Connor limped out of his lab and ran smack into Abby.

"Ow," he said, grabbing his shoulder and jumping back. He was so tired and sore, the small movement caused every muscle in his body to flare with pain. He gasped and breathed through his mouth as black dots flickered across his eyes.

"Whoa, Connor, be careful." Abby rubbed her own shoulder. "Where're you going so fast?"

He blinked until the dots faded away. "Medical. April said to get checked out before coming back to work."

"April?" Abby frowned.

He winced. Probably not his smartest move to mention her right now. "Yeah, you know, my new assistant?"

Abby gave him a funny look and then peered through the window to his lab. "She's blonde."

"Is she?" His voice squeaked. "Hadn't noticed. She's proper tidy, though. Cleaned up my whole lab while we were at the mall, or what used to be the mall."

"Hmm." Abby kept staring through the window. "Kind of curvy."

"Want to meet her?"

"No, maybe later." She eyed him up and down. "Wait, you haven't seen a doctor yet?"

When he shook his head, she rolled her eyes and placed her arm around his waist. "Come on then."

Connor played the sympathy card and slung his arm around Abby's shoulders. He didn't try to hide his limp, and he even leaned on her a little.

At medical, the nurse led him into a private room and told him to sit on the exam table. Abby helped him remove his jacket.

As Connor explained what had happened, he tried to scratch around the plaster on his leg, but it hurt his stomach to reach down so far so he gave up. Meanwhile, the nurse typed notes into the computer, giving him a weird look but otherwise not commenting when he mentioned the "giant carnivorous beetles." When he was done talking, she took his vital signs and entered them into the computer.

"The doctor will be here in a minute," she said closing the door behind her.

Once they were alone, Abby picked up a magazine and sat down.

Connor peered at his bloodstained trousers. He could see the plaster Becker had slapped on earlier. It was soaked through with red, which made him think the cut would probably need stitches. He tried to rip the material of his pants so he could reach his leg better and give it a good scratch, but it still hurt too much. "I hope this doesn't take too long."

"Yeah, I'm ready to go home." Abby idly leafed through the magazine pages. "Maybe we can get takeout and cuddle in front of the telly tonight. Or . . ." She flashed him an impish smile. ". . . go to bed early, if you're feeling up for it."

Connor rubbed the back of his neck. "Sounds lovely. Only, the thing is, I've got to work tonight."

"What?" She snapped the magazine shut.

"Philip gave me this stuff to read. I was going to take it home, but April won't let me. She said it had to stay here. It's even in a locked case. No rest for the wicked, I guess. Not that I'm wicked or anything . . ."

"Connor, you worked all last night. You've been dragged underground. You helped save the city from an infestation of giant beetles. You're obviously in pain. Does Phillip really expect you to work now?"

"No, I mean, yes, but he hasn't seen me. Doesn't know about me leg. But it's no big deal, Abby. I just need to read some files, that's all. I can do that sitting down, yeah?"

"Surely this can wait until tomorrow. Aren't you exhausted?"

Connor couldn't stand the itch anymore. He ignored the pain in his stomach and reached down to scratch the edges of the plaster. Aw, relief. "Yeah, a little bit, but it's just reading. Plus, I want to figure something out about the anomalies before—" He clamped his mouth shut. He'd almost told her all about the increasing anomaly problem that Phillip had told him to ignore.

"Before what?"


Abby rolled her eyes.

"Sorry, but he made me sign a confidentiality agreement."

"Of course he did." Abby kicked her feet back and forth under the chair.

"I told Phillip I don't like keeping secrets from you." Connor huffed in frustration. "I had no choice, Abby. He was going to kick me off the project, if I didn't."

"And that's a bad thing?"

"If you only knew how important this is, then you wouldn't say that."

"You know, you're right. I don't understand." She crossed her arms and glared at him. "What I do know is that Phillip is taking advantage of you, and you're just letting him. Did you know he left at five yesterday while you stayed all night?"

"He did?" Connor frowned. He'd figured Phillip had been looking into the problem with anomalies occurring more often. If he hadn't, then why had he told Connor not to worry about them?

"Maybe he worked from home," he suggested, scratching away at his leg.

"He wasn't carrying a briefcase or anything. And quit doing that, you'll infect it."

Connor pulled his hand away guiltily. He tried to think about the implications of Phillip leaving early, but a knock sounded on the door. A moment later it opened, letting in a stout, balding man wearing a lab coat over a blue shirt and tie.

"I'm Dr. Howell," he said, with a warm smile as he shook hands with Connor and Abby.

The doctor stepped up to the computer to read Connor's file. He chuckled. "So, you were dragged underground by a giant beetle. Can't say I've ever come across that one in my medical training."

"Sorry," said Connor, not sure how to respond. "Its pincer thing cut me leg when it grabbed me. I think I need stiches. It's still bleeding. And it itches like mad."

The doctor continued reading the screen. "Blood pressure is normal, temperature's a little elevated—100.7. Do the bugs have any venom in them?"

"Venom?" asked Connor, gulping. His whole body was sore, but he'd just assumed it was from lack of sleep and being dragged. He shot a panicked look Abby's way.

She threw a similar look back at him as she jumped up to stand next to the exam table. "We don't know about venom. I was going to do an autopsy tomorrow morning, and Matt said something about taking samples down to the lab, but I don't know if he has yet."

Dr. Howell had Connor place his leg up on the table. He cut the trouser material with a small pair of scissors, pulled off the plaster, and examined the wound. A frown creased his forehead. "It's a little red and swollen. Did get bitten?"

"I don't think so," said Connor. "Its mouth is the size of me head, so I'd probably be missing a chunk somewhere if I had."

The doctor pulled out a marker and drew a circle around the reddened area. "Hmm, some insects cause reactions just by touch. Are you allergic to anything?"

"Just pollen, ragweed, summertime things," said Connor.

"Bees, wasps?" asked the doctor.

"Not that I know of. I don't think I've ever been stung before, though."

Dr. Howell nodded and turned to Abby. "Who did you say is taking care of the samples? Matt Anderson?"

She nodded.

"I'll have a nurse contact him and tell him what we need. Be right back."

After he left the room, Abby placed the back of her hand against Connor's forehead. "You do feel warm." She massaged the back of his neck. "How does your leg feel?"

"Itches and burns a little. You don't think that thing was poisonous, do you?"

"I hope not," she said fervently. "And if it was, you are not going back to work."

Connor gave her a wan smile. "Wouldn't think of it."

"Okay," said Dr. Howell, stepping back into the room. "They're still transporting the beetle back here, so it might take a while before the lab can test it. Let's take a look at the rest of you."

He told Connor to remove his shirt. As Connor tried to pull it up over his shoulders, he gasped with pain, so Abby helped him finish the job.

When he was done, she was the one gasping. "Connor," she said, staring at him, "why didn't you say anything about this?"

"What'd ya mean?" He glanced down to find that his entire chest and abdomen were covered in scrapes and bruises, mixed in with dirt and debris. It was hard to see clean skin. He swallowed and thought he might faint.

"You have a nice case of road rash," said the doctor. He gently prodded Connor's ribs while Connor made little animal grunts he was helpless to prevent. "Might have some cracked ribs, so we'll need to get those x-rayed. And it looks like you hit your head too." He peered at Connor's forehead. "Did you lose consciousness?"

"Yeah," he admitted.

The doctor flicked a light in and out of Connor's eyes. "How long?"

Connor shrugged and glanced at Abby.

"It was about a half hour between when Connor disappeared and then contacted us, so probably less than that," she said.

The doctor asked him a few questions to see if he was lucid. Satisfied with Connor's answers, he concluded that Connor didn't have a concussion but would need a couple of stitches. He gave Connor a gown and told him to hang tight.

Right after he left the room, there was a knock on the door. "Can I come in," called Matt.

"Yeah," said Connor, slowly pulling the gown over his shoulders while Abby fussed.

"Geez, mate, you look like hell," said Matt, eyebrows rising at the sight of Connor's injuries.

Connor gave him a dirty look.

"Did you get the samples to the lab?" asked Abby.

"Yeah, they're on their way." Matt leaned against the wall and tucked his hands in his pockets. "But you don't need to worry. The beetles aren't venomous."

"How do you know?" asked Abby suspiciously.

Matt shrugged. "They're not the type to have venom."

Connor and Abby shared a look but neither one pushed him about it.

"So what's the prognosis?" asked Matt. "You going to be off field duty for a while?"

"Don't know," said Connor. "I need x-rays first."

"He's planning on working for Phillip tonight," said Abby, shooting Connor a disgusted look.

"That doesn't sound very sensible," said Matt mildly. "Are you sure you're up for that? I can talk to Phillip, if you'd like."

"No, it's okay. Let's see what the doctor says first, okay?" Connor suddenly felt on overwhelming need to just lie down. He wavered and fought to keep his eyes open.

It was a losing battle. He lay back on the table, eyes closed. Vaguely he heard Abby call his name and felt her hand on his shoulder. He wondered if he was dying from the bug as a sharp pang of guilt cut through him. He hadn't told anyone else about the anomaly problem, he realized, or that the world might end in an apocalypse of cascading anomalies. And it would be his fault because he'd listened to Phillip.

He hadn't even told Abby he loved her at the mall when he had the chance, and now he was going to die without being able to do it ever again.

Connor struggled to open his eyes to at least tell Abby how he felt, but it was like climbing out from under an enormous pile of blankets, and he just didn't have the strength. A crushing weariness settled over him, pulling him down into unconsciousness, and soon he stopped caring about anything anymore. Even the end of the world.