Paralethal

What happens when rogue military nanotech infests the body of Dannie Morgan, paralegal and single mom? Mayhem.

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3. PARALETHAL--Chapter Three

Chapter Three

 

    Rain had begun to fall in big, isolated drops by the time Matt Trevor got back to the Hockessin soccer field, barely in time to catch the last ten minutes of the championship game. The issue wasn’t really in doubt: the Hurricanes were up 3-1, but the New Jersey team had proven unexpectedly tenacious, refusing to fold and playing strong defense. The Hurricanes usually put up at least six or seven goals, but the stocky little Latino playing keeper for the other team was aggressive, never hesitated, and--unlike most goalies this age that Matt had watched--didn’t berate himself or psych himself out when a ball got past him. He just doubled down and played harder.

    “He’s already stolen two from Tim,” one of the soccer moms on the bleachers told Matt as he walked past. Only the turf field had bleachers, two battered three-tier affairs purchased years ago in the bankruptcy auction from some private school whose name everyone had forgotten. The bleachers were the preserve of the hard-core Hurricane parents, the ones who drove BMW or Mercedes SUVs to the games, and forked out for summer camps and private coaches in pursuit of college scholarships for their kids and bragging rights in the eternal Hockessin re-play of their own high school dominance games.

    Matt meandered past them, exchanging casual greetings, but heading toward his customary spot along the fence near the opposing team’s fifteen-yard line. He told himself it wasn’t superstition that always made him watch games from the end of the field in which Tim played, but an excuse not to have to sit with the moms on the bleachers (several of whom were obviously on the make for extra-curricular activity with a cop), or hang out with the dads who kept trying to cozy up to him.

    But, really, it was superstition.

    Tim was currently on the far side of the field, just opposite the New Jersey bench, hanging out a few yards past midfield and waiting for his defense to clear the ball. Matt could tell by the way he kept dancing on the balls of his feet that his son was anxious to get that ball; usually by late second period he’d already scored at least twice. Today the little keeper had deflected one close shot and tackled the ball on a breakaway to take away a sure goal. With only minutes left, even though the game had been effectively won, Matt knew his son could only think about not being shut out for the first time this season. He had a competitive edge in his personality that Matt couldn’t quite understand.

    “Boy look good.”

    The speaker stood behind him, close enough that Matt could just feel the breath on his ears when he spoke. Normally a cop’s situational awareness kept anyone from approaching him this closely, unnoticed, but this was Damon. Damon didn’t approach; he appeared.

    Matt clenched his fingers in the chain-link fence to avoid flinching or turning around to face him.

    On the field, a fullback intercepted a pass and lofted the ball in Tim’s direction.

    Several responses ran through Matt’s mind, but they were all variations of “What are you doing here?” and he knew exactly what Damon was doing here. Somehow it just hadn’t ever occurred to him that the other man would come so far out of his normal hunting grounds.

    “You thinking how this nigger even know where Ho-kess-in is.” He drew out the syllables.

    Tim was running, a one-two-three step into lift-off as he went high over a Jersey midfielder to head the ball toward one of his own players.

    “Nigger know everything about you, bitch. Everything.”

    Jeremy Foerster settled the ball by catching it on his chest, looked right to throw off his defender, and poked it left through a tiny hole toward the sideline where Tim was already streaking down the field.

    Matt felt an envelope--stuffed thick with cash, he knew--slide into the pocket of his hoodie.

    The keeper sprinted straight for Tim, as if he already knew there was zero chance the striker would pass off. Tim, a half step ahead of the fullback, kicked in the afterburners and closed on the box in front of the net.

    “Shipment come in Wednesday, Trinity Vicinity. There be a shootin’ that night at Canby Park gonna need everybody’s attention.”

    Tim clearly judged that he wasn’t getting around the keeper, so a single step ahead of the other boy’s dive he popped the ball up in a lazy arc toward the goal.

    “I don’t work on Wednesday.”

    A collective “ahhh” sound issued from the bleachers as the ball caught the right corner post, rebounded straight down to the ground just inches outside the line, where the New Jersey sweeper cleared it out of bounds while he staggered into the net himself.

    “Sure you do. Tough break that. Maybe need to send the boy to another summer camp. Good thing you can afford it, hey?”


 

* * *

 

    In her Sanctum (the double office suite on the top floor of Building 2246), the Director summoned the Faerie Queene. This, to her mounting irritation, was not as simple as it sounded. She must first process her request “for an audience” through a series of three different proxy servers. Then, arriving at the “Domain of Ice,” she had to select a character and outfit that character with a variety of weapons, charms, and supplies before setting off up the road to the White Crystal Palace. Before reaching the Adamantine Gate, she’d have to overcome three challenges without losing too many Hit Points and dying, which would require starting over at the outfitting stage. Lose three times and the program kicked her back out through the proxy server trail.

    I have to play a goddamn game to speak with my lead programmer, she thought bitterly.

    She hated games. Especially role-playing computer adventure games.

    There had only been nine different challenges so far, and except for the farting dragon she’d mastered them in their several variations. Occasionally she lost to one of the obscure variants because she didn’t pack a particular tool or the right charm, but usually--unless the dragon showed up--she could complete the sequence in fifteen to twenty minutes.

    The Director pushed back an errant strand of hair behind her ear as her left hand quickly tap-tap-tapped her load-out. An MBA from Brown, followed by thirteen years of climbing the corporate ladder at Crowinshield before the ‘Big C’ tanked, she thought. Then the jump over to Arsenal, and another five years--two of which I spent in that hellhole, Sierra Gambon. Forty-four years old--still a kid in corporate years, really--and if she brought in the EVO Project. …

    So I’m here playing games with the fucking fairy princess.

    She dispatched the troll, out-riddled the gnome, and captured the wood-sprite.

    One small piece of satisfaction--the one chink in the Faerie Queene’s armor that the Director had found--came from realizing that the programmer had almost mystic capabilities, but far less creative imagination. The troll was a knock-off of the CGI in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the gnome had been copied from Robert Stevenson’s 1967 production of The Gnome Mobile, and the sprite had been based on Navi from The Legend of Zelda game. She wasn’t precisely sure how this knowledge helped her, but her instincts told her it mattered. Like it mattered that the Faerie Queene herself was really a CGI of Tilda Swinton as the White Witch of Narnia from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, but that the voice appeared to be that of Gwyneth Paltrow. Somehow it mattered.

    But not today.

    “The EVO-Nine escaped containment,” she said without greeting or other preamble. “I need to know how to track it. Them.”

    Tilda Swinton looked down her nose at the Director, and laughed the sarcastic laugh of Pepper Potts in Iron Man III. “You were sloppy, and i’m supposed to fix it?”

    The Director bit her lip--physically as well as virtually.

    “We were not sloppy. It apparently staged a fluid transfer during a sparring match with two of the EVO-Eights. Blood-to-blood contact during a clinch--where the security cameras didn’t pick it up and we didn’t find it until we did a frame by frame scrollback.”

    The Faerie Queene closed her eyes and said, “So it hopped into an Eight. A small colony, presumably. Would have taken about thirty-six hours to expand enough to take over, at which time the kill-switch in the original host was triggered. Makes sense. You’re scurrying around trying to figure out why the Nine had a cascade failure, and nobody is looking at the Eights. But how does it get from there to outside your facility?”

    Think of this as a rehearsal for explaining this fiasco to corporate if this bitch doesn’t have anything that will help me, the Director thought. After a few seconds, she said, “We were busy doing a post-mortem on the Nine, which Shackland and I agreed should not be forwarded upstairs yet. There was a scheduled tour--VIP thing that I couldn’t avoid--for several of the attorneys doing our patent work, so I palmed the Eights off on them. One of them sneezed on Norton Oswald. He is--was--the ultimate stuff-shirted prick and raised so much hell with the staff that it didn’t occur to anybody--”

    “--that an EVO-Eight wouldn’t have any biological reason to sneeze. Ever.” A cold smile. “I must say that I’m almost … proud. That is inventive of my little pets.” She put a finger aside her nose in an affected gesture of calculation. “That’s undoubtedly an even smaller colony than passed by the blood transfer. So it would probably take at least four days for it to hit critical mass. How long ago did this debacle take place?”

    “Last Monday--six days ago. We deduced what had happened fairly quickly, but there wasn’t a pretext for getting Oswald back into the facility. So after a consultation with Sub-Major Christiaans, we sent out two Fives to retrieve him this morning.”

    “Obviously that went famously, or you wouldn’t be here begging for my help.”

    The Director said, “They got him, all right. Unfortunately, they killed him in the process. But he was still warm enough for Shackland to determine that the Nine had already deserted him. Recently. Maybe just a few hours earlier.”

    “So you’re hoping that if I’ve a way to track my creation you can get into position--hopefully with a bit more finesse--to recapture it before it completes replication?”

    “We should have a window of at least thirty-six hours. We’ve got Oswald’s schedule, and he was OCD to the eyebrows, so the opportunities for fluid transfer would not have allowed for large enough quantities for quick instantiation. We should be able to narrow it down before that person figures out he or she is infected, or before it can transfer again. If you’re capable of tracking it, of course.”

    “Infested,” said the Fairy Queene.

    “What?”

    “Infested--not ‘infected.’ Imprecise language leads to fuzzy thinking. And, yes, there is a way to track the little beastie down, but I think you’ve got a timing issue. With a large enough fluid transfer the Nine could go active in four to five hours.”

    The Director waved this idea off with her virtually gauntleted hand. “That would take at least three to five cubic centimeters of fluid. Norton Oswald was not the kind of man to throw up on somebody.”

    “Ah, possibly true,” admitted the Faerie Queene with a wry Tilda Swinton smile. “But if it were to make him … aroused?”

 
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