Shadow of the Valley

Here it is, the sequel to “Event Zero.”  I messed around with some tenses in the middle- I indented the paragraphs to make them a little more clear.  I might go back and change it later.

PDF to come.

“Tunguska.”

The word sounded alien in her own voice, amplified though the helmet mic. The muffled thumping of the helicopter blades could still pierce the level 2’s.

“What, Rogers?” Latrec glanced at Rogers out of the corner of his eye before returning his attention to the window.

Rogers never looked away from the ground. “In 1908, a comet hit the Siberian plain. It knocked down trees for miles, snapping them off at the trunk, laying them out flat.” She nodded out the window. “Looked kind of like that.”

The desert yellow was eclipsed by rows of dessicated bodies. They radiated out from a central rock, like a withered and brittle petals of a flower in the baking sun.

Latrec said, “Death Valley indeed.” He gritted his teeth. “How many do you think are out there?”

Rogers glanced up at the other two black helicopters and their two military escort choppers, napalm at the ready. She looked back at the flower. “Thousands.” She licked the fillings on her back teeth with the tip of her tongue. “Thousands.”

Another voice broke through. “Rogers, the jarheads wanna burn and run.”

“If those trigger-happy sons of bitches ruin my investigation I’ll have their balls. You tell them to hold their shit, Hrab.”

“You’re the boss,” Hrab said. His voice sounded alien too. Maybe it wasn’t the static, or the phones on her head. Maybe there was something about this place, something about the dead, that changed all those who dared approach.

Rogers wanted to burn it all too. But not yet. “Bring us lower.”

The pilot looked back at Rogers. She could tell he was giving her a look under those sunglasses, but her look trumped.

“You sure about that?” Hrab said.

Rogers replied, “You don’t have to follow, Yuri. Besides, we’re sealed in the choppers, and have level 2’s with contained oxygen. Nothing’s getting in here.” She shifted in her chair. The rubbery material was riding up. But that’s not why she was squirming. “We’ll be fine.”

Latrec said, “Yeah. Fine. Sure.”

The helicopter lowered its hover. The bodies became clearer. Rogers grabbed her binoculars and pressed them against the clear plastic of her visor.

Latrec followed suit. “Jesus.”

Business suits. Pearls. Even a briefcase connected with a chain to a wrist. It had long since worn through the flesh to the bone.

Latrec said, “As I walk through the shadow of the valley of death…”

Hrab’s voice crackled over the connection. “I just don’t get it. Why here? What’s with that rock in the middle?”

Rogers looked at the rock, the hub of the flower. Nothing there. Like Tunguska.

Latrec said, “The Sermon on the Mount.”

Rogers said, “Don’t go quoting scripture again, Latrec. Not now.”

“Look at them, Rogers. They’re gathered for a reason.”

Rogers said, “That would denote intelligence. They aren’t intelligent.”

Hrab broke through. “You ever give a zombie an IQ test, Carol? How fast you think they could solve a Rubik’s cube?”

“Funny, Hrab.” Rogers put the binoculars down. She had seen enough of the dessicated corpses up close. The desert had its revenge. “Got the pictures?”

Hrab muttered something to someone in his helicopter. “Yeah, we’re good.”

Rogers sighed. The scientist in her wanted to get down there, get a sample, a bone, some dried out flesh, something. They had so few samples of this stuff. The human in her wanted to tuck tail and run, and shower for a month. “Let’s get out of here. Tell the soldier boys to have fun.”

The black helicopters lifted in unison and headed back to Nevada, silhouetted by a holocaust of fire.

###

The halls were needlessly long, and the floors were polished to the sheen of wet marble. It was different than the functional, if somewhat muddled, layout of the Pentagon. This place was a shrine to secrecy, a church of the hidden. The offices were vaults without windows, cells for agents and support personnel.

Nobody spent time in those offices. They were almost always in the field, or in Washington. The only permanent residents were the researchers, and those weirdos clustered underground like the rats they played with.

Rogers was heading toward the conference lab. Two armed soldiers stopped her before she got close to the door.

“Sorry ma’am,” one said, “Military personnel only.”

Rogers pulled out her flip badge. “Event Research Commission business, soldier.”

“Sorry ma’am.”

Rogers blinked. “Son, you must be new here.” She put her hands on her hips and looked up at the soldier, her voice getting louder. “Tell me you are new here.”

“Ma’am I-”

“I was chosen by the President for this mission, son, and I’ll be damned if-”

“Colonel Rogers!” The voice came from behind.

The two soldiers salutes were swift and precise.

Rogers turned around. “Meyers! I didn’t know you were going to be here!” Rogers shook the man’s hand. “And it’s just ‘Doctor’ now.”

“Good to see you again, Rogers.” Meyers smiled and looked at the guards. “Let me tell you, soldier,” he said, “I just spared you a legendary ass reaming.” He looked back at Rogers. “I speak from experience.”

The two went into the conference room. Monitors lined the walls. The oak table was surrounded by twenty high-end leather chairs. “You hired a decorator, Colonel Meyers.”

Meyers puffed himself up and pretended to polish the eagles on the collar of his gray camo. “I’m glad you noticed.”

Rogers sat down, wincing a little at her sore thighs. “They’re promoting anyone these days…”

Meyers laughed. “Someone had to take over when you left.” He sat down across the table from Rogers. “Civilian life suits you well.”

Rogers said, “If that’s some comment about my weight, I’ll pretend I didn’t hear it.” She rubbed her legs. “I hate those helicopters.”

Meyers got back up and walked over to a small refrigerator. “Still like Dr. Pepper, Doctor?”

“None of that diet shit, Meyers. Bad habits are part of the perks of civilian life.”

The door opened. Another man in gray camouflage entered the room. He had stars on his collar.

Meyers snapped to attention and saluted. “General Manning.” The general saluted back.

Rogers stood up. “Denny.” She walked over, and gave the big bear of a general a hug. “I’m so sorry about Meridith.”

The general hugged Rogers back. “Thank you, Carol. She’s not in pain anymore. How’s your father?”

“The Alzheimer’s treatment is giving us a few more good days, thanks.” Rogers sat back down and the general followed suit, the colonel shortly after. Rogers said, “You ever think about retiring, Denny?”

“It crosses my mind. But this keeps me busy, and with Meridith gone… I find it’s the only thing I have left. I’ll be here until they kick me out for being a crazy old coot.”

Rogers said, “Why only me? What about my team?”

Meyers said, “We wanted you to be in on this first. It will be up to you what information you want to share.”

Meyers handed out folders to Rogers and the general. “This is what we have so far. The India incident was likely not an accident.”

Rogers said, “I don’t think anyone in intelligence bought that story. A nuclear bomb doesn’t just ‘go off.’”

General Manning nodded. “Nearly a quarter million died in that blast. Nobody wanted to believe something like that could be intentional.”

Meyers continued. “What we didn’t know then was that an arms smuggler known to the Agency as ‘Prakesh’ was near the site prior to the incident. The CIA had been tracking him for some time, ever since he tried to sell a dead nuke to North Korea two years ago.”

General Manning said, “Prakesh vanished for a while, but surfaced when the Agency was watching a Chinese ex-intelligence man named Hung Dao. A deal was made between them last year. Prakesh then went back to Pakistan to meet up with one of our plants.”

Rogers turned the page in the folder. “Went down in a blaze of glory, eh?”

Meyers said, “The Agency tried to capture him, but it went bad. Our plant double-crossed us and warned Prakesh, but he was taken out before he could escape.”

Manning said, “This is where it gets sticky. One of my contacts in the Agency said they brought something back. Something that wound up in USAMRIID.”

Rogers felt the blood drain from her face. “Jesus.”

Meyers said, “Event Zero.”

Rogers closed the folder. She took a drink from her glass, and rattled the ice around before speaking again. “Now it’s in the wild.”

Manning said, “We don’t know why it spread north and not south. If the wind would have been different, we might be saluting commander-in-chief zombie right now.”

Rogers said, “What about Hung Dao?”

Meyers said, “We think…”

Manning finished Meyers’ thought. “It’s in the hands of the Chinese now.”

Rogers said, “Please tell me that’s not why they shot down our satellites a few months back.”

Manning and Meyers were silent.

“Jesus,” Rogers repeated. “It’s in the wild there too.”

Meyers said, “We think they actually tested it. Somewhere near the Mongolian border.”

Rogers dripped the dregs from her soda can into her tumbler. “I suspected the only reason we didn’t napalm anything other than Columbia Maryland was the distance between cities. Not enough food for the damn things in the country. Must be why the Chinese tested it out in the middle of nowhere.”

Meyers said, “Yet it got all the way from Maryland to California. Even after the burning. We upped the power of the firebombing in Death Valley, but I keep getting the feeling the horse is out of the barn, and we’re just shoveling shit to keep people from noticing.”

Rogers finished her drink. “Don’t forget the gun nuts. Thank God for the Second Amendment.”

General Manning snorted. “Yeah. They did help keep the wanderers under control. Of course most of them got infected too.”

Colonel Meyers said, “Which means of course, it’s probably still out there, in the Maryland wilderness. We have no idea if it can be carried by animals or not.”

Rogers scowled at Meyers. “Dammit, John, what do we know about this shit? Virus? Bacteria? Where does it incubate? What carries it? How under God’s heaven did it get from coast to coast?”

Manning chuckled. “You sound just like your dad when you’re swearing like a sailor, Carol.” He stood up and went to the refrigerator. “And to answer all your questions with one answer, we don’t know.” He reached in and brought out a tumbler and dropped some ice in it. He took a couple cans of soda out with one hand and offered one to Rogers.

Rogers took it and set it next to her empty glass. “They why are we here?”

Manning said, “We’re here, Doctor, because of the Russians. Run the tape, Colonel.”

Meyers produced a remote and lowered the lights. The big screen lit up. A paused recording was showing a balding man with a mustache and glasses staring into the screen. Meyers said, “This recording was acquired three days ago. That’s Doctor Alex Zenzenko.”

Rogers shifted in her seat, making the leather creak. “I have a feeling I’m not going to like this movie.”

Meyers pressed the button. Meyers turned the volume down. “The translation is in your folder, but I’ll tell you the relevant bits. It’s not what he’s saying that’s important. It’s what he has.”

Rogers said, “Has?”

The General said, “He has, or had, a live one. How those crazy Russians managed without every last one of them getting infected, I have no idea.”

Zenzenko walks around the camera and aims it at a window into a brightly lit room. The room is painted white, and has one occupant. The occupant is a squat man with torn, bloody clothes. His face is ashen. Blood is caked around his lips.

Rogers leaned forward in her seat. “What’s Zenzenko saying here?”

Meyers paused the video. “He said they captured this one from the ‘test site.’ It could mean the Chinese border, or one of their own areas, assuming they have the virus, or whatever it is. Zenzenko is the only person other than their prisoner to appear in the video, until the end. He seems to be working alone, but this is a government facility.” He pressed the “play” button once more.

Meyers spoke over Zenzenko’s narration. “First they tried starving it. This video is two weeks after capture. The only change seemed to be its apparent metabolism. It stopped moving, and just stared at the window. Zenzenko says decomposition is very slow, much slower than would be expected from dead matter.”

The camera turns back to Zenzenko. He has a palate on a push cart. The palate holds dozens of soft red bags.

Rogers chewed her tongue. “I bet I know where this is going…”

The film stops and restarts with a pile of bags outside the captured creature’s door. Zenzenko faces the camera and speaks.

Meyers translated. “The being has been starved for weeks now. Here, Zenzenko attempts to energize it’s metabolism.”

Zenzenko walks over to the thick metal door. He peeks in the wire mesh-protected window before opening it a crack, and throwing a bag of blood into the chamber.

The creature begins to move to the door, slowly, as if it had just lumbered out of an icy cave. It stops the moment the door closes.

Meyers paused the video. “It goes on like this for a while. Zenzenko tosses in bag after bag, but the entity moves only when the door is open. Zenzenko stops before the entity gets within grasping range of the door handle.”

Rogers was on the edge of her seat, squinting as if she was trying to see more detail than was available. “Let it play out. I want to see this.”

Meyers pressed the play button, and the video resumed.

Rogers’ frustration was in her voice. “It only reacts to the opening of the door. That doesn’t tell us much. It could be the sound, it could be the motion, it could be the smell of human flesh.”

Zenzenko turns to the camera and speaks. He takes a scalpel and punctures one of the bags. He opens the door and tosses the bag in. It hits the creature.

The creature flies into a frenzy, clawing and biting at the air like a wolf caught in a trap.

Everyone in the room jumped back in their chairs. General Manning’s eyes were wide. “Damn! I didn’t know they could move that fast!”

Rogers shouted, “Wait! Go back, frame by frame.”

Meyers furrowed his brow, but obeyed, pressing the remote with his thumb over and over.

“Look,” Rogers said. “Stop it there.”

Meyers said, “What are we looking at?”

“His face.” Rogers stood up and walked over to the big screen. She pointed at the creature’s face. “Zoom in. Look.”

Meyers zoomed in on the creature’s face.

Manning said, “He looks pretty pissed.”

Rogers said, “Exactly. He’s frustrated. He’s displaying emotion.”

The room was silent. The only light was the frozen, blood soaked face of the monster.

Meyers finally broke the silence. “That’s not possible.”

Rogers said, “We’re long past the point of impossible, colonel Meyers.” She sat back down in her chair. “This indicates the brain of the creature is still functional, that at least the primitive systems of emotion and instinct are still intact.”

Meyers said, “Makes sense. If the creature still relies on brainpower to move, it must have enough sense for emotion. Maybe it’s just the higher functions that are impaired.”

Manning said, “Show her the rest.”

Rogers said, “That’s not all?”

Meyers said, “Oh no. The ‘fun’ part is coming.” He zoomed back out and resumed the playback.

Zenzenko speaks to the camera once the creature stops flailing and resumes its catatonia. There is blood spatter on his glasses. He is ecstatic.

Meyers said, “Zenzenko is excited he was able to elicit a reaction. Now he wants to move to phase two.”

Zenzenko reaches behind the camera and turns it off. When it comes back on, it’s at the same angle, showing both the door and the observation window. The creature hasn’t moved.

A man in a wheelchair is parked in front of the door. He lays back in it, head tilted at an awkward angle, eyes staring into space.

Rogers put her hand to her mouth. “Oh shit.”

Zenzenko looks back at the camera. His grin is wild. He hasn’t cleaned his glasses.

He opens the door. The creature shambles toward him. He pushes the man in the wheelchair in.

The creature lunges, knocking the chair back, keeping the door from closing all the way.

Zenzenko slams the door with his shoulder, over and over, trying to force the chair back in.

Blood fountains from behind the observation window. A severed arm flies and smacks wetly against the glass. The carnage is below what the camera can see.

Zenzenko gives up trying to close the door. He stands, rapt, watching the creature rip the man to pieces.

“Krasivaya…”

Rogers looked over at Meyers and Manning. Both men were staring, as transfixed as Zenzenko was, but with looks of horror instead of glee. Rogers said, “Well, I’ll skip lunch.”

Zenzenko steps back from the door. A bloody hand pushes, and the creature walks out. There is no color upon its clothes or skin but the blood it had bathed in.

It approaches Zenzenko with slow, plodding steps. It stops before him.

Rogers leaned forward in her chair again. “What’s this?”

The creature stares. It makes no move against Zenzenko. Zenzenko shows no sign of being afraid.

Zenzenko walks around the creature. The creature tracks Zenzenko with it’s head, keeping itself facing the scientist at all times.

Zenzenko reaches down and picks up a severed hand from the floor.

He begins to chew on it.

Zenzenko and the creature walk off camera.

Meyers paused the video. “That’s it. The camera eventually runs out of power.”

Manning said, “That’s first time I sat through that whole video, and I’ll never get it out of my mind. Even after all we’ve seen, this is going to haunt me.”

Meyers brought the lights in the conference room back up. “Carol,” he said, “it’s up to you what you want to share with your team. We can’t let this video out of the facility, so if you want to show it to them, you’ll have to bring them here.”

Rogers nodded. “Let me watch it a few more times. I’ll give you some time codes where I want stills. Can I take those off site?”

Meyers nodded, “I will rely on your discretion.”

Rogers topped off her tumbler with more Dr. Pepper. “This is worse than I thought.”

“Worse?” General Manning said, “How can it be worse?”

“Intelligence, Denny.” Rogers took a sip of her drink and wiggled her nose as the carbonation tickled it. “Zenzenko was infected. It’s just like the Gonzalez report. Zenzenko was one of them.”

Meyers and Manning looked at each other. Rogers continued. “The Gonzalez report was filled with cryptic Biblical messages, narcissistic ramblings about the second coming. The subject of that report thought he was a leader, a messiah. The creature didn’t attack Zenzenko because it was following. It was waiting for orders.”

Manning shifted in his seat. “That’s a pretty big leap of logic, Carol.”

“You saw the photos of the Death Valley incident? Think about it. Thousands of these creatures all circling around a single point. They were listening to someone.”

Meyers said, “What happened to that ‘someone?’”

Rogers took another drink and shrugged. “Maybe he was one of the bodies out there. Maybe the sun got him too. But it fits. They listen to their leaders.”

Manning said, “Does that really matter, I mean, from a tactical standpoint? They need to be put down as fast as possible, going for some sort of command structure seems like a waste of resources.”

Rogers sighed. “You’re right that it’s a logical leap. It’s a hypothesis. And I don’t know how that helps us. Somewhere, out there in the dark, one of these things is thinking, plotting, waiting. If the right person was to become infected, imagine the chaos he could inflict.”

Colonel Meyers scratched his head. “Like Zenzenko?”

Rogers said, “Maybe, but I doubt it. Zenzenko was a scientist. He’d be to interested in finding out why, while his brain slowly turned to goo.”

Manning said, “Then someone with clout? A politician? An actor?”

Rogers smiled. “How could you tell the difference?” She finished her drink. “No. Not an actor, or a scientist, or a politician. Someone somewhere who had access to not a thousand, or ten thousand, but millions. He would be a leader. A warlord. A Khan.”

 

###

The wall was built to stop us.

It failed.

And for generations, the filthy Han were our vassals, our servants.

Now they come to violate my people again. They come to do what their vile and corrupt politics could not. They bring a disease, a darkness to the steppe.

But I am the light.

Beijing taught me well. I took their knowledge to bring back to my people, to help them regain their glory, their birthright.

Clean energy. Industry. What a fool I was. I was brainwashed by the Han to force the ancient spirit of the Mongol people to settle into factories and company towns. I thought I was helping them.

Now my people are sick. They lust for blood as they once did when we conquered half the world. But now, there will be no survivors.

My people now follow me.

And the wall will fail again.

 

Discuss this entry...