‘Black C.A.S.T.L.E.” Chapter XI – The Taste of Medicine

When Mulgrew regained consciousness, he found himself in a very precarious position. Very precarious, indeed. He had been laid out on an operating table of some kind. He was in a lab, that much was clear, but beyond that he had no clue what had transpired in the time between being ambushed and waking up. Mulgrew did a quick body check to ensure that everything was still intact. Finding himself whole, he swung his legs over the side of the table and stood.

To his left were row upon row of empty cages built into the wall. To his right was the only door out of the lab. He threw himself at it. The handle turned, the latch clicked, but the door didn’t budge, not a centimeter.

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“Black C.A.S.T.L.E.” Chapter X – Mild

Michael Martin knew the protocol for working in the staging room, he’d just never done it before. He knew that working in a -20°C environment required insulated boots, thermal overalls, a thermal jacket, gloves with thermal liners, a hat-and-facemask combo, and goggles. He had none of these. They were just a few feet out of reach beyond the staging room door piled neatly on the racks against the far wall.

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“Black C.A.S.T.L.E.” Chapter IX – Phase Two

The outer gate. The inner gate. The loading dock. The doors leading from the parking lot into the western security wing. The doors leading from the cafeteria to the patio. The front entrance. The lobby. Every hallway on each of the facility’s 16 floors. There were cameras for each area, often covering every conceivable angle. They were all displayed in miniature partitions across Stan Kijek’s many monitors. He had seen the hero take out West. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Malanan and Strong now combed through the labs for him. But only one scene held his attention at the moment.

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“Black C.A.S.T.L.E.” Chapter VIII – Eye in the Sky

Kacie had the sense that as soon as she stepped out into the hallway, the gunman’s pals would be on her immediately. And they might have if she hadn’t overheard their radio transmission echoing through the otherwise quiet hallways. They were coming for her; that much was clear. As Kacie glanced down the wide, empty corridors that ran away from her to the south and to the east, promising no sanctuary, she also noticed the cameras positioned at regular intervals along the ceiling. There was no doubt in her mind that these guys, whoever they were, had taken over the security room and now had eyes all over the facility … but there was one place in Black C.A.S.T.L.E. that even security was blind to.

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“Black C.A.S.T.L.E.” Chapter VII – A Drama Unfolds

VII. A Drama Unfolds

“People of the world, I come before you today to bear witness to the beginning of the end! Who better than the First Horseman to deliver this message to you? For some, your long suffering is almost at an end. For many, your transgressions will soon be reflected upon you ten-fold by Holy Light! Prepare! For the promised doom is at hand!”

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“Black C.A.S.T.L.E.” Chapter VI – The Fog of War

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.

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“Black C.A.S.T.L.E.” Chapter V – Ahead of Schedule

V. Ahead of Schedule

Every floor in Black C.A.S.T.L.E., from the top-most level packed with HEPA filtration equipment and deionized water supply for the BSL-4, to the bottom-most basement level housing the facility’s backup generators, water-treatment tanks, and forgotten equipment stored away in dark and dusty corners, burst into a dazzling display of light and sound. Strobe lights meant to point the way toward exits and catch the attention of the hard of hearing now threatened to blind onlookers, each of whom experienced a brief but unvoiced concern regarding epileptic seizures. The blaring, repetitive blast from each and every one of the facility’s redundant horns grabbed hold of any individual in the vicinity who was still blessed with hearing, but it left them covering their ears for fear of losing that ability.

All in all, only a handful of people were left in the building to hear the fire alarm. A lucky few on the lower floors took it as their cue to pack up for the night and look forward to enjoying their weekend. For others, like Rick Benes, it was a nuisance that made an already long night ahead of him even longer. For Stan Kijek, the fire alarm was another sign that the plan was in danger of coming off the rails.

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“Black C.A.S.T.L.E.” Chapter IV – The Thief in the Freezer

IV. The Thief in the Freezer

Kacie feared that she recognized the dead man even before she could see his face. He had the hair, frame, and attire of Dr. Nakatomi; no one else who had clearance to this floor or this area of the facility remotely resembled him. She probably should have retreated, should have backed right out of that refrigerated room and called down to security or 911 or anyone. Instead, she reached out for the dead man, her biohazard suit complicating her movements, slowing her down. Her triple-gloved fingers were useless when it came to discerning any slight pulse that might still be present, but Kacie tried anyway. And though her attempts to check the man’s vital signs came to no avail, she did confirm two things:

The first was that this was definitely Dr. Nakatomi. His body had slumped toward her as she turned his head and now his dead, confused expression looked past her masks and goggles and into her eyes, asking simply, Why? The other thing she confirmed is that someone else was in the freezer room beyond Nakatomi’s body, a thought that had not occurred to her and would not have at all if she hadn’t caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye. The same rushing air that drowned out any sounds outside of her suit also covered up her own laborious movements. But when she looked past Nakatomi’s body through the open doorway, the thief in the freezer turned toward her.

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“Black C.A.S.T.L.E.” Chapter III – The First Horseman

III. The First Horseman

Stan checked the locker room outside the BSL-4 for any stragglers who’d stayed behind to burn the midnight oil. Seeing none, he allowed Malanan and Strong to push their linen carts into the room to set about their business. As soon as the door closed behind them, Strong, speaking conversationally and without a hint of urgency, said simply, “All clear.”

From each cart, a man burst out from under the piles of scrubs, gloves, and masks, scattering the previously orderly assortment of items onto the floor. The first man came up gasping for air, his stringy blonde hair whipping back and forth around his lean, bony face. His glasses were fogged. The tendons of his hands stood out against his pale skin as he held the edge of the cart in a death grip. As he swung first one lanky leg and then the other over the side, he was spitting out a string of complaints in his high-pitched, frenetic voice before his feet even hit the ground.

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“Black C.A.S.T.L.E.” Chapter II – Josiah

II. Josiah

No matter how many times she’d taken the mandatory chemical shower while wearing her positive-pressure “blue suit,” Kacie Lin still felt like a B-movie astronaut who’d stumbled into the world’s smallest car wash. Jets of disinfectant pelted the stiff plastic suit from all angles. That sound, coupled with the ever-present rush of breathable air flowing through the ventilation hose, reminded Kacie of trips through the car wash she’d taken with her dad when she was little. Those scary noises, the lunging and rotating shapes just outside the car windows, had been turned into fun stages and characters in a sort of game made up by her dad to help her overcome her fear.

The chemical shower, however, was far from a game; it was procedure, and a deadly serious one at that. Kacie could let her mind wander for the three-minute duration of the disinfectant shower and the four-minute rinse, but a slip-up in gowning out of the BSL-4 could be just as deadly as one made gowning in.

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