Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Walking Death, Chapter 12

     They passed similar checkpoints leaving Brooklyn and Queens. The levels of vigilance may have been different, but the results were the same. Passable papers, an immaculate uniform, and a haughty demeanor were all of the identification needed to get the women to the outer baronies of Long Island. Security became lighter the further out from the city they went. That the Empire had put their facility, Research Division 9 according to Resistance intelligence, out in the sticks put strategy on unobtrusiveness rather than brute force. The women's plan was counting on it.

     The car rounded the last corner and the target came into sight. There was no sign of the larger Resistance team, but their job was to stay hidden until they were called. Until then, it was all on Rachel and Frieda.

     "Let me do the talking," said Rachel.

     "You have nothing to worry about there," said Frieda. "I suppose we can not do this as we did at the airfield?"

     "Afraid not. Last I heard, they are working twenty-four hours to keep up a supply of the Ambulamort going to the front."

     Frieda sighed. She didn't like being in front of people when she was being honest, and this masquerade was far outside of her experience. No, Rachel had no need to worry on the speaking score.

     "The key to something like this is to keep them off balance," said Rachel. "Don't give them a chance to think about what you are saying."

“I am simply hoping that I can keep up with you on that respect.”

“Just look official and act as if you expected everything that happens.”

“That would be easier if I actually knew what you have in mind.”

“If it makes you feel better, I usually don’t have much of a plan to begin with. Sure, I may have the basics, who I am et cetera. From then on, I prefer not to have a plan, that would just be another thing to worry about.”

Oddly, that did not make Frieda feel any better.

The facility was a converted factory, seemingly unmodified from the exterior. The only sign of current occupation was the eight-foot tall, barbed wire topped fence and a small guard shack by the sole gate. A guard stepped in front of the gate and held up a hand for the car to stop.

“Return to the street, this is a restricted facility,” said the guard as he approached the driver’s window.

“I am well aware of what this place is, Corporal,” said Rachel, her voice icy with affronted superiority. “I am Major Magda Devora of the Imperial Demonic Division. I have orders from Colonel Meinard to escort Dr. Helga Messner on an inspection of all Ambulamort production facilities in the County. These are our papers.”

Rachel was quite proud of the papers she had managed to acquire. The mere mention of the commander of the Imperial-aligned demons in the County was enough to conjure the guard’s attention. What she regretted was the debt that she accrued with the eldest of her sisters in the city in order to get the forgery made. At least Melisande was an independent operator. The end result would be a payment made to Melisande’s whim rather than some unknown superior.

“I was not informed of an inspection, ma’am.”

Rachel gave an exasperated sigh and locked eyes with the young man.

“Then since your readiness appears to be lacking, I would suggest that you make up for it with compliance. Perhaps then your name will not go down as one of the problems.”

The corporal swallowed visibly. He looked back to his compatriot for support. He found none, his friend having gotten an eyeful of the wrathful angel in the driver’s seat.

“Very well, ma’am, please pull on through.”

“Thank you, Corporal.”

Frieda let out the breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding. It struck her that the guards seemed to count themselves the lucky ones in the exchange.

The car headed toward a small parking lot near large truck doors. Another guard manned the single pedestrian door. As the car pulled into a space, a squat figure in a fitted lab coat exited and approached the car. Rachel caught the dwarf composing himself as he walked around to her door. By then, he was smiling and extending a hand.

“Major, however surprising, it is a pleasure to meet you. I am Dr. Konrad Tabbert. May I ask what brings you to our laboratory?”

Rachel used the fact that the dwarf only came up to her shoulder to look down her nose at him.

“Colonel Meinard has been made aware of the imminent deployment of this new compound…” she looked to Frieda as if for a memory cue.

“Ambulamort, Major,” prompted Frieda while cursing Rachel for breaking the promise to do the talking.

“Thank you, Doctor. Ambulamort, yes,” said Rachel with a tone that said that she wouldn’t bother to remember the name thereafter.

Rachel continued.

“Yes, Colonel Meinard, in his capacity as advisor to the Court on all matters demonic, has expressed some great concern regarding the deployment of this new weapon. This is Dr. Helga Messner, exobiologist from the Dresden Institute. She is here to ascertain what impact the weapon will have on supernatural subjects.”

“I would be more than happy to discuss these matters, but we are quite busy at this time. Perhaps if we can arrange an inspection for a later time?”



“There are some questions regarding the very nature of this weapon that have not been answered to my superior’s satisfaction, questions that need to addressed before some overlooked circumstance brings the entire project crashing down about our ears.”

The dwarf looked perplexed.

“Why don’t we go inside and discuss this?” asked Dr. Tabbert. “Please, follow me.”

The Imperial scientist turned to lead the women into the facility. Frieda looked up at Rachel in time to catch the wink from the temptress. It was a mere flicker in the persona, from Imperial officer to party girl and back again. Frieda was almost dizzy trying to keep up with the changes.

The guard at the door snapped to attention as the party entered the converted factory. Once inside, they found themselves in an immaculate white hallway. Doors broke the lines of the walls, plaques reading various functions with the first bearing the legend: Security. Another guard came to attention as they passed. Frieda watched the young man blush furiously when Rachel made eye contact with him and touched the sleeve of his uniform.

The hall turned after twenty yards into a cavernous space, clearly the main floor of the old factory. The space was empty save for a walled-in area roughly in the center. A man, balding and well into middle age, was visible by the interior structure speaking with a younger man. The young man hurried away; apparently to complete whatever task he had been given. Another could be seen writing notes on a clipboard and taking glances through a small window in a door. A third was using a handcart to wheel a gas canister up to one of the doors along a side wall.

Dr. Tabbert waved the older gentleman over, and started the introductions as the newcomer closed the distance.

“Major Devora, Dr. Messner, may I introduce Dr. Wilbur Hobbard, head of Imperial Research Division 9. Dr. Hobbard, Major Magda Devora of the Imperial Demonic Division and Dr. Helga Messner of the Dresden Institute.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Dr. Hobbard, his tone and expression conveying just the opposite.

“These ladies have some questions pertaining to the research, sir.”

“It is rather late in the process for any new questions to be coming up.”

“I disagree, Doctor,” said Rachel, pulling herself up to the full height her heeled boots allowed. She only came to the man’s chin, yet she still dominated the space. “My superiors feel that their concerns have been given short shrift throughout this entire process.”

“By ‘your superiors’ I presume you mean Colonel Meinrad.” Color had flushed Dr. Hobbard’s face.

“Among others, yes.”

“If you wouldn’t mind having this discussion on the move, I have to supervise the tests for the latest batch.”

“Certainly, Doctor.”

Dr. Hobbard turned and walked back to his previous position without looking back to see if the visitors were following. He rounded a corner to the far side of the interior building. On closer approach, Frieda could peer through the small windows on the doors she passed. Each door led into a small cell with another door on the far side. Ragged men occupied some of the cells. One of the men began pounding on his door as the group passed by.

“Where do these men come from, Doctor?” asked Frieda.

“We get our test subjects primarily from Anti-Resistance Force sweeps.”

“Resistance fighters,” said Rachel. “There’s a certain symmetry to it.”

The group stopped in front of a large window looking into the open center space ringed by the cells. Stains on the floors and walls indicated a history that turned Frieda’s stomach.

“More on point,” continued Rachel, “is what type of testing is being done with respect to supernatural entities. Colonel Meinrad is particularly interested with its effects on enemy summoned demons, although others have spoken about Native American lycanthrope warriors.”

“As your superiors should know, I nor any of my colleagues have been provided such subjects to experiment upon. In the meantime, this Research Division shall continue to carry out its duties with the human subjects that we have been provided with.”

During that portion of the conversation, Rachel maneuvered so that she was next to Dr. Hobbard, Frieda next to her, leaving Dr. Tabbert to the far end of the line.

“Could you please describe your testing procedure, Doctor?” asked Frieda, fighting hard to maintain an air of clinical detachment.

“Certainly. Each test employs two subjects. One is exposed to the Ambulamort, the second is kept as control. Once the effect is complete, both subjects are released into the common area on the other side of the glass. From there we are able to assess the aggressive potential of the effected subject.”

“In fact,” offered Dr. Tabbert, “you are in time to observe the testing of the newest lot.”

“Really?” asked Frieda, slipping her hand into her purse. She looked up and caught Rachel’s eye in the reflection off the glass. Rachel gave a barely perceptible nod that Frieda returned.

“Dr. Tabbert?” Frieda asked turning toward the dwarf and drawing her hand out of the purse.

“Yes?” he asked, turning into the atomizer of knockout solution that Frieda had just removed from her purse. The spray caught him full in the face. He barely had time to show surprise before he slumped to the ground.

Dr. Hobbard saw the motion out of the corner of his eye. When he turned to see his assistant collapsed on the floor, Rachel stepped in front of him and grasped his face. She pulled him down until her lips met his. Dr. Hobbard’s eyes opened wide in shock, and then he relaxed deeper and deeper until he slid boneless to the floor.

“I think I prefer my method,” said Rachel, wiping an unseen mote from the corner of her mouth.

“Succubus,” said Frieda, “I should have known.”

“Well, yeah. But I’m still one of the good guys.”

Rachel removed a ring of keys from Dr. Hobbard’s coat pocket.

“Here,” said Rachel giving the keys to Frieda, “get the men out of the cells and round up the lab assistants. I’ll take care of the security office and call in the cavalry.

Frieda nodded, took the keys, replaced the atomizer and drew her ray gun.

Rachel ran back toward the hallway. She waited until Frieda opened the first cells before she rounded the corner and affected an inability to run in her heeled boots. The young guard outside of the security office saw her coming and, reacting to her obvious distress, rushed to aid her.

“The prisoners are escaping! The doctors need your help!” she said, stumbling into his arms.

“Umm, get, get to the security office,” he stammered, “I’ll go help the doctors.

Rachel looked up into his eyes, her hands full of his uniform lapels.

“Be careful,” she said, her voice suddenly soft and frightened. She pulled gently on the lapels, and the young man took the cue, bent down and kissed her. Rachel enjoyed the kiss for the three seconds it took for the young man to pass out.

She straightened her uniform jacket and strode into the security office. There was a pair of guards playing cards. They snapped to attention and saluted.

“Stay where you are,” said Rachel, “there has been a release of the Ambulamort, and the laboratory has been contaminated.”

The two guards shared a panicked glance. In that pause, Rachel walked over to the phone and dialed the number that would connect her to the waiting Resistance force.

“This is Major Magda Devora, Imperial Demonic Division. There has been an incident at Research Division 9. We need a containment team here immediately. Code: Lamb, I say again, Code: Lamb.”

“Confirm Code: Lamb,” said the recognizable voice of Liberty. “We are on our way.”

“My God,” said the one on Rachel’s right, “we have to get out of here.”

“No,” snapped Rachel in her best tone of command, “stay in here and seal the door the best you can. I will also need your weapons.”

“Our weapons? You’re not going back in there? What about the Ambulamort?”

Rachel pointed to the red trim on her uniform.

“Demonic Division. The gas won’t affect me. Someone has to keep the victims under control until the containment team gets here. In the meantime, seal up this room and do not open it for any reason or for anyone other than me, am I clear?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Rachel walked back to the main laboratory. There she found four men standing behind Frieda who was covering three white-coated men who were on their knees with their hands behind their heads.

“All clear?” asked Frieda.

“Yes, the Resistance is on the way.” Rachel handed what guns she had to the released prisoners. “I’m Lamb, this is Knocker, and we’re here to get you out of here.”