Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 14


In the days since Skorpio had wrestled the zombie in front of Bank of the Americas, the legend of his physical prowess had grown among his staff. Even some of the more experienced staff had given him the calm approval that amounted to the best reward that any security specialist could hope for. He had even gotten a “good job, Boss” from two of his key people that were the special hires that Smith had personally brought into the bank. Unlike the traditional former cop or straightforward veteran background that most of the financial services security community shared, these two were…different.

Jim “the Kapman” Kaplan was former Special Forces, former Triple Canopy. His appearance was surprisingly unremarkable, neither especially tall nor particularly muscular. On close observation his wrists and forearms seemed unusually thick, and his hands were heavily scarred, like those of a mechanic. Kaplan wasn’t especially talkative but Skorpio noted that he had a quality that cops labeled “cop sense,” a sort of feeling for things that didn’t belong. After he successfully blocked an Occupy activist’s effort to glitter bomb their chairman by somehow seeming to teleport between the target and the security cordon, Skorpio had asked him how he had known that an attack was coming.

“Just a feeling,” Kaplan said with a shrug. After getting the raised “eyebrow” from the security chief Kaplan provided a better explanation. He clearly didn’t like talking about his “skill set.” Or talking at all for that matter.

“His shoes weren’t right and he was carrying his weight on the balls of his feet. Most of the protesters were wearing Chuck Taylors, sneakers or cheap hiking boots. I even saw a pair of green Crocs. The crowds was either dancing around on their toes in order to see over us, or just standing flat footed and shouting. This guy was wearing Salomons, staying on the balls of his feet, leaning forward and panning his head back and forth. So, I tagged him as a potential. There were seven in the crowd. This one had a bag that never left his left hand. Since most people are right handed, it figures that he was going to need to reach into it in order to do something. If he had pulled a gun or a bomb he would have been a tango.”

And wouldn’t that have gone over well if his detail killed an ordinary protester? However, Kaplan had been right and exercised good judgement. No one was shot, and if the glitter bomber had accumulated a painful collection of bruises and abrasions when Kaplan plowed him into the cement, well then fuck him if he couldn’t take a joke.

On that much, Skorpio could agree.

About the same time that Kaplan had been hired, Smith had found another former special operations veteran. Smith had handled this particular hire personally, and apart from a functionally detailed resume that included not one named employer, Skorpio didn’t know much about the second new guy. Usually, bank background checks were more comprehensive than military Top Secret clearances.

Dave “Gravy” Durante’s background came down to “REDACTED. REDACTED. REDACTED…” He graduated from high school in Ohio. No drugs, no priors, lettered in soccer, president of the school computer club. Joined the Army as a communications and computer specialist. Ten years later he was suddenly available for hire. Nothing in between.

Durante was a physically intimidating presence, as tall and broad as Smith, but with unusually long arms, sandy blond hair and a perpetual calm smile. The “new hire” was a physical security specialist. What he didn’t know about breaking and entering a building, including the electronic defenses thereof, wasn’t worth knowing. For all that he was phlegmatic, he also was a surprisingly good writer. The drafts of the Bank’s Physical Security plan were auditable items and Durante’s rough draft had been good enough to pass on the initial round of review–the first time that had happened with any Security and Emergency Response governance documents since Skorpio had been working.

Even though he wasn’t particularly tight with most of the Executive Protection detail, Durante was more than good enough for Skorpio, who made him his deputy for all details in New York.

This morning Skorpio woke up a mild sore throat and a runny nose. By the time he had his second coffee, he was powering through Nasonex in order to keep his sinuses open. A few ibuprofen dealt with his joint aches, because let’s face it, getting old sucks. Visine for the eyes–gotta keep those peepers bright.

After he cleared the morning e-mail it was time for the department head meeting with Smith. The walk to the conference room was blurry. He paused and grabbed a double espresso from the coffee station outside the boardroom and dropped into his seat in one of the bank’s secure conference rooms.

The meeting started and he methodically scribbled some notes, absentmindedly itching his arm.

Damn psoriasis.

* * *

As he prepared to kick off the brief, Smith noticed that a faint, buttery movie theater smell hung about the bank’s virologist.

“Dr. Curry has just delivered an urgent report to the CEO.” Tom wrinkled his nose at the stale odor. “I should note that while Mr. Bateman is aware there is now some source of vaccine, he is…too busy trying to keep everything running to worry about the details.”

Tom looked at the group carefully, waiting for them to process what he’d just said. He’d officially distanced the CEO and the Board from the following discussion. Since it was about how they were going to start murdering people en masse, it was at best a fig leaf but it was a legal fig leaf.

“The basic information is going to be covered here so that the team is clear on our operational situation. I’ll summarize the basics. We understand how the virus is creating two different sets of symptoms, and we have plan to produce a vaccine. Dr. Curry, go ahead.”

Smith motioned to the lab-coated virologist, who stood. Clearing his throat, Curry launched into his remarks.

“There are two salient points that I have to cover right away.” He cleared his throat again. “The first thing is that we have a better understanding of why the disease symptoms presents in two ways.

“The disease, which now has its own classification code, is called H7D3. The H refers to a key protein on the surface of the virus called hemagglutinin. Recall when I described how the virus ignored antvirals such as Tamiflu? This is because those antivirals are designed to block the receptor sites on a cell’s surface and deny the virus any way to access the interior of the cell and then reproduce. The hemagglutinin protein in H7D3 has been engineered with a different geometric configuration. An antiviral designed for the old configuration literally can’t bond to its target. The next piece is the D in the name. It stands for Dual Expression. Well, when H7D3 does access a cell and compromises the synthesis process, it does something utterly new.”

“Expand,” Tom said pointedly.

“It makes two types of virii, a previously unknown mechanism called dual expression,” Curry said with a little side-eye to Tom. He didn’t like to be interrupted in one of his spiels. “The first packet is just another H7D3 virus, which carries on the process, looking for another cell to compromise and spread the disease further, behaving like a seasonal flu virus. The second packet is the one that attacks the victim’s brain and creates the zombie symptoms. It’s also an engineered component, based largely on rabies. It attacks the central nervous system, especially the brain stem and specific brain components, including the frontal lobe and parts of the parietal lobe. These areas are responsible for critical thought, speech, pattern recognition, etc.”

Murmurs greeted this extended explanation. In the Security and Emergency Response team, researching the fundamentals of virology had become even more popular than checking stock prices during working hours. Staff might not have Ph.D.s, but “rabies” was a term they could understand.