VI. The Fog of War
Seven minutes in heaven. That’s what Kacie liked to call the mandatory decontamination protocol. Before or after a hard day’s work, this was the time she took to prepare her mind for the coming tasks or to let adrenaline drain and wash away. On any other day, the shower and rinse helped her to focus.
Today, it was all Kacie could do to keep her entire body from shaking let alone keep her thoughts in a straight line. She did her best to follow protocol: she made it into the chemical shower as quickly as she could, scrubbed the site of the suit’s tears, and then rinsed. She put the backpack she had taken with her through the procedure as well, just to give her unsteady hands something to do. She de-gowned and went through the whole procedure again, checking herself for cuts, punctures, abrasions, anything she might have missed in her panic after the struggle with Michael.
Michael. There was a curious thought. Kacie ignored the water and the blaring fire alarm and her own more silent but just as insistent internal alarm that told her to go go go and get the hell out of there, and she just focused on one word: Michael.
She’d seen him next to Dr. Nakatomi’s dead body, a death which was no accident, for sure. She’d seen him in the freezer containing restricted stock, stuffing a backpack full of the world’s deadliest-known microbes for … for what, exactly? To sell? To whom? Terrorists, rogue nations, and rival corporations came to mind, but she didn’t think Michael had those kinds of connections … did he?
Of course he didn’t. She nearly slapped her forehead for having such a thought. Michael was clearly working with someone else … someone who had a gun and wasn’t afraid to use it … someone who was likely still in the building.
Kacie turned the water off and a deeper sort of panic set in. This wasn’t just a murder and a theft, though that would be enough to rattle anyone. No, this was something much bigger.
She grabbed the backpack, which suddenly felt much heavier now, and exited carefully into the locker room. Finding it empty, she quickly dressed and put on a pair of latex gloves and a facemask for good measure. It wouldn’t protect her anywhere near as sufficiently as the hazmat suit, but it would sure make it easier to move about the facility; she thought she might just need that advantage.
Kacie grabbed her belongings–her purse and jewelry–which she stuffed into her new backpack as if she was merely packing for a day trip and not trying to keep vials of lethal superbugs from breaking open. As she put her phone in her pocket, Kacie thought briefly about calling for help, but the electromagnetic shielding of the BSL-4 would prevent that. First, she needed to get to safety; then she could fill the authorities in on what was happening.
She made her way to the locker room’s entrance and noticed the linen carts with their little cartoon man in overalls giving a thumbs up.
That’s how they got in, she surmised. Fat lot of good that information did her at the moment, but any detail she could remember later on might be useful.
Kacie peeked out through the door and found the hallway entirely empty … and suddenly silent. How long had it been since the fire alarm had turned off? It was odd that she hadn’t noticed it but odder still that it had been silenced entirely. The silence seemed almost louder than the alarm had, somehow, as if every footfall she made was amplified now that the blaring sirens weren’t drowning out every little creak and rustle. She kept low, crouching beneath the lab windows to stay out of sight should anyone be watching from inside them. Kacie made her way to a rack of blue hazmat suits awaiting decontamination, hanging at the upcoming intersection of two hallways.
Gunshots brought her up short. Kacie had barely registered the sounds when a part of the wall in front of her gave off a puff of plaster dust. One of the legs of the hazmat suits kicked out as if stirred by a strong breeze. It was all very surreal and her mind couldn’t quite reconcile the odd sights and sounds with a narrative that made sense. Instead, Kacie followed her instincts and got the hell out of there.
She backpedaled as quietly as she could until she found herself in the corner where the hallways met. The door to a preparatory lab was on her right. Keeping her eyes forward, Kacie opened it and let herself in just as a pair of boots appeared on the other side of the rack holding the shot-up suits. She heard a burst of static over what she assumed was a handheld radio before closing the door behind her.
The room was dimly lit by the hall lights, but she could find her way around it blindfolded. And while that was certainly a strategic advantage, the fact that the room was roughly 100 square feet and had only one exit was not. Kacie was trapped, and a potential killer was a scant dozens of feet away in the hallway outside–she glanced up to the blinking security camera in the corner of the room–and he likely had help from someone who knew exactly where she was.
A wild idea took her and she followed it without question. Kacie duck-walked over to the room’s sizable freezer and pulled out a carton of dry ice, thankful that there was no light inside the freezer to give her position away. She ripped the carton open and spilled its contents into a 55 gallon biohazard bin, which she wheeled under the emergency shower’s wide brim. Kacie unshouldered her backpack and looped its straps through the triangular metal handle of the shower. Gravity did its thing. A torrent of water rushed into the big red drum and hissed when it made contact with the solid carbon dioxide block below. A rolling fog began to build in the bottom of the vessel; Kacie just hoped it happened fast enough or her ludicrous plan would be in vain.
There was one last necessary item: Kacie let her hands search for the right bottle on a shelf fully stocked with all sorts of reagents, solvents, salts, and cleaning supplies. When a shadow passed in front of the lab window, she ducked down, hoping like hell she’d grabbed the right one. A twist of the bottle’s cap and brief, passing whiff of its contents told her that her hands had done their job. Normally, she’d use a drop or two at a time for viral preparations, but this situation called for more liberal quantities.
With her preparation complete and the room filling with dangerous levels of CO2, Kacie held her breath–and her soaking-wet shirt sleeve–and sank beneath the fog, keeping as still as a corpse.
The gunshots in the hall hadn’t been his moment. West convinced himself that it had been a test, but it was not his moment. His moment was yet to come. His story did not involve a retelling of a time he got scared by a scrap of cloth and shot at thin air like a madman. No, that was not his destiny. Malanan didn’t understand. West had already turned his radio off to silence the non-believer and rid himself of the man’s incessant questions.
What were all those shots? What happened? Did you see him? Is he neutralized?
West had simply said, “I’ll handle it,” and turned the radio off. The sound of rushing water was coming from a nearby room, a room that, as far as West could tell, had only one way in or out. Easy peasy.
He held his gun out in front of him as he opened the door. The rush of water grew louder as a thick fog rolled along the floor to meet him. It was cool, not unpleasant at all. There were no noxious fumes as far as he could tell. He moved slowly into the room, his body stirring up eddies in the fog as he did. He groped for a light switch with his free hand, but the room was so small as to render it unnecessary.
A backpack? One of ours? How did this get here?
It was hanging on a handle beneath the shower that was raining a torrent of water into a big red bucket and throwing a chemical fog violently over its side. At the moment his fingertips freed the strap that had been secured around the metal handle, it dropped to the floor and the water shut off. In the relative quiet, he realized his error too late.
A wild shape flew up out of the fog and lunged at him. It clung to his back and wrapped its arms around his head and face. One of its hands was soaked to the bone with a pleasant but strong-smelling liquid that made his head swim and his lips go cold. Wesley thought for the briefest of moments that Mulgrew’s darkest prophecy had come true, that one of the facility’s experimental apes had gotten loose and was attacking him. The fear swept through him. He fired the gun wildly as he tried to shake the abomination from his back, but to no avail. It clung there with its sweet-smelling hand until Wesley fell to his knees. Darkness took him completely as he fell beneath the fog.
Kacie’s heart thundered in her chest. In the fog at her feet was a gunman who was not much younger than she was. He wasn’t dead, however, but if she left him to suffocate in the fog he soon would be. But if she merely propped him up without restraining him, he’d be free to come after her again, her or someone else. Her eyes flicked to the far wall and another insane and yet practical idea came to her.
She accidentally kicked over the bottle of chloroform that was lost within the fog on the floor, silently cursing herself since she very well might have needed it again. She didn’t waste much time worrying about it, however; if this guy was working with others, surely those gunshots would have gotten their attention.
Kacie reached out and gripped the big metal handle sticking out of the far wall. It levered out and over to the side, drawing open a porthole of a door that looked in on a metal shelf that rolled in and out of a chamber on rubber wheels. She pulled the table out and hoped it would hold the man’s weight. Luckily, he was slight of build, not much sturdier than she was. Kacie stooped and flipped the man onto his back, and then folded him at the waist so he was sitting up. She’d done this maneuver a handful of times in her life, first in her ROTC training, then more recently when some drunk friends found themselves too smashed to sit up straight let alone stand. Kacie never thought she’d be using the fireman’s carry to stuff a gunman in an autoclave for fear of him getting his hands on deadly pathogens, but there she was.
She shouldered the unconscious man and walked him to the waiting table. His body hit the metal surface with a thunk and his head soon followed after, banging against the table with what certainly would have been a painful amount of force had he been conscious. After some maneuvering of limbs, Kacie slid the table back into the autoclave and secured the door. There’d be no opening it from the inside. Kacie found herself feeling a tiny bit guilty, despite the circumstances.
Gathering herself, she searched the floor for the backpack and found it and the dropped gun in the process. Kacie stuffed it into the pack. She had no designs on using it, even if it had any rounds left, but it was better to keep it out of their hands just the same. Before she fled out into the hall, Kacie grabbed a permanent marker from one of the room’s drawers. She wrote on the metal autoclave door DO NOT TURN ON! MAN INSIDE! and felt just the slightest bit better about his fate.