“Boom chicka boom, don't you just love it…”
The fat man hummed and sang tunelessly, walking around the brightly lit work area. Everywhere else was deeply dark, the humps and points of old factory equipment looming in the old auto plant. Several large machines had been cleared away, and heavy, steel tables set up, along with huge shelves, all of it covered with junk. At least, it looked like junk to the untrained eye. A bomb technician would have taken one look at that tangle, and run screaming for the hills.
“Chicka boom chicka boom, don't you just love it…”
Boomer always worked with his shirt off. He'd been teased mercilessly for the huge sweat stains he'd always made on his shirts in grade school, and the pain had stayed with him his entire life, making partial, hideous nudity preferable to a damp shirt. (Never mind that he'd beaten the child who had started the teasing to death in the woods years and years ago. Some things just stuck.)
“Boom chicka boom, don't you just love it…”
He was just starting to fit a shock plate to the main detonation assembly when a chiming started. He grunted, freezing and trying to isolate the sound with no small amount of concern, before finally slumping and fishing his phone from his greasy pants pocket.
“Hi, Mom. No, I'm fine, Mom, I was just working.”
“… No, Mom, I like talking to you. It's fine, really…”
“… Yes, I'm taking them, Mom… I just don't like how they make me feel, Mom, it's not…”
“No, Mom, I'm not dis-”
“…s-stop… M-m-m-mom, I-I hate i-it whe-”
“But I c-c-can't h-h-h-h-help it!”
There was a sudden, audible squawking from the phone, the massive man wincing down and away, as if from a blow imagined or remembered,
“… I-I'm sorry, Mom…”
“I'm sorry… I won't ever speak that way again…”
“I love you too, Mom…”
Boomer hung up the phone, then sat for a bit, trembling. He sniffed thickly, glaring down at the phone. He put it on the table, eyes welling with tears. He smashed his fist against it with the force of a good sized car. He smashed it again and again, a thin, ragged squealing leaking from his thick lips as he pounded the phone to bits, blood and scraps of skin smearing over the bench and the ragged wreck of the phone. He stared down at the bloody, shattered mess, heedless of his dripping hand, thick chest rising and falling in great heaves.
The fat man then pushed the whole mess to the floor, sucking on his ripped and bloody fist like a baby, starting to hum around it again as he started fittings wires back into his current project.
“Jesus, I almost feel sorry for the bastard. Then I feel that spot where I'm supposed to have a molar.”
Harken winced, looking away from the small screen, his face a ragged patchwork of tape and a few stitches. The rest of him was encased in enough plaster to count as armor, his right hand little more then a heavily braced claw. Kramer had been playing nursemaid: that is to say, she was checking to see what still hurt. Often. With her finger.
“So does that spot on your neck still hurt wh-”
“Okay, so yes.”
Harken shifted away from his poker-faced tormentor, trying to focus on the small LCD screen. They'd managed to track down Boomer's lair without a massive amount of issue. That being said, they'd kept well away, just getting a robot close enough to attach a tiny camera to the roof. Boomer was the type to leave loads of bombs, traps and other assorted goodies laying around in a nightmare combination of cunning and blind, absentminded stupidity. You could plan around a smart enemy, a dumb one was prone to blowing your intelligent, well-planned ass off at random.
They'd been watching Boomer for a couple days now, and every hour was more pathetic then the last. Yes, Boomer was a brutal, sadistic psychopath, but he was also apparently a pathetic, broken man with no real life, friends, or interests. No wonder he was so loyal to Dark: he'd probably never had a purpose or praise before Mr. Dark had stepped in.
Harken set the portable viewscreen down, gingerly rubbing his eyes. “Okay, so, we know where the fat boy is going to be, but I'm not really overeager to get blown up trying to get to him.”
“I could always drop in, or slide a shot through one of those upper windows.”
“No, no, that's a bitch of a shot, and one miss could blow the whole place. Plus, who knows how he has the place rigged? I reviewed some files Central Records had on him: apparently a GOC strike team tried sneaking into a house he was using. They managed to blow up nearly a city block, and lost the whole team. Boomer wasn't even home.”
“So what's your big plan?" Kramer asked. "I'm not overeager to wonder on every mission whether or not there's a random explosive or fat sociopath waiting in the wings. Plus, the only one who gets to slap you around is me. See, like thi-”
“Wow, that cast doesn't act as a buffer at all, does it?”
“ANYWAY. I think I have a idea…isn't there a GOC squad in the area, hunting for… uhh… oh dammit, that one germ bitch, whatshername…”
“That's the one. Maybe they need to accidentally intercept a secured Foundation transmission discussing the difficulty of extracting the poor girl from the warehouse she's holed up in.”
“But she's not — oh. Clever. Meanwhile, what do we do about her? Someone needs to get her back to site.”
“Oh to hell with that, some MTF can go after that bitch. The last thing I need is an infection right now.”
“Yeah, I know. This looks like it's kinda red and-”
“Bobby, Bobby, my love, get in here, it's great to see you!”
“Can't say the same.”
“Oh Bobby, that's why I love you. While all the world cries for my amusement, I can always count on you to be the same hard-nosed prick as always.”
Bobby was standing at parade rest just inside the doorway to the terrible man's office. It looked more like a overstuffed museum, with layers of carpets, relics, and assorted treasure covering every available surface in a haphazard fashion. There was probably more money in this room then some third world nation's gross national product, but it just looked like a old antique shop. Mr. Marshall sat in a wine-dark upholstered chair to one side, the fabric probably worth more then his life right now. Mr. Dark reclined behind a small, chipped desk. If Bobby recalled correctly, it was the same one the “From Hell” Jack The Ripper letter had been penned on.
“You seem in tolerable shape, lad. None the worse for wear after your little stint in the nuthatch?”
“…I'm fine, sir.”
Bobby looked sidelong at Marshall, who was pointedly observing his fingernails. Bobby's hard mouth twitched, washed-out brown eyes narrowing in all that he would allow to show of his anger. For now. He'd been forced to mop up one of Marshall's little… accidents… but the cleanup had gotten out of hand. People had died. The police had caught him. Thankfully, Carter had been able to pull some strings and get him off death row and into an asylum - one, coincidentally, owned by a member of the Club.
The rest had been nice: the days slow and easy, with nothing to do but watch the actual crazies and attend "therapy" sessions that mostly consisted of shooting the shit with other MC&D employees. He'd even gotten laid a few times: there was no shortage of attractive and heavily medicated female "patients" who, if not exactly willing, were not prone to believable protest. Still, he'd known better than to relax. Service to Marshall, Carter, and Dark ended with death alone. He hoped.
“Bobby, you're a busy boy, so I'll not shilly-shally any more," Dark said. "Persons who shall remain nameless have bobbled the ball both on our patch and others. You feel up to hitting the pavement and shoring up our collection?”
“Why are you asking me? I don't have a choice, do I?”
Dark laughed, rising from his chair, waving a hand to Marshall as he crossed to stand in front of Bobby.
“Would you look at this glorious boy?” he chortled, turning and winking at Marshall. “You'd think he was still a cop out in Whitechapel, and me some smuggler who's making him go crooked. No, Bobby, you don't have a choice. Few do, really. You should feel privileged not to have to bear up the weight of those illusions.”
“Oh yes," Bobby said, flatly. "Deeply honored.”
Dark smiled coldly, tilting his head a bit and locking eyes with Bobby. “Do this, and do it well Bobby. You know the stakes, and I always pay well. I'm a man of my word. It's up to you to choose what word it is I keep.”
They stared for a few heartbeats, one dark, one gray, an almost audible tension crackling in the air. Bobby finally straightened, snapping off a salute that might as well have been a middle finger, and turned on his heels, marching out. Dark chuckled coldly, watching the door for several seconds before turning back to his desk.
Marshall spoke up from the depths of the chair, rubbing his eye absently. “He's going to turn on you, you know that.”
“Of course he's going to turn on me. Why the hell else would I keep that grating son of a bitch around?”
Marshall stared at Dark, shaking his head in confusion. Dark lit a black cigar, blowing a thick cloud across the small office. “You know the difference between you, Carter, and me?” Dark asked.
“Ambition. See, you two lunatics would be more than happy to gut me, kill off your rival, and set yourself as Emperor Of All That Is. Then again, you're both bloody hedonistic bastards. It's in your nature to take all you can get your hands on, and that's both useful and amusing. However, if you rule all that is… what then? How many families can you burn and force into auto-cannibalism before the blush wears off? How long can you bask in the admiration and fear of a planet before it just wafts into the background?”
“Shut up when the adults are talking, Marshall. I want to enjoy myself, to have some bloody fun, eh? Sometimes that's sitting out in a spring breeze, being served tea warmed on a pretty girl's lap. Sometimes it's watching a child try and scramble around the rabid animals eating their parents. Sometimes it's just eating a really good steak. It's all relative, really. I don't want to crush all reality below my heel… just small, easily observable and touchable parts of it, now and then. I don't have ambition, Marshall, which means my ego will tolerate a threat. I welcome it, really.”
“So… you're just letting him plot against you?”
“Of course I am, you bloody twit! I bloody well helped him along! I was the biggest bastard I could be to him, hurt his loved ones, corrupted his oh-so-sacred morals… It was damned exhausting. Still, it's paying off… I think this is the time, this is it. Can you imagine the thrill of excitement and fear, knowing that someone could lash out, rise up, and generally throw the standard state of things in the fire, at any moment? Makes everything seem… fresher, more clear. Why do you think I insisted the team have those little cameras? When Bobby does finally go, I want to be able to relive it.”
“You're a sick man, Dark.”
“And you're a unimaginative twat, but I don't throw it in your face, now do I? Who do we bloody have on that fox girl? I want a status report within the hour, and I want to know where the hell she's gotten off to even sooner. Now get the hell out of my office.”
"I've got somethin' to say…" the girl hummed, as she picked through the racks of vials on the refrigerator shelf. "I killed your baby today. It doesn't matter much to me as long as it's dead…"
She read the label on one particular vial and smiled. Popping the top off the small glass tube, she threw her head back and drank it down in one gulp, savoring the taste as it went down. She felt the lovely little microbes begin to attack her body, but it was a simple enough matter to calm them down, to get them dancing in harmony with the rest of her little darlings.
"I've got something to say…" she continued, pouring the can of gasoline all over the refrigerator room. "I raped your momma today. It doesn't matter much as long as she spread…"
The body of a white-coated researcher was slumped in his chair bleeding from every orifice: Ebola was not a good way to go. "Sweet lovely death, I'm waiting for your breath," she sang, as she lit a match. "Sweet lovely death one last car-hnnnnngh!"
The last note of her song dissolved into a grunt of pain as ten thousand volts of electricity coursed through her body. She collapsed in a heap, dropping the box of matches and scattering them all over the clean room. She tried to get back to her feet, but a second jolt of lightning sent her crashing back down to the ground.
She tried to reach out with her viruses, to lash out with everything she had, but yet another jolt from the taser broke her concentration. "None of that, my dear," a sonorous voice commanded. Vector was turned roughly onto her back, and looked up into the faces of three people wearing full biocontainment gear. "Sandra, the syringe," the voice continued.
One of the three - a woman - walked forward carrying a small black leather pouch. Vector kicked out at her. The three figures just stepped back, and the one with the taser pressed a button. Another shock of lightning arced through her, and she let out a scream. The man with the taser moved the weapon to his other hand and drew a pistol from a hip holster. "That was one and two," he said, gesturing with the taser. "This is three." He kneeled next to her and placed the muzzle of the gun to her forehead.
Vector lay still, trembling, as the woman pinned her arm under one knee and cut the sleeve of her jacket away with a knife. She tied a rubber hose around her upper arm then expertly drew two large vials of blood. Finally, she inserted a large syringe of… something… into the girl's neck and waited, thumb resting on the plunger.
The third man, who had been watching the operation from the doorway, finally walked forward. He leaned in very close to Vector, and through his hood, she could see that he was an older man, his hair shot with grey, and his face lined with age. "Kevin Spencer," the old man said. "His name was Kevin Spencer."
"The man you killed. He risked his life to set you free, and you murdered him. He had a wife and a child. He was a firm believer in the cause. He made the best barbecue ribs I have ever tasted, and you took all of that away from us. And why? To intimidate the others into following you? They would have done so if you had asked. Such a waste."
"F-f-f-fuck you… I d-d-d-d-don't work for y-y-y-y…"
"I know you don't. And I wouldn't dream of forcing you to do so. You are free to do as you wish. But freedom means living with the consequences of your actions. Sandra?"
The old man stepped back. The woman with the syringe leaned forward and showed Vector the two vials of blood. "This one we keep," the woman said, holding up one of the vials. "And this one you'll get back." She tucked the two vials into her suit pocket, then held up an empty glass bottle with a double-circle and arrows logo on it. "We took this from the Foundation when we raided them. Do you know what it is?"
Vector read the label through pain-blurred eyes. "No!" she screamed. "You can't!"
"Easy! Easy!" Sandra said. "Don't do something stupid! Listen… LISTEN TO ME!" she shouted, as Vector began to struggle. "I don't want to kill you, so shut up and LISTEN!"
Vector lay still, trembling. "Listen," Sandra repeated. "You took Kevin from us, so we're taking what you love away too. This is going to flush your body of all those viruses and germs you've been collecting…"
"… but you're going to get back whatever is in that blood. But you only get that back if we feel you've learned your lesson. So if you were thinking about trying to screw us over? You're going to lose everything. Do you understand?"
Vector closed her eyes and nodded, tears streaming down her cheeks. Sandra grimly pressed down on the plunger of the syringe.
Fire ripped through the girl's body, and billions of lives were snuffed out in a cascade of chemical death.
She didn't know when it stopped, or when the dying ended. She was only even vaguely aware when the three monsters in their plastic suits left the room, or when someone lit a fire and burned down the laboratory. She did remember being carried out. She remembered curling up in his arms and weeping into his shoulder, feeling the distant, comforting sensation of the microorganisms in his body, wanting to pull them into her, but knowing that if she did, the flames rippling through her would simply kill them off.
It was just as she was being placed into the back seat of a car that her mind decided it had had enough and decided to cut out. Oblivion overcame her and she embraced it gladly.
"Pull over," Michel ordered.
James pulled the van over to the side of the road, and Michel got out and walked over to a tree. He leaned against it, then vomited noisily into the grass.
"Fuck," Sandra grimaced. She reached for a box with a biohazard label on it taped to the side of the plastic-lined compartment, but was interrupted by the Professor putting a hand over hers.
"Wait here," the old man said. "I'll let you know if you need to worry."
He exited the makeshift quarantine compartment in the back of the van and walked to the side of the road, where Michel was now sitting with his knees pulled to his chest and tears streaming down his face. The Professor sat down next to the big Frenchman and put an arm around his wide shoulders, pulling him close. "I'm sorry," he said, simply. "It needed to be done."
"Did we have to do it like THAT!?" Michel asked. "That was… UGLY… it was…"
"I know," the Professor said. "I know. It was an unpleasant, hideous act to do to another human being. But so was what she did to Kevin. Justice needed to be done. A lesson needed to be taught."
"I'm done," Michel said. "I can't do this any more. Not after that."
The Professor nodded, and hugged the big man again. "You're a good soldier, Michel," he said. "You have fought well for the cause. Go home and be with your loved ones and enjoy the new world you are creating. Thank you for your service."
He helped the big man get to his feet and led him to the van. The rest of the trip passed in silence. Nothing needed to be said. Everyone understood.
She didn't remember much except that it was incredibly unpleasant and incredibly humiliating. On top of the pain of the serum racing through her body, there was the devastating effect it had on a body that had developed an equilibrium with billions of different kinds of lethal microorganisms, as well as many which were nonlethal. The effect on her digestive system alone didn't even bear thinking about.
The worst part where the nightmares. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw demons in white coats and surgical masks wielding syringes full of death. White rooms lit with fluorescent tubes that cast no shadows. A man with no head cut her apart with a scalpel, held the pieces up to the light, then dunked them in a greenish liquid and put them back where they had come from. Grinning midgets with wide mouths full of too many sharklike teeth sat in the rafters and cackled. "You'll never get out. You'll never get out."
The only comfort was when the Angel came. That was how she thought of him, for in her pain-induced delirium, his handsome face seemed suffused in a holy light. The Angel was the one who would wipe away her sweat from her feverish forehead. The Angel was the one who cleaned her up and changed her IVs. He held her hand throughout the worst of the pain, and whispered soft lullabies to her when she whimpered.
In her hour of loneliness, he was her friend, and she loved him for it.
When she finally emerged from her drug-induced delirium, she found herself lying on clean sheets in a soft bed. The sun was shining through a window in the attic room, casting a square of light onto the cheerful flower-print wallpaper. There was a framed cross-stitch on the wall across from her depicting two children playing on the front lawn of a red brick house. "HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS," it read.
She felt empty… drained… alone. For the first time since she could remember, she was a single person, without the familiar warmth of her old friends nestled inside her. She closed her eyes and reached out, calling to her beloved microscopic companions: a virus here, a bacterium there. She called them to her, and they answered, and as they did so, she felt her strength return to her, felt her broken spirit rejuvenating.
The door opened, and a young man wearing an apron over his jeans and t-shirt walked in, carrying a large hot bowl of chicken soup. "Feeling better?" he asked, setting it down by her side. "It's good to see you awake again."
Vector looked up into his face, and she blushed. It was the Angel.
"Don't get up just yet," he said. "Let me check your vital signs first." He sat down next to her and checked her pulse and blood pressure, nodded at the numbers. "Much better," he said.
"How long was I out?" she asked.
"About a week. How are you feeling?" the young man asked.
"Better," Vector said. She twisted the sheets under her fingers tightly, nervously.
"You look better," the young man said kindly. "Is there something I can do for you?"
She felt a familiar taste in the air, and she smiled. "Yes," she whispered. "You can die."
Staphylococcus aureus is a contradictory bacteria. It is constantly present in the environment: on the skin, in the mucus membranes of the nose and throat, in acne. Approximately one in five humans is a carrier and, for the most part, coexist with it in relative peace. However, that same bacteria, which is harmless enough in most places, turns into one of the most virulent and deadly organisms known to man if allowed to infect the wrong tissues. In the skin, it causes necrotizing fasciitis, which literally eats skin and muscle tissue at an alarming rate. In the blood, it causes toxic shock syndrome, which can kill in hours. In spinal fluid, it causes meningitis, which can lead to brain damage and gangrene. In the lungs, pneumonia.
Vector hit him with all of them at once, then boosted the virulence as hard as she could. He was dead within seconds.
She stepped around over his twitching, decaying body and went to the wardrobe in the corner. As expected, all the clothes were some sort of hideous floral print frocks that looked like something a mother from a Norman Rockwell painting would wear. She picked the least disgusting looking one and changed into it, then threw an overcoat on over it. No shoes, but if she could just…
There was a loud crash, and then shouting. Gunfire cracked in bright, staccato beats: the high, bright crack of an assault rifle, underlaid by the lower booming of a shotgun. Then silence.
She ran to the window. There were men outside, wearing black tactical gear, and they were dragging two dead bodies into the back of an unmarked white van. Several more were moving towards the house with the smooth, practiced movements of professional soldiers. A couple more were pushing a nondescript white Toyota Camry off the dock and into a nearby lake: it splashed into the water and quickly sank from view.
The door opened, and a man wearing full hazmat gear, carrying a submachine gun, walked in. He held up a photo and nodded. "It's her."
Another man slung his rifle and drew a pistol, shooting her twice in the chest. She looked down and saw the yellow tassel of a dart sticking from her body, then the drugs took hold, and she passed out.
"This is Bobby. Tell Dark we have her."
Harken woke up around midnight with the distinct feeling there was someone in the room. Then he saw the silhouette standing at his window: the silhouette of a tall man wearing a fedora and long overcoat.
"You must think you're very clever, Mister Harken," the stranger said.
“I… ahh… like to think so, yes.”
"I will admit, your ruse was almost successful."
Harken thought for several seconds about denying it, but didn't see the point. “Only almost?”
"Just so. Let me tell you about the full consequences of your actions, Mister Harken," the stranger continued. "Because of your… tip… the GOC pulled elements from their strike team shadowing the girl known as 'Vector' to investigate the warehouse in question. The strike team was seconds away from breach when the overwatch element recognized the person known as "Boomer." They were barely able to abort the mission before what would certainly have been a costly and fatal mistake."
"Damn. Well, good on them. No harm no foul, I suppose?"
"But there was harm, Mister Harken. Because the GOC diverted elements to the warehouse, they dispatched only two agents to investigate the next likely lead: a farmhouse in Colorado. When they arrived, the agents were ambushed and killed. Shortly afterward, a UAV doing surveillance of the region showed several known employees of Marshall, Carter, and Dark carrying an unconscious female in her mid-twenties to an unmarked vehicle. The female was later confirmed to be the target in question."
Harken felt his mouth go dry. He swallowed hard. "The richies got the germ girl."
"All thanks to your little 'tip,' Mister Harken. All thanks to your little tip." The stranger walked to the bathroom door and waited with one hand on the handle. "Mister Harken. This is a war. You and yours need to seriously consider whose side you are on."
"Yeah? And whose side are you on?" Harken growled.
"You already know the answer to that, Mister Harken," the man said. "I'm on Nobody's side."
He walked into the bathroom and closed the door behind him. Harken already knew that by the time anyone else opened that door, it would be empty. He still rose and threw the door open on the cool, tile lined darkness. Not surprising, really.
After all, Nobody could get out of a locked room with only one door.
He sighed heavily, thinking of the report he'd have to file, leaning on the door frame.
“Kramer's never gonna let me hear the end of this.”