Read Pandemic Online

Authors: Scott Sigler

Pandemic (10 page)

BOOK: Pandemic
6.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“I do not know,” he said. “I was told to bring you here, and to launch your creation that way.” He pointed starboard, to the north.

Steve stared out. Maybe his destiny was out there, nine hundred feet below the surface. He could be the one to find it, to bring it back for the glory of China. If what lay on the bottom provided new technology, if it was or helped create a weapon, his country needed it. Hard times were coming to the world. America would not give up her place at the top without a fight. The People’s Party had spent decades preparing for that final shift to ascendancy — it wouldn’t be fair if a chance find gave America some kind of accidental edge.

Steve knew his history: when America had an advantage, it used that advantage. The atom bomb against Japan. Logistics and manufacturing against Germany. A superior air force against Iran, Libya and Bosnia. The shock and awe tactics against Iraq. When America fought with one hand tied behind its back, as it had in Vietnam and Korea, it lost. When it used everything it had, when it let the generals decide strategy, America
always
won.

China was gaining, gaining fast, but America still had the best tanks, the best planes, the best ships. Chinese armed forces claimed technical superiority, but as an engineer Steve knew such claims were a steaming pile of bullshit. Even with the largest manufacturing base in the world and an entire government dedicated to developing a high-tech military, China was still a decade away from being able to fight on equal terms. If war came, America would use everything it had: including alien technology, maybe even that psycho disease President Gutierrez had talked about.

Sure, Gutierrez had warned everyone to be on the lookout for symptoms. Steve remembered the president’s endless “T.E.A.M.S.” public service commercials, the acronym that told the populace to watch for
triangles, excessive anger
and
massive swelling
. People knew what to look for, yet the disease had never reappeared — at least as far as the public knew. Did America have it stored away somewhere, like the anthrax or smallpox it also wasn’t supposed to have?

If America possessed a weapon, America would use it.

The only way to keep the balance, to properly protect the land of his ancestors, was to make sure China had the same weapons. If Steve found something his nation could use to defend itself, he would become a legend. In America he could get rich, sure, but he’d always be thought of as nothing more than
that smart Asian guy
. In China, they would build statues of him.

He would be a national hero.

Bo Pan gagged, then leaned over the rail and threw up again. Steve grabbed a handful of the older man’s coat, just to make sure he didn’t tip over and drop into the water. After a few heaves, Steve pulled Bo Pan back.

The man wiped the back of his mouth with his sleeve. “Sorry,” he said. “Sorry.”

Steve wished he could have come alone. Or, if they
had
to send someone with him, maybe someone better than this useless, seasick messenger.

Noise came from farther back on the deck. Cooper Mitchell and a short Mexican man named José were following Jeff Brockman around the deck. Bo Pan had been agitated that Cooper and Brockman brought another crewmember. Steve couldn’t figure out why — you had to have enough people to run the boat, after all.

José was all of five-foot-five, wiry, with a heavy mop of black hair and a face so happy it looked like he had to concentrate to show anything but a smile. He seemed to look up to Brockman, both literally and figuratively.

Brockman was always first to laugh, first to scowl, first to talk, as if he felt compelled to drive every conversation and every action. He was fun to be around, but Steve suspected that Cooper was the only reason Brockman had a business at all.

The three men checked the straps securing a pair of long, custom-made shipping crates. The bigger of the pair was five feet high and wide, fifteen feet long. Inside lay Steve’s baby, the
Platypus
. The second crate was smaller, only about four feet long and lower to the deck. It held another of Steve’s creations, one he hoped he wouldn’t have to use.

Bo Pan watched the commotion as well. “How soon can we put your machine in the water?”

Steve’s brain automatically looked for a reason not to do that, checking for something he’d missed, something he’d forgotten, but there was nothing. He was prepared.

“Right now, I suppose,” he said.

Steve watched Brockman and Cooper. He waited for something to happen. After a few minutes, he realized he was waiting for Bo Pan to tell Brockman to get started. But Bo Pan wasn’t in charge.

Steve was.

It was all on him, and him alone. Now he
really
wished Bo Pan’s handlers
had sent someone else. As strange as it felt, Steve was now a real-life spy — the future of his country might actually rely on how well he handled the situation. No pressure, right?

He cupped his hands and shouted. “Hey!” The men looked at him. “Can we get it in the water?”

Brockman looked out at the horizon, as if gauging the wind and the waves, then he glanced at Cooper. Cooper nodded.

Brockman gave Steve a thumbs-up. “We’re on it, boss!”

They started unstrapping the crate.

Steve spoke, and three men jumped into action?

Maybe being in charge would be kind of fun.

LITTLE GREEN MEN

Clarence Otto sat in a chair in front of the captain’s desk, waiting for Captain Gillian Yasaka to arrive. Margaret sat in a chair to his left. She stayed quiet, kept her thoughts to herself. Clarence couldn’t blame her.

The trip from the landing deck to this tidy office had been disturbing, to say the least. The wounded seemed to be countless. Every open space held prone sailors stretched out on tables, on cots, even lying on the floor with nothing more than a thin blanket to give them some padding. Some of the wounded slept. Others moaned, tossed and turned, overwhelmed by hideous burns on hands, arms and faces. Some of these men would be scarred for life.

Margaret had tried to stop a half-dozen times, her years as a medical doctor compelling her to do something, to help those in pain. Clarence had had to keep her moving, gentle steady pushes that reminded her she had to think of the bigger picture — there wasn’t enough time to help any of them, let alone all of them.

The
Brashear
’s overcrowding made Clarence nervous. People packed that tight would speed the spread of any contagion. One infected person would quickly turn into ten, into a hundred. Maybe that was why Margaret was staying quiet, because she was worried about the same thing.

Yeah, right.

If the woman he’d married was still in there, somewhere, Clarence didn’t know how to find her. He’d tried. He’d tried to understand her, to help her, tried to deal with years of constant crying, constant sadness, the obsessive reading of blog posts and comments. He had tried to stay calm while being her endless punching bag, the target of a rage she couldn’t control. He had tried to be there for her, guide her through all of it.

At what point does a man say
I’ve had enough
?

Did he have to give up any chance at happiness in exchange for spending his short life watching her wither away?
For better or worse
looked great under the showroom lights. Once you drove it off the lot, it was a different story.

He couldn’t fight for Margaret if Margaret wouldn’t fight for herself.

She sat in her chair, stared straight ahead. Did she still love him? No, probably not — truth was she hadn’t loved
anything
for years. She still needed him, absolutely, but the way a crippled man needs a crutch, or the way a drunk needs a bottle. Still, as messed up as she was, Clarence knew that Margaret Montoya was the person for the job. The
only
person. His love for her had faded, but not his belief; she could figure this out, she could stop it.

He would play his role. He’d make sure she ate, make sure she slept, because she forgot to do both when she lost herself in research. He’d fetch her coffee. He’d clean her clothes. Whatever it took; when the
real
shit hit the fan, Margaret Montoya took center stage, and Clarence was fine with that.

Captain Yasaka entered. Clarence stood up instantly, faster than he would have liked — leftover reactions from his days in the service. At least he didn’t salute.

Margaret stayed seated.

Captain Yasaka — actual rank of
commander
, but operating under the honorary title of
captain
like the commander of every ship in the navy — was as neat and clean as her stateroom. Her graying black hair was pulled back in a tight bun, and her dark-blue coveralls looked like they had been pressed and then hung on a mannequin protected behind a plateglass window. Her belt buckle was the only thing that outshined her shoes. She stood all of five-six, but Clarence could tell that she had the presence needed to make tall boys quake in their boots if they failed in their duties.

All her meticulous grooming, however, didn’t hide her exhaustion, a certain slackness to her face. Yasaka looked like she hadn’t slept in days. She probably hadn’t.

“Doctor Montoya,” she said. She shook hands with Margaret, then Clarence. “Agent Otto.”

Clarence nodded. “Captain.”

Yasaka gestured to Clarence’s chair:
sit, relax
.

Clarence sat, as did the captain.

“My apologies for making you wait,” she said. “We’re on full alert, and there were things that required my attention.”

Clarence waited for Margaret to speak. It was her show, after all; he was just the wingman. When she said nothing, he spoke for them both.

“Yes, ma’am,” Clarence said. “We understand.”

“I need to make this short,” the captain said. “I have a ship full of wounded,
and I have to report about this meeting to Captain Tubberville over on the
Pinckney
. He’s the task force commander. So I can answer your questions, but please, let’s get to it.”

Margaret nodded. “I need to know what happened,” she said. “The timeline. Timelines are very important.”

Yasaka’s jaw muscles twitched. “Six days ago, at twenty-one-fourteen hours, an ROV from the
Los Angeles
located an object of interest. The ship commander dispatched a diver to recover that object. The diver wore an ADS 2000, the atmospheric diving suit required for such depths. He disembarked from a dry deck shelter modified for decontamination. The diver recovered the object, then returned to the DDS. While still wearing the ADS, he was sprayed in bleach to kill any possible external contaminant before reentering the ship proper.”

Margaret leaned forward. “The ROV spotted something special? Sending out a diver was unusual?”

“Not at all,” Yasaka said. “In fact, this was the six hundred and fifty-second time a diver from the
Los Angeles
had performed that task. Every two or three days, on average, the ROV saw something the onboard crew couldn’t identify. Whenever that happened, Captain Banks sent out a diver.”

Clarence wondered if the repetitive, uneventful nature of their job had made the divers sloppy.

Yasaka continued. “At twenty-one-fifty-five hours that same day, the
Los Angeles
notified us that the object was a significant discovery.”

Margaret looked at Clarence, then at the captain. “So if they thought it was significant, why wasn’t it brought up to the
Brashear
? I was told this ship has a full BSL-4 research lab.”

Biosafety Level Four
 … Clarence hated those words. The most stringent safety procedures known to man, used for work with lethal, highly contagious airborne diseases like Marburg and Ebola, shit that could kill millions. BSL-4 suits — the kind Margaret wore to study the alien infection — had positive pressure: if something poked a hole in the suit, air pushed
out
instead of
in
, because contact with even a single, microscopic pathogen could mean death.

“My ship’s facilities are fully compliant,” Yasaka said. “We’ve brought up fifteen objects over the last five years. Scraps of Orbital hull, mostly. Bringing potentially contaminated items up from nine hundred feet below is dangerous, Doctor Montoya, and
expensive
, so the
Los Angeles
was retrofitted with a
small lab of its own. Standard procedure was to make sure an object was not of terrestrial origin before sending it up.”

Margaret looked angry, annoyed. “So they found an alien object and they just
held on to it
for a few days?”

Yasaka nodded. “If they had found an alien body, or something that was clearly made by little green men, that would have been different. What they found looked like a strange can, so they prepped it and waited until they had enough data to merit the
extensive
procedures required to send something to the surface.”

Margaret wasn’t the only one getting annoyed; Clarence could see that Yasaka didn’t appreciate Margaret’s intensity. The captain had a ship full of wounded. Her crew had probably recovered hundreds of dead bodies from the
Forrest Sherman
and the
Stratton
. This wasn’t the time for Margaret to grill Yasaka about procedure. Clarence’s job of helping Margaret included stepping in when she was about to burn a bridge.

“So it was business as usual,” he said. “You would have probably ordered the object to be brought up, but you didn’t get the chance. What happened next?”

Margaret leaned back in her chair, tried to relax. She’d picked up on Clarence’s cue, knew she needed to back off a little.

Yasaka folded her hands on her desk. “Three days ago, the
Los Angeles
reported erratic behavior among the crew. A fight involving a few injuries. I’m afraid there wasn’t much detail. Captain Banks made his scheduled daily report, but he seemed … strange. Agitated, but not angry. He didn’t exhibit any of the behaviors associated with the Detroit disease, nor did any of his crew send a message that they suspected he might be infected.”

That surprised Clarence. “I’m sorry, Captain, you’re saying that the crew could contact the
Brashear
without the captain’s knowledge?”

BOOK: Pandemic
6.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Hothouse Flower by Lucinda Riley
Impact by Carr, Cassandra
The Hobbit by J RR Tolkien
Movie Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly
The Informer by Craig Nova
Imaginary Grace by Anne Holster
100 Days Of Favor by Prince, Joseph
Vanessa Unveiled by Jodi Redford
Gone to Green by Judy Christie