This is Part 4 of a story chain that some FtB comrades are writing by turns.
If you have not read the first three parts of our story:
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A Dark Web
From the second Kyle broke through the door of Lucy’s, Connie would be operating on autopilot. Adrenaline, training and experience in dozens of these missions would coalesce in blood and brain to transform her into a singularly focused machine. And Connie’s unique “gifts” would provide a covert advantage no ordinary human could match.
But in that instant before the switch flipped, the events that led her to this precise point in space and time flashed before her in an instant. Images, sharp and vibrant, paraded by, bringing back with them the heavy emotional weight of her journey like an unexpected gut-punch. Connie Herbert remained one of few people alive who had a front row seat for all of it: a witness to the whole world transforming, fundamentally and forever, over the course of a single day twenty years ago.
One could only marvel that over two decades–two decades!–very few people knew anything of it at all. Fewer still knew the full story in all of its grotesque spendor. A 20-year, globe-spanning, total information blackout stood as a towering testament to the Company’s power and reach. An ongoing joke among insiders turned on the unfortunate fact that the most successful Op in company history could never be leaked to Sales & Marketing.
But there had been leaks, of course. A leak sparked the whole mess in the first place. The critical breach occurred one morning when nearly every subject in the study – H. sapiens, Latrodectus or “other” – manifested a stunning variety of transmutations, all at once. The researchers were quickly overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the task of quantifying every one of these strange new phenomena. They called for emergency reinforcements right away.
Connie had awakened that morning feeling oddly out-of-sorts. Once she took in the view of the lab, she puzzled at the sight of Dr. Myers and a half dozen lab techs systematically peering into the dozens of small glass enclosures arrayed against the far wall. Another tech disabled the locks on the lab door and propped it open so the extra staffers could come right on in and get to work immediately–well, immediately after they picked their jaws up off the floor, and remembered how to breathe.
Billy was ranting and pacing in his pod, agitated as ever. Not for the first time, Connie was grateful the glass walls between them provided excellent soundproofing.
Just then, three men in well-tailored suits strode through the open door and made a beeline for Dr. Myers.
“Poor guy,” Connie smirked wryly to herself. “He hates dealing with the suits.” And if the suits were here, it could only mean one of two things: either phase III had just been deemed a smashing success, or something had gone very, very wrong. At the moment she couldn’t tell which. It looked like nobody else was sure, either.
Staffers in crisp white lab coats came streaming in continuously, some of whom she hadn’t seen since phase I or II. Those studies had gone exceedingly well. Phase I investigated human reactions to various Latrodectus venom extracts, as well as Latrodectus reactions to various H. sapiens blood extracts. Phase I yielded very little new information, but it did provide a vast trove of baseline data.
Phase II was similar, except the extracts derived from both species underwent molecular modifications before infusion. Results revealed, among other things, potential applications for modified venom extracts, including non-lethal bioweapons, a broad range of medicinal properties and “neurocognitive effects.” Or, as some of the H. sapiens subjects put it, “Wow, I am really high!” At the time Connie wondered whether the Latrodectus subjects experienced similar effects, and how anyone would know if they did.
In the present day, standing at the back door of Lucy’s Bar and Grill, Connie would wonder whether the “Venom” presently drawing in the Halloween party goers traced directly back to that fateful morning in phase III, or if it was indeed just a marketing gimmick. The cartels and dealers were always branding retail heroin packets with names of exactly this sort.
Phase III had been a much more ambitious undertaking. For one thing, all subjects had undergone cross-species genetic modifications prior to the infusions. Early results in Latrodectus took an interesting turn when the females bore spiderlings that inherited their respective new gene sequences intact. Most of these clusters died off before or shortly after hatching; only two continued to thrive. As these clusters began hatching and maturing, it became apparent that the novel genes had expressed in mutations so profound, these creatures could hardly be classed in the Latrodectus genus at all. They were something entirely new. So was the venom.
Human life cycle constraints naturally prohibited any investigation into Latrodectus gene expression in the offspring of H. sapiens, to say nothing of the Geneva Conventions. The Company was already treading dangerously close to those limits, perhaps even exceeding them.
And those Latrodectus genes roiling around inside ten human subjects were not exactly lying dormant.
Connie was struck with the sense that something was off about Billy today (more so than usual, that is). She turned back for another look. Billy took heaving breaths, wildly contorting his upper body as if he were trying to glimpse the back of his own neck. Strange. But what was all that…that…stuff? Thick, glossy strands and strings clung to his arms and torso, wobbling like jello with every twitch.
No one seemed the least bit concerned about Billy: all attention was focused on the dozens of small glass enclosures lining the back wall. Some of them were moving, in short pulses. A metal cover from one of the higher enclosures came spinning down.
Dr. Myers and the techs descended from their ladders and took slow steps backward.
The enclosures were jumping and jerking more violently now. Metal lids came down. Whole enclosures crashed to the floor, and shattered. The Latrodectus were out.
Billy and a few other subjects were pounding on the glass walls, some throwing furniture and other heavy items. It was all for naught. All eyes were transfixed by the chaos exploding outward from the far wall. In less than a minute hundreds of spiders were trailing sticky silk to every nook and corner in the lab.
Billy swung at the glass with a piece of dismantled bed frame. The wall first cracked, then shattered under the blows. He was now swinging at the other pods, freeing the frenzied subjects inside.
“Get back!” he yelled at Connie. She could barely hear him, until Billy smashed down the wall between them.
The suits were the first to make a run for it. The swarm of techs followed behind them, moving like a single organism and sweeping Dr. Myers right out with them.
Someone had set off the fire alarm: sprinklers showered the room, a siren a strobe light flashed, sirens shrieked, silk webbing criss-crossed the ceiling. The effect was surreal.
Connie knew there were risks when she volunteered to be a subject. But she never imagined anything like this. No one did. The consequences were as yet unforeseen, but they would come, hard and fast, in the form of shockwaves around the globe. Connie or any of a hundred tactical officers like her would be there when they did, mitigating all of the damage, destroying all evidence and ensuring that any narrative taking hold would never lead back to the Company.
Kyle would be first through the door tonight. The others would follow in a practiced and precise routine. Just then, in that breathless last second, Connie wondered what the world might look like if only the last tech to make it out that day had stopped to shut, lock and bolt the lab door behind him.
“On my mark,” she said coolly. “Three. Two. One. Go.”
Part 5 will be at Oceanoxia tomorrow, and I will update this link.
It’s a weird year, to put it mildly. Many Halloween traditions you might have enjoyed in the past may not be possible this year, at least not if you prefer to avoid catching and spreading a deadly virus and you have the terrible misfortune of living among conservatives in the US. So please, if you are celebrating this weekend, have your fun safely. And if you’re looking for something to do, hang out with us here on Halloween!