V Plague (Book 11): Merciless, page 18
Pearl had suggested there might be survivors who had used the base’s remote location and underground bunkers to survive. Blanchard had hoped to find some when they arrived, but so far the search teams had turned up nothing other than empty buildings.
“Why don’t we go see what the Doctor thinks of his new lab,” Blanchard said.
“Go on ahead,” Pointere said. “I’m going to get some extra details poking around and see what there is we can use.”
“If they find aliens, I want to see,” Nicole said.
Blanchard shook his head again and headed for the door into the main facility. Nicole fell into step beside him, looking nervously over her shoulder when a far off coyote began wailing at the moon. She didn’t see the animal, but in the distance spotted the large Russian soldier exercising his dog.
“I know they were doing a lot of testing on you before you had to leave Seattle,” Blanchard said. “I’ve had no time to talk to Kanger or Revard. Did they learn anything?”
“They learned I’m infected.”
Blanchard came to an abrupt stop, turning to look at the much smaller woman.
“You heard correctly. I’m infected. But the infection doesn’t have the same impact on me as other people. Apparently just my eyes, and I’m stronger. Oh, and I can hear a pin drop at a hundred feet.”
“I don’t understand,” the Colonel said, walking again.
“Dr. Kanger doesn’t either,” Nicole sighed. “At first, he believed I was immune. But further testing revealed that the virus is active in my body. It just can’t take full control.”
Blanchard shook his head as he walked.
“I heard part of a discussion about your IQ. You’re genius level?”
“Yes,” Nicole blushed slightly. “There was a theory that this was somehow protecting me, but there’s nothing so far to bear it out. Dr. Kanger’s current theory is that I’m genetically immune to the transmutational effects of the virus. It survives in my body, stimulates my endocrine system but cannot take over the limbic system.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what that means,” Blanchard said.
“Endocrine are the glands that secrete hormones. Strength, metabolism and so on. That’s what makes the infected so strong. Limbic is in the brain, and controls base emotions and drives. Rage, for example,” Nicole explained.
“So you’re a carrier?”
“In a way, yes. It hasn’t been tested with a live subject, but laboratory experiments have shown that I’m shedding viral components. Infectious, if you will.”
They had reached the door and Blanchard paused a few yards away from the pair of Rangers guarding the entrance.
“So, if I hadn’t been vaccinated…”
Nicole met his eyes and nodded.
“Then being in my presence would pass the infection to you. But there’s something else you should know. Something I’m not sure Dr. Kanger is ready to share.”
“What’s that?” Blanchard asked, his stomach tightening in anticipation of more bad news.
“I think he’s successfully created a Terminator virus. I overheard an argument between him and Joseph. Joe wants to tell you what they’ve found, but Kanger is opposed to talking to you.”
“Why?” Blanchard asked, surprised.
“I don’t know,” Nicole shook her head. “I was two rooms away and they forgot about my super hearing. Before they got to that part of the argument, they were interrupted, then the SEALs were running around yelling we had to pack up to move.”
Blanchard looked at her for several moments, then nodded his head.
“I think it’s time to have a conversation with Dr. Kanger.”
He spun on his heel and marched through the door. Nicole hurried to catch up, surprised that the power was on when they stepped inside.
They were in a long, stark hallway. At regular intervals, chemical light sticks had been taped to the wall. They marked the path to the bio lab, but would also provide light if the power failed.
“How is the power on?” Nicole asked.
“Solar. There’s a huge array on the side of a hill. We still haven’t found the battery banks, though. Half the men are already speculating it’s alien technology and there aren’t any batteries.”
“Maybe,” Nicole said, reading the signs on each door they passed.
“I thought you were a genius,” Blanchard said. “How is it you believe in aliens?”
“That’s why I believe,” Nicole answered, slightly offended. “There are an estimated 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone. Astronomers and astrophysicists believe there are somewhere on the order of 100 trillion galaxies in the universe. Out of all of that, to think we are the only sentient beings is either ridiculously arrogant or foolishly naive. Do I believe in little green or grey men? I have no idea what an alien race might look like. But I’d be willing to bet the bank that there’s more life out there.”
“So you think aliens are visiting us? Have visited?”
“I don’t know about that. In fact, I kind of doubt it. If a species was intelligent enough to travel all the way here, it shouldn’t be hard for them to conceal their presence from us. There wouldn’t be UFO sightings and abductions. That’s all kind of ridiculous.
“In fact, I’ve often wondered, and worried, that we just might be the most advanced species in the universe. We’re really not that far away from making some real breakthroughs that could lead to interstellar travel. Well, we weren’t.”
The Colonel looked at her and she could tell he’d never thought in those terms before.
“Then maybe it’s a good thing for the universe that we’re finally succeeding in wiping ourselves out,” he said as they arrived at the entrance to the bio-hazard lab.
Nicole looked at him, hesitant to admit she’d recently had the same thought.
“Because we can’t do this!” Dr. Kanger exploded, angst clear on his face.
Colonel Blanchard, Nicole, Joe and Kanger were crowded into a small office adjacent to the bio lab. The Doctor had immediately become defensive when Blanchard asked about the conversation that Nicole had overheard.
“I don’t think that’s your decision, Doctor,” Blanchard said as patiently as he could.
“It certainly isn’t yours!” Kanger shouted.
The Colonel stared at him for a moment, mastering his temper. The virologist had been difficult to deal with from the very first moment. He was arrogant, condescending and a prick in general. But Blanchard hadn’t seen this side of him before. This was something different.
“Doctor, you are correct,” he said, trying to pacify the visibly upset man. “But I have to report up the chain of command on your progress. That’s where the decision will be made. And if I don’t know what the status of your work is, I can’t make my report.”
“That Admiral in Hawaii. That’s who you report to?”
“Yes, Doctor. That’s right,” Blanchard fought the urge to sigh.
“He’s military! The military doesn’t decide something like this,” Kanger protested.
“Like what, Doctor? What are we talking about?”
Kanger took a shuddering breath, visibly fighting to tamp down his anger. Or perhaps it was fear, Blanchard realized.
“Doctor,” he gently prompted. “I’m not asking you to do anything other than fill me in on what you’ve accomplished. No action will be taken without people far more senior than me being involved in the decision.”
Kanger looked at him, shaking his head.
“Can you guarantee that Dr. Kanger will be allowed to voice his concerns to the decision makers?”
Everyone turned to look at Joe Revard. He had taken a seat in the corner of the small room, well away from the fireworks between the Colonel and the virologist.
“Yes,” Blanchard said after a moment’s reflection. “But I’ll tell you right now, if you behave this way in front of the Admiral, you won’t be listened to. You want him
“I understand,” Kanger said. “I’ve worked with the military before. I know I have to dumb it down for you guys.”
“Doctor,” Joe scolded.
After a moment, Kanger nodded and dropped into a padded chair behind the desk which was the sole furnishing in the office. He took a deep breath, then looked up at Blanchard.
“We made a lot of progress in Seattle,” he began speaking. “In fact, we successfully developed a Terminator virus. And a cure.”
“What?” Blanchard exploded. “You have a cure and you’re just now telling me?”
“Wait,” Joe interrupted before Kanger could go on the defensive again. “Wait and listen to everything.”
Blanchard looked at him, fighting hard to maintain his composure. He was shocked, incensed even, that these men were telling him they had a cure and this was the first he was hearing of it. Kanger glanced at Joe, nodding his thanks.
“Let me tell it,” he said to the Colonel, motioning at a chair. “Now, please take a seat. Hovering like that is making me nervous.”
Blanchard clenched his jaw, biting back the words that wanted to come out of his mouth. After a long pause he sighed and sat down, gesturing for Nicole to take the chair next to his. Once they were seated, Kanger took a deep breath and started over.
“We have an effective Terminator virus. And we have a cure. I’m going to talk about the Terminator first. We engineered it to be transmissible. It is airborne, and can survive outside a host, on hard, environmental surfaces, for up to thirty-six hours. It lasts a few hours longer in warm, wet conditions. Body fluids, for example, if the temperature is above 20 degrees Celsius. Initial testing has shown it to be eighty percent effective.
“What that means is eighty percent of the test subjects exposed to the virus have contracted it. And died. Twenty percent were resistant. Of course, this was a small, laboratory test sample of infected. Infection rates were consistent regardless of the gender of the subjects. Actual rates of infection in the real world will probably be lower.”
“So, what’s the problem with that?” Blanchard asked. “Even if it’s only fifty percent effective, the opportunity to remove half of the infected is tremendous!”
“It’s the percent that are resistant,” Kanger said. “We don’t know why, yet, but the Terminator virus has the opposite effect on them.”
“I don’t understand,” Blanchard said, looking back and forth between Kanger and Joe.
“It strengthened them,” Joe said when Kanger didn’t continue.
“It did what?” Blanchard was shocked, completely unprepared for the answer.
“They were enhanced,” Kanger picked up the dialogue. “Female test subjects showed a marked increase in intelligence. And, to a lesser degree, increased physical strength and endurance.”
“How much smarter?” Blanchard asked.
“Significantly. The ability to recognize and utilize a wide variety of tools. Cooperation amongst themselves beyond anything we’ve seen so far. Self-awareness and self-preservation. The ability to communicate more than basic concepts with each other.”
“Wait,” Blanchard held up a hand to stop Kanger as he turned to Joe. “I read your report on the events in Oklahoma. You and Major Chase pursued a group of infected females that had captured the survivors of a plane crash. They were communicating. Working together. This isn’t anything new.”
“Yes, it is,” Joe said. “You’re correct about the behavior of that group of females. They worked together towards a common goal. But it was more in the way a group of animals would cooperate. Say a pride of lions, or pack of wolves. What we’re talking about here is females that can manipulate tools. Open a door. Pick up and use a weapon. We put an unloaded pistol in the isolation chamber. One of them picked it up, pointed it at us from the other side of the glass and pulled the trigger.”
The room fell silent as each person tried to imagine the scenario where a group of incredibly strong and fast females were suddenly able to match the firepower of the survivors of the plague.
“With their increased intelligence, they still try to kill any uninfected person?” Blanchard asked.
“The rage is still present. Magnified, even. It’s just tempered with thoughtfulness. At least, that’s what we’ve observed. I have no idea how this would translate into the general population of infected. Frankly, I’m terrified of what we might create. And that’s not the worst,” Kanger said.
“It gets worse than that?”
“The males. Up until now they’ve been dangerous, but nowhere near as deadly as the females. Slow and relatively uncoordinated as the plague has impacted their endocrine systems differently than it has the females’. The ones that survive the Terminator virus are also enhanced.”
“On par with the females,” Joe said when it became apparent Kanger wasn’t going to answer. “We’re still trying to identify the specific effects, but the ones resistant, the twenty percent, gain strength, speed and agility. They remain blind as the optic nerve has been severely damaged, but otherwise, they become as dangerous as the females are now.”
Blanchard stared at the two men, processing what he’d just learned. Glancing at Nicole, he saw the look of concern clearly etched on her face.
“Twenty percent?” He asked.
“In the lab, yes,” Kanger responded. “It will be different in a larger population, but I can’t predict the degree. Maybe thirty, or only ten. We haven’t been able to test a large enough control group.”
“So you’re telling me that if there are a million infected out there, and we release the Terminator virus, we’ll kill 800,000, but turn 200,000 of them into an even bigger danger than they already are?”
Kanger and Joe both nodded.
“And there’s a whole lot more than a million infected roaming around the country,” Nicole spoke up for the first time.
“What are the chances of modifying the virus so it doesn’t turn some of the infected into super-infected?” Blanchard asked.
“That’s going to be the focus of our efforts as soon as this new lab is up and running,” Kanger said. “But I’m not optimistic.”
“You said you had a cure,” Nicole prompted after several moments of silence.
“Ninety percent effective,” Kanger sighed. “But the results are less than optimal.”
“How much less?” The Colonel asked.
“The cure successfully eradicates the virus. Initially, it causes severe, flu-like symptoms. Extreme fever for forty-eight hours as the host’s body burns out the infection. A small percentage don’t survive. If they do, they are infection free when the fever breaks. Unfortunately, with a fever exceeding 108 Fahrenheit, there is permanent damage to their brain. When they wake up, they are severely disabled. Mentally.”
“How severe?” Nicole asked before Blanchard could speak.
“We haven’t had the opportunity to quantify the deficits. However, if I were to guess, I’d say with an IQ of less than 40.”
“That’s horrible,” Nicole said.
“Where are they?” Blanchard asked before Kanger could respond to her comment.
“What do you mean?”
“The people you cured. What happened to them?”
Kanger and Joe exchanged looks before the Doctor faced Blanchard and answered.
“The infected killed them,” he said. “We had a test group in isolation and introduced the cure. We didn’t think to separate them. When the fever burned out and those that were cured woke up, the infected attacked and killed them. It was horrific. They were aware of what was happening to them, though unable to understand.”
Another long stretch of silence descended over the room as each person retreated into their own thoughts.
“See why we can’t release either of these?” Kanger eventually asked.
Blanchard looked at him for a long time, nodding as he m
“What are the chances you’ll have more success? Develop a cure that doesn’t do any harm in the process?”
Kanger leaned back in the chair and blew out a deep breath.
“Very remote,” he said. “In fact, unless I stumble across something by accident, I’d have to say this is the best we can do.”
“Wait,” Nicole said. “Is the mental deficit primarily a result of the extreme fever associated with the cure? Or is it damage done by the plague?”
“We’re not sure,” Kanger answered. “All of our test subjects were violently killed by the infected. There was severe damage to their brains. That, and we ran out of time in Seattle.”
“You have an idea?” The Colonel asked.
“Induced hypothermia,” Nicole said, looking directly at Kanger. “Cool the subject’s body before introducing the cure. Normal human body temp is 98.6 Fahrenheit or 37 Celsius. Lower it to 32 Celsius to combat the damaging effects of the fever.”
Kanger and Joe stared at her for a moment, a broad smile slowly spreading across the Doctor’s face.
“That might work,” he said excitedly. “At least it should protect the brain against damage from extremely elevated body temperatures. I thought you were a physicist.”
“I am,” Nicole said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t read medical journals.”
All three men stared at her for a moment before Kanger turned to Blanchard.
“Colonel, I need more test subjects.”
“I’ll have Lieutenant Sam take care of that,” Blanchard said, getting to his feet.
“What are you going to do about the Terminator virus?” Kanger asked, also standing.
“I’m going to speak with Admiral Packard. And I concur with you. The last thing we need is a population of super-infected running around.”
“What the fuck is that?” Long whispered after the answering taps from the far side of the wall.
DIRK PATTON SERIES:
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