Copyright 2018 W. G. Sweet all rights reserved.
Cover Art © Copyright 2018 W. G. Sweet
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Somewhere in the World
“Stay down next to the friggin’ bank, Hunter!” Beeker yelled. Beeker could see that Hunter probably wouldn’t be hanging around for much longer. He didn’t have the wits that Simpson had had. And a fire fight was no fuckin’ place to have to baby sit. Why was it that he always ended up with all the ass-holes any way? They had been pinned down in this particular position a sandy beachhead for four days. Sand and water in front of them, mountain and jungle behind them. They were on the other side of a river, and if the man upstairs the man that pulled all the friggin’ strings, Beeker liked to think, didn’t do something damn soon they might not see five.
The fire was just as heavy as it had been on the first day. Non-stop. Round after round of machine gun fire, and mortar rounds that came so fast it was hard to tell when one ended, and another began. Hunter crawled over, eating some dirt as he came. But at least he had crawled. The numb son-of-a-bitch had walked the first few times; like he was out on a goddamn Sunday stroll.
“Sergeant Beeker?” he whisper yelled over the sound of the gunfire. “Shouldn’t we maybe take the shit now, sir?”
“Hey, fuck you, if I say we lay low, we lay low. We take it like we’re supposed to, no deviations on my watch. Now, shut up and crawl your white-ass back over to your position, mister, NOW!”
The shit was V2765. The thing was, Hunter had already had it at least once, the rest of them hadn’t and never would. But Hunter had come with the vial clearly marked as a booster shot… He didn’t need that yet.
Hunter went, he didn’t have to be told twice. Beeker was one mean bastard, and he had absolutely no desire to mess with him. Even so this whole situation didn’t set well in his mind, and that was mainly due to the fact that it didn’t make any sense. And how in hell could it? he asked himself. There was no answer, because there could be no answer at all. Fifteen days ago he had been safe and sound in… In… It wouldn’t come. Someplace. He had been someplace, not here, and he had been… Whatever he had been, or where ever he had been it wouldn’t come. He could almost remember, like it was right there, just beyond memories…
He could remember waking up here with Beeker, Philips, and Ronson. In the middle of… Of… Where am I? He didn’t know that either, and they weren’t disposed to tell him. Other than waking up in the middle of this fire-fight, he couldn’t remember jack-shit. He made the outside perimeter, and curled up into a near ball as he pressed himself into the dirt embankment.
Jungle all around… Not the Middle East then… Where he had been… Had he been in the Middle East? Fighting… Fighting the… He couldn’t make the information come to him, but it seemed as though it was just barely out of reach like all the rest…
Bluechip… Volunteer? For? Thoughts floating around in his head… They had given him a shot… Some sort of booster? Yes, booster… Booster shot… For, what? He asked himself, but he had no idea.
“About fucking time,” Beeker yelled above the roar of gunfire… …They had been pinned down for the last several hours, with heavy fire. It had finally fallen off somewhat, and it was time to make a move: Beeker was no fool, he had every intention of getting his men the hell out, including that test case they had laid on him…
He’d already lost four good men on this mission. He couldn’t see losing any more. He looked across the short, smoky distance, directly into Ronson’s eyes, and signaled left, away from the sand, towards the jungle that pressed in from behind them. A quick sideways flick of his own eyes told him that Hunter and Phillips had caught it too. Beeker signaled Ronson out first, then Phillips, and then Hunter. It was a slow go; belly crawl for the first few hundred yards. The bullets continued to whine above them, but they all made it one piece. Two hundred yards in they were able to stand. The jungle finally offering some protection. Beeker led the way quickly yet carefully, through the lush greenery. The others fell in behind him silently. Two miles further through the dense jungle, and they finally lost the distant sounds of gunfire, and the jungle fell nearly silent. They fell silent themselves, moving as quietly as they could from tree to tree: Aware of the noises that surrounded them. A short while later when the gunfire had completely fallen off, the jungle seemed to come back to life. Bird calls, and the ever present monkey chatter. That was a good sign to Beeker, if the jungle was full of soldiers, the birds sure as fuck wouldn’t be singing. They pushed on through the night, and morning found them in a small village with a main trail running through the middle of it. They walked quietly through the village end to end… Burned out… Empty… A good place to rest-up.
“Oh, man,” Ronson complained. “Fuckin’ cra-zee,” Beeker agreed wearily. He was leaned back against the side of a burned out hut, smoking a cigarette he’d pulled from inside his jacket.
Hunter didn’t have the slightest idea where they were, let alone what they were talking about. Beeker had led them through the jungle and at first light they had come upon this village. They had crept in warily, ready for whatever lay before them. There had been no need, it was empty; a couple of dozen scattered bodies busy gathering flies: Burned out huts. The design wasn’t familiar to him. He had thought Beeker would move on. He hadn’t. They were still here. But where here was, and how Beeker had found it, eluded Hunter.
“Sure as fuck did thought we was done,” Phillips agreed.
“Yeah, well, we made it this far,” Ronson said. He grinned, and then the grin turned into a full fledged smile, and he began to laugh. Phillips joined him, and a second later, when Hunter was sure Beeker was going to open his mouth to tell them all to shut the fuck up, he started laughing too. “Oh… It’s good, look-at-him,” Ronson said, holding his side, and pointing at Hunter, “he don’t have a friggin’ clue.” That seemed to drive all of them into hysteria, Hunter saw. Including Beeker, who was usually hard-nosed and moody. He was doubled over too. Holding his sides. Tears squirting from his eyes.
“That true?” Beeker asked at last, once he had managed to get the laughter somewhat under control. “That your friggin’ problem is it, Hunter, you don’t have a clue?” he stopped laughing abruptly, and within seconds Ronson and Philips chuckled to a stop. “Do you have the slightest idea where your ass is?” Beeker asked seriously.
“No… Well, a jungle, I guess,” Hunter answered.
“No… Well, it could be a jungle, I guess,” Ronson mimicked in a high falsetto.
“Is it?” Hunter ventured in a near whisper.
“Look…” Beeker waited for silence. “Take a break, it’s going to get worse. Why don’t you have a smoke and kick back… Enjoy the break?”
“Well, the thing is that I don’t smoke, bad for the lungs. I’m pretty careful about my health.”
“Really?” Beeker asked politely. He chuckled briefly, lit another of his own smokes, and then spoke softly. “I would like your complete attention, Hunter, do I have it?”
He cut him off, his voice a roar. “In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a fuckin’ war goin’ on, you pansy mother-fucker. A fuckin’ war, Hunter, you understand that, you ain’t gonna live much fuckin’ longer anyway. Get with the program mister, now!”
Hunter’s eyes bugged out, but as Beeker finished he forced himself to speak. “I know that… I can see that… It don’t mean I have to die though, not necessarily.”
“Man, Beek, don’t waste your time, he hopeless, same old shit, like Simpson. Like all those friggin guys before Simpson,” Ronson said.
Beeker drew a deep breath, winked at Ronson, and then spoke. “Yes it does,” Beeker said calmly. “It does because you ain’t a regular. You ain’t been here long enough, and you don’t mean a fiddler’s fuck to anybody. And that sucks, but that’s life, Hunter,” he paused and looked over at Ronson. “How long was the last one, fourteen days, am I right?”
“As rain,” Ronson replied coolly.
“And where are we now?” Beeker asked.
“Seventeen?” Phillips asked.
“Uh uh,” Ronson corrected, “eighteen, man, remember? Simpson bought it eighteen days ago, and this ass-hole came into play. Replacement, supposedly.”
“Right!” Beeker said. “It is eighteen, and that’s why nobody gives a fuck about you, Hunter. Eighteen’s too far, you’ll be done at twenty, it never goes past that, and I’ll bet bullets to bodies you’ll buy the farm long before we’re done with eighteen, see?”
“No,” Hunter said slowly, “I don’t see.” Seventeen? Eighteen? What the hell was that all about? he wondered.
Ronson chuckled. “I think he’s confused, again, Beek.”
“I think he was fuckin’ born confused,” Phillips added.
“Seventeen? Eighteen?” Hunter asked aloud. He didn’t get it, not completely anyway.
“Have a cigarette,” Beeker told him.
“I told you, I don’t…”
“Yeah, right, fuck that noise, there’s a pack inside your jacket… Check it… See if I’m right.”
Hunter fumbled with the jacket snaps, and finally pulled the jacket open. A half pack of smokes resided in the inside pocket. A silver Zippo tucked in beside them. He looked up with amazement.
“So?” Beeker asked, smiling widely.
“One of you guys stuck them there, while I was sleeping, has to be,” Hunter said.
“And when was that?”
Hunter thought about it. He Looked over at Beeker. Beeker just smiled.
“Don’t you get it yet, Hunter? Don’t you feel like an extra in a play.”
“Bluechip? Volunteer for SS-V2765? … Wow, they must have zonked your brain, man…
“Look, it was hard for Simpson too. He was with us for twenty days, and you know, I liked that sucker. He was all right for a white dude. All you guys show up… Combat ready… Except you’re all fucked up in the head… No idea what to expect or even where you are… It aint supposed to be that way, so we always have to lay it out… You are one of them, Super Soldier, we call it over-clocked… You’re gonna get dead, and you know what? Then you’re coming back… Don’t ask me what the fuck is in that shit they give you, all I know is you’ll get dead and then you’ll come back from it and they’ll ship you out… That booster shot? It ain’t exactly a booster shot. I don’t know what exactly it is, but once you’re gone I know this, it’ll bring you back.”
“Yeah, back… In the beginning some didn’t come back, it don’t matter though, ‘cause they come and got them too… But the last several months they, all of you, come back… Dead and then you’re not… And then they’re here and you’re gone and then in a few days some other dick-wad shows up in a supply drop…”
“What? A supply drop?” Hunter asked.
“Oh yeah… Supply drop… Wrapped up like a… Like a douche, man..”
“Uh uh, Beek, man, that line was really Revved up like a Duece,” Ronson said.
“Okay, bad analogy… I hate that fuckin’ song anyways… Always did, but you guys come wrapped up, like a package, man. We unwrap you and you’re alive… We leave you be for awhile and next thing you know you’re sitting up… Walkin’ and talkin’.”
“Yeah, boy… Fuckin’ freaky shit,” Phillips said. “Mucho freaky!”
Hunter swallowed hard, lit up one of the smokes from his jacket, and leaned back against the side of the hut. The silence held.
“So,” Beeker finished quietly, “you gotta deal with it man… You just got too… It won’t be long…”
Stateside: Project Bluechip
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 doctors’ 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. “Bertie 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. He had made his delivery a few weeks before. Whatever this shit was, bad people had not only come to know about it, but had come to have a need for what it did. It didn’t matter to him, not really. There were rumors, a few things he had seen while monitoring test subjects. Nothing he considered concrete. Maybe it extended life, that was the strongest rumor. From what he had seen though, as far as test subjects, it did its fair share of ending life pretty effectively too. And here was another one to add to the growing number of failures… If that’s what they were.
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 kicked 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, Ed Adams thought. 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. “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… Bertie?”
“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, Bertie, 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 in here. That was stupid, Bertie.“
“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 going to sew him up, so it won’t be so bad.”
“Yeah… That’s like, I got a mild case of flu. It’s still going to suck, because every time I look anywhere I’m going to feel compelled to look at it.”
“Yeah. Me too. It’s there. Draws you to it. Like the Bunny on the Playboy Cover. You look at the rest of the magazine, but you know you’re going to 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?”
“Because 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 drooping at his side. Mouth yawning. Doctor Christmas had backed away until he had met the wall behind him. Nurse Bertie 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 into his headset microphone, “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 had 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 redundant protection; it was clear that they were in a very bad place.
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 later 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 also 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 gunfire. 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 again 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.
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