by O. J. Anderson
part 1 of 2
They can smell it a mile out. Like someone spilled an enormous bottle of Drakkar Noir across the desert. It’s giving Jack and his crew one big collective, throbbing headache. As he puts his window up, they pass a black Jeep with two security guards sitting inside. Farther up is a silver Cadillac, a man who looks like he just walked off a golf course, and the front gate to Dyer Air Base.
The man with the Cadillac introduces himself as Bob Masterson, Lead Project Manager. He says, “What we’re dealing with inside is a weapons-grade super-fungus. Project Havoc. Everyone’s been evacuated except myself and the two guards back there. Well, all but one person that is; our Senior Research Fellow, Dr. Hugo von Brink.”
“What’s his status?” Jack asks. “Taking a dirt nap?”
Jack clarifies: “Is he dead?”
“Sort of. He was consumed by the fungus. Actually, he dove into it.”
Jack takes out his toothpick and flicks it to the hot desert floor. “Now why would he go and do a thing like that?”
“Project Havoc stalled out a few months ago. It was a great fungus, extremely deadly and nearly indestructible, but it wouldn’t do anything. Just sat there. We couldn’t make it go. It was very frustrating.”
Jack says, “So now this guy’s making it go.”
“That’s correct. It needed a brain; Dr. von Brink gave it one.” As Bob is talking, a gigantic bumblebee, the size of a UH-1 helicopter, goes buzzing overhead.
“What in the...”
Bob looks up at it. “Oh, that’s one of the giant insects left over from Project Fury. The idea was to use a 707 chemsprayer to lay the juice over an area of interest. The insects were supposed to mutate and destroy everyone and everything in sight.”
“So why isn’t that one destroying anything?”
“Yeah, that’s the problem. We haven’t been able to figure out how to make them attack.” He shrugs. “They do attack sometimes, just not as maniacally as we hoped they would.”
“Mm,” Jack says. “I might have to take your bugs down. Don’t want to risk any of my men getting stung by one of those things.”
Bob chuckles. “It’s not so much getting stung as getting run through by a ten-foot javelin. But, yes, feel free to do to them what you like.”
Jack turns to the vans and shouts, “Pop the hatches and get the vans set up for air defense. Shoot anything that flies, slithers, hops, or walks on more than two feet.”
From his crew come high fives and grunts of approval. Roof hatches fly open and .50 caliber machine guns are mounted. Belts of ammo loaded. Thumbs up.
“As a matter of fact,” Bob adds, “Feel free to do whatever you want to the entire base. Flatten the whole thing for all I care. I’m done with this business. I’ve got a golf tournament in San Diego next week and I have no plans to return.”
Green light for total destruction. That’s all Jack Creed needs to hear. Facing the vans again, he points a finger skyward and makes a slow loop over his head. This signal, however, is not the one to fire up the engines; this one means the Circle of Doom. He tells Bob, “Why don’t you come with me and I’ll explain what’s about to happen.”
“Sure thing,” Bob says.
As they head over to the van, Jack asks, “So why does this place smell like cheap cologne?”
“That’s the fungus,” Bob says. “It was aroma-engineered not to smell like a fungus. Granted, it’s not the best smell in the world, but you should have smelled it before.”
Two vans have moved out in either direction along the perimeter of the airbase. The rear doors are open and one man in each van is laying cable while another jumps out at each stop and sets down a black cone-shaped charge angled ten degrees off center. They place the charges pointing away from what will soon become the center point of the Circle of Doom, and the cable is connected.
The giant bumblebee does another flyby and the .50 cals open fire. Bullets tear into the bee’s big fuzzy thorax and rip off huge chunks of meat. Large drops of goo — a mustardy yellow sludge — drop from the big bee. Shards of wing section fly off like shattered glass and the bee makes a brrrt-t-t-brrrt-t-t-brrrt sound like a biplane sputtering into a crash-landing.
It slams into the desert somewhere out of sight.
“I hope that doesn’t attract the giant fire ants,” Bob says.
“I’m not too worried about it.” Jack takes a black box the size of a toaster oven from the back of the van and says, “I’m putting out two-dozen destabilizing shaped charges around the perimeter of the objective. Those cones will fire atom-smashing neutrino missiles one hundred meters below the surface.
“When the missiles blow they will destabilize the molecular structure of the earth under the base, turning it to the consistency of confectioners’ sugar. A vacuum will be created and the entire air base will be sucked into the pit, thereby causing the powdered earthen-matter to billow upward where it will then restabilize as it passes through the ion beams fired from three ion cannons mounted to each of the vans.
“The restabilized earthen matter will re-form into a semblance of its former self — rocks, dirt, sand, and whatnot — and fall back into the pit, burying the fungus and the air base.”
“Wow,” Bob says. Over fifteen years he’s been putting all his time, money, and effort into BioWar weapons development, and now it’s all about to be undone with good old-fashioned neutrino missiles. There’s a fitting axiom on the tip of his mind, but he can’t recall at the moment what it is.
* * *
From somewhere inside the base: “Help!” A woman’s voice. “Help me!” Faint and distant.
Jack puts the stink eye on Bob Masterson. “Thought you said this place was clear.”
“I, uh, I thought it was. The evacuation was by the book. We’ve done it a hundred times. Everyone got out but Dr. von Brink.”
Jack disarms the Circle of Doom. Calls to his crew, “I need a five-man search and rescue team. Smith, Jones, Lucky, Walters, and Doc. Get the biohazard suits on.”
Armament will be the Pk-12 semi-automatic shotgun with a twenty-round drum. The load will be what the crew refers to as “Jack’s mix”: a number 5 all-purpose round, followed by a hollow-point “gravedigger” round in which the slug has been scooped out like an asymmetrical shot glass; these flatten out to the size of teacup saucers and tumble through the air like the toss-up coin at the start of a football game. They may not kill the fungus, but they will splatter it across the walls nicely.
“Let’s move.” Jack takes Smith and Lucky to search the east side of the base. Jones, Walters, and Doc to the west. Radio check.
Dyer Air Base is a small one-stripper out in the middle of nowhere. A couple of hangars. A commissary. Billeting. A row of mid-sized rectangular buildings. And a few smaller units. Jack hears the woman’s voice again, coming from the row of what are probably the laboratories. The smell becomes more extreme.
Before they enter the first building though, they are attacked by gnats the size of sheep. Four of them come scurrying around the building with dubious intentions. Ugly buggers. Sharp, jagged features and gnarly faces.
Jack touches off a quick two rounds. The number 5 hits the lead gnat in the face and sets him back a step or two. The gravedigger round cores it like an apple, sending a couple of gallons of gnat guts flying out its six o’clock.
The three men open up on the rest of the gnats, holding nothing back. And when it is over, all that’s left are some wings, scattered sections of leg and pincers, and a bad mural of gnat innards stuck to the red brick wall.
The whump whump whump of the .50 cals echoes towards them from the northern end of the base. Jack and his men reload as they enter the building. They hear the girl crying for help from somewhere inside.
The first floor hallway has five heavy steel doors on each side, all with electronic keypad entry systems. At the third door on the right, they hear the girl inside, but she can’t open the door. Jack tells her to be cool and stay back. Lucky slaps two petards onto the door, above and below the keypad. Ten seconds. Foomf! The door opens.
The room contains various intricately constructed machines, the purpose of which Jack can’t even begin to guess. Some are mounted on stands. Other, larger machines are floor-mounted. Lots of tubes and cylinders and suchlike. The room also contains a girl cowering in the corner. Pale, almost translucent. The men approach cautiously; this isn’t their first search and rescue op, and it wouldn’t be the first time they were suckered.
Jack doesn’t help her up. Just asks for her name.
“I’m Kelly,” she says. “I work in the commissary.”
“Uh-huh. And why didn’t you evac with the rest of the gang, Kelly?”
“I don’t know. I was so scared. I was delivering coffees with Tootsie and the sirens went off and everyone just started running. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I couldn’t find Tootsie and some guy told me to wait in here until he came to get me and he never came back.” Kelly starts crying and waving her hands in front of her face as though drying her nails.
“Some guy told you to wait in here, huh?”
“Yeah,” Kelly says, wiping her eyes.
“All right,” Jack says. “On your feet. Let’s move out with a quickness.” They head for the door.
“But what about Tootsie?” Kelly shouts from behind.
Copyright © 2007 by O. J. Anderson