Diane hummed thoughtfully as she studied a data-filled screen, showing the complex Asgardian cellular structure. She’d been trying to identify the different system it invoked without success since tiring of Ranglor’s tests.
She breathed a heavy sigh as Benjamin entered the Valkyrie Observation Room. “What do you want, Benjamin?” she asked dully.
Benjamin eyed the monitor with a disdainful leer before saying, “I need to know what to be prepared for. I have all sorts of equipment being shipped here, but I don’t know how to implement them. You’re the expert, what’s your recommendation?”
Sitting back in her chair, Diane massaged her left temple and shifted her attention away from the monitor to look at Benjamin. “I am an expert in obscure and general monster legends. Not in military armament and propaganda. You should consult some of those monster movies the world is so fascinated with as of late,” she stated with a grimace.
Benjamin growled. “Believe it or not, I’m trying not to get everyone in this base killed. From everything I’ve seen in the past week, we need some real ground protection!”
Shaking her head, Diane jumped as the lights turned red and she quickly threw her hands over her ears as a siren blared through the room. She looked at the lights in confusion. “What’s happening?”
Benjamin took one look at the ceiling and put his right hand to an earpiece. “Joshua, what’s happening?” He listened for a moment. “A full containment lockdown. Why … what happened?” He looked somewhat exasperated. “What do you mean we’re all locked where we are until I initiate an authorized, systematic sweep? How do I do it?”
Diane looked at the security monitors to find the red lights illuminating every screen. She stood and quickly moved to Sora’s camera feed. Her hair stood on end as she hurriedly analyzed the feed to be sure. “Benjamin! Sora, she has two normal tails now!”
Benjamin’s face altered to annoyance as he tried listening to what he needed to do. “Yeah—Orrin doesn’t know what’s happening either? Wait, I have to get two passwords from Gerard—who puts a password behind a password and a twenty-five firewall encryption!”
Muttering to himself Benjamin changed the frequency on the headset to Gerard’s office. “Gerard, what’s happening? I need the passwords for the encryption.” Diane watched him wait for a moment, but it didn’t seem like he was getting his answer. “Gerard, are you there? I need the passwords—are you alright? You sound hoarse. What’s going on? What eye—you aren’t making any sense. Why do you keep saying it’s the eye? Wait; say that again, the passwords are what?”
Diane’s brow furrowed. “Is he saying something about an eye?”
Benjamin shook his head. “He just keeps muttering something about an eye and contagion.”
Skin prickling at the word. “Contagion!? Is there some kind of contamination in the facility?”
His brow furrowed as he shook his head again. “I don’t know, the feed cut.” Taking out a company issued mini-tablet, he flipped it out of sleep. It was locked with red lettering showing Full Contaminate Lockdown. Pressing it, it redirected to a password screen. Typing in the password, it flipped to another password screen, and he imputed that as well.
The lights stayed red, but the siren stopped blaring. “There,” Benjamin muttered as he flipped his headset to all frequencies. “This is Benjamin; we might have a possible contaminate loose in the facility. In accordance with the protocol, I’m giving all squad leaders access, but all other personnel have had their access suspended until we have confirmation that it is safe.
“All military personnel get to the nearest hazmat suit you can find and start conducting a room by room search. No exceptions. Lock the doors after searching and mark them as occupied, with the number inside; also, label it as clean or contaminated, look for any suspicious activity. I want Sierra with me; we’re going to Gerard’s office. I’m in the Valkyrie room, meet me in the hall along the way—and bring me a bigger gun!”
Diane quickly followed Benjamin with a last look at Sora who was examining her new tail. Benjamin took a look back at her and seemed to debate allowing her to come, but after a second he nodded and continued at a swift pace. She kept pace while envisioning what kind of viruses they must hold at this facility.
Reaching the first checkpoint, Benjamin waited for the doors to open to him, but they didn’t. Anger rising, Benjamin shouted. “What’s the holdup?” No response.
Benjamin snarled while entering the master access code and stepped through the door and paused as two guards came into view, both looking at a monitor showing Sora talking with Fen and Jian. Frowning, Benjamin yelled, “What are you two doing? It’s a lockdown!”
Diane pursed her lips as both didn’t answer; they continued to stare blankly at the display. She put her hand up to stop Benjamin’s fury as he began to advance. “Look at their expressions—they may be contaminated!”
Benjamin took a quick step back. “Gerard and his secretary had that exact look when I went in earlier. Gerard didn’t respond until I shook him.”
Fear ebbed its way into Diane’s abdomen, and she stepped away from Benjamin. “If you were infected—then I could be as well! Whatever this is, it has a powerful effect on the mind. Let me try something.” Stretching forth her hand, Diane began muttering an incantation. Finishing her analysis spell, she backed away.
Benjamin took a few steps behind her, looking at the men like they were snakes. “What is it?”
“Their souls—I have never seen anything like this. Their souls are petrified, not producing even a shard of spiritual energy to sustain their bodies’ needs, no intelligent thought, not even their bodies are functioning—it is as if they aren’t even alive,” Diane breathed. “I have never even heard of something able to completely halt spiritual production—much less suspend a person in time itself—I’ve heard of drawing spiritual energy out, but not halting it.”
“So it’s a contagion that affects the soul?” Benjamin asked with disbelief. “Will hazmat suits even help against something like that?”
“I doubt it,” Diane muttered. “You said you were able to jog Gerard out of this state by shaking him?”
Benjamin nodded. “Yeah, and he did the same with his assistant.”
Diane swallowed, tone rising with fear. “Then it must have something to do with your souls touching.” Performing the same analysis spell on Benjamin, she said, “Your soul seems to be completely normal. So, whatever this is, it’s not contagious. Gerard must be speaking about something else—he mentioned an eye?”
Regarding her nervously, Benjamin looked at the display showing Sora. “Gerard and his assistant were looking at the same feed with the same passive expression.”
“Then it might have something to do with Sora’s second tail manifesting,” Diane mumbled.
Their attention was diverted as team Sierra ran through the doors, armed heavily. Benjamin accepted his AK-12 from the captain and turned to Diane. “What should we do with them?”
Biting her lower lip for a moment, Diane said, “Go shake him, like you did to Gerard. I want to see how his soul comes out of its frozen state.” Benjamin licked the inside of his lower lip and looked over at his team. “Cody!” Benjamin commanded.
“Yes, Sir!” Cody responded, rushing to his side.
“Go wake them up!” Benjamin ordered.
Diane’s mouth creased as Cody made physical contact with one of the men. His spiritual energy instantly started flowing again, but he didn’t come out of his vegetative state. After a few hard shakes, he blinked in confusion. “What’s going on?”
“You fell asleep on duty!” Cody accused sharply.
Benjamin took a step back as he awoke. “That’s pretty much the same thing that happened to Gerard. He doesn’t remember a thing.”
Diane stared at the confused man as he looked around at the red lights. Bewildered, he asked, “Was a lockdown initiated?”
Benjamin looked over at Diane; his gaze demanded answers. Features darkening, Diane said, “It seems that not only does the status paralyze the spirit, but also the mind and body. Physical contact is the most potent sensation because it affects the entire soul. Whatever this is, it’s metaphysical and somehow causes a paralytic mannerism in the soul, but does not seem contagious. My deduction, Gerard is talking about something else as a contagion. Something related to an eye, it seems.”
Benjamin lifted his hand to his ear. “Yes, I’ve seen them. If they aren’t responding then shake them awake and lock the door. If they respond in any hostile manner, report it immediately and isolate them. Make sure to wear hazmat suits. What do you mean there aren’t that many in the base—you’re telling me this now!?”
The soldier Benjamin awoke said, “There’s only three along this floor and only one on the way to Gerard’s office.”
Rubbing his eye with irritation, Benjamin took a sidelong glance at Diane. “Right—then, ugh, the witch gets it,” he growled. Turning to the man on guard, he said, “Wake your partner and start searching room by room.” Speaking to Sierra, he yelled, “Let’s move!”
Diane put the suit on along the way, and they finally made it to Gerard’s office. Stationing themselves outside the room, Benjamin swallowed and licked his lips. “Right—we don’t know what we’ll find. Be ready to fire on my mark, on three.” Counting down, one of the men pressed the door to open, and they rushed inside. Moving to Gerard’s oaken door, they counted again and burst through. Her heart froze as she got a full view of the interior, her vision centering on Betty. Blood pooled onto the carpet, but more notably, her eyes had been gouged out.
* * *
Gerard glowered as he studied a camera feed; Ranglor had begun analyzing Sora’s burning tail. Jian and Fen had moved to the corner and quietly sat in some metal chairs, staring at Sora’s tail with concerned expressions. This isn’t like me. Why did I let such a dangerous experiment continue?
Orrin cleared his throat, gaining Gerard’s attention. “A great deal has happened in the past week for you. I take it that this is a rather rare occasion?”
Gerard nodded as he rubbed his left temple. “This has never happened while I have been employed at the Organization.”
He tried to examine his own actions, stifling a yawn. Was I intrigued and eager for answers even to that extent? Now the werewolf’s confinement room has been compromised, and there is no other area that we can house such beasts confidently. The cells might not be strong enough; if they wanted, they could break past them with time, and we still have no idea what that boy is. Maybe that’s what intrigued me … why would a Vulpes go to a wolf detainment area with an enemy? It just didn’t make sense…
He looked at a separate monitor that showed Eric under armed guard. After every member of his escort had fallen unconscious, tranquilizer devices had been strapped to his body, and any sign of resistance would mark him as expendable. Only because of his meekness when they woke—and there not being a scratch on his guards—was his life spared.
Gerard didn’t like it in the least. No physical injuries had befallen his escort, which didn’t make sense. Why would he knock out his guard and just wait for them to wake up?
Eric wasn’t smiling; he simply rested on a bed, examining the ceiling. Naturally, all monsters think about is escape, but what is this man planning? I’ve never seen a beast so driven and suddenly he’s completely compliant.
His vision shifted to another monitor. And the persistence of his sister is shocking. We’ve had to administer medical treatment so she wouldn’t kill herself trying to rip herself free of her bonds.
He turned his attention to the holding cell monitors, which were all temporarily filled with werewolves, while he figured out what to do with them. There are some of them that were prominent members within the Miami area … this is such a mess. We need to find some way to get them back to normal. It’s a virus, so we should be able to do something to fix it…
Leaning back in his seat, he breathed a weary sigh. Reaching for his fresh coffee cup, he drank deeply. I’ve been up more than two days now; I really need to find the time to sleep.
Steeling himself, Gerard finished the cup.
However, something needs to be done. I have too many holes in security. Diane’s wards are a solid support, but we’ve only been capturing monsters for eight years now, and somehow Sora’s wards were destroyed. We just don’t have the proper restraints for this diverse and large of a group. Normally we’d terminate most of them, or send them to different facilities, but it’s too dangerous at the moment with the Senator here; there are too many high profile cases.
Gerard’s eyes shifted to the door as Betty’s voice came through the speakers. “Sir, I have some important news to discuss with you. May I come in?”
Fantastic, more decisions. Rubbing his eyes, he glanced at Orrin, who had been studying all the monitors in silence. The man glanced his way and nodded. Pressing the specific speaker function on his desk, he said, “Come in.”
Betty quickly entered and promptly came to his desk, handing him a few folders. “Sir, you remember that report on the history instructor at Miami Beach Senior High School?” Gerard nodded and took the files from her, flipping open the top folder as she handed a duplicate set to Orrin. “The U.S. Paranormal Division emissaries have sent some unnerving news.”
“Oh,” Orrin commented. “What did the Committee find?”
Gerard began reading through the papers with a deep frown. “This is sweeping data for Spiritual Energy resonation. The U.S. President authorized the full Spiritual sweep of the Miami area then.” Gerard huffed as he glanced at Orrin. “The U.S. never skimps expenses; this must have cost a fortune, not to mention the cooperation of several different paranormal groups for the appropriate resources, including ours, and on such short notice.”
Betty nodded. “Yes, the South American Branch was sent because of our current workload; now, if you’ll look at the next page. ” Gerard complied, and his eyebrows rose. “The conclusion of the search turned up exactly sixty-two unlisted hits.”
Orrin’s eyes widened. “Sixty -two,” he muttered in shock. Turning to Duncan, he asked, “Were you aware of such numbers in such a populated city?”
Duncan shook his head. “I have already spoken with all my contacts about joining the initiative, and they have complied.”
Gerard ran a hand down his face with a deep sigh as he leaned back, studying the data. “Fifty-one—in just the Miami Beach area alone…”
Swallowing, Betty said, “The Committee has already pulled the resident information on the living areas that were hit. Of those, two have single pings, but tax records show two occupants, both living areas are recorded to have married couples living in them. The names pulled are Hane and Elizabeth Cooper and Ronald and Stephanie Florance.”
Gerard turned to the next page and shook his head with disgust. “Of those sixty-two, only eight were found, and three captured, no monster casualties, but forty-eight human and three initiative monsters.” Turning to Orrin, he said, “They should have waited for our Organization’s cooperation; we are the most capable at dealing with monsters, even if we are having difficulties at the moment.”
Duncan’s face paled. “Which initiative monsters?”
Orrin held up a hand. “They were from the Selvin division. No one you know.”
Turning to the last page of the folder, Gerard read the list of aliases flagged. “The history teacher that was attacked and hospitalized was identified as one of the sixty-two monsters?”
Betty’s tongue pressed against her cheek for a moment as she nodded. “That was only the preliminary data. Turn to the next folder; it shows what happened after the first incident.”
Both Orrin and Gerard’s expression darkened as they moved to the next file. Gerard read silently, before saying, “They stationed guards outside his room, but he escaped that same night—everyone in the hospital was put to sleep—and every patient was healed?”
Betty cleared her throat nervously. “Yes, the press is calling it a miracle, but—read further.”
His vision narrowed and he pressed his right hand against his temple. “The Committee identified this man as—Ascl Quest—the Ancient Greek God, Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing?”
Hesitating, Betty said, “Yes, and it seems there is video evidence of Hygieia, Aceso, Aglaea, and, Panacea at the hospital; they all are Asclepius’ daughters and renowned healers. It—it seems that after that, they just … vanished. As far as the Committee can tell, Asclepius is still alive.”
Gerard nodded and looked over at the screen that showed Eric. There’s no possible way he could be responsible for hospitalizing such a celebrity. That leaves the question … who did? Sixty-two pings, what else was in Miami and why? Could they have been there for Sora, a daughter of Mia, a Founder?
Clearing her throat to catch Orrin and Gerard’s attention, Betty said, “There are more speculations, but they’re only theories. Now if you’ll turn to the last file, there is something that’s a side note, things that we’ve recently discovered and connected. Information not yet sent to the Committee.”
Gerard sighed. Why is there so much monster activity? We haven’t had activity like this for over four hundred years. Opening the final file, he lifted an eyebrow. “Missing children reports?”
“Some of them are inside the pack, recently turned by the girl known as Jenny,” Betty stated.
Gerard hummed thoughtfully. “Not Eric?”
Orrin took a shuddering breath. “So, you have confirmed that the Miami Beach werewolf pack was kidnapping people?”
Betty nodded to Orrin but then shook her head at Gerard. “Yes, the kidnappings have been confirmed; not turned by Eric. Apparently, from what Diane concluded in her second examination with the werewolf experts, she found that Eric’s cells are not infectious. In fact, only the Germanic werewolf known as Jenny can infect others.”
Chewing on his cheek, Gerard examined Eric for a split second; he was still staring at the ceiling. “There’s no cure for the werewolf disease, is there?”
Orrin sank back in his chair with a dreary sigh, muttering, “This is a nightmare.”
Betty hummed thoughtfully. “Actually, Diane speculates that there is a possibility.”
Both Orrin and Gerard sat straighter as they listened.
“Although, you should hear a portion of her report,” Gerard nodded for Betty to continue. “It seems that this particular werewolf strand is connected to Eric and Jenny in a very peculiar manner. As clearly stated in Diane’s initial report from the preliminary data—which appears a bit rushed, yet sound based on the biological and magical analysis she was given—Eric is the Alpha, but Jenny is the seed, which means that this infection has a communication affix—or according to Diane it does.”
“What does that mean?” Orrin asked.
“Diane explains further in her report: All the werewolves are linked by a blood bond between Eric and Jenny. The further away they are from the Alpha, the harder it is for their blood to keep in check. If they were to separate from the Alpha to a certain distance, they could no longer control their transformation and would go berserk, losing all higher brain functions. Furthermore, there is a possibility of breaking this bond by killing the seed, but the Alpha connection may not be severed by just destroying the seed. However, while there will be an effect if the seed is destroyed; it is unclear if the reaction would be positive,” Betty quoted from memory.
Gerard rubbed his chin, studying the screen that housed the cells that kept all the werewolves isolated. “This bond keeps the pack together and blackmails recruits into their fold. Vicious, but something I’d expect of werewolf society; it also presents a very dangerous issue. Then again, we may be able to get these poor people back to their families, a tough decision.” Thinking on it for a second, he said, “I’ll have to consult the Committee and board.”
Orrin nodded approvingly. “I agree.”
“Indeed,” Betty said. “But there’s something more to that sheet of missing children.”
Gerard nodded as he read. “Yes, all the kids are from that same high school the Vulpes, and Fenris Wolf attend?”
“My—” Orrin cut off as he massaged his temples with his right hand, breathing a heavy sigh. “How many kids?”
Betty nodded. “Twenty-two. Then there is the issue of kids continuing to disappear at the school—eight, from the last report—likely not werewolves. The important part is the dates they went missing. In the last two days, which means they were disappearing even after we captured this large monster group, and corresponding to the times the monsters escaped from the Committee. Our Investigations Unit sent their psychologists into the school and talked with a large group of students that are suspected affiliates of Kari and Sora.”
Gerard and Orrin kept silent, following Betty’s explanation through the reports. “They found that Eric’s sister is confirmed as using the name Kari. She obtained false U.S. papers from a local forger, they are unsure if he’s associated with the monster community, but our agents that were sent to investigate him went dark; we fear the worst. The interesting note is that Kari built her own gang of bullies; a pack of her own, and the connection is that the eight girls missing are girls that were long linked in Kari’s inner circle.”
Finished turning through the last page Gerard yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Is that everything pressing?”
Betty shook her head as she motioned for them to turn to the next folder. Gerard opened the folder and frowned. “This ship…”
“Yes, the ship, well, we don’t know what happened to it yet. There’s only a quarter of it left, and there’s evidence on the beach, footprints that we managed to preserve from the rising tide. It looks like a single child went to the beach, and the footprints started to increase foot size before two sets of massive feet appeared beside a woman’s shoe size. There seem to be large wolf prints facing the three pairs of footprints, and then they vanish.”
“Massive wolf prints?” Orrin questioned. “Duncan, could it be connected to the Fenris Wolves? Did their parents come looking for them?”
Duncan shook his head. “You’re outside my expertise. It could have been one of the three second-generation Fenris Wolves. The footprints could have been monsters sent to inquire of the intrusion of a powerful Founder … perhaps they entered some kind of personal dimension to discuss it?”
“Or fight,” Gerard muttered as he stared at the destroyed freighter ship. “How’s the clean-up going?”
Nodding, Betty said, “As can be expected. There are a few minor matters besides that, but you should finish what you have and get some rest, both of you.” Turning to Orrin, she suggested, “You must be starting to feel the jet lag.”
Orrin nodded, he looked spent, feeling the burden of the information he’d been force fed.
“We’ll see,” Gerard replied with another yawn. “There are still a lot of things I need to handle.”
Betty promptly left, and Gerard looked at the monitors lining the room, Orrin mirroring his brooding expression. I’m already behind on my normal duties, and now I have all these headaches. Ranglor was finishing his first exam, preparing to head back into the observation room to review some of his findings and converse with several colleagues he kept in touch with. Jian and Fen still sat in the corner. Both didn’t seem in the talking mood as they stared at Sora. What am I missing?
Frowning, Gerard watched all the researchers leave Sora’s examination room. The Chairman barely blinked an eye at discovering a Valkyrie and dragon. This random Vulpes claims to be Mia’s daughter and the Shadow Order moves, and even the President is on his way. Really, what makes her of such importance, and all this chaos happening in Miami Beach?
He took in a deep breath, looking down at the piles of files atop his desk; he let the air out in a slow stream. His attention was diverted as Orrin rose, stretching. “You have a good assistant. I think I’ll take her advice. I need to chew on this information for a bit.”
Gerard nodded as he watched Orrin and Duncan leave, shutting the door behind them. Turning back to his desk, he rubbed his tired eyes. Opening up a file representing resource costs, he spent a few minutes going over the information before letting it drop from his fingers onto the desk. Sitting back, he ran his hands over his face and through his hair, looking over at the monitors.
The next second he was being shaken back and forth. Trying to right himself, Gerard found Benjamin hanging over him with a worried expression; he was much too close. Kicking his feet out to wheel himself away, Gerard brought his arms up, adopting a demanding voice. “What are you doing?”
Benjamin didn’t answer; his features turned into a grimace as he took a step back and looked to his left where Betty stood.
Gerard rubbed his heavy eyes. Wait, when did Benjamin and Betty come in? She didn’t notify me? When he examined Betty, his frown deepened. She was staring at the Vulpes’ monitor, her expression was blank, and she had a few files held up in a frozen position. Her posture was rigid and unmoving.
Gerard did a double take of the monitor, straightening quickly. Both Fen and Jian were asleep, but more importantly, Sora’s flaming tail was gone, replaced by a second reddish orange tail. “Benjamin! What happened to Sora’s tail?”
Benjamin looked at the monitor with a frown. Looking slightly annoyed, Benjamin shrugged. “I don’t know, shouldn’t you? I’ve been trying to talk with you for a full minute, but both you and the woman have been staring at that thing like it’d grow legs!”
Lifting from his seat, Gerard walked over to Betty, Benjamin following behind. She seemed completely paralyzed. Pressing his lips together, Gerard asked, “Betty?” She didn’t answer. Gripping her shoulder, Gerard asked again, “Betty?” Still nothing. Shaking her a little, he questioned her again.
Betty blinked rapidly as the folders dropped from her grasp and hit the floor, pages falling out. She looked at both Benjamin and Gerard in bewilderment. “When—did Benjamin come in—and when did you get up?”
Gerard hummed, troubled. It’s one thing for me to stare aimlessly at a screen, I’ve been awake for forty-eight hours, but for Betty, and so zoned?
“What do you remember?” he asked.
Betty seemed befuddled. “I was just going to bring you some more files for tomorrow and convince you to get some rest?”
Benjamin glanced between them for a second before butting into their conversation. “Look—I need to prepare some more security protocols for the werewolves.” Taking out a folded piece of paper, he brandished it in front of Gerard’s face. “I just need your signature and Betty here to send it on to corporate. It just gives your higher-ups notification that I’m bringing in my own resources. If my life’s going to be on the line, I need the best equipment.”
Nodding, Gerard read over the small two paragraphs that didn’t give any indication of what he was bringing into the base. Sighing, he went to his desk, signed it and handed it to Betty. “Right, you go do whatever it is you do,” Benjamin didn’t seem to need permission to leave, as soon as he realized Gerard was signing it, he’d turned and left.
Betty huffed as she followed his exit. “He’s always so rude.”
“I know,” Gerard agreed. “I didn’t have a choice in hiring him.”
Shaking her head, Betty said, “Anyways, please get some sleep, Sir.”
Smiling, Gerard said, “Alright, I’m just going to rewind the footage and check something. Then I’ll head off to bed.”
Nodding, Betty left saying, “If you haven’t left in five minutes, I’ll be back in to harass you!”
Chuckling, Gerard waved her off. “Right, right.” Betty retrieved the pages and folders from the ground, plopped them on his desk, she gave him a meaningful look and went to the door, shutting it behind her.
Scratching his head, Gerard slumped into one of his guest chairs; he didn’t feel rested in the least. She might as well be my wife with how she fusses.
Groaning, he got up and snatched his tablet off the desk. Returning to the seat with a sigh, he pressed the proper commands to rewind Sora’s camera feed. Scratching his neck a second, he watched the smooth display replay its recorded footage. Fen and Jian seemed fast asleep.