Grassy Area Off-Road
Empty dirt roads and barren fields of dry grass were alight with the searching high beams of military grade helicopters. Like buzzards stalking a fresh corpse, Blackwatch had been circling the massive expanse of land stretching nearly two-hundred miles. Their mission: find and eliminate any and all biological threats. They were ordered out there nearly three hours ago and have found nothing. Hundreds of soldiers on foot and in off-road humvees combing the brush have nothing to show for their efforts besides their own shattered war toys and the bodies of their own men. These are the remnants of a battle between a few of their rank and the intruder who attacked their Vandenberg Air Force Base; James Heller. He had come for their quarantined VIP, the virus-born child, Pariah. For what purpose they did not know. What they did know, however, was that their General was very uncomfortable with the idea that their attacker may still be alive and the fact that their VIP was still missing.
"Squadron F22-3, Report. Over," an exhausted and aged male voice said over the radio of a Blackwatch Sergeant patrolling the countryside.
"Nothing, but dirt and dead, sir. Over," he replied.
"Continue sweep," the voice responded. "Over."
"Roger that. Out."
The sergeant sighed and tilted his head back in disappointment. One of his subordinates recognized his disgruntlement and was more than willing to show his irritation. They've been out there since the sun was up stomping through highway blacktop, to hills of grass. They can't take much more.
"Pratchett is losin' his goddamned mind," the lower ranking soldier started. "We've been trudgin' up and down these fuckin' hills for hours. Ain't shit out here!"
The commander slid a hand under his standard issue night-vision goggles and squeezed the space between his eyes.
"Yeah, yeah," the commander started. "But he has a right to be worked up. You see this damage out here? The things we are fighting did this. Tore through our shit like wet toilet paper. They are dangerous. We gotta find them before they get somewhere populated."
"I get being worried. But they clearly ain't here no more. You think I'd be hidin' in the shitty Californian hills if I had jackbooted gunners comin' for me? Hell no! I'd be on the road or on a plane outta here. I heard about their shapeshiftin' bullshit. They coulda' left with one of the earlier crews and we wouldn't know!"
The commander readjusted his head gear and stretched his tired back. The heavy supplies they brought were starting to taking their toll. There is no telling when he may pass out from overexertion.
"You're right. But General Pratchett is in command and if he wants us out here- we stay out here. Besides, no car or plane has been through here since we've come out. We own the air and the ground now. At the very least we could find what direction they may have fled."
The subordinate threw his hands up in frustration, "This is fuckin' bullshit!"
One-hundred feet above them a helicopter flew over carrying a crew of six men. They gathered together at the beginning of the call to action ready and willing to kill. They never got to join up in the Ops during New York's outbreaks so they were highly ambitious in letting hot lead fly now that the chaos came to their front yard. When they first hour was filled with gearing up to be a second shift scout they lost some of their vigor. When the second hour was used coasting along the highway staring down at empty, black pavement, they lost a little more. When they were told their third hour would be much of the same, their rush of adrenaline was completely swapped with the staleness of disappointment and sore butts from sitting in the metal seats of their Blackhawk.
They came over the charred grass of the earlier bombardment just as their radio called out from Pratchett's war room in the city.
"What have you found? Over," General Pratchett asked.
"We're empty, sir," the pilot replied. "Over."
There was a long uncomfortable pause as the pilot waited for a reply. His men shuffled uncomfortably in their seats hoping for anything other than mindless flying for more hours. If it wasn't for the mechanical hum and thump of the Blackhawk's blades you would've heard a pin drop. Someone then would have proceeded to shoot it from reflex from their pent up hostility.
"Continue recon. Over." Pratchett replied.
The helicopter filled with the sighs and vulgarity of the crew. The pilot lifted a closed fist to silence the dissent of his men before responding to the already agitated General. When the noise died down, he replied to Pratchett with a, "Roger that." The radio nearly cracked when he slammed it back into place sharing in the frustration of the men riding in his vehicle.
Blackwatch deals in dirty work but this particular work in the ranks was absolutely the filthiest. Men in hazmat suits nearly four dozen in number surrounded the area of Pariah's wrecked Day Care truck. They were accompanied by an equally numerous amount of armed guards who too felt the itch for battle die out over the search. They road there together in packed humvees, several trailer trucks, a few cranes and several powerful flatbeds in tow for the arduous task of clean up.
During training, it's much less of a hassle to remove the dead from the battlefield. Perforated mutant dogs or a few bastards who had the misfortune of their rifles jamming on them was a simple six man at the most job. You'd come in, identify the body, place them in a bag and ship them to the furnace or in the case of infected, send samples to the lab for storage, then send them to the furnace. But when dealing with the super soldiers, you needed nearly everyone on call. One D-Code when fully grown could weigh up to five-hundred pounds, maybe six-hundred if he was already an above average sized guy before the procedure. The new E-Codes were closer to eight-hundred on average, and Pratchett wanted each body sent to a lab for study. That meant each several hundred pound body part they discovered needed to be lifted into a truck and brought back to his emergency lab, meaning hours of back-breaking labor for the crew.
"He said two, right?" a yellow hazmat suit-wearing crew member asked his comrade.
The one being spoken to looked over and found his co-worker kneeling next to a bush a few yards ahead.
"Uh, yeah," he replied walking over to the shrubbery and squatting crew member. "Two blue-boys on the road, another handful back at the base, but we don't have to touch them until morning."
"Got half of one here."
When he got close he saw what his friend was talking about. There, laying in the dirt, was the remains of an Evolved Super Soldier. It was legless and missing an arm, but all else matched up with what was common with his type. The serum they use to stay functional, though darkened from drying, had soaked into the soil. Just another detail they'd have to burn away once the body was moved.
"That still makes two," the now observing cleaner said. He looked back at the rest of his group and waved a not-so-enthusiastic hand in the air. "Gonna' need a lift over here! We got a heavy!"
Los Angeles, California
Emergency Base 01
"Our men are sweeping the major cities, sir," Deacon said to his commanding officer whose back was towards him as to keep his eyes on the wall of monitors aligning the War Room. Pratchett has stood there almost the entire time since his retrieval and it was completely obvious that he was pissed. Many a squadron leader walked into this low-lit, fifty by fifty room, only to be choked out after delivering vexing news. Deacon and Santos never displayed disgust to Pratchett's rampages; they were often warranted in their eyes. Those who failed to uphold their duties should be removed from said duties, either through repositioning or bullet. However, they always tread with caution. They were very useful to him, but any sign of incompetence on their part could have the General's anger set on them.
"So far there has been no discovery of any biological abnormalities. Nor have any hospitals reported any above average instances of flu-like symptoms."
Pratchett, without taking his eyes off the screens asked, "And the boy?"
Deacon looked over to Santos, who met his cautious gaze with his usual scowling mug.
"Still missing, sir."
Prattchet threw a solid fist and a monitor exploded in a shower of sparks and glass.
"This..." he started, venom dripping from his clenched teeth. "...does not bode well."
"It could mean that Heller is dead, and that the child is still on the run," Deacon tried to reason.
"Or it could mean they are both in hiding," Pratchett noted while retracting his hand out of the monitor. Surprisingly, the glass left his fist uncut. The General took a slow methodical breath through his still injured nostrils and composed himself. "How many of our men have made it back from New York Zero?"
"Nearly fifty percent with the others coming in breaks so they can break down their bases before moving inland. The military has already been ordered to move into the cities and are being repurposed for our use."
Pratchett slowly turned to face his most trusted colleagues. Even though the lighting on the displays were dim, the bags and worry-lines of his aged face were still ever prominent, highlighting the stress he was going through. Prattchet, tired and worn from the day, propped himself on the digital display table in front of him. He gave another deep breath and clutched at the migraine he gave himself. Running deadly ops never gets easier. It takes its toll the longer you stay and Pratchett has been in it for almost fifty years. He gave a low grunt. To him, it was a sigh, to Deacon and Santos it sounded like a gorilla growling or a bull huffing at the ground before a charge. With a slide of his finger over the virtual display he opened up camera feeds to several Blackwatch Emergency Bases, including the one housing Dr. Myers, who was methodically looking through a microscope. In the six other windows, soldiers were shown standing at attention and being looked over by physicians for fighting health.
"I have hand picked a couple dozen more within our ranks to undergo the E-Code procedure," the matured commander said. "They will meet with Myers under your surveillance. Then the will be sent out into the cities to assist in defense of our major locations. I want the majority of our search crews pulled in, but leave a company of men on the outskirts. We haven't located the remains of Zeus, Heller and Mother so we need to be tightly knit in case they resurface. I've told our analytics crew to disperse drones and viral detectors throughout the cities to assist in the search. If the boy is still alive, he'd most likely be nearby."
"Understood, sir," Deacon nodded. Santos, with his naturally mute personality, gave an agreeing head nod and a deep rumble of his vocal cords.
"I will inform all other commanders to deploy heavy crews into the streets and to begin checkpoints." Deacon said.
Both saluted their commander and then promptly left the War Room.
Downtown Los Angeles, California
"You should be sleeping, doctor," said Dr. Pierce, a leading geneticist.
"No, no. Having too much fun," Myers replied without his eye leaving his complex microscope.
Pierce has worked with a lot of crazies in her young life. In fact, some would say she's one herself as she has spent countless hours studying and recreating Dr. Myer's experiments in preparation for this day. However, the actual man himself was odder than anyone she's encountered. Since he stepped in, well was dragged in by Deacon and the scary quiet one, he has been at his station working without a word said to his assistants. On top of that, no one here would ever describe what they do as fun. Revolutionary to some, dangerous to most, but never "fun". Although she too knows the feeling of late night research. She felt the older gentleman would need his rest, especially after his outburst from earlier that day.
"A few hours ago you were cursing our existence. Now you enjoy being here," she asked.
Myers lifted a vial from his pack which contained an orange luminescent chunk of what appeared to be skin up to the bright lights above. He twirled his wrist a little to rotate the specimen, then placed the vial in a machine container connected to his scope. Then went back into studying what was under his lense.
"It's about privacy. I value my privacy. And no, I don't enjoy being here- my old lab was much more cozy," he said motioning a hand to the cages that housed human and mutated individuals. "I just enjoy working."
Dr. Pierce raised an eyebrow.
"Don't you find it hard to work with people you can't trust your discoveries with?"
"Not at all. I mix and test everything. You all run me samples and watch for reactions. And whatever advancement are made will be awarded to me. Simple."
Pierce folded her arms and furrowed her brow.
"Sounds like you're very prideful."
"No... I just refuse to let my work be stolen from me again."
"Stolen," she questioned?
"Before your time, my dear. Besides you wouldn't understand."
Pierce scoffed and took an aggressive stance.
"If I can understand the intricacies of a man-made plague, the reworking of DNA to make physical and mental changes, and recreate some of your procedures I think I can understand the concept of thievery."
Dr. Myers blankly looked up from his scope and swiveled in his stool to meet her gaze which was now beaming hot fire at him. He put a hand under his thick goatee and ran it down to a point and back up again. He took a deep breath finally choosing the words he wanted to say.
"You ever work for Gentek," he started.
Pierce was taken aback, "Uhm, most of us have, yes."
"Then you have worked with the thieves."
Myers was unmoved by the confused expression that twisted up on Pierce's olive-colored face.
"You worked at Gentek which means you worked under McMullen and his pet, Mercer. Well, let's just say they were given a large amount of my work to 'improve'," Myers made air-quotes on improve. "All of this of course without my consent. In the old days, I was the leading geneticist. Then McMullen comes along and everything I did gets pushed to New York by the peabrains in the brass."
Pierce lowered her guard and her expression turned to pity. It's a dog-eat-dog world in most STEM careers. Being a brown-skinned female hasn't opened a lot of opportunities to her. She's lucky they recognized her talents right out of college, or she'd be living with her parents. Though working under Gentek and then directly with Blackwatch was less than stellar, she was still happy to put her diploma to use. Hearing another fellow scientist got shafted hit her empathy buttons hard.
"Oh... wow, I'm sorry. I never knew."
Myers waved away her concern.
"Eh, your not supposed to. All of this is classified as they say. I'm only telling you because well, they need me. You all...," he motioned his hands around him to the other scientists working in the facility. "... not so much. Hell, from what I heard they gutted out the old facility and everyone in it. You being here before that makes you very lucky. So I imagine you'll keep this under your hat unless you like the idea of bullets inside you, and you will stay out of my business."
With that the old doctor turned back to his microscope and Pierce was left stunned and mouth agape. It was a full five seconds before she recouped and turned away to storm off back to her station. Back to his duties, the good doctor penned down a few notes on a pad at his desk. These recordings of the activity going under his scope read:
- Introduction of living blood cells: Produced rapid infection and multiplication. Expected results. Results are identical with skin cells, bone cells, muscle cells and all other organic units.
- Introduction of stem cells: Produced rapid infection with no apparent multiplication. Abnormal for virus. Requires more study.
With a press of a button on the side of his scope the samples switched out and in came the skin sample he examined earlier. Under the casing of the device, a microscopic part of the infected flesh was removed and projected under the lens of the microscope. On his pad Myers jotted down:
- Introduction of DX-1118C (Direct Mercer Sample):
Back to his lens, he witnessed something... unprecedented. Like all other samples of Redlight and Blacklight that they had, the virus went for assimilation of the foreign organism it encountered- even when said organisms were other pathogens of another strain. Myers has been testing a sample of Heller's infected being under his glass; a souvenir from his bombing earlier that day. With this specimen, he has witnessed it go through the usual motions as any other sample they've used. But when interacting with Mercer's strain- another gift from the battlefield- something new had taken shape. Heller's specimen became inert almost instantly. Mercer's virions then proceeded to inject themselves into Heller's now inactive bodies causing them to rapidly die off. In any other case, the virus would replicate, but this is pure destruction. All footage taken from the New York infections never hinted at Mercer's physiology having this effect.
Myers looked up from his glass and retreated to his notes. Something like this could not be, not with a virus with as high as an infection rate as this. He's sent the virus on different forms of itself before, and every time it was the same; the Blacklight virus would take over and multiply. Now it's just coding the other virions to burst. He flipped through pages and pages of his own written research and it all added up the same except for now.
The doctor placed his notes down and raised a rigid finger in the air.
"I need all research done on the Evolved sent to me now," he boomed.
Every lab coat and gun-toting goon turned to him in a query.
"I said now, people! I am on to something!"
The scientists, still confused, slowly revved up to collecting their vials and papers and brought them to Myers' station. Dr. Pierce took her sweet time, as she's not really favoring Myers at the moment.
"Good, good. Now leave me," Myers ordered his assistants.
Like dogs, the slunk away heads low, back to their stations, disappointed in being left out of decent work. Sifting through the other papers given to him, Myers couldn't hold back the smile that slowly crept upon his wrinkled face. He was on to something. Something that may lead to a new discovery and put him back on top with the so-called peabrained brass.
Los Angeles, California
Emergency Base DE-10
Lab Cold Room
In the basement level of one Blackwatch's city-wide miniature compounds was a metal plated morgue style room, fitted with cold temperature pumping ventilation and a built-in incinerator. The purpose of this tiny thirty-by-thirty room was to dump the dead infantry or extract critical pieces from infected hosts. The cold helped keep choice parts fresh while leaving the virus alive. Then it could be sealed and shipped to wherever else it was needed. Only two members were on call as the rest loaded up to pick away at the hillside for the dead. They sat on stools awaiting the return of their crew preparing operational tools.
"Jack ain't comin' today?" a hazmat-wearing lab assistant asked after looking over scalpels. "I didn't see him leave with the others."
"Oh, you didn't hear," replied his colleague, also clad in hazmat gear, who was tapping away at his computer logs. "Dude, got ganked by the ugly one,"
"That Santos fucker? Jesus."
"What did he do?"
"Looked him in the eye- the bad one."
"Yeah. Deacon told us all not to do that, but Jack was new. How would he know? Whenever those two come around my eyes go straight to their toes."
"Ain't that the truth. Poor Jack, he was so young. How did he go?"
"Oh man, it was not quick. Dug his thumbs into his eyes and banged his head on the concrete until everything went wet. Not pretty."
"God damn it. Sometimes this job can be a real bitch."
"Aye, preaching to the fucking choir."
"I remember first joining up here after leaving the service. Back then it would be a stern talking to, a reprimand, then death. Now the loony bastards go straight for the throat."
"I hear ya."
The computer chimed with a rapid alarm.
"Well, there it is. Time to work," said the tool cleaner.
The computer user hit a few buttons and pressurized double doors opened to a modified forklift. In the seat was another hazmat worker, where at the lifting end was a flatbed carrying two body bags. The driver slowly worked into the cold room and positioned the bodies onto one the special slabs that laid in the middle of the room. The driver then backed the lift outside of the cold room.
"You know what gets me," asked the tool guy as he stepped over to unzip a bag.
"What," asked the other.
"That we haven't been told what killed these guys."
The driver came back into the cold room and hit a few buttons on the door, locking in the cold. Vents within the wall revved up and pressurized the room accordingly. "Man, it's dangerous, whatever it was," the driver began. "Bodies, trucks and tanks all destroyed out there."
"Think it was one of those big ones? I know a guy who was out in Manhattan. Said there were these disgusting, pink ones that were like gorillas. Just as strong as a super soldier," the computer operator worried.
"Nah, they're probably unstable. Remember the first batch of these guys? Used to explode all over the place. Something about their antigens being too rampant or some shit one of the eggheads said," one said while grabbing for a scalpel. "They used to go crazy and break shit before 'pop'."
"Could be," the driver finished as he came over to join his colleague at the operating table.
"What are we cutting out?"
The PC user typed on his keyboard until a notice came on screen.
"They want brains, hearts, and as much of the blue stuff as we can drain. Burn the rest."
"Well then," the driver said as he began removing the body's face mask, "Let's get it going."
All of this felt way too familiar. In another life, one he stole memories from, he awoke on a slab in a morgue in New York. Those were things a man he hates experienced. Now, in an ironic way of fate, he gets to go through the same thing. He bided his time until the moment was right and now was about the best time to break character. It went like most other frightening encounters of this nature. He shoved an entire hand into the nearest guy and took him in to replace his limbs. Then he jumped on the others before they could reach the doors to escape. Nearly eight hours wasted waiting for his body to repair itself has left him very, very angry. The heavy doors of the cold room were parted by the hands of James Heller. The screeching and whining of the metal alerted the crew of cleaners who stood out on the basement floor. When the saw the mug of the unknown man, they each tried to rush out for assistance. Like a shark in a school of fish, he came at those who weren't fast enough to get away and took them into himself in a flurry of blood and jagged claws.
The rest managed to push up into the elevator that would take them to the main floor. Panicked and powerless they cowered in the large people mover until it finally rose the sixty feet up to the main flooring of the base. Only one made it out before the cage of the elevator went into free fall back down to the basement. The crash was thunderous, it echoed throughout the spacious area garnering the attention of each gun holding soldier. The screams that followed from the cleaning crew being torn apart was what made them aim their weapons.
"He- he's not human," yelled the lone survivor tripping over his feet to get as far away as possible. He weaved passed soldiers, APCs and trucks to get up and out.
"We have hostile in base DE-10," radioed several combatants.
A dozen soldiers moved in close to the elevator shaft and took a knee to prepare their aim. However, he was too quick. Some saw the twisted scowl on his face, others just a flash of red and black. Heller jumped up the elevator shaft and with a flick of his wrist, they lost their heads. He landed with a hefty thump breaking concrete under his heels and retracted his shimmering whipfist. The heads of the now deceased troopers fell around him in a shower of gore. The rest opened fire and his skin went alight with the sparks of ricocheting rifle rounds. He took to the air again and pounced on a young shooter who thought his distance would help him. Heller's palm met the Blackwatch soldier's face and he let his weight and momentum do the rest. His head cracked on the pavement like an egg on the edge of a bowl, and Heller consumed him for sustenance. More bullets cracked off around him and he ignored their light bumps against his body.
"Heavy fire, heavy fire on him, now," one screamed.
The familiar 'choom' of rocket launchers came from one hundred feet to his right. Reflexively he began the morphing of his body. Everything from his fingers to his rear deltoid hardened and expanded. Large, spiky, studs grew on the outside, as his arm stretched into a crescent shape. The fast-twitching fibers of the muscles under his shoulders grew extremely powerful and sensitive. When the nose of the earliest rocket made contact with his fully formed shield, his muscles responded with a wide sweep. The other was given a shoulder check to the side. One rocket impacted near a large grouping of soldiers and took them out in an incredible 'boom' while the other found the side of an APC and set off a devastating chain reaction down the line of armored vehicles. As the bombers frantically tried to reload, Heller was upon them, taking up one in each hand and clapping them together. His hungering tendrils then did the rest. The hail of gunfire and shouting continued as James danced around the compound, consuming soldier after soldier after soldier. Each one dying a horrific death with the devouring of their remains as the chaser. Soon there was only a handful left, they retreated close together and continued fire.
"Throne, we have tango primary right on us! Send backup to my position, please," one of the remaining yelled into his radio. In front of him, the viral being that cut through them menacingly walked up to the group, letting them empty their magazines fruitlessly.
"You've been read, DE-10," Pratchett's voice came through. "Dropping the hammer on your position."
The radioing soldier freaked, "What?! No!"
"Over and out," Pratchett spoke. Then the call was ended.
As Heller now stood less than twenty feet away he heard the familiar sounds of bombing. They rumbled through the base, getting louder and louder. Soon the walls shattered in fire and the ground cracked under his feet. The soldiers he stalked disappeared under falling rubble, their screams silenced with wet slaps. He only got a glance at several rockets coming in from above before he hid under his shields. Outside the thump of helicopter blades grew quiet under the powerful explosions of thermobaric bombs. Three of these gunships fitted with these powerful munitions fired continuously at the base until all went flat and nothing, but dust rose from the area. If there were civilians nearby they were most likely taken by the pressure waves or choking under the wall of debris. If their own men were still around, well, they knew what they signed up for. For more than a few moments there was silence. The choppers hovered above the street, main weapons still trained on the rubble for movement. When nothing came up, the leading gunship radioed, "All clear." Just as the pilot began to lower his handset, his gunner fired the main cannon. The pilot looked up just in time to see James coming at him, hammerfists ready.