Authors: Alan Rodgers
Tags: #apocalypse, reanimation, nuclear war, world destruction, Revelation
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used in tribute, eulogy or by permission of the subject. Any other resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First eBook Edition: Chameleon Publishing 2015
FIRE e-book edition is ©2015 Alan Rodgers LLC
FIRE Copyright ©1990 Alan Paul Rodgers
Originally published by Bantam Books in September 1990
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Publishers since 2014
Aliso Viejo, CA
Cover Illustration: Chameleon Design
Edited by Scott Rodgers
ISBN: 978-1-60312-304-4 E-book
BIC: FK Horror and Ghost Stories
Blood of the Children
New Life for the Dead
The Bear Who Found Christmas
Ghosts Who Cannot Sleep
Her Misbegotten Son
The River of Our Destiny
Menace: Battle Mountain
for Lou Aronica
Transmitted over the AP Wire
Tuesday, May First
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a televised speech this evening, American President Paul Green swore publicly that the death of his wife would not go unavenged.
Russian spokesmen, responding to the speech at the United Nations, expressed grave concerns. “We too mourn the death of Ada Green,” said Ivan Illych, third assistant to the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations, “but we cannot countenance threats, veiled or otherwise.”
First Lady Ada Green died in a tragic series of accidents two weeks ago, while on a good will mission to Russia. Details of that death are still unclear, but unnamed sources report that she contracted food poisoning after eating a preserved fish in a Moscow restaurant.
According to reports, local doctors administered intravenous penicillin to treat the food poisoning. The First Lady had a severe allergy to penicillin, and the antibiotic sent her into shock, killing her in a matter of minutes.
Congressional reaction to the President’s speech was remarkably similar to the reaction of the Russians. House Speaker William Thergild, giving the televised Bipartisan response to the President’s speech, expressed his sympathy for the President — and his reservations about the President’s pledge.
“I honestly feel for the President,” said Thergild. “All of us here in Congress do. He’s been through a rough time — rough, hell. That man has been through a horrible and tragic time. But all the same, we can’t have him bringing this nation to the brink of war for personal reasons. Can’t. No matter how tragic his personal circumstances.”
Other members of Congress, who asked not to be identified, were less charitable in their reactions.
“That man is out of his mind,” said one New York City Congresswoman. “This is exactly the excuse he’s been looking for since he took the oath of office. Do you know anything about that church of his? They’re Armageddonists. They’re looking for a way to bring on the end of the world. He’s looking to create an Apocalypse. And this is the way to the beginning of the end.”
³ ³ ³
Wednesday was the day that the President got on television and threatened to “nuke Russia into the Stone Age.” Those were exactly the words he used; President Green wasn’t anything if he wasn’t plain spoken.
Nuking Russia into the Stone Age! Ron shuddered at the thought. So maybe they were Russians, so maybe they were on the other side of the world. They were still people. It wasn’t like the President was threatening to send our soldiers to shoot at their soldiers — no, that’d be bad, but there were some kinds of bad that you had to cut a man a little slack on when he was President. That was the way Ron Hawkins saw it, anyway. Only it wasn’t soldiers that the President was threatening to nuke. It was women and children and middle-aged men, and everybody else, ordinary people in cities and towns. Not that the President was saying it that way. He didn’t have to; Ron knew it was true anyway. He read Time, and sometimes Newsweek; he’d read that article last year about How Our Missiles Are Targeted. It’d left him feeling kind of sick with himself, reading how if there was a nuclear war all of the first bombs would land in places where people lived.
Now the President was actually threatening to do it. Threatening to fire those missiles at real people on the other side of the world.
Lately Ron had begun to have serious regrets about voting for President Green in the last election. The man was too full of bluster. Or at least he’d got that way since he’d been elected. Full of himself, and looking for a fight. He’d seen men get that way when they were having trouble with their wives. That couldn’t be Green’s problem, anyway.
It didn’t matter what his problem was — it wasn’t right to have a man who let himself act that way running the country.
Not that there was a damn thing Ron could do about it. Except wait until the next election and vote for somebody else.
If there was a next election.
If there was anybody alive to vote for.
The only thing that could explain the President’s behavior — some of it, anyway — was the way his wife had died when she was over there in Russia. Three months ago, on a good will trip. She’d come down with food poisoning or some such, an awful case of it. And some Russian doctor had screwed up, and before they’d been able to get an American MD in there to take a look at her the First Lady had died. After that the President — who’d always been what you might call an extremist — had gone clear over the edge.
Ron shook his head and bit his lip and went back to cleaning the third-floor men’s room. He tried not to think about the end of the world, but dirty toilets were nothing you wanted to think about, not even while you were cleaning them.
And as he worked all Ron could see with his mind’s eye was women and children screaming, suffering, burning as thermonuclear fires transformed them to light and dust.
He could still hear their screams ringing in his ears when Luke Munsen walked into the lavatory. Luke Munsen was one of the researchers here in the complex, a man with a Ph.D. in genetics or something like that. Ron had a hard time keeping the researchers’ specialties straight; all of them were trained in the life sciences, and often as not two different degrees from different universities turned out to be more or less the same thing. And to make things even more confusing, a lot of them were doing work that didn’t seem to have much to do with their college degrees.
“How do, Ron,” Luke Munsen said.
“Fine, Luke. How about you? Working late?” Ron was on a first-name basis with most of the researchers, which, so far as he knew, made him unique among the custodial staff. But then, he was the only janitor in the institute with any real education. The researchers weren’t especially full of themselves, the way, say, the doctors and administrators had been when he’d worked at the hospital — those people tended to assume that if you cleaned up after them you had to be some sort of a Cro-Magnon, or maybe even an Australopithecine. The Ph.D.s here were young and approachable and almost always looking for someone to bounce an idea off of, especially someone who wasn’t likely to swipe it. Trouble was, most of the cleaning people here didn’t take any interest in biochemistry. Not any more interest than you had to take to be polite.
“Always working late. You ought to know that by now. When was the last time you saw me out of here before eight o’clock?”
“Ha! When was the last time you got out of here by nine? I can’t remember.”
Luke was washing his hands. “Couldn’t tell you. It all blurs together after a while. Sleep and work — sometimes I think I don’t do anything else any more. Except eat, maybe. And even then I’m usually working while I’m at it — either that or sleeping, one.”
Ron wondered exactly how a man could eat while he was sleeping — was it something like sleepwalking, maybe? — and then decided that he didn’t really want to know.
“So,” he asked, “how’s the work going? You making any headway?”
Luke Munsen smiled, all glowy and enthusiastic like a four-year-old. “We’re getting close — close, hell, we’ve done it. We’ve got a working bug. It works!” His eyes got brighter and brighter as he spoke. “Of course, there’s still a lot left to do. Working with the new strain, fussing with it, making sure that it’s going to keep doing the job, making sure that it won’t do things we hadn’t planned on. It could be years before we can actually put it to use. But we will be able to use it — I’m sure of that now.”
Luke Munsen’s project was an especially strange one — gene splicing applied to archaeology. He had a big grant from some museum in New York to develop a microbe that could reconstruct a fossil from the scattered bits and pieces of its DNA. The subject was weird enough that it gave Ron chills sometimes when they talked about it. Imagine it: turning a heap of old bones into an honest-to-God dinosaur. Imagine one of those getting loose in a lab. It wasn’t something Ron wanted to clean up after.
“Luke — what happens if a bug like that gets loose? It sounds dangerous, especially when you think about it a bit. What happens if you remake a dinosaur and it gets loose?”
The researcher sighed, exasperated. “You too, Ron? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard well-meaning people try to put a stop to our work just because they didn’t understand it. Come on. You know the sort of precautions we take. That bacteria won’t leave the lab here until we’re sure that it can’t live outside a petri dish. One of the first things we learned was how to cripple a strain. Believe me: we’re careful. And besides — we don’t want to make any living dinosaurs. We aren’t trying to bring anything back to life. We want something that’ll give us enough of a dinosaur to dissect.”
Luke’s face was beet-red; he was angry all out of proportion to the question, as though he’d had to answer it so many times that the thought of it infuriated him. It left Ron feeling kind of stupid, and uneasy, too — the last thing he needed was to have a researcher walking around angry at him. It wasn’t like it could cost him his job, but enough hostility could make the job not worth keeping. And right now looking for a new job wasn’t something Ron wanted to have to do. In another year he’d finally have his bachelor’s degree, and then they could take the toilets and the floors and everything else and do whatever they wanted with them. Just not now. Not when he was so close.
“Sorry, Luke. I didn’t mean anything . . . personal.”
Luke Munsen blinked, and flushed again — with embarrassment this time — as though he’d suddenly realized that he’d got carried away. He was quiet for a long moment before he spoke.
“No — I’m the one who ought to apologize. You didn’t earn a response like that. You aren’t some congressman dragging me up to testify because he thinks he can make himself more visible by crucifying me.”
Ron didn’t know what to say; all he wanted was to get out of the conversation gracefully. “Not me. I couldn’t even get elected treasurer for the union local. Just asking a question. Didn’t mean any harm.”
“No — you didn’t.” He sighed. “Believe me, there isn’t any danger. The bacteria aren’t going anywhere.”
“If you say it, then I believe it,” Ron said. But the truth was that he didn’t believe it at all.
Luke finished drying off his hands and tossed the towel into the waste bin. “You take it easy, Ron,” he said, opening the lavatory door. “I’ve got to get back to business.”
“Don’t work too hard, Luke. You’ll dig yourself an early grave.” Luke didn’t hear; he was already out the door and, from the sound of his footsteps, half-way down the hall.
Ron sighed and checked his watch. It read eight forty-five in the evening, which meant that it was time to make one final pass of the wastebaskets in the wing. It wouldn’t take that long; he’d only have to check the offices where he knew the researchers kept late hours. Six, seven offices, the same number of labs, so spread out that Ron knew it would take more time to cover the distance between them than it would to empty the baskets.
He flushed the toilet he’d been cleaning, rinsed the brush in the clean water, and dropped it into the holder in his cart. He wondered if he should wheel the cart into its closet, just a couple of doors down the hall. It probably wouldn’t cause any problem if he parked it in the corner here in the men’s room, but that wasn’t a thing he was supposed to do. Not that it had ever caused him any problem; the night supervisor tended to spend most of his time watching television. Ron rarely saw him except when he went to the lounge for his dinner break.
The hell with it, he thought, and wheeled the cart into the corner. If he put the damned thing away, he’d just have to wheel it back in here in another half an hour; there were three more toilets to clean. And the urinals, too.
He left the restroom, walked down the hall to the elevator, and rode down to the basement to get the big trash cart. Most of the offices and labs produced little enough trash that Ron could empty their wastebaskets into the garbage bag on his cleaning cart. Dr. Bonner’s office (stress on the Dr.; Bonner was a European with strong ideas about the pecking order) Dr. Bonner’s office, on the other hand, was one of those on the late run — and the man somehow managed all by himself to produce enough trash to fill a plastic garbage bag three times over.
Ron didn’t look forward to visiting Bonner’s office.
It wasn’t just that the man was unfriendly. And he certainly was that; downright nasty, in fact. Bonner alone wasn’t anything Ron would look forward to, but he wasn’t anything to dread. Bonner wasn’t the problem; it was his . . . project.
Ron wasn’t quite sure what Bonner was trying to do, or why, but there was a thing in Bonner’s laboratory. An animal, or maybe not an animal at all, a bestial nightmare of a creature with extra heads and limbs. And there was a light in its eye, a light that told Ron that it maybe had more brains in his head that Ron had in his own. Bonner kept the poor thing in a tiny cage right there in his laboratory, a cage not even big enough for the pathetic thing to stand up in. Just like it was nothing but some poor, dumb beast.
Which, maybe, was all that the thing was. Ron didn’t have any proof that it was intelligent, just a deep twinge in his gut. But his heart didn’t look at the thing like it was an animal, not for an instant. He’d never been able to go into Bonner’s lab without feeling frightened and sick with himself from the guilt of not setting the creature loose.
He found the trash cart in its corner downstairs in the basement, and rolled it back to the elevator. When he got to Bonner’s laboratory he parked it against the wall a few feet from the door.
He knocked on the door before he went inside. Bonner wasn’t the sort of person you wanted to walk in on and surprise. He wasn’t the sort of person you wanted to see at all, for that matter. Ron wasn’t sure whether he was less eager to be in that room with the . . . thing while Bonner was there or while he wasn’t. The creature was unsettling and physically repugnant, but there was something malignant about Bonner.