The outermost gate of Black C.A.S.T.L.E.’s perimeter could bring a 15,000-pound vehicle traveling at 55 miles per hour to a dead stop. Any vehicle that tried to breach this gate by brute force would end up looking like a crumpled soda can.
Weighing in at 5,000 pounds and idling at exactly zero mph at the gate was the McClean’s Medical Waste Removal van, nondescript except for its sign featuring a cartoon man in white overalls giving the thumbs up. Two men dressed in similar uniforms, their chest patches bearing the McClean’s name stitched above their own, sat in the idling van. Their planned assault on the facility was not built on shock and awe, but rather patience and precision.
The design of the building before them was even less remarkable than that of the van: there were no signs advertising its purpose, the sixteen floors of beige concrete that formed a rectangular tower, broken up by the occasional window, wouldn’t be winning any architectural awards, and the imposing multiple layers of defense made the place feel more like a prison than a scientific research facility.
There were very few facilities like Black C.A.S.T.L.E., which is one of the reasons it posed such a lucrative opportunity. Built to embassy standards, the facility stood at the center of a featureless field of flat grass and concrete paths, 150 feet back from the perimeter fence, in which exists only one way in or out. That’s where Malanan sat in the driver’s seat of the service van, its front bumper just a few inches from raised concrete bollards. His right-hand man Harry Strong sat in the passenger seat like a cocked hammer, ready to fire should the need arise.
After six long months of hauling dirty scrubs and medical waste out of facilities like this one–six months spent researching, planning, rehearsing, and rehearsing again—they were finally putting their plan into action. Those six months of practice had been in the minor leagues; this was the World Series.
Malanan and Strong cleared their credentials through an exchange over the intercom. The concrete bollards receded into the ground. Malanan navigated the van forward at a moderate pace along its straight and narrow path. Vibration sensors in the perimeter fence behind them engaged once more as the bollards rose back into place. Cameras covering every square inch of the grounds tracked their progress from a forensically satisfying number of angles. Black C.A.S.T.L.E.’s security team prepared for their arrival, one of their last duties late on a Friday afternoon.
Malanan brought the van to a halt at a second gate, one that physically locked the vehicle in place a safe distance from the facility should the driver have terroristic inclinations. Strong took a calming cue from his boss, who had reminded him time and again during their rehearsals that even fire trucks, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles must go through the same process before entering the grounds of Black C.A.S.T.L.E. In this case, protocol actually worked in their favor.
At the second gate, a pair of security guards emerged from their guardhouse that jutted out of the side of the main facility like a castle’s gatehouse. Malanan rolled down his window and gave the guards a wave. They were both solidly built, though one has clearly seen a few more years; he approached the van with a sort of tired confidence that suggested he’d done this routine about as often as he’d taken a leak and considered both acts equally mundane. The other showed his youth only in the fewer lines on his face and less accumulated mass around his waistline, though his eyes were keen and active, searching every shadow for an enemy combatant.
This was the only moment Malanan has been dreading for weeks. Security systems, computers, cameras, these were all machines that were beholden to a certain set of rules and programming. With human beings though, you could never know for sure what they’re about to do. By this time tomorrow, Malanan knew that he would either be dead, in prison, or a very rich man.
“Afternoon!” Malanan said, holding out his work order and clearance papers. Strong handed his over as well. Malanan noted the guard’s nameplate read Stan Kijek; his partner, who was circling the van and checking underneath it with a mirror on a stick, was too far away to double-check his name. “So where’s the regular guy tonight? Got a hot date?”
Stan smiled as he flipped through the documents. “Lenny got a pair of tickets behind the goalie, right on the glass, so they call ol’ Stan in to cover his ass.”
“I hear ya,” Malanan said. He jerked a thumb over toward the younger guard finishing up his sweep of the van and wearing a self-serious expression. “They got you babysitting, too?”
“Lenny neglected to tell me I’d be training a new guy on his shift, but Ben’s alright. Former military and all that.” Stan eyed Malanan and Strong a moment longer, and then looked over to Ben, who nodded. Stan handed back their documents. “You boys are all clear. C’mon through and we’ll let you get to work.”
As Stan and Ben disappeared back into their guardhouse, the locks beneath the van disengaged and Malanan gave it just enough gas to coast into the facility’s loading dock. He backed it up so that the ramp was an inch or so away from the van’s rear doors, then turned the vehicle off. Stan and Ben were there to greet them again as they hauled a pair of carts marked with the McClean’s logo and laden with freshly washed, pressed, and folded linens, boxes of gloves, and sterile packages of surgical scrubs off the van.
“Where you headed tonight?” Stan asked.
“Top floor,” Malanan answered. “BSL-4.” They followed Stan through the lobby, stopping just before a dual iris-scanner and a keycard reader outside a heavy-duty door at the head of a corridor.
“Here, Ben. Why don’t you take a crack at it?” Stan said, stepping out of the way for the guard-in-training. Ben Bostick sidled his way past the carts and stood in front of the scanner. He stooped just a bit to line his eyes up. The lasers did their job and confirmed his identity. A quick pass of his keycard disengaged the lock on the door leading into the corridor.
“Nice work,” Stan offered with a smile. “Now why don’t you grab us a couple of coffees and head back to the control room? I’ll show these fellas the way.” Stan held the door open for Malanan and Strong and their overladen carts. Ben stood there, staring at his trainer.
“You sure you don’t want me to come with you?”
Stan chuckled. “Son, relax. This isn’t Kabul. I think I can handle a couple of laundrymen should the unlikely need arise.” The heavy-duty doors closed with Ben on the outside looking in.
Now with Stan in the lead, the trio passed through a series of body scans, metal detectors, and chemical detection machines. They lit up like Christmas trees, but Stan waved them on through. They kept the small talk to a minimum. The dull roar of the carts’ well-worn tires filled the hallway with a reverberating echo. They paused briefly to let a group of boisterous co-workers pass by on their way to happy hour; one of them told Stan to come join them at Ernie’s when his shift was over. Stan smiled and waved and joked about it being 5 o’clock somewhere.
Another dual-iris scanner and keycard reader barred the trio’s access to a segregated bank of express elevators that only connected to the top floor. The 16th floor of Black C.A.S.T.L.E. housed the highest-profile work in the facility: an FDA-approved chemistry lab, a Silicon Valley-transplant nanotechnology lab, the maximum containment Biosafety Level 4 lab, and an executive office suite built to make billionaires feel at home while showing off the research their donations were funding. While the 15 floors making up the rest of the lone tower were filled to capacity with bio-tech companies, computer research firms, and other such small, start-up, incubator groups, the BSL-4 and its support systems were specially designed for handling the nastiest of the microbiological nasties known to man. And with a simple scan of Stan’s eyes and a wave of his keycard, Richard Malanan and Harry Strong were granted access to the worst that the facility had to offer.