The Towers' Syndrome – Chapter 7
Written by papayoya1 :: [Sunday, 18 February 2018 11:05] Last updated by :: [Sunday, 25 February 2018 17:30]
Sienna Towers is a biologist working on a classified project around the fragments of a comet, who wakes after a three-month coma only to find herself "enhanced". After some investigation, she unlocks the secrets of the comet and finds the way to enhance herself further, but there is an unexpected setback. How will she wake up?
Ray Danvers was sitting behind his desk, holding a steaming mug of coffee. His hands were still shaking, even though it had been over eight hours since Sienna had left the building.
It was 4 a.m., and he was exhausted, but the dark-suited man across his desk would not let him go.
“You never told me your name,” Danvers said, sounding upset.
“Special Agent Smith,” the man said. “Science division” he added.
“Agent Smith? Really?” Ray asked. The combination of fear and exhaustion had led him to sarcasm, a register he barely used. “Is that for real?”
“No” the man across the desk answered plainly.
“Why can’t we do this tomorrow?” Danvers asked.
“Well, I could cite many reasons related to the level of classification of Prometheus or the awkward situation that developed at Eclipse earlier today, but in a nutshell, we will do this today because I say so,” the man said.
“What are you trying to find out?” Danvers asked.
“Everything” Agent Smith replied.
Not too far away, a woman in her thirties and with the look of someone without friends was addressing the assembly of researchers, flanked by two men in dark suits. They did not seem to notice the work the crime scene investigators were doing with the corpse on the far wall of the stance, but the stunned scientists were very aware of it.
The woman in charge shut up for an instant when a group of men in biohazard suits walked by, carrying a large case with a metallic frame and thick windows that contained the reason for everyone’s job over the last two years: the rock.
Special Agent Smith had authorized the transportation even if the CSI had barely started their analysis of the second crime scene. The decapitated body of a petite scientist and the burst bodies of two security guards were being photographed in the chamber where the rock had formerly been.
Only Ray was aware of the third crime scene the FBI detail was investigating, in a conference room of the corporate section of the building.
“We know you are shocked, but time is of essence. Our priority is to secure all relevant assets in this investigation. You are included among those assets. This investigation is related to a project with the highest possible level of classification, which gives us special powers to make executive decisions on the field. Protecting your knowledge and expertise is our first concern” she said.
“We want to go home” someone on the back protested.
“I’m afraid this won’t be possible at this point,” the woman said. “My colleagues will register your names and assignments in the project. They will assign you to transportation” she said.
“Where to?” someone asked in a tone that suggested anything but agreement.
“Your destination is currently classified. You will receive further information when you get there” the agent said.
“When will be able to call our families?” someone asked in an unfriendly tone.
“Your families will be informed and taken care of. We are working to make sure that they can reunite with you very soon” she said.
“This is bullshit,” someone said and started to walk towards the door.
There was no warning. There was only a loud bang as the man was shot in the leg and dropped to the floor.
“Medic!” the shooter called.
“We would appreciate your cooperation,” the woman said with a forced smile on her face.
Two hours later, Agent Smith and Agent Black were standing in a warehouse in Wayward, surrounded by officers and crime scene investigators that were trying to make some sense out of the seven corpses in the room.
“Do you think it was her?” Agent Smith asked.
“Look at the bodies. You’ve seen the videos. It has to be her” the woman replied.
“I know. It’s hard to believe, though” Smith said.
“I am trained as a doctor. If I had not seen the videos and touched the bodies, I would not believe it” Agent Black said.
They remained silent for a few seconds, scanning the surreal scene in front of them. It looked like a slaughterhouse; only the victims looked like those that were usually the aggressors.
“Let’s go to the morgue. There are three more bodies in there that might be related” Smith said after a while, turning and heading for the car.
Smith and Black exchanged looks as their boss lit yet another cigarette. Smoking had been forbidden in public buildings for over twenty years now, but if he had got the memo, he had never acted as if he thought that went with him.
“If I had not seen the videos I would think that you two are crazy,” he said.
“Precisely our thoughts” Black replied.
“How immediate is the threat?” the boss asked. He could cut to the important right away. Which was probably the reason he was the boss.
“The truth is that we don’t know. From what we have been able to put together, Miss Towers was eighty-eight days in a coma after her first exposure to the comet. We are still trying to determine how this exposure happened, but we think it was accidental. We don’t know how it developed, but we know she was enhanced as a result of the exposure and the coma. Yesterday she just forced the process on her again, this time by design. This tells us that in the nine days since she woke up from the first come, Miss Towers acquired some additional knowledge about the comet and its capabilities, whatever those are. Our teams are reverse engineering her work to try to learn more about this. Black and I have different points of view when it comes to agreeing on how planned her move yesterday was, but we agree on the fact that Sienna Towers knew much more about the comet and its effects than when she was exposed the first time. The most accepted theory is that she was looking at enhancing her further, through whatever mechanisms the comet provides. She was clearly weakened when she left Eclipse, so we also think that it’s safe to conclude that the process will make her unconscious or vulnerable during this second transformation. We could speculate that it will take eighty-eight days again, but we don’t know. She could wake up tomorrow, or she could wake up in a year. She could wake up as deadly as she went cold, or she could be deadlier. Or maybe she could be back to normal. We do not know” Smith said.
The boss did not say anything. He was also a master at keeping his silences.
Black filled the silence:
“The researchers at Eclipse … they have no clue. It was hard to believe at first. We thought their statements were part of a team effort to hide their progress. But the truth is that they have no idea about what happened to their colleague. So, their speculation on what will happen from now on is as valid as ours. The project manager seems a bit sharper than the rest, but it’s clear that he has been out of touch with the project for quite some time.”
Smith took over:
“And still … we have everything. We know exactly how Miss Towers prepared and ran the experiment that should enhance her further. We have all her files. We also have her laptop. And we have the rock. We could repeat the experiment tomorrow if we wanted to.”
Their boss spoke back:
They were surprised by the question. It was a very valid question, though.
“Would we have … volunteers?” Black asked.
“Leave that to me,” the boss said.
Smith raised a palm and intervened:
“I understand the importance to be ready in case she is back. But I don’t like the risk of having someone else like her just in case. Even if we took one of our most reliable men, he would become a wildcard if we did to him the same that happened to Sienna Towers.”
“I see,” the boss said.
“It’s still a hell of a fallback plan, so we should make arrangements for it” Smith added. “Still, I think our best chance is to find Miss Towers before she wakes up. We should devote as many resources to it as possible.”
“Silverport is a large city,” the boss said.
“It’s our best chance” Smith replied.
“Agreed,” the voice said. “You’ll get your resources” he added. “Agent Black?” he then said.
“We need to replace the Eclipse team. We still need them to be around for information, but we should get a fresh team to investigate the comet, now that we know what it can do” she said. “If we do not find Miss Towers on time, or even if we find her, we will need to know more about possible vulnerabilities.”
“I guess you have a team in mind already,” the boss said.
“I do” Black replied.
“Make it happen, then.”
“Larkin,” Ray Danvers said without any trace of passion in his voice.
“Danvers” she replied, sitting across the desk of his new office, in the new research facility the FBI had set up in an otherwise unremarkable office building downtown. He had to give them this: they had done it in record time.
“I had not heard about you for a long time. No conferences, no publications …” Ray said.
“I know” was all the answer he got from the brown-haired woman sitting across him.
It was evident enough that there was no love between the two of them. Only a few people knew that their rivalry had started as long ago as College.
“I invited you to the reception for my Nobel prize,” Ray said, his expression suddenly reflecting an arrogance that he had been keeping at bay until now.
“I had more important things to do” Dr. Larkin replied.
“Really? What?” Ray asked, trying to sound genuinely interested.
“It’s classified” was all the answer that he got.
The conversation kept this tone for a few more minutes before Angela Larkin decided that she had had enough of it and asked:
“Did you get the memo?”
“I did. I was going to speak to Agent Smith about it” he said.
“That won’t be necessary. Effective immediately, I’m your new supervisor” Larkin said.
“That was what I was going to speak about with him. Prometheus is my project” Danvers said.
“Also effective immediately, Prometheus has been canceled. Your team and you will incorporate into Project Mjolnir, led by me” Larkin said.
“Thor’s Hammer,” Danvers said with a chuckle. “How original” he added. “Don’t tell me more; you chose the name.”
“I thought it was fitting, considering the repurposing of the objective,” Angela said.
“You want to find out how to kill Towers,” Ray said.
“Precisely” Larkin agreed.
“My team and I can do that” Ray replied, sounding as defensive as he was being.
“Apparently, the ones in charge don’t share your opinion.”
“Be honest. What are our chances of finding her?” Smith asked as the two men walked along the riverbank.
The short bald man, dressed in a similar dark suit that had probably not been pressed in a decade, scowled while he thought.
“Better than low. Not great, though” he said.
“I see,” Smith said.
“The dogs lost trace of her in the river. And, as surprising as it sounds, Silverport’s police has not yet found any reliable witnesses on the other side. Downtown is this side of the Silver, but the city on the other side of the riverbank is massive. There are lower income residential areas, business parks, the river docks, warehouses … you have Wayward. And worse of all, there are plenty of abandoned neighborhoods and old factories. We don’t know how long she kept up and running. If it was long enough, she might have even got beyond the city limits. She might not even be in a coma and could have retained the ability to move in small distances. It’s an operational nightmare” the bald man said.
“And still, you think we have chances,” Smith said.
“I had never seen so many resources together before,” the bald man said.
“It’s important, Harper” Smith said.
“You know, I would feel better about all this if I had anything more concrete to tell the men about the objective other than once they set eyes on her they need to immediately engage Special Ops,” Harper said.
“You know it’s classified,” Smith said.
“I know. It still sounds like I’m getting my people in harm’s way” Harper said.
“We never signed in because it was easy, did we?” Smith replied
“How are they doing with Project Nemesis,” Angela Larkin asked as she sipped her coffee.
“Angela … I’m afraid that the boss would like to keep the information a bit more compartmentalized than usual, this time” Agent Black said.
“I see” Dr. Larkin replied, looking disappointed.
“The boss got a bit concerned about Mjolnir, though” Agent Black stated.
“We took care of the problem, Fiona,” Dr. Larkin said.
“You suffocated it,” Black said.
“It would have broken through the glass” Larkin replied. “We could not risk that. We took care of the issue and are now creating the set up for a second experiment” she added.
“Which will take eight more days,” Fiona Black said.
“Well, we should consider ourselves lucky that the process seems to work faster in guinea pigs than in humans, then. I guess the boss would have been even more upset if we had had to wait eighty-eight more days” Angela Larkin said.
“Sure,” Agent Black said coldly.
“It’s not as if we did not learn some things” Dr. Larkin added in a defensive tone. Driven by Agent Black’s silence, she went on: “poison gas did not affect it. We tried five different combinations, and all it managed to do was to make the specimen more aggressive. It suffocated once we took all the oxygen out, though. It held much longer than it should, but it needs oxygen. Sienna Towers is not above basic physiological needs.”
“Thanks, Angela” Black said, standing up and heading towards the door.
She stopped next to the cage, looking at it with new eyes after her conversation with Dr. Larkin. The sight of the crack felt scarier now than when she had got into the room, especially knowing as she did that the cage was made of 2-inch thick bulletproof glass. The corpse of the suffocated test subject was easy enough to identify from the rest of guinea pigs sharing the space with it. It was larger, looked more dangerous and it was the only one that had not been brutalized before dying.
Seldom had Fiona Black felt a shiver running down her spine. She did now.
“Please, take a step back,” the construction worker said as he got the equipment ready.
Carlos joined his colleagues, who were taking advantage of the delay to drink coffee, smoke a cigarette or discuss last night’s game.
Twenty-one days into the search, the Silverport Police Department officers that had been assigned to reinforce the FBI operation were starting to fall into the boredom of the routine. Not knowing much more than the fact that they were looking for a woman, that she was supposed to be very dangerous and that she might be incapacitated when they found her, had not done too much to boost the morale of the officers. At best, they saw themselves as being cheap labor for the feds.
Today was already the third day of the second wave of the operation. Having cleared all the priority areas, the teams were now starting to spread into buildings that had originally been classified as less probable. Seeing the walled-in door of the massive abandoned warehouse, Carlos understood why someone would think that hiding inside a building with no entrance was less likely than doing so in one with a door.
The construction team finally let the small wrecking ball go. The door caved in with ease, telling Carlos that whoever had originally closed it had not invested that much effort in doing so. They asked the workers to give the door a couple more knocks. There was no reason to crawl inside when the guys could just widen the gap for them, was there? Besides, no one was dying to start the tedious patrol of the tens of thousands of square feet of the building.
“In twos?” Carlos asked as they got ready to walk into the building, flashlight turned on.
“We’ll never finish this within our shift if we do,” the officer in charge said. “Let’s go on our own. Radios on.”
Two hours later, Carlos was on the second floor and already wishing that the day was over and he could get back home, where routine would be a bit more interesting. He was still a professional, though, so he made a point of inspecting every corner, illuminating dark spots with his flashlight and taking pictures for the feds. They had given them special cameras with military-grade GPS, insisting that it was just a means to document and coordinate the entire operation. Carlos knew that in reality, it was a way to check that the local policemen were doing they work right since they had never trusted them.
His mind was already in the beers with his friends in the evening when a moaning sound rattled him. He realized his hair was standing on end when a different noise, now sounding like some plastics rubbing against each other came from the same overall direction.
He suppressed the urge to call out to whoever had made the noise. The idea that one of his comrades might be playing a practical joke on him ran through his head, but he discarded it since he knew they were too far away in the building to catch him unawares.
He considered warning them on the radio but decided against it. The last thing he needed was their jokes if in the end, it turned out to be a cat. It would not be the first time. He felt quite tenser than in any of the previous ones, though.
Carlos switched his flashlight off and advanced towards the source of the noise, being slow in his attempt to be as silent as possible. His eyes took some time to adapt to the new lighting conditions, the late afternoon sunrays filtering through the distant and dirty windows way too dim to illuminate the vast stance.
He tried to slow his breathing down as he reached the crates he had been heading too. When he felt that both his heart rate and breathing were fine, Carlos walked carefully around the wooden pallets and peeked around the corner.
The bulge under the plastic sheets moved and made him to instantly jump back. His right hand reached for his gun as his left switched the flashlight on.
“Freeze!” he screamed at the moving body, feeling his heart rate accelerate.
The voice of his colleagues quickly came through the radio.
“Second floor, north-east. I found someone” he hurriedly said as he aimed both with gun and flashlight.
Sienna felt the world coming in, but it was both slow and painful. Thousands of sensory inputs started crashing into her still numb brain and made her head throb, way worse than the worse hangover she had ever had.
A primal instinct, coming straight from her spinal cord, told her that she was in danger. She did not know where she was and had little clue about herself, but her lizard brain knew that she either had to fight or flee.
Her body ached as she moved, its weakness making every single gesture a million times harder than it should. Whatever had been covering her head slid, and her eyes were hit by a dim light. Sienna’s nostrils smelled the reek at the same time her eyes started to make the blurry shadow in front of her focus. The figure was starting to become defined, but suddenly the entire process was interrupted when a bright light made her close her eyes in pain.
She was beginning to understand that the stench was coming from her own body when her ears caught the sound coming from the figure that loomed above her. It merely sounded like barking at first; then she recognized the threat in the words.
Sienna forced herself to open her eyes once more and felt some basic comfort when they adapted to the light and could start focusing on the shadow behind its source. She recognized its basic shape and then the object it was carrying. Her mind was still way too paralyzed to recognize the gun, but it recognized the basic function of a weapon and the threat implied by it.
Fight or flee, her lizard brain told her again. A basic stretch of her legs told her that she was way too weak to run away. The problem with that, of course, was that this meant she was way too weak to fight.
She felt an aboriginal fear growing in hear, not finding a solution for the life or death situation she was in. The answer came without seeking when Sienna felt the strong pressure that had been building behind her eyes release.
The bulge moved, and one of the plastic sheets that had been covering it slid, revealing the person below. Carlos felt his hand shake when he recognized a woman.
She was visibly in pain, but still, Carlos felt more threatened than he had ever felt before. It might be the lighting, the warehouse itself or the repeated warnings from the feds on how to act in case of positive identification, but he was way more afraid than a sick woman deserved.
He had to fight the urge to flee and wait for reinforcements almost as much as he had to fight the need to throw up. The woman stank, and her greasy hair explained why.
“Don’t move ma’am” he said in an authoritative voice, but he knew the command was more intended to calm himself down than to get the woman to do anything. If anything, she looked way too harmless to justify his jumpiness.
And then, her eyes glowed. Carlos had not been able to recognize their color in the gloom. He had no problems to see the unnatural red hue they took, their glimmer giving her an unnatural look.
He debated between shooting or fleeing. He never had time to choose. During his last second of life, Carlos felt as if he had been thrown into Hell’s cauldrons.
Sienna felt that the immediate danger was gone. She was not too aware of how it had happened, but she would have time to process that later. She was not yet safe. Her brain was still not able to properly process the sensory overflow, but she sensed that others like her attacker were converging in her position.
The world started to look a bit less blurred, her sight now fully adapted to the surrounding lighting and seeing her surroundings as if she had been in bright daylight. They still did not make sense, though.
She groaned as she forced her legs, feeling some relief when she was able to move them under her body. She groaned again, but with less intensity, when pushing her to her feet required somewhat less effort.
The footsteps were approaching, and her lizard brain faced the same old dilemma once more: fight or flee? She was not cornered, so the choice was obvious. Each of her leaps felt a bit easier than the previous one as she rushed towards the source of light. Her awakening consciousness was barely able to realize the fact that she could have been harmed as she crashed through the dirty windows and landed, rolling clumsily, twenty feet below.
Sienna ignored the startled construction worker. Her primeval instinct discarded him as danger. Her hearing was more focused on the men that had been going after her. She had no problem to listen, following their movements. At some indeterminate points, she started to process some of the words out of their mouths. They sounded shocked, very shocked, but Sienna ignored the source of their astonishment. It was better not to give them time to react. She ignored the construction worker’s reaction as she crouched, feeling some of her strength returning, and then shot into the sky. She rolled once more when she landed between two long-abandoned warehouses, three blocks away.
“Oh God! Oh my God!” Kowalski swore, walking in circles around the fallen corpse of officer Carlos Garcia.
A few steps back, officer Hughes was throwing up for a second time, the smell of roasted flesh too intense for his stomach to accept.
“This is Sergeant McCullough. We have an officer down in E-street with 125th. Abandoned warehouse, second floor” the policeman in charge was saying as he paced the area with his cell phone attached to his ear.
There were a few moments of very uncomfortable silence, McCullough listening to whoever was on the other side of the line. Then, he turned and looked at the body of their fallen comrade with gloom in his eyes. He saw the image he expected, the one he dreaded. From the waist up, Garcia’s body was a blackened version of itself, seemingly on the verge of dissolving into a pile of ashes.
The sergeant turned, not being able to keep his eyes on his fellow officer, and talked to the phone again:
“He has been incinerated”
Juno was quite naughtier than her previous dog, Agnes thought as she climbed the steps to her house’s entrance. For starters, she had to walk him quite more often than Elsa. Her daughter had insisted that she should take the Boxer, though. The old Beagle had been adorable, but Christine was adamant that she needed to do more exercise. Besides, the neighborhood was not as good as when Agnes had first bought the house, over forty years ago, and a bigger dog might prove useful to scare some people away.
Juno was still very active as Agnes opened the door and the young dog rushed inside. She set the keys in the cute plate she had crafted herself and pushed the door shut. It never did. Turning, Agnes saw four fingers blocking the door just before it hit its frame. Agnes felt her heart beat out of her chest.
She was expecting a thief or, even worse, a junkie in desperate need of his next dose. What she saw when the door was pushed open was very different, though.
The woman would have been beautiful if she had not looked so decaying. Her stench pushed Agnes back and made her think of sickness. Her fear for the intruder changed its nature, and it soon shared her mindset with a sense of pity.
“Girl … are you alright?” Agnes said, making an effort not to throw up.
“I’m sorry,” the woman said as she took a step into the house. Agnes was about to tell her to stop when the woman’s arm shot and her hand covered her mouth, preventing her from screaming.
Juno had been barking the entire time. Agnes had never known how her young dog would react. It certainly had energy, but it had never seemed too aggressive. She was positively surprised when Juno jumped for her assaulter’s throat. So, it turned out Christine had been right.
Her dog never managed to close its jaws around the woman’s neck, though. Agnes never realized too well what had happened. One moment Juno was jumping, teeth ready for the kill, the next the ragged woman was holding it, fingers closed around its mouth.
Agnes could see Juno fighting with its usual stamina. The woman had a sad look in her deep blue eyes when she snapped its neck with a sudden twist of her wrist. Juno’s body hit the floor with a soft thud as the woman looked back into Agnes’ eyes and repeated:
It was the last thing Agnes heard before her neck broke.