Thursday, May 12, 2016

Dark Winter: Chapter Six


Microbiology 401 lecture.  Oksana Kerensky, Phd

Question:  Why does the field of micro-biology know so little about prions?

Answer: because they scare the living shit out of us.  So we don’t like to think about them.

Reason are as follows;

1.  They're difficult to detect.  They are just proteins and nothing else. Which makes them very slippery and sneaky.  For instance, the Mad Cow prion is exactly the same sequence of amino acids as one of the normal brain proteins.  The invading prion is a different shape.  It then causes the native proteins to refold themselves into that abnormal shape and the trouble begins.

2.  They're difficult to prevent.  Viruses and bacteria have multiple different outer surface proteins that can be used to stimulate an immune response via vaccines.  Prions - not so much.  You've got to hope it's large enough to have even one useful antigenic site.  If not, then the immune system won’t even detect them.

3.  They're tiny. Really tiny.  Much more likely to pass through the sorts of filters, barrier masks, etc. than a virus or bacteria.  So they are exceptionally dangerous to work with.

4.  How do you treat the damn things?  Viruses and bacteria have their own metabolic processes.  These involve unique enzymes not present in our own cells.  Those processes and enzymes are the usual targets of antibiotics or antiviral drugs.  Prions?  It's a freaking protein.  It doesn't HAVE any metabolic processes...

The campus of Michigan State University is never easy to navigate.  With a population better than half the size of East Lansing itself and a topography design that was completely unconcerned with how that population was shifted around it on a daily basis. Simple orientation was impossible for its new students for an average of about  two months.  Hills were paved over or around by some random decision making process no mere undergrad could hope to fathom.  Roads curved for no apparent reason and straight aways showed up without any warning. Street names, however, always stayed the same, unless they suddenly didn’t. And bicycle paths ran, quite literally, through the middle of the road.

And now there were college football fans all over it.

Shocker was passing Beaumont Tower, homing in on Oksana Kerensky’s smartphone.  He was glad to see it was actually moving rather than just sitting in her room.

General Sertorio had been right. Everyone needed a day off.  The simple truth was that nothing much in the way of lab work could get done today.  The campus was way too crowded. Also, there was the problem of the Medical and Veterinary students who had found themselves drafted into the project. They were used to being worked to death, that not only wasn't an issue, it actually helped move things along.  Slaves are used to being slave-driven.  It was just a matter of maintaining the right habits.  

The problem was one of those habits was how they behaved at the MSU/ U of M game every damn year.  Either going off to the game or avoiding it entirely and cuddling up with a book until it was all over.  Ultimately they were managing Millennials, slack would have to cut.

Annoyingly, Kerensky the Younger was an avid football fan. Less annoyingly, she appeared to be close by, about thirty meters away.  Just over the next hillock.  

Shocker took a shortcut over the top of it.  His ears pricked up.  He was alerted to some angry shouting before he crested it.

Some drunk Wolverine fan had gotten out of his ridiculous custom van and was screaming at an undergrad who was holding back her huge dog with both hands.

A dog?

Oh my aching back, Shocker groaned inwardly as he vaulted into a sprint downhill.

The drunk was waving his finger into Kerensky’s face.  Spittle was flying out of his mouth.  

This wasn’t too bad, Cahn told the raging beast that was his deepest heart. You are not needed here and I can’t go full throttle in this place, anyway.  That would hinder the mission.  The mission is everything, remember?  The mission is all.  The mission is always all.

“No, you damn don’t!” Shocker heard the man screaming.  

The asshole was about to lose it, Shocker knew.  A lifetime spent on the edge of violence develops a uniquely accurate perspective on how fast someone was going to escalate a confrontation into an attack.  The drunk was well past commitment to violence and was just overcoming some last minute resistance to it.  The coward was only being put off by a demonstration of courage. If she had cowered, he would already be beating her.

“DEKE!”  Came a voice from inside the van.

Shocker blinked away the tinge of red mist that was clouding the edge of his vision. The real Shocker isn’t needed here.  He told himself again.  He won’t punch her for about one and a half seconds.  I’ll be on top of him long before then.

“I just am,”  Oksana Kerensky said and turned her head regally.

And now it's down to less than one second and I won’t get there in time.

Deke was drawing back his fist to hit the girl. Suddenly, the man caught sight of Cahn’s face.   And 
 Cahn loosened but did not release the real Shocker.  The red cloud encroached upon but did not cover his vision.  He could hear his heartbeating loud in his ears but it was under control - less than ninety beats per minute.  Time, however, appeared to be dilating downward, just a little.  Things were starting to appear just a little slow to him.  It wasn’t bad, he was in control of it.

The rage on the drunk’s face was painted over by startlement.  Then his eyes went wide with terror.  His attack faltered, his punch slowed down and then went wide of girl. Extending toward Shocker.

It was way more time than the Marine Raider needed.  He was vaguely grateful to have such a cooperative victim.

Shocker Cahn, in an eruption of controlled, disciplined violence intercepted Deke’s fist as it was headed for Aux’s cheek. Seizing the man’s wrist with both hands, he pulled, twisting his hips, using Deke’s own velocity against him.  Shocker shifted his own weight and kicked the back of Deke’s knee, his supporting leg crumpled and he crashed to his knees onto the sidewalk.

Shocker wrenched Deke’s arm into a chicken wing with one hand, and grabbed the back of his head with the other.  Then he face planted Deke’s head into the side his conversion van using the big gold M as his bullseye with measured savagery and his own knee as a pile driver.


Three times.

Then he let the man drop like a drunken rag doll.

The passenger side door was open now.  Deke’s drastically out-clased but utterly loyal friend had rolled himself out of the van, landing off balance in the snow.  He had at least had the sense to bring a weapon.  A very large flashlight. About eighteen inches long and very heavy. More club than torch.  
Shocker stepped deftly with precise speed.  Closing the distance between them to engagement range long before the man could recover his balance.

Shocker grabbed the new man’s right elbow with his own right strong hand torquing it slightly to gain control, his thumb socketing itself in a nerve cluster, while seizing and effortlessly twisting the flashlight out of his hand.  Cahn planted his shoulder against the other man’s and drove him precisely and firmly...upward.

“Let me help you up, sir,” career Marine Corps,  Sergeant Major Cahn said in a voice that was pitched with professional depth.

The man looked with frightened eyes into his Shocker’s.  He was completely cowed in an instant.
Shocker turned around and grabbed Deke by the collar and dragged him to the open passenger side door.  “I think your friend has had enough for today, sir” he said as he shoved him roughly into the passenger seat.

Deke’s reasonable friend nodded quickly.

“I’d say enjoy the game at this point,” Shocker said while handing him his flashlight back.  “But I think I’ll settle for get out of town now and don’t come back...sir”

Deke’s friend didn’t nod or look Cahn in the eye or give any kind of acknowledgement at all.  He just got in the van and followed the Sergeant Major’s advice.  It was a short time later while he was listening to the game on the radio, that he found out that Cahn had just saved thier lives.
Shocker turned to face Oksana Kerensky.

Her eyebrow was lifted in livid accusation. “You are using my phone to track my movements,” she accused rather then asked.  “Yes?”

“Naturally,” he replied truthfully.  Half hoping she would assume he was lying and using some more 
nefarious means to track her movements.  He used to have options along those lines, of course, but things being what they were now, her smartphone was mostly it.  


Aux continued to glare at her one man security team

Her security team tried not to smile.  It wouldn’t help things just now.  Instead he approached her.  

Dropped to one knee.

And proceeded to scratch the hell out of just the right spots behind Conan’s ears.  

Conan’s rage at the threats to his Aux were instantly forgotten.  He clenched his eyes tight in canine ecstasy.   “Arrrwooorooo,” Conan moaned.

Aux appeared to be fighting off her own smile for few seconds before giving Conan’s leash a sharp but gentle jerk, letting him know he was back on the clock.  Conan shook his head apologetically.  

Aux composed her own features and began digging through a Warrior Pack Holster purse that was riding low on her hip and strapped to her firm thigh.  “Hang on, I have something for you.”

Shocker noted three .357 speed loaders in it.  Which worried him a little.  Under Michigan law it was completely illegal for her to conceal carry on a university, PCL or no.  It was only just barely legal for him to do it and that was due only to extraordinary circumstances.  

And things being what they were, he wasn’t carrying outside the lab compound.  As he had anticipated, he’d been stopped and ineptly frisked a couple of times by the campus cops. They were as happy to have the Marines on campus as the Interim University President was.

John had told him how that story went.

The statue of John A. Hannah depicts a large if squat, square jawed former football player.  The building behind it - named after the aforementioned former president of Michigan State University - is also large, if squat.  As well as being square in shape and personality.  It is in a word, functional, if not inspiring to look at.

There were a few students perennially camped up on the front step, protesting something that the university administrators agreed with wholeheartedly.  Which was why the protesters usually got class credit for it.

A few caught sight of a Man in a Military Uniform, loping up the steps of the building.  A couple of them made some furtive attempts to intercept John Castillo.  Lips were licked worriedly, breath became a little short, as they approached him obliquely getting ready to get in his face and yell...something.

John couldn’t be bothered to spare them a glance but did briefly hold up a warding index finger.  “Not now.”  They immediately backed off, as he whisked through the front doors.

Castillo stalked past a suddenly frightened secretary, without slowing.  

“Sir, excuse me!  Sir!”  The middle aged woman had spared his uniform a brief scowl but was now lurching with ungainly speed to her oversized feet, her fat rolls unused to this kind of violent, turbulent movement.

“It’s all right, he’s sleeping with my ex-wife,” John said just loudly enough to announce himself.
John had never had reason to visit the president of MSU in his office.  Not that Garrison Wheaton was actually the President of the University.  He was just place holding for moment while a search was being conducted for a new one.  And undoubtedly trying to convince the search committee that they were wasting their time when there was an obviously perfect candidate for the job already sitting behind that desk.

John found his way to an office clearly and recently marked Garrison Wheaton acting President of Michigan State University.  And wrapped on the door with two knuckles twice as he was opening the door.

“Gary, when you have a minute, I need a minute,”  John said through the now open door.

John made no effort to politely close the door while the Acting President of Michigan State University made up his mind.  

Garrison Wheaton’s blue eyes had gone wide at what was a decidedly unpleasant surprise.  His mouth was slightly open.  He quickly mastered himself, the creases on his middle aged face absorbed the corners of his mouth in a cold professional smile.  “This is a surprise, John.” He made no move to rise from his desk or to invite John into his office.

The secretary was now hovering uselessly over John’s shoulder, making it clear that she did not willingly allow this Military Guy to get past her.  “President Wheaton should I call...someone?” She flailed.

“This isn’t about Charlotte or kids.  This is about something a lot bigger,”  John offered a nugget of intriguing information.

Wheaton considered a moment or two then said, “I got this, Carrie,” to the anxious woman.

“Come on in, John,” he finally invited, while making a half rise from his desk and indicating an empty chair in front of it with an open hand.  He sat back down before John was seated.  There would be no attempt to shake John’s hand. It...wasn’t done.  Not with the two of them anyway.

John took a seat and looked around the office to try and find something to compliment before getting down to business with a man he hated.  Gary had optimistically moved some of his more prized decorations in from his office in the sociology department.  A dream catcher was on the window, some pieces of Pueblo art from the mid 1800s were placed on the walls.  Some of Gary’s books on the tribes of the southwest were now prominently displayed. A few trophy pictures on display behind the desk, one shaking the current President of the United States’ hand, another showed a sweat soaked Wheaton wearing a Karate gi with a black belt, one fist in the air and a gold (non-Olympic) medal around his neck.

And in the corner was Garrison Wheaton’s most prized possession (not including John’s wife).  A black “boss of the plains” hat with a thin Navaho head band wrapped around the hat’s bond.  It had been worn by Tom Laughlin himself during the filming of  Billy Jack goes to Washington.  God only knows how much Wheaton paid for it, John thought to himself.  Still, it was perfect for a fake Indian.  
Not that Wheaton actually claimed to be one.  Or rather, if he ever had, he had kept quiet about it since his undergrad days at Yale.  His father had hit it big copper mining in New Mexico during the 1970s.  The youngest of four brothers, Gary Wheaton had been an especial favorite of his father.  Like many another successful man, James Wheaton had never really had time for his older children.  One hundred hour work weeks made for hands off parenting.  Garrison, on the other hand, was the product of a second marriage to a much younger woman when his Dad was in his fifties and was working country club hours.  He had spoiled Gary rotten.

John was looking at a man whom he knew had wanted for nothing in his entire life.  

Except authenticity.

“Nice office,” John gave up.

“Thanks,” Wheaton said blankly.

Well that was fun, thought John.

“I’m here on behalf of General Sertorio..." John began.

“Darlene sent you?”  Wheaton interrupted with his odd half smile, all but saying whatever you want the answer is going to be, no.  “Shouldn’t she be talking to Charlotte?”

“I’m speaking on behalf of General Sertorio in her capacity of Commanding General Special MAGTF 192.”  Dee had been right.  Things wouldn’t have gone even this well if she had come herself.  She hated Wheaton way more than John did.  God only knows what had actually been said.  But, he knew, Darlene hadn’t spoken to her daughter since she left him and as far as he knew, Dee wasn’t planning on ever speaking to Charlotte again.

“It’s about SOD,” John stated baldly.  “Gary, what I am about to tell you is covered by the National Security Act.  There are less than one hundred people who know what I am about to say to you. I know you have an active Top Secret clearance,” (which shakes my faith in the nation) “But this one is SCI on top of TS.  Sign here and start reading.  Do not read anything out loud this is not a SCIF.”
After John finished reading him in...

Wheaton’s face managed to turn even paler than usual.

“,” Wheaton repeated. He gulped then asked,  “why are you telling me all this?”

“There is a chance and just a chance,  we can get this under control before it’s too late. Your university’s genetic Science Lab and the Animal Sciences building are going to be needed for that,”  John stated.

“Anything the University can do to help naturally,” Wheaton hesitated, “within reason of course.”

John nodded, “good to hear.”  Now it was going to get tricky.  “General Sertorio is going to be in charge of this project overall and she will be headquartering in the Animal Sciences building.  I’ll be in charge of security as well as liaising with you when needed.”  John examined Wheaton’s pale face for reaction.  Lips tightened, nostrils flared, pupils mildly dilated.    Now it begins.

“The University will be only to glad to offer the United States Government whatever assistance it requests,”  Wheaton let that word linger in the air for just a moment.  “I’ll be happy to coordinate with the CDC and other appropriate civilian authorities.”  

John opened his mouth to speak and Wheaton immediately interrupted him, ”Have Senators Vankeik-Cooper and Ibranson been read in on it?  I’ll happy to do it, if need be.  I’m friends with both.”  John figured that was overstating the matter but both of Michigan’s US senators would happily take calls from the acting President of Michigan State University. The deep and abiding friendship probably ended there.

“No, the President wants this played close to the chest,” John stated cooly.
Gary nodded sagely,  “I couldn’t agree with the President more.  We should keep this project as low profile as possible.” Which lead neatly to the his next point.  “Honestly, John, it would be better if we handled this research in house at the university.”  

He had spent his career in the academic world fighting to make that place safe for the People. And now this traitor to his people, is coming into my office to tell me what I’m going to do?  I don’t think so.  

“Fifty.  Million. Dollars,” John dropped those words like bricks.

“Excuse me?” Gary blurred.

John ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth where he usually kept his wad of dip.  “Fifty  million dollars, is my immediate budget for this project.  It won’t take me anywhere near that amount of money, to get it up and running.”  John said with a straight face.  

“And?” Garrison Wheaton asked blankly.

“What’s left over becomes a grant to the University. It should easily be north of thirty five million.  You get one hundred percent of the credit.”

Gary Wheaton’s mind was clearly spinning furiously.  Delivering a thirty five million dollar federal grant to the University in his first month as Acting President.   That could go a long way towards shortening the search committee’s efforts to find a replacement.  It wasn’t a bad offer.

“John, there are going to be a lot of protests if a bunch of guys in uniform start marching all over campus,”  and I can kiss this job goodbye went unsaid.

“It won’t be all over and we won’t be in uniform...”

Tempting, Gary was clearly thinking to himself.  But it was a lot more tempting to tell this blue coat yáadilá t'a'iiyahii to fuck himself.

“...and we’re not asking.”

“Oh really?”  Gary put his hands on his desk and rose to his full height.  “Major Castillo, I’m sorry but...”

John uncrossed his legs but remained calmly seated..  “Gary, this doesn't have to be a trip to the dentist.  But if it does I’ve got the bigger drill.  We are talking national emergency here.  No shit, by God, national emergency in a way that this country has never faced, as a country.  I mean never.  Not even during the Civil War.  This is a genuine existential threat to the United States of America.
He took breath before continuing.  “Consequently if required and if need be under Sections 201 and 301 of the National Emergency Powers Act, the United States of America then being in a state of emergency.   All required buildings and facilities will be nationalized and surrounding grounds declared a federal reservation with General Sertorio acting as military governor.  

Or you can cooperate.”

The hours old Special MAGTF had moved in five days ago.  There was, for the moment, a sense of tense detente between the two factions. Campus Police had been particularly offended by security duties being handed over to anybody else.   But then Treatment Station 27 had been stood up at the university and John had happily surrendered that shop of horrors to the campus cops.
It had at least kept the campus police more than a little occupied.   
The downside to that being, since it was now gameday, campus security was more than a bit understaffed..

“Here, this is yours,” Aux said handing Shocker a white sheet of very thin cardboard with printing on it.

Shocker wasn’t exactly pleased with her present to him.  “You’re making me go to the game,” he said without enthusiasm.  Team sports did nothing for him,  Shocker was not one of nature’s team players.  

“I will explain the rules to you, yes?”  She said brightly as she and Conan took off at a brisk pace.
Her bodyguard didn’t mind the retreating view but he was loath to follow.

Treatment Station 27

The girl must have been pretty, or so Cillian O’Manion judged from the half of her face that was left.

He looked down in disgust at the body. What kind of a pea-wit employs a girl as a crusher? She shouldn’t have been here at all, she should have been home with her own wee ones.

“I can hardly be be blamed for having stabbed her,” he muttered aloud.  Then instantly regretted it.  His new found friends didn’t seem to appreciate it.  They looked at him and growled a little then went back to tending to their own affairs.

In any case, he was careful to keep his thoughts to himself. I didn’t actually kill her, they did.

Most of the lunatics were now off their beds and were prowling about on their hands and feet with their bare bums sticking up in the air.  Their freedom, the courtesy of the O’Manion and his knife.  

The crushers hadn’t presented a problem at all.
It hadn’t been too difficult really. He had caught them at shift change or so he was certain.  Also they didn’t come in all at once.  That made things quite a bit easier, oh saints yes, it did.

The crushers just sort of filtered in a couple or three at a time.  They were used to a lot of screaming and such going on in this room.  All that O’Manion had to do was lock the door behind them.  And his new friends violently took care of the rest.

Quite a mess they made in the process to be certain sure.  Ah well.  Who told them they had to take a job’s swing’n the stick as a crusher? No one. That’s who.  It was their own fault for taking the copper.

But why a girl crusher? Who thought that was ever a good idea?  

In her case the four of them had come in at one time.  Chattering like fools about some big game of something and how much pain it was causing them.  

Three of them were jumped at once.  Overwhelmed in an instant.  Able only to scream as the pile of bodies atop them searched and found flesh to bite and tear apart with teeth and then rend with fingers.

The girl had been behind the three of them.  Which was why she had lasted a wee bit longer.  She had turned and jumped for the door.  She was going to get it unlocked.  Was unlocking it as Cillian’s knife punched into to her gut.  He knew there was a girl beneath the mask when he heard her high pitched, wide eyed scream.   

Something caught Cillian’s eye.  Was that?  He wondered.  Yes it was, she had a tatoo on her neck of a rose vine.  The vine itself traveling down her neck line, vanishing beneath the shirt collar.  A little curious, Cillian pulled at the dead girl’s collar and peeked.  Hmm, the rose vine tattoo looked to be going all the way down her arm.  He picked up her hand off the floor.  Yes indeed the vine ended just below where her hand had been bitten off at the wrist.

Cillian shook his head.  What the hell was this asylum?  Lights without candles, mad cannibals and circus freak girls employed as crushers and the like?

He had had more than enough.  He knew for certain he was looking at the rope and high jump this time.  He had to get out now. He dropped the girl’s hand as well as his knife. No point in being caught with the pig sticker at this point.  They can blame the Wagner for losing it and all.  No way to prove positive a shiv has been in any single man’s hand anyway.  


Cillian opened the door and started down the hall.

He looked behind him and his friends had started after him.  Still on all fours and all.  He opened the door at the end  of the hall.

He was forgetting something.  He was forgetting a lot of things truth be told.  But this should have been important.  What was it?  Oh yes, Clothes he shouldn’t be having his little son waving in the breeze.

“Mir helfen, mein Herr!”  Cillian knew german when he heard and he didn’t like it.  Kraut eating plug ugly bastards. Coming to this country and not knowing a single word of English.

He turned his head toward the voice.

“Bitte!  Bitte!”

He then worried  looked away again.  An Injun German?  Had to be an Injun, Rosanna Peers had one working as a strongarm at her bar.  Long dark hair with feathers and such like. Are the missionaries teaching the savages nothing more useful than the German?

 He walked by.  There were other voices calling to him now.  Odd, odd mix. French, Dutch, maybe some Russian.  There was a spot of Chinese as well, was it not?   His friends ignored them all and kept following the O'Manion. Why did they land so hard on the crushers and not the poor sots tied to their racks?  I mean, clearly good eating to be had by their standards.  Already on the table and fit to be served but they wouldn’t go near them.

Queer as it all was, there was one voice that he found wonderous and frightening strange.  Saorise had been making himself go to mass again now that he was a father.  So he knew the sound of the Latin when he heard it.  But the tone of it was all wrong.  Latin should only be used for speaking to God and Jesus or the Saints.  This was a voice that was used to using the Latin to buy melons and scream at the kids or tell a doxy how fast to move her head.  Cillian had the bone chilling conviction that the Latin was that voice’s native tongue.
“Oh shit! Oh my God!”  He heard a man’s voice scream.  It was another crusher.

Well, that voice was almost a relief, Cillian thought to himself.  As his new family -  Family?  Did I really just call these beasts that?  Regardless... family, charged forward in a dead silent pack.  

Galloping on fours.  Their hearts pounding their ears. The drunk-inducing high of the prey’s smell of terror.  Joy and excitement in their hearts.  Anticipation of the screams and blood and meat, meat, MEAT.

Cillian drew himself back from the feed and shook his head.  Blood sprinkling from his lips as he did so.  He spit out the what ever soft hot stringy thing was in his mouth.  The taste was the heavy salty, copper of blood, thick and redolent on his tongue.

I’m not this!  I’m not this!  I’m not this!  He tried to shout but only a keening howl came from his mouth.  He had to get out. Get away.  Get home!

Cillian shambled for the door.  He tried to stand like a man should but he kept slipping forward and bending over onto his knuckles.  

The door didn’t have a knob, which was as well because Cillian was having trouble remembering how to use one.  It did, however, have an exit bar that he could pound at randomly.  

It opened.  Sweet, cold, clear air, washed over him, trying and failing to clear his mind.
The body of Corporal Derek Manion trotted out onto the snow on all fours, sniffing the clean air. Certainly much cleaner than New York of the 1850s.  No burning coal.  No horse scent and no manure of any kind at all, noted the rapidly fading mind of Cillian O’Manion.

He ambled forward a little, looking for he knew not what.  But he continued looking for it just the same.

Then he suddenly saw it.  A man wearing a white solider’s cap with red striped blue trousers and wearing a khaki great coat. He was, Cillian knew, exactly thirty seven yards and eight inches distant.  Although his mind was incapable of measuring distance at this point.

He wanted -   He needed to kill this man.  He had to sink his teeth into flesh and and shake his head to tear it from the bone.  He had to watch the light go out of the man’s eyes.  

The moment the man in the uniform saw him, he knelt.  It was the wrong kind of kneel.  There wasn’t the smell of any kind of fear at all in the man.  He suddenly knew he couldn’t take the man by himself.  Time to call the family.

His lungs filled with the frosty air as he prepared to howl, the man pulled something from his ankle.  

The last traces of the ghost of Cillian O’Manion wafted up.  Daft the man is, to be thinking you can hit the broad side of barn with a derringer at that range...


Major John Castillo stayed in the kneeling position.  Still aiming his smoking Smith & Wesson M&P Shield at the spot where the zombie’s eye had exploded out of his head.  He blinked ending his follow through.

“Awesome,” he muttered to himself sarcastically.  He thought about reholstering his weapon but then reconsidered, the howler had been about to call for help.  Which means it thought it had help  in the immediate vicinity.  He rose, flicked the safety on, and put the subcompact in his coat pocket.

Well now what?  Legally, he was obliged to call the campus cops.  Who would be only too delighted to arrest him on the spot for Second Degree Murder.

He glanced around.  No witnesses yet but there had to be a couple on the way.  That was an unsuppressed Cor-Bon DPX +P high velocity round.  It made noise. A lot of noise.
He knew from his semi-almost girlfriend Chelle that the cops were swamped with zombies getting shot right now.  It was happening everywhere.  Nobody was asking too many awkward questions by this point because there were just too many question to be asked.

He fished the expended brass out of the snow and pocketed it.  Thereby committing a felony.  His first of the day, he thought.

John needed to make his exit if he didn't want to get thrown in the jug.  He was still on the just-plowed sidewalk.  No footprints to mask.  He was about to continue on to the lab at a calm and not at all guilty pace, when something caught his eye.  

Shading his eyes he suddenly realized that a small snow drift had camouflaged the zombie’s tracks, which lead right to Treatment Station 27.  The door to it was wide open.  Why hadn’t any of the campus cops working there come out see what the shooting was about?  Or one of the EMTs? Or the doctors? Or anyone at all?

This situation needed to be reconned.  With a sinking feeling in his gut, John Castillo started walking towards the open door that the zombie had just shambled out of.

Chelle Vasquez felt like she was in a fever dream.  Everything looked like it was just a shade off the right color.  Her head ached dully.  Her eyes felt thick and fuzzy, they burned just a bit when she closed them and then they wanted to stay closed.  She could barely haul them open again.  She sighed, rather than breathed.

It wasn’t SOD.  At least she didn’t think it was SOD, she thought she’d be feeling a lot more lively if it was that.  

She hadn’t been able to get any sleep last night.  Whether from guilt or worry or just plain too exhausted to sleep.

For the past few days, the only thing Chelle had wanted was sleep.  She needed sleep the way a man lost in the desert needs water.  

And now she wanted to avoid it.  

When you are this far down on sleep, it’s a little like being drunk, she thought to herself a little muzzly.  Things are just a little bit more remote this way.  That was good.  Although granted, it’s not as much fun as being shitfaced.

The radio squawked, “This is three one six five, 10-99 at corner of Lake Lansing and Centurion Drive.”  

Chelle eyes snapped to the radio mike.  They weren’t too far from that but she was dragging Medina, the ultimate civilian around with her.

Still, she picked up the mike and was about to key it when she heard, “Dispatch to three one six five. Any injuries?

Negative, it was just some warning shots.”

“Three one six five, are you requesting back up?

“Negative, we are deescalating.”


 “What did that mean?” Gregory’s pudgy face was puckered slightly in confusion. “What is a 10-99?”  He asked.

Chelle sighed again.  He wasn’t going to take this well.  “It meant shots fired, Gregory.”

His eyes went wide. “On Centurion Drive?”

“They have it under control,” Chelle wasn’t bothering with elaborate lies.

“Warning shots?” Gregory said in disbelief. “What the freaking hell does warning shots at the police at Lake Lansing have to do with anything being under control?

“No one is hurt, Sir,” Chelle said as soothingly as she could manage, “isn’t that what counts?”

“No, it isn’t,” his face was turning red. “What counts is that the police can’t maintain control in Lake Lansing.  He shook his head.  “This is exactly what the Attorney General...and the President, come to that, were worried about.  Gun nuts taking the law into their own hands.”

“Sir, we’ve got our own job to worry about.”  And I absolutely can’t believe we are still bothering with it, Chelle gave a mental shake of her head.  The entire world is obviously headed off the edge of a cliff and the only thing you and your insane AG are worried about is convicting a man for crime he didn’t commit just to make a point.  A point of what for God’s sake?

“I’m calling this one into Jennifer,” Gregory said sharply as if defying her, to defy him.

“As you wish, sir,” Chelle said professionally and coldly..

Gregory hesitated as only a man who is born to hesitation can, “You don’t think I should?”

“I’m not entirely certain,” Chelle drawled  “that the Michigan Attorney General wants to be officially notified of something that she may want kept below the radar.”

“What does that mean?” Gregory was now worried and suspicious.

“Sir, Centurion Drive is home to some very rich people.”

“I know that, obviously,” his head wobbled, rather then nodded.

“Many of whom are in fact supporters of or at least donors to the Attorney General,”  Vasquez continued trying to lead instead of push.

“So what you are saying is, we should not inform the Attorney General that some of her most important friends are in imminent danger?”  His voice dripped with condescension.

“Gregory, her friends are the ones doing the shooting,” Vasquez dropped her rather obvious bombshell.

“But they’re pro gun safety!” Gregory blurted.

He actually seems to be genuinely surprised by the concept of rich hypocrites, Vasquez thought to herself.  Gun control advocates only want to other people disarmed.  Never themselves.

“Weeell,”  she drawled trying to flog her fatigue poisoned brain into action, “hunting is very big part of the social scene here in Michigan.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know about that,” Gregory sniffed.

Really?!?! Chelle treated herself to an internal mind boggled eye roll.  How was such a thing possible?  “Regardless, Gregory, I think you now see the problem?” She politely asked.

“Hmm,” he considered.  “And you are sure that it was the residents...Accidentally discharging firearms in the city limits.”

“We can send in Major Wagoner to find out.”

“NO...Um, no,” Gregory checked himself.  “I’ll leave this matter in the capable hands of the police.”  

“All twelve of us?”  Vasquez realized in horror she had just said that out loud.

“Hmm?” Gregory had missed it. He had opened his laptop and was typing again.

“Nothing, sir.”

“You don’t have to keep calling me, sir,” Gregory smiled shyly while he continued to type.

“So long as we are working together, it’s a good idea, sir” Vasquez affirmed herself.

Medina stopped typing and looked at her and said, “Hey....”

“Yes, sir,” she replied a little uncertainly.

“I just want you to know that I really respect your professionalism,” he said in a soft voice.  “It’s something I really admire about you.”

“Thank you sir, I truly appreciate that,” Vasquez replied crisply.   Please understand my tone of voice, which I have now adopted, indicates your eternal consignment to the friendzone. She internally pleaded.

He smiled warmly and softly at her before sighing regretfully and going back to work.

Crap, Vasquez thought to herself.  He thinks he’s making progress with me.  Things that will make a man like that think he is doing well with a woman:  ‘Hello,’ ‘Good Morning,’ ‘Please hold the elevator.’

Vazquez was anxious to change the topic, “Where to now, sir?”


“You want to interview him?” Chelle asked.

“Is that where he is, now?” Medina was startled.

Chelle was suddenly walking on eggshells.  “The CO of Recruiting Station Lansing is now in charge of security for a special project at the University. He brought most of his command with him. including him.”

“You know Major Castillo?” The please like me, tone was suddenly missing from Gregory Medina’s voice.  

Chelle was now walking on thin eggshells, “I served under him during Afghanistan, sir.”  Not as far under him as I would have liked, she still had the sense not to say.  “And I met him again during my investigation of Corporal Styles’ alleged rape.”  Chelle was still pissed at that little cunt.  Women in uniform had enough to prove without some out of control trailer park slut like Styles, pissing in everyone’s Wheaties.  Girls like that made made every WM in the Marine Corps look bad.

“I made my superiors aware of my previous working relationship with both Major Castillo and Sergeant Major Cahn and repeatedly offered to recuse myself,”  which I wish to God they would have taken me up on.  I have never wanted to do the  job less.  Oh no, they needed a Prior Woman Marine on this one.  Optics, you know.

“So you knew Cahn too?” Medina was very interested.  “How closely did you work with Cahn?”

Chelle laughed, “I didn’t work with Shocker Cahn at all sir. He was just my company’s First Sergeant.”

“As opposed to a Second Sergeant?”

Chelle chuckled politely then froze.  Nope, he was serious.  “It’s both a billet and a rank sir.  

When Captain Grogan got IEDed, Captain Castillo got sent down from battalion to skipper Alpha company.  After the first day, he fired the old First Sergeant,” who needed to be fired by the way, Chelle grumbled to herself.  That ass kissing imbecile had been in way over his head from day one. “And brought in First Sergeant Cahn.”

“Can he do that? As a CO, I mean just pick anyone he wants?”

“Not exactly but both men were available and both are well thought of in the MARSOC community.”  Actually revered would be a better word for it.  In WWII both men would have been doing bond tours, with dancing girls, Bob Hope and the whole nine yards.

“I’ve looked over his records.” Medina’s voice turned slightly whiney, “But I don’t really understand them.  I mean, I can’t read between the lines.  I can tell there is something there.  I just can’t tell what it is?”

The man is not wrong, Chelle thought to herself.  Please don’t take what I am about to say in the wrong way, ”How can I help, sir?

Medina’s blubbery, shiny lips smiled widely at that. Dimples appeared in his chubby cheeks.


Gregory composed himself, “Okay, the first concrete record of Richard Cahn is at age thirteen.  He shows up on the doorstep of Boys Town, Nebraska.  Claims that his father is Jeremiah Cahn, who is a member of the Harmstead group. They’re a breakaway polygamist mormon sect.  Very cagey bunch, also very inbred from what I understand.  Anyway, young Richard claimed his father had taken him off the Harmstead compound, put fifty dollars in his pocket and dumped him off in Salt Lake City.”

“It happens sometimes there from what I understand, sir.  People call them the Lost Boys,” Chelle gave a derisive snort. “You’ll note there are never any Lost Girls.”

“Exactly, it’s disgusting,” Gregory tried to sound appropriately disgusted about something he clearly didn’t care about but knew he should.  “Anyway,” he moved quickly along. “The Harmsteads never cooperate with the law on anything, neither state or federal. Won’t speak without a lawyer present and once the lawyer is there,  they always take the fifth.  All the kids are born on the compound, no formal birth certificates are issued.  Now there is, or at least was, a Jeremiah Cahn at the Harmstead compound age sixty.  Brother of their local “prophet.”  He was interviewed but he wouldn’t say a damn thing to state services.  So there is no way to tell if any part of Richard Cahn’s story is true or not.”

“Who would claim to be such a thing, who was not?” Chelle quoted a favorite Sean Connery character.

Gregory soldiered on, “Boys Town still takes in Pilgrims as they call them. So, after some fruitless efforts are made to contact his alleged parents, Cahn becomes a ward of the court and attends Boys Town,”  Gregory said.

“With you so far, sir.”  Chelle replied.

“Here’s the thing Chelle, it doesn’t add up.  Richard Cahn was educated. Well educated when he arrived at Boys Town.  The Harmstead’s don’t go in for evil book learnin’. Most of the those cults don’t,” Gregory felt himself quite knowledgeable on the subject, having listened to an NPR special on it.  “The Lost Boys are usually useless for anything except swinging a hammer.  A few sons of the cult’s leaders do better than that but a boy who was going to get dumped might have had a  third grade education at best.”

“Sir, Cahn is unusually bright.”  Actually, terrifyingly intelligent would be more accurate. And Shocker Cahn was not all given to the usual displays of insecurity that intelligent boys often feel the need to indulge in.  Having to parade their intellect for all to see, like Gregory had been doing constantly for the past couple of days.

“Bright? Bright!” he repeated in his derisive snarky voice.  “Boy’s Town tested his IQ out at above five standard deviations above the norm. The man is nearly inhuman. He could have gone to just to about any State college on scholarship.”  

Medina couldn’t possibly keep the sneer out of his voice when he said State college.  He had probably acquired that sneer by age ten.

“So why be a dumb recon grunt?  Instead of going to college and becoming a professor or starting a big non-profit. You know, do something really worthwhile with his life instead of wasting it in the Military?”

Yessss, Chelle thought to herself he could have been an ass kissing, cringing political toady grateful for any kick his mistress saw fit to bestow upon his pudgy ass.

“It’s not just brains.  Lots of guys have brains like that and they just turn into Sheldon Cooper,” Gregory continued. “He can get along with people.  He can manipulate people!”  Something that Gregory had clearly seemed to think was some form of malignant witchcraft.  Apparently snarking at and being condescending to people who disagreed with Gregory about his obviously superior intellect had never once worked. People just wouldn’t do what he wanted, no matter how obvious it was that they should do it.

Somewhere deep down, Chelle felt that Gregory was right but for all the wrong reasons.  She knew kids on the street that were born highly intelligent but around puberty if they didn’t have any guidance, those brains turned from book smarts to street smarts.  The brain power just turns into feral cunning.  And that should have been the life story of Sergeant Major Richard Cahn.  Lots of trouble with the law when he was a kid but only convictions for minor stuff even though everyone knew he was doing more serious crimes.  Builds up his crew as he gets older and before you know it he is living the Scarface dream.

Instead, Cahn converts to catholicism (which doubtless pleased Boy’s Town hard corps Catholic overlords) and makes Eagle Scout at thirteen.

Gregory continued the biography, “Cahn finished his high school curricula by age fifteen, so Boys Town started him at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, (whatever that is).  He matriculated at seventeen and with Boy’s Town’ permission enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Why didn’t the Marines make him an officer?” Gregory segued in confusion.

“You can’t be an officer at seventeen sir,” Chelle advised  “The minimum age is nineteen.  Not that it really matters.  You have to volunteer for that.  Although I would be very surprised if he wasn’t strongly pressured to go that route.  In fact, if you do want me to read between the lines here, I would say it drove a number of his commanders nuts that he wouldn’t go that route, sir”

Gregory bobbed his head at that, “I would think so.  And why not go that route?  It means more money and prestige right?”

“Yes, sir.  No question,” Chelle replied. Chelle had wondered about that herself.  Cahn was not a typical Alpha male like John.  Alpha’s cared about and protected their group more than anything else. It was an instinct that John had in abundance and Shocker didn’t seem to have at all.  Yes, he took care of his troops but there was no driving passion behind that, just a sense of duty. Even so, he could have easily had a successful career as an officer  and the money and perks are better.  

Well, Gregory said he wanted my opinions, even if he won’t know what to do with them. And he is my boss, “I always got the impression that Cahn felt that the perks of being a commissioned Officer were somehow a little beneath him.”

“I can understand that,” Gregory nodded, clearly he held in contempt that which he could never have.  “His defense lawyer Janiya Roy does not work for free.  Where did he get the money to pay her?”

“Cahn is in the Griffin Book, Sir.”  Vasquez said with a chuckle.

“What is that?” Gregory asked, “it sounds like a social registry.”

“Kiiiind of,” Vasquez laughed out loud a little too long.  Lack of sleep was really getting to her.

“Well?” Gregory was a little cross.

“Two kinds of people are in the Griffin Investigation’s ‘Black Book,’ sir,” Chelle elaborated.  “People who cheat a casino and people who take a casino’s blackjack table on a road trip to Neptune.  Harrah’s never sued him, which they would have done in a heartbeat if they thought he was a cheater.”

“How did he do that?  Counting Cards?” Gregory was vaguely aware there was such a thing.

Chelle knew that Cahn had put Harrah’s into the red for that quarter all by himself and got three managers fired. Nobody counts those kind of cards.  “Unknown sir, neither he nor Harrah’s will go into details.”

“Huh,” Gregory grunted noncommittally.  “When was this?”

“Fifteen  years ago,” the timing was what Chelle had found interesting.  Cahn had waited until his single scope had been completed and his Final Top Secret clearance was in stone.  You can’t stay in Recon without an FTS.

“How much?”

“After meticulously paid taxes, about seven and a half million.”

Gregory whistled appreciatively.  He came from money himself and his family had way more than that.  However, seven and half was quite a bit of scratch for one weekend’s work.  “I had kind of assumed that he came from money,” Gregory offered.

“Really sir?”  Chelle tried not to be amazed a display of perception from Gregory Medina.

“It’s what makes me suspicious about his Mormon polygamist story,” Gregory’s brow was furrowed.  “It’s what tipped me.”

“Tipped you, sir?” Vasquez was going to be treated to another display of the vast Medina intellect.  She mentally sighed in resignation.  

“It’s the way he spends money,” Gregory’s self satisfied smirk eased into well worn creases  on his face.  “Here let me show you.”  He spun the laptop around.

“Driving, sir, “ Chelle warned.

“Yes, yes but look,” Gregory nipped at her heels.  “Here and here.

Chelle spared a quick glance.  Typical Marine Corps Ball picture.  Dress blues all around.  There was a picture of Cahn.  Medina was indicating his wrist and his feet.

“I’m afraid, I don’t follow, sir,”  that should please him, she thought.  He can Explain Things.  Clearly he is pointing at a watch and barely within regulation black oxfords.  They appeared to be good leather, not corefram.  

“Cahn spends money like Old Money.  No stupid blingy shit.  No solid gold toilets. He knows quality. Those are John Lobb shoes and probably date from the time he hit it rich,” Gregory added,  “if your information is accurate.”

Let it slide, Chelle seethed to herself.

“They would run about eighteen hundred bucks new...

Gulp, Chelle thought to herself.

“.. but they are good for thirty years.or more,” Gregory breezed on.  “If you are spending a hundred and fifty bucks on a new pair of dress shoes each and every year, in thirty years you’ll have ended up spending forty-five hundred dollars and you wind up with nothing at the end of it.  Those shoes are what fifteen years old? If those were in my size and I could get them for five hundred, I’d be laughing at you for being that much of a chump.”

Would you indeed?  Who would have thought? Chelle quietly grumbled to herself.

“Same thing for the watch,” Gregory ploughed obliviously on.  “That is a Patek Philippe Nautilus and it’s probably worth more than your car.”

Chelle almost said, this isn’t my car.  Except her actual car was worth a lot less than the investigator's car she was currently driving.  So that really wouldn’t have put her ahead.  She kept her mouth shut.

“An illiterate poor kid from some Mormon pliggy compound in Assfuck Utah isn’t going to spend money like that. He’s gonna blow it all on stupid shit.” Gregory concluded. “I’m telling you, the guy comes from money.”

Well, Gregory probably could spot one of his own, Chelle granted.  It makes a certain amount of sense.  However, “If that is the case, he doesn’t appear to have maintained any kind of family contact at all, sir.”  

“I had figured his Mom was still sending him the odd check, to tide him over every now then,” Medina said.  “But the casino thing changes that.”

That sounds just a little like projection to me, Chelle thought to herself.  Still, she couldn’t deny he had a point.  Rich people were rich for a reason.  They didn’t go into personal debt, ever.  They didn’t spend money all that often and when they did, it was for quality.  When you aren’t paying credit card debt or making mortgage payments, you can live like a king on a middle class salary. While the actual middle class slipped under the ice.

“Financial records, such as they are, don’t seem to back that up,” Chelle said.

“What do you mean, ‘such as they are’?  He needed to make a full disclosure of his assets when he posted bail.”

“He did, but almost all of it is overseas.  But it appears to be legit.  He certainly pays taxes on them but...”

“Yeah, I bet.  Okay, that gives me something to work with.  The Caymans never look good in court,” Gregory said.  “I’ll call Jennifer and see if she can shake loose a forensic accountant.  Somebody as smart as Cahn never seems to realize other people can be smart too.”

The irony of that statement was clearly lost on Gregory Medina.  

Something besides her passenger was bugging Chelle.  Oh, yes.

“Why are we going to the university sir?  You never did say,” Chelle inquired.

“Oh that,” Gregory gave an unhappy sigh.  “Look this is kind of hush hush political.”

Chelle wasn’t certain why she did it but she said, “You can trust me, sir.” And gave Gregory Medina a slightly warmer than was strictly professional smile.

Gregory grinned ecstatically and rolled over immediately.  “Basically,” he began in a conspiratorial tone of voice.  “The president of the University wants the Marine security detail gone.  He wants Castillo, in particular, off his campus.  And he is hoping Jennifer will be able to help him do it.”

“Can she?” Chelle was little concerned.  Getting booted off an important security detail would make John look pretty bad.  Career ending bad.

“Maybe, but it’s going to take some political capital in Washington. Which we don’t have a lot of,” Gregory admitted more than he probably should. “If we can get Cahn back behind bars for something...for anything, the Senator from New York is going to be very pleased with Jennifer, indeed. We can probably get her to formally request whatever the hell research this is be put under civilian security.  Which it probably should be anyway.”  Gregory didn’t know anything about it, but it had to be better off under civilian oversight.  That was just common sense.

“So, why are we going?”  Chelle asked.

“Simple, the president of Michigan State University is going to owe Jennifer  big time for this.  And she wants him to know it.”.

Chelle later reflected that if her brain had been less sleep starved she would have realized that on game day, Garrison Wheaton was going to be at Spartan Stadium. And that the only person likely to be at his house loathed her with deeply personal intensely.  

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