Virion: The Black Cell (Volume One of the Virion Series), page 1
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, business establishments, organizations, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
VIRION: THE BLACK CELL
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2018 by R.L.M. Sanchez.
Cover Art by Michal Kvacm
This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or other unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.
First Edition: 2018
For my sister, Liz, who helped me reach for the stars.
“Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor.”
DEATH OF A MARTIAN
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
DEATH OF A MARTIAN
The Martian trooper powered through his charge. His target was clear, the gates of the massive fortress right in front of him. The rattling cracks of automatic fire had ceased and the silence that followed was definite. Soon he began to slow as his breathing staggered. He came to a brisk jog, then slowed to a laboring walk. His lungs tried desperately to keep up, finally forcing him to stop. Looking behind him, the troopers once backing him had stopped. Instead, he saw a barren plane hosting a massacre.
The troopers were all dead. The breached gates stood open, but his body screamed in agony and denied his entry. The attack had failed, and the fortress, only meters away, stood mockingly out of reach. He looked down to see his body, mangled and defeated. The warm blood flowing from his wounds stained his clothing and armor, making it hard to count how many bullets had struck him. A Martian Trooper shall not know pain. He dropped his rifle as it became too heavy for his arms. The cold bite in the air made the warm blood feel almost soothing.
This scene was all too familiar, reliving it day and night in his waking nightmares.
The trooper turned around and started walking back the way he came, the way to defeat. He had to see her. Thousands lay dead behind him. Some died in the trenches, most of them recently – and all of them had died trusting him. The snow finally stopped falling on Titan’s surface, the wind no longer howling. He scanned for survivors, listening for any cries for help, but he heard only the dead. The frost crunched under his feet, his boots stained red from the blood that soaked the snow-blanketed ground.
After much stumbling and searching, he finally found her amongst the bodies, lying in the snow. He tried to kneel but couldn’t support himself, and he stumbled onto his hands and knees right beside her. The trooper moved closer and took her into his arms.
“Corpsman!” His voice broke. It took so much strength to yell. She gazed up into his eyes as he stared straight back into hers. “Lily…” His voice trembled. “Lily, I’m sorry.”
She reached up to touch his face. Her cold hand pressed against his cold skin. He quickly grabbed her hand and took it in his. “Please, just stay with me.” He took a glance at her wounds. Entry wound, low abdomen; the damaged organs produced much darker blood. “C…Corpsman!” He coughed. No one was coming to help.
She struggled to move her lips. She had lost a lot of blood, her wound seeping dark red liquid into the snow. “Captain… listen to me.”
“Please, baby, don’t talk. Save your strength.”
“You need to hear…” she whimpered as a single tear ran down her cheek. “Look at what’s happened here…”
“I failed, Lily. I couldn’t do it,” he said.
“I know.” Lily’s voice was soft and soothing. Her pale face and bright green eyes were as beautiful as on any other day. She appeared as if she felt no pain, bringing a certain reality to the Soldier’s Creed of Mars: Know No Fear, Know No Pain, Forever in the Fight. “They’ll blame you for this,” she continued. “They’ll look for someone to put this on, and it’ll be you.” His thoughts shifted when he heard her piercing words. “These men trusted you. They trusted you to lead them through. They died following you and you’ll carry their deaths with you for as long as you live.”
“Why are you saying this—?”
“They’ll all know you wanted this, and they’ll hate you for it. They’ll hate you and you’ll never be the same in their eyes again.” The trooper held her hand tighter. He wasn’t sure why she was saying any of this. Her personality had reversed from the Liliana he knew, but she had chosen her words true. “You’ll want to hide. You’ll want to run from it, bury it. And you will.”
“I don’t want any of this, I never wanted this!”
“You’ll hide from it, but you can’t. You remember these faces. My face, my eyes,” Lily said, her words turning more aggressive. “Don’t you let what happened here beat you – use it to bring yourself back up again. You remember these dead faces. They’ll be there to tell you. Keep moving forward.”
He stared deep into her eyes, burning her face forever into his memory. “You’ll survive here today, just as you’ve always done. Don’t take weakness with you, take strength.” She pulled herself closer to his ear. “Look at what we can do to each other...”
He took a moment to stare at the thousands of troops on the field, friend and foe. As his eyes bounced from body to body, he finally understood the endless cycle. Men spoke of futures and men died pursuing them. The lie of a future. “You have to be more. Just be more than this...” She struggled to speak, the pain overcoming her will. “More than human...” Her mouth trembled. “I love you…”
“Don’t leave me, Lily,” he whispered. Her words, her eyes, and his pain: They were images he couldn’t forget. An image he wouldn’t forget.
“You know what to do, trooper,” she said as she rested her head on the snow. “Now get up.” He stood up and looked back at her with eyes full of regret. He knew his duty as a Martian. It was one of the oldest and brutal doctrines from the Martian Colonial Navy. “Get up, Martian!”
THE BLACK CELL
The operating theater was a surge of blinding white light that illuminated every area of the room. The surgeons within wore specific white scrubs, all but camouflaged in their identical goggles and breathers. Every high-ranking doctor and scientist from within the facility was present, as the discovery on the cold metal slab before them was monumental.
Executive Medical Officer Gregory Hinsin was overlooking the body from within the theater, pacing around the room. He was waiting for any sort of info on the creature, but most of all a certain confirmation. The body had been rushed to High Science just an hour ago, and because Hinsin worked mostly opposite hours, forced him to wake during the night with bags still under his eyes and a shadowed beard. He took off his safety glasses to rub the crust from his eyes.
High Science was a state of the art medical research facility located in the uppermost district of Freedom City. It was recognized throughout the Sol System and by the Auroran species as the definitive location for medicinal research and discovery. Most of Earth’s modern ailments such as diabetes,
Doctor Veena U’ldanta sat with her arms crossed in a viewing room overlooking the body, waiting patiently for a blood analysis from the creature on the slab. Like Hinsin, she had rushed to the facility following the strange creature’s discovery. Having arrived shortly after the surgery team, she preferred not to disturb them while they made their opening analysis.
Finally, a surgeon walked away from a centrifuge sitting atop the counter, holding a vial in the air for them to see. “Black Cell positive, doctors,” the surgeon said as he looked from U’ldanta to Hinsin.
The confirmation proved what U’ldanta already suspected. The Black Cell. The virus that had plagued Earth for centuries with no cure in sight, the same virus that required every human within Earth’s atmosphere to wear a breather, was present in the specimen before them.
Strangely enough, it was not the virus itself that had killed him, but this was exactly what both Hinsin and U’ldanta were hoping for.
Hinsin nodded up at U’ldanta in the viewing room. She nodded back and proceeded downstairs.
Caleb Cordt’s OPIaA was vibrating for the third time. He wanted to answer it, but he was very strict with himself while on duty due to his own respect for his position at High Science. Landing a security position at the High Science Facility at such a young age was very respectable. He feared it could be some sort of emergency, but when he noticed the time, it was anything but. Caleb looked up and down both ends of the hallway he was patrolling.
The hallway was a large circle several hundred feet in circumference. It was bland and boring to walk around, as only a few containers and red doors broke the disorientating white motif. Thanks to the late hour, minimal lights were used in this low traffic area. Once he saw none of his superiors were in sight, Caleb stopped and pressed a small blue switch on his OPIaA. His wrist tool or, On Person Information and Assistance tool, was the most common piece of technology that brought the massive digital world of the cyberspace known as the INfinet to your fingertips. In this case, his OPIaA acted as a simple call device. A holographic screen appeared with an incoming video call.
“This is Caleb,” he said. His mother appeared onscreen with a small cake in front of her.
“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you…” she sang, making Caleb smile. Every year, no matter where he was or what he was doing, midnight on his birthday meant a lovely call from his loving mother.
“Hey Ma,” Caleb said with a big smile.
“Did I make it?” his mother said. Although in her sixties, she was still very spritely given her age, carrying the same amount of energy as someone in their twenties. She was always smiling when talking to her only child and son.
“Don’t worry Ma, you’re the first one to message me tonight.”
“Yes!” she said as she pumped her fist in the air. “Well, I have this nice cake waiting for you. Lemon crème with strawberries, made with love.”
“The only way to make a cake.” Caleb smiled.
“And you’re late! I expected you to be here already. How about you stop by and have a slice with me?”
Caleb looked around with a bit of disappointment. With his father passing at such a young age, his mother rarely saw company. Caleb had never missed his midnight birthday cake with his mother before. “Damn, I’m sorry ma. I got called in last minute, I completely forgot to tell you,” he said with a pinch of frustration.
“You’re kidding! At this hour?” Her jaw dropped at the news.
“Yeah, I think it’s pretty big.”
“Say no more sonny, need to know basis.” She motioned a zipper sealing her lips. “Just call me in the morning then, okay?”
“Will do, Ma.”
“Okay then, love you.”
“Love you too, Ma.”
The screen collapsed into his OPIaA and Caleb gripped his assault rifle again. He looked down the hall, where another security officer was walking his way. Shit. Nervous that the officer might have overheard him, Caleb adjusted his posture and continued walking as if nothing happened.
As the officer drew closer, Caleb recognized him. He let out a sigh of relief as one of his first friends made at the facility walked forward.
“Parker?” Caleb called out, his voice echoing in the hall. The other officer smiled.
“And just who was that, champ?” Parker said playfully. “A little dame you got on the side?”
“No,” he chuckled. “For your information, it was my mother wishing me happy birthday.”
“Oh me, oh man!” Parker said as he smacked Caleb on the shoulder. “How young?”
Caleb smiled and blushed, sometimes embarrassed to say how young he was in front of the older guys. “Twenty-four,” he said.
“Jeez! Young gun, huh?” Parker laughed. “Youth has its benefits. Plus, your mental disposition is a lot higher than some of the older guys, I assure you.”
“Thanks, I think. So, I guess they called you in too?”
“Unfortunately, man.” Parker moved to lean against the wall behind him, looking at the ceiling.
“Casey sent out the alert and I was activated for patrol, didn’t say why.”
“Typical. They don’t say anything to us, even though we’re guarding the most precious secrets in science and medicine.”
“Precious Secrets of Science and Medicine? Is that from the recruitment brochure?”
“You know what I mean, kid,” Parker said, emphasizing the last word.
“Calm down.” Caleb smiled.
Parker let his rifle hang by its sling and reached into his pocket to find a cigarette while Caleb watched. Smoking wasn’t allowed in the area, but Caleb also knew there weren’t many places to do it, so he let it slide. “But hey, just between you and me,” Parker said with the unlit cigarette in his mouth, looking around for eavesdroppers. “Twenty-two hundred hours, Interpol Enforcers bring in a fresh John Doe. Must have been a big deal. Every doctor from every floor was keeping up with it as they rolled the gurney straight to Executive Studies.”
Caleb could only speculate what was so special about the body. “You saw them?” he asked.
“Yes, indeedy. I was on rotation with Manetti at Checkpoint Four. Doctor Hinsin was with them. Even that Auroran doctor’s been checked in.”
“Doctor U’ldanta?” Caleb asked.
“Sure, I guess. Her name’s probably still fresh to a young mind like yours, she’s just another Auroran to me.”
“Did you actually see the body?”
“Nah. Damn thing was in a biohazard container. Sealed like a lead bunker.”
“If the Auroran doctor is here, at this hour, it must be big.” Caleb had never personally seen Doctor U’ldanta as she was only involved with critical research, one of the top executives along with Doctor Hinsin. The two only reported to Councilor Mahto herself, one of the heads of Earth Council and overseer of Medical and Science Studies on Earth. “Aren’t you curious at all what’s up?”
“Hey man, I didn’t see shit and I ain’t paid to see shit, officially. And frankly, I like walking around in circles guarding hallways. I don’t need anything else in life.” Parker let out a long exhale of smoke up into the air.
“You sure do put the ‘bore’ in ‘boring’, Parker.”
“Bah. Let the doctors have their cadavers.” Parker’s radio then cackled to life.
“Parker, come in.”
Parker rolled his eyes, clearly wanting to smoke his cigarette in a moment of peace. He spoke into his earpiece. “Parker, go ahead.”
“Parker, it’s Manetti. Hey, are you still in Quadrant Four?”
“Three. What’s up?”
“Well, we have a couple of Interpol guys here. They’re a
“Well, they want to know their badge numbers and names and I kind of forgot who they were.”
“Jesus, Manetti, just check your log, we checked them in just like everyone else.”
“Well yeah. I was gonna, but...”
“Goddammit, Manetti, did you lock yourself out of your terminal again?”
“I’m sorry Parker, they make me change the password every week! I’ll make it up to you, I swear!”
Parker rolled his eyes and looked to Caleb, who was shaking his head with a smile. “Whatever Manetti, I’ll be there in five.” Parker put out his cigarette, crushing the ember on his rifle and placing the cigarette back into his pocket. “See what I mean about higher mentality?” Parker said to Caleb. “I wasn’t joking!”
“You want me to come with you?” Caleb chuckled.
“Nah, I’ll be back in a few. Just need to unlock that toad’s terminal.” Parker started walking briskly down the hallway to the elevator before stopping to turn back to Caleb. “And happy birthday, kid.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Caleb said. Parker jogged to the elevator. The checkpoint was only one level below. Meanwhile, Caleb took his time patrolling his quadrant.
Veena U’ldanta stood in the airlock, waiting for the brief air cycle to open the door. In the meantime, she grabbed her breather from the pouch on her belt and affixed it onto her mouth to protect herself from any pathogens the body might be giving off. Soon, the door hissed open and Hinsin walked up to greet her.
“Veena.” Hinsin nodded.
“Doctor Hinsin, how are you?” she said as she walked with him to the operating table.
“Intrigued.” Hinsin was always calm and rarely got upset, but Veena had known him for years now and could tell that he was a little more than ‘intrigued’.
“Black Cell positive in the specimen. Not something you expect a human to live from,” she said.
Hinsin looked at her. He couldn’t help but feel short standing beside her. U’ldanta was tall like all Aurorans, the females averaging six feet and males even taller. Both species agreed that female Aurorans were closer in physical appearance to female humans; the light violet eyes, cat-like irises, pointed ears and gray-blue skin tone set her apart, but at least the long, black hair worn in a braid kept semblance. Most Aurorans of both sexes wore some type of painted markings or tattoos on their body and faces to make up for the fact that Aurorans weren’t as diverse in appearance as humans. U’ldanta only had one purple marking across the bridge of her nose and both of her cheekbones.
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