A free preview of Geo Dell’s The Nation Chronicles: Death
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Geo Dell’s The Nation Chronicles: Death © Copyright 2017 Geo Dell
This excerpt is NOT edited for content
Project Bluechip: Watertown, NY
Complex C: Patient Ward
Test Subject: Clayton Hunter
Gabe Kohlson moved away from the monitors. “Heart rate is dropping, don’t you think…” He stopped as the monitor began to chime softly: Before he could get fully turned around the chiming turned into a strident alarm that rose and fell. “Dammit,” Kohlson said as he finished his turn.
“What is it,” David Johns wheeled his chair across the short space of the control room. His outstretched hands caught him at the counter top and slowed him at Kohlson’s monitor.
“Flat lined,” Kohlson said as he pushed a button on the wall to confirm what the doctor’s one level up already knew. Clayton Hunter was dead.
“I see it,” Doctor Ed Adams replied over the ceiling speakers. The staff called him Doctor Christmas for his long white beard and oversize belly. “Berty and I are on the way.”
“Lot of good that will do,” Johns muttered.
Kohlson turned to him. “Go on in… Do CPR if you want… They don’t pay me enough to do it. I don’t know what that shit is. Look at the way the Doc suits up. Clayton Hunter will be in rigor before anyone gets in there at all.”
“No argument,” Johns said. He wheeled back to his own monitor, called up an incident sheet and began to type.
“Me too,” Kohlson agreed. “Preserve the video, med and monitor data.” He punched a few buttons on his console and an interface for the medical equipment came up. He saved the last 48 hours of data, and then began to fill out his own incident report. These reports might never be seen by more than one person, maybe two if you counted the person that wrote it, Kohlson thought, but it would always be there. Classified: Top secret for the next hundred years or so. And he wondered about that too. Would it even be released after a long period? He doubted it. The shit they were doing here was bad. Shit you didn’t ever want the American public to know about. This incident report, along with the one Johns was doing, would probably get buried deep under some program listing that no one would ever suspect to look into. Or, maybe, it would get burned right along with Clayton Hunter’s body. He glanced up at the clock and then went back to typing.
“Uh… Call it 4:32 PM?” He asked.
“Works for me,” Johns agreed.
“I got 94 for the body,” Johns said.
“Yeah… Yeah, me too. That’s a fast drop, but we both got the same thing. 94 it is… No heart, no respiratory, dead as dog shit.”
“Dog shit,” Johns agreed. They both fell silent as they typed. A few moments later the doors to the observation room chimed, the air purifiers turned on with a high pitched whine, and they could both feel the air as it dragged past them and into the air ducts. The entire volume would be replaced and the room depressurized and then re-pressurized before the doors would open. And that would only happen after the air was tested and retested. A good twenty minutes away before anyone would step foot into the room with Clayton Hunter.
Complex C, Autopsy Room
Ed Adams and Roberta Summers had dissected Clayton Hunter’s body methodically. The autopsy had been painstaking. It had to be, it was recorded in detail and some General somewhere, hell, maybe even the president, would be looking that video over in the next few days: Maybe even watching live now. They had that capability. There was nothing to see. He had suffered a major heart attack. The heart had a defect. No history: One of those things that just came along and fucked up your two billion dollar research project all at once.
“Coronary Thrombosis,” He spoke in a measured voice. “It appears to be after the fact. The artery looks to be mildly occluded… The myocardial infarction appears to be caused from a congenital defect… Specifically an Atrial Septal Defect… Berty?”
“I concur. Easily overlooked. The lack of sustenance put a higher demand on the subject’s heart; the defect became a major player at that point… Bad luck for us.”
“Uh, bad luck for Clayton Hunter,” Ed Adams added.
“Of course. Bad luck for the subject, Clayton Hunter. I simply meant bad luck for a research volunteer to be defective in such a way that in effect it would compromise a project of this magnitude so badly.” She turned her eyes up to one of the cameras she knew to be there. “This in no way paints a true picture of V2765. We should proceed, unsatisfying as these circumstances might be, we should proceed with subjects 1120F and 1119X… Same compound.” She turned back to the corpse on the table. “You want me to do the brain biopsy,” She asked Ed.
Ed frowned as he made eye contact with her. They had decided, at least he had thought they had decided, not to mention brain biopsies. Three times now he had discussed the importance of not focusing on the changes that V2765 made to the brain. Anything that altered the brain could alter financing, funding, lab time. Even the government didn’t like changes to brain matter.
“Are you thinking there could have been an embolism?” He asked.
‘Well I,” she sputtered away for a second before Ed rescued her.
“I think all we would see is evidence of the embolism that occurred near the heart. We could search out areas of the body and most likely find more than one occurrence of embolism. Well thought, but I believe we will take a look at the brain later in the week. Right now I want to focus on the enzymes, proteins, blood work and readying the other two for a conclusion of this trial.”
“Yes, I agree entirely,” Doctor Adams.
“You have your samples?”
“Yes of course, Doctor… Rex?”
Ed frowned hard and shrugged his shoulders in the direction of the thick glass. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “None down here… That was stupid, Berty.”
“What was that,” Kohlson asked Johns in the control room.
“What?” Johns asked.
“That… Whisper, I guess,” Kohlson said.
“Oh… That. You know those two got it bad for each other. Probably making little remarks you don’t want to hear. Besides which, you make a report on that and we all have to deal with it: Them, sure, but us too because the bosses will be pissed off about it. Best to let that shit slide: If the boss wants to know he will. He looks at all of this shit in depth.”
Kohlson looked about to say more when Doctor Christmas began talking once more in the autopsy room.
“Let’s close him up,” Ed Adams said. He stepped on a switch set into the floor, paused, and then spoke again. “Lower the air temperature in here. We intend to keep him a few hours while we attend to other parts of the autopsy… No one in here for any reason.”
Out in the control room Johns keyed his mic button. “Will do… How low, Doc.?”
“I guess about 34 Fahrenheit will do… Just to slow it all down for a while.”
“Done,” Johns agreed. He adjusted a temperature graphic on a nearby monitor via his mouse.
Kohlson leaned over across the short distance. “So we got to look at that shit for a while? Great.”
“They’re gonna sew him up, so it won’t be so bad.”
“Yeah… That’s like; I got a mild case of flu. It’s still gonna suck, because every time I look anywhere I’m gonna feel compelled to look at it.”
“Yeah, me too. It’s there. It draws you to it. Like the Bunny on the Playboy Cover. You look at the rest of the magazine, but you know you’re gonna end up looking at her. She’s the reason you bought the magazine after all.”
Kohlson nodded and smiled. “And I’d rather look at Miss January than a dead guy with big stitches across his belly and over his chest, sewing him back up again. That is some ugly shit.”
Johns laughed. “But you look anyway… Human nature. Why do you think people slow down and look at accidents?”
“’Cause we’re morbid mother fuckers,” Kohlson agreed.
“Well, that too, but it is that fascination with death we have. Look,” He pointed at the monitor. Do you think Clayton Hunter knew he’d be laying on a steel slab this afternoon, dick hanging out, with Doctor Christmas shoving his guts back in and stitching him up with his nursey assisting?” They both laughed and turned away.
“She ain’t half…”
A scream cut off the conversation and both men turned quickly back to the monitor.
Clayton Hunter was sitting up on the steel table. Arms drooped at his side: Mouth yawning. Doctor Christmas had backed away until he had met the wall behind him. Nurse Berty was nowhere to be seen.
“What the fuck… What the fuck. Get a camera on the floor… Maybe she fainted,” Kohlson said.
“Got it,” Johns agreed. He stabbed at the keys on his keyboard and a view of the table at an angle appeared. Nurse Bertie’s leg could be seen, angled away from the table, skirt hiked high. The camera paused briefly and then the view began to shift as Johns manipulated the camera angle. Her face came into view: Mouth open, blood seeping from one corner.
“Doctor,” Kohlson called over the speaker system. Outside the airlocks had clicked on and the air was cycling. Good, he thought, in twenty minutes the Calvary would be here. “Doctor Adams?”
The doctor finally took his eyes off Clayton Hunter and turned toward one of the cameras. On the table Clayton Hunter leaned forward and tumbled off the edge of the table. At the same instant the air purifier quit cycling and three armed men in gas masks stepped into the airlock.
“Jesus,” Johns sputtered. “You guys can’t do that shit. That air has to be worked?” Three more men stepped through the lock and the door to the autopsy room opened as well as the door to the control room. A split second later the rifles in their hands began to roar. The sound was louder than Kohlson expected in the enclosed space. He clasped his hands over his ears, but it did little good. The soldiers, he saw, were wearing ear protection of some sort: Noise canceling headgear. The remaining three soldiers had stepped into the control room, he saw as he looked back up from the floor. They kept their rifles leveled at them; the others were still firing within the confines of the small autopsy room. A small gray cloud was creeping along the floor and rolling slowly into the control room. The stench of gunpowder was strong in the enclosed space. The air purifiers were off. Kohlson knew there was another control room outside this one that controlled this space, and possibly another outside of that space that controlled that space. Built in protection; it was clear that they were in a very bad space.
Kohlson saw Clayton Hunter lurch to his feet and stumble into the soldiers who were firing at point blank range in the tight confines. A series of bullets finally tore across his chest and then into his head and he fell from view. A second late the firing dropped off and then stopped completely.
Johns was listening to the sound of his own heart hammering for a space of seconds before he figured out it was his own. The smell of gunpowder was nauseating, and he suddenly lunged forward and vomited on his shoes. As he was lifting his head he saw that the soldiers were retreating back through the airlocks and into the outer spaces of the compound.
“Jesus,” Kohlson managed before he too bent forward and vomited. They heard the air filtering kick back on as both of them rolled away from the puddles of vomit and quickly disappearing low, gray vapor from the rifles firing. The doors into the autopsy room suddenly banged shut and then their own door whispered closed as well: Once again they were isolated in their small space.
They both sat silent for a moment and then Kohlson left and returned from the small bathroom with a mop and bucket from the utility closet there. He left and returned with a bottle of disinfectant and sprayed down the vomit and the balance of the small room.
“That won’t do shit,” Johns said solemnly. We’re infected. Whatever they infected that guy Hunter with, we got it now.
Kohlson ignored him, waited the ten minutes for the disinfectant to work and then cleaned up the mess. Neither spoke while he returned the equipment to the small closet and then came back and sat down.
“You heard me, right?”
“I heard you,” Kohlson admitted. “I just don’t give a fuck… It’s too fresh… I can’t believe it right now.” He looked up at the clock. “Mother fucker… I was off duty in twenty minutes… Twenty goddamn minutes!” He spun and looked at Johns, but Johns was looking up at the monitors that were still on in the autopsy room. The smoke was being drawn out by the air exchange, and the horror of the room was slowly coming into focus.
Doctor Adams lay sprawled in one corner, a line of bullet holes stitched across his back. The back portion of his skull was missing, jagged bone and gray-black hair clumped wildly around the fractured bone. Johns gagged and looked away.
“Jesus… They killed everybody,” Kohlson said as he continued to watch. Nurse Bertie lay where she had fallen. Only her legs visible in the shot they could see. Clayton Hunter lay against the end of the stainless slab, his head a shapeless mass: The stitches across his chest and stomach bulging. Kohlson finally turned away too.
“They’re coming back for us.” Johns said.
Kohlson spun to the door.
“Not now, stupid ass, but you can’t think we get to live after that. They contaminated our air. We’re dead. No way are we not dead.”
Kohlson said nothing.
It was six hours before the soldiers came. They had finally taken a better look at the room. Johns moving the camera around as Kohlson watched.
“Dave… Tell me I’m wrong, but that fucker came back to life, right?” He was unsure even as he said it.
Johns shrugged. “I think what happened is they missed something… We missed something. Maybe a lead came off. You know, and the lead came off and so he seemed dead and he wasn’t dead at all, not really, he was still alive… Just that lead was off.”
“Yeah, I mean… I mean the alternative is that he came back to life… You don’t think that do you? I mean, do you? Cause that’s fucking crazy, Gabe… Crazy.”
“No. No, I can see what you mean I can see where…”
The air lock cycled on and six soldiers stepped into the hall like space that was actually just an airlock between the control room, the autopsy room, the former patient ward and the outside world. Johns tensed, waiting for the door to their space to cycle on, but it didn’t.
The soldiers were dressed head to toe in army drab plastic coveralls. Respirators, big units, sat on their backs and a full face shield and breathing apparatus covered their faces, somehow joined into the coveralls. Tape was wound around the elastic cuffs of the legs and the plastic boot covers that joined there. Flexible olive-green gloves covered their hands, also taped where they slipped under the plastic coveralls. They never looked their way at all, just waited for the air lock to cycle and then stepped into the autopsy room. A second later the monitors went dead in the control room.
“Fuck,” David Johns said. “That is not good at all.”
Kohlson got up and left the room. A minute later he was back with two diet colas. He handed one to David johns and then sat back down. Johns glanced down at the cola. The top was open already. He looked at Kohlson and Kohlson stared back unblinking. The med supplies cabinet was also in that closet. They had talked it over once. They had decided that… He pushed it away and focused on the low whisper of the air exchange
“You think they will outright kill us,” Kohlson asked after a few long minutes of silence.
“Gabe… I think they will, Gabe.” Johns said after a hesitation. He tried to stop himself, but he glanced down at the cola in his hand. It was half full. White powder floated on the surface. Clumped and drifting like tiny icebergs across a cola sea. “Probably… No. They’re listening in right now, I’m sure. Listening to see where our minds are at: As soon as those flunkies in there are finished with that job they’ll be in here to finish up the clean up.” He swallowed hard.
“Yeah, I guess that’s how I see it too,” Kohlson agreed. He raised his can and tapped the side. “Been good knowing you, Dave.”
Johns stared him down for a few moments and then sighed. “Yeah… Same here.” He raised the can in a salute and then downed it. Kohlson followed suit. Silence descended on the control room.
Carl Evans watched from the mouth of a dark alley. It was one of the things he loved about this place. You could hang out in an alley, smoke cigarettes all day and night long if you wanted to, and nobody said a word to you. Where else, but New York could that be true, he asked himself.
He leaned back against the wall, one sneakered foot propped on the brick behind him to hold him, the other flat on the cobbled stones of the alley. Another thing about New York, he thought as he inhaled deeply of his cigarette, and then let the smoke roll slowly out of his mouth. Old things everywhere you looked. These cobblestones for instance. He wondered how old they truly were.
“Young man.” The deep voice startled him from his thoughts. He lifted his head to see an old, gray haired gentleman standing at the mouth of the alley a few feet away. His face was creased and seamed. His skin so dark it was nearly blue. A cane in one hand supported his weight.
“What’s up, Pops?” Carl asked politely.
The man placed his second hand on his cane and leaned forward. “That cigarette will kill you.”
He held up one hand as Carl began to speak. “Just telling you. Don’t need an argument. It will kill you. The big tobacco’s, they knew about it back in the day when I was a boy chasing that habit. And they knew about it when it was in commercials in magazines, and T.V. and what not. That cowboy died from it you know, they knew it and they still know it. It will kill you. In case you didn’t know it I wanted you to know it.” He straightened his back, lifted the second hand, nodded once, and moved across the mouth of the alley disappearing as though from some sort of magic.
Carl chuckled, lifted the cigarette to his mouth, took a deep drag and then found himself blowing the smoke out, dropping the cigarette, and crushing it. The old man had ruined it for him. He hadn’t smoked in ten years, but it tasted as good now as it had then. And he had figured with the way things were nobody had much time. Certainly not enough time to die from cancer or some other nasty surprise from cigarettes, but just the same the old man had ruined it for him.
He looked down at the blackened mess he had made as he ground the cigarette into the cobbles. Just as well, he told himself, it was time. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small silver canister. He inhaled a sharp breath involuntarily. He knew what it was. Knew what he was doing, but he still couldn’t believe he was actually going to do it.
He fingered the small red button on the top of the silver canister, hesitated, and then pushed it down. Something inside clicked. There was no other sound in the stillness. He tossed it down the alley, turned, and walked out to the sidewalk.
Route 81 rest-stop
Outside Watertown New York
A black truck pulled into the rest stop and two men climbed out; walking toward the rest rooms that sat in from the road. Concrete bunker looking buildings that had been built back in the early seventies. They had been closed for several years now. In fact the Open soon sign was bolted to the front of the building; rust streaked the sign surface. It seemed like some sort of joke to Mike Bliss who used the rest stop as a place to do light duty drug deals. Nothing big, but still that depended on your idea of big. Certainly nothing over a few thousand dollars. That was his break off point. Any higher than that, he often joked, you would have to talk to someone in Columbia… Or maybe Mexico, he told himself now as he sat waiting in his Lexus, but it seemed that since Rich Dean had got himself dead the deals just seemed to be getting larger and larger. And who knew how much longer that might last. He watched the two men make a bee line for the old rest rooms.
“Idiots,” he muttered to himself. He pushed the button, waited for the window to come down, leaned out the window and yelled. “What are you, stupid? They’re closed.” He motioned with one hand. “You can’t read the fuckin’ sign or what?”
Both men stopped and looked from him to the sign.
“Yeah, closed. You can read right? Closed. That’s what it says. Been closed for years. Go on into Watertown; buy a fuckin’ burger or something. Only way you’re getting a bathroom at this time of the morning.” He had lowered his voice for the last as he pulled his head back into the car, and turned the heater up a notch. The electric motor whined as the window climbed in its track. He looked down at his wrist for the time, 1:02 A.M., where the fuck was this dude. He was late, granted a few minutes, but late was late.
A sharp rap on the glass startled him. He had been about to dig out his own supply, a little pick-me-up. He looked up to see the guys from the truck standing outside his window. “Oh… Fucking lovely,” he muttered. He pushed the button and the window lowered into the door, the motor whining loudly, the cold air blew in.
“And what can I do for you two gentlemen,” He asked in his best smart ass voice.
The one in back stepped forward into the light. Military type, Mike told himself. Older, maybe a noncom. A little gray at the edges of his buzz cut. With the military base so close there were soldiers everywhere, after all Watertown was a military town. It was why he was in the business he was in. It was also why he succeeded at it.
“Did you call me stupid,” The man asked in a polite tone.
“Who, me? No. I didn’t call you stupid, I asked, what are you stupid? Different thing. The fuckin’ place is closed… Just doing my good deed for the day… Helping you, really, so you don’t waste no time,” Mike told him.
“Really?” The man asked.
Mike chuckled. “Yeah really, tough guy. Really. Now, I did my good deed, why don’t you get the fuck out of here ’cause you wore out your welcome.” He opened his coat slightly so they could see the chrome 9 mm that sat in its holster.
“Really,” the first guy repeated.
“Okay, who are you guys, frick and frack? A couple of fucking wannabees? Well I am the real deal, don’t make me stick this gun in your fuckin’ face,” Mike told them. He didn’t like being a dick, but sometimes you had to be.
“You know what my mother always said about guns?” The second guy asked.
“Well, since I don’t know your mama it’s hard to say,” Mike told him. He didn’t like the way these two were acting. They weren’t cops, he knew all the locals. If it had been someone he had to worry about he would have handled this completely differently. These guys were nobodies. At least nobodies to him, and that made them nobodies to Watertown. If he had to put a bullet in… His thoughts broke off abruptly as the barrel of what looked like a .45 was jammed into his nose. It came from nowhere. He sucked in a deep breath. He could taste blood in his mouth where the gun had smashed his upper lip against his teeth.
“She said don’t threaten to pull a gun, never. Just pull it.”
“Mama had a point,” Mike allowed. His voice was nasally due to the gun that was jammed hallway up to his brain. “Smart lady.”
“Very,” the man allowed. “Kind of a hard ass to grow up with, but she taught me well.” He looked down at Mike. “So listen, this is what we’re gonna do. You’re gonna drive out of here right the fuck now. And that’s going to stop me from pulling this trigger. Lucky day for you, I think. Like getting a Get Out Of Jail Free card, right.”
“This is my business spot… You don’t understand,” Mike told them. “I… I’m waiting for someone.”
“Not tonight, Michael.”
“Yeah, but you don’t.” He stopped. “How do you know my name?” he asked. There was more than a nasal quality to his voice, now there was real fear. Maybe they were Feds. Maybe.
“Yeah, we know you. And we know you use this spot as a place to do your business. And I’m saying we couldn’t care less, but right now you gotta go, and I’m not going to tell you the deal again. You can leave or stay, but you ain’t gonna like staying,” The guy told him.
“Listen… This is my town… If you guys are Feds you can’t do shit like this… This is my town. You guys are just…”
The guy pulled the trigger and Mike jumped. He fell to the right, across the front seat. Both men stepped away from the car, eyes scanning the lonely rest stop from end to end, but there was no one anywhere. The silence returned with a ringing in their ears from the blast as it had echoed back out of the closed car interior. The shooter worked his jaw for a moment, swallowing until his ears popped. He lifted his wrist to his mouth. “Guess you saw that,” he said quietly.
“Got a cleaner crew on the way up. You’ll pass them in the elevators. The boss is waiting on you guys.” The voice came through the implant in his inner ear. No one heard what was said except him.
He nodded for the cameras that were picking him up. “In case you didn’t hear it, someone is supposed to meet him here so your cleaner crew could have company.”
“Got that too… We’ll handle it.” He nodded once more, and then walked off toward the rest rooms as the other man followed.
Once in back of the unit they used a key in the old rusted handset. It only looked old and rusty; it was actually an interface for a state of the art digital system that would read his body chemistry, heat, and more. The key had dozens of micro pulse sensor implants that made sure the user was human, transmitted heartbeat, body chemistry, it could even tell male from female and match chemical profiles to known examples in its database. Above and to the sides of them several scanners mapped their bodies to those same known profiles. Bone composition, old fractures, density and more. All unique in every man or women. The shooter removed the key and slipped it into his pocket. A few seconds later a deep whining of machinery reached their ears, the door shuddered in its frame, and then slipped down into a pocket below the doorway.
A second later they stepped into the gutted restroom. Stainless steel doors took up most of the room; the elevator to the base below. They waited for the cleaner crew to come up and then took the elevator back down into the depths.
The Bluechip facility stretched for more than five miles underground. Most of that was not finished space, most of that was connector tunnels, and storage space bored from the rock. The facility itself was about three thousand feet under the city of Watertown in a section of old caves that had been enlarged, concrete lined and reinforced. The rest area was one of several entrances that led into the complex. An old farm on the other side of Watertown, an abandoned factory in the industrial park west of the city and a few other places, including direct connections from secure buildings on the nearby base.
John Pauls and Sammy Black had Alpha clearance. Both were ex-military, but most likely military clearance was no longer a real matter of concern this late in the game, Sammy thought as they made their way down the wide hallway. The word coming down from those in the know was that in the next twenty-four hours the human race would come very close to ceasing to exist at all. No confirmation from anyone official, but regular programming was off air, the news stations were tracking a meteor that may or may not hit the Earth. The best opinions said it didn’t matter if it hit or not, it would be a close enough pass that there would be massive damage. Maybe the human race would be facing extinction. The government was strangely silent on the subject. And that had made him worry even more. The pass was estimated to be right over the tip of south America. So maybe formalities like Alpha clearance weren’t all that important any longer. If only Mike Bliss had given that some thought before he had pissed him off.
The halls were silent, nearly empty. Gloss white panels eight feet high framed it. It had always reminded Black of a maze with its twists and turns. Here and there doors hung open. Empty now. Always closed any other time he had been down here. So it had come this far too, Black thought. He stopped at a door that looked like any other door and a split second later the door rose into the ceiling and Major Weston waved them in.
Alice, he had never learned her last name, sat at her desk, her eyes on them as they walked past her. One hand rested on the butt of a matte black .45 caliber pistol in a webbed shoulder holster that was far from Army issue. Her shoulder seemed a little puffy on one side… Padded unevenly: Probably injured, Sammy thought: Even so, he had no doubt she could still shoot them both before they could even react.
Alice was etched into one of those name pins that the Army seemed to like so well, but oddly, just Alice, no last name, rank or anything else. She wore no uniform, just a black coverall. The kind with the elastic ankle and wrist cuffs. No insignia there either. He had noticed those months before. Her eyes remained flat and expressionless as they passed her desk.
“Alice,” Sammy said politely. She said nothing at all, but she never did.
“Sit down, boys,” Major Weston told them. He spoke around the cigar in his mouth: Dead, but they always were, and there was never the smell of tobacco in the office. They took the two chairs that fronted the desk.
The Major was looking over a large monitor on the opposite wall that showed the north American continent. This map showed small areas of red, including the northern section where they were. The rest of the map was covered with green. “Where we are and where we need to be,” he said as he pushed a button on his desk. The monitor went blank. He turned to face the two.
“So here is where we are. You know, as does most of the world, that we are expecting a near miss from DX2379R later on tonight.” He held their eyes.
John shrugged. “I’ve been doing a little job, must have missed that. It’s not gonna take us out is it?”
“Saw that on the news a few days back. Guess we dodged a bad one,” Sammy said.
“Right… Right,” Weston said quietly. “But that cover was nothing but bullshit.”
“It’s going to hit us?” John asked.
“Maybe… The fact is that we don’t know. One group says this, another group says that, but it doesn’t matter because it will probably kill us off anyway. Direct hit, near miss, it is going to tip over an already bad situation with the Yellowstone Caldera.” He raised his eyes, “Familiar with that?”
“Yellowstone park?” Sammy said.
John nodded in agreement.
Weston laughed. “Put simply, yes. Yellowstone has always been an anomaly to us. Back in 1930 the Army did an exploratory survey of that area. What we came up with was that there was a section of the Rocky Mountains missing. Looked at from the top of Mount Washburn it was easy for the team to see that the largest crater of an extinct volcano known to exist lay before them.”
“I guess that’s about what I thought,” Sammy agreed.
“Yeah. We all think that. Except it is not true at all because the Yellowstone caldera is not extinct, it is active. Active and about to pop. There have been several warnings, but we took the recording stations off line quite some time ago, so there has been no mention of it in the news. Budget cuts,” he shrugged. “So everyone is focused on this meteor that may or may not hit us and instead this volcanic event is going to blow up and when that happens the rest won’t matter at all.” He clicked the button on his desk and the monitor came to life. “All the red areas are spots where the surface pressure has increased. There was, at one time, many active volcanoes on the north American continent.” He clicked a button and the map changed to a view of the European continent with many of the same red shaded areas.
“All over the Earth… Higher pressures. Up until a few days ago the brainiacs were still arguing over whether this could even happen.” He laughed. “It is happening and they are arguing over whether it can happen. Well, we had our little debates and then we realized that history shows clearly that this has happened before. Several times. Call it the Earth’s way of cleansing itself.”
“But it’s not an absolute, right?”Sammy asked.
“Don’t start sounding like the scientists.” He reached below his desk and came up with six small silver cartridges. Each had a red button mounted on the top with a protective cap over the button itself. He clicked a button on his desk, and a picture of destruction appeared on the screens. It was obviously an aerial shot, looking down at a chain of islands. Smoke hung over the chain, reaching as high as the plane itself. As the plane dropped lower, rivers of red appeared. “That picture is an hour old. That is… Was, the Hawaiian chain.”
Sammy twisted further to the side, staring at the monitor. “How can that be…? I mean everyone would know about it.” He turned back to Weston.
Weston nodded. “And that would be true except the satellites are out because of the asteroid. Shut down to avoid damage. That is the official word.” He clicked the button on his desk and the monitor went dead once more. “I started this out saying that none of it matters and that is true. The Yellowstone caldera is going to erupt sometime in the next few days. Not a maybe, not an educated guess: If the satellites were up you would know that the park is closed. It has already started. We have had a few small quakes, but the big stuff is on the way.”
“Super volcanoes… Earthquakes that modern civilization has never seen… The last super eruption was responsible for killing off the human population some seventy-four thousand years ago. Reduced it to a few thousand. And that is not the biggest one we have evidence of.” He lifted his palms and spread them open, sighing as he did. “So it is a double whammy. If we survive the meteor the volcanoes get us, or the earthquakes because of them, or we’ll die from injuries. And I think those of us who die outright will be lucky. The rest of us will have a hard time of it… Staying alive with nothing… We will probably all starve to death.” He paused in the silence.
“Those cartridges are a compound developed right here in this complex for the armed forces. Project Super Soldier. SS for short. That kept people from looking too deep; they assumed it was something to do with the Nazi youth movement here and abroad. We let that misconception hold.” He waited a second for his words to sink in.
“SS is designed to prolong life past the normal point of termination. It allows a soldier to survive longer without food and more importantly without water. Does something to the cells of the host, I don’t pretend to know what. What I do know is that the people above me made the decision to release this…” He picked up a mug of coffee from the desk and sipped deeply. His eyes were red road maps, Sammy noticed now; like he hadn’t slept in a few days. He picked up the two cartridges; holding them between thumbs and forefingers, rolling them back and forth.
“A few months ago this facility… I fucked up and allowed several vials of the virus to be stolen… The people responsible have been dealt with, but the damage was done.
“Shortly after that theft we began getting credible stories of contamination in Brazil… Nothing else anywhere else, but it doesn’t matter. This virus is tenacious, it will spread from Brazil to the entire world and it will just be a matter of time. The upper ups read those reports from Brazil and believe this may be the last hope for mankind if it is released now… In time to save the world… Before the end comes… So, accidental… Purposeful, I don’t know what that theft and contamination was meant to be, but it tipped the scales and now the entire world is going to be let in on it.” He sighed deeply and rolled the cartridges across the desktop; Sammy and John caught them.
“So this is it for us. I guess you realize that you probably won’t get paid for this. No money is going to show up in your account. I will run it through before I pull the plug, but I truly believe the machinery will be dead by the time payday rolls around. So this is something I’m asking you to do.” He pointed to the cartridges that both men were looking over. Sammy held his as though it might bite him.
“Those babies are really all we have to hope with. Most people will die outright. They will never make it past the quakes, eruptions, and the resulting ash clouds and gases. Up here we should be okay as far as gases go, eruptions, but there are fault lines that crisscross this area. This whole facility is bored from limestone caverns. Probably won’t make it through the quakes, although it is a good eighty miles from the closest line,” he shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. My point is there should be a good chance for survivors here.”
“So we do what with these? Can they harm us?” John asked.
“Harm you, kill you? No, but you will be infected the minute you push that button. It will protect you the same as anyone else. There is enough in a single cartridge to infect about five hundred million people,” Weston said quietly.
“Whoa,” Sammy whistled. “Why infect… Why not inoculate? And why six cartridges… Three Billion people?”
“Minimum, three billion. That is before those infected pass it along: After a while it won’t matter. As to the question of infected, this is a designer virus. You catch it just like the flu. We infected whole platoons by releasing it in the air over them. Eighty-Nine point seven percent infection rate, but that doesn’t really matter because it infects people close to you and those people will infect you… Sneezing, waste, sex, water, food, it gets into and on everything. And once it is in you, either orally or via bloodstream you will be infected. The human body has nothing to fight it, no reason to be alarmed or believe it’s anything more than a virus. And that same response will help to carry it to every area of the body as your own defenses manufacture white blood cells to fight it. So you may as well say a one hundred percent infection rate.” He paused and rubbed at his temples.
“Be glad they decided on this. They have some others that will kill everybody in the world in a matter of days.” Weston nodded at the raised eyebrows that greeted his remarks. “I don’t doubt that the merits of which way to go were hotly debated,” he finished gravely.
“The virus is designed to live within the host, but it can live outside of the host. It can stay alive in a dead body for days, even if the body is frozen. In fact that just freezes the virus too; once the body is thawed it will infect any living person that comes along. So those,” he pointed to the silver cartridges, “are overkill. Same stuff is being released across the globe. Great Briton… Germany… Australia… West coast just a few hours ago. Manhattan has already been done, all the East Coast in fact. I want the two of you to head out from here. One vial here, then one of you head west, the other south. Go for the bigger cities… Water supplies… Reservoirs… Release it in the air or water, it doesn’t matter. There are men heading out from the south, the west coast. The Air Force will be dispersing the same stuff via cargo planes tomorrow or the next day… As long as they can fly, if we can even make it that long, and that isn’t looking really good right now…” He rose from the desk. “I’ll see you out.” He turned to Alice. “Alice… Pack us up.” Alice nodded as Sammy and John got to their feet, but her hand remained on the butt of the pistol. Rubber grips, Sammy noticed as he passed her.
“Alice,” he said.
“Um hmm,” Alice murmured.
Sammy nearly stopped in his tracks, but managed to hide his surprise as he passed by into the hallway. The Major fished two sets of keys from his pocket. “Parked in the back lot. A couple of plain Jane Dodge four-bys. Drive ’em like you stole ’em. Leave ’em where you finish up. Hell, keep ’em if you want ’em. Nobody is going to care.”
The three stood in the hallway for a few seconds longer. Sammy’s eyes locked with the Major’s own, and he nodded. The major walked back into his office, and the door rose from its pocket behind him. Quiet, except the slight buzzing from the fluorescent lights.
John shrugged as his eyes met Sammy’s, waiting.
Sammy sighed. “You heard the man… West or south?”
“Flip for it?” John asked. His mouth seemed overly dry and he licked his lips nervously.
Sammy pulled a quarter from his pocket and flipped it into the air. “Call it, Johnny.”
“Tails,” John said just before the quarter hit the carpet.
Sammy bent forward. “Tails it is. You got it, Johnny.”
John looked down at the carpet. “West, I guess.” John said.
Sammy nodded, looked down once more at the quarter and then both men turned and walked away toward the elevator that would take them back to the surface…
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