Excerpt from M. L. N. Hanover's VICIOUS GRACE


SFF author Daniel Abraham writes urban fantasy under the pen name M. L. N. Hanover, and he's just released the third installment in The Black Sun's Daughter series. Vicious Grace (Canada, USA, Europe) is the sequel to Unclean Spirits (Canada, USA, Europe) and Darker Angels (Canada, USA, Europe).

Here's the blurb:

When you're staring evil in the eye, don't forget to watch your back. . .

For the first time in forever, JaynÉ Heller's life is making sense. Even if she routinely risks her life to destroy demonic parasites that prey on mortals, she now has friends, colleagues, a trusted lover, and newfound confidence in the mission she inherited from her wealthy, mysterious uncle. Her next job might just rob her of all of them. At Grace Memorial Hospital in Chicago, something is stirring. Patients are going AWOL and research subjects share the same sinister dreams. Half a century ago, something was buried under Grace in a terrible ritual, and it's straining to be free. JaynÉ is primed to take on whatever's about to be let loose. Yet the greatest danger now may not be the huge, unseen force lurking below, but the evil that has been hiding in plain sight all along—taking her ever closer to losing her body, her mind, and her soul. . .

The author provided this extract for your reading pleasure.

Enjoy!
----------------------------

Two hours with a strong cup of morning coffee, Google, and Wikipedia yielded this:

When it was built in 1921, Grace Memorial was the second largest hospital in a city that was thick with them. Cook County Hospital was only a mile away, and Grace’s red brick towers and colonnaded walks, cathedral-style entrance and massive network of wards and offices were a response to the older hospital's preeminence. But the original buildings changed fast; almost as soon as Grace opened for business, the construction crews came in.

In 1929, the Bureau of Prohibition raided the hospital, recovering enough gin, rum, and beer to feed Chicago's speakeasies for a week. The men responsible for building the network of smuggler's tunnels and secret warehouses fled or were arrested, and the hospital itself almost didn't survive the scandal. All through the 1930s, Grace Memorial had a reputation as Chicago's hospital of last resort. A prostitution ring ran out of it from 1936 to 1939. One whole wing was demolished as structurally unsound.

The Manhattan Project came to its rescue in 1942. While Fermi conducted the first controlled nuclear reaction at the University of Chicago, the Army Corps of Engineers quietly took control of Grace Memorial, retooling it for research on the effect of radiation. When, in 1946, that project ended, a new group stepped up with the stated intention of making Grace Memorial a functioning hospital again. President Truman himself signed the documents that transferred control of the buildings away from the army. Over the next half-decade, Grace Memorial became a cause celebré among the highest ranks of Chicagoan society. Mies van der Rohe and Declan Souder -- the two great lights of Chicago architecture -- competed for the chance to redesign it with van der Rohe dropping out at the last minute to go work on Farnsworth House.
In the 1970s, it entered into partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago -- one of the largest medical schools in the nation -- and became a teaching and research hospital with the joint missions of serving the poor and supporting cutting-edge medical research. If that particular pairing sounded a little ominous to me, no one else seemed to blink. The worst scandal it had been involved with since then was a 1998 report about failures to conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Nothing online mentioned ominous dreams or boxes in dark earth. None of the graphics were of weirdly staring eyes or improbably-jointed hands. I hadn't really expected the Internet to deliver all the answers, but there was nothing there to give me traction. My little spate of research did give me enough background to understand what I was looking at when, after a half-hour drive through the rain-scrubbed streets, we got there.

"Wow," I said. "Ugly."

Ex craned his neck as Aubrey drove us all past.

"It looks like ten other buildings that got in a car wreck," he said.

"It's worse inside," Kim said. "When I was interviewing for the job here, they asked how well I read maps. I thought it was a joke."

She was understating the case. After we stuck Kim's permit to the window and found a space in faculty parking, she led us to her office. The public areas of the hospital were pleasant enough -- well-lit, with living plants and relatively humane paint jobs -- but as soon as Kim used her key card to get us past the wide metal Authorized Personnel Only doors, things got weird. We passed through two long, looping hallways to an elevator that said we were on the second floor even though we were still at street level. Then up three levels to floor 5-East (as opposed to 5-West which was actually the floor below). Kim led us through two more sets of locked doors with bright orange biohazard markers on them, and we stepped into a cramped area wider than a hallway but too narrow to be a room where three desks huddled together. A black man with thinning white hair nodded to us as we passed.

"This has got to be a joke," I said as Kim unlocked the final door. "Who designed this place, and where'd they put my cheese?"

"All hospitals are like this to some degree," Aubrey said. "My postgrad research was a collaboration with some MDs at the University of New Mexico. I always had to meet people at the front of the place and guide them in."

"I remember that," Kim said. "Grace is worse."

The office was too small for all of us to fit comfortably. There wasn't even space to put down the backpack I used as a purse. A thin window had wedged itself in one corner, daylight spilling across one wall. Kim’s computer hummed and whirred, a screen saver cycling through images that I assumed fit in with her work: x-rays of skulls, bright pink-and-white pictures of what might have been flesh, drawings of complex microorganisms with joke labels on them like "extra cheese" and "On the Internet, no one knows you're infectious." The air smelled of oil and old carpet.

"We do our actual lab workups down in Pathology or over on the UIC campus," Kim said as she dug through a small metal filing cabinet, "but the paperwork's all here."

"Who are you working with?" Aubrey asked.

"Alepski and Namkung," she said. Aubrey crossed his arms and leaned against one wall.

"Didn't expect to hear those names again," he said.

"Namkung's the official lead, but she came here because Alepski and I were willing to sign on if the study was based out of Grace. They ask about you sometimes."

"And what do you tell them?" he said with a laugh in his voice.

"That you're traveling the world," Kim said. "They're comfortable with that. It's a good team. One of the nice things about working with them is that sometimes the residents will actually consult with me."

"Why wouldn't they?" Ex asked.

"I've got a Ph. Alepski and Namkung both went on to get MDs, and so I'm respectable by association," Kim said, as if that explained everything. When she stood up, she had a card in her hand. I caught a glimpse of an old picture of Aubrey on it and a silver magnetic strip. "I got guest researcher access for Aubrey on the strength of the papers we did together. It won't get you on the medical wards, but if you need to get in there, you can use it to sweet-talk the nursing staff."

"And the rest of us?" Chogyi Jake asked.

"Are limited to public areas or else going chaperoned," Kim said. "Or you can get a white coat, carry a clipboard, and scowl a lot. That's usually enough to keep anyone from bothering you."

"Security would be difficult with this many people," Chogyi Jake said.

"More than people, it's the different systems," Kim said. "On any given ward, you've got the nurses and technicians who work there, and the doctors who come in and out. And then the therapists. And the social work staff. And security and the physical plant guys. Janitorial. Kitchen staff. Compliance inspectors from the state and the fed. And the researchers like me. And the patients. And the families. And everyone answers to a different set of management, if they answer to anyone at all. Everyone has different methods for interacting with everyone else. It's a complex tissue. By and large, if you aren't keeping someone from doing their job, they don't much care whether you're there or not."

"So don't piss off the security guys," Aubrey said as he clipped his new ID card to his belt. It was just a little square of plastic, but it made him look like he belonged there. It was such a small thing to be a disguise.

"That should be all right," I said. "We're just getting the lay of the land, right? Basic recon."

"Fair enough," Kim said. "Where did you want to start?"

"I assume there's a chaplain," Ex said. "Resident priest might have more of an idea of the spiritual state of play than the other staff."

"And is there a mental health service?" Chogyi Jake asked with his customary smile. "Possession can be mistaken for mental illness."

"There are three, actually,” Kim said. “Adult, pediatric, and geriatric, but the psych wards are high privacy. They're strict about keeping patient information away from anyone but physicians and family. If we get someone specifically that we want to look at, I can try to talk to the attending. But even then it'll be tough."

"Maybe just the commissary, then," Chogyi Jake said. "Where the nurses and technicians would be likely to eat."

"Is there something you're looking for?" I asked.

He spread his hands in a gesture I took to mean anything interesting.

"I'd like to see Oonishi's lab," I said. "Dreamland. If that's where this thing is showing up, that seems like a good place to start."

"I'm fine with any of it," Aubrey said. "How do you want to do this? All stick together, or split up the party?"

The last questions were directed at me. All gazes shifted. While it was true that I was responsible for signing all the checks, I still hadn't quite gotten my head around being the boss. Moments like this one left me squirming inside, but I put my brave face on.

"Let's split up," I said. "Cover some ground. I figure the chaplain is going to be someone you can get to without going through restricted access areas. The staff commissary, maybe not. So how about Ex tackles the priest, Aubrey and Chogyi Jake can go schmooze with the locals, and Kim can introduce me to Oonishi. It's eight-thirty now, so find out what you can, and we'll plan to meet up for lunch and compare notes."

"I think we have a plan," Aubrey said.

"We should set a solid meeting place and time," Kim said. "Cell phones are kind of tricky in the buildings."

"Right," I said.

We settled on half past twelve in the main lobby. Kim wrote detailed maps to get Ex, Chogyi Jake, and Aubrey where they were going, and then we headed off. It didn't take long before we were in the public parts of the hospital again. We passed a waiting room where an oversized television was blasting SpongeBob SquarePants to a shell-shocked, unsmiling family. In the hallway, a guy who was just about my age hunched over his cell phone, saying something about lab results and trying not to cry. The air smelled like cleaning solution. Outside the windows, blue sky and fluffy white clouds hung high above the buildings pretending there had never been a storm. The Sears Tower -- now officially the Willis Tower -- peeked out from behind smaller, closer structures, and I tried to pay more attention to it than the thousand small human dramas we were walking past. It seemed polite.

"What a difference a year makes," Kim said. Her voice sounded tight. Clipped.

"You think?" It hung halfway between question and agreement, and it got a hint of a smile. She didn't elaborate, and I didn't press.

Thinking about it as Kim led me confidently down the corridors and wards, there was something to what she said. It wasn't that the others wouldn't have listened to me before -- well, except Ex, and that was more about his own weird paternalistic streak. But when Kim had first met me, I'd been younger. And it was more than just the months and weeks. It was the mileage.

Being Eric -- taking over the work he’d left behind -- had put me in harm’s way more than once, but it had also given me chances to figure out who I was. To try being the sort of person I wanted to become. I was more confident than I’d been the first time she met me, more in control of myself and or the people around me. I wondered if my parents would have recognized me as the same girl who’d hurried through the kitchen on her way to school and church, or if I’d become someone so alien to my own past that I’d be a stranger to them. I wasn’t sure if the idea left me sad or proud.

I was still lost in thought when it happened.

We passed through a set of automated swinging doors, a blue-and-white sign above them announcing the rooms within as the Cardiac Care Unit. The hallway marched out before us, the glass walls of patients' rooms arrayed around a wide, high nurses' station, the same panopticon architecture as a prison. Half a dozen men and women in hospital uniform and almost that many in civilian clothes stood behind the desk or before it, engaged in at least three separate conversations. I didn't see the man until I bumped into him. It was like stumbling against a wall.

"Sorry," I said.

"You," he said, and then "What the hell is your problem?"

He was red haired and freckled, his jaw wide and starting to sag a little at the jowls. He stood a head and a half taller than me, which put him on the large side, even for a guy. His scrubs were powder blue, and an ID tag much like Kim's hung from his neck. The rage in his eyes unsettled me.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I was thinking about some-"

He moved in front of me, blocking my way with an out-thrust chest. A red flush was climbing up his neck.

"You were thinking?" he said. "You've got to be shitting me. That's you thinking?"

I looked at Kim looking back at me. I had hoped -- expected, even -- outrage and maybe an echo of my own sudden fear. Instead, she was considering me like I was an interesting bug. Everyone at the nurses' station had turned toward us. All the conversation had stopped. A nervous glance over my shoulder, and I saw the patients in the fishbowl rooms staring at me too. I lifted my hands and took a step back.

"Look, I said I was sorry. I just bumped-"

"You piece of shit."

His voice was low and shaking with rage. I felt the cold electricity of adrenaline hitting my bloodstream. Kim didn't say anything.

"You piece of shit," he said again.

The fear didn't leave me -- nothing simple as that -- but an answering rage started to bubble up along side it.

"Hey!" I said. "I don't know what your problem is, but I've had about as much--"

The red-haired man drew in a long, rough breath.

And so did everyone else.

Each nurse at the station. Each patient watching us through the open doorways of their rooms. Breath is a small thing, a subtle thing, until its coordinated, and then it's devastating. A moment ago, I'd been having a surreal encounter with the poster boy for steroid rage. Now, that soft, vast sound made me something very small in the middle of an unexpected battleground. I felt myself go suddenly, dangerously calm. It wasn't quite the I'm-not-driving experience of being in a fight, but I could feel myself leaning in toward that. The man's breath quickened, and the other people matched it. I took a step back. His hands were balled in huge fists.

"Kim?" I said, but her breath was keeping time with the sharp panting that rose up all around me. Whatever this was, it had taken her too. I licked my lips and pulled my qi -- the vital energy that fuels magic and life -- up from my belly and into my throat.

"Kim," I said, pushing the power out into my voice. "Wake up."

I didn't take my eyes off the red-haired man, but in my peripheral vision, I saw her fall out of the pattern. She put a hand to her head and looked around. The red-haired man was trembling now, shaking with barely-restrained violence. Two of the nurses behind their station put down long gray folders and stepped out into the hallway behind him. A blond woman in a business suit came out of one of the patient care rooms, her hands at her sides like claws. King Mob, closing ranks. Their synchronized breath filled the space: a single, huge, animal sound.

"Jayné?" Kim said.

"Just stay cool, and when I tell you to run, run," I said. And then, "Okay. Run!"

2 commentaires:

Tyson said...

I see the tattoos are migrating from the small of the back to the side of her body. The cover trend is changing.

Mavis said...

I just got done reading his short story "Hurt Me". Daniel has some of the best shocking and satisfying endings to his stories.