This is part 5 of a collective story being put together by some folks on the Freethought Blogs crew as part of a fundraiser to help cover the legal bills incurred by Richard
Carrier’s SLAP lawsuit. Check out parts 1-5 at the links below, and then dive in!
Kyle tested the door handle. It opened with barely a click, and the team filed quietly into the back hall, guns drawn. Connie knew immediately that something was off. The diner’s sound system was playing some kind of spooky trance music, but she couldn’t hear anything from the guests they knew had packed into the small venue. She shivered as all of her body hairs stood on end.
“Hold,” her voice was soft, but Mateo could hear the tension in it.
“What’s wrong, Herbert?”
“I’m not…” She shivered again. How to explain? “I don’t hear people moving.”
Mateo frowned. While this wasn’t the first time she’d “heard” something wrong, the music normally drowned out a lot of noises.
“I don’t hear much talking or anything, but.”
Connie shook her head.
“Proceed with caution. Either this is a trap, or we’re in big trouble.”
“Bigger trouble than a trap?” Katie’s whisper had a little bit of a whine to it, and she started looking around, as if she was going to see spiders coming out of every corner.
“Just… Just be careful. I think people might have already been dosed.”
Katie nodded, and gripped the straps of her pack.
They began moving down the hall.
Connie kept her face blank and her breathing quiet as she thought. How to explain? Hey Mateo, I know we’ve been working together for years and you think we know everything about each other, but did I ever mention those crazy experiments I was part of? The ones where I was made part spider with the help of some kind of messed up science nobody’s ever heard of? You say I never mentioned it? Well, now I can “see” my surroundings through vibrations as they hit my body hair.
Kyle and Mateo stopped at the kitchen door. Mateo gently pushed it open and Kyle gave a quick look in. He shook his head. Empty. Connie shivered again. That’s what she was feeling, not just from the kitchen, but also from the main room of the diner. All those people had come in here – they’d watched them come in – but there was no one here.
Not even the advance team.
Connie didn’t say anything. Even after all these years, it was hard to be sure of what her senses told her. Augmentations or no, the human brain didn’t evolve to process this kind of input. Maybe they were all just doing something in the main room, and she couldn’t hear them…
They moved on down the hall. The dining room was empty, but for a few dozen coats piled on the tables. The lights were dim, the music still played, but there was no other sign that anyone had been here for longer than it took to put down their coats.
“What the fuck?” Mateo kept his voice quiet and calm, but she could see the tension in this shoulders. “Where is everyone?”
Kyle peered out the window.
“All the cars are still there.”
“Does this place have a basement?”
Connie shrugged. “It’s been years since I was-” She stopped talking.
“You’ve been here before?”
“Did I say that?
Mateo holstered his gun, stalked over to her, and grabbed her by the shoulder, looking into her pale eyes.
“Talk. You’ve been tense ever since we got here, and as far as I know, you’ve never been here before. You’re hiding something, and we can’t have that on a team like this. Talk.”
“I-” Connie looked around. All three of them were staring at her. “Fine. Look. A few years back, I decided to find out where my family came from, OK? My folks left for some reason, and they wouldn’t talk about it, and I was curious.”
“It was here?”
“Did you talk to anyone here? Does anyone know you?”
“Talked to a few people. One knew I was from the Herbert family.”
“You have relatives here?”
“Mateo, no. Not for decades. Mary knew some members of my family when she was a kid. Apparently most of the women had the same very pale eyes as me, and she had a few childhood memories. They left town, probably when I was still a kid. Maybe before I was born.”
“Mary’s Meat Shop?”
She nodded again.
“And she recognized you from your eyes?”
“You should’ve told us.”
Kyle and Katie kept quiet, watching for any signs of the missing partygoers. Connie rubbed her arm over her forehead and nodded.
Mateo let go of her shoulder and sighed.
“I overreacted. I’m just freaked out. Where is everyone?”
“I-” Connie hesitated. Did she want to draw attention right now? Had to be done. “I thought I felt a vibration in the floor. There might be a basement that wasn’t in the building plans.”
There was a moment of silence, then Kyle spoke up.
“Probably behind the bar. Easy to bring up new stock that way.”
Katie stepped up to the bar, peered over it, looked back at the others, and nodded. They all went over to look. The floor mat had been rolled up, revealing a long trapdoor set in the floor.
Kyle frowned. “Why would they be down there?”
“Some kind of party thing,”suggested Katie. “Maybe they went for a spooky basement theme?”
Connie shook her head. “That doesn’t explain where the advance team went.”
Mateo went to a corner and bent down, sniffing.
“They didn’t do their work, either. I should be able to smell some of the stuff they normally put down.”
“Basement it is, then,” said Connie.
“Still feels wrong,” growled Kyle.
“Agreed,” said Connie. “Katie, stay up here and keep an ear out. We’ll call you down if the way is clear.”
Katie nodded with a glum expression.
“Ok. Open it.”
Mateo grabbed the ring set in the door and heaved. It swung up with a soft creak, revealing a metal staircase. Kyle went down, carefully, and waved for the others to follow. Connie went after him, and Mateo after her. He looked around, and then went back up to get Katie.
It was a standard storage basement, but there was a smell that set Connie’s teeth on edge. She couldn’t place it, but it was familiar. At the far end of the room was an open doorway, with a web-covered figure slumped in it. Connie approached, gun drawn, heart beating fast. A couple steps away, and it moved. Head turned to face her, and a muffled voice said, “Connie?”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
Mateo and Kyle came up on either side of her.
“Damn,” Mateo cursed. “Katie, get some antivenin over here now!”
Katie hurried up, but Connie put a hand out to stop her. She bent over to peel some of the webbing off the figure’s face.
“Connie. I thought I could feel you moving around. What are you doing here?”
“Billy? What are you doing here? Why are you webbed up?”
“They dosed me. Knocked me out. This happens any time I stop moving too long.”
“What?” Kyle, Mateo, and Katie looked confused, and scared.
“Is he-” Kyle swallowed. “Are you saying that webbing comes out of you?” His voice cracked at the end of the question.
Billy nodded, and shifted a little. There was a click, and then a knife blade poked through the webbing in his lap. He wiggled it around, cutting away the web until he could get an arm free, and cut the rest of it away from himself. He stood and rubbed his head. The others backed away, but Connie just stood, staring at him.
“What? This didn’t happen to you?”
“They must’ve given us different stuff or something. One sec, sorry about this, but if I don’t, I’ll end up getting really faint from hunger in a couple minutes.”
He gave them an apologetic shrug, bent to pick up a sheet of the webbing, and started stuffing it in his mouth. Kyle gagged.
“Uh, yes, Mateo?”
“Was there anything else you forgot to tell us?”
Mateo was watching as Billy kept stuffing webbing into his mouth, chewing, and swallowing it.
“Connie,” Katie put a hand on her shoulder. “I think you need to tell us.”
“Yeah. I guess I need to. You know how I’m one of the most senior officers working this job?”
They nodded. Kyle still looked pale, but he’d stopped gagging. Billy glanced at her over a mouthful of web and raised an eyebrow.
“It’s a bit more than that. Billy and I were at ground zero for all of this.”
“But this isn’t what happens when people get exposed!” Kate gestured at Billy. “We’ve seen death, some deformity, insanity, and in one case eggs,” she shuddered. “But never anything close to this!”
“We weren’t just exposed. We were…” she sighed. “We were test subjects.”
“They were experimenting on us at the same time as they were experimenting on the spiders.”
“Connie…” There was concern in Mateo’s voice.
“I’m fine, Mateo, really. I’m just… different.”
“But not like him?” Mateo jerked his head at Billy, who was about halfway through his strange meal.
“Not like him.” Connie shook her head vigorously. “Hell, he wasn’t like him last time I saw him. This might actually be an improvement.” Billy, mouth still stuffed with webbing, nodded emphatically.
“I got lucky, I guess. I can sense vibrations. That’s the main difference.”
“Sense vibrations?” Kyle looked confused
Connie held up a hand, and pointed to the hairs on the back of it. “My hair isn’t just hair anymore. Well, some of it is, but a lot of it is what’s called thrichobotria, they’re how spiders hear. In my case, it’s all over most of my body, and it can actually give me a pretty clear picture of what’s going on around me, even if I can’t see. Sort of like a more passive version of echolocation.”
“You’re…” Kyle took a step back. “You’re part spider?”
“Dehhh-” Billy started speaking then coughed. He still had a couple big handfuls of webbing to go. “Sorry. Throat’s dry. Didn’t tell them?”
“In this case it was need-to-know. They didn’t, until now, and the Company thought it would be better this way.”
“Well…” Mateo took a deep breath. “This explains more than it doesn’t.
“Are you kidding me?” Katie grabbed Connie’s hand, and whipped out a hand lens. “This explains nothing! This shouldn’t be possible! Hold still!”
Connie blinked, and Billy gave a muffled guffaw.
“They’re really fucking spider hairs! This shouldn’t be possible! There were rumors, but – DNA doesn’t just- You can’t-”
Connie gently pulled her hand away.
“This is Scifi bullshit. What’s really going on?”
“I told you! I don’t know all the details of what they did to us. It was human and spider DNA, or sometimes spider venom, combined with, I dunno, some kind of serum to help it assimilate or whatever.”
“That sounds made up!”
“Katie, you’ve seen some of what that venom does!”
“Yeah, but that’s like, in the realm of teratomas and stuff.”
Connie lifted her hands and shrugged. “Not my area of expertise.”
“Uh – I can clarify”, said Billy. He had finished his meal.
Mateo looked at Connie, then at Billy. “Clarify, then.”
“Katie’s right. It’s not possible, normally.”
Connie stared at him.
“Uh, y’all ever pay attention to news coming out of CERN?”
“The… No… No you’re kidding me.” Connie’s stomach churned. She’d just seen a news report that the people running the Large Hadron Collider were going to try contacting a parallel universe.
“Ground zero was in Texas.”
Connie nodded. “At a facility that was abandoned in 1993. They were going to build a particle accelerator like the one in CERN, but bigger.”
“It was never abandoned.”
Billy gave her a wry smile. “I found out a few years ago. They always planned to declare it a boondoggle and ‘abandon’ it. They finished construction and it went online in 1997. Very covert. They made contact with an alternate universe, and managed to actually acquire some material from there. Maybe even go through? I’m honestly not sure. That’s how they developed the stuff they used on us, though.”
Connie stared at him. “I’m… I’m part alien or something?”
“How did you know all this? What happened to you?”
“Weeeell, with my, uh, condition, they decided to keep me on behind the scenes. They never gave me much information, but I picked up bits and pieces.”
“Guys,” Katie clapped her hands once for attention. “What happened to the people who came here for a party? We were here to stop a drug deal and do a cover-up, remember?”
“Oh, that’s why you’re here. I guess they really meant it when they said autonomous operatives.”
“Wait just a minute,” said Mateo. “How could they keep a project that big secret?
“I dunno,” said Billy. “I guess they got good at it though, since you folks didn’t know this one was here.”
“This… What?” Connie’s hair was standing on end, and her senses were already telling her what was through that doorway and down the hall.
“This collider. They’ve been making a lot of them. I honestly don’t know why, and I don’t know what they wanted the party folks for. I was just supposed to guard the door, but they knocked me out as soon as I asked a question.”
Connie pushed past him and into the hallway. Right around the corner, it opened into a huge, echoing tunnel like the one at the Texas facility all those years ago. She looked up.
“The facility in Texas didn’t have this many spiders on the ceiling.”
The 6th and final part is on Pharyngula, so go check it out for the thrilling conclusion!
In the meantime, please check out our fundraiser page, and consider whether you can help out!