Seattle, March 2005
Robert Mill walks up to the dingy office building in SoDo. He awkwardly straightens his tie and enters the cramped overstuffed office of One of a Kind Investigations. Frank meets him at the door. The older man smiles and shakes Robert’s hand. Robert skirts around boxes and piles of case files as he sits down in Frank’s office. Nervous, Robert hopes his father’s friend will give him a job.
Frank says that Bob, Robert’s father, has told him a lot about the young man. As he absentmindedly brushes some dust from his suit, Frank elaborates, “He says you’re a real whiz kid. We could use some help here in the office office. Mavis, my wife, usually handles these things but what with the office move and her sister’s illness, we could really use the help.”
Robert launches into a list of his skills including an alphabet soup of computer languages he is well versed in. As Frank blankly takes this in he latches onto Robert’s website skills. “A company website is a good idea, Shaw is always telling me we need one.”
Frank, his mind already made, begins to show Robert around. He takes him by Shaw`s desk, which is by contrast clean and orderly. The only personal touch is a small ivy plant. “Shaw handles a lot of our cases. She’s a great detective.”
Nearby, Robert can see Mavis’s desk. Also orderly except for a pile of case files recently set down, it is covered in pictures of nieces and nephews as well as her dog.
Just then Shaw comes in wearing jeans and a plain blouse. Frank introduces Robert. “He is going to help with the files and the company website.”
“So I have the job?” Robert asks.
Frank says yes and leaves the two employees to chat. Shaw asks if he can run a background check. After Robert jokes that he make coffee, Shaw begins to show him the tricks of the trade.
Verdant Technologies Research Campus, San Francisco, May 2006
heads down the endless white hallways of Section 1 to the kitchen. He halts by a small knot of psychiatrists and pharmacologists avidly discussing the latest test results for a new antidepressant. Mentally he looks down on the riff raff and grudgingly listens to his colleague Dr. Spectre mutter about his qualms with approving the drug.
“Problems again? What is it this time Doc?” Trevor quips. Dr. Lawrence mumbles about the unreasonable side effects of this new drug. The hungry doctor advises him, “Get a larger pool of candidates, dilute that stuff.”
As Spectre recites the list of side effects including insomnia, sudden fits of rage, and nose bleeds, Trevor replies, “That’s why we put in those disclaimers.”
Another pharmacologist adds, “It’s a necessary evil,” explaining that it is better that there is a solution to the core problem than to worry about these side effects. “You agree with me right, Dr. Sorenson?”
Between the two of them they crush Dr. Spectre’s moral qualms. Satisfied, Trevor steals a bagel from the fridge, pointed ignoring someone’s shouts about missing food as he heads back to his office. He passes his boss, Douglas Chao, along the way, who cheerfully informs him that the company stocks are up. Even as he thinks about his growing investment, Trevor mutters under breath “asshole.”
Arriving at his office, he finds a letter waiting for him. Addressed to a ‘Dr. J. Sorensen’, it reads:
Trevor doesn’t recognize the name Wintergreen and grumbles to himself about why someone would use mail rather than email. As he lazes about his office, checking email and surfing the internet, his mind keeps coming back to the letter. A little research fails to turn up anything on the drug or a Dr. Wintergreen. He also notes the error in the name. Perhaps there is a Dr. Sorensen in the company? He contemplates stopping by anyway and perhaps getting a sample of this new drug for his own research.
3 PM rolls around and Trevor follows a maze of winding hallways to Section 4. Far from the main labs, the empty halls are tunneled into the hillside. Only the hum of machinery breaks the silence. Trevor muses that people must take off early here and considers transferring.
The cold florescent light gleams off of the spotless white tiled floor. The cool air smells of antiseptic. A sign hangs from the ceiling pointing the way to the ‘Extraction Laboratory.’
With no one around and no reception area, Trevor tries a door. It opens into a laboratory with gleaming metal surfaces. An operating table sits spotless in the center of the room. Two refrigerators sit by the far wall, one towering and metal, the other with a glass door and filled well lit samples. Trevor examines the labels on the patient samples to see if they match Subject #A-3, but the labeling consists six digit numbers.
Next he opens the metal door. A faint white mist issues forth along with a blast of icy air. In the freezer are racks of glass jars holding tiny, presumably human, fetuses. Disturbed, Trevor nervously finds some latex gloves and begins to clean the traces of his visit. As he wipes away any fingerprints, he worries about what illegal activities the company might be up to down here.
As he leaves the lab, he thinks he might check out one more room. Anxiously looking out for someone, he heads into the extraction lab. He gropes for a light switch in the dimly lit room. Row and rows of florescent lights turn on, one after another, illuminating a large room filled with dozens of 40 gallon tanks, holding…things.
Trevor takes in the shapes of these deformed gray things, sustained by dripping IVs. Looking around he finds a clip board listing subject numbers: #A-2, #A-3, and so forth. He quickly looks for tags. The first one is labeled #B-4. The thing in the tank is almost the size of a human being but hairless and with jaundiced skin. Suddenly it twitches, stirring in its chemically induced slumber. Trevor holds himself together and looks for #A-3.
He finds the the thing curled into a fetal position with humanoid features and an oddly distended head. He notes its vaguely primate form and thin grayish skin, trying to convince himself it is just a hairless chimpanzee. Then its pitch black eyes snap open.
Backing away, Trevor heads for a nearby computer, hoping to learn more. The computer brings up a password dialog but Trevor quickly enters an admin password he once saw. “fluffy”, her pets name, he thinks to himself. As the desktop appears he spots a minimized browser window. Opening it up, he find it open to a section of the company website he has never seen before. There is log for a subject #A-2 filled with dates and tests. The dates start 3 years ago with its capture and run over exhaustive list of tissue samples, bloodwork, and experiments until its death.
Trevor brings up the next subject, #A-3. The file is similar with the exception that #A-3 is not dead yet. He decodes the reference to uTE: “ultra-terrestrial telepathine extract.”
Suddenly he hears a noise at the door. He quickly ducks down. The chair is jostled by his haste. It slowly rolls away and bangs loudly into one of the tanks.
The security guard calls out to him to show himself, confidently brandishing a pistol.
“I’m Dr. Sorenson,” he says rising.
“You’re not Dr. Sorensen,” the guard replies.
“Yes I am. Here is my badge,” Trevor replies holding out his security badge.
“You’re not cleared for this area.”
“I was looking for a lab-”
“You need to go,” the guard interjects. He ignores Trevor’s protests and escorts him away from the lab.
As the guard alerts main security via radio, Trevor futility tries to talk to the man. “You’ve been working for Verdant long?”
The guard continues to escort him until they reach the main corridor. There they meet another security guard as well as a senior administrator and Sorenson’s boss Mr. Chao.
As a defense, Trevor shows them the letter. As the administrator looks it over, he tiredly tells him, “This must have been an oversight, this letter was meant for James Sorensen.”
Trevor hurriedly blames his position on the mail carriers and others, hiding his fears under a bluster of frustration. His boss speaks up, explaining that it was “simple misunderstanding.” The executive dismisses them and Chao leads Trevor away, still complaining, “I have to prepare for my…”
Once they are safely away from Section 4, Chao confides, “Trust me there are things you just don’t want to know about.”
In the following days Verdant Technologies as a wildlife expert. He finds his office number and decides to visit.researches everything he can find on Section 4 and its staff. There is nothing on the company website. Google turns up no hits on a Dr. Wintergreen or telepathine extract. What little he does find is about Dr. James Sorensen. The man does exist and is apparently employed by
Sorensen’s office is much higher in the building and evidently larger as well. Trevor approaches the floor’s secretary. The young woman looks up from her work, “Yes?”
“I was trying to find Dr. James Sorensen.”
The smile falls from her face. “Oh, oh I’m sorry. Unfortunately Dr. Sorensen is not with us anymore.”
“Oh really…that, that’s sudden. What happened?”
“He died in a skiing accident,” she tells him sorrowfully.
“I was actually going to joke about that….oh that’s terrible,” Trevor replies. He asks if there is a collection being done for him and if he had any family.
The secretary unfortunately doesn’t know if he had family but believes some of his colleagues may be putting together a collection. Trevor asks if he can talk to his supervisor or replacement and the young woman agrees to let them know to contact him.
On his way out Trevor stops at the dead man’s office. There is no window. He glances around. He tries the handle. Its unlocked. Quietly he slips in. Thick blinds diminish the light, but Trevor can make out a large sword on the wall surrounded by knives, pistols and rifle of some sort. He looks around amazed. On the desk is a huge skull of some prehistoric wolf.
He scans the desk for any papers but find only a framed picture of two older men in the wilderness. Their feet are resting on a massive bleeding thing with dozens of eyes and tentacles. One has a scar over one eye and the other is dressed in white. Both seem very fit for their age. The picture is signed ‘Great times, Jackal.’
Trevor snaps a picture with his smart phone’s 1.3 MB camera.
The desk has a locked drawer but the resourceful doctor unlocks it with a paperclip. He hurriedly searches through the files, finding one on Subject #A-3. As he opens it he finds pictures of an alien thing, its body staining a grassy field with blue blood. Trevor stuffs the file under his coat and heads for the door. He waits a moment until it is clear. Then he hurries back to his office.
On the way he runs into his boss, Douglas Chao. Chao wants to talk to him about something. Trevor quickly hides the file in his office, sandwiched in a stack of books and files and then heads to his boss’s office.
Unlike Trevor’s tiny box, his boss has a window. Framed by large black filing cabinets it looks out onto a tiny square of grass. The sky is an equally small rectangle well above the office. As Trevor adjust the location of his chair in the tight room, he attempts to feign ignorance that anything special is happening. He quips, “Got any weekend plans? I was thinking of going down to Santa Cruz.”
But his boss fails to notice his nervousness. Mr. Chao worriedly comments to Trevor that he is one of his best employees and that he doesn’t want to see anything happen to him. He wishes Trevor well on his trip to Santa Cruz and explains that the letter should never have gotten to him. As a last piece of advice Chaos says, “If you saw anything down there, just keep it yourself.”
Trevor denies seeing anything. But later, at his office, he looks into other employees who left or caused trouble. Most of them died. In accidents.
Trevor starts selling his company stocks and looking for a new job far away. Maybe to work with patients again.
As for the stolen file, he hides it a storage container and keeps digital copies backed up on his computers.
Seattle Morgue, September 2006
The clock on the wall reads just ten till midnight when they wheel the body into Dr. Ilyes‘s lab. Ilyes looks over the detective’s report. A 23 year old African-American woman was dancing at a night club when she collapsed, presumably of a brain aneurysm. That can cover a lot of different things he thinks to himself.
He unzips the body bag and begins to examines the body. A small trail of blood runs from her nose. He checks the woman’s known background: no history of drug use, no known health issues. He sends a blood sample to the toxicology and begins his initial examination.
“We begin our initial survey of the body. Time of death is,” he checks the paperwork, “10:23 PM.” He lifts the head and looks closely. “No external evidence of concussion or head trauma.”
He begins to check the rest of the body. “No wounds to the head or neck. Faint abrasions on the arms, discoloration indicates age of approximately 6 to 9 days.” He examines the inner side of the arms. “No signs of intravenous usage.”
Dr. Ilyes opens up the eyes. “Patient exhibits highly dilated eyes.”
An hour later as he prepares for the Y-incision, the blood analysis comes back. Ilyes carefully looks over the results. He notes the lack of any obvious harmful imbalances, though overall there are unusual levels of several proteins. He also notes some odd compounds in the blood. He quickly looks up the chemicals, finding them to be spider venom, but at extremely low dosages. He double checks the body but there are no signs of spider bites.
He restarts the recording. “Let’s proceed with the Y-incision.” One by one he weighs and examines each organ. The only irregularity is signs of liver damage, possibly caused by methamphetamine usage. He takes a sample and sends it out for a biopsy. In the woman’s intestines, he notes down that her last meal was barbecue wings.
With no signs of atrial rupturing, he moves on to the brain. After using the Stryker saw, he pulls off the cap.
What happens next is etched into Dr. Kevin Ilyes’s mind.
His first impressions are that large chunks of the brain are missing. The sudden burst of pressurized blood is unexpected but he has seen worse. In the same instant, he mentally notes there appears to be a fine grid of filaments much like spider web between the remaining sections of the brain. Then all rational thought disappears are swarms of spiders crawl up out of the skull, up his hands and onto his arms. The doctor shrieks and smashes the tiny vermin with whatever he can.
A couple minutes later, breathing heavily, he sits in a chair trying to calm his nerves. Bloody smears of spiders cover the examination area as well as his cast off gown lying a few feet away.
He picks up the phone and dials the person who brought the body in. The voice on the other end answers sleepily, “Hello?”
“Listen, the body was contaminated,” Ilyes informs him.
“Where were you keeping it?”
The transporter stammers, “We brought it right over.”
Ilyes confirms with him the date and location of death. The transporter explains, “the traffic was pretty bad but we got you body in under an hour.”
Ilyes says the timelines don’t match up. He then tells him about the spiders.
“Spiders, she had spiders on her! Oh god.”
“In her,” Iyes corrects.
“That’s what I’m saying, there is no way this body could have been…there is something wrong with the timeline here.”
“We brought her right over. There were no spiders on her. There were no spiders on our ambulance. We keep it clean. No spiders.”
Later in the night, Dr. Ilyes tells his colleagues to make note of this one, “this is a weird one.” Still pursuing the timeline angle, he proposes that someone might have brought her body to the nightclub and then dumped it there. He passes this idea on to the detectives, though they seem fairly convinced that she was alive while at the club. But, he thinks, there is no way an infestation like that could occur in just four hours.
Ilyes sends the few intact remains of the spiders to an arachnologist.
His colleagues buy his theory for the night but by the morning video footage arrives from the club. In it, they can clearly see the woman dancing until suddenly she stops. She twitches and blood trickles from her nose. Then she collapses.
The fellow investigators have a good laugh and tell him that probably there were just spiders in the examination room and he freaked out. But Iyles clings to what he saw. From then on rubber spiders appear on his desk, in his files, and elsewhere. He is refered to as the “spider man.”
The arachnologist eventually gets back to him. He explains that he has difficulty identifying the species based on the damage but it was likely a relation to the brown recluse. Its venom is not known to be neurotoxic, except perhaps in cases of severe allergies.
Left with no one who believes him, Dr. Ilyes begins a silent crusade to chronicle the strange deaths in and around Seattle.
Afghanistan, August 2008
The dry summer air bakes the gravel road as the Humvee convoy rolls through the barren mountainous landscape. The SEAL squad members joke and play around on this milk run of mission. Lt. Sanchez barks on the radio, “Eye’s up.”
The men snap to attention as they approach the aged mud brick village, watching for trouble. “3 o’clock,” Lester alerts them to a growing knot of locals up ahead.
A small child runs up to side of a truck. Vito tosses a chocolate bar to the kid. The young boy smiles as he begins to tear it open.
Up ahead, an old man dressed in a drab brown robe steps out into the path of the lead truck. As the driver swerves around him, he begins shouting in Pashto.
As the next truck approaches, a soldier leans out, his sunglasses shining in the sun. “What is it?” Eddie asks in the man’s native tongue.
As the vehicle roars past, the old man yells out something like, “the goats have gone missing.”
“They don’t have any goats in this village,” Eddie translates for his comrades.
Lester snorts and replies, “We here to fight a war, not a freaking goat collection.”
Another soldier, Nick, thinks that the insurgents might be behind this. “Its intel. The Talibs might be provisioning.”
A burly solder, Calvin, replies in a Texan twang, “They should raise cattle.”
The convoy doesn’t stop and the empty waste soon surrounds them again. As they make the last stretch to base camp, the Lieutenant fills them in on what he’s heard. “Its just more of that nonsense. People have been going missing all around here. Probably Talibs recruiting and stealing goats for food. Our flyboys have been spotting lights up there in the mountains. That’s probably where they are. We’ll be up there ourselves soon.”
“Looking forward to it, LT,” Eddie chimes in.
Another hour of boredom and they arrive in base camp. The SEALs quickly head to their tents, leaving the supplies to the army personnel. As they lounge around waiting for their next mission, Nick catches up with the latest intelligence, passing it along to others at camp, including the possible goat rustling.
He returns to hear the gang riffing on him.
“He’s a gossip,” Eddie chuckles.
“Do any of you guys understand any basics of counter insurgency theory? Have any of you read Praetarius’s book?” he replies seriously.
“I read it…in the original English.” The gang break up again.
The squad is woken in middle of night by Lt. Sanchez. “We have a mission. Briefing is in 15.”
The squad quickly get their gear together. Calvin quips, “I’m going to miss my hair appointment.”
At the main tent, Sanchez lays out the mission. “The army got themselves into a bit of trouble, in that village we were talking about yesterday.” He shows them the topographical map and lays out where the Army unit was sweeping the village for insurgents. They came under heavy attack and now needs support and medical evacuations.
“Details are sketchy but at last report they were hunkered down in a stone structure on the edge of the village. Here. There are at least 40 soldiers to account for and at least some are wounded.” Sanchez then outlines the plan. They will be dropped off in a Chinook while an Apache escorts them. Vito will be positioned on a nearby hill to provide sniper support. The insurgents should be localized in the village, armed with AK-47s and perhaps a few RPGs. Initial estimates are that there roughly 50 to 60 insurgents though the number may be as high as 100.
Mission objectives are to relieve the soldiers, secure the wounded and alert the medical helicopter. Once the wounded are rescued, depending on the situation on the ground, they will work with the remaining soldiers to complete the sweep of the village. Additional army troops are expected to arrive at dawn.
With their orders set, the men load up onto the helicopter. The lights of base camp soon vanish into the distance. Vito sits at the last seat of the helicopter, waiting to be swung out. In dim red lights of the cabin, his friends (Calvin, Eddie, Lester, Nick, Max) nervously joke and ready themselves for combat.
Vito is given the go sign. He swings out, landing gently amid the dry brush. As he set ups his M107, he sees the Chinook bank and head for the drop site.
A yellow line blazes across his retina as a rocket smashes into the Apache. With a loud crash it explodes, its magazine instantly igniting. A second rocket smashes into the Chinook. Vito quickly spots the source of the SAMs on the opposite hill and brings his sniper rifle to bear on the insurgents.
Eddie, Lester, and Nick find themselves suddenly outside the aircraft. The air is suddenly hot and full of tearing metal. They fall loosely, hitting the ground with minimal force. Two larger soldiers, Max and Calvin, smash to the ground nearby as chunks of burning steel fall around them. Wincing they pick themselves up and examine their surroundings. Lester shouts, “Check for survivors!”
The smell of burning aviation fuel and flesh fills the air. Eddie focuses on his radio. Over the crackle of static, he can hear Vito’s situation report: “si-<crackle> individuals up the hill from you.” The sniper says the insurgents seem to be camouflaged, with most of the heat signatures coming from the wreckage and the village, especially the army unit’s location.
The others begin a search of the wreckage. Eddie scans for cover, spotting the forward rotor of the Chinook and the furrowed trail it left in the rocky soil.
Nick spots a survivor in flames. Pinned beneath part of the helicopter, he screams in pain as he burns alive. Without a thought, he drops his drops his belt and backpack, running into the fire. Calvin covers him as he tries to shift the mass of hot metal off of the dying man. The flames lick at Nick’s skin as he struggles to find purchase.
Vito spots the insurgents heading down the hill. Carefully he lines up the lead figure, taking his time. With a muffled bang, his shot goes through the target’s shoulder shattering it. But it doesn’t go down. It stumbles and stops. Then it reaches over with its opposite hand and wrenches its destroyed shoulder back into shape. Then it goes down the hill after its fellows like nothing had happened. Vito looks in disbelief. That’s impossible he thinks. Nothing can take a hit like that. He stares blankly forward until he loses sight of it.
Meanwhile in the valley, Lester reaches the downed Apache. The wreckage is strewn across the area of a football field. Nothing is left. He radios in, “No survivors everybody, no survivors. What’s the situation?”
Vito shakes the scene from his mind, “Hostiles coming down the hill at you.”
Lester spots them and dives for cover as a series of shots come down from the hill. “I’m under fire.”
Back at the Chinook, the flames begin to creep up Nick’s clothing. Driven by the pain and a desperate desire to save his comrade, he lifts the debris with a mighty heave. Nick grabs the horribly burned soldier and carries him out of the flames. Calvin and Eddie grab and put out the survivor as Nick drops and rolls along the ground, swiftly putting himself out. The SEALs drag the man to the safety of the forward propeller wreckage. Eddie radios back, “What’s your location Lester?”
Lester radios Vito who advises him to fall back. Calvin bandages up the burn victim as best he can. The man’s blackened and bloodstained clothing rises and falls with his ragged breathing. Calvin pulls out his shotgun and hefts the man onto his shoulder.
Vito, recomposed, takes another shot. This time the target stays down, its torso shattered by the force of the blow. Its allies don’t stop however. Vito warns the others, “Five incoming.”
As Lester regroups with the others, Nick is hastily setting up a grenade trap with Max covering him with a FN MAG. They beat a quick retreat to the village with Lester taking point and Eddie covering Calvin.
Another shot echoes across the valley. An attacker’s hand vaporizes. The sniper radios, “Guys, guys, these guys aren’t going down, there’s something strange here.”
The soldiers make for a ruined foundation between the village and the wreckage. The mud brick buildings appear red in the flickering fires. Their hurried footsteps mix with the crackle of flames and the occasional crack of Vito’s .50 caliber gun.
Lester enters the village. Mutilated bodies litter the streets: civilians, insurgents, and U.S. soldiers. Though most suffer gunshot wounds, all are missing parts: arms, sections of skin, even eyes. Lester alerts the others and checks out the structure where the army unit was camped.
A pool of blood covers the floor. Bodies lie in heaps, making a rough ring about the doorway. Errant bullet holes riddle the doorway as if they were shooting at something outside. “Everyone’s dead, let’s get out here,” Lester reports.
Vito calls over the radio, “Guys, I’m not stopping these guys, I’m hitting them and they keep going.”
Max and Nick catch up to the others. Nick looks around. “Let’s set up a good fire team position and let’s hit them with the explosives. The idea is to get them into a good kill zone. And then after that we can exfil from the village.”
“Bullets didn’t seem to do much against these guys,” Lester says.
“High explosives do something to everyone.”
Calvin takes the wounded soldier to find the best fallback position. He spots a ruined mosque and heads for it. The others watch over Nick as he lays down trip lines for some of his frag grenades as well as one of his specials, a thermite grenade.
Another crack is heard from the hill. As another creature drops and twitches, they hear, “Four still incoming.”
Lester asks, “How far are they Vito?”
“They are at the village.” Another shot rings out, causing a final one to drop to its knees. As it pulls itself upright, a final shot snaps its spine.
Calvin makes it to the mosque. He enters, his eyes adjusting to the dimness. Scattered across the floor are pieces of the villagers. A single burqa clad figure stands in the room. The young woman’s back is to him, but as she turns toward him, he can see her holding a severed arm. She presses the arm against her own bloody stump and the flesh stitches together.
Calvin drops the wounded soldier and fires his shotgun. The slug doesn’t slow her charge. He shouts, “Mosque was not a good idea.”
Calvin flies out of the mosque, slamming into a wall. He coughs, wheazing, “Its not human. Its not possible.”
The others have spotted the things. Nearly naked and stitched together from the parts of a half a dozen different people each, they charge the SEAL team. Nick is crouched by the triplines hoping to lure them into the kill zone. Faced with the impossible, Max and Eddie open fire. Nick ducks for safety and shoots a short burst into the nearest target. As its leg explodes, Max sprays the area with a wild hail of bullets.
Eddie shoots another’s arm to bits, shouting, “Die Frankenstein fuckers!”
But it is too much for Lester. He panics and flees.
The things continue their reckless advance, crawling if need be. Nick chooses to stand his ground, his bullets perforating one. Then they hit the trip lines in front of him.
Vito hears the gunfire from his position on the hill. Then the flames of an explosion rise from the village. Nick’s communications cut out.
Eddie and Max watch the grenades vaporize the monsters and slice Nick to pieces. As Max looks on in shock, Eddie yells, “Nick’s fucking down. They killed Nick! You bastards.” The two sweep the area with bullets.
As Vito takes in his friend’s death, he sweeps the hill. The figure he dropped earlier is gone. It’s torso was shattered but it is gone. He focuses his attention on the other body.
Back at the mosque, Calvin gets up, his head aching from the impact and the reverberations of the explosions. Emerging from the doorway to the mosque, the female figure moves in for the kill. Calvin puts another round into her as she comes, blowing a hole right through her. Lester, still panicking, runs past the scene.
She sways for a moment. Then she lunges at him, biting into his flesh. As she begins to eat him, he pulls the pin on his frag grenade. A hollow boom echoes across the valley.
Eddie pulls on Max’s arm. “Max! stop stop.”
As the gunfire fades, Max shakily asks, “What happened to Cal-Calvin?”
“He’s at the mosque.”
“We’ve got to get to the mosque!” He says turning into the village.
“No its no good. That what he said.”
“But, but Calvin, he’s dying…”
Eddie checks his grenades. “We’ve got to get Nick’s stuff. We’ve got to get forward.”
Max heads over to his friend’s body to get the grenade belt. As he pulls it loose, a charred arms smashes into his leg, sprawling him onto the hard earth. Eddie puts 3 rounds into the charred thing and it topples back into the flames.
Max clutches his crushed ankle. Painfully he gets up on his good foot and limps over with the grenades. He drops his machine gun and pulls out his MP5. Leaning on Eddie, the pair head out of the village.
Lester comes to a halt in an overgrown courtyard. He focuses on slowing his breathing. Looking about he radios to the others, “What’s going on, I’m confused, what’s happening?”
He hears Eddie, “What’s going on is you fucking left us bastard!”
“I did? What’s happening, where are you?”
Vito cuts in. “Eddie exfiltrate back to my position”
Vito then directs Lester to get to the edge of the village. The point man climbs up the courtyard wall. He can see the scraggly farm land one building over in the predawn light. The mosque is burning behind him in the distance.
Vito relays direction for him to regroup with the others. Then he turns back to the fallen form of his last kill. He sees its arms and legs moving, pulling in opposite directions. Suddenly they rip apart, each part moving off in a different directions.
Lester makes it back to the village entrance. He spots a figure emerge from the shadows. Then he realizes it is wearing Calvin’s face. The soldier screams and runs for safety.
Vito spots the figure. Eddie and Max emerge from the village. They see the thing in the shadows. Max quickly tosses a grenade as Vito puts a hole through its throat. As the flames of the thermite grenade consume it they see Calvin’s face.
Max looks on in horror as its screams and dies. “Fuck, fuck it was Calvin.”
As army helicopters come over the horizon, Lester stops himself at the edge of the debris field moments before he would have stumbled over Nick’s booby trap. As the sun comes up the monsters vanish and the survivors are rescued.
Back at base camp, they are debriefed.
Max loses his leg and is discharged. He moves to Eastern Oregon and drinks heavily.
Lester is given a General Discharge for cowardice. Vito doesn’t see him much.
Vito has a meeting with his team’s command officer, Lieutenant Commander Sunnerton. The officer lays out the official report to him. The army unit they were sent to rescue encountered unexpected insurgent resistance. His SEAL team was deployed to relieve them and rescue the wounded but the insurgents shot down their transport. The surviving SEALs were too late to rescue the soldiers but were able to drive off or kill the insurgents, achieving one of their objectives. It was a tragic loss but America’s soldiers emerged victorious. He then asks Vito to sign off on the report.
Vito does. Later he will receive a bronze star for his actions.
As he leaves the commander’s tent, he spots an older man in a black suit lurking outside. ‘CIA?’ he thinks to himself. Despite his gray hair and aged face, the man looks to be in good physical shape, though faint scars run along the left side of his neck.
The man says, “Some tough business out there.”
Vito admits there were some issues with choppers being shot down.
“You didn’t see anything odd out there?”
“Wouldn’t know about that, sir,” Vito replies.
The old man is playing with a clump of rocks in his calloused hands. Vito looks at them, curious. “What do you do around here, sir?”
“Keep an eye on things.”
“What sort of things?”
“I think you know,” he tells him. “By the way those insurgents you saw? You won’t hear this anywhere else, but this is all they found of them.” He lets rocks fall to the ground.
“They seem to do pretty well with .50 caliber hits, sir.”
The old man nods, “You did good work. I might contact you later…stateside.” The man in black walks off.
Seattle at the office of One of a Kind Investigations, March 2009
Vito enters the office, the flight up fresh in his mind. The ad had been simple. ‘One of Kind Investigations seeks qualified investigator with law enforcement or military experience to join the team. Out of the box thinking required.’
Pictures of unfamiliar people and pets decorate the secretary’s desk along with a well used box of tissues. The older woman looks up, her hair a bright silver. “Hello you are?”
He remembers the voice from the phone, Mavis Brooks. “Vito Venticelli.”
“Ah, yes we’re expecting you. Give me a moment to let Shaw know you are here.”
She calls over the office phone and than escorts him down the hall to the office of Lillian Shaw. Before she leaves she asks, “Do you want a coffee?”
Woman behind the desk is dressed professionally in a business suit with slacks. The windows behind her look out over downtown. Shaw leans over the desk to shake Vito’s hand. “Hi I’m Lillian Shaw. Did Mavis ask if you wanted something to eat?”
“No thank you ma’am.”
“Ok, please have a seat. Vito-,” she says trying to pronounce his name.
“Venticelli,” he finishes for her.
“I must say, your credentials are very impressive. Are you planning to move to Seattle?”
“If I get a job, yes ma’am.”
“May I ask your interest in the city is?”
“The job.” The rough economic climate hangs over the conversation.
“Where were you last working?”
“Oh I see. But you’ve been stateside for a while?”
“3 weeks ma’am.”
“Oh, congrats. Thank you very much for your service.”
“Have you had any experience with investigation work?”
“What we did in Afghanistan was quite a bit of investigation work.”
“I see.” She pauses a moment before explaining the job. “Well we are mostly looking for someone to handle our day to day investigations with a focus on missing persons. Also possibly philandering spouses. We also sometimes handle some more unusual cases that require a certian degree of tact. You think that something you are interested in?”
“I’m good with my hands,” he replies, hinting at his weapons expertise.
“But you also believe you would be good in a social situation as well?”
“Not a problem. I grew up in a not very good neighborhood on the outskirts of New York City. In Jersey.”
“I see. Ok.”
Mavis returns with coffee. Talk turns to any local contacts he might be able to contribute. Vito however is new to the area and while some of his comrades in arms might have moved or returned to Seattle, he isn’t aware of any at the moment.
“I am looking to expand my team’s combat experience. I personally put time in with the Seattle PD.” She stops, thinking of how much to tell him. “The founder of the company was recently recovered under mysterious circumstances and it is currently unclear what happened to him while he was missing. I believe in being prepared for any eventuality.”
Vito seems unfazed by that. The two each hint at strange things they have seen with Vito commenting that he had seen odd things in Afghanistan.
Shaw looks over his resume and the results of Robert‘s background check on Vito. The records are clean, too clean. Shaw can see he was involved in secret, probably special ops, work. She notes that he was given an Honorable Discharge but didn’t reenlist. She thinks however he has been telling her the truth.
“What made you decide not to reenlist, to rejoin civilian life?”
“The last mission was really bad.”
“I can’t talk about it but…it was really bad.”
The interview draws to a close. Shaw asks, “Any questions for me?”
Vito asks about the types of cases. Shaw talks about them in more details as well as the typical case load. Gradually talk turns to the city of Seattle and the nature of living there.
“I’m prepared to offer you the position. You are honestly the best candidate that I’ve interviewed today.”
Vito accepts and they talk about the next steps, getting his paperwork done for his detective license and Seattle permits. Shaw also wants him to talk to a psychiatrist she has on retainer,for psychiatric evaluation. She assures him it is purely a precaution and she is sure there won’t be any issues. Vito seems confident as well.
He leaves the office thinking about apartments to rent and travel arrangements to make.
Seattle, Lake Union, November 2005
A chill mist blows over Lake Union. Shaw slowly paces down the street, her eyes taking in every detail. The gentle lap of the waters mixes with the noise of traffic a few blocks away. The Seattle P.D. was scouring the city for Nicole Vogel’s son but they didn’t have Shaw’s contacts. Someone saw a child matching Richard’s description around this area. He might be gone but he might still be here.
There. Shaw spots the the arm of red jacket poking out of a trash bin. Richard had a jacket like that when he went missing. She hurries over to the trash bin, pulling out the small damp jacket. The name tag reads Richard Vogel.
Looking around, the trash bin can only belong to dingy house boat rotting nearby. Peeling paint and a slight tilt hint at long abuse. She looks in a window, making out a dirty hallway and a room with only a single chair and an old TV. Down the hall she can see a kitchen. Occasionally a figure comes into view, apparently cooking breakfast.
Shaw moves away from the window, staying close to a wall. She pulls out her phone and texts her contact on the force. She gives her current location and the info on the jacket. Then she turns off her phone.
She gets up on deck. Thinking about the layout of her houseboat, she’d guess the kid would be kept below desks, probably in the aft. Shaw knocks on door.
There is a clang and some cursing from inside. A few moments later, a bleary eyed man in boxers and a bathrobe comes to the door. “What is it?”
“You the owner of this boat?”
“Yeah, I’m the owner of this boat,” the pot bellied man says testily.
Shaw introduces herself as being form the local marina boat owner’s association. She pushes forward into the door. It only opens a few inches with the man’s firm hand on it.
“What do you want? This is my home.”
“Well you have complaints about your home, sir. I’d really like to just get this taken care of so you can go on about your day.”
The man caves and lets her inside. A few dozen bottles cluster near the door. He asks, “What’s the complaints about?”
Shaw can smell the alcohol on him. She quickly takes in the area. She spies two plates on the kitchen table with burnt eggs and cold pieces of bread on them. A bottle of Jack Daniels completes the scene. “Well I can see you’ve lived here some time. You know all our regulations about proper exterior maintenance.”
She rattles off a list of ordinances and nautical jargon in a half bored tone.
Flustered, the man says, “Yeah, ok, I’ll make the repairs. I’ll get the whatchamacallit license.”
“I need to get a copy of your license,” she asks.
Grudgingly the man heads into another room to dig out his license. Meanwhile Shaw spots the hatch to the lower level. A chair has been haphazardly thrown on top of it. Carefully she moves the chair, but it scrapes against the hatch. “What’s that noise!” she hears the man shout from the other room.
The man hurries back to find Shaw seated in the chair. He has his wallet in one hand and a revolver in other hand.
“That’s not necessary,” Shaw says defusing the situation.
The man lets gun drop, stuffing it into his bathrobe. “You moved my chair.”
“I wanted to sit down.”
The man hands over his wallet while Shaw pulls out a pad, surreptitiously clearing a path to her gun. The license is for a George Meier. “Good, this is current, that will go well for you. The only other thing I need to know is are you the only one here sir?”
As she says this they both hear knocking coming from the hatch. A muffled child’s calls out, “I’m hungry.”
A moment of silence hangs in the air as they look at each other. Then they both go for their guns.
Shaw is faster, pulling out her Glock and shooting the kidnapper’s hand before he can pull the trigger. His gun flies across the room. As he cradles his hand in pain, Shaw hurls her chair at him, knocking him to the ground and away from the revolver.
Shaw backs up, keeping the gun pointed at George. Reaching behind her she opens the hatch. Richard comes stumbling out. Sirens can be heard in the distance. She scoops up the kid and begins to move out of the room. “Stay down, Meier.”
Meier stays on the ground as she carries Richard out of the house boat. The rain has picked up the flashing police lights light the street.
The press are hot on their heels and as Shaw reaches the police, they hurriedly snap pictures. Soon the image of her and the rescued boy is in newspapers across the country.
Seattle, Industrial District, December 2008
A cold drizzle falls over Seattle. Shaw glances out the window thinking about Frank. The company’s founder has been missing for 3 weeks. Last she heard he was working on a case for an old client. That was November.
Shaw tries not to think about the sniffles she hears from Mavis‘s desk, almost wishing she was on that stakeout with Erin Bartram. Its been over a year since she was in the field. Why didn’t she stay closer to the action?
The phone rings. Shaw picks it up. It is Sam Jollenson from Missing Persons. “I think we might have found Frank.”
“Is he okay?” she asks.
“I don’t know, got some reports of a homeless man in the industrial district matching Frank’s description.”
“Okay, can you give me a location?” Shaw quickly jots down the street.
“Robert come with me.” She steers him out into the hall. Once out of earshot she says,
“I didn’t want to say anything in front of Mavis, but I think we found Frank.”
“Oh, great.” He looks at her expression. “Or is it great?”
“I don’t know they have reports of a homeless man matching his description. he’s alive but…I don’t know. Let’s see.”
“Seems odd, but okay.”
They head down to the Industrial District. The cold rain mixes with the runoff from the ruined factories. Gray streaks mar the building facades. The two detectives split up to cover more ground.
As Robert heads down a cracked concrete sidewalk, he spots a homeless guy shivering in blanket at the entrance to an alleyway. He approaches cautiously. “Uh, sir excuse me.”
The man looks up, his bald head streaked with dirt. Robert suddenly recognizes him. “Frank?”
The man doesn’t seem to recognize him. “Hold on a second sir.” Robert pulls out his cellphone. “Miss Shaw, I think I found him.”
While he wait for her to arrive, Robert checks on Frank. The older man is freezing, wearing a damp blanket and a dirt streaked coat. As he sits there rocking back and forth he keeps muttering, “Sandman, sandman, sandman.”
“Are you okay Frank, is there I can do for you?”
“Sandman takes your thoughts away,” the man cryptically replies.
Robert decides to humor him. “Ah yes the sandman, I hear you. Ah, so what are you up to Frank?”
“They fill your-your head with sand.”
“That’s true so true. Its going to be alright Frank. Lillian’s coming, We’re going to take you back to Mavis. You know Mavis right?”
“Mavis?” Frank seems confused.
Robert tries to comfort him. “The sandman can’t get you there.”
Robert spots Shaw hurriedly making her way up the street. She walks over the old man and tries to touch him. Frank flinches back. “Frank. Frank its me.”
Robert tries to help, “Its okay, she’s not one of the sandmen.”
“It was an enee, an enee came for me.” Frank babbles.
“Who came for you?” Shaw asks.
“The enees, they came for me.”
“Frank, Mavis is worried about you. Will you come with us?”
Then Frank pulls his revolver from the recesses of his coat. “Put 6 slugs into it, it came. It came.”
Robert puts up his hands. “Frank give me the gun.”
The deranged detective hands him the revolver. Robert tells him, “That’s good Frank, very good. Its going to be okay.”
As Frank continues to mumble about slugs, Robert pops open the revolver. The shell casings are all empty.
He turns to Shaw, “What do you think?”
Shaw continues to focus on Frank. “Are you hurt Frank?”
Frank shivering starts to repeat the word sandman again. Shaw tries to comfort him, but he doesn’t seem to remember her. Eventually she and Robert are able to calm him down. They get him into their car. Despite the damage to his mind, Frank shows no signs of physical harm beyond exposure.
“Let’s take him home and see if he recognizes anything,” Shaw says. Robert calls a head to Mavis and they meet her at Frank and Mavis’s house.
But even amid the floral print wallpaper and pictures of time gone by, Frank fails to recognize anything, even his wife Mavis. Shaw calls the Seattle PD, informing that they did find Frank. She asks them if they have a reference for a good psychiatrist.
As Shaw jots down the details for a, Mavis asks Robert, “What happened to him?”
Robert looks at Frank shivering in his wife’s arms, clutching a cup of warm tea. Mavis sobs, “He doesn’t recognize me.”
Robert tries to comfort her. “I think he’s just in shock. I think he’ll be fine. It’s going to be okay.”
“We should take him to a hospital.”
“Let’s hold on for a minute. Miss Shaw’s looking into it, she’ll know what to do.”
Shaw calls Dr. Sorenson and sets up an appointment for him. She also makes an appointment for a complete physical. She tells Mavis they will do whatever it takes to help Frank get better.
The physical goes well. The doctor can find nothing medically wrong with Frank that can’t be explained by a bit of exposure. Physically he is in excellent health.
As Trevor comes in, Frank is hunched over slowly rocking back and forth and muttering, “Sandman, sandman, put sand in my brain.” He notices the doctor. “They put spiders in my head but it didn’t take. They didn’t take.” He starts giggling.
Calmly Dr. Sorenson aaks, “When did they do this Frank? When did this happen?”
The old detective struggles for an answer. “Ah…I don’t know.”
“Do you need to see a calender or a clock?”
Frank however cannot muster an answer. Trevor asks him, “Where did this happen?”
“The bad place,” he answers promptly.
“This bad place, what do you remember about this bad place?”
“The Silent One, the Silent One was there. He comes at night.”
“Can you remember any colors?”
“Black.” He thinks. “Gray.”
“Was this a house? A hotel? Perhaps a park or a street? A hospital?”
To each question Frank struggles, mumbling, “House…hospital…I don’t know.”
“Frank tell me about your family. Where is your family? Your wife Mavis?”
Again Frank can’t answer.
“Where did you go to school?”
“School…Rainier Beach high school.”
It seems Frank can remember somethings, particularly from his childhood. There are snatches and fragments of memory of more recent times but huge areas of his life are missing. With difficulty he can name his favorite food or color.
MRI tests show substantial and peculiar brain damage. Some segments are no so much destroyed as deformed, smoothed out somehow. Something about the images makes Trevor think about Subject #A-3’s file. Growing increasingly nervous the doctor looks into Frank’s medical history. He orders tests, tests for BCE, prions, and a host of related neurological ailments. But Frank’s system is clean of known foreign agents. There are no drugs, no bacteria, no viruses. There are no head trauma and nothing in his medical history to suggest a cause.
Trevor returns to Shaw and Robert. Dr. Sorenson discusses the pathology of Frank’s brain damage. He relays the similar cases he has uncovered in Newark, New Jersey in the 50’s, Lecce, Italy in the 90’s and Beijing just a few years ago. All had the same symptoms of abrupt amnesia and specific patterns of brain damage. He explains there must be some sort of disease behind this.
As he calmly relays this he tries not to slip the other details he has learned. That each incident happened near the site of a Pentex research facility or one of its subsidiaries.
Trevor admits Fixing Frank’s brain is beyond him but that drugs may help him with communicating with others. With time and therapy he might eventually be able to care for himself. “He needs these medications. He is suffering from a complex of delusions, anxieties and paranoia. These will help to keep him calm.”
Robert objects. “I guess the delusions, I’m not sure he’s paranoid.”
“Paranoia that the sandman-”
Robert cuts him off. “Something did effect his brain, not the sandman, that’s nonsense, but something happened.”
Shaw thinks about what little she know about what happened to Frank. The old client he was working with is still unknown. His trail wandered across the city, focusing on the Industrial and Central Districts. The last place he was seen was Yessler Terrace.
Hesitantly, Dr. Sorenson warns, “You may not want to dig too deep into what really happened because.. there could be those who don’t want you to know. That could be dangerous for you.”
Shaw presses him on what he means. He tries to play it off but his facade rapidly gives way to rambling. “I’m not sure if this happened to him because something else or if you tried investigating too much into what happened to him that then whoever they are would come to try cover things up. I know it sounds like a conspiracy theory.”
Robert comments, “It seems the paranoia is catching.”
Trevor tries to explain. “There are institutions with questionable ethics that may be involved with what happened to Frank. It would be best if you were very very cautious if you were to pursue an investigation into this matter, for your own safety.”
“It sound like you might know what those connections are,” Shaw says calmly.
“They are only hunches I have no evidence whatsoever,” he lies regaining some composure. “I’m not trying to scare you.”
“We’re really going to look into this. Frank’s a friend. We’re not going to let this drop for vague they might come me kind of thing. I need a little more than that if I’m going to scared off,” Robert says.
“I can see that. I can see that my warnings and caution are just going to peak your interest instead of actually caution you away form this.” Trevor sighs. “There are…corporations which do experimental research and either Frank is a by product of some of this research or else he investigated something and they found him and they did this to him to keep him quiet.”
“So who’s they?” In the doctor’s silence, Robert continues. “I need a less wild conspiracy. They is pretty vague.”
The doctor’s facade breaks, “Listen you can’t lead them back to me. Because if they find out that I told you then it could come back to me and then..”
They assure him they are very discrete. Reassured Trevor continues, “You’ve heard of Pentex and one of their subsidiaries Verdant Technologies. If he was investigating something related to that you should be extremely cautious.”
“Is this Pentex of Verdant?” Robert asks.
“Where does one end and the other start?”
Robert muses, “Pentex is a normal company. They make everything. Its hard to believe Pentex would be involved in this. Verdant, I don’t know anything about them. Who knows right?”
Shaw adds, “Verdant isn’t local. How could Frank have gotten involved with them?”
“I’d like to know that myself,” says Dr. Sorenson. He explains the links he has found between Pentex and the other cases. Possibly Pentex is researching a neurological drug and Frank might have found out something dangerous about this work.
Shaw presses him for more evidence. “Why are you so sure?”
“I have…a lot of experience in the pharmaceutical industry and I’ve seen hints of cases similar to this. Cases that I can’t avow any knowledge of. Cases with similar patterns of brain damage and similar deformities. It fits no known pattern of disease on this planet. I know you think I’m crazy but I have a lot of experience with people in Frank’s position. There are things out there that are not explainable by mundane medicine.”
He continues, “I think we should investigate this from Frank’s end.” He urges them to be discrete and mentions that other people, people he can’t name for Robert and Shaw’s safety, have had accidents. “In the meantime, we should look if there are less documented cases in the area.”
In the end he gives them a series of drug prescriptions and advises Frank be institutionalized or else kept under 24 hour care. "I don’t believe he is a danger to himself but perhaps he is to others.
Seattle, Offices of One of a Kind Investigations, January 2008
Robert remains suspicious of . “He seems off the rails to me. Maybe what he is saying is totally accurate but he seems very dodgy.”
Meanwhile Shaw starts looking for similar cases in the area to Frank’s. She calls up her contacts in Homicide. They’ve heard about strange deaths, of course, but don’t believe in them. One of them however, mentions “that crazy spider guy.”
“What do you mean?”
“He was one those CSI techs. He keeps going on about spiders inside people’s heads.”
Shaw’s mind flashes to Frank’s raving about spiders inside people’s heads. Her friend mentions some of the cases: homicide victims, victims of strokes, and accident victims.
“That’s kind of crazy,” she responds.
“What’s this guy’s name? Is he still working for the force?”
“He quit a little while ago. His name is, um. Its Hungarian or something. Ilyes. Something like that.”
Shaw thanks him and turns to finding this Dr. Ilyes. A quick internet search turns up www.muertebizarro.com, a blog focused on strange and exotic diseases, deaths, and misadventures.
Amid the reports of strange parasites and glass bullets lodged in brains, she finds evidence about spider infestations of the brain.
Shaw conducts a deep background check of this former coroner, following his life through med school, his CSI career after dropping out of residency, until his current post as a lab assistant at a fertility clinic. Satisfied he doesn’t have any personal connection to Frank or Pentex, she checks in on Robert. Dr. Sorenson seems to be clean, though he was once an employee of Verdant Technology with lots of stock options. He’s unloaded them in recent years.
As they compare notes, Rober notes, that they are “both a couple of loons.”
“Yeah but they might have an idea about what is happened to Frank’s brain.” Shaw decides to call a meeting with both the doctors.
Kevin Ilyes picks up the phone at the fertility clinic.
Shaw’s voice comes over the line. “Hi is this Dr. Ilyes?”
“Hi this Liliian Shaw from One of a Kind Investigations. I’m not sure you’ve heard of us but we’re based in the Seattle area.”
“Right, I’m familiar,” Kevin says cautiously.
“Well, I’m investigating a case that has run into a medical field that I’m not familiar with. But I see that you have extensive-”
“Oh, are you interested in running some paternity inquiries here at our clinic?” he interjects.
“No actually I’m quite familiar with that area of the medical field,” Shaw replies matter-of-factly. “I am actually talking about parasitic organisms. Particularly associated with the cranial matters.”
Kevin hesitates. “Okay. I’m not a neurologist but I am familiar with those matters. I can give you a broad overview about brain based parasites.”
“Yes. I’m particularly interested in your postings to muerte bizarro.”
“Well, that’s more speculative. It is more of a coroner’s tabloid really.”
“But these cases do come from your work in the Seattle morgues?”
Again he pauses. “The evidence does. What people construe from that evidence is entirely their own interpretation. Some people have exaggerated some evidence far out of proportion from what I found.”
“Of course. Would you be willing to bring your case files to our offices for a brief consultation. You will of course be paid for your time.”
“Alright, but…alright. Are you planning on any sort of publication of this work?”
“I’m a private investigator, I don’t publish anything.”
Reassured, Kevin says, “Okay.”
“Thank you very much Dr. Ilyes. Shall we say Thursday at 4 o’clock.”
“Excellent. I look forward to meeting with you.”
Dr. Ilyes’s mind instantly begins building a case for these parasites. He is going to prove to them he is not a kook.
Seattle, Offices of One of a Kind Investigations, January 10, 2008
The office’s florescent lighting makes the gray sky outside seem even darker. Beads of water cover the window. The doctors shuffle in, leaving their damp coats on the hanger by the entrance. Mavis has left coffee and cookies out before heading home alone.
Shaw introduces the two doctors. lays out the files containing all of Frank’s medical records. Intrigued, Dr. Ilyes begins to review the evidence. He checks the dates, making sure the lesions are not growing.
“I’ve seen cases like this. First of all, you may find this hard to believe but your patient is lucky. There are not a lot of survivors of this condition.”
Shaw asks, “Do you have documented cases?”
“Several. Mostly homeless people. I believe the condition is related to poor hygiene.”
Dr. Sorenson interjects, “But the patient didn’t start out homeless.”
“Right,” Shaw adds.
The psychiatrist leans over the table. “My theory is that he became homeless because of this condition. He contracted this, it affected his psyche, and he ended up on the streets suffering from paranoid delusions.”
They relay the timeline of Frank’s disappearance and recovery. Dr. Ilyes asks what his treatment has been since his recovery. Dr. Sorenson gives him a series of drugs used to treat anxiety and keep Frank calm.
Robert hears Mavis’s printer go off in the other room. Curious he go out to check on it.
“Has your research brought you into contact with these cases?” Dr. Sorenson shows him the details on the other cases in Beijing and Italy.
“Interesting,” the other doctor replies. The two rapidly begin to discuss the possible pathological cause of this phenomena.
The meeting room phone rings using Mavis’s line. Shaw picks it up. “What’s going on?”
Robert ask, “Can you come out here for a minute?”
Bewildered, Shaw agrees. Putting down the phone, she turns to the two doctors, “Gentlemen, I leave you to discuss this.”
Ilyes continues, “This is interesting, I was thinking we were looking at a localized phenomonon. This seems to indicate that it is spread through a large population.”
Sorenson replies, “I didn’t think of it that way. I thought it was some sort of medication that was causing this deterioration.”
Their conversation turns to parasites and other microorganisms. Ilyes brings up his research into parasitic spiders, comparing it to the Brazilian boring blot fly with a life cycle that includes living within a warm blooded host. Ilyes admits the idea is somewhat far fetched but Sorenson seems receptive the idea. They hypothesize it is some sort of species jumper. Sorenson advocates a primate host while Ilyes favors rats and stray cats as the disease reservoir.
Shaw finds Robert holding a printout while looking over Mavis’s computer. He hands the paper to Shaw:
As Shaw tries to take this in, Robert scours the computer for any clues. Someone hacked through his firewall, loaded and printed this document and then removed any traces.
Shaw says, “These are the things Frank has been talking about.”
“Should we show it them?”
“I’d kinda like to get their take on this.”
“I don’t trust Sorenson.”
“I’d like to read their reactions to this.”
They decide to split the task of watching their reactions. “You keep an eye on Sorenson, I’ll watch Iyles,” Shaw says as they head back into the meeting.
As they return they find the doctors talking excitedly.says, “-get tissues sample from his brain to test for these arachniod infestations.”
Shaw interrupts. “Gentlemen, our systems have just been hacked. This was printed on our printer.” She hands them the paper. “I’d like to know your thoughts.”
As the two doctors read their expression quickly diverge. Dr. Sorenson seems worried and curses under his breath. Dr. Ilyes however seems thoughtful and intrigued. After a moment he says, “Patients suffering from this condition could have symptoms like those of advanced kuru or Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, which is to say they could be demonstrating a severe dementia, paranoia and other schizophrenic tendencies. Even without any previous schizophrenic expression.”
“You think Frank sent that?” Shaw asks incredulously.
“I’m not talking about Frank, I’m talking about another afflicted individual.”
Dr. Sorenson comments, “They would have to be at an earlier stage than Frank to be coherent enough to type this up. But perhaps they would also be more cogent to speak with.”
“They’re obviously working at a higher level to break through my firewall,” Robert interjects. “This is not a brain damaged person’s work.” He points to the paper. “This might be though.”
“Yes, the material about the sandman and the silent one,” Ilyes agrees.
Sorenson muses, “Those are similar to words that Frank used in discussing what he fears. Perhaps this was someone Frank was working with? And he’s using this code to get our attention so we can contact him and learn more about what happened to Frank. Perhaps Frank had a silent partner, a Silent One. This person does appear to be at an earlier stage of the same psychosis. If he is deteriorating as well we should find him soon and question him while we can.”
Ilyes is also intrigued. “This could be a breakthrough in terms of treatment. If they are in an early stage of the disease, a cure might be affected.”
The psychiatrist frowns. “Or this could be Pentex luring you into a trap.”
Ilyes is confused. “Pentex? the big multinational company?”
“It could be a whistleblower,” Robert suggests.
“Yes, or someone tracking down lose ends to cut them off.” Dr. Sorenson steps back considering the dangers.
“I’d think it was prank, but for the fact that it tracks so close to Frank’s delusions.”
Shaw comes to decision. “I think the obvious protocol is to do a sting. I don’t think we can afford not to.”
South end of Georgetown, Seattle, January 11, 2008, 3AM
A small plane passes low overhead, its landing lights breaking the gloom. Shaw gets out of her car and whispers into her trench coat’s collar. “Testing, testing.”
She glances down the street at a small parked car. It’s headlights flash. The audio connection checked, she heads for the alley.
Back in the car, Robert listens to his iPod as the doctors shuffle in the back still looking for a comfortable spot in the tiny car.
As Shaw enters the alleyway, a cat scurries out of a damp cardboard box, meowing pitifully. Her skin tingles in the cool air and she smells a hint of ozone. “Strange smell,” others hear back in the car.
Suddenly cat hisses and runs away. Small motes of glowing dust begins to appear in the air in front of Shaw. Wary, she takes a step back, shielding her face. A strange rod-like thing floats across alley, making an s-pattern in the air. Shaw shines her flashlight on it and it darts away. But soon other rods appear. She realizes the creatures are moving from one side of the alley to the other. Even the strange dust is slowly drifting.
Then she notices the words on the cardboard box begin to shift. They rearrange and twist from the Office Depot logo into the phrase: “The Spiders Live Inside the Brain.”
Thinking quickly, Shaw takes a picture of the words. Then slowly the motes begin to fade away. The rods vanish. When Shaw looks back the letters again spell out Office Depot.
Shaw tries to talking into the microphone. But she can’t. “K-..” She tries say a word but can only make unintelligible noises. Quickly she taps out an SOS.
Robert gets the signal, gets out of the car and runs over.
The two doctor’ worried begin to move so they can reach the wheel if need be. Thennotices a black Mustang slowly coming up the road. It stops by their car for a moment but two doctors can’t seen anything through its darkly tinted windows. It has no license plates. As it moves on Sorenson ducks down trying to hide.
Robert reaches the alleyway. “Are you okay, Shaw?”
“I-I couldn’t talk.” Robert looks down the alleyway but sees nothing.
“There was s-some strange shit. I think the doctors need to examine me. Fuck.”
Just then they notice the unmarked Mustang pass by. It slows for a moment by the alley, then peels off. Back in the car, Ilyes curses. “I just realized what happened. That Mustang, that was the contact and they noticed us and they took off.”
Robert meanwhile keeps his attention on Shaw. “You’re okay now? Everything seems fine?”
“Not sure.” She checks her camera. The date stamp on the last picture is 3:03 AM. There is no message on the box only some of the glowing dust. “There was some really weird shit. There were some floating clouds of dust. I didn’t get close to it. Then suddenly I say the words spin off a box and say the spiders live inside the brain.”
She points out that the camera didn’t catch the words. “I think I need to be checked out by a doctor. If this is some sort of pathogen shit…I don’t want it in my head.”
Robert offers to drive her home or to the hospital. As time passes, Shaw seem more sure of herself. “I’m going to go home and I’ll give you a call. And I’ll check myself in in the morning to get my brain scanned…I guess.”
They head back to the others. Iyles says, “I think you guys missed the contact, they were in the black Mustang.”
“No. That was a recon squad.” Shaw turns to Robert. “Its pretty obvious, right?”
The other detective nods. “Yeah. I guess in hidesight, if you look at the message, they don’t actually say they are going to meet us. It says be there and you’ll learn the truth about stuff.”
“Unfortunately I think I took my picture too late,” Shaw says showing the doctors her picture.
Ilyes is confused. “So did you meet anyone in the alleyway?”
“No, there was no-one in the alleyway, except for this floating dust stuff.”
Iyes insists in checking out the alley. He puts on his mask, goggles and gloves. “Where did you see the dust?”
Shaw points out the areas and meticulously he gathers samples, checking for cobwebs as he goes. He also samples the tire treads from the mysterious Mustang.
In the weeks that follow Shaw gets a clean bill of health but no more clues. Ilyes’s samples turn up negative for anything unusual. They are no closer to the truth for now…