Chapter 11 — Beirut Center
“Mr. Long. Mr. Long, can you hear me?”
Cameron struggled to open his eyes, but they felt as if they were glued shut. He didn’t bother trying to open his mouth. He managed a weak nod.
“Good. Now just relax. It will take your body about four hours to fully wake up and you will be limited in your movements for the first 48 hours.”
While the nurses were busy removing tubes and monitoring his vital signs, Cameron took inventory of his body. His extremities all had feeling and seemed functional. There was no discernible pain anywhere. He felt a little nauseous, but they told him that was normal and had already given him medication. It was his mind. He tried to generate a memory or a question, but that ability seemed to be just out of reach. He was cognitively aware that he was taking stock of his feelings and surroundings, it just seemed like someone else was doing the thinking, like a diagnostic program was running on his handheld which rendered normal use impossible.
“Everything looks good, Mr. Long,” the nurse came back into view. “You’re doing great. All your vitals are perfect. We are going to put you back to sleep for the next few hours while your brain adjusts. It won’t be a deep sleep, just enough for your conscience mind to rest. Do you understand?
Cameron nodded his head again. He stopped trying to interrupt the thoughts coming to him rapid-fire. Instead, he focused on them as a warm feeling covered his chest. His eyelids grew heavy, closed, and he drifted back to sleep.
Just to the east of Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport in a crowded industrial park was a former Coca Cola bottling facility now owned by the Krager Foundation. Beirut Center had been the staging area for all of Krager’s relief and medical operations during the Third Gulf War. Beirut had a major airport, seaport, and was protected by Lebanon’s neutral political stance in its return to being known as “the Switzerland of the East.”
In the aftermath of the war, Lebanon grew in wealth and influence along with its neighbor to the south, Israel. Its neighbor to the east, Syria, had not been as fortunate. If the Third Gulf War was the Islamic Caliphate’s last stand against the western infidels and the Jews, then Syria was its Alamo. The decisive battle had been fought on the outskirts of Aleppo, just as the Prophet had predicted. Of course, the Caliphate had played a three-year-long game of cat and mouse in order to stage the battle in the prophesied location, but that was another matter. The outcome was not the glorious victory of the Islamic State. It was now recognized as one of the most lopsided defeats in military history, making Operation Desert Storm look like a mere setback for the Iraqi army. The few survivors escaped to the hills and left a country and its battered people in ruins.
Krager had left Beirut Center operational to support the rebuilding efforts for countries like Syria and Iran that had taken the brunt of the war’s punishment. Now, as new virus strains with the potential to decimate millions were popping up every few months, Beirut Center had become a strategic location for fighting the never ending battle to stop the next Pandemic.
Johann Winter exited the autonomous sedan that had taken him from the airport to the Center and walked through the security gate. An aide hurried over as he approached the main entrance.
“Dr. Winter, I’m Stephan. I’ve been assigned to be your assistant today. How was your flight?”
Winter waved him off and kept walking to the entrance. He needed to see if the container had arrived safely and if its contents were undisturbed. Stephan trailed behind him, not sure what to do. Recognizing that he was still being followed, Winter stopped and faced the young aide. “Please alert Dr. Albrecht that I have arrived and that I will meet him in the laboratory in twenty minutes. Exactly twenty minutes, do you understand?”
“Yes sir,” said Stephan. He paused for a minute, then realized that Winter was not going give him any other instruction. He bowed his head and ran toward the lab.
Winter continued through the entrance and surveyed the massive interior of the 500,000 square meter building. It was swarming with activity. A large brightly-lit laboratory sat in one corner. Along one wall, which measured almost a kilometer, were shipping containers stacked three-high. Along the opposite wall were a variety of temporary and permanent structures: offices, barracks, meeting rooms, a fitness center, a medical clinic, and a mess hall. In the center were staging and assembly areas, flatbed transports being loaded and unloaded, and hoists moving shipping containers from place to place.
He walked down to the row of shipping containers and checked his handheld to find the position of the container he was looking for, about two hundred meters down the row. It was sitting by itself with nothing stacked above it and a guard stood by its loading door. Winter approached and sized up the guard who quickly stood aside. He placed his thumb on a fingerprint reader and looked into the eye scanner. The door unlocked and Winter stepped inside, careful to close the door behind him.
A dim LED strip light illuminated the interior. The 12 meter long container had one metal cabinet strapped down in the center, elevated a half meter off the floor, with the Project Arete logo painted on the front. He approached and placed his thumb on another reader on the cabinet. A green LED flashed and he pulled open one of the drawers, releasing a blast of cold air and condensation. Inside, there were trays of 20 cc vials. Below it, he pulled open another drawer. It too was undamaged. Everything appeared to be in order.
Syria would be the first. If the experiment worked, there were other countries they would quickly be able to release the technology. In a few days, his Echelon team would arrive and they would begin deployment. In a week, he would know, and the world would know, if they had been successful.
In his first few seconds of consciousness, Cameron was aware that the running program in his mind had stopped. His brain was quiet, but not foggy as if waking up from a normal night’s sleep. He tried recalling his apartment and immediately a vivid image came to the forefront of his mind. He was sitting at his kitchen island with a glass of red wine as Amy prepared a steak on the grill-top. Strangely, he could smell the browned ribeye and taste the rich, fruity Malbec he was drinking.
“Hello Cameron. How are you feeling?” He recognized the voice and the memory evaporated. It was Naomi.
“Damn good, I must say.” He was sitting in an elevated recovery room bed somewhere within the bowels of KK1 in the Project Arete lab. After K-CON, Cameron had been offered a full time position as Intelligence Director within Krager’s security division. He would report directly to Krager on paper, but his true role was to provide direction to Echelon, under Johann Winter. A perk, and a requirement, of the job was to undergo his own Arete treatment with a profile designed by Winter. The clairvoyant capabilities would naturally be included, but some physical enhancements would be limited due to his age. They had explained that after the age of 30, it wasn’t safe to rewire the brain to overcome natural limitations to protect joints, muscles, and ligaments that had endured the effects of gravity. However, his natural abilities — reflexes, athleticism, military training, and situational awareness — would all be enhanced.
Naomi smiled. “We have a lot of work to do. The ramp up and training process will start tomorrow. We need to get your muscles moving again.”
“I’m ready, but God, I’m hungry. When do they serve lunch around here?”
“Mr. Long, you will be eating soon, but you have to take it easy,” said the nurse as she entered the room. “We need to take a look at your vitals again. You haven’t eaten solid food in four weeks, so you’ll need to take it slow.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow. Glad to see you made it through,” Naomi said as she left the room.
Winter entered the lab, passed security, and walked to the office of Dr. Herman Albrecht. Winter had recruited Albrecht away from the Scripps Research Institute to join Krager a few years earlier. His research in virus programming was revolutionary and had set the stage for Project Arete to become a reality. But Albrecht was at heart a scientist, not an entrepreneur, and when he was invited to lead Project Arete he declined and asked to be reassigned to Beirut. Regardless of the scientific opportunity, Albrecht wanted to be on the front lines of helping humanity fight future pandemics, not help make rich people better tennis players.
“Dr. Winter, I did not expect you. Please, come in.” Albrecht’s office was small, but had a window overlooking the interior of Beirut Center. “Can I offer you something to drink?”
“No thank you.” Winter sat down in one of the guest chairs in his office. The two men were cordial, as they both shared a German heritage, but their relationship was strictly professional. “I am here because I need to discuss Syria with you.”
“Syria? Is there a new outbreak? Everything has been stable for months.”
“No, there is no outbreak as of today. A shipment has just arrived from Atlanta. As you know, we have just released Arete to the public. However, in the course of our research we have identified a possible immunity trigger. The shipment is a viral agent designed to reprogram the human immune system to cope with unusual viral mutations. We have identified Syria as possible testing site for the agent.”
“This is fascinating, but why Syria? We just completed a significant operation in Kenya. We are seeing mutations on almost a monthly basis in North Africa.”
“We have reason to believe that a significant outbreak is expected in Syria within the next two weeks.”
“Two weeks? How can you know that?” Albrecht realized he had overstepped his bounds. “What I mean is, what data is showing a potential outbreak in Syria? Our models continue to be focused on North Africa, India, and China.”
“Dr. Albrecht, your work has been invaluable. You have saved millions, perhaps billions, of lives with your rapid response teams. We have no intention of interfering with your efforts. However, the results of Arete have given us insights that are exponentially advanced, even by your standards. I cannot detail how we know there will be an outbreak, only that there will be one. And it will be deadly.”
“So, if that is the case, we need to be preparing a team. Forgive me Dr. Winter, but this is highly unusual.”
“No team,” said Winter.
“I want your people to stand down. In the next few days, my team will be arriving and they will be administering the agent in the areas where we anticipate the outbreak to be most severe. Do not send in your teams. We will handle everything.”
Albrecht wanted to protest, but he knew it was pointless. Krager’s empire was not a democracy. His little corner played it’s part, but when Atlanta said jump, his job was to ask, how high?
“Convicted felon. Father’s name was Joe, beat the shit out of him when he was a kid. Lives in Tennessee. Knoxville. 2nd Amendment revivalist. Lives with his girlfriend in a trailer park on Tillery Road. Flight risk if apprehended.”
“Good. Fantastic. Here’s the next one.”
Cameron was sitting in a windowless office in KK1 with Dr. Regina Scott. He was being presented a series of video portraits of wanted men and women and was supposed to provide information about their background and whereabouts. He was getting bored with the repetition. Whatever intuitive skills he naturally possessed before were now turned up to max volume. Information was just coming into his mind, almost forcefully. He did not doubt accuracy or second guess his abilities.
“Hiding in Houston, 2407 St. Charles Street. Tell them to go tonight. She’s leaving tomorrow.”
Dr. Scott scribbled notes on her handheld. “Amazing. Mr. Long, this is remarkable for your first session. I think this is enough for now. Do you have any questions for me?”
“When can I go out in the field? Frankly, this is boring.”
“Mr. Long, you just completed your treatment yesterday. Echelon training is a six week process…”
“I’m not interested in more training,” Cameron stood up and started for the door. “Where’s Naomi? I want to get out of here.”
“Please sit down,” Dr. Scott protested. “We have protocols!”
There was a knock on the door and Naomi entered. She smiled at Cameron and then glared at Dr. Scott. “That will be all Dr. Scott. I will take Cameron back to his room now.” Before she could protest, they left and started walking back toward the lab barracks.
“How about tomorrow?” Naomi asked.
“What do you mean?”
“The field. You want to get out of here, right? You’ve had enough of the poking and prodding, haven’t you?”