Short Story Series 3: SciFi Thriller – Part 2

[…continued from Part 1]

Suzanne was  excited by the possibility of a new discovery, but more than nervous she was suspicious.. She had an extra hour to think about it because traffic was just horrid. She stopped along the route at a rest stop to call her friend, Marcus, and explain everything. He shared both her excitement and concern, but felt an absolute obligation to help her identify these objects and learn of their origin and purpose. As he needed a break from his own work, he wanted to take some vacation time and decided to meet her on Orcas Island in the evening.

The drive from Seattle to the ferry terminal in Anacortes lasted over two hours; nevertheless she embraced the moment and enjoyed the ferry ride back home.

Suzanne’s clock chimed 10pm just before Marcus walked in. They embraced for a moment before she rushed to show him the images on her laptop. Marcus did have a college buddy, David, who worked in some capacity for the Department of Defense (DoD) and Marcus wasted no time getting him on the phone. David asked him to email images to him on his personal email address so as, if not to ensure privacy, to minimize exposure of their discovery.

Immediately after David received the emails, he phoned Marcus back.

“Hey, Marcus. David.”

“Hi, David. Did you…”

“Where on earth did you get these,” David asked.

“A friend of mine who is trying to identify them made their discovery, but she hasn’t specified from where.”

“It’s Suzanne, isn’t it? Hello, Suz!” David figured she’d be with Marcus on speakerphone.

“Hello, David,” Suzanne shouted.

“Do you know what they are,” Marcus asked?

“Yes, actually. In fact, it was a top secret project that, by coincidence, I was working on. They are artificial viruses or virions.”

“What is their purpose?”

“Well, I can only tell you what I was told,,,which isn’t much. They were intended essentially to be vehicles for not merely delivering biological agents, but for reproducing and manufacturing the agents themselves with the help of the host’s DNA and supplemental reagents added to the target system, such as the water supply or any other means of intake for the host. My task was to work with geneticists in making the nanoscale replication process possible given the availability of certain raw materials.”

“Shit, David. That is just crazy and a serious danger to society in the wrong hands. I mean it has fantastic medical potential, I suppose. But, clearly it is intended as a militarized bioweapon.”

“I didn’t have the whole picture when I was involved at the research and development phase. In hindsight, it was a horribly dangerous idea. How these came to be accessible to the public so soon, I wouldn’t know.”

“Is there a way you can trace the project and figure out what these samples in particular do, how they are distributed? Suz says there’s DNA inside a protected chamber.”

“It will take some time, a few days at least. I do not have the clearance to access the complete project to determine their exact program and where they were made. I have a few hacker friends that can most assuredly help though.”

“That’s crazy. You have to go outside the DoD to get further inside the DoD!”

“Yeah, compartmentalization is a bitch, but it is what keeps the complex machine whirring in its diabolical plans. Ignorance has been bliss thus far, but it’s time I find my conscience. Can you get me a sample?”

“I’ll overnight it.”

Suzanne was listening to the entire conversation, of course.  She looked alarmed. “Let’s get some sleep,” she said, “and I’ll buy you breakfast in the morning.” She went to the hall closet to grab a pillow and blanket and handed it to Marcus. “Here. The couch is super comfortable! You should be warm enough.” She smiled. Marcus smiled. There was amusement in both of their eyes.

“It’s good to see you again, Suz.”

She looked back at him from the hallway. “Thanks for coming, Marcus. Good night.”

Upon rising, Suzanne and Marcus took a quick ride into the village for a quiet breakfast at the Copper Kettle, the only place in town that served traditional breakfast food all day long. Walking in, she looked at the waiter and asked for a table for two. His name was Douglas.  Suzanne had known him for years. He had worked at the diner as long as she had lived on the island and she had been going there about three times a week.

“Coffee,” asked Douglas?

“What, no “Good Morning’, Douglas? …just a curt ‘coffee’?”

Suzanne was attempting to be playful, but Douglas just stood there looking at her. She was perplexed at his somber mood. Finally, she said, “Yes, please.” With that affirmation, Douglas poured coffee into both cups on the table and then walked away.

“Geeze, I wonder what’s up with Douglas today? He’s usually quite a humorous fellow, more social at least.”

“Off day, I suppose,” Marcus guessed.

“His day is just starting.”

They took the menus from the center of the table, gave them a perusal, and formulated what they desired to eat before talking about the artificial virions – ‘virion’ is the term David used on the phone in describing the potentially infective particles that were created by the DoD program.

It seemed like a long time passed and Douglas never came over to take their order. After pouring some coffee refills at one table and taking payment at another, he just stood next to the register staring rather blankly. Both Suzanne and Marcus thought that was odd.

Suzanne raised her hand and waved, “Douglas,” she called. And he came over.

“May we order breakfast,” she asked?

“What would you like?”

“For me, oatmeal, fruit salad, and orange juice,” Suzanne stated, still surprised about the mood Douglas was in.

“I’ll have two eggs, over easy, has browns, and a side of bacon. Oh, and I’ll have orange juice as well,” Marcus said.

“Thank you, Douglas,” Suzanne added.

Douglas nodded and went into the kitchen to place an order. At this point, Suzanne stood up to look into the kitchen which was normally a frenzy of bubbling conversation. Today, however, everyone was quiet speaking only when necessary. In fact, the whole restaurant was rather somber. Looking around, people were eating, but barely talking. It was becoming a little eerie. Of course, Marcus and Suzanne were already a little on edge and mystified by the virion particles. So, they both agreed to leave after they finished their meals.

“I’d like another glass of water. Are you going to drink yours,” David asked?

“Not at all. I never drink water in the village. It’s processed – desalinated and chlorinated – just doesn’t taste good. You can have it,” she pushed the glass forward. “I only drink well water or imported spring water.”

“If you are finished, I’d like to take you up to Mt. Constitution. The view from there is gorgeous. We must go earlier than later because there are no clouds at the moment. Once they roll in, they spoil the view.  You will see distant islands, mountain ranges, Mt. Baker and more. Although…to be honest the trip up is worthwhile for the fresh air alone. Better yet, let’s make it a short hike and a picnic. I’ll stop by the market on the way out of town and we’ll pick up a few things to take with us.”

He swallowed the last of the water in the glass and then said, “Let’s go!”

They headed over to the market and Suzanne picked up some cheese, nuts, smoked salmon and bottled water. As usual she saw a few friends and familiar faces, although her friends seemed quite distant, not approaching her as usual for a hug and a quick check in. She spotted Katie, a mid-twenties-something young lady who worked at the store stocking shelves.

“Good morning, Suzanne,” said Katie. “Where are you off to on this fine day?”

“Good morning, Katie. I’m taking my friend, Marcus, to Mt. Constitution for a little hike and picnic later.”

“Sounds awesome! I have to work all day or I’d otherwise do the same. But, no one else seems interested in doing anything with me this week. There’s such a somber attitude about town.”

“Tell me about it! The people at the Copper Kettle – Douglas, who’s usually funny, although not as vibrant as you – they were just blah. The cooks were just cooking because it’s what they do. Even the customers were eating because they had to eat…lots of blank stares. It was just too weird.”

“Charlie was like that at the gas station last night. I hope there isn’t another bug going around. I can’t afford to get sick again.”

“I hear you. We better pay and get up to the mountain before clouds decide to rain on our parade.”

“Have a good one!”

“You, too.”

As they began their twenty minute drive up to the mountain summit, Marcus received a call from David’s cell phone.

“David! What news?”

“Marcus, listen. Let me talk fast. The virions are truly sinister. I don’t know specifically who, where, or why…that much which I could probably surmise…but, I have found out their purpose. Someone is planning to distribute the virions by aerosol, more specifically over cities using chemtrails. The ‘DNA package’ is a program to continually manufacture what this document calls ‘the pacification agent’ developed by a private biotech company for the client which is called here, ‘a UN subgroup’. We need a geneticist to determine what the program does specifically – the damn compartmentalization methodology is working against us here – but what is absolutely clear in these documents is that the target is the general population of Earth, beginning with Seattle and New York simultaneously in the first phase, followed by other major US cities, and then eventually the whole world. Phase one is scheduled to start on October 1st – that’s one week, Marcus. I’m emailing scans of these documents to you as I speak.”

“I don’t believe that, David. Are you serious?”

David hastened his speech as rapid typing could be heard in the background. “Marcus, I’ve never been more serious. There’s potentially worse news for you and Suzanne. There was a preliminary testing program in small remote and/or rural areas across the country which is about to come to completion. One of those remote areas…is Orcas Island!”

“Shit,” Marcus uttered.

They do multiply like a natural virus with the help of reagents added to…[static]…Whatever you do, don’t…[static]…[silence].”

“Crap, I lost him,” Marcus said.

“Cellular phones don’t work on the mountain above a certain point. Do you want me to turn around,” Suzanne asked?

“Yes, let’s try.”

They turned around and drove down the mountain until Marcus had at least one steady bar of signal strength on his cell phone. He attempted to call David back, but there was no answer. He was able to reach David’s home answering machine and left him a message.

After repeating everything David said to Suzanne, they both agreed to abandon the trek to Mt. Constitution in favor of regrouping at Suzanne’s house to contact Emily and her geneticist friend, and to make plans to expose this undertaking as swiftly and as cautiously as possible. It was no longer merely a mystery, but a public health threat and, perhaps as David was testifying to them on the phone, a conspiracy of global domination.

On the drive home Suzanne and Marcus discussed the weirdness of the people in town that day. Everyone on the island was a stranger to Marcus, but he still felt like he had walked into the twilight zone. Now that David mentioned something called “the pacification agent,” Marcus was beginning to see a correlation. And Suzanne was now beginning to wonder if the suspect artificial virions designed to affect humans could indeed be the very culprit diminishing the population of sea stars.

To be continued…

© 2018 Michael Armenia