A Fungus Among Us


Jill Hargan


Hank Stanley closed his log book and switched off the light on his desk. It had been a busy day. Both the squad and the engine had been out of the station for most of it, and he'd just finished catching up on the day's runs. He stood and stretched to the full extent of his long frame, grimacing as his knees popped and his spine crackled. He was more than ready to hit the sack. As he left his office and headed to the day room, he hoped the night would be a quiet one.

He pushed the door open and found his men engaged in various quiet activities. Roy was on the couch reading, absently rubbing Henry's ears. Mike and Marco were sitting at the table with the chess board between them. Chet and John were both watching television - or rather, they were seated in front of the TV. Neither man appeared to be paying much attention to the weather report on the tube. Instead, they seemed to be engaged in their favorite past time - arguing about something inane. At some point someone must have grown tired of them and told them to pipe down, for their voices were lowered, although Hank could tell by Gage's wildly gesturing arms that the reduced volume had not decreased the intensity of the argument. He watched them for a moment, glad he'd been occupied in his office for most of the evening.

"Hey, Cap," Marco greeted, after he'd moved his bishop into the trap Mike had cleverly laid for him. Stoker never said a word, he just made his move and captured Marco's piece with a satisfied smile. Hank could tell by the engineer's face that Lopez was doomed.

"You might as well give it up, pal," Hank advised with a chuckle. They'd all tried, but none of them had been able to beat Mike.

"I think you're right," Marco admitted ruefully. "It's all over but the funeral."

"Well, it's gettin' kinda late anyway. I was thinking of calling lights out."

"Sounds good to me," Roy said with a yawn as he marked his page and closed his book. "I'm beat."

"Me too," Lopez agreed, flicking his king over in a gesture of defeat. "Looks like you win again, Mike."

"Stoker always wins," Chet complained with a shake of his head. "I don't even try anymore."

"At least Marco puts up a good fight," Mike replied quietly, generating a few chuckles at the implied slur to Chet's chess ability.

Kelly sat up straight, assuming a wounded expression. "Are you saying I can't play chess, Mikey?"

Stoker frowned slightly at the nickname they all knew he hated and that Chet used to get the engineer's goat. But John saved him the necessity of a comeback. He stood up and slapped Kelly on the back.

"What he's saying, Chester, is that you should stick to checkers. It's more your speed." Gage gave the Irishman a smug grin.

"Oh, you're funny, John," Chet shot back. "It's not like you're any better..."

Hank stepped in before things got out of hand. "Okay, guys. Let's call it a night."

Four men stood and began shuffling chairs and making the motions of heading out the door. But Chet stayed where he was.

"You coming, Kelly? Hank asked.

"I'm gonna stay up for a while, Cap." Chet held up the TV Guide. "There's a great movie coming on."

Just as Hank opened his mouth to ask what it was, John let out a derisive snort.

"Oh, yeah, a great movie. A classic." The paramedic snickered in a way that told the captain exactly what the two men had been arguing about.

"Go ahead, make fun, John," Chet said in a long suffering tone. "But you shouldn't condemn something you've never seen."

Gage took a step forward and brought his hand to his chest as if that would help make his point. "All I'm saying, Chet, is that The Mold From Planet X isn't exactly Gone With the Wind."

"The Mold From Planet X?" Hank echoed in disbelief.

"It's a cult classic, Cap," Chet explained defensively. "A high mark in the genre."

"What genre's that," Roy quipped. "No budget cheesy movies?"

John didn't even try to stifle his giggling.

"The Mold From Planet X?" the captain repeated incredulously. He shook his head and sighed. "Just be sure you're not up all night. And if we get a call..."

"I know, Cap. I know." Chet then turned to John. "You too chicken to stay up with me and get yourself proven wrong?"

"Chet, I don't need to miss a night's sleep just to know how dumb this movie is."

"Sure, Gage," Kelly replied with a knowing nod. "Just like I thought... you're all talk."

Hank suppressed a sigh. He knew how this was going to end. Chet would goad John into staying up with him to watch the movie. Gage was too easy to manipulate and Kelly was a master at it. He pushed his way out the door, taking comfort in the fact that at least three of his men had the sense God gave them and would go to bed at a decent hour.

"The Mold From Planet X," he muttered in amazement as he headed across the bay. 

* * *

If Roy was the type of person who believed in ESP and other kinds of psychic phenomenon, it would have been easy to explain why he always seemed to wake up just before the tones went off. But since he wasn't generally given to ponder mysteries of that nature, he merely chalked it up to conditioning.

When he woke up tonight, he also figured it was because Johnny was making too much noise as he peeled down his bunker pants and set them in his boots to be ready for a run. Roy glanced at the clock, saw it was after 1 a..m. as his partner climbed into bed. A moment later the tones sounded.

"Shit!" Johnny breathed out as he threw back the covers he'd just pulled up and stepped into the boots he'd just carefully arranged at his bedside.

Roy shook his head as he sat up and stepped into his own boots. He could hear Cap sleepily acknowledging the call for the squad.

"Serves ya right for letting Chet pester ya into watching that movie," he commented softly, so not to disturb the other guys who were trying to go back to sleep.

Johnny made a face as he pulled up his suspenders. "Serves ya right," he mimicked in a copy cat tone, then huffed off toward the door to the bay.

Roy bit back a chuckle as he adjusted his own suspenders. He worked on fastening his pants as he followed his partner out of the dorm. He knew if he didn't want Johnny mad at him for the rest of the night, he'd better keep the "I told you so's" to a minimum. He did hear Chet snicker from his bed as they moved past him, and the paramedic had to work to keep the grin off his face as he climbed into the squad.

* * *

The call turned out to be nothing more than a hysterical woman who hyperventilated herself after hearing her neighbor's cat in the trash cans and imagined it was Charles Manson coming to kill her while she slept. Her husband was away on a business trip and she wouldn't even let them treat her until a police officer showed up to assure her Johnny and Roy were only there to help and had no intention of hurting her.

After finally getting her calmed down, and leaving her in the hands of the bemused deputy, the paramedics climbed back into the squad.

"L.A., this is Squad 51, returning to quarters." Johnny replaced the mic and leaned back against the seat, rubbing his bleary eyes. "Man, I can't wait to get some sleep." He shot a glance at his partner, but Roy had managed to refrain from making any obvious comments.

I'm sure lucky to ride with Roy, he told himself. I don't even want to think about what Brice would have said.

"Was it a good movie?" Roy finally asked, after they had traveled the dark streets in silence for a few moments.

Johnny nodded slowly. "It wasn't as bad as it sounded," he admitted reluctantly, then leaned toward Roy. "Don't you ever tell Chet I said that."

Roy smiled. "My lips are sealed."

Johnny leaned back again, his face thoughtful. "Actually... there were a few parts that were pretty creepy. Not just stupid or gross... but really scary, ya know?"

Roy gave him an incredulous look, but didn't disagree with him. Johnny couldn't blame him. He would never have believed a film with that title could be anything but dumb either. But he had to admit the hair on the back of his neck had stood on end a couple of times. He was glad Chet had been so engrossed in the flick that he hadn't seemed to notice Johnny scooting his chair a bit closer to his co-worker.

"You should have seen it, Roy," Johnny decided to expound, hoping to get Roy to understand how much this movie had affected him. "There was this space station... out at the edge of the solar system, see... and they kept sending out these probes." Johnny shifted to face his partner as he got into the tale. "Well, one of these probes came back and it was infected with these mold creatures... well, it wasn't really mold... but that's what they thought it was at first, 'cause it looked and smelled like that..."

"This alien smelled like your bathroom?" Roy asked, and though he didn't laugh, Johnny could hear the amusement in the question.

"Oh, very funny," he retorted. "Do you wanna hear this or not?" He didn't pause long enough to let Roy answer yes or no. "So, anyway... these aliens turn out to be really super intelligent... and they realize they need human hosts to live in our world... so they can take over Earth, ya know?"

"Uh... no, not really," Roy replied as he slowed for a red light.

Johnny sighed and sat back with his arms folded across his chest. Obviously Roy really wasn't interested. "Well, it was creepy anyway, the way the people on the space station would end up breathing in mold spores without even knowing it and then the mold would take over their bodies. First they'd start having trouble breathing, and then it was like they couldn't get any air into their lungs... which, of course, they couldn't, 'cause the spores were takin' over. Then, after their brains were dying from lack of oxygen, the mold would take over." Johnny shuddered at the memory. "Man... I dunno how to explain it, Roy... it was just... just..."

"Well, I hope it won't give you any bad dreams," Roy broke in, his tone light and teasing. Johnny snorted. "Give me a break, Roy. I'm not a child." In the dark he couldn't be sure if Roy had rolled his eyes or not. He was too tired to get really mad, so he chose to believe he hadn't seen anything. He closed his eyes, glad for once that he wasn't behind the wheel. Maybe he could catch a few winks before they got back to the station. If he could just get the image of those suffocating spacemen out of his mind.

The filtered sound of the tones over the radio, made Johnny sit up and groan. Roy merely picked up his helmet from off the seat and placed it on his head in anticipation of a run.

Station 51, Squad 51, apartment fire at 3949 West Hawthorne... 3949 West Hawthorne. Time out 02:14.

"It figures," the younger paramedic groused as he picked up the mic. "Squad 51 responding." He could hear Cap's response over the radio as he jammed the mic back into it's holder. "My luck it'll be a big one and we'll be out all night."

"Well, if it's any help, Chet won't be sleeping either," Roy pointed out consolingly.

Johnny put on his helmet and adjusted the chin strap. He let a reluctant grin start on his face. "I guess that's some consolation."

* * *

The engine was already there with hoses pulled when Roy stopped at the curb across from the old, three story building. It was a neglected part of town, slated for redevelopment, but still a hodge podge of struggling businesses, older homes and low income apartments. This particular building was actually newer than most, but had suffered from lack of upkeep, giving it a more run down appearance than it should have had, and the dim illumination provided by the sparse outside lighting only added to the effect.

The paramedics got out of the squad and retrieved their turnout coats and air tanks from the side compartments. The white smoke billowing out of the main entrance and first floor windows, told them that Chet and Marco had already gone inside with a line and were laying down a good spray of water. They could see Mike manning the pumps and Cap standing by with his HT, his hands on his hips, his face scanning the outside of the building for any further signs of fire. They could tell by his stance that things were pretty much under control.

"Where do you need us, Cap?" Roy asked as he and Johnny trotted up to receive instructions.

"Looks like it was confined to the first floor laundry room," Hank informed them. He gestured to the circle of pajama-clad onlookers watching from across the street. "Manager told us everybody's out, but why don't you two go on up and do a sweep of the rest of the building. See if anybody needs help... and make sure this thing hasn't moved inside the walls," he added loudly as they moved away from him.

Roy donned his air mask. Johnny jogged back to the squad and grabbed and axe before he put on his own mask and joined Roy at the entrance to the front lobby. As they walked in, they could see the line of hose that led down a smokey hallway. Figuring Chet and Marco probably already checked out that area already, the paramedic pointed down the opposite corridor. Johnny nodded agreement and the two men headed that way.

It didn't take long to determine that all the first floor units were empty. As Roy and Johnny came back to the lobby to head up the stairs, they met up with Chet, who was bringing in another line from the engine.

"Cap wants me to go with you just in case," Kelly told them. His face mask was dangling down his chest and he wiped an arm across his sooty brow. "The fire was acting a little quirky and he's afraid it might have moved into the walls."

Johnny nodded and removed his mask as well, and Roy realized how much the smoke had cleared, so he followed suit. There was no sense wasting air when they didn't need it.

The three men trudged up the first flight of stairs. Once on the second floor, they turned down the hallway that led to this level's laundry room. It would be right above where the fire was and was the most likely place for it to spread. Along the way, they knocked on doors and checked for anyone left behind. Fortunately they found no one. The manager must have done his job and gotten all his tenants outside.

When they reached the end of the corridor, they found the closed, door that led into the small laundry room. Johnny pulled off a glove and felt the door.

"It's cool," he said, then turned the knob and pulled the door open.

The musty smell hit them even before they walked inside, but grew stronger as they entered the dark, windowless room.

"Man, that's bad," Johnny commented. He waved his hand in front of his nose and coughed a bit.

Chet stood in the doorway with the hose ready, while Roy and Johnny moved inside. Roy flicked the switch and the room was suddenly filled with flourescent light, showing them two washers and two dryers jammed side by side, with little space left to move around in. Though the paint was dirty and peeling in spots, there was no obvious source for the smell.

"Smells like your locker," Chet quipped.

"Oh, ha, ha," Johnny replied, his hands moving along the wall, checking for hot spots. "You should be used to this," he told the Irishman. "With as much time as you spend..." he paused long enough to cough again, "...cleaning the latrine."

Roy did his best to ignore Chet and Johnny's usual banter, as he felt along the other wall. The smell of mildew was stronger here and he wrinkled his nose as it assailed his nostrils.

"There must be a plumbing leak or something behind this wall," he commented, mostly to himself, since his two companions were too busy trading insults to pay much attention to him.

"This wall seems a little warm," Johnny suddenly announced, standing up from where he'd been crouched near the baseboards. He coughed again as he stood up, and this time it lasted longer.

Roy regarded his partner curiously. There wasn't any smoke on this floor. But maybe it was coming up through the walls from the room below.

"Guess we should ventilate to be on the safe side," he suggested, nodding at the axe in Johnny's hands, and stepping back towards Chet to give his partner some room to wield the tool, and allow Kelly to move in with the hose if needed.

"Okay," Johnny agreed. None of them liked damaging someone's property any more than they had to, but sometimes it was necessary.

The dark haired paramedic raised the axe and gave it a good swing toward the wall. The sharpened edge bit deeply into the drywall.

* * *

Man, this smell is gettin' to me.

Johnny coughed again and wiped at his eyes, wondering when they'd started itching and burning. Then he sniffed loudly and swung the axe again. He'd already made half a dozen small holes in the wall. They hadn't found any fire, but the smell of smoke was strong from the floor below. And each place he'd opened up seemed to have increased the dank, moldy odor in the room.

He tugged the axe free, bringing a large chunk of gypsum board with it. The burning in his eyes increased, and he began coughing so hard, he bent over double.

"Johnny? You all right?"

That was Roy. Always the worrier. Johnny nodded and held up a hand to wave his partner off. "Yeah, it's just this..." His hand moved to indicate the open space.

"Man, Gage, have you seen what's inside this wall?"

Johnny could hear Chet move closer, but his eyes were watering so much now, that it was hard to see clearly. He shook his head and began coughing again.

"No... uh... no, Chet... wha... what?" he rasped out as he ran the sleeve of his turnout coat over his nose. His throat was starting to burn now too.

"Damn, it looks like mushrooms inside there. There's so much mold in there they could start makin' penicillin."

Johnny started to laugh at Chet's comment, but then the word sank into his brain and his heart suddenly started pounding in his chest.


In an instant, the images from the movie flashed through his mind, and as if triggered by his fears, his throat suddenly felt like it was growing tighter.

Damn it, this can't be happening. It was only a movie!

His coughing grew more forceful, causing him to stumble into Chet as he grabbed his ribs at the pain.

"Quit clownin' around, Gage. Gage? You okay?"


One last cough and Johnny realized he couldn't draw a breath. Panic now filled his mind as he brought one hand to his gasping throat, the other reaching out to grab feebly at the front of Chet's turnout coat.


The blood rushing in his ears muffled Roy's worried voice, but Johnny was aware enough to know it was his partner who took him by the shoulder and pushed him firmly to the ground and he vaguely registered Chet calling in the Code I on the H.T. He felt someone fumbling with something in front of him, but his only concern at the moment was the struggle to get some small bit of oxygen through his throat, which seemed to be constricting more and more each moment, and the more hands that were on him, the harder it seemed. He fought to push away whoever was trying to hold him down.

"He's getting combative. Chet, come help me. Here, Johnny, breathe through this."

Something was pushed over his mouth and nose. While a part of his brain told him it was only his air mask, another part of him panicked. He wasn't getting much air in, but the last thing he wanted was something covering his face. He struggled even harder to keep the confining mask away.

"Johnny, calm down... hold still. It's just air. Come on, Johnny, stop fighting me. Chet, hold his arms!"

"Jesus, Roy, look at his face. What's wrong with him?"

"I don't know. Some kind of reaction. Damn it, Johnny, keep the mask on."

Their voices were growing fainter, and he knew his struggles were getting weaker. He tried to keep fighting, but it was too difficult. His mind was filled with a red haze and the last thing he heard was Roy's hiss of dismay.

"He's not breathing, let's get him outta here."

He felt himself being jostled about and then he didn't feel anything at all.

* * *

If there was one thing Hank Stanley had learned over his years as a firefighter, it was never to get complacent about a call. Sometimes, the ones you thought were the most minor could suddenly turn into major trouble. Which was why he'd sent Kelly up with Gage and DeSoto. He didn't want his paramedics to be caught unaware by a fire that had jumped floors. He didn't really think they'd find anything. It hadn't been a big fire, and Chet and Marco had knocked it down pretty quickly. But there were reasons behind the rules and Hank wasn't the kind to ignore the potential for problems.

Even so, the last thing he'd expected to hear as he helped Marco mop up in the laundry room, was Chet's frantic voice over the H.T.

Engine 51, H.T. 51, We've got a Code I. Cap, Johnny's down. We need an ambulance.

He got no further information, but didn't waste time trying to quiz Chet. Wondering what the hell had happened, Hank motioned for Marco.

"Lopez, go get John and Roy's gear off the squad."

"Right, Cap." Marco dropped the pike pole he'd been using to pull down wet ceiling tiles and rushed out of the laundry room, as Hank contacted dispatch and requested the ambulance..

Instead of following Lopez outside, the captain headed toward the stairs to see what was going on with his men. He only got half way up when he saw Roy and Chet rushing toward them. John was draped limply over Roy's shoulder and Chet was trying his best to keep an air mask held up to the unconscious paramedic's face.

"He's not breathing," Roy announced without preamble, the worried tone in his voice telling his captain that the situation was critical. Hank turned to follow them back down the stairs he'd just climbed. "Can you get Rampart on the horn and tell them we need an airway."

"You got it." The captain used his long strides to cover the distance to the door ahead of his men.

Marco already had the drug box and biophone set up on the sidewalk outside the front door. Hank nodded his approval as he squatted down and picked up the phone.

"Get the oxygen and the difibrillator," he ordered crisply, not knowing for sure if the cardiac equipment would be needed, but wanting it on hand if it was. "Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read?"

Hank waited for a response as Marco hurried over to retrieve the items. At the same time, Roy and Chet rushed John out of the building, and Roy eased his partner down onto the ground. John's face had been obscured before, by the air mask Kelly held and the paramedic's own shaggy hair that had fallen forward. Now Hank could see Gage clearly. His face was a dusky hue, his lips nearly blue, but his eyes were red and swollen shut. Between Roy and Chet, they got the paramedic's air tank off his back, then laid him down on the street.

Hank watched with a strange feeling of detachment as Roy tilted John's head back and began mouth to mouth. He kept placing a hand on his partner's chest, obviously trying to see if his efforts were having any effect, and judging by the frustrated look on his face, they weren't.

Go ahead, 51.

Before Hank could say anything, Roy motioned Chet to take his place and grabbed the phone from his captain's hands. Marco arrived with the oxygen and Hank moved to help get it set up, listening to Roy explain what had happened. He tried not to look at John's lifeless face.

"Rampart, we have a paramedic down, appears to be in some kind of anaphylaxis. He was having trouble breathing and has since gone into respiratory arrest. His airway appears to be compromised."

51, insert esophageal airway and use 6 liters O2. Start IV D5W TKO, then give point two five milligrams epinephrine IV.

"10-4, Rampart."

Roy dropped the phone and took the airway that Mike had ready and waiting for him. Hank hadn't even realized the engineer had come over, but all his men were here, ready to help in any way they could.

"Lemme in there, Chet," Roy ordered tersely, and Kelly backed off from giving John mouth to mouth, his face reflecting the concern they all felt.

Hank watched Roy work on his partner, getting the airway in with some difficulty, then motioning Marco to get the oxygen going. As Lopez quickly hooked it up, and started the flow, Hank saw Roy chew on his lower lip, his eyes narrowed. It was obvious he wasn't happy with what he saw, but he moved to start the IV. Hank had already pulled the bag of D5W and IV tubing out. Roy flashed him a grateful look, then quickly established the IV. He left Chet to tape it down while he grabbed the epinephrine out of the drug box. Popping the tops, he quickly had the hypo ready and administered the medication into John's IV port. He then grabbed up the phone again.

"Rampart, airway's in, but we're not getting good ventilation. He's still cyanotic."

51, have you administered the epinephrine?

"That's affirmative, Rampart. Epi's in..."

As Roy continued conferring with the hospital, Hank heard the approaching wail of a siren. He glanced up and saw the ambulance coming down the street.


Marco's alarmed call turned Hank back around. John's head was rolling on the pavement, his hands trying to push the oxygen off his face.

"He's fighting the airway," Roy stated as he moved to restrain his partner. "Chet, hold his arms... watch the IV. Johnny? Johnny, calm down. Easy there, pal, we're just trying to help... hold on, Johnny."

Hank moved in to help hold the agitated paramedic still. As Roy kept up his stream of soothing words, John's struggles grew less frantic. He finally let his arms relax. He was breathing on his own, though Hank could hear John's wheezing and see the exaggerated rise and fall of his chest that told of his ongoing efforts to draw in enough oxygen. His color was better too.

"Johnny? Johnny, can you hear me?" Roy's voice had regained it's normal timber, and that, more than anything else, filled Hank with a sense of reassurance.

John made some guttural sounds, his head moved again, and he made an attempt to open his eyes. The lids were still puffy and he didn't get them raised more than a crack. He groaned again.

"Take it easy," Roy said and squeezed his partner's shoulder. "Don't try and talk. We're gonna get ya into Rampart and you'll feel a whole lot better." Roy picked up the phone again.

"Rampart, patient is now breathing on his own. Respiration is still labored and there is heavy wheezing. He is conscious."

10-4, 51. Keep monitoring respirations and transport.

"10-4" Roy put the phone back in it's place and motioned the waiting ambulance attendants to bring the gurney over.

"What the hell happened?" Hank asked, feeling like there was time now to get some questions answered.

Roy shook his head. "I'm not really sure, Cap. Some kind of allergic reaction."

"Will he be all right?"

Roy nodded slowly. "Looks like it." He glanced up and met Hank's eyes. "It was pretty close there."

There wasn't anything to say to that. Hank merely patted Roy's shoulder in a gesture of encouragement. He watched as John was loaded into the ambulance and Roy climbed in after him. Marco handed up the biophone and the drug box, then closed the back doors. In moment, the siren started again and the ambulance lumbered off down the street.

Hank took off his helmet and ran a hand through his hair, blowing out a long breath. It was never easy when one of his crew was hurt, but this had been so totally unexpected. He moved over to where Chet stood motionless, still staring after the vanished ambulance.

"You okay, Kelly?"

Chet slowly turned, his face still reflecting his anxiety. "Yeah, Cap, I guess so."

"What exactly went on up there?"

Kelly shot a glance up at the second floor, then shook his head. "Mold," he muttered.

"What? Mold?" Hank scowled at the Irish man. "Kelly... now's not exactly the time for kidding around..." But the look in Chet's eyes made Hank pause.

"I'm not kidding, Cap. We were in the laundry room and it smelled pretty bad... mildew like, ya know? Then we decided to ventilate. When Gage opened up the wall... geeze, Cap you wouldn't believe the mold we found inside. That stuff musta been growing for years. Then Gage starts coughing... like really bad, I thought he was trying to goof me, ya know? 'Cause of the movie last night. But... Man, Cap, he just went down. He couldn't breathe." Chet shook his curly head again in disbelief.

Hank let his eyes move up to regard the second floor. It was hard to imagine that something as insignificant as mold could cause what he'd just seen happen to John, but he didn't want to take any further chances.

"Okay, use your air masks and we'll go in and finish up. Then, Kelly, you take the squad to Rampart and pick up Roy."

* * *

"So he's really gonna be okay?" Roy stood outside the treatment room. He'd waited here for nearly an hour while Brackett ran all kinds of tests on Johnny. Finally, the doctor had stepped out here to talk to Roy, his demeanor a lot more relaxed than when they'd first arrived.

"He's doing much better," the doctor assured the senior paramedic. "His bronchial swelling has subsided to almost normal. He's still wheezing a bit, and we're giving him breathing treatments, but I don't anticipate any further problems. Even his eyes are looking much better."

Roy finally allowed himself to smile. "That's great, Doc." His blue eyes narrowed a bit. "But what caused him to react like that?"

Brackett's mouth grew tight. "I was hoping you could tell me. We haven't found anything in his blood work that's telling us anything. What were you doing when he collapsed?"

"We were ventilating a laundry room. It was small... pretty tight quarters... and it smelled pretty bad."

Brackett's eyes lit up. "Smelled bad?"

"Yeah, like mildew... you know, damp and musty."

The doctor's hand came up and pulled at his chin. "Damp, you say?"

Roy nodded slowly. "Yeah. And Johnny started coughing a little. But I just thought it was from the smoke. But then after he opened up the wall, he really started coughing. After couple minutes he went down."

"And was the smell stronger when the wall was opened?"

"A lot," Roy stated adamantly. "Doc, I've never seen so much mold as we found inside there." He noticed Brackett's face had grown even more thoughtful. "It can't just be the mold, can it, Doc? I mean, it's just mold, right?"

"There are all kinds of mold, Roy," Brackett told him seriously. "We're only just now discovering how toxic some of them can be. There's a whole new study being done on environmental toxins and mold is on the list."

Roy was skeptical. "But still, Doc... it's just mold. Johnny nearly died."

Brackett nodded grimly. "There's one particularly toxic strain... Stachybotrys..."


Brackett's mouth twitched in amusement. "Stachybotrys. It can cause severe allergies and in some people who are extremely sensitive, reactions like Johnny had. There really aren't any test to be sure that's what happened. Did your eyes burn or your throat hurt at all?"

Roy shook his head. "I don't think so, Doc. Chet and I were both there and I don't think either one of us..."

"Were wearing your air masks?" Brackett supplied with a hint of reproof.

Roy grimaced with chagrin. "No. We weren't. But, we sure weren't expecting anything like what happened. And Johnny's the only one who got sick."

"Well, if it going to happen to anyone, it'll happen to John." Dr. Brackett shook his head, this time his smile was a full one. "You can see him for a few minutes. But he's pretty tired, so don't stay long."

"I won't, Doc," Roy promised. "Thanks."

* * *

Johnny had never felt so tired in all his life. It still hurt when he breathed deeply; a knife-like pain similar to when he used to run track on smoggy days. And his eyes still itched a lot, but it took too much energy to raise his hands to rub them, so he tried his best to ignore the irritation.

His throat was a little raw, but at least he had the air way out. He despised those things, and was grateful they'd only insisted on the nasal cannula. He had some water on a tray next to him that helped a little when he sipped at it, but it too took a lot of energy to grab and bring to his mouth, so right now he just left it where it sat. Dixie had told him they'd be moving him to a regular room soon, so he knew he was going to have to be resituated anyway.

He heard the door to the treatment room open and he lifted one heavy eyelid. Roy's image came slowly into focus.

"You awake?" his partner asked softly.

"Kinda," Johnny mumbled hoarsely. He tried a little harder and got both eyes open, at least part way. "Guess I'm gonna be here for the night," he said resignedly.

Roy smiled. "Yeah. But Brackett says you'll be okay real soon. You'll probably get to go home tomorrow... as long as you don't give us anymore scares like you did today."

Johnny knew Roy well enough to see the real concern behind the light teasing. He remembered too vividly the panic of not being able to breathe and he could only imagine what things had happened that he didn't remember.



"Brackett hasn't really told me much. But I gotta know. Was it the mold?"


"I'm serious, Roy." He cleared his throat and Roy stepped up to help him take a drink of water. That made it much easier to talk. "Really, Roy... I'm not kidding. I couldn't catch my breath... and all I could think about was those spacemen. I'm not crazy, am I? Was it the mold?"

Roy played with the H.T. in his hand for a moment, then nodded. "Looks like it mighta been," he admitted, then gave Johnny a stern look. "But that doesn't mean the mold was intelligent or from outer space or...

"I know that!" Johnny retorted with a snort. "How dumb do you think I am?"

Roy looked like he might have answered, but instead he just smiled. Johnny chose to ignore it. He lay back against the pillow and closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again.



"The next time Chet tries to talk me into staying up and watching a movie with him..."

"Yeah, I know," Roy grinned. "Talk you out of it."

Johnny grinned and closed his eyes again.

* * *

Hank's ears pricked up when he heard the squad pull into the bay. He was sitting at the table in the day room with just his bunker pants on. He'd tried to go to sleep when they first got back from the fire, but he was too keyed up and worried about John, so he'd gotten up and come out here. He knew Mike and Marco weren't sleeping either, judging from the amount of tossing and turning he'd heard in the dorm.

He got up to wait by the door as Roy backed in and killed the engine. The look on the paramedic's face told Hank all he needed to know. John was going to be okay. The captain smiled in greeting as Roy and Chet climbed out of the truck.

"Everything go okay?"

Roy nodded. "Yep. Brackett's keeping him overnight, but it looks like he's over the worst of it."

"That's great," Hank beamed, the relief washing over him and leaving him exhausted. "Whaddya say we hit the sack. I'm beat."

"Sounds good to me," Roy agreed., but Chet didn't answer. He had moved over to the storage closet and was rummaging though it.

"Hey, Kelly?" Hank called. "Let's call it a night, pal."

Chet gave him an odd look and turned away from the closet so that Hank could now see all the cleaning supplies in his hands.

"Uh... well, I'm not really tired, Cap. I... I, uh... thought I'd spruce the place up a bit."

Hank's brows drew together in disbelief as Kelly headed toward the latrine. The captain glanced toward Roy to see if the paramedic could give him an explanation. Roy flashed him a grin.

"I don't think Chet's gonna be watching too many more late night movies," he advised Hank with a chuckle. "At least ones that deal with intelligent mold."

The End

Thanks to everyone who egged me on and to Audrey for reading it as a WIP. :>


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