|On the edge of an abyss he stands. A backpack across his back is full of letters he never expected to deliver. In his right hand, he holds a weapon that has sadly become his last refuge, his friend’s pistol. He is all alone in the great big world. In the distance, the embers of the last American city, Baltimore, smolder, turning night into day. In his other hand, he holds the Extremely Low Frequency transmitter --- the apocalypse.
The destruction of civilization was unavoidable. Nuclear annihilation wasn’t genocide or ethnic cleansing. It was an answer.
Jordan pulled the ski mask over his face, blending his head with the midnight sky. The whites of his eyes were like moons in the darkness. He looked to his two companions and saw that one hesitated.
“Marco, put your mask on.” Jordan aimed the beam of a flashlight at him.
Marco stared through Jordan as if the young man hadn’t spoken. A sheen of sweat glistened on his forehead. Jordan smacked him across the face. Marco blinked and massaged his stinging cheek.
“You can’t back out now. We’ve invested too much in this.” Jordan placed a comforting hand on Marco’s shoulder. “Remember, we’re saving the animals.”
Stefan made a sound and Jordan whirled to face him. “What was that, Stefan?”
“We only have rumor to substantiate that. We don’t know for sure anything is going on there that shouldn’t be,” Stefan’s scratchy voice whispered in the still air. “What if we are wrong?”
Jordan sighed. This was an argument he thought squashed days ago when the three-man EcoSave group started the plan to raid the lab. “Listen closely. Even if BioChem isn’t experimenting on Fido and Tabby, we will still be striking out against corporate American greed.”
“Are you sure it’s not just a way to piss your father off? This being his company and all,” Stefan shot back.
Jordan’s upper lip curled into a sneer. Stefan backed away, knowing when his friend was nearing the anger point of no return. Jordan’s anger stemmed less from annoyance than truth of Marco’s words slapping his guilt. The mental sting was as good as a reddened cheek.
The animosity between Jordan and his father was no secret. Darius West, corporate mogul and brilliant scientist, refused to forgive his son for rebuffing the family business. Jordan would never forgive his father for representing the corporate monster he felt was destroying the world.
“Can we just get this over with?” Marco’s weak voice broke into the argument. “I guess I’m ready. Let’s go before I lose my nerve.”
Jordan rolled his eyes. Since high school, Marco never failed to pounce on an opportunity to irritate him. It was a wonder they remained friends for so long. Stefan being part of their group was no surprise. Blessed with endless patience, he in no way offended anyone. He just rode the great wave of life.
As Marco yanked the ski mask over his face, Jordan picked up a duffel bag that lay at his feet. His forearms strained under its weight.
“What’s in the bag, Jordan?” Stefan asked. “I thought we were just setting some animals free.”
Jordan’s left eye twitched. “It’s just some clothes for us to get into when we are done. We can’t be seen running around in black clothes afterwards now can we?” He hoped his friend believed the lie.
Oscar Jensen, Vice-President of the United States, stepped down from the podium to the roar of the crowd. He waved and smiled on his way offstage in a politician’s manner. Secret service men surrounded him to escort him to the waiting limousine.
“I can’t believe they bought all that shit about saving the earth,” he said to no one in particular. His guardians didn’t respond. Their job was to listen, not talk.
His cell rang as the door to the car closed. The caller I.D. told him it was a call he couldn’t ignore.
“Hello, Mr. President.”
“Great job, Oscar. I saw it on CNN. Your delivery was flawless, as usual.”
“It’s nearly the same speech I gave four years ago, Jack. We didn’t follow through with a single one of those promises and it seems unlikely we will this time around.”
Jack Stallworth laughed through the other end of the line. “Does it matter? We got the eco vote last time and I’m sure we will this time, too.”
“Jack, speaking of environmental causes,” Oscar said. “We may have another problem.”
“What kind of problem?”
“It’s Darius West,” Oscar said, a slight pause following. “Or more accurately, his son.”
“The wannabe hippy?”
“Yes. He confronted Darius about animal experimentation and was hot about it.”
“If he only knew what was really going on there.”
“The problem is that this argument came the day after the monkeys were delivered to the lab,” Oscar said. “No one knew about that. There must be a leak at the lab.”
“Damn,” the President hissed. “That’s unacceptable. Domino is getting close to complete. We may finally have a chance to deliver a blow to those terrorist countries and now some kid is about to destroy ten years of work?”
“I’ve sent Steve to deal with it. He should be at the facility by now.” Steve referred to Steve Wilkins, Director of the FBI.
“Keep me posted,” Jack said and hung up.
Gaining access into the compound and its buildings was easy. The safe in his father’s bedroom contained more than the documents about an animal delivery. It also protected the latest bypass codes for the facility’s high-tech security systems.
The moment they walked into the building housing the animals, the three boys knew they had miscalculated. Instead of barking dogs and mewling cats, their ears were overwhelmed with the high-pitched shriek of primates.
“Now what do we do?” Marco asked, his nasal voice barely audible over the din.
“What do you mean? Do what we came to do.”
“Jordan, we can’t release monkeys into the city,” Stefan said. “It would be dangerous.”
“They won’t even be able to leave the compound. Just do it. We’ve come too far to just leave,” Jordan answered. He looked at Marco, challenging him to keep up the argument. Marco moved to the first cage and unlocked it.
“I’ll be right back. There’s something I gotta take care of,” Jordan said as he left through another door, the bag on his shoulder feeling heavier with each step.
He walked in the midst of the circle of buildings that made up West Chemical’s research compound. In its center was a large cylinder that resembled a propane tank; this was his destination.
Placing one hand on its cold metal, he rested the bag beneath it. He unzipped the duffel, revealing a digital device within. Electrical cords spiraled from it into a claylike substance that filled the rest of the bag --- Plastique, the man he bought the explosive from had called it.
He thought he was destroying a harmless chemical. Shampoo, hand soap, and air fresheners were the mainstays of the West enterprise. He may have reconsidered had he known the truth.
Jordan pressed a red button, starting a digital countdown to the end of the world.
Tom Johnson fanned his cards on the table of the small room. “Gin,” he declared and swiped the dollar bills off the table and into the breast pocket of his uniform.
In the gray light of the monitors around them, Jerry Landry stared at the cards in despair. “I almost had you this time, Tom. How the hell do you always win?”
“It’s all about skill, my friend.”
“Luck is the downfall of even the best card play--- what the fuck?” Jerry said, panic in his voice. He leaped to his feet, sending his chair skidding across the floor.
Along the bank of security monitors, chaos ensued. The primates were loose throughout the compound. One monitor showed the cause of the disaster. Three young men in ski masks appeared trapped in the middle of the compound, surrounded by frenzied monkeys.
Tom dialed a number on his cell phone. “Sir, we have a problem at the facility. All the monkeys are loose,” he spoke into the device. He paused to listen to the person at the other end. His response was a crisp, “Yes, sir.”
Jerry looked at him, a silent question in his eyes. He never expected to be forced into actual security work. He took this job because he thought it would just be killing time day after day, maybe chasing off curious kids now and then. This was more than he signed up to do.
“Let’s go,” Tom said, removing his sidearm from its holster. “The boss will be here in ten minutes with the cavalry.”
As Jerry followed his partner out the door, he noticed playing cards sticking out from Tom’s back pocket.
The boys found themselves cornered, their backs against the wall of a building. Around them, the monkeys screamed like banshees. Blood covered most of the creatures from their battle against each other. They bit and clawed as if they encountered mortal enemies.
“What’s wrong with them?” Marco yelled. Tears streamed down his cheeks.
Stefan kicked at one of the primates as it got close to him. His pant leg, already torn by the insane animals, dripped blood, his own and that of the aggressors. “Something has made them crazy. What the hell is your father doing in this place, Jordan?”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Jordan replied. “The company has never used monkeys before.” His once-white shirt was shredded and red. The corpse of one of the monkeys lay at his feet, beaten down by his own bare hands.
Shots rang out above the noise and one by one, the crazed primates fell to the ground, dead.
“Jordan? Is that you?” Darius West’s voice called out.
“Dad? Yes, it’s me and Marco and Stefan,” Jordan cried, his tone weak and desperate. “What’s going on here?”
“What’s going on is you and your friends are in a lot of trouble,” another man spoke.
“Who are you?” Jordan asked.
“I’m Steve Wilkins of the FBI. I’m afraid you boys are under arrest.”
Darius stepped in front of the man. “Steve, don’t you think that’s a bit extreme? I can handle the boy.”
Wilkins called out to the men appearing around them, “Take them into custody. The charge is treason.”
“Treason?” Jordan yelled. “For freeing some monkeys and some fireworks?”
“Fireworks?” Marco and Wilkins asked at the same time.
The boom of the explosives deafened them a moment before encompassing them all in a fireball.
The flames engulfing the compound lit up the D.C. skyline. A cloud rose up from its epicenter, smoke and ash mixing with the most deadly pathogen man had ever known. A virus known to only a few as Domino.
Reverend Jarvis Johnson sat at his kitchen table sipping coffee. On the table in front of him, his morning sermon on world peace through neighborhood unity mocked him.
As he struggled to think of words to influence his flock, a red droplet landed on the paper. He looked up for the cause, finding nothing. He felt a trickle as another drop clung to the tip of his nose and fell beside its brother on the paper.
His vision darkened as an emotion long suppressed welled up inside his brain --- rage. He grabbed the coffee cup and threw it against the wall, shattering it.
“What was that, Jarvis?” his wife called from upstairs. Her voice, fine as crystal when she led the choir, grated on him like broken glass.
He went to the drawer and took hold of a butcher’s cleaver. He went to the stairway.
“Are you okay, Dear?” the glass shards of her voice cut deeper into his conscience, fueling his anger.
“Just fine, Darling,” he answered, the words void of any emotion.
He marched up the steps, murder burning in his eyes like holy fire.
Jenny Tan waited for the passengers to debark from the flight out of Washington, her hands curled into fists on her hips. People grew impatient behind her, tired of the delay.
“It’s been fifteen minutes,” one called out to the attendant. “Why aren’t they out yet?”
Jenny turned to see who talked to her, deciding it must be the man in the suit. He turned away from her glare.
“I’ll go look,” she finally conceded and made to enter the walkway to the plane. Before she got in, though, a single man emerged. Blood streamed from his nostrils, but there was more on his clothes than a nosebleed would cause. He stumbled into the waiting area, the crowd parting to give him room.
Jenny entered the walkway, disappearing from view, as the man continued to flounder on his legs. She emerged moments later, her face white as snow.
“Someone stop him,” she shrieked. “Everyone on the plane is dead. There’s blood everywhere.”
A couple of brave souls moved to restrain the man. He turned on them with an inhuman snarl. They hesitated and he leaped on the first of them, ripping into his jugular vein with his teeth.
The second man, an undercover air marshal, drew a handgun and aimed it at the crazed person. He got off three shots before the stranger was on him. Within moments, he also lay dead.
The stranger from the plane started shooting.
Oscar entered the war room with a grim look on his face. He was the last to arrive at Camp David. Around the table were the President, Secretary of the Defense, the Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, and Dr. Horatio Rand, the brains behind the Domino Virus Project.
“Thank God, you’ve arrived Oscar,” Jack said. “Things have blown out of control.”
“Update me,” Oscar said, determined to remain cool.
The Chairman of the Joints Chief took the lead. “The virus has spread worldwide. Every city in the world is now under siege from its own residents. Beijing, Delhi, and Houston have all launched nukes at neighbors. We expect more to come as the Domino Effect intensifies.”
“What are our options?” the President asked. Oscar suspected Jack already knew the answer.
Dr. Rand stood up. “I’m afraid there’s nothing that can be done.”
“How can we get vaccinations to the infected?” the Secretary of Defense asked.
Dr. Rand’s shoulders slumped as he answered, “There is no cure for Domino. That’s why the project was still ongoing.”
“What do you mean?” Jack asked.
“The toxicity research was completed five years ago. We’ve been studying for a way to stabilize it and a cure since. That’s why it was considered unreasonable to give to the military,” Rand answered. “It’s too dangerous. Darius refused to take on the responsibility of it being unleashed without prejudice.”
“You say the cities,” Oscar interrupted. “What of the rural areas. Places like Camp David?”
“They are reasonably safe. The virus dies after consuming its host as long as it cannot find another before then.”
“So if we can destroy the hosts in the metropolises…” Oscar said, leaving the comment open-ended. He wouldn’t be the one to suggest what needed to happen.
Dr. Rand looked to the floor. “Then the probability for containment is about fifty percent.”
“We don’t have much time, gentlemen,” the President said. “It seems our only option to save the world is to bring on the apocalypse.”
His words hung in the air like the cloud over D.C. that began it all. Nobody spoke and the seconds ticked by like a detonator on a bomb.
“We are prepared to do what must be done, Mr. President. God save us all,” the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said as he crossed himself. Oscar never knew the man to be religious until this moment.
“Here is the ELF transmitter which will send a signal to our submarines. Once you push the button, nothing can stop it,” The Chairman said, handing the electronic device to his boss.
“Then let’s not waste another moment,” Jack said. Everyone left the room except for the President and his Vice.
“Jack, surely there’s another way,” Oscar pleaded. “You are talking about taking responsibility for millions of deaths. Are you ready to do that?”
“Millions have already died, Oscar. There’s no other way,” the President said. His eyes brimmed with tears.
Oscar put his hand on his friend’s shoulder, his only friend in the world. “I’m sorry it’s come to this old friend.”
“I have something for you,” Jack said and reached under the table. He handed Oscar a backpack. The Vice President took it and looked at Jack in confusion.
“What is this?”
Oscar unzipped the bag. There were letters inside, all labeled with names he recognized; names of Jack’s friends and families. He looked up at his friend.
Jack stood there with a gun raised to his temple. “I don’t have what it takes to see this through. I’m sorry I leave you with this burden, Oscar.” The concussion of the blast left Oscar deaf as well as speechless.
Word Count: 2847