A series of viral events

“Name?” the woman on the other side of the glass said, her voice distorted by the sound system. She was wearing full protective gear, though Sherman knew that wouldn’t help one bit. The woman and the room she sat in were blurred by the thirty centimeters of water between the two glass barriers in front of him.

“Sherman Moore,” he said. He scratched his upper right arm were the skin had peeled away to reveal the crystalline structure beneath. Small flakes of glittering skin fluttered to the floor. The woman moved her hand to the big red button on the table in front of her. Sherman looked up. Some days he wished they would push that goddamn button and the whole thing would end in fire. There were twenty nozzles in the ceiling. The very air of the room would burst into flame if the woman pushed the button. The shock wave would shatter the glass and kill her instantly.

Nothing happened. The skin flakes settled on the ceramic floor and didn’t crawl away. No fire descended from the ceiling to end his misery.

“And you worked in R&D, correct?” the woman said, her hand moving away from the button.
“You know I did,” Sherman replied. “You’re looking at the file.”
“Special Projects team, correct?”

Sherman sighed. Scratched his arm. Looked up at the nozzles. Sometimes he thought he could smell the fuel in the tank above, but the room really never smelled of anything except disinfectant and his own stale sweat.

“Special Projects team?” the woman repeated.
“Yes, Special Projects.”
The woman tapped the answers into a small tablet on her lap. Sherman knew there was no wifi down here, or LAN ports either. As far as he knew they still hadn’t figured out how the virus could hide itself in TCP/IP packets.

“Your manager was Natalie Bauer,” the woman said.
“Is that a question?”

The woman looked up from the file.
“I’m sorry?” she said.
“A question. You made a statement.”
“Answer the question please, mister Moore.”
“What’s the point of all this?”
“Answer the question.”

How many more weeks of this? He expected death prior to release from the investigation. Sometimes he fantasized about a vaccine, some miracle cure descending from above to save him, and however many others, were contained in this infernal bunker. Sometimes he even imagined he was somehow responsible for this cure, hailed as a savior, his blood mystically resilient to the virus-bacteria-phantom, used to synthesize antigens powerful enough to immunize the world.

Sherman scratched his arm again, noting how the crystals now were forming little arms and hands, baby fists emerging from his veins. He shifted so that the interviewer could definitely see this newest development.

Why did they insist on this, anyways, this endless cycle of the same, mundane questions? Maybe they were tracking his mental decay, vultures circling a mind that promised dementia.

“Yes, my manager was Natalie Bauer.”

Sam looked through the window at the thing that had up until recently been going by the name of Sherman Moore. It, he, had developed the same disgusting tendency as all the rest, peeling his skin.

They didn’t know how or why the virus, if it could be called that, made the body start producing sub-dermal calcium oxalate crystals. It usually started in the chest area, then the arms and head started the growths. The arm he had shown her looked eerily like a mass of people reaching up for salvation though the blurred glass and salt water barrier.

“You had a strained relationship with Natalie?” Sam said reading the next question on her sheet.
“Look, you know the answer to this already.” The thing said, it’s voice starting to show a hint of polyphonic overtones. She checked it in in the appropriate box in the tablet check list and then returned to the QnA screen. He was showing most signs of early-onset secondary stage infection.

“And that answer is what mister Moore?”
“When I first came here me and Natalie got on fine, then I had a failed office romance with another from our team and Natalie took sides in the ensuing fight.”

That was new. Earlier replies had been on the lines of them not matching in temper.
“In the ensuing fight?” Sam asked masking her thrill at the deviation from the normal answer.

“Yes, we… this isn’t your usual question.”
“That isn’t you usual answer, the ensuing fight?”

“Nothing much to say, Nat thought the whole thing had been handled poorly by me and that it would slow down progress,” the thing that had been Moore said and smiled, “Feels kind of ironic now.”

“Thank you Mister Moore. Now, You got infected later than the rest of the lab team?”

“I did get infected later, yes,” Sherman lied. The woman nodded and tapped at her tablet.
“Why do you think that is?” she said.
“No idea. Immunology and infectious diseases aren’t my field. You should asked Noah Keenan about that.”
“What is your field exactly?”

Sherman worked his shoulders, rolling them to relieve the tension there. He felt bone touch bone in there somewhere, things that had never touched each other before. He was slowly becoming a solid.

“Have you talked to doctor Keenan about this?” he asked.
“Doctor Keenan was interviewed yesterday,” the woman replied. “He was unable to shed any light on what is going on with you.” She looked up. “What is your field, mister Moore?”
“I am a programmer of sorts.”
“Yes, your file does say that, but nothing else. If this was a file on someone in my line of work I would say it had been redacted.”
“Is that’s what’s going on here?” Sherman asked. “Am I being redacted?”

The woman looked up. It was impossible to make out her face through glass, water, glass, face mask. She put the tablet down on the table in front of her.

“You know where this ends, Mr Sherman. Your team was at the core of this whole thing, and you have seen the effects up close. You know there is only one end here for you. I am hoping you can help us shed some light on events before that end, though.”

There was a ringing in Sherman’s ear. It came and went, came and went, undulating like a siren. It grew in volume slowly.

“What’s going on outside?” he said.
“Outside?” the woman replied, picking up her tablet again. “What do you mean outside?”
“Outside this place, wherever we are. Outside, in the real world.”
“That shouldn’t concern you right now. We have to continue our interview.”

“Fuck!” Jane said failing to light the match for a 5th time,“Who develops this shit? Striking matches aren’t supposed to be hard!”
“You know Jane, you could just use the ignition patch?” Sarah said looking at her comrade in arms.
“What’s the point of them then?” Jane grumbled but used the ignition patch for the sixth one and lit her cigarette with it. Sarah smiled, the way Jane spoke reminded Sarah of her older brother Michael sometimes and Sarah made a mental note to introduce them to each other when they were on leave.

They were bored and Sarah knew it.

They were both on guard duty outside of “The Complex”. While Sarah could appreciate the general eerie feeling the large mysterious block of sand coloured concrete gave off, this assignment quickly went from “an exciting placement helping out on a black ops facility where something unusual had happened” to…Well…Guard duty.

That watching the same stretch of barren wasteland all day, every day?
It got old pretty fast. She noticed her wristwatch said 11:11. “I wish this day was a little more exciting.” she thought idly.

“Hey, Jane, you’ve thought about asking for reassignment?” Sarah asked staring out trying for the 5th time to determine the distance to the mountain or hill in the distance. Jane drew in a deep breath and the burning end of the cigarette flared to life.
“Yeah, I mean, sure, who haven’t?” She said, “But you know what they’ll say, our placement here is for another 6 months at least…”
Sarah heard the trailing voice of Jane and when she glanced over she saw Janes cigarette falling down out of her mouth as she pointed out towards the horizon.

Something moved at a lumbering speed towards them. “No not lumbering,” Sarah corrected herself, “It’s just far away. It must be moving at a tremendous speed.”

“Sarge?” Jane said with a light tremble to her voice, “Should we…”

In response Sarah called it in, “Guard post 12 to central. Guard post 12 to central. This is Sergeant McCall”

“We read you. Over”

“We have an unidentified vehicle approaching the complex at high speed form north west. Over.”

“Do not engage Sergeant, remain at your post until given new directions. Do you copy? Over.”

“Solid copy on that sir. McCall Out.”

The sirens started up just a few seconds later.

Sherman smiled, which hurt as the crystals in his jaw cut into the remaining flesh of his cheeks, but he did so anyway. He could see how the woman recoiled ever so slightly when he did. Smiles are supposed to have normal teeth and gums and well, mirth. Take away those things and a smile is as much a threat as anything.

The sirens were going off somewhere far above them at surface level and they were growing louder. Although the woman questioning him couldn’t make it out and hadn’t been informed. Weird that. Heightened hearing wasn’t part of the symptoms as far as he knew, but he admitted to himself that even the experts hadn’t predicted half of what happened to the team.

But not informing her told him something. Either she knew and played it cool or she was oblivious. “That means they really need something from me and that she would be expendable” he thought but he already knew that after all. No one would get sent in to do these interviews who the people in charge saw as having a bright future ahead of themselves.

“What is your next question then?” Sherman asked, “I think you may only have a few minutes more for the interview, so don’t waste them.”

Central was not manned by military personnel. The military was at the compound, out there on the perimeter, as a first layer of security against actual humans trying to get a closer look at the complex, or if one if someone from the staff tried to get out. Their priority was security. Central had other priorities.

Rose Schenker had worked in private security for six years. During those six years she had seen some weird shit, stuff she couldn’t tell anyone about, and if she did they wouldn’t believe her. What she was watching now on the screen was the weirdest shit she had ever seen.

The thing that came down from the hills to the northwest was the size of a van. Its original form, whatever that had been, was long gone under an elaborate growth of crystal. It ran on six legs, in a sort of stumbling motion that seemed far from optimal but still carried it forward at tremendous speed. There was little symmetry to it and the dust it was kicking up made it hard to discern details, but it was definitely covered in long curved spikes and dozens of waving arms.

“We need that thing alive if possible,” Rose said. She turned to her second-in-command, an unimaginative slab of meat called Proctor.
“Get out there and make sure those grunts don’t hit with an RPG or something,” Rose said. “Small arms won’t so much as scratch that thing.”
“How are we supposed to catch it?” Proctor said. Gods, the man was stupid. A supremely effective fighter and field commander, but without any kind of initiative beyond that.
“Get Keller and his team,” she said. “If they know how to catch elephants, they should be able to deal with that thing.”

On some level, Rose wanted the thing to shred Keller and his men. The man was insufferable, with his constant sexual innuendo and leering, but he was supposed to be good at his job. They had been able to catch the guard dogs after they had been infected, and this wasn’t that different, was it?

Movement in her peripheral vision drew her eyes back to the screen. One more thing appeared on the ridge line and rushed towards the compound. It shared some attributes with the first thing. The shambling run, the waving arms, but it was smaller, maybe the size of a car, and sleeker. This would be a problem.

Then another appeared. Then another. Then another. Then a whole herd of the things.

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“Sarge?” Jane said, “Maybe we should call central again?”

In answer Sarah tried her comm. No one responded. She swore loudly and looked up at the +40 things that were rushing towards the Complex, straight towards where they were standing.

“We’ll have a better vantage point from the 12th tower.” Sarah said, knowing full well that that was bullshit as the 12th tower was inside the compound fences, but it was most likely safer than standing outside of the fences when facing whatever these things were.
“I’m a coward.” Sara thought to herself as Jane nodded and they both abandoned the guard house. Sarah closed the doors in the fence and activated the live circuit. Then Jane and her ran towards the tower.

Sherman felt them. He knew he shouldn’t, any signal that could travel through the deep solid bedrock and through several Faraday cages that surrounded his prison would have to break some fundamental law of physics if it was sent in a wave form. But maybe it was sent some other way?

They were all rushing toward where he was. Why?

The woman had asked him a question, what had it been? It was noticeably harder for him to focus now that he had a sensory data stream from over 50 connections to suppress.

“Can you repeat that?” Sherman asked her and he could see the woman’s sigh more than he heard it as the rushing wind of their passage muffled his thoughts.

“Do you know if the virus have escaped from the compound?”

“Surely you mean to ask me if I know HOW it escaped the compound?” Sherman said with another crystalline smile.

“Answer the question as asked Mr Moore.” She said stiffly, the alarms still ringing above to Sherman’s ears.

They were perhaps one kilometer away from the compound now, it was hard to decipher the individual streams of consciousness into a cohesive image. He didn’t even try to understand what drove them. He could feel something beyond them, but it was too alien for him to process still.

“Yes, it seems like it has escaped out of the compound somehow.” Sherman said lightly, “And no, I don’t know how that happened actually. If you were going to ask me that.”