Chapter 22

“R&D sacrificed some of the raygun’s original structure to install a hand-protector, which should hold up. They need to run additional tests in the next 48 hours, but so far, the raygun is no longer backfiring. The biggest issue remaining then is the weapon’s effectiveness on creatures. When used properly — that is, with the proper proportion of gamma ray emission — the raygun will cause the creatures to explode in the same manner as they do when attempting to pass through a forcefield. So our issues are resolved.” Josh finished his report to the team, and Nathaniel Blake Jr. beamed. From her seat, Elaine hid a wide smile.

Josh looked sick.

“So,” Blake recapped. “We’ve found an alternative route for our supply chain and set up three other contingency plans, got Mercedes Da Silva’s weak spot — which, mainly, Josh you’ve now addressed — the thing won’t backfire, and it blows those bastards up! We have ourselves a case, people.” A small cheer went up in the room.

“Well, mostly. Orsini — I need you at HQ a day early — tomorrow, to be exact –to brief with the R&D team. If Da Silva’s concern is the health and wellbeing of the people of the world and all of that ethical bullshit, then you need to have a flawless technical story. And see their testing with your own eyes. Throw some of your hologram fireworks at her. Figure your magic out. All of you — redo your respective parts for the presentation. I want another full rehearsal first thing tomorrow morning. Gorzowski — incorporate the numbers from the new information. I’ll review your revised model tonight — do NOT fuck it up again, we just don’t have the time.” Blake looked at each person in the room. “Might I remind you where we are: Thursday is the pitch to Da Silva. If we get our CEO on board, we’re golden. Monday we all go to the Board. And next Friday, we’ll be selling this to our government.”

Elaine patted Josh on the shoulder as they headed down the hallway for the sweetwater dispenser. “That was brilliant. Keep that up for Da Silva, and you’ll be good to go.”

“Thanks,” Josh said. He had looked a little bit sick, but straightened up as they walked.

“Orsini!” Blake’s voice echoed in the hallway. “Come see me for a minute.”

Josh glanced back. “Gotta go.”

“Sure thing,” Elaine said, eyes shining. “Have fun with the boss. Be strong.”

“Right.” Josh turned back, heading towards Blake’s office. The doors slid open and he stepped in.

Nat Blake’s corner office was impressive. It was sleekly furnished and shared the same spectacular view of Upper Manhattan as the conference room. Nat sat at a vast desk and motioned for Josh to sit across from him as the doors slid open and by default went into sealed mode. Blake did not waste any time.

“And what happens when the raygun isn’t used properly? When the gamma ray emissions aren’t what’s on the box?” He trained his hawk-like gaze on Josh.

Josh was not about to bullshit Nathaniel Blake, Jr. “If the intensity of emissions are anything less than what the ‘recommended dose’, then the creature is injured, recovers and develops immunity to the gun,” he said without blinking. “Our guys up north sent that info over this morning.”

“How much of a risk does that pose to our deal?”

Josh swallowed. Be strong, Elaine had said. He spoke in a rush. “A very small one if we play things right. Immunity is only a problem if the raygun proves to be defective on the front end — if it’s not shooting out enough power. We fixed the back end — the part that protects the shooter — so that people don’t blow up, but there’s a chance that the front end — the part that shoots the creature — loses power because of this. Since we did a major redesign in less than a week, the thing will probably exhibit defects on the front end.”

“But we can spin this, right?”

Josh nodded. He felt as if someone else were speaking. “If the guns get the green light, we get paid and the things are deployed as quickly as possible, we’ll be fine. Our underground research guys can censor out the bad results for as long as we need. No one but our guys studies creatures, so no one can prove them wrong or question the effects of the raygun. No one has to know that the thing stops working.” Josh felt cold and numb.

“Very good,” said Nat Blake, smiling. He leaned back, put his hands behind his head and propped his feet up on his desk. “So even if creatures develop immunity and the guns become nothing more than overgrown stun guns to them, no one has to know. At least for a long time.”

“Yes, sir.” Josh stared out the window towards the shine of Times Square, not able to look his boss in the eye.

“See, Joshua,” Blake said, drawing Josh’s attention back to his steel eyes. “I’m almost done here. You close twelve major global deals early on, bring one fat fucker in years later, and suddenly you’re a god. What I’m about to tell you is confidential.” Josh nodded. “They’re offering me early retirement in a SafeZone of my choice. Globally. SS is going to need a new Director of Contracts. Who lives here –” Nat swept an arm behind him, motioning towards the dark buildings of the Downtown SafeZone. He looked Josh squarely in the eyes. “I’m loving what you’re doing. You have a bright future with SolarScope. That new Director of Contracts, Josh, is going to be you. If you can help me reel this fat one in.”

Josh looked out over the rows and rows of buildings below them. He looked towards the squat forcefield of Great Central in the distance. Be strong.

Seattle, Washington State

Monday 07h00

Eddie adjusted his coat and peered through the eyes of the gas mask that Uncle had supplied them with.

“Are you ready?” His voice was somewhat muffled through the mouthpiece, but Len nodded. Her own mask fogged up. She understood. It was the middle of the summer, but they needed their coats to keep warm in the chill of their now cold bunker.

“I promise to clean up thoroughly after this,” Len said.

The gang had agreed that they had a week to do as much research as they could on the bodies before they disposed of them. Max, Mildred and Horace were lined up in mis-matching coats and similar gray gas masks.

“We’ll help, don’t worry,” said Horace.

“Well, let’s go,” said Ed, lifting the lid to their home bunker.

Eddie climbed down the ladder first, followed by Horace and Max. Lennie and Mildred came down last. They gathered in the lobby space and Ed switched on a light.

“What the…?” Horace spoke first. It was no longer cold. Something had happened to the thermal control. Alarmed, Eddie motioned to Max. Max pulled out a pistol that Uncle had also generously loaned. Just in case. Horace and Len drew the other two. Len shook slightly.

“I’ll open the door,” said Max, approaching the thick door to the guest room. He spun the lock and clicked the handle. Slowly, he pulled the door open, pointing the nose of the .45 into the room. “Oh my God!”

He pulled the door open wide and flicked on the light switch.

There was a bed, a night stand and a chest of drawers. But no creatures. They weren’t heaped up on the floor in a pile as Team Fear and friends had left them. There was no trace of the creatures.

Max ripped his mask off. “No bodies! Just like in the legends!” The rest of the group crowded in, unbuttoning their jackets and removing their masks. There was no smell. Not a trace.

Len looked up suddenly. She whispered. “Shhh! Guys… What if…” She moved towards the door of the living room and put a hand on it.

“But they were dead… Len!” Eddie’s voice started to have an edge.

“No, Len, let me go!” Horace stepped in front of her and grabbed at the handle. “You guys stand back, get on the ladder.”

“I’m coming with you,” said Len.

“No!” Eddie grabbed her arm.

“Let me! I was the one who thought they were dead!

“Maybe they are,” Mildred said from the back of the room. “Maybe they really disappeared.”

“Yeah, we just have to check to make sure, right?” Max said.

Eddie stepped away, knowing better than to argue. Len had that determined look in her eyes.

Horace pulled at the door and opened it an inch, pistol held ready. A finger of light spilled out into the dark holding area. He poked his head into the room. No one else had a chance to look. Before Len could peer into the room, Horace closed the door with a jerk.

“Run. Run!” He whispered hoarsely, backing away and dropping his gas mask.

No one needed to be told three times. Heart racing, Eddie grabbed at Lennie and dragged her towards the ladder. Horace mounted the ladder last, just as the door to the living room began to swing open. A dark silhouette loomed in the frame and with a groan, began to walk towards the ladder. Horace practically jumped up out of the exit and slammed the lid down behind him.

Horace and Max jumped on top of the bunker lid and stood there. The whole gang stood, panting.

“Holy shit in hell, guys!” Horace said between breaths. “They’re alive!”

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