By D. Glen Cardenas (c) 1994
Part 2 - Modern Animal Instincts
Whenever the outer office door slammed it meant Major Willis was on his way in to see him. No matter how many times he bitched about his slamming the door, Willis did it anyway. Hunched over his desk, General Carson didn't bother to look up from the terminal display. He was trying to suppress a strong urge to gripe about the door once again. From now on he might as well let it slide. In a few more days both he and the Major would be dead along with the rest of his staff. The door was not important anymore. In fact, Carson was starting to believe that nothing was important anymore. Yet there he was, at his post in Turkey, dying.
"The last fly-over at 14:40 hours found few signs of life anywhere within an 800 mile radius of Tripoli. Cairo is without power and little movement remains, mostly aimless wanderings of the dying. Jordan is lifeless, so are Israel, Syria and Lebanon as far as we can tell. Central Africa is also contaminated with reports of deaths on a massive scale. Weather systems are pulling contamination into southern Europe and Asia, and reports of airborne traces of DDRST are coming in from Hong Kong, Japan, and traces are showing up at monitoring stations in South Africa."
"South Africa! How in the hell did it cross into the southern hemisphere so quickly?"
"They think migratory birds might have something to do with it. Besides, this time of year there's a lot of interaction between the weather systems over the two hemispheres. It doesn't take much of this stuff to do the job."
"Tell me about it!" Carson retorted. He shifted his weight from one cheek to the other as he cleared his monitor and set back in his chair. His hips were starting to really hurt from the distortion the DDRST was causing in his own bones. In a few days his ribs would twist into his vital organs and he would die. Nothing could be done to stop it. If his ribs didn't get him, his skull would. There was no way around the death sentence that contamination with DDRST carried.
"Not that this is of much consolation," Willis continued, "but the CIA has discovered who provided the chemicals for the DDRST program in the first place. It seems we have Conchem of New Jersey to thank for the shipments of raw materials to Libya via their Madrid office. This was, of course, in direct violation of the embargo. However, The justice department hasn't pursued the matter."
"You're right. It's very little consolation. I'd say let's shoot the bastards except that would be doing them a favor. Have any traces been reported state-side?"
"Not as yet, sir, although it only took 24 hours from the time of the explosion at the chemical weapons plant in Tripoli to cover most of North Africa and the Middle East. The contamination is making frightening progress. I find little to be optimistic about."
In one of his rare moments of not following strict formality, Willis dropped his hat in the corner chair and plopped himself down in the one across the general's desk. He lit a cigarette and released the first cloud of smoke with very thoughtful deliberation. So much for the official report. What was on his mind now was off the record. He looked up at Carson with what could only be described as a despondent face.
"A few minutes ago I was talking to one of the fellows that tracks the data from our weather satellites. He thinks the storm front over the west Pacific will carry enough of this stuff across to kill everyone back home within a week, maybe less."
Carson frowned a bit deeper at this news. "I don't suppose anyone has figured out a way to counteract the disease this crap causes?"
The major ran his hand through his thick yellow hair in a futile attempt to groom it into place. The general regarded him warmly. "The kid is exhausted," he thought. Everyone involved here was, not to mention sick as hell. But here he stayed, still doing his job when most of his staff had wandered off and given up. A good loyal soldier and friend he thought. Damn shame he's dying. Damn shame everyone's dying!
"So far, all the medical community has managed to do is name it. The official title is Accelerated Marfanoidal Cancer. Heavily effected areas have seen a total degeneration of law and order with rioting, looting, your basic mayhem. It makes it hard to offer medical assistance much less conduct any sort of research. It looks like we've really done it this time, general. I think the whole human race has just bought the farm."
"How is the administration handling this back home?" Major Willis sifted through some notes he had kept tucked under his arm and located a dispatch marked "Official Press Release - Center For Disease Control, Atlanta" and passed it on to General Carson. The general painfully reached for the dispatch then fell back into his chair to read it.
The contamination of DDRST caused by an accidental explosion at a chemical weapons plant outside of Tripoli, Libya has spread to encompass most of northern Africa. Results of this contamination have been wide-spread death from a condition called Accelerated Marfaniodal Cancer, a rapid deformation of the skeleton. The name comes from a milady known as Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder whereby the bones of a victim grow at a disproportionate rate relative to the rest of the body. It is said that President Abraham Lincoln suffered from Marfan Syndrome, although it has never been proven. Research historians have suggested that the remains of president Lincoln be studied using a new technique of nuclear emission radiography in an attempt to put to rest the question .....
"This thing doesn't say SHIT!"
The general tossed the dispatch into the trash can beside his desk and folded his arms across his well-tended stomach. He looked at Willis as if waiting for more information from him. Willis just threw up his hands in despair.
"Don't tell me the government is trying to hide the fact that the US. could soon be full of people dying from their bones collapsing into their guts. The press has to be saying something by now."
"Most experts think the contamination that reaches the states will be too week to hurt anyone. Those who say otherwise aren't getting much press; yet. Hell, sir, it's only been 52 hours since the accident. Outside of government channels, the information is still sketchy at best. CNN had seven people in the region and they're dead. No one else from the network field offices in the area had a chance to report in before they died too. Most people still think the trouble is confined to North Africa and western Asia. Recent reports of spreading are still too new and too classified to have been reported publicly. I'm sure that will all change within the next 24 hours as symptoms are reported in Europe and the Far East. After all, those who died so far were subjected to massive doses. We've taken a rather strong hit ourselves and I guess won't last much longer either. I suspect the rest of the world will go a bit slower."
"How much does the President know?"
"I'm sure he's up to speed on this, sir."
"I mean about the threat to the states."
"I don't know."
Carson threw himself back in his chair with the gusto of a man who knew he was about to start pissing some people off. "Put me through to the office of the joint chiefs."
"Perhaps Carson is over-reacting. Let's wait and see what happens over the next 48 hours before sounding the alarm. Hell, we could end up with a nasty panic on our hands if we're not careful. I'm up for re-election next year and don't fancy looking like an ass."
With that, the President passed the report back to his aid. Folding his hands across his desk, he looked up at the group of worried faces standing in front of him. He gave his famous "concerned but wise" look; the one he used so well when addressing the TV cameras during his press conferences.
"I assure you all that I'm ready to take what ever steps you might recommend as soon as we have more definite information. As it stands, most of my scientific advisors seem to agree that we are in no danger of being contaminated from airborne DDRST here in the states. If the situation looks like it will change, I'll be the first to call for action."
"But Mr. President, by the time we have clear evidence of danger it will be too late to act." came a voice from the group. Secretary of Health Miller Watkins stepped to the front and continued.
"No one could fault you for being cautious at a time like this, but at least allow us to inform local authorities that it may become necessary to set up large scale shelters with special air handling systems to..."
"Bull pizzle! What makes you think we can arrange for half a billion people to be sheltered for God knows how many months in controlled environments. Let's face it. We're going to have to ride this thing out and hope for the best regardless of the amount of DDRST that reaches this country. If worst comes to worst, people will die. That's all there is to it."
"Admiral Simpson has a valid point, Miller." The President set back in his chair and scanned the group of advisors he had assembled. He took a deep breath that he hoped no one noticed and continued.
"The best we will be able to do is attempt to evacuate the west coast as far as the mountains. Aside from that, let's hope and pray things will take care of themselves. Nothing will be served by causing riots like those taking place in central Africa. I say let's wait and see. I'll be here in the White House for the duration. Keep me posted. Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon."
That meant the audience was over. The group filed out of the Oval Office quietly, but once the door was closed there was buzzing among the members.
"Admiral, I can't believe he won't let us take some sort of preparatory actions. It just seems to make good sense."
"Miller, I understand your point but this is something we may not be able to fight. You also must keep in mind that the election campaign is already under way in the opposition camp. He has to be careful. The president wants to be re-elected."
"Well, who in the hell does he think will vote for him, the rats and cockroaches? That's all that'll be left alive by then unless we take steps to protect the population now."
The admiral stopped dead in his tracks and turned to confront this bleeding heart civilian and give him a quick lesson in the fine art of calculating acceptable losses.
"And how would you propose we do that? Sometimes knowing too much is more dangerous that knowing nothing at all. People may die. Lots of people may die. This isn't something that we can address just by sending a bill up to the hill and asking for funding. What's done is done. We can't do anything to change it. Panic would only cause more suffering. I think the president has the right idea. Don't alarm people unless there is clear and present danger. Then do what you can for those you can help and accept the losses."
His point made, Simpson continued down the hall alone. The rest of the group rounded the hall then split up to attend their separate business. Back in the Oval Office a man sat looking out onto the White House lawn. He noted the various members of the group driving off into the Pennsylvania Avenue traffic and wondered if it were really possible that by next week there would be no traffic at all; anywhere.
He started to curse the damn Arabs then thought it more appropriate to curse the greedy SOBs in New Jersey that sold them the crap to begin with just to put a few more bucks in their collective pockets. Perhaps it was the system that should be cursed; the system that rewards those with no morals and punishes those who try to blow the whistle. Finely, he contemplated the justice in the extension of the human race and the question of whether or not it was for the best. After all, he thought, we as a species have done little more that destroy everything we've touched from the time we came out of the trees and made our first tools. Maybe it was time to give the world back to God and let him try again.
A few blocks away, Senator Pat Brownson picked up the phone and dialed a privet number into the Pentagon. On the other end a young Corporal answered.
"Charley, this is Senator Brownson. Let me speak to Colonel Trusman"
"Just a moment, Senator"
After a moment a gruff voice came over the line. "Hello Pat, nothing new to tell you. I'll keep you posted as more information comes in."
"Rick, I'm beginning to wonder if things aren't going to start getting out of hand quickly unless we plan for the worst. We may have to start making those plans ourselves; to hell with waiting for word to come down from the joint chiefs."
"Pat," the Colonel said slowly and with a sense of warning in his tone, "I know that you folks up on the hill have a habit of taking things into your own hands when it suits you, but over here we do things by the book and the book says that..."
"Screw the book! We're talking about the destruction of most human life and a shit-load of animal and plant life to boot. Everything I've heard from the NOAA people tells me that this DDRST stuff is on its way to the west coast and isn't likely to stop there. Maybe the concentrations will be high enough to kill everyone and then again maybe it won't. The fact is that we don't know how much it takes to hurt us or how long it takes for low exposure to cause death. I think it would be prudent to start making arrangements for something to survive. You people at Intelligence hold the keys to the candy store. I say find a safe place to put them so government and intelligence can get back on track ASAP once things calm down. Washington may not remain secure during the upheaval that is bound to take place in the next few days."
"All I can do is make preliminary plans and take some first steps. The OK has to come from the top. You know that. We both feel strongly about saving the database but right now I don't think this is foremost in the mind of the President."
The Senator sighed and was quiet for a moment. After gathering his thoughts, he offered his final words on the matter.
"OK, OK. I'll tell you what. Let me see if I can come up with the most likely system that will hold a full dump and not be subject to compromise by some potential enemy that would like nothing more then to see the United States loose its electronic marbles. Whoever is left in charge after the disaster can re-load from this hidden data stash should it be found necessary to destroy our files here. We can at least do that much now, don't you think?"
There was a brief pause on the other end as the colonel contemplated how far he was willing to stretch his balls.
"Sure Pat," he said finely, "keep on it. I'll OK a data transfer myself if you can find a good place for it. I'll warn you though, if I get my ass kicked over it I'll see to it that you get yours kicked too. That's only fair."
They both gave a nervous laugh over the phone, then ended the conversation with the usual pleasantries. The Senator dialed a friend at the National Geographic Society to see if anyone had any insight into who might have a suitable mainframe and where. Senator Brownson was expecting the worst from this DDRST stuff and made no attempt to hide his opinions. Then again, he was never in the habit of hiding his opinions. That's how he got elected in the first place.
The equator is a strange place to work. At least that's what everyone who clamed to know told Dr. Herman Zimmerman. They told him that the weather was unpredictable, there were no seasons, everything that crawled, slithered, or hopped was deadly and the people were unfriendly as hell. Like most things, those who know say little and those who don't fancy themselves experts. As it turned out, only the first two were true and that didn't bother him in the least. In regards to the life forms there, some were dangerous. Some were a nuisance. The rest were fascinating. The people tended to be somewhat backward and superstitious, but were otherwise the warmest and most honest people he had ever encountered.
When he thought about it, this seemed an odd place to locate the most advanced super computer ever developed. Every Tuesday morning at the start of his four day shift, he would fly low over the jungle where nothing modern exists for hundreds of miles then set down in a clearing in front of a large square building made of plastitized concrete. Nothing had ever seemed so out of place. However, this was the ideal location to house this computer and the array of sophisticated equipment he and his staff used to monitor deep space radio sources. The equator provided them the opportunity to track a very active part of the galaxy with little shift in angle from month to month.
He had been making a lot of progress mapping a band of pulsars that had been discovered just a few years ago. Now his work had been brought to an end by some stupid mistake at a weapons plant across the globe. In fact, if the reports he had heard from his colleagues in England were correct, a lot of things were being brought to an end by this mistake; like the human race. Politics. A game for fools.
One of the six dishes he had been using to watch the sky had been re-tuned and stood ready to accept the download via satellite of what amounted to the sum of human knowledge. Once this information was deposited in the massive storage facilities being added to the system this morning, he was to become its steward for what he figured could be as long as several months.
This was his assumption. The fact was, he had been told very little regarding the logistics of this operation. All he did know had been passed down to him during the short visit yesterday from Bill Hoffler, director of the Institute for Interstellar Research (the funding source for the observatory). He was told that the super computer he and his team were using to help examine pulsars had been commandeered by the military for use as the repository for the national database during the DDRST disaster. Just what this data transfer had to do with the contamination he couldn't fathom. The tone of the meeting lead him to conclude that he had not been visited to obtain his input into matters, nor was he given any opportunity to ask questions.
Zimmerman recalled how unnerved Bill had seemed during that meeting. He made it obvious that this was "not a drill". Something big was afoot. People very high up in the administration were sounding a silent alarm that Washington may not survive the DDRST cloud that hit the west coast. Needless to say, no place in between those two points had much of a future either. When it was revealed that he had been re-activated by Navy Intelligence as Col. Zimmerman and assigned to play keeper for an indefinite period of time, he began to pack. This time it wouldn't be just four days every few weeks. He was moving in.
He set the small copter down in the clearing in front of the facility. Walking a bit slower than usual toward the massive steel door, his attention was caught by a small hummingbird flirting with the pick-up housing suspended above the front dish. This one had been aligned to serve as the down link for the data transfer. Being in no real hurry to dash inside and review the current computer logs, he stood for a moment and observed his frustrated visitor.
"No nectar in that cup," he mused to himself. Suddenly he was awash with regret for the millions of small lives that would be lost before this DDRST disaster was over. He thought of his brother's family in Spain, hoping that Europe would be spared the devastation that had overtaken Africa and was now crossing the American planes. He felt for the millions of people who had and would die a most horrible death. So senseless he thought. So senseless.
Zimmerman reached into his shirt pocket and withdrew a hand-held remote into which he keyed his access code. As the steel door raised in response, it shuttered a bit on its tracks and sent birds for miles around leaping into the sky from the racket. He hated that, but it happened every time the door was activated. With a heart-felt "sorry" from under his breath, the scientist went inside. He was never to re-emerge.
The usually quiet interior was teaming with activity as technicians raced to connect and test the supplementary data storage modules which had been flown in that morning. Transmission was to start at 09:00 and it was already close to 08:00. This could get tight.
Zimmerman looked around for the source of the voice and found it emanating from a stocky fellow in a hard hat. They walked toward each other until they were close enough for this technician to extend his hand. The doctor shook it.
"Hal Lipton, doc. I'm in charge of life support for your stay as keeper of the information zoo. Rumor has it that you'll be locked up in here for several weeks, so we've been stocking the kitchen and providing for your creature comforts around here."
Unable as yet to get in a word himself, Zimmerman nodded and smiled as he and Hal, who was still gripping his hand, locked into step and proceeded toward the staff living area. The technician continued.
"You now have enough food and personal supplies to last a full year. A bit of over-kill, I know, but the higher-ups always like to plan for the worst."
"I appreciate the thought Mr. Lipton..."
"Call me Hal. Everyone here does."
"Hal," he corrected, finely disengaging his hand. "But I might mention that if I have to stay cooped up in here for more than a month or so I'll go bonkers. I don't suppose anyone thought to send down a few good books to keep me occupied?"
"Better than that."
Hal led Zimmerman toward the recreation area and pointed to a large crate marked "Video Tapes". Behind that was another large box marked "Reading Material".
"You've got over a hundred feature movies as well as the cream of the BBC and PBS series. The other box is mostly magazines and novels, but some recent journals from various scientific communities are included to keep you up to date in your reading. We have installed purifiers to the well taps to keep you supplied with contamination free water indefinitely. Needless to say, the fusion generator downstairs is good for a millennium or more. Naturally, Washington will be in contact with you regularly and all broadcast channels will continue to be piped down to you via the down-link once the data transfer is complete."
"Sounds like a country club prison. I wonder if the Watergate conspirators had it this good when they were in the slammer."
"They had it better. You won't be allowed any visitors. I understand your brother is in Europe. Have you had a chance to talk with him?"
"No." Zimmerman turned nervously away from his companion. "We...we aren't a close family. I haven't spoken to him in years."
Fact was, he hadn't spoken to his brother sense he ran off to Spain with the woman Zimmerman loved. But that was no one's business and the rift between himself and his only living relative was of no consequence within the context of the current situation. Hal didn't pursue the topic, although he had been authorized to offer a secured link to his brother had Zimmerman wanted to contact him. The topic was dropped.
Luckily, a second later the pair was interrupted by one of the systems technicians.
"The system's up and running, Hal. We're going through final diagnostics now and should be ready to commence the down-load at 09:00 as scheduled."
"Good job, Ted. Let's go on-line."
For the next seventeen and a half hours the installation was a constant buzz of technicians monitoring this and fussing over that until the final byte of data was safely etched and verified on some storage module somewhere within the bowels of the mainframe. Dr. Zimmerson spent a good deal of that time putzing. Not being an expert on mass data storage, he was happy to leave things to those who were. As far as he was concerned the top priority was organizing his old work environment into a suitable new long term living environment.
The food stores were impressive. He figured he could eat well for over a year with the quantity and variety of quick-prepare meals he had been provided. All of his relevant personal effects had been delivered shortly after the download began and he spent his time organizing these along with the crates of supplies given him by... well, come to think of it, he wasn't really sure just who was in charge of the operation that had brought his work to a halt and turned this observatory into a gigantic paperless library. No one had said and he knew better than to ask.
After testing all of the beds in the staff quarters, he picked the most comfortable one and moved it to a spacious round conference room. This was now to be his bedroom. The conference table, chairs and assorted furnishings were moved to a corner of the basement near the fusion generator. Even with the bed this left a lot of open space in the room. After scrounging from the other now unused rooms in the living area, he managed to fill a lot of the space with bookcases which he further filled with the more interesting contents of his entertainment supplies. He faced his bed toward the wall-size video screen in the room, then surrounded it with shelves. Not to bad a prison after all, he thought.
On the morning of the next day, the download was complete and checked. The dish was re-aimed to a popular communications satellite and Zimmerman had CNN, an assortment of movie and entertainment channels and various network feeds at his disposal. On a secured band he was provided two-way communications with Washington. Everything verified, the technicians departed. Zimmerman closed and sealed the door, then adjusted the environmental controls to his liking. He had always been of the opinion that the temperature around there was set entirely too cold for his 62 year old metabolism. This was quickly remedied.
Now that he was alone, he set aside the various journals he had been reading during the down-load. That had been a bit of a front for the benefit of the technical crew. Now was his chance to do something he had always wanted to do; snoop through classified government records. He still had the most powerful super computer ever designed. In its memory was a bunch of stuff that made his mouth water and no one would ever know he had peeked at them.
Zimmerman opened the directory file and started to peruse the list of entries. It was several thousand pages long. This was going to take weeks. How delightful!