Here's a short story I wrote last year. It's sci-fi, taking place in the near future and revolves around cleaning up all the nasty things the 20th century left for the 21st. Also, it's got a bit about North Korea and South Korea so it's relevant to what is currently happening. Feel free to leave feedback if you want. If you really like it, throw me a few bucks by clicking the Paypal button.
“Dave? Can you come up to conference room A on the 17th floor, please? Our guests have arrived.”
David Turner looked up from the briefing data he was looking at and punched the intercom button on his phone. “I’ll be there in a second.”
Turner stood up, stretched his tall frame and pulled his suit jacket on. He reached for his mobile phone and his right hand shook involuntarily with the effort. He watched, mesmerized, as he willed it to grasp the small phone lying on his desk and marveled at how his own hand refused his commands. He pulled a bottle of small pills from his upper left desk drawer and flipped the lid off. He tilted the bottle to his mouth and snaked out a pill with his tongue. Eyes closed tightly, he waited a minute and the tremors in his hand subsided.
He walked out of his small office and made his way to the elevator. A moment later, he walked into the conference room on the 17th floor.
There were several people already seated at the large table. He walked to the far side of the room and took a seat beside his supervisor, Director Jim Thompson. Jim turned and motioned to the two people sitting across the table, “This is Colonel Mihail Belov of the Russian Ministry of Security.” The large man sitting directly across from him stood and shook hands. The man looked like he was in his mid-fifties with his cropped white hair and short beard but he still had a powerful grip. His companion stood up. “This is his assistant, Captain Valentina Ivanova,” Jim said. Turner took her outstretched hand lightly and smiled. Captain Ivanova appeared to be in her early thirties. She was a very attractive blonde with icy blue eyes that held Turner’s attention. After a tight squeeze she released his hand and they took their seats.
“Dave, the Colonel and Captain speak fluent English so you won’t have to use your Russian.”
“I’ve asked to you to join us because of your knowledge of twentieth and early twenty-first century military forces and equipment.” He turned to the Russians. “Agent Turner serves with the Central Bureau of Intelligence and Investigation as a military analyst. His area of expertise begins with the Cold War era and runs through the first half of the twenty-first century. In addition to his duties here at CBI & I, he has also served with the United Nations Weapons of Mass Destruction Inspection Committee.” Dave Turner nodded as he took his seat. “Captain Ivanova? You may proceed with your presentation.” Jim picked up the remote control for the room’s display system and slid it across the table.
She darkened the lights and a hologram appeared at the end of the table. Turner leaned forward and stared intently at the image, intrigued. It appeared to be a heavily damaged submarine on the ocean floor. Captain Ivanova stood up and approached the hologram.
“Gentlemen, this is the Soviet Ballistic Missile Submarine TK-208.” Turner noticed immediately that she spoke almost flawless English. “It sank in the Atlantic Ocean in 1996, 300 kilometers off the coast of Spain. A robotic monitor took this image just over six months ago. The wreck of the TK-208 lies in just over 3,000 meters of water. It is periodically surveyed to ascertain if it poses any risk to the surrounding environment.”
Turner raised a hand. “What sort of risk would it pose? It’s been down there for almost seventy years.”
Ivanova looked at her Colonel. He turned to the two men on the other side of the table. “The TK-208 was a Typhoon class submarine.” His voice was gruff and his accent thick. “It was powered by two nuclear reactors and its payload on this mission consisted of 18 RSM-52 intercontinental ballistic missiles. Each missile contained 10 multiple independent return vehicles. That equals ten nuclear warheads per missile.”
“What was the yield per warhead?” Jim asked.
“100 kilotons. Obviously, we are concerned that the casing protecting the reactors and missiles may deteriorate over time. Our robotic probe is one of the precautions we take concerning this matter.”
Director Thompson turned back to the Captain. “Please continue.”
“This image,” she pressed a button on the remote and a new hologram flickered into place, “was taken 17 days ago. As you can see, someone has disturbed the site of the wreckage.”
Turner looked at the image and saw that all of the missile compartment hatches had been removed and now lay on the seabed beside the hull. The high-resolution image showed that they had been cut off neatly but hastily. The hinges were sliced where they attached to the hatch covers and stuck up out of the hull at odd angles. He thought back to what he remembered about Typhoon class submarines.
“The missile compartments and inner hull were constructed of titanium weren’t they?” He asked.
“Yes, they were,” Ivanova said. “Whoever did this worked very quickly and had access to very modern salvage technology.”
“I would guess robotic submersibles,” Turner said. “Considering the age of the wreckage and the danger presented by the reactor and missiles an unmanned salvage operation would be safest.”
“If I may continue?”
“Sorry, Captain. Please, go ahead.”
“Surveillance data captured by satellites passing over the area during the last month don’t indicate anything out of the ordinary. This part of the Atlantic contains busy shipping lanes so there is much commercial traffic.”
“What about underwater surveillance?” Jim asked.
“That is why we are here, Director Thompson. The United States still maintains a network of underwater microphones in the Atlantic Ocean. It is our hope that they may have captured this unauthorized salvage operation as it occurred. If so, we may be able to use that data to track the offenders and recover those weapons.”
“Why did the TK-208 sink, Captain?” Turner asked. “Those Typhoon class submarines were very sturdy boats. If I recall correctly, they had multiple watertight compartments in addition to the dual outer hulls.”
Ivanova turned back to the hologram. “There have been six official surveys of the wreck site, Agent Turner. Four conducted by the Russian navy, one by the U.S. Navy and one by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Each survey concluded that TK-208 sank due to an explosion in her battery compartment caused by a build up of hydrogen gas. That conclusion coincides with the commanding officer’s report.”
“Who was that?”
“Captain Dimitri Kisilev. He and 17 other crewmembers escaped as the submarine sank. His official report is on file with your agency but I can give you a quick summary.” She adjusted the hologram and a computer-generated image of an undamaged TK-208 appeared.
“The submarine was submerged and patrolling 200 meters beneath the surface. Her speed was 16 knots and her course was south-southwest. At 14:25 on 20 November 1996, Captain Kisilev received a report of leaking hydrogen gas in the battery compartment. He gave the order to surface the ship with the intent to vent the compartment. Forty seconds into their ascent, he reported a tremendous explosion from the stern. The submarine began to founder, operational control was lost. At this point, it became apparent to Captain Kisilev that his vessel was taking on water and he had only seconds to act. He ordered all hands to abandon ship and the crew on the command deck used one of the two emergency pods to escape. Crew members in one of the aft sections of the submarine made a similar escape using the second pod. In all, eighteen of the crew managed to escape.”
“That is very unusual,” Turner said. “I know the Typhoon class vessels had technical problems but to have such a catastrophic incident due to battery failure is unprecedented for the time.”
“TK-208 had been at sea for just 4 days when the accident occurred and it has been speculated that her refit at the Litsaguba shipyards may have been less than comprehensive,” Ivanova explained. “Remember, the Soviet Union had collapsed less than a decade before and the Russian Federation did not have the financial resources necessary to properly maintain high end equipment like TK-208. She was also the oldest of the Typhoon class having been in service for 15 years when this event occurred. The official board of inquiry found that poor maintenance and substandard battery production were to blame for the accident.”
Thompson stood up and raised the light level in the room. “Colonel, Captain, there was another reason I asked Agent Turner to join us today. Before coming to work for the Bureau, he was a weapon’s inspector with the United Nations. As you know, the treaty banning weapons of mass destruction was signed by all member states in 2039. Since then, the UN has had the mandate and authority to inspect any signatory country in the world for WMD’s. Basically, there is no place on Earth they cannot go to search for banned weapons.”
“What does this have to do with our sunken submarine and missing missiles, Director Thompson?” Colonel Belov asked.
“We discovered that the wreckage of the TK-208 had been disturbed four months ago, Colonel Belov.” The Russian looked surprised. “As you said, the U.S Navy maintains a network of underwater microphones throughout the world’s oceans; the SOSUS net. An analyst routinely examining data came across sounds that lingered too long over the site of your wrecked submarine. All modern military wreck site coordinates are marked with global positioning transponders and this data was cross-referenced with the sounding received from the SOSUS net.”
Belov stood up, his face red with anger. “Why were we not informed?” He demanded with a thick accent. It appeared that the angrier he became the less intelligible his English was.
“Under the treaty we are only required to inform the UN and that was done. You would have to ask the representatives of the WMD Treaty Committee why you were not informed.”
Belov rolled his eyes. “The United States Ambassador has held the post of committee chair for the past eight months. You were hiding this from us.”
Thompson held his hands up. “Regardless, Colonel, our agency does not interfere with UN business. You will have to take it up with them.”
Captain Ivanova cleared her throat. Everyone turned to her. “Where are the missiles now?”
Turner stood up and activated the holographic display. “Analysis of our sonar readings determined that a large number of objects were dumped over the side of the ship that recovered the missiles a day later as it moved south. We assume those are the missile bodies. Scans of the area show no increased radiation so we also assume the warheads were removed. The ship monitored in the area was the S.S. Cascade. She’s an exploration vessel owned by BDR, a multi-national corporation whose headquarters is in the Bahamas. She assists them with energy exploration and is occasionally hired out to do surveys of underwater wreck sites. Our navy has used her to survey the U.S.S Nimitz wreckage in the Mediterranean twice. In fact, Cascade was she was coming from the Med when she stopped by the wreckage.”
He stood up and walked to the holographic display of the wreck site again. “Cascade loitered over the TK-208 for three days. During that time she looted your submarine.”
“Where did she go from there?” Captain Ivanova asked.
“Ten days later she arrived in Las Islas Malvinas, also known as the Falkland Islands.” Turner pressed a button on the remote and the holographic display changed to a map of the island chain. “A quick check of the particular island she docked at, Bleaker Island, turned up a BDR research facility. The company is leasing the entire island from the Argentine government.”
Colonel Belov placed a hand to his head and shook it at the mention of Argentina. “The Colonels. Ever since their rise to power during the coup of 2056 they have been a thorn in the side of every nation on Earth. Their involvement in a matter such as this does not surprise me.”
“Nor us, Colonel Belov,” Agent Turner said. “The Colonels rule Argentina with an iron fist. I cannot believe that anything as dangerous as nuclear weapons have found their way into that nation without their knowledge.”
Colonel Belov, still looking upset, pointed at the display. “What kind of research is an American firm doing in such an isolated outpost?”
“As far as we can tell, BDR conducts biological research at this facility. However, our intelligence is not complete with respect to exactly what kind of research or experiments they are conducting. As you know, Argentina is a member of the South American Economic Zone and they compete directly with corporations here in America. All we were able to find out about BDR’s facility was that they were involved with experimentation on genetically engineered crops. Such as making crops hardier so they can grow in difficult environments.”
Colonel Belov dismissed the answer with a wave of his hand. “Why would such a facility be interested in 80 year old nuclear weapons? The American government has been the worst kind of appeaser with relation to The Colonels. They should have been dealt with as soon as their junta took power.”
Turner spoke up, “Colonel Belov, you know Argentina has a strategic as well as economic partnership with China. As much as we dislike them the matter is hardly worth starting a war over.” He wasn’t saying anything they didn’t already know but the Russian government had done just as little as his own to stop the coup.
Belov snorted. “I think you are hiding something.”
“No, Colonel, it’s BDR that is hiding something and I think I know a way to find out what that is,” Thompson said.
Belov looked intrigued. “What do you have in mind?”
Thompson smiled. “I think it’s time the research facility on Bleaker Island got a visit from a United Nations inspection team.”
“I do not understand, Director Thompson. If a UN WMD inspection team arrives, won’t they know that you have discovered the stolen missiles from TK-208?”
Agent Turner smiled. “What of it, Colonel? The island is already under surveillance. Having the warheads and doing something with the warheads are two very different things.”
“Ah,” Belov said. “Perhaps such a straight forward approach is unwise. A small team sent in under the auspices of another office may have more success.”
Thompson nodded. “I have some connections within the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization. We could send a couple agents undercover to do some sort of inspection.”
Turner shook his head. “I disagree, Director. United Nations weapons inspectors have the authority to inspect the facility of any country that is a signatory to the U.N. treaty. I say we go in straight, tell them who we are but not exactly why we are there.”
“I agree,” said Captain Ivanova. “The U.N. has the authority to carry out such an inspection. This situation calls for directness, not deceit.”
Turner was caught off balance by Ivanova’s support. “The world was rid of nuclear weapons only when we became serious about it. If we think these people have gotten their hands on these warheads we need to show them that our resolve is steadfast.”
The big Russian colonel grunted. “I see. It is fortunate that we have a pair of agents here who have experience with such inspection teams. I am not sure you are aware of it, gentlemen, but Captain Ivanova had a tour of duty in North Africa helping to disarm the warring factions in Libya. Her efforts were instrumental in enforcing the peace treaty that was brokered two years ago.”
Director Thompson nodded. “We were aware of her background when we invited you here today, Colonel and I’m glad you agree with me. I think Agent Turner and Captain Ivanova have the experience to travel to Bleaker Island and gather the information we need.”
Director Thompson nodded. “We were aware of her background when we invited you here today, Colonel and I’m glad you agree with me. I think Agent Turner and Captain Ivanova have the experience to travel to Bleaker Island and gather the information we need.”
Belov nodded. “Da. A simple reconnaissance mission to give us some insight into what this company is up to. I agree.”
“Well, if it means anything,” Turner interrupted, “I agree as well. Captain?”
Ivanova nodded. “These warheads must be recovered as quickly as possible.”
Thompson stood up. “Good, I’m glad we’re all in agreement. Colonel, I believe you and I should continue this conversation in my office. We have to arrange the inspection with our representatives to the UN.”
Belov smiled. “I believe they will welcome our assistance.”
The two men got up and left the conference room. Turner looked at Ivanova and smiled. “Would you like to get some lunch?”
Half an hour later Turner pulled a chair out for Valentina and sat across the table from her. The day was clear and sunny so he picked an outdoor café. A waiter set water glasses in front of them and poured from a pitcher as he took their order. Lemon slices swirled among the ice cubes. Turner waited until the waiter walked away and then turned to Valentina.
“I was thinking you and I should talk a little. It would be helpful if we were familiar with one another before we arrive at Bleaker Island.”
Valentina smiled. “What would you like to know?”
“I don’t know. Do you have a family?”
“I am not married. Are you going to hit on me?”
“What?” Turner asked, blushing. “No, what gave you that idea?”
“This is the third time I have worked undercover with American intelligence agencies,” she explained. “Each time I have found one of your agents leering at me.”
Turner sat back in his chair, unsure of what to say next. “I didn’t say I didn’t like it,” she said with a smile. “I just said I expected it.”
Dave leaned forward and sipped his drink. “You’re having fun with me aren’t you?”
“A little. I saw you looking at me in the conference room…”
Turner flushed again. “I wasn’t staring at you.”
Valentina let out a sweet laugh. “It is my job to be observant, Agent Turner. Your skills as a voyeur are superb.”
Turner shook his head. “Maybe we could talk about something else.”
“If you like. I was educated at the University of St. Petersburg and graduated with a degree in psychology. What about you?”
“I have a Masters degree in history from Georgetown. I was recruited into the Central Bureau of Intelligence and Investigation because a professor thought I had the aptitude to be an analyst. I did that for a few years before being posted to the United Nations Weapon’s of Mass Destruction Inspection Team.”
“You are an analyst? Are you qualified for field operations?” She asked with some concern.
Turned nodded. “I am. I’ve done about a dozen operations and most of them were similar to this one. I go in, take a look a look around and then the Bureau sends in the second team to take action.”
“So your actions have been limited to reconnaissance?”
“Well, yes.” Turner said with some unease. “However, I am fully trained.”
“But you have not had to put your training to use?” Her tone was almost accusatory.
“No. Have you?”
Her face had a look of satisfaction on it. “In North Africa life was very dangerous. Warring factions continually broke the cease fire’s that were set in place. I saw combat a number of times.”
Turner picked up his drink again. “Being a WMD inspector can have its moments. I was in Syria eight years ago looking for Ricin. We had to conduct our surveys under armed guard. We spent two weeks digging through labs with troops looking over our shoulders, rifles locked and loaded the whole time.” He took another sip of his bourbon.
Valentina nodded. “What did you find?”
“A modified trailer with a lab in it,” he answered. “Ricin isn’t terribly hard to make and you don’t need much of it to hurt a large number of people. So there we are, twelve inspectors crawling around this trailer with Syrian troops holding rifles on us. If we walk out and announce that we’ve found Ricin will they shoot us? If we don’t and leave without saying anything will we disappear on the way back to our hotel? Will the hotel be bombed in the night? It was a real mess.”
“What did you find?”
Turner snorted in disappointment. “We found a very, very clean trailer that had been modified into a lab. You could have eaten off the floors.”
Valentina smiled knowingly. Turner noticed how lovely her face was when she was amused. “Ah, the old clean trailer lab. Let me guess, they were using it for agricultural research on-site at farms?”
“No, it was better than that. They had constructed it to use at the scene of a terrorist attack. You see, if anyone ever bothered to attack Damascus with a chemical or biological weapon, the Syrian army would roll up in this trailer and get to the bottom of it.”
Valentina considered the story for a moment. “When did you find the Ricin?”
“Three months later,” Turner answered. “We used unmanned aerial vehicles. You know, those Falcon III’s? Those little two meter bastards that look down from 70,000 feet well enough to identify a face? Well, we kept two of those tasked to the trailer, in shifts, until they used it. We waited until they took Castor beans in and drums of Ricin out. We followed the drums to a port and grabbed the ship in international waters in the middle of the Mediterranean. If we hadn’t stopped it the ship’s plan was to go to Italy, then to Libya before going to Haifa in Israel. We really don’t know who the target was.”
“I’m unfamiliar with these events,” Valentina said. “Was anyone convicted?”
Turner shrugged. “You know how these things go. The Syrian’s story was that a minor defense ministry official was responsible for the Ricin.”
“Ah, and they couldn’t find any records of what the poison was going to be used for?” Valentina guessed.
Turner pointed to her with his glass. “It’s incredible how often the records of low level defense ministry officials go missing.”
Later that afternoon Turner made his way to Director Thompson’s office. He said hello to the Director’s secretary and she waved him through. He sat down in a very nice leather chair, the kind only found in the offices of directors. The single extra chair in his own office was hard plastic and drove off visitors after a few minutes.
Jim Thompson leaned back in an even more comfortable chair, leafing through the legal sized pages of a case file. After a minute he leaned forward, made a note in the margins and closed the file, tossing it behind him onto the faux wood credenza. Even directors didn’t rate solid wood office furniture.
“You don’t have to go,” Jim said. “I’ve spoken with Sanchez and he’s up for it.”
Turner smiled. “It’s all right. I can handle it. Besides, I need the points for promotion and I need the promotion for the pension.”
“I shouldn’t allow this.
“I’m cleared for duty,” Turner insisted. “I had a physical last month. My condition is under control.”
“You haven’t been in the field for more than a year and you’ve never taken on an assignment like this.”
Turner shook his head. “I’ve completed more than half a dozen inspections in very rough regions. I can do this.”
“This is different,” Thompson countered. “You were always part of a large team. Turner rolled his eyes. “Jim, the Russians may be getting bent out of shape about this but we know it’s a farce. They can’t use the warheads for anything more than reverse engineering technology that is almost a hundred years old. The only thing those warheads tell them is how to miniaturize components for placement atop a missile and I’m pretty sure a nation as advanced as Argentina could figure that out on their own. I’m also willing to bet the Colonels have BDR running around in circles. If they wanted to develop nuclear warheads it could be done more safely and efficiently on their own. We would be crazy to think that the WMD treaty really keeps people from thinking about this technology. It’s math and science and neither one can be stopped.”
The director stared at him. He picked up the stapler from his desk and pulled the slide back, checking to see if it was empty. “If you go down their and anything happens because of your illness…”
“Then the doctor who cleared me for field work will be at fault,” Turner answered. “Jim, I need this. I won’t get a full thirty years in. I’ll be on disability long before that. I need to move up at least one pay grade to secure a decent pension.”
The director tossed his stapler across the desk without warning. Turner grabbed for it, fumbling it between his hands before it finally hit the floor. He looked up with anger in his eyes.
“That doesn’t prove anything.”
“Doesn’t help your case,” he answered. “This is your last field assignment. It’ll earn you the points you need then you’re deskbound for the rest of your time with the bureau.”
Turner nodded. “I understand.”
Thompson stood up. “Pull gear and draw arms.”
Turner began to object but the director waved him off. “However friendly we think visiting an American corporation may be, you should be prepared. Have a good trip.”
Two days later a chartered jet landed at the small airstrip near the BDR complex on Bleaker Island. The pilot taxied to a small building and dropped a small staircase to the tarmac after the plane came to a stop. Valentina stretched, grabbed her bag and joined Turner at the door of the aircraft. He leaned in close as he hefted his gear, noting her perfume. It was cinnamon. “Looks like the welcoming committee is here,” he said.
A man leaned on the fender of a large all terrain truck and looked the plane over. He was tall and lanky with deeply tanned skin and a weathered face. As the pair of agents made their way down the stairs, he ambled over and raised his hand in greeting. “Hello, my name is Jorge Allende. You are the inspectors from the United Nations?”
Turner shook his hand and introduced himself and Valentina. Jorge directed a pair of men to take their bags and they got into a waiting truck.
“Jorge,” Turner asked, “what do you do around here?” The truck turned onto a dirt road and bumped along as they made their way toward the buildings in the distance.
“I’m the maintenance manager for the entire BDR complex,” he explained. “My crew and I take care of everything from squeaky doors to holes in the roof.”
Turner smiled. “I can’t believe a research station this modern has to worry about a leaky roof.”
Jorge nodded. “That is true but the staff works very long hours. We change plenty of light bulbs.”
The ride smoothed out as Jorge turned onto a paved road. As they got closer Turner and Valentina saw the complex. It was a group of three large buildings, all very modern looking structures made of steel and glass. They were arranged around a very large circular driveway. The one in the middle was four stories high and was flanked on either side by the other two. They were less imposing. The one on the left was smaller and only two stories high while the one on the right was obviously a garage. Vehicles and fuel pumps could be seen as the truck drove past.
They dismounted the truck and Jorge walked them into the large building. They entered through glass doors that were thicker than normal, Turner noticed. They also seemed to be mounted in sturdy steel frames. Jorge walked up to a desk and introduced the woman sitting behind it.
“This is as far as I go my friends,” he said. “My good friend Catalina will show you to your rooms. Adios.” He walked back through the doors and got into the truck. Two men brought their luggage in.
The small, slender woman with graying hair stood up and came around the desk. “If you will come with me, I will show you to your rooms.”
They hefted their bags and followed her to the elevator in the lobby. It took them to the third floor. They made their way down a short hall and Catalina stopped at the end. “These last two rooms are yours,” she explained. “You are across the hall from each other. I thought that would be most convenient.”
“I’m sure that will be fine,” Turner said.
“Here are your room keys,” she said, producing two small plastic cards. “Just swipe them across the lock and the door will open. They are also encoded to allow you into the complex.”
“Dinner is in an hour,” Catalina said, “Dr. Jensen wanted to have a little reception for you. His director duties usually keep him quite busy but he’s making time to meet you.”
Turned wondered if Valentina was getting the same vibe he was. It’s great to have you here. Now leave.
“The cafeteria is on the ground floor, near the elevators,” Catalina explained. “I’ll send someone for you.”
Turner nodded. “Thank you. I’m sure we’ll find the way.”
As Catalina walked away, both of them entered their rooms. Turner dropped his bag on his bed and sat down. A moment later he heard a light knock on the door. “Come in.”
Valentina entered the room and sat down on the bed. Turner slid over, suddenly aware of her good looks and remembering what she had said at lunch on the day they met. “This is the grandest research station for crops that I have ever seen,” she said.
He held a finger up to his lips and dug into his bag. He extracted a small gray box with what looked a speaker grill on one side. He slid the power switch to the “on” position and waited for a small light to change from red to green. It did so and he turned back to Valentina.
“Now no one can hear us. The room didn’t appear to be bugged but who can tell without the little box?” He gestured at the device. “Now as to the building, I was thinking that myself,” he answered. “Did you notice the construction? Not only is it very expensive, it’s very tough. The glass is ballistic resistant composite material and the frames are some kind of steel alloy. This place is built very well.”
Valentina nodded. “Da. The inside is similarly constructed. There is a pocket door that can be closed off at the end of our hallway. We were not assigned to these rooms for convenience. We were put here so we could be contained.”
“Wow,” Turner exclaimed. “You’re much better at this spy stuff than me. What else did you see?”
“Catalina is armed. When we entered the building her hand dropped below the desk until Jorge nodded to her. It was very smooth but it was clearly a security measure. I imagine she has a pistol secured under the desk.”
“I counted a total of five cameras on our way in,” Turner countered. “There were three in the lobby, one in the elevator and one at the end of the hall that can see both of our doors.”
“You missed the two outside the main entrance to the building,” Valentina said. “This is all rather unusual for studying crops, don’t you think?”
Turner nodded. “I bet dinner will be interesting.”
They were escorted to the cafeteria a while later. It reminded Turner of a campus dining hall. Near the front of the room a few tables were made up with real place settings, not trays and plastic forks as he expected. They were directed to the lead table where an attractive brunette in her mid-thirties rose to greet them.
“Mr. Turner? Ms. Ivanovaa?” she said, offering her hand. “My name is Jenna Clairborne. Welcome to the facility.” Turner and Valentina shook hands with her and took the offered seats at the table.
Turner picked up his glass and sipped some water. He studied the faces around the tables and saw that almost everyone besides himself and Valentina was under thirty. He hadn’t realized biologic research on crops was such a young person’s game. At the very least he expected to see some older, sunburned farmers. The door opened again and the quiet conversation hushed as a tall, lanky man of about fifty walked in. He had red hair and a full beard to match. The room grew silent as he strode confidently to his seat at their table and sat down next to Jenna Claiborne.
Valentina leaned in close. “That’s Dr. Peter Jensen.” He nodded slightly in agreement.
Jenna handled the introductions. “You’ve come a long way for nothing,” he said curtly. “This is an agriculture research station. There are no weapons of mass destruction here.” Jensen took his seat with an annoyed look on his face.
“We have information that indicates differently, Dr. Jensen.” Turner said.
“Doctor, we have an investigation to perform. Our preliminary investigation must take no longer than 48 hours and a first draft of our report is due to the WMD council at the UN within 72.” Turner took a sip of water. “The information that led us here will be contained within that report, a copy of which you will receive. Today is Sunday. By Thursday we should both have our questions answered.”
Jensen settled back in his chair, a glass of wine in his hand. “The United Nations has an unhealthy obsession regarding weapons, Mr. Turner. For the better part of twenty years you people have been climbing into every nook and cranny looking for WMD and you haven’t found any.” He took a sip of wine. “The treaty signed after the second Korean War eliminated them. No one in their right mind would re-create them. You know what I think?”
Dave Turner leveled his gaze at the facility director. “No, Dr. Jensen. What do you think?”
Jensen leaned across the table. Turner could see in his eyes that he had had more to drink than the glass of wine he was holding. “I think the U.N. likes to meddle. I think they like to get into places and sneak around where they aren’t wanted. No one is allowed to have secrets anymore because the United Nations will come in and find them while they’re looking for weapons.”
“Inspections keep us all safe.” Turner countered. “Nations can do whatever they want; except build weapons of mass destruction.”
“Inspections are a violation of sovereignty.” Jensen continued. “It’s incredible how many other problems become illuminated after a UN inspection team visits. The U.N. is everyone’s judge now. Be good or the bogey men in blue helmets will get you.”
Turner shook his head. He had heard this criticism before. “The treaty keeps us all safe. The world no longer lives in fear of nuclear weapons, biological agents and chemical attacks.”
Jensen laughed. “Yes, now we just have to worry about napalm, bullets and high explosives. My, what progress we’ve made.”
“One thing at a time, Doctor,” Valentina said. “We can’t cure all the world’s ills at once.”
“Who said you should at all, Ms. Ivanovaa? Why not let individual countries solve their own problems?”
“That’s simple, Dr. Jensen,” she answered. “They don’t. When left to their own devices individual countries either threaten to lob nuclear weapons at one another or they actually do.”
“Twice in all of recorded history.”
Turner scoffed. “I was there, Dr. Jensen. I watched as nuclear fire lit up the Korean peninsula. Millions burned alive to satisfy the ego of the madman of North Korea. A ninety year old dictator with a brain tumor had atomic bombs and used them on his own soil. That’s what happens when the choice of whether to build nuclear weapons is left to individual countries.”
Jensen threw back the rest of his wine and reached for the bottle. “So now instead of bankrupting themselves for strategic weapons nations build up their conventional forces. Ridding the planet of WMD’s has not been the panacea leaders thought it would be. Wars are still fought, young people still die on the battlefield and none of us are safer. Oh, except that so many of us won’t die so quickly as we might once have. I don’t care if you saw the Korean detonations or not, Mr. Turner. The WMD treaty doesn’t do anything to keep us safe.”
Jensen stood up, apparently finished with his greeting and his opinions. Turner got up and dropped his room key on the table. “We will need full access to the facility in order to perform our investigation. Do we have it?”
Jensen nodded. “You have it. Do what you have to do and get out of my facility.” He turned and walked to a side door, followed by several aides. Valentina drew a breath to say something to Turner but he was already moving toward the exit.
He remained quiet all the way up to their rooms. She followed him into his room. “That could have gone better,” she said.
“He’s an ass,” Turner replied. “I imagine we’ve both run into people like him before.”
Valentina nodded. “Oh, yes, more than once but never so vociferous in his view point. I think it is good that he was drunk when addressing us. It allowed his true feelings to come out. He is definitely hiding something.”
Turner’s interest was piqued. “You saw that as well?”
She smiled. “I have met many scientists during my inspections. Never have I met one who held such a strong opinion of a foreign policy matter. Usually they are simply resentful that we are interrupting their work. Jensen is genuinely offended that we are here.”
Turner smiled. “I guess that means we’re on to something.”
Valentina nodded. “I suppose so.” She took Turner’s hand. He looked at her with mild surprise. “So you were a witness to the Korean disaster?”
“Yeah,” He ran a hand through his hair. The day had been long and tomorrow would be worse. “My dad was on staff at the American embassy as a translator. I don’t remember much about the events leading up to our evacuation because I was young, only eight years old. I remember mom and dad watching the news a lot, fighting about whether we should stay or go. I realize now they saw how bad things could get.”
Valentina squeezed his hand. “I recall reading in my studies that the situation escalated quickly.”
Turner nodded. “He was so old, more than ninety and sick. They say it was the brain tumor that pushed him over the edge. That or the realization that the Dear Leader was not immortal. That the world was going to go on without him and that he hadn’t really accomplished anything in all the years since his father died.”
“He was a madman,” Valentina agreed.
“Anyway,” Turner continued. “I remember that life was good in South Korea. I went to school, I had friends. I didn’t realize that as good as things were in the south, the people in the north were enduring horrific conditions and had been for generations. Do you know that the population in the north was actually starting to decline? By the end there had been more than a decade of famine caused by the Dear Leader’s policies.”
“I’ve seen the photos,” Valentina offered.
“The memories of the evacuation are most vivid. We were at home when the shelling started. Let me tell you, Jensen is right about one thing. Conventional arms can be just as deadly as nuclear bombs when applied correctly. I remember a sound like thunder and then Seoul exploded. Later on I read that thousands of artillery tubes were concentrated on the cities to the south of the Korean demilitarized zone. Entire divisions of North Korean infantry infiltrated via tunnels under the Demilitarized zone. My parents drove us south at breakneck speed as our home burned. It took five weeks for us to be evacuated from the country and no matter how far we ran the North Koreans seemed to be behind us.”
“We stayed where we could, hotels, abandoned houses but mostly in our car. There were so many people and news was spotty. My father was able to stay in touch with some people from the embassy but everyone was scattered. There were so many rumors. We didn’t know that the U.N., led by the Americans, had arrived and rallied with South Korean forces at Inchon. By the time we found an organized refugee camp and were processed out to Japan we had no idea that U.N. forces were marching north.”
Turner took a sip from his water bottle before continuing. “So we’re on our way to Japan and we finally get some decent news. Unlike the first Korean War, China is not coming to North Korea’s aid. The attack was blunted and their forces were being pushed back north. The President made it clear that the Korean War was finally coming to an end. No more cease fires, no more half-solutions. The armistice had been broken and they weren’t going to stop until Korea was reunited. The North Koreans were literally between a rock and a hard place.”
“Our JAL 767 was heading north when we saw the, uh…the first flash. We had some distance on it but we could still see the light. It turned out to be the most easterly detonation on the border. The other seven they lobbed were more westerly but our pilot must have gotten word. I remember being pushed back in the seat as he made it to Tokyo a half hour early. We stayed there for another year, my dad assisting with the Korean refugee effort.”
Valentina nodded. “I remember the news footage and photos. How bad was it?”
“As bad as you think,” he answered. “You said you were in North Africa so I’m sure you know how bad it was.” Then he got up and threw his water bottle in the recycling bin. His hand shook as he did so. He kept his back to her and held his right hand in his left. “That’s enough of that, Valentina. Why don’t we get some sleep?”
“How early do we start?”
Turner considered the question for a moment and turned around as his hand steadied itself. “Four in the morning. They’ll be expecting us at dawn so let’s go early. I think we should start with the equipment building. It’s least likely to have any secrets so we should eliminate it and move on to the other two buildings in the afternoon.”
“I agree,” she said standing up. “I will see you in the morning, David.”
They worked swiftly the next morning, crawling through the vehicle depot for four hours before being satisfied that it was only what it appeared to be and held no secrets. They used hand held scanners to check behind walls and took chemical samples of all fluids and the atmosphere. The machinery and tools within were ordinary for such a facility. Satisfied, they made their way back to the main building and joined some of the BDR staff in the cafeteria for breakfast.
They found a seat at an empty table. A few moments later Jorge wandered over carrying a tray laden with pancakes, sausage and scrambled eggs. “Good morning, amigos.” He gestured at an empty chair. “May I join you?”
Turner nodded, “Of course.”
“Your work goes well?” he asked as he took the seat.
Turner glanced warily at Valentina. “It does. Of course, we can’t speak about it until we’re finished. There is a process to be followed, you understand.”
Jorge smiled. “I understand. Secrecy must be a very important part of your job.”
“It is unfortunate,” Valentina answered. “But true. What about you, Jorge? How is your work?”
He forked a large helping of eggs into his mouth. “Today is nothing special. We have a tractor engine to overhaul, a stuck valve in one of the steam pipes leading from the generator shed to the main building and a couple pot holes that need filling on the road from the docks. I have a feeling my day will not be as exciting as yours.”
“Have there been any out of the ordinary repairs lately?” Turner asked.
The pancakes on Jorge’s plate were disappearing in large bites. “Such as?”
“I don’t know, just anything that has needed repaired lately that shouldn’t have?”
The maintenance man considered this as he downed a sausage. “No, just the usual items.”
Turner glanced at Valentina. She nodded. “Jorge, I don’t mean to pry but BDR must pay a substantial salary to work in such an isolated facility.”
He grunted as he pushed his tray away and sipped his coffee. “They think it is substantial. Work in Buenos Aires has been scarce.” He looked around, eyed the empty tables and leaned in close. “Between you and me, since the Colonels took power the economy has been weak. The pay here is about what I would have made before their revolution which means it is good for the circumstances, I suppose.”
Turner smiled and leaned in closer. “But it could be better.”
Jorge returned the smile. “It could always be better.”
Turner slipped a card across the table. “The United Nations pays handsomely for assistance given to an investigation.”
Jorge looked at the card, regarding it as something that could shock him if touched. “How handsomely, senor? If Dr. Jensen feels I have betrayed a confidence I could lose this job and be blacklisted.”
Valentina leaned in. “We take care of those who help us, senor.”
Jorge pocketed the card. “I don’t know anything that could help but if I were to overhear something, I could call you.”
“That would be very helpful,” Valentina smiled. “Thank you.”
After breakfast they made their way to the main research station, skipping the residential building. Their path meandered throughout the building. Turner’s plan was to be unpredictable. “That way,” he told Valentina, “we accomplish two things. The first is that no one knows where we will show up next. The second is that we are so disruptive that we piss off the researchers and get Dr. Jensen riled up.”
Valentina smiled. “You don’t think that is petty?”
He shook his head. “Anything that makes this unpleasant for him makes our job easier. I have a feeling the more upset he is the more truthful he’ll be.”
The inspections continued throughout the day. For the most part they skipped looking at computers. Digging through terabytes of data was something better left to the forensic specialists. “We know what we’re looking for,” Valentina said. “And they won’t be found inside a laptop.”
During the hour before dinner they opened two special cases and began mounting surveillance cameras to record activity in the areas they has swept through. In addition, they released a half-dozen floating drones that would move throughout the building on random paths, reminding the staff that they could be observed at any moment. All of the cameras were linked to a network controlled by the agents. Turner entered the encryption key and activated it as soon as the last camera was in place. Now he and Valentina could see and hear everything in the building through their handheld units. A satellite transceiver in their room was beaming the signals back to the UN in New York. There would be no privacy on Bleaker Island in the coming days.
Turner held the door to the cafeteria open for Valentina as the time neared seven in the evening. They made their way through the buffet line and sat down with their tray.
Valentina smiled. “It could be worse. Most places I’ve traveled to were hot, dirty little holes.” She gestured around. “At least this place has air conditioning.”
Turner held up a spoon, “And macaroni and cheese. I’ve had assignments where the food was those horrible ready to eat concoctions.” He sighed. “Tomorrow we have the main lab building.”
She nodded. “If we do not find them there…”
“I know,” he said. “But the island was scanned before we got here. There are no underground locations or off-site facilities.” A look of concern crossed his face. “Those warheads sat underwater for decades. There are a lot of scientists here taking a risk for something that should be worthless.”
Valentina sipped her coffee. “Radioactive material is extremely well regulated. Depending on how desperate someone is they may see the warheads as buried treasure. The Colonels are known to be paranoid. They may view their strategic agreement with China as a double edged sword.”
“How do you mean?”
“China can protect them from other countries but who protects them from China?”
“So if they obtain the radioactive material and construct their own missiles, one capable of reaching China, they can protect themselves.”
“Exactly,” she said. “If that scenario is correct they would keep their nuclear capabilities secret from everyone until it was absolutely necessary to reveal them. As long as they never feel threatened by China they may never reveal, let alone use, the missiles.”
“You sound like you think that is acceptable?”
She set her empty mug down. “I wouldn’t call it acceptable but sometimes I think we are very dogmatic in pursuit of our goals. No, dictators should not have nuclear weapons but certain scenarios could come in useful. If Argentina could check China, our countries would have a certain advantage when dealing with them.”
Turner looked at her, considering her words. He stood up and picked up his tray. “Maintaining that would be quite a balancing act. I’m going to grab a shower and crash.”
She smiled a little. “I think I’ll be up for a while. See you in the morning.”
A half hour later Turner pulled on a t-shirt and a pair of sweats. He sat down at a desk, pouring himself a cup of coffee and leaned back in a chair. The shower helped but he was still tense. A day of crawling around a place where he wasn’t wanted was stressful. The conversation with Valentina concerned as well
Valentina. He sighed. The attraction he had felt at their first meeting had lingered and intensified as he spent time with her. He had absolutely no idea if she felt anything. He never understood anything where women were concerned. At first he thought it was a purely physical attraction, after all, she was beautiful. However, as time went on he found himself drawn to conversations with her. She was insightful, well read and quick to see things. So why had she made a case, even a hypothetical one, for allowing a cabal of dictators to keep a stash of stolen nuclear weapons?
“I’ll never figure women out,” he said to the empty room. “Let’s see what’s on TV.”
He pulled his laptop toward him on the table and checked the cameras they had insatlled. All were transmitting as they should be. Next, he pulled up the investigative software examining the images from the cameras. The program examined data from the camera looking for anomalies in the activities of the recorded footage. The recordings would be studied later on back at the UN facilities but this allowed almost instantaneous analysis for the team on site.
The summary of the analysis had one entry.
Turner pulled up the record. One of the cameras placed in the underground levels of the building he was in was monitoring a door leading to a utility closet.
“That was the room with the electrical panels,” he thought. “There wasn’t anything in it but circuit breaker boxes and electrical lines.”
The summary recorded a person entering the room but not exiting. Since the room was designated as having once entrance and Turner had programmed in a waiting time of 30 minutes, the program was telling him that someone entered the room but the door had not opened to allow that person to exit.
“And what does the video show?” he asked himself.
As Turner watched, Jorge entered the utility closet. He fast forwarded the video four hours and Jorge never exited. A large smile crossed Turner’s face. Finally, their search had turned up something.
He rewound the video and watched it again. This time he fast forwarded. Jorge never exited the room. There was definitely something unseen in the room.
Just then, he heard a noise in the hallway. Hoping it was Valentina, he opened his door.
It was her. She was coming out of her room, dressed for a workout. He was stunned into silence for the moment at the sight of her in tight, white shorts and a matching t-shirt. He realized he was staring and pointed inside at the monitor.
“I, uh, I think I’ve found something…” he stammered.
She smiled at him and raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
He looked down the hallway with distrust and took her arm. “Come inside.”
“It’s Jorge,” he said as he closed the door. “There’s a room in the basement full of electrical equipment. He goes in but doesn’t come out.”
“And?” She asked. “Is he doing repair work?”
He checked his watch. “If he is, whatever he’s fixing has been broke for a little over four hours. I remember that room and there is no way he’s been in there that long without at least taking a bathroom break.”
“It does seem strange,” she allowed. “If I remember correctly the building plans show nothing behind that room and nothing below it. Where could he have gone? “
Turner stood up. “There’s something in that room. We need to find out what.”
“Now?” She asked.
Turner nodded, “Right now.”
“Have you checked in with your superior today?”
Turner pulled on his boots. “Director Thompson? Jim? No why?”
“Aren’t you due to?”
He checked his watch. “Yeah, in about a half hour. I should probably do that before we head downstairs. You call the Colonel?”
“Yes, before I changed for the gym. Speaking of which, I need to change before we head downstairs.”
“Good idea. Give me five minutes.”
She left the room and Turner watched her go before grabbing his phone. He shook his head to get his mind back on business and called Washington.
Five minutes later he knocked on Valentina’s door. She opened, dressed in her black inspection gear. She turned and picked up her web belt. “Is everything all right back in Washington?”
Turner eyed her. “Colonel Belov didn’t tell you?”
She looked at him with a puzzled expression. “Tell me what?”
“The Argentine navy has moved a small group of ships into our area. Satellite imagery shows a couple of frigates and destroyers.”
The belt hung limp in her hand. “Why?”
“He doesn’t know.”
“Is it connected to us? To the inspection”
“It could be. The Argentines may be posturing because they don’t like the UN poking around. Of course, it could be nothing.”
She smirked and fastened the belt. “You don’t believe that.”
“No, I don’t believe that.”
She considered it for a moment. “I do not either. Our pre-mission briefing said this area does not see military traffic very frequently. For a group of ships to be operating so closely means a message is being sent.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Turner agreed. “I think they are trying to intimidate us.”
She smiled. “I don’t like to be bullied.”
“Let’s go see what’s hiding in the basement.”
They made their way to the basement by way of the elevator. Turner readied his camera and prepared himself. This was the stage of the search where the targets usually became very defensive. If the room actually contained a clue, he reminded himself.
They exited the elevator and strode through the laboratories, making their way toward the mechanical room. There were only a few technicians working in the area and they did not seem to notice the inspectors. When they reached the mechanical room, Turner checked his hand held monitor again.
Valentina looked over his shoulder and whispered. “Has Jorge come out?”
“Not yet. Try the door.”
She reached out and opened the door. As before, they saw only electrical circuit breaker boxes and access for assorted utilities. Nothing seemed amiss. They stepped inside.
Turner looked over everything. Electrical lines and natural gas feeds came into the room, met up with their respective valves and breaker boxes and exited. This was clearly where access to utilities could be made. The room itself was small, barely large enough for the two of them to move around in.
“There is no secret access to this room,” Valentina said. “No hidden door, no ceiling panel, just what you would expect to find in a room of this kind.”
“I know,” Turner said. But Jorge came in and did not exit.”
“I’ve used similar software before,” Valentina said. “It isn’t foolproof. Until you sit down and view all the footage you cannot be sure the door was not reopened. Jorge could have exited without the program recognizing it and flagging it.”
“I know. It’s just…”
He looked around in frustration. “I don’t think the program was wrong.”
Valentina shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t see a way out of here.”
She turned and pulled the door open. Turner followed and then stopped. “Hold on,” he said.
She looked at him. “What is it?”
He gestured behind the door. “Why is there a card reader in here?”
Valentina shut the door and looked. Sure enough, a card reader was mounted against the inside frame of the door. Unless the door was closed it couldn’t be seen. “Why would you need a card reader on the inside of a mechanical room?”
Turner waved his access card in front of the reader. To his surprise the light turned green and the floor began to move down. Valentina stumbled into him and he groped the wall for support. He steadied himself against a pipe that rose away from him as the floor lowered. The floor/ elevator dropped about ten feet and came to a stop.
The two inspectors looked at each other. Turner spoke first. “Have you ever seen anything like this?”
Valentina shook her head. “I have seen concealed compartments before but never anything this complex. Look at how large this space is.”
The elevator had come to rest in a wide hallway. The corridor dead ended about ten feet to their left but stretched about 75 feet to the right. Turner squinted and saw a brightly lit area in the distance.
“That way,” he said.
They crossed the distance quickly, striding with purpose towards the lit area. As they drew closer they could hear voices. Valentina pushed through a thick glass door and they found themselves in a clean, white office. Perhaps a dozen surprised workers sat at work stations.
A young man stood up with a bewildered look on his face. “Who are you?”
“We’re agents Turner and Ivanova from the United Nations”, Turner announced. “We’re WMD inspectors.” He noticed the surprised looks all around. “Who’s in charge here?”
The young man still looked confused. “Dr. Jensen is in charge. Doctor Peter Jensen.”
Turner looked the room over. It was a state of the art room utilizing pre-fabricated white and blue plasteel panels. The work stations utilized holographic display technology. Two young women, one blonde and one Asian stood in a corner manipulating a large holographic representation of…something. Turner didn’t recognize what it was. It didn’t look mechanical, though. There was a second set of doors at the far end of the room. They looked far sturdier than the ones he and Valentina had entered.
“We’ve met Dr. Jensen. What are you doing there? What is that?” He asked, gesturing at the hologram near the two young women.
The blonde woman touched a control on her palm pad and the hologram vanished. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to speak with Dr. Jensen,” she said.
Valentina crossed the room in a few strides, staring the young woman down as she advanced. “Agent Turner said we are WMD inspectors. We can go anywhere we want and ask any question we want.” The young woman backed up as Valentina approached the display mechanism. “You know this to be true. Now answer his question before I lose my patience.”
“I don’t even know if you are who you say you are…” the young woman stammered.
Valentina grabbed the identification badge hanging around her neck and held it up in front of the blonde’s face. “This is my badge. Now what are you working on?”
The thick doors at the opposite end of the room opened up. Valentina and Turner glanced over. Dr. Jensen walked in with an aide at his side.
“It’s all right, Lucy,” he said. “I’ll speak with these people now. You can continue with your work.”
The young woman looked relieved and backed away from the Russian agent. Jensen coughed slightly. “Agent, there is no need to intimidate my staff. We are offering our full cooperation.”
Valentina turned. “If we were getting your full cooperation, these people would know who we were and your staff would have shown us these areas.”
“You have had our full cooperation,” he said forcefully. “Your badges allow you free access to the entire facility. You may question whoever you like. I assure you, no one is hiding anything from you.”
“You have had our full cooperation,” he said forcefully. “Your badges allow you free access to the entire facility. You may question whoever you like. I assure you, no one is hiding anything from you.”
Valentina didn’t back up. “So why don’t these staff members know to cooperate with us?”
Before Jensen could answer, Turner interjected with another question. “And why is this area hidden? What’s down here?”
Jensen waited a moment before answering. “To answer the lady’s question first, I didn’t think it was within your capabilities to locate this section of the facility. I’m required to cooperate, not suggest ways for you to disrupt our operation. These staff members are very busy and I did not want to interrupt their work so I did not tell them about your inspection.”
“Well that wasn’t condescending at all,” Turner said.
Jensen ignored the remark, swiped his card through a reader and opened the larger doors at the far end of the office. “As for your question, Agent Turner, nothing is hidden in our facility. Some areas are simply more secure than others. ”
He gestured to the two agents to proceed. Both Turner and Valentina gestured for him to lead the way. It didn’t happen often but both had heard the stories about inspectors being trapped in hidden areas. Jensen was going to have to go first.
The corridor they followed was narrower than the one leading to the office. They came to a second set of doors. These were thick steel doors set into the floor. Jensen held his card up but stopped before swiping it.
“You must understand,” Jensen said. “What I am about to show you will make you angry but it is not illegal.”
Turner gestured at the door. “Open it.”
Jensen swiped his badge and placed his palm over a scanner. “This door requires extra security?” Valentina asked.
“Yes,” Jensen answered.
All three of them stepped into a much larger room after the doors slid into the walls. Turner saw about half a dozen people at work stations similar to those in the outer office. These workers, however, were all dressed in white cleansuits. They appeared to be diligently monitoring something. He pulled Valentina aside.
“I don’t think we’re dealing with nuclear weapons here,” he whispered in her ear. He noticed again she smelled good, like lilac this time. “I think it’s either chemical or biological because I don’t see the right equipment. Was there anything like that on the sub? Could they have recovered something other than the warheads or fissile material?”
Valentina paused before answering. “In my examination of the ship’s records there was nothing out of the ordinary.”
Turner nodded. “Something is very wrong here. What do you have to show us, Doctor?”
“As you know, weapons of mass destruction are outlawed by the United Nations treaty.” Turner’s heart sank. Whatever this group was working on, it was going to be unpleasant at best and horrific at worst. “However, as I tried to explain yesterday, the ban on WMD has not alleviated conflicts between nation states. Wars are still fought for dwindling resources, religious differences and political ideology. My client wanted a better weapon with which to fight those wars.”
“Your client being the country of Argentina?” Turner asked.
“Correct,” Jensen continued. “The Colonels have a strategic and economic alliance with China but they require a check to their military power. The Argentines fear China will use their greater power to leverage agreements in their favor.”
Valentina was ashen faced. “What have you built?”
Jensen walked to the far side of the room and pressed a stud on the wall. “We built this, Agent Ivanova.”
A large panel in the wall slid away and revealed a large transparent cylinder. Turner watched in horror as something writhed and squirmed in a murky fluid. Valentina took a step back.
“I don’t understand,” Turner said. “What is that?”
The creature inside the cylinder twisted and seemed to focus on the overhead lights. It was inky black with numerous tentacles. Turner approached the cylinder and the thing within lashed out. Tentacles slashed across the smooth plasteel surface and its head banged as it roared in frustration. Even through the thick, transparent material Turner could hear rage in the thing’s howl.
He saw teeth, large teeth, in a wide mouth. They were brilliant white and shaped like small serrated saw blades. There were rows of them, like a shark’s. That gaping maw was set into a round black body from which four muscular tentacles protruded. A tentacle flicked by and Turner saw it was tipped with a razor sharp claw. A pair of red eyes above the mouth focused on Turner.
“It’s a mutated life form,” Jensen explained. “No, that’s wrong. It’s an amalgamated life form. We’ve combined the genetic material from more than a dozen animals, all predators, to create this creature. The staff here refers to them as ‘Crawlers’.” It was clear from his tone that Jensen didn’t approve of the nickname his staff had hung on his creation.
“Kill it,” Valentina demanded.
“Why?” Jensen asked. “It violates no treaties and the Argentine government is funding this project. This is perfectly legal.”
Turner shook his head. “It’s not and you know it. You cannot introduce a new life form into the biosphere for the purpose of war. You have no idea how something like this will interact with existing species.”
Jensen smirked. “That’s a nice speech, Agent Turner, but it’s not based on law. There is no virus or bacteriological agent at work here. This creature is not a weapon of mass destruction and is therefore outside your mandate. The time has come for you to leave this facility.”
An hour later, Turner and Valentina sat in the cafeteria. Neither of them ate the dinner in front of them. Turner was working on a cup of coffee and Valentina sipped a mug of tea.
“This cannot be allowed to continue,” Valentina said.
“I thought you were in favor of Argentina checking China’s power?”
“That thing is an abomination,” she said. “I was speaking about nuclear weapons. For all their destructiveness, they are a known quantity. We know nothing about this thing.” Her revulsion was almost palpable. Turner felt it as well. The sight of the creature affected him on a primal level. “I refuse to leave until we know more about what they have created here. BDR has much to answer for.”
Turner sighed. “We may have a problem there. BDR is working for the Argentine government. What they are doing here may be out of our purview.” Even saying it left a bad taste in his mouth. “We need more data and expert analysis.”
“We need a nuclear bomb.”
“Is that any way for an inspector to speak?” They looked up and saw Jorge. He gestured with the mug of coffee in his hand. “May I sit down?”
Turner was a in a foul mood. He kicked a chair toward the man and held out his hand. “Have a seat and speak the truth.”
The big man sat down. “You think I’m a liar?”
“I think everyone on this island is a liar.”
“All right,” Jorge admitted, “I’m not the maintenance chief. I’m a senior biologist on this project. Dr. Jensen thought you would have some questions and asked me to answer them, if I could.”
“Well that’s hospitable,” Turner said. “Why don’t you start with how a creature out of a horror vid is supposed to be used as a weapon?”
“How is it controlled?” Valentina asked.
Jorge held up his hands. “One question at a time, my friends.” He took a long pull from his coffee mug. “The Crawlers are predators, the apex predator to be precise.”
“ ‘The’ apex predator?” Valentina asked.
“Every ecosystem has a predator at the top of the food chain,” Jorge explained. “In the sea it is the Great White shark. On the African veldt, it is the lion. We designed the Crawlers to be the apex predator in whatever ecosystem they operated. Nothing is more deadly.”
Turner sighed and rubbed his eyes. “What can it do? What are its capabilities?”
“You saw it,” Jorge answered. “It weighs about three hundred pounds, most of which is muscle, so it’s very strong.”
“Wait a minute,” Turner interrupted.
Valentina and Jorge looked at him. “Jensen’s explanation is ridiculous. You can’t just..I don’t know, just take DNA and put it in a blender and come up with some new animal. Biology doesn’t work that way.”
Jorge nodded. “I understand you skepticism, Agent Turner but believe me. Dr. Jensen is telling the truth, if oversimplifying it. Without going into too much detail, we basically took a blank slate of biological material and imprinted it with the traits of whatever animals we wanted. We didn’t actually mix individual DNA together. We copied the parts we wanted and extracted the most useful functions.”
“What is the basic function of this animal?” Valentina asked. “What do the Argentines wish to accomplish with it in a conflict?”
“Americans and their allies are decades ahead of other nations in conventional warfare technology. Their non-human combat devices, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned armored cavalry and autonomous infantry have raised the technological bar,” Jorge explained. “No one wants to fight an opponent who can simply build more machines. No one wants to expend resources on an enemy who does not commit troops to fighting. China will be fielding similar capabilities very soon. They have platforms that are generations behind the Americans but they would be useful in areas where such capabilities do not exist.”
Turner nodded. “You mean areas like Africa or South America.”
“Yes,” Jorge agreed. “Both continents are rich in untapped resources but have vast stretches of territory where dysfunctional governments prevent the evolution of their indigenous populations. Mexico, Colombia and Peru are narco-states run by the drug traffickers who supply the United States, Europe and Russia with illegal drugs. Brazil has not recovered from the last worldwide recession. Argentina suffered,” he looked around to see who may be listening, “Argentina suffered a coup by the military that left the Colonels in charge. The only good thing to come from that was our strategic and economic agreement with the Chinese.”
“But now you are afraid your new partners may try to take advantage of you?” Valentina asked.
“Precisely. Apparently there are rumors that the Chinese plan to use this agreement with Argentina to establish a presence on the continent and intimidate our neighbors into allowing them to exploit South American natural resources. To counter their greater military capabilities the Colonels wanted something not yet on the battlefield.”
“Building robots isn’t that hard,” Turner offered.
“No, but Argentina does not have the time to play catch up. The Chinese are behind the Americans so anything we developed would be behind the Chinese technologically. We needed something completely different.”
“So you developed the Crawlers?” Valentina asked. “They are a nightmare.”
Jorge nodded. “I agree but I didn’t design it. That was all Dr. Jensen”
“Who is he?” Turner asked.
“From what I understand he has worked at BDR for some time. He designed the techniques used to build the Crawlers but for other applications. Somehow the Colonels and BDR got together and Jensen began applying his techniques to this program.” He hesitated. “What you saw today is his vision.”
“There is something else you need to know,” he continued. “Dr. Jensen feels as though he is on safe legal ground with his creation but others are not so sure. Jensen’s superiors want him to make you an offer.”
Turner was incredulous. “Are you serious?”
“Look, the offer is generous; several million dollars for each of you and a job with the company. They aren’t afraid to take their chances in court, especially since they are operating in Argentina and haven’t broken any laws here. However, they recognize that a protracted legal battle could be very expensive and bring the Crawlers to light before they are ready to reveal their existence. They feel the prudent thing would be for your report to exclude mention of the Crawlers and avoid any sort of legal proceedings.”
“Ridiculous,” Turner said. He looked at Valentina.
She hesitated but shook her head after a moment. “You are joking, of course.”
“No, the offer is quite legitimate,” he answered. “Submit your report, continue in your current positions for a few months and then begin your new lives.”
Turner lashed out and knocked Jorge’s mug to the floor. The ceramic shattered on impacted. Turner’s hand shook and he moved it under the table. Valentina looked shocked and the cafeteria quieted.
“You go back to your boss and you tell him that we can’t be bought. We’re leaving tomorrow. If you want to convince me that you shouldn’t be mentioned prominently in our report, you have until we leave.” Turner’s own offer was out there now. Become a confidential informant or bear responsibility.
Turner and Valentina stood up and moved toward the cafeteria door. He stopped and looked back at the biologist. “One more thing you can tell Dr. Jensen. This place will be swarming with UN personnel the day after tomorrow. The two of use were sent here to see if BDR would cooperate. You should have taken the opportunity.”
They strode across the lobby to the elevators. He reached for the up button but his finger shook too much to press it. He punched it quickly with his left hand.
In the elevator he looked at Valentina. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lost my temper.”
She stared straight ahead. “I don’t care about a broken cup.”
They rode the rest of the way in silence. Turner entered his room and found the bottle of small pills in his shaving kit. He shook one out and swallowed it. A moment later the tremors in his hand subsided. The stress of the situation was bringing episodes more frequently. He decided to relax with a hot shower.
His breathing slowed as the hot water ran over him. Stress management was critical to his condition and the situation wasn’t helping. No nukes to be found, a crazed scientist with nihilistic tendencies and now a new biological weapon that was in a gray legal area. Something had to give. A noise in the bathroom roused him from his musings.
He grabbed the shower curtain even as a slim hand pulled it gently aside. Valentina, nude, stepped into the shower. Turner stepped back into the stream of hot water, eyes wide.
“What are you doing?”
She shook her head and smiled a little. “I don’t know.”
An hour later he lay spent beside her, breathing in the scent of her. It was lilac he decided. She stroked his hand and broke the silence. “Why do they shake? What is wrong with your hands?” She lifted her head up off his chest and looked at him, waiting for an answer.
“You caught that?”
“The tremors, yes. It’s more pronounced here than when we were home.” She held his hand and traced the lines of his palm with her finger.
“I hadn’t realize you noticed.”
“You said it yourself, the day we arrived. I’m better at this ‘spy stuff’ than you.”
He smiled. Her hair fell across her face beautifully. “I was injured during an inspection about eight years ago.”
She turned. “I thought you said you had never seen combat?”
“Funny you should put it that way. I was in Istanbul a few years ago with a team investigating a claim that the Turks were stockpiling nerve gas. It turned out to be nonsense but we found a facility that was suspicious.”
Valentina sat up, interested. “What were they making?”
“It was the dumbest thing,” he continued. “The building was a cosmetics factory. You know make-up, sunscreen all that sort of stuff.”
“It doesn’t sound dangerous.”
“It shouldn’t have been. They just weren’t very safe with how they handled some things.”
Valentina considered this for a moment. “Nanotechnology?”
Turner cracked open a bottle of water and took a long pull then offered it to her. “Yeah. They were using nanoemulsions. It’s a way of encapsulating ingredients so they penetrate your skin.
“As we toured the plant looking for nerve gas or its components, we absorbed a tremendous dose of these cosmetics ingredients. All of us suffered neuromuscular complications after we returned home.”
“All of you?” She asked.
He nodded. “Uh-huh, twenty of us all together. The ingredients made their way into our brains and got lodged there as the encapsulation eroded. The effects are similar to neuromuscular disease; tremors, involuntary shaking and a loss of motor control.”
“Is it fatal?” Suddenly she was concerned. She gathered a sheet around her.
“It is,” he said. “I have a few good years left and then a lot of bad ones.”
“I don’t know what to say.” She sat back against the headboard.
“There’s nothing you can say. It is what it is.”
They were silent for a moment. “Is that why you don’t have a family?”
He thought about it for a moment. “Yeah, it is. It wouldn’t be fair to put anyone through all of this. What made you ask that?”
“People of a certain age usually end up pairing off. I was wondering why you weren’t married or involved with someone.”
“Knowing what’s coming, I just don’t want to complicate someone’s life,” he said. “There’s nothing to be done about it. What about you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not the only single person ‘of a certain age’ in this bed.”
She sighed heavily. “Actually, you are.”
Turner looked mildly surprised. “Fantastic. The first decent night I’ve had in a long while and you’ve turned me into an adulterer.” He gave her a half smile. “Are you really married? Back at the café you said you weren’t.”
“It was a whirlwind relationship. We dated for only a few months. It hasn’t worked out.”
Turner laughed. “I have a very hard time imagining you having a quickie wedding.”
“It was a bad idea. We spent some time together between assignments and I didn’t want to be alone anymore. It’s in the process of ending.”
“I need to sign some papers when I get back and that will be the end of it.”
The silence grew long again as they enjoyed being with someone. Fifteen minutes ticked off the bedside clock before Turner spoke. “I need you to tell me what BDR took from TK-208.” Valentina sat up, prepared to protest by the look on her face. Turner wasn’t having it.
He stood up and pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt. “Valentina, they aren’t building nuclear warheads. They don’t want fissile material anywhere near this place. It would cost them their cover of legitimacy. You saw the facilities downstairs as well as I did.”
“It is a very secure facility,” she offered.
He sat down on the edge of the bed. “Secure for biological organisms. I didn’t see any mechanisms or processes for controlling radioactive material. Did you?”
“No, I didn’t,” she admitted. “Perhaps there is another part of the facility we have not seen yet.”
He looked incredulous. “Believe what you want,” he said. “I’ve been doing this long enough to believe what my eyes tell me and I haven’t come across anything here that would lead me to believe they are manufacturing nuclear weapons.
“That thing downstairs in the tube is what they’ve been building and to do it they needed something from that submarine.” He avoided saying ‘your’ submarine but the accusation hung in the air.
Valentina left his bed and dressed. “I don’t know what to tell you,” she said. “As far as I know the nuclear warheads TK-208 was carrying were the most dangerous thing aboard her. I’m not saying there wasn’t something else, I’m saying that if there was, I don’t know what it could be.”
She had a point. If the Soviets had been transporting something else covertly, records of it may have been destroyed to preserve secrecy.
“You know, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “We should file our preliminary report and get out of here tomorrow. Let the full inspection team determine if anything illegal has been going on here. We’ve done our job.”
She approached him and took his hands in hers. “I agree. I’ll go write up my portion and we can send it in about an hour.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “The Director’s going to go nuts when he reads this.”
“Colonel Belov will be similarly distressed,” Valentina said. “I’ll see you in a little while.”
Two hours later, thanks to Turner’s inferior typing skills, the report was ready to transmit. They were in Valentina’s room, at a small computer with satellite communication capability. She was wrestling with the link.
“Is it synching to the satellite’s comm system?” Turner asked.
“I can’t find the satellite’s frequency. It starts to get it and then loses it,” she explained. “I think our signal is being jammed.”
“Why would anyone jam our signal? They’ve told us their secrets already.”
Valentina felt coldness wash over her. “David, do you remember Jorge’s offer? The one you turned down so vehemently?”
“Sure, but what’s that got to do with this?”
“They could be making sure we do not tell anyone about our discovery. Remember, Jorge said Dr. Jensen was sure he was on safe legal ground but that there were others who were more concerned.”
The light went on for Turner. “Oh, man. That’s pretty paranoid.”
Valentina got out of her chair and pulled a black duffel bag from under her bed. She pulled out a small pistol case, opened it and loaded a magazine into the pistol inside. A quick glance at the door confirmed that she had locked it and thrown the bolt after Turner entered. She pulled out a small revolver and offered it to him. He refused it.
“I think it’s best if we don’t let our imaginations run away with us, Valentina,” he said. “Your computer may be damaged.”
“If you believe that, David, you must be damaged.” She peered into the hallway through the door’s peephole. “We spurned their offer. I should have walked right in here after we found that thing and called it in. Instead we ate dinner and went to bed. Ridiculous behavior in our situation.”
Turner pulled his mobile out and stared at it. The display indicated no signal was available. “I can’t get a signal.”
Valentina walked back to the bag and pulled out an armored vest and web belt. She began strapping them on as Turner watched. “You should get your things,” she said.
“Not yet,” he said and stepped to the room phone on the nightstand. He picked up, dialed the number for the reception desk and shook his head. “No one is answering.” In the mean time she had pulled a rifle from the duffel and was loading it.
“David, in 2051 an inspection team turned down a bribe in Tehran, Iran after they discovered evidence of a chemical weapons program. During the trial that followed it was determined they were killed in their rooms by security forces later that night,” she explained. “Does that sound familiar? Get to your room and gear up.”
Turner considered for a moment. “All right,” he said. “I’ll get my stuff. Besides it will be fun to wander down to the lobby all kitted out and see the look on Catalina’s face.”
He checked the hallway through the peephole and opened Valentina’s room door. He looked to see she had her gun pointed into the hallway and was looking for trouble past him. “Relax,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
He crossed the hallway to his room and swiped his badge across the door lock. It clicked open and Turner caught a glimpse of quick movement before something slammed into him and he lost consciousness.
Turner heard the chatter of an AK-47 before he opened his eyes. He was lying on his back in Valentina’s room. He rolled over onto his stomach and saw the Russian standing in the hallway between their rooms. She was in an aggressive stance, her firm body supported by strong legs, firing the assault rifle down the hall. She leaned into her attack, controlling the large rifle with her shoulder. Dave started to get to his feet and his head swam. Brass shell casing clattered around Valentina’s feet. The firing stopped for a moment and he looked up to see her ejecting a magazine and inserting another. She shouldered the rifle and spared a glance at him.
“That’s the last one!” She shouted. “Get up!”
Turner managed to get to his knees as Valentina fired again. Something down the hall screamed but Turner thought it sounded more like frustration than pain. He started moving toward the door and his hand fell on something hard and round. He looked down, grabbed the object and struggled to his feet by leaning on Valentina’s dresser. He steeled himself and looked at the four or so feet between himself and the door. Valentina’s rifle stopped firing. She looked toward him and he took three running steps toward the hallway and leaped through the air. He pulled the pin on the grenade he picked up and tossed it down the hall. He slammed into Valentina and the impact carried them both out of the hall and through the open door of Turner’s room. He managed to kick the door shut just as the grenade exploded.
He rolled off of her and they sat up. Turner checked the door and found that it was still intact, still in the frame. He didn’t know if it was strong enough to keep out the beast in the hallway but it was all they had. He peered through the peephole and saw nothing except burn marks on the walls and baseball sized holes in the drywall.
Valentina came up behind him. “Do you see anything?”
“Nothing is moving,” he answered, moving away from the door. “I don’t know if it’s dead or not. What happened?”
“That thing was in the hallway,” she said. “It hit you in the head with a tentacle, with one of those big, heavy claws it has.” Her head fell. “It should have taken your head off,” she said softly. “But it hit you at the wrong angle. I just started firing and it backed off. If I hadn’t had my rifle out and loaded…”
He held a towel to his head and looked at her rifle. “You brought an AK-47?”
She nodded. “When you absolutely, positively have to kill everything on Monster Island, this is the rifle you want,” she said hefting it. “What did you bring?”
He rummaged through a large duffel bag, pulling out a pistol first. “I brought a Glock .40.” He reached back into the bag, “the new HK 10mm short barreled rifle and this.” He lifted something out of the bag that looked like a spotlight with a pistol grip.
“Is that a flashlight?”
“No. It’s a handheld laser generator.”
She looked shocked. “You brought a ray gun!”
“Well not exactly. It hooks up to this belt which powers the plasma generation located…”
“I brought a hundred year old rifle and you brought a ray gun.”
He grinned. “It’s better for cutting through doors and walls than using as a weapon.”
“Hopefully we don’t have to find out,” she said as she picked up his bedside phone. She shook her head. “Your phone isn’t working either.”
“Neither is my mobile,” he said as he thumbed the keypad. “I still can’t get a signal. So what do we do?”
“We can’t stay in our rooms,” she answered. “We’re too vulnerable and can’t communicate. I think we should stay armed, go downstairs and confront Dr. Peterson and his staff. I’m confident we can force them to re-establish communications.”
Turner took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He hadn’t expected this.
“David? Do you have another option?”
He shook his head. “No. Let’s go with your idea. But look, I wasn’t kidding before. I’m trained but I’ve never had to use it against other people, let alone something out of a horror vid.”
“Then I’ll lead,” she said. “We’ll go to the lobby, to Catalina’s desk and see if we can call out from there.”
He nodded. “What if we encounter anyone on the way?”
“Our rules of engagement say that if we are imperiled we defend ourselves. The definition of imperiled is up to us.”
Turner loaded his gear into a small pack and they cracked the door to the hallway open. Nothing moved at the other end. Despite their earlier reservations about having the last rooms in the corridor, they were glad they only had one direction to be concerned about. They crossed quickly to Valentina’s room and Turner took up a position by the door.
Turner looked down the hall while Valentina gathered her gear. “I think we drove it off but I don’t see a body.”
Valentina pulled the zipper on her bag closed. “Then we will have to be careful.”
They took a last look down the hall and moved toward the elevator. As they neared their goal Turner pointed at the floor.
“There’s a blood trail,” he said softly. “You nailed it good.”
Valentina shook her head. “I struck it dozens of times. It should not be moving.”
The trail turned right where the hallway met the small vestibule. “At least it didn’t get in the elevator,” Turner said.
“We can’t either,” she said. “If someone turned that thing loose on us I don’t want to take the chance of being trapped. We’ll take the stairs.”
She opened the door, peering up and down the stairs. “I’ll lead the way.” Turner nodded and shifted his grip on the small rifle.
They moved quickly but quietly down the first flight of stairs, pausing at the landing to look and listen for people or crawlers. They sensed neither and descended to the ground floor.
“I’ll go first this time,” he said, edging the lobby door open before Valentina could say anything. He scanned the lobby quickly. It was in disarray and deserted. Chairs and coffee tables were overturned in the waiting area. He closed the door and told Valentina what he saw.
“The cafeteria”, she suggested. “People would go there for security. It can be secured, has supplies and facilities.”
“All right,” he agreed. “It also means we don’t have to cross the lobby. We’ll just have to stick to this wall and go past the elevators. Ready?”
She nodded and hefted her rifle. Turner pushed the door open, looked right and left and moved into the lobby. Valentina followed.
There was a door directly across the lobby from their stairwell door. Turned didn’t know where it led but he kept his eye on it. The other door, further down to the left of the reception desk led to administrative offices. It stood wide open. He gestured to it and Valentina nodded. They would watch both. He crept toward the cafeteria.
They crossed in front of the elevators and Turner tried the double doors of the cafeteria. They were locked. He took his ID card from his pocket and moved to swipe it across the reader when a howl split the air.
The stairwell door behind them burst open and a bleeding, enraged crawler spilled into the lobby. Turner noted that its appearance had lost none of its horror since his initial viewing. It was clearly wounded, he saw, as it slipped in its own ichor on the smooth marble floor. It was trying to catch its balance but all of its legs had been hit by Valentina earlier upstairs. It screamed again, a terrible sound that made Turner think of frustration and wanting. He saw all of that even as he and Valentina raised their rifles and fired.
The lobby erupted with sound as the two rifles clattered, Valentina’s older model making more noise than his modern gun. The crawler jerked and jigged as rounds from their rifles slammed into it and traveled through to the wall behind. Brass shell casings danced at their feet until their magazines were exhausted. Both reloaded but there was no need. The crawler sank to the floor and lay motionless.
Valentina took a step toward it but Turner touched her shoulder. “Hold on,” he cautioned. “Let’s get some answers first.” He turned and pounded on the cafeteria door. He heard the locks slide and one door opened a crack. A young woman peered out. It was Lucy, from the below ground facility. The one Valentina had intimidated so thoroughly. Turner pushed past her and Valentina followed. The young woman slammed the door shut and threw the bolt.
Turner laid a hand on her arm and she jumped. “It’s all right,” he said. “We killed it.”
She backed away and moved toward a large group of people. Turner saw there were about a dozen or so. The young woman scoffed. “What do you mean you killed it?”
Turner motioned toward the lobby. “It attacked us in our room and Valentina drove it off. It followed us down the stairs and we killed it in the lobby.”
She was shaking and another young man put his arms around her. Her face was screwed up with terror but she managed to gather herself enough to speak. “Killing that one was nice but it doesn’t solve our problem.”
Valentina and Turner looked at each other. “Why doesn’t it solve our problem?”
Lucy giggled but it was fear and incredulity, not humor. “Because there are dozens of them.”
They sat down at one of the tables. Someone set a pitcher of water and glasses in front of them. Turner poured and after a long pull on his glass he looked at their frightened faces. These people were terrified. Valentina was all business.
“Tell us what happened,” she ordered. “What do you mean there are dozens?”
“I told you earlier, Agent Ivanova, you don’t have to intimidate the staff,” said a booming voice from the rear of the cafeteria. They looked and saw Dr. Jensen sitting at a table with four young women. They were all technicians from downstairs Turner noted.
They got up and walked toward his table. “What is happening here?” Valentina demanded. “How many of these things are there on the island?”
Jensen regarded her with contempt but answered calmly. “Six. Six were released from their cages.”
“So how can there be dozens?”
“Not dozens,” he replied. “Not yet. But soon. Soon there will be dozens, if not hundreds. The crawlers are born pregnant you see. It was designed as a mechanism for ensuring sufficient numbers on the battlefield if casualties were heavy.”
Valentina shook her head in disbelief. “Such a trait could backfire. A single crawler could have…how many can they have? And how many litters?”
Jensen rubbed his eyes, as if he were already tired of explaining. “It won’t backfire because we were very careful about encoding the genes that control their reproductive cycle. Each crawler can produce one litter of offspring that numbers between one and five. They have an enzyme deficiency that causes their death between five and seven days.”
“But as long as they have a food source they can continue to reproduce,” Valentina said. “There is no way we can kill the original six and all of their offspring.”
“We’re not stupid, Agent Ivanovaa. The third generation is born sterile. Automatic cutoff. No babies for the grandchildren. Quite tragic in its way, don’t you think?”
Turner did the math in his head. “One becomes five and those five become twenty-five?”
“And that’s the end of the line,” Jensen said. “Of course your count is optimistic and gives us a much greater rate of success than we’ve seen in the lab. Like I said, the litters are between one and five.”
“Why are they so driven?” Valentina asked. “The one that attacked David and I upstairs was ferocious. Our weapons hurt it but it gave up pursuit reluctantly. Why?”
Jensen smiled at his entourage. Lucy giggled in response. “Don’t you know, my dear?” he responded.
Turner looked at Valentina. “What did they take from the sub?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know.”
Jensen raised his eyebrows. “Are you serious? What are you here looking for?”
“Nuclear weapons,” Turner replied. “TK-208 was a ballistic missile submarine. BDR’s ship, Cascade, stopped at the wreck site and stole two nuclear warheads.”
Jensen scoffed. “No we didn’t. The colonels don’t want nuclear weapons. They wanted what was in the war heads.” He looked at Valentina. “Tell him, my dear. Tell him what your communist ancestors were planning to attack America with in the event of a war. Tell him all about the alternative to the hydrogen bomb.”
“I do not know what you are talking about.”
“Lying seems pointless at this stage.” Jensen said. “There is no way your controller sent you here without briefing you on what TK-208 was carrying. You had to be sure you found what was really missing.”
Turner glared at her. “What are we really looking for?”
She sat down at the table, defeated. “It was a biological weapon, a virus.”
“And?” Turner prompted.
“It was designed to make exposed populations hungry. Almost mindlessly so. The idea was to saturate a city or region with it and let them tear each other apart trying to satisfy a hunger that could never be sated. It would leave infrastructure intact and the infected population would destroy itself.”
“It was thing of beauty,” Jensen said.
“It was madness!” Valentina yelled back. Have you any idea how embarrassing it is to know your culture produced something so horrific?”
Turner pointed an accusing finger. “You weren’t honest with me. I asked you what they really wanted and you lied to me.”
“I thought I could keep it under control,” she said. “Colonel Belov thought it would be best if we kept the existence of the virus secret. It was only deployed on one submarine, TK-208. All other samples were eventually destroyed. We assumed the only samples left in the world were safe on the ocean floor, thousands of meters under water. Even the existence of it was secured.”
“I’ll give you a free one, Agent Ivanova,” Jensen said. “BDR was doing data mining and re-organization for the Russian government a few years ago when they learned of the virus. It took quite a bit of planning to recover the virus once we had a practical use.”
“The crawlers,” Turner said.
“Yes, Agent Turner, the crawlers.” Jensen smiled. “We knew we could create them but we didn’t know what would drive them. After all, once they fed, they were satisfied. They wouldn’t hunt until they got hungry. We thought about drugs or even some sort of pain management but, oh baby! When we put them together with that hunger virus we knew we had a hit. It was just a question of sending the robots down to retrieve the virus samples from the sub.”
“You’re still proud of what you’ve accomplished?” Turner asked.
“It’s still not illegal.”
“The virus is considered a weapon of mass destruction,” Turner explained. “Your use of it in the development of this creature means you, BDR and Argentina have violated the WMD treaty. If we get out of this alive you’re under arrest.”
“BDR has lawyers for a reason. I’ll never see the inside of a court.”
A roar from the lobby caught their attention.
“They’re back on the hunt,” Turner said.
They moved to the door, Turner and Valentina with weapons drawn and Jensen with entourage in tow. They could hear crawlers in the lobby, furiously rending the furniture and décor as they looked for a way to get at the survivors in the cafeteria.
“How many of these things do you estimate we have to deal with?” Turner asked.
“Just the original five for now but that will change over the next twelve hours or so,” Jensen answered. “Gestation will have begun and they will all have had a litter by tomorrow morning.”
“So we have to kill them immediately.”
“With what? The two you aren’t equipped for a prolonged fight. You’ll expend your ammunition long before you kill the remaining five.”
Another howl of fury erupted from the lobby.
“You don’t have any kind of security?” Turner asked.
“Jorge was our government contact and in charge of security.”
Turner was incredulous. “First he was the maintenance man, then a biologist and now you’re telling me he’s an intelligence operative?”
Jensen shrugged. “He is what he needs to be. He’s also the one who turned the crawlers loose by the way. After you turned down his bribe The Colonels authorized him to destroy the project. Apparently the best idea he could come up with was to let the crawlers loose on us.”
“But he has a staff, correct?”
“Yes, six men and women as far as I know. I imagine they are all holed up in the secure bunker near the main lab. They’ll wait for us to be killed and then call in the Argentine military. In case you didn’t know, the navy is off the coast.”
“We know. I don’t intend to wait here and be eaten though.” Turner looked haggard. “If we can get a call out…”
“Jorge has control of communications from the bunker. I assume your mobile devices are being jammed?”
“Well then, there’s really nothing else to do but get drunk and await the inevitable.”
“David,” Valentina said, “our plane is scheduled to return for us in ten hours. We need only get to the airstrip.”
“We’ll be overdue checking in before that. Belov and the Director will get in touch with BDR and the Argentine government to ascertain our status. The Argentines will stall, BDR won’t know what’s going on. The plane may not come.”
The sounds of destruction in the lobby grew fiercer. Something slammed against the cafeteria doors and they rattled in their frame. The doors reverberated with a hammering. The crawlers definitely knew lunch was in the cafeteria. Someone screamed behind them. Turner glanced back at Jensen’s table and saw Lucy burying her face in her hands.
One of the men stepped up to Turner. “She saw several of the staff in the control room downstairs killed. The creatures ate them.”
“Who are you?”
“Dale Washington. I’m a lab tech. Doesn’t matter, though.”
“Cause as soon as that door buckles I’ll be dead.”
Turner drew back from the young man and turned to Valentina. Her duplicity about the real target of their investigation stole his trust but she was all he had. And he desperately wanted to get off this island alive.
She looked dejected. He hadn’t seen her look vulnerable since they met and it scared him a little, given their present circumstances. “David, I am sorry. Colonel Belov ordered me to keep the existence of the virus a secret. He felt that there was slim chance it had not been taken from the submarine, that BDR had simply been after the nuclear warheads.”
“What’s done is done, Valentina. Right now we have to worry about our survival.”
“You have a plan?”
“I think so. We have to go to Jorge’s secure bunker and re-establish communications. Then we wait for help.”
“We would have to fight our way there.”
“I don’t know what else to do and time is short. If we have to fight, I would rather fight five than twenty-five.”
“I agree,” she answered. “We will need someone to show the way to the bunker.”
The doors rattled again. Turner wondered if just one or all five of the nightmares were out in the lobby. It sounded like more than one but he wasn’t sure.
“Okay, let me handle that.” He jumped up on a table and people turned to look at him.
“Agent Ivanova and I are going to the secure bunker to re-establish communications. I need someone to show us the way.” Hands did not shoot up. “This is important.” He pointed at the doors leading to the lobby. They were shaking with the crawler’s efforts. “Eventually they will get in. With us you’ll have a fighting chance.”
A man stood up from another table. “Maybe we should just take your guns from you and see how our chances improve.”
Turner’s hand started to shake with stress and frustration. “That would be a mistake, sir.”
No one seemed willing to back the man up and he sat down. “I need someone to lead us to the bunker. If nothing else, once we’re inside we will be safer.”
“I’ll go.” Turner looked over and saw Dale, the lab technician holding up his hand.
There was a discussion at Jensen’s table and Turner waited. Jensen spoke in hushed whispers but Turner couldn’t make it out. The matter seemed settled. No one else volunteered.
They gathered their gear, checked their weapons and stood by the door leading to the lobby. Valentina gave instructions to Dale. “I’ll take point, which means I go first. You follow me and David will bring up the rear. We will move quickly to the administrative offices across the lobby. Those doors looked like they could be locked. Is that correct?”
Dale nodded. “I’m pretty sure. They keep personnel records and stuff like that in there.”
“Good. Just move quickly and let us do the fighting if we run across a crawler. David and I have already killed one.” It was supposed to be a pep talk for the young man but Turner knew it was just a reminder of how dangerous the situation was.
One of the other lab techs stood up. “You can’t open those doors. The crawlers will get in.”
Valentina ignored the man and nudged Dale toward the doors. “Pull the bolts and then follow me as we go.”
“Now!” Valentina yelled.
Dale pulled the bolt at the top of the door and it threatened to cave in, bouncing inward with a strong wallop from the lobby. He looked at Valentina and she nodded, setting her stance while aiming her rifle at the door. Turner followed suit, ignoring the cries from the other survivors as they finally realized that they did mean to leave. Dale pulled the bottom bolt and yanked the door open.
A black tentacle shot through the door, pushing it open all the way and slamming Dale to the floor. He scrambled to get up and the room erupted in screams. The beast filled the doorway, blocking the opening. It roared, with hunger, Turner now understood. Not rage, not frustration but with a ravenous craving that could never be satisfied. He opened fire, throwing lead at the gapping black maw of the thing’s hideous mouth. Valentina did the same, striking the body. It continued charging, getting deeper into the cafeteria, ignoring the impact of the bullets, if it felt them at all.
Valentina’s ammunition was expended and she stepped aside, allowing Turner to continue firing while she reloaded. The thing finally howled a last time and withdrew. Valentina moved to the door, slipping on its blood but keeping herself upright. She checked the lobby.
“It’s moved to the far corner,” she reported. “Let’s go!”
Valentina moved quickly, keeping her rifle pointed at the cowering thing in the corner. Turner yanked Dale up and pushed him through the door. He didn’t look back to see if anyone closed it.
They ran hard to the administration offices. Valentina entered first, sweeping left and right to make sure the office was empty. Turner shoved Dale through and pulled the heavy door closed behind him, locking it with a flick of his thumb.
The office was small, three desks and four filing cabinets. Turner pulled on a drawer and found it to be locked. There were no other doors or windows.
“We cannot continue like this,” Valentina said. “We are expending ammunition at too high of a rate and not receiving enough benefit for it. The crawlers can take tremendous damage without falling.”
Turner nodded. “I know. I only have a few magazines and I don’t want to face those things with a pistol.”
Dale pulled himself up from the floor and dropped into a blue office chair. “If we can make the bunker you can get weapons there. One of Jorge’s guys showed me a bunch of rifles once.”
Turner moved to the door and listened. He didn’t hear anything. “Look, we just have to go down this hall and to the fake junction room, right? To get downstairs?”
“That’s right,” Dale said.
“We should go,” Valentina said. “Is there anywhere else we can hide if we cannot reach the junction room?”
“No,” Dale answered.
Valentina cracked the door open and Turner covered her. She slipped out and gave Turner a thumb’s up. He pointed Dale toward the door and followed him into the hallway.
They skulked down the hallway until it ended at a door. Valentina opened it and looked into the maintenance corridor beyond. Nothing moved and she led them through. They came to the junction room and piled in.
Turner took out his access card and hesitated. “Once we go down, we’re committed. If a couple of those things are waiting for us at the bottom of the shaft it will be almost impossible to get back up here.”
“David,” Valentina said, “No place is safe. Isn’t that why we have the jobs we do?”
He swiped his card. The floor started moving down and the junction room rose away. Turner tightened his grip on his rifle and bent down to see if anything was waiting for them at the bottom of the shaft. They reached the bottom and stepped into the corridor. It was empty.
“Where are we going?” Turner asked.
“This way,” Dale pointed down the hall toward the office Valentina and Turner had been in earlier. “It looks like part of the wall but if you know where to push…” he fiddled with a section of the wall and several sections slid back. “This is it, here.”
The newly revealed area was recessed about fifteen feet from the corridor. A light popped on and revealed a large steel door. There was a card reader on the right. Turner swiped his badge over it. Nothing happened.
“Do you have access?”
Dale shook his head. “No, but there is an intercom on the wall.”
Turner glanced at Valentina. She was kneeling in the corridor watching the direction of the control room and the room where they had earlier seen the crawler in the tube. He pressed the button labeled ‘talk’ on the intercom.
“Agent Turner,” Jorge said. “What can I do for you?”
“Jorge, I need you to open the door for us. We need to speak.”
“I’m afraid that is not possible, my friend.”
“This isn’t going to work, Jorge. You can’t hole up for a few weeks and allow the crawlers to finish off BDR’s staff.”
“It will not take weeks Agent Turner. I doubt they will survive the next twenty-four hours.”
Turner figured he was probably right. The unarmed bunch in the cafeteria was going to be easy picking once the crawlers got through.
“Jorge, if you don’t open the door, I’m going to come through it.”
“Agent Turner, I am sorry about how the situation has degenerated but it is what it is. The government of Argentina has no intention of giving up the strategic advantage gained through the development of the creatures.”
“David,” Valentina said. “Something is moving near the control room.”
“Jorge, I want this door open.”
There was no answer this time. Turner imagined the occupants of the bunker were watching security monitors and could see whatever was moving around at the end of the corridor. Time was running out. He thumbed the intercom again.
“Last chance, Jorge.”
“I am sorry, Agent Turner.”
“David…” Valentina shouldered her rifle in the doorway. She took aim at something down the hall.
Turner slung his rifle over his shoulder and unclipped the laser from his belt. He raised it and took aim at the door, intending to burn through the steel from the top to the bottom, severing the locks.
His shot went wild, his hand shaking wildly as he pulled the trigger. The beam cut a ragged line from the top of the door halfway down before he stopped. He took a deep breath and aimed again but his hand danced uncontrollably in front of him.
“Goddam it!” He reached in his pocket and pulled out his bottle of medicine, thumbed the cap and dumped a pill into his mouth. He closed his eyes for a second, trying to give the medicine time to work.
“Agent Turner, stop what you are doing!” Jorge said over the intercom. “You have injured someone and we have ammunition and explosives in here. You could set off an explosion.”
He slammed the intercom. “Then open the door!”
A second passed and Valentina began firing. Turner raised the laser again. “Jorge, I’ll cut your door open and there won’t be anywhere safe to hide.”
A moment passed. Turner moved toward Valentina, prepared to fight off the crawler with the last of his ammunition.
The door popped open.
Dale ran forward, pulling it open the rest of the way. Turner switched the laser to his left hand and jerked his rifle off his shoulder, getting it into his right hand. He pointed it into the opening, in case they had something planned.
Two men with rifles exploded from the bunker, moving passed Turner and Dale, joining Valentina in the corridor. They fired as well and Turner could hear the crawler howl. All three reloaded and fired again. They finally stopped and Valentina nodded in Turner’s direction. That was two down.
They sat in the bunker, drinking coffee and eating pre-packaged rations. Turner didn’t care. They tasted delicious. Jorge spoke first and got down to business.
“I have dispatched two men to the cafeteria with sufficient armament to defend the position. Dr. Jensen and his staff are secure for the moment.”
“What about the person I injured in here?”
“Marcus,” Jorge said, pointing to a man lying on a couch. “He will be all right. Your beam struck some shelves and canned goods fell on him. It is not serious.”
Turner nodded. He didn’t want anyone hurt.
“I have also set up a communications link with the cafeteria,” Jorge continued. “Dr. Jensen and his group can speak with us.”
“I believe we would like to request asylum in the United States.”
Turner’s eyebrow rose involuntarily. “Why?”
“The Colonels masterminded this plot,” Jorge said. “They learned of Dr. Jensen’s work, how he created the crawlers. They hired BDR. They will not look favorably upon a failure of this magnitude. My men and I will face severe punishment if we return to Argentina and the existence of the crawlers becomes public knowledge.”
Valentina shook her head. “BDR entered into this contract. They located the hunger virus during data mining operations and sold it to the Colonels. BDR cannot be allowed to walk free.”
“Then asylum for my men and I only.”
Dr. Jensen jumped up on the monitor. “Unacceptable! Are you trying to sell us out?” Everyone in both rooms began hollering. Suddenly it was a race to turn on each other.
“Stop, both of you, “Turner said. “I’m going to tell you what will happen.”
“Stop, both of you, “Turner said. “I’m going to tell you what will happen.”
Both groups became silent.
“The standard agreement under the WMD treaty is that anyone who cooperates with an investigation gets full immunity.” He allowed a moment for the offer to sink in. “This generous offer is made because it is worth allowing some guilty parties to go free,” he looked at Dr. Jensen on the monitor, “to keep weapons of mass destruction out of circulation.”
“That is indeed generous,” Jorge said.
“And far more than any of you deserve,” Valentina said.
“And completely dependent on your answer to the next question,” Turner said. “Is all of the data and material related to the creation and management of crawlers located on this island? Has anything been copied to the Argentine mainland?”
“Everything is located here,” Dr. Jensen answered. “Part of BDR’s agreement with the Colonels was that data be retained on our servers and laboratories until the work was completed. It was an insurance policy for BDR to get paid.”
Turner looked at Jorge. “Is that true? Did you allow anything off the island?”
“We attempted to do so, of course, but we were not successful.”
Turner nodded. “If we find out we have to go to Buenos Aires to reclaim data all agreements are off.” He looked around the table and saw the others nodding. “Next, the jamming equipment must be turned off immediately,” Turner said. “I need to flood this island with UN blue helmets so the Colonels can’t recover the data. To do that I need to call in security forces.”
“What about the remaining crawlers and their offspring?” Dr. Jensen asked. “This building will be overrun with them before too long.”
“Valentina and I noticed how well this facility was constructed. Can it contain the beasts?”
“Yes,” Jorge said. “It was built to resist any escape attempt by the creatures. We understood the importance of keeping them confined.”
“Then everyone holds tight where they are until help gets here. And get me a phone.”
Two days later Turner and Valentina stood on the tarmac of the island’s small airstrip with Director Thompson and Colonel Belov. Both smoked large cigars as they surveyed the virtual army of United Nations forces inundating the island.
“You two did a very good job, David.” Thompson said. “The Colonels won’t stand trial, of course, but there will sanctions and other diplomatic pressure.”
“Not quite The Hague for them, then?” Turner asked.
The director shrugged his shoulders. “Both the crawlers and the hunger virus appear to be contained. You gave us enough witnesses to document everything that happened here.”
“The hunger virus was contained before BDR dug it up,” Colonel Belov said.
Director Thompson sighed with exasperation. “Colonel, it’s water under the bridge. Now that we know about the virus it goes on the list of controlled items. Same as the crawlers. It will be one more thing for future teams to look for during inspections.”
Turner nodded. It was understood that there would be no other inspections for him. Valentina took his hand.
“Given how easily BDR was able to recover the history and location for the hunger virus from our own databases,” she said “I believe an experienced WMD inspector should oversee contracted data mining, to prevent a recurrence.”
“To prevent past items buried in the past from threatening the future?” The director asked.
“Yes,” Turner said. “Some things are better left buried in history.”
Six months later, Turner let himself into his apartment in Moscow. Regular eight hour days were helping his condition and the dangers of the twentieth century were staying there. His new position overseeing data mining kept him digging in computers rather than old bunkers.
Valentina was in the bedroom, sleeping after flying in that afternoon from an inspection in South Africa. An informant had reported work on a possible electro-magnetic pulse warhead. Turner was looking forward to hearing how her trip went. He picked up the phone and made reservations at a restaurant downtown.
He avoided any place serving calamari.