After clearing security and going down two different elevators, I guessed that I was at least 500 meters underground. The corridor had heavy steel blast doors with key card locks and biohazard signs every 50 meters. The deeper into the facility that we went, the higher the biohazard protection level of the labs that lined the corridors.
I asked the guard what the USAMARID needed from the Dept. of Homeland Security and he told me that answer was well above his pay grade.
We finally entered a lab marked BL-5 and I followed the guard inside. We had to strip and leave our clothes in a locker. We passed through a chemical shower and another steel door to a locker room where we put on surgical scrubs. We passed through a final airlock where a computer sat in front of the final door.
The guard told me to go log into the computer in the corner of the room. He then excused himself saying that this was as far as he goes. The computer asked me to input my name, rank and agency:
McGrath, Scott Special Agent Department of Homeland Security.
The computer then asked for me to to state my name, surname first. "McGrath, Scott."
The computer screen turned green and displayed: Voice Print ID verified. Agent McGrath clear for access to Pandora.
The big steel door popped open and I entered the lab.
A group of eleven men were waiting: two scientists and nine other agency representatives. As soon as I entered, the senior scientist said, "Good. Now that Homeland Security has arrived, we can begin."
"Gentlemen. Everything that you see here is above top-secret. The code word is Pandora and its very appropriate."
"Several years ago CIA and NSA received intel that there was a BL4 bio-weapons lab somewhere in the tribal areas of Pakistan just across the border from Afghanistan. They also found that over several years that appropriate equipment for such a lab from Germany, France and Russia had been diverted from legitimate projects and had ended up somewhere in Pakistan."
"We've been looking for that lab ever since. We finally found it two weeks ago. As soon as we located the lab, a joint team of SEALs and Delta Force operators were sent in on a covert raid to bag and tag it. What we found was horrifying. Please follow me."
As I looked around I saw a few familiar faces: Colonel Will James was a troubleshooter for the Joint Chiefs. SAC Gwen Heller was FBI's Senior Agent in Charge of their counter-terrorism desk. The imminent epidemiologist Dr. Tom Ross of the CDC was looking very troubled. Most of the others I had never seen before but their very bearing screamed military or spook.
We entered a room with black boards and display monitors. The scientist continued the briefing: "We found that the lab was working on a number of weaponized pathogens. All of the familiar horrors like Anthrax, Marsburg and Smallpox and one that we've never seen before. It is a chimera virus that we have code named Pandora. It's why we're here and it may be the scariest damn thing I've ever seen in a bioweapon."
"Pandora began as a flavivirus called VEE or Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus. Through years of manipulation and gene splicing, it has become this."
The big monitor in the room came to life and showed an electron microscope image of a spherical virus.
The scientist said, "This little horror is a blood borne pathogen that attacks the brain. It causes fever and chills and then the victim falls into a coma. While the victim is in a coma the virus continues to attack the brain and eventually destroys the cerebellum while leaving the lower brain function essentially in tact. At this point about a third of the victims die. The rest wake up from the coma and attack the very first person that they see. They continue attacking everyone in site until they are killed."
"When we raided the lab, three of our guys got bitten and succumbed to the infection. This is what they look like now."
The scientist pressed a button that caused a panel to retract. Behind thick glass were three people that had once been elite special forces operators that had been transformed by the virus. As soon as the panel retracted and they saw us, they attacked the glass with such violence that the glass was smeared with their black blood. It was clear that anyone that those things got their hands on would be in very serious trouble.
The scientist caused the glass to retract and continued: "Bites spread the virus. That's how our three operators got infected. The infection runs its course from 24 to 36 hours. They are vulnerable to tasers and gun fire. They retreat from fire but attack pretty much everything else: people or animals. The virus leaves the brain in a continuous state of rage that causes their hostility and the only thing that will stop them are kill shots. You can shoot them to pieces but unless you get their head, spinal cord or their heart they just keep coming."
"We brought you here to see it with your own eyes. This is no bullshit. Pandora is real and we know that the terrorist have it. It's only a matter of time before they use it. When they do, we had better be ready because the epidemiology of this thing is terrifying. Once this virus is established and starts spreading by secondary vectors like mosquitoes, there simply aren't enough bullets to stop it."
* * * *
"Look, I know you weren't really ready to talk to me, but I have to tell you what has been going on. Just listen to me ..." the voice on the phone said.
I sighed at my cell phone. The clock by my bed read two oh-three am and I had a crazy woman on the phone.
"Jessie. How nice to hear from you. What gave you the idea that I didn't want to talk to you. Not taking your calls, ducking your voice mails or actually hiding from you?"
Now it was Jessie's turn to sigh. "Oh come on Philip. We've known each other too long."
"It's what you are saying girl. It's crazy. It is just like what the Army said in their press release: a gas was accidentally released that causes confusion and hallucinations."
"You are a smart enough reporter to know a cover story when you see one."
I said, "I have to admit that it is a little convenient. But what you are saying. It just sounds so crazy. Look humor me. Tell me the story again."
Jessie cleared her throat and said, "Yesterday morning at about three am, the paramedics brought us a psyche case. He was fighting and biting and appeared to be seriously injured. We put a bite mask on him and put him restraint table. He had some kind of seizure and flat-lined. We called a code blue. We gave him direct cardiac adrenalin and shocked him at least a dozen time. We pronounced him dead at 3:25. The only ID we found on him were a dog-tags. We called our contact at the Yuma Proving Grounds per established protocol."
"We got busy with a car crash. Bunch of kids. Nothing serious but cuts, bruises and a broken arm. We had just cleared it when this corpse started going ape shit."
I said, "This is the guy you pronounced right?"
"Yeah. Dead. Stone cold, dead as a post. No heart beat, no respiration. Nothing. Starts growling and thrashing around under the sheet. If he hadn't been restrained, he would have gotten up."
I said, "This is where we have a problem with your story. Corpses don't get up."
"No shit Sherlock. This is where it gets weird. We figured that we had made a mistake and pronounced him too early. We went back to work on him but got no vital signs. No heartbeat, no blood pressure. We gave him enough Valium and Atavan to put an elephant on his ass and he was still fighting us. No. That not right. He was fighting to get at us."
"That's when the Army showed up, shut down the ER and came up with that bogus cover story. They gave everybody vague threats and discouraged us from talking to the press."
I paused for a moment and said, "That's one hell of a story but I've got nothing solid. What can I take to my editor?"
Jessie said, "You remember the paramedic from last night?"
I said, "Yeah."
"He was bitten. He here now and he's in the same shape as the guy from last night. On top of that, he bit his wife and kids and they are in isolation with high fever and we've got seven more bite related cases. Dr. Lawrence just pushed the panic button and called the CDC and I don't mind telling you I'm scared shitless."
My cell phone went dead and a recording started: This conversation has been terminated for reasons of National Security. It repeated itself and my phone went completely dead.
* * * *
Law & disOrder
"Oh my god, I think I killed him!" , the young woman shouted holding a shovel.
I answered, "I'll check. Stay back. Where is he?"
She said, "In the back yard. He surprised me on the patio. He tried to grab me but I smacked him." Her hand were shaking as she held the shovel at port-arms.
I pulled my Beretta and clicked off the safety and pulled my mag-lite.
I keyed my radio and said, "This is one-L-19 responding to complaint of a prowler, I'm Code 2 at 145 Pine Valley Highway. 10-70 reported in the back yard. Roll backup."
Dispatch responded, "One-L-19, Code 2, any available backup please respond."
I wasn't holding my breath for back up. As crazy as things were going that night, I wasn't really expecting any for a while.
"Mam- go inside and lock the doors. I'm going to clear your back yard."
She disappeared inside the garage door with her shovel and I heard the latch snap.
If it was illegal aliens in this neighborhood it would be a first. The surrounding terrain was some of the roughest desert in the South West. This little berg was a well-to-do far flung suburb of Tuscon way out south of Red Rock.
I went around the side of the house and found the gate to the back yard standing open. There was a diffused blue light coming from a bug-zapper on the other side of the fence. As I passed the gate there was a distinct smear of dark blood. Thought to myself- it looks like she got a piece of him.
As I went into the back yard, I yelled, "Pima County Sheriff's Office! let me see your hands!"
I swept the yard with my mag lite and saw nothing on my first sweep. It was a nice place. It was a fenced in back yard with a pool, pool house and tool shed. The tool shed door was standing wide open and a light was on inside.
As I swept through the yard, I saw a shadow move in the tool shed. I came around, put the mag-lite and Beretta on the door of the shed and ordered, "You in the shed. Come out and let me see your hands."
Suddenly a big guy in army fatigues, combat boots and a holstered side arm appeared in the door of the shed. The flash-light beam in his face made him stop. There was blood on the side of his face and he appeared quite pale. What bothered me the most was the blood on his hands. Holy shit. What I stumbled into?
On seeing his side arm I yelled, "Drop the weapon. Drop it now!"
He started coming toward me and began accelerating.
I yelled one more time, "Drop the weapon and get on your knees. Last warning!"
He continued to accelerate toward me.
I shot him twice, center mass and he fell on his back.
I keyed my radio mike and said, "Shots fired, shots fired, suspect down! I need a bus and a supervisor now!"
I approached the suspect, leaned over and took the pistol out of his holster. As I was securing his weapon, the suspect opened his eyes and made a grab for my legs.
"Stay down! There's an ambulance on the way!"
The suspect rolled over, got up and came after me again.
I took two more shots and dropped him again.
He got up faster this time. I put two more rounds in his chest and another two in his head. This time he didn't get up.
I looked around at the scene and there was blood and gore everywhere.
Somewhere in the night I heard the boom of a shot gun. The shot gun went off three more times and there was a blood curdling scream.
I heard the gate creek and I turned to see another messed up person shambling into the back yard. The man was in his thirties and had a bloody neck wound.
I ordered him to halt but he kept coming for me. I shot him twice once in the chest and one in the head. As soon as he had dropped a horribly injured Mexican man came through the gate snarling and running toward me. I shot him twice and went dry. I quickly slammed another magazine into my gun and decided that it was time to get the hell out of Dodge.
As I ran through the gate there were two more. I shot them both and sprinted for my cruiser when I saw dozens of those things coming toward me. I jumped in the patrol car, fired it up and ran over three of them as I ran like hell.
What had just happened? Why had I just left the scene of a shooting and run over three people? What the hell was going on? What was wrong my my freaking bullets? Nobody got up after taking center mass shots at close range. Nobody.
I listened to my police radio as unit after unit reported gunfire, officer involved shots fired and people acting crazy. The world was falling apart for no apparent reason.