeeze her hand and then he jumped to his feet, grabbing his cup, tote bag and the tell-tale wrapping paper debris. Then the four of them did quite a remarkable job of mimicking an old Marx brothers or Three Stooges routine, running into each other in their frenzied haste to leave. "Oh, come on guys," Janine said, rolling her eyes, but unable to suppress a smile, "what's she gonna do?"

"I don't wanna know!" Peter stage whispered, putting an ear to the door. "Uh-oh." He looked at guys. "Footsteps," he said ominously.

"The bathroom!" Ray said, and the four of them dashed for the tiny lavatory. Well, Janine admitted, not dashed, exactly. Ray kind of minced along, his back was hurt, after all, and Peter was limping on his bad ankle and turning around to admonish Winston, who was doubled over, laughing. That left Egon holding up the rear, shooing them along. They somehow managed to all fit inside the bathroom, and closed the door behind them.

Janine's door opened. "Everything all right in here?"

Janine nodded and smiled innocently. "Fine, thank you." She could see why the guys were worried. Jean-Claude Van Damme would be worried going up against this nurse.

The nurse frowned as the sound of muffled laughter came from the bathroom, immediately followed by frantic shushes. Then she smiled and Janine could have sworn she saw a wink as the woman turned and left. The door closed.

"You can come out now," Janine said, pressing the button to elevate the head of her bed some more. "She's gone."

The four fugitives exited the bathroom, and Peter breathed a sigh of relief. "That was close! You really saved our necks. Janine, you are incredible."

"So are you Dr. V," Janine said with a smile. She knew exactly what Peter had them doing, and this playful game of hide-and-go-seek silliness was just what the doctor -- in this case, Dr. Venkman -- had ordered. The guys needed the chance to get crazy after what they'd been through. "So are you."

Peter winked at her. Sometimes, Janine understood him too well.

Egon took a thermos out of his tote bag. "I think this calls for a toast."

"Hear, hear," Ray agreed, looking around for a glass. Egon unscrewed the plastic cup lid from the thermos and handed it to him. Janine gave Winston her extra hospital cup, and Peter said drinking it straight from the thermos worked for him. Egon poured the beverage into the cups, filling his 'Brain' mug last and then handing the thermos to Peter.

"What shall we toast to?" Janine asked, accepting her new cup from Egon.

"To life?" Ray suggested.

"All for one and one for all?" Winston offered.

"To good friends. Tonight is kinda special," Peter recited dramatically.

"Honestly, Peter," Egon sighed, but his blue eyes twinkled. Janine loved to see him this happy. "How about simply, 'To the five of us'." He looked down at her and smiled.

"Works for me," Peter declared as Ray and Winston nodded their agreement. After the toast, Janine raised the cup to her lips.

Cocoa.

Janine smiled and felt the hot cocoa's special magic begin to warm her.

The End

*Governmental Agency names have been changed in this story at the author's discretion.