Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 20

However, cleanly severing a human neck while keeping the spinal cord intact and connected to the brainstem was surprisingly difficult. They had wasted one “asset” already and their co-opted medical examiner was getting frustrated.

Just getting this far was a technical process that could not be approached in a slapdash fashion. The human neck is packed with a remarkable amount of gristly connective tissue, and it had to be carefully dissected without damaging the all important trophy.

“Look, if you yank too sharply, you’ll just shear the cord–it doesn’t have shit for tensile strength,” the shanghaied medical examiner said, irritated. “Do that and you waste the sample–might as well start over with the next one. What you want to do is sever the connective tissue between the head and the trunk just above the shoulders, leaving a few cervical vertebrae as an anchor point. Once you have it all separated, you can carefully slide the tissue out of the spinal column.”

When the deputy returned to probing the gaping neck wound on the corpse with a large serrated knife, one the cops watching the demonstration turned his head, his stomach spasming.

“For chrissakes, don’t puke on the assets!” the medical examiner said, scolding the cop who had moved too close to the four additional corpses stacked in pairs on the side tables.

Noting the watchers’ discomfort, Dominguez added to the instructor’s comments.

“Also, the other thing is that once you are in this suit, you really, really don’t want to upchuck.” He spoke slowly for clarity and emphasis. “These masks will protect you from the droplet borne virus, but you have to maintain a perfect seal. Puke will clog the intake, it will almost certainly make you choke and it could cause a suit failure if you tear at your own protective equipment in order to try to catch a breath.”

The NIOSH certified full face respirators had been a godsend. When he tried to procure the necessary amount via the department there were already none to be had, but the bank had stockpiled an impressive amount. Now, he owed Smith a rather large favor. These even had two-stage filters, which added only incrementally to the protection but looked impressive as hell and bolstered the confidence of his harvest team.

“As soon as we have the first batch of effective vaccine, you’ll all get the primer,” Dominguez said, trying to reassure his team of students by repeating the terms of their additional duty. “That’ll give you some protection. But for now, you must be very, very careful!”

Ding continued to maintain his hold on the shaggy black hair of the corpse as his partner finished cutting the last bit of connective tissue holding the head to the trunk. His gloves prevented him feeling the hair itself, which was probably for the best. Judging from the condition and smell of the body, this zombie had been a homeless man before H7D3 turned him into another lethal carnivore.

The spinal cord finally slid smoothly free in a rush of fluid, the yellow tissue visibly flecked with red.

“That’s the stuff!” the examiner said, pointing with one gloved finger at the just barely visible red flecks on the neural tissue. “That discoloration is the pay dirt. Handle it carefully to avoid contaminating the specimen.”

“Or yourself,” Ding added. As he stepped to one side to afford the audience a better view, his booted feet squelched. “Lose your breathing protection seal around this much aerosolized blood and you’ll contaminate yourself, earning a one way ticket to becoming the next contestant in a game of…”

The police captain held up the severed head, trailing the all important viral sample.

“…’Organ Donor Card Bingo!'”

While the examiner watched, Ding gestured to his assistant who picked up a specimen bag into which Dominguez slowly lowered the sample, finally snipping the cord free at the base of the skull. He casually dropped the head onto the chest of the corpse while the assistant carefully placed the sealed bag on a bed of ice inside a cooler.

“Good job,” Ding said. His grim smile was plainly visible through the faceplate of his mask. “Got it done. First two volunteers, jock up. Don’t forget the Kevlar gloves–you will want maximum sharps protection. Second pair, move these processed remains into that bin.”

He gestured to a large open wheeled stainless steel bin labeled recycling. “Then we’ll work through the next four stiffs, one per student pair, and then go wrangle some more.”

* * *

“Yes, even during a slow-moving zombie apocalypse, we still have meetings.”

A few tired smiles appeared around the table.

Most of the North American security managers for the bank, as well as some additional hand picked staff, were back in the high-security conference room and the door was closed. One of the fluorescent bulbs flickered distractingly.

Tom Smith was already standing at the head of the table.

“This team, the people actually inside this room, represent the core of the bank security team that will continue to implement Plan Zeus. For those of you unaware of Zeus, we’ll unpack more details during this meeting as well as during subsequent get togethers. Most of you know each other already. As for the rest…”

Tom indicated Brad Depine whose shirt sported dark crescents under his arms despite the air conditioning.

“Mr. Depine has been hand selected by the CEO to provide financial oversight and liquidity as required.” If anything, Depine’s saturnine expression deepened.

“This is Ms. Sophia Smith.” Sophia was a slightly built blonde wearing a cream business suit. She appeared to be ridiculously young to be in a meeting about zombies. “Yes, she is a relation, a niece. As such, she holds my unequivocal trust. She is Dr. Curry’s new assistant, augmenting Kendra.”

Sophia looked tense, but controlled. A few people nodded to her. Next to her was another young woman, built considerably larger, though a family resemblance was evident. She wore utilities, a mostly empty equipment harness and a bored expression.

“Next to Sophia is my second niece, Ms. Faith Smith. Faith will be…working on tasks as assigned.”

The second Ms. Smith exhaled audibly and rolled her eyes.

“Durante will now run the Building Protection team, replacing the late Mr. Skorpio,” Tom continued, picking up the pace. “Kaplan will run the Executive Protection team. We’re suspending most Anti-Fraud operations, all book running for deals in process and delegating foreign travel itinerary reviews to individual travelers. With the spreading nation-state quarantines there are fewer of those anyway. These changes are intended to free up staff for an operations center that will support the collection of raw vaccine ingredients and the manufacture of vaccine. Rune will continue in charge of intel and will manage the ops center.”

Down the table an arm in a pale designer shirt went up.

“No questions yet,” Tome said. “Each of you is a proven, reliable teammate, known to me personally or vouched for by someone I trust. During this meeting, you will be brought all the way in on critical actions needed to assure personal safety, the safety of our families and the survival of the banking system which is funding the efforts to mass produce vaccine and find a cure. The actions we must take are…”

Tom paused and considered his next words carefully.

“…discomforting and extralegal. Discomfort is to be expected. If you are entirely opposed to this course, this is your last chance to leave. Requests for reassignment or resignation made subsequent to this meeting won’t be honored until such time as our plan is ready to launch. This is your last opportunity to depart the platform without penalty. Staying may expose you to legal jeopardy and some personal risk.”

He paused again and waited for several moments. No one moved. Rune, who had been read into the plan for a while, looked around the room as well, pausing briefly as he considered Jones.

“All right,” Smith continued. “All NDAs remain in effect. I consider all you committed to our plan.”

He slowly looked around the room, meeting the eyes of each team member in turn.

“Next, some announcements. The Bank didn’t move fast enough at the start, so we didn’t get our first picks for refuge locations. Some are going to be little farther away than I like. Consequently, I am setting up a study group to identify SAFEs.”