FORT CAMPBELL MILITARY RESERVATION, KENTUCKY
The BMW sprinted through the storm-lashed darkness, its headlights glinting off the wet pavement and the rows of trees blurring by on either side. Enjoying the sensation of speed, Doctor Glen Ward caressed the steering wheel. Military police cars were rarely out on this stretch of road so early in the morning, which is why he chose this route across the sprawling training areas of the Fort Campbell Military Reservation to get from his home in Clarksville to the lab. At this time of day, the only other traffic on the two-lane road was the few soldiers who lived on the western side of the reservation driving to their jobs in the opposite direction.
Ward tapped on the brakes as the edge of the military reservation slipped by and he was back on county road. He slowed further as he passed through the sleepy town of Bumpus Mills. He cruised along Route 139 until the road hit the tiny hamlet of Linton (population seventy-eight), on the banks of Lake Barkley, and then followed the road’s sharp right turn to the north. The route now shadowed the shoreline of the lake.
After following the shore for four kilometers, Route 139 turned back east and climbed up into the low forested hills. The lack of people in this area had been one of the key reasons for building the lab here. Ward would have preferred someplace closer to Washington, D.C., since he seemed to spend most of his time there begging for funds, or even Nashville, where he lectured occasionally at Vanderbilt University, but he’d reluctantly accepted what he was given. The isolated site allowed him and his assistants to concentrate on their work with few distractions. The nearby Fort Campbell military reservation also gave them convenient access to restricted training areas to field test their project.
When Ward’s headlights touched the small sign that indicated the private turnoff for the lab parking lot, Ward expertly spun the wheel and the BMW fishtailed onto the driveway. He rolled up the short incline toward the parking lot, satisfied with the trip. He wasn’t as content with the thought of another day of writing up classified reports to justify the continued existence of his work.
It seemed to Ward that he spent more time on foolish paperwork than on his research. The few people in Washington who knew the true extent of the Synbat project — and the success it had already achieved — were behind Ward and his efforts. Unfortunately, the breakup of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, and subsequent head-hunting for peace dividends, put the Biotech Engineering project high on the list of classified projects heading for the chopping block.
General Trailers, head of the Pentagon’s sixty-eight-billion-dollar-a-year secret Black Budget, which funded Biotech, was afraid to let even the congressmen on the intelligence oversight committee know what was really happening in the Biotech labs. Trailers felt that the project was much too sensitive and would never survive even classified scrutiny in Congress.
During the brief meeting the two had had in Washington three months ago, Trailers had indicated that it would be better for all if the project was simply dropped unless there were some immediate results, for both financial and political reasons. He had given Ward a final six-month extension on the research grant. That time was more than half over and the pressure for results was increasing correspondingly.
Ward shook his head as the car glided across the parking lot, past the night security guard’s pickup truck. The tremendous advances he had achieved here in the last two years could all go for naught if the project was dropped. Just when things finally seemed to be going right, too, Ward thought bitterly.
Ward grabbed his briefcase as he unfolded from the car. He ran a practiced hand through his blown-dry hair. Ward prided himself on his appearance. His tanned face, framed by silver hair, made him look distinguished, in his own not-so-humble opinion. Fitting, he felt, for one of the top genetic engineers in the country, if not the world. His six-foot frame didn’t show the wear of time to be expected in a man of fifty-eight years. An hour every day working out with Nautilus equipment in the basement of his house helped ensure that.
As Ward turned toward the building he froze at the red-streaked glass facing him. His eyes traveled down, coming to a halt on the mangled body lying just inside. His heart rate picked up and a trickle of sweat ran down his back.
The doctor threw his briefcase on the hood of the BMW and opened it, pulling out a Smith and Wesson 9mm automatic pistol. He inexpertly worked the slide, loading a bullet into the chamber and cocking the hammer. Gun held with both hands in front, the doctor made his way to the front door, unaware that the gun’s safety was still on.
The fact that the front doors were unlocked barely registered as Ward stepped inside and his eyes flickered over the carnage in the lobby. He couldn’t recognize the ravaged body, but he was certain from the tattered remnants of clothing that it wasn’t the night guard.
Ward headed directly for the security console and halted in dismay at the smashed computer. He looked over the video screens. No sign of the guard. He knew that the screens covered the entire first floor. That left two places for the guard to be — either outside the building, beyond range of the external cameras, or on the basement level. Who, then, was the dead man up here?
Ward abandoned the security console and went to the first office behind the lobby. He unlocked the door and sat down at the desk inside. Flipping on the power to the computer terminal, he anxiously awaited while the machine booted up.
Finally getting a cursor prompt, Ward typed in his override code word, accessing all data in the computer. Fingers flashing over the keys, he opened up the security status folder. The cursor was replaced with a message that confirmed Ward’s worst fears:
ALERT/ ALERT/ CONTAINMENT VIOLATION:
INNER CONTAINMENT AND OUTER CONTAINMENT BREACHED.
INTERNAL ALARM/ DOOR 17 UNSECURE.
INTERNAL ALARM/ DOOR 18 UNSECURE.
EXTERNAL ALARM/ DOOR 1 UNSECURE.
Ward took a second to compose himself, then went back out to the hallway leading to the elevator. He keyed the elevator doors and stepped in. He punched B and the elevator descended. Just before the doors opened, he pressed up against the back of the elevator, pistol pointing at the doors. He took a deep breath and held it as the doors slid open.
The operating room had been ransacked. Equipment was strewn about the floor and several machines were overturned. After carefully scanning the room, Ward focused his attention on the open doors on the far side. He could see through both sets of containment doors. That confirmed the message on the screen. This was bad. Very bad. According to lab standard operating procedures, the two doors were never to be opened simultaneously.
Ward slowly made his way across the operating room, sliding around the tables and equipment. Broken glass crunched under his feet. When he was close to the outer containment doors, he saw a red slick of blood that had washed out into the short connecting corridor. Ward edged his way through the corridor, carefully avoiding the blood. Pistol first, he entered the containment area.
Two bodies lay just inside, staring sightlessly at the fluorescent lights. He recognized neither man, although their mothers would not have either. Their necks were severed almost halfway through from the front. Both had been eviscerated, and their entrails looped out onto the floor. Limbs had been torn down to the bone. Ward looked up; the doors to both Cube One and Cube Two gaped open. The square cells inside were empty.
Taking a deep breath, Ward made a conscious effort to slow his heart rate. He knew that there was only one thing that could make this situation worse. He crossed to the right side of the room to a large box freezer. The metal doors on top were flung open. He felt his stomach plummet. The two metal brackets inside were empty; the equipment they had held, gone.
Ward rapidly retraced his steps, securing the containment doors behind him. He rode the elevator up, ran down the hallway to his office, and grabbed a portable computer off his desk. He carried it to the security console, disconnected the damaged computer, and hooked up the laptop. Before doing anything else, he glanced out into the parking lot. Just his BMW and the old pickup truck. Luckily no one else had shown up yet. Biotech employed ten people, most of whom didn’t arrive until the normal work hour of eight.
Flipping open his wallet, Ward pulled out the card he had been given two years ago and had never used. Grabbing the phone, his fingers rapidly punched in the designated numbers.
The other end was picked up on the third ring. “Site and code, please.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish