Montgomery County, Maryland
0532 Hours Quebec
Stalking silently through the forest undergrowth, Zachary Hartigan scanned left and right, searching for his prey. He’d been stalking him for the better part of three hours and wasn’t going to let him slip through his fingers now. As he crept forward, a flicker of movement in his periphery alerted him – his prey’s final, and fatal, mistake. Drawing back the string on his bow, he zeroed in on his prize as the whitetail stag munched contentedly on the grass in the small clearing. The deer was a beautiful specimen, the finest Hartigan had seen since the bow season opened, and he fought a rising tremor of excitement as he steadied his aim.
Just then, the cell phone in his vest buzzed and vibrated. Startled, the stag bolted away in long, graceful strides. Hartigan cursed, but as Vice President of the United States, he had to be reachable whenever, no matter where he was. Releasing the tension in his bow, he plucked the phone out of his vest pocket and glared down at the screen to see who had just cost him his trophy. His eyebrows arched as he recognized the name of a man he hadn’t seen in years, nor heard from in just about as long.
“James!” He answered jovially for the caller’s benefit, “Lovely to hear from you but you really couldn’t have picked a worse time to call me. I had an eight-point buck all lined up until you startled it away!”
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Vice President,” James McCullen’s voice answered with undue emphasis on his title. “But here I was sitting and thinking to myself, it’s been so long since I’ve heard me old pal Zach’s voice and I just can’t bear the thought of another second without it.”
Hartigan laughed. “Don’t pull that crap with me, James. It’s been almost a decade since I left M.A.R.S. for Capitol Hill and you’ve never called me since. I only get an obligatory card at Christmas time. No, I know you too well, James. You want something from me, don’t you?”
McCullen laughed too. “Alright, you got me,” he admitted, “But actually, it’s not me who wants something, it’s my niece. She’s doing a project for biology class, something about the role of DNA in screening for hereditary diseases. Anyway, she’s trying to collect hair samples from important people all over the world, and was wondering if maybe you and the President would humor her.”
“Well, okay, I’m game and I’ll see what the Big Man says,” Hartigan agreed, “But I’m still a bit sore about losing that buck.”
“Tell you what,” McCullen said, “If you can talk to the President, I’ll see to it you get a case of Glenfiddich along with that Christmas card this year.”
Hartigan grinned. “Now, that’s more like it! Alright, it’s a deal. Talk soon, James.”
“Thanks, Zach. Take care.”
* * *
0600 Hours Tango
The briefing room felt especially empty as Team Two filed in and took their customary seats in preparation for Abernathy’s mission brief. Technically, they were the new Team One, but out of respect for their peers, hadn’t switched over yet. The unspoken rule called for at least a month before anyone could occupy those chairs again, even if it meant having to stand in the aisle until then – not that it mattered much right now. With half of their operational strength suddenly wiped out, there was plenty of room.
Abernathy entered and started the briefing without ceremony.
“This latest attack proves that we’re no longer dealing with just a rogue PMC,” he said. “The money and resources needed to pull off an ambush of that magnitude and complexity is far beyond the reach of COBRA. They’re getting help from someone big and it’s your job to find out who that is.
“I’ve arranged for you to borrow a C-17 Globemaster III from the 21st Airlift Squadron, 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base. It should be gassed up and ready to go by the time you get there. Our own pilots, Captain Armbruster and Lieutenant Boyajian, will do the flying so you can talk freely once you’re en route.”
He studied the seated soldiers carefully. “One last thing. I know that the pain of losing your comrades still has yet to subside. I know the wounds are still fresh. But one thing we aren’t out for is revenge. Remember that our primary objective is the recovery of the stolen Marburg virus. Now, you’re all professionals, so I feel a little silly for having to even mention this, but even I have trouble staying focused sometimes. So, remember our mission. Remember the world is counting on you. Good luck. Dismissed.”
* * *
M.A.R.S. Industries High-Security Research Facility
1320 Hours Zulu
“I understand you wanted to speak with me, Doctor?” the hooded man rasped.
“Er, yes,” Sinnesbieger stammered nervously. “I have a request. Er, a small request, and it’s most definitely related to the work you have me doing. It’s nothing too extravagant, I assure you, but is quite necessary to the suc–”
“Out with it, Doctor,” the man interrupted.
“Ah, yes, of course,” Sinnesbieger said and cleared his throat. “I need access to a parallelized high-throughput full genome sequencer.”
The man blinked. “To do… What, exactly?”
“Um, well, you see,” Sinnesbieger began, unconsciously shifting into lecture mode, “A virus infects a person by first identifying and bonding with the proteins and sugar molecules which are exposed on the cell surfaces in the person’s blood. Then, through a process known as endocytosis, the virus gets absorbed into the cell itself where it rapidly begins to incorporate its own genetic material into the host cell’s DNA. From there, the cell begins to replicate the virus’ DNA thinking that it is its own and eventually, it gets too busy replicating the virus to tend to any of its own natural processes. That is when the cell dies and bursts open, releasing the virus to infect other surrounding cells. Now, in order for me to do what you want and make a virus that only targets one specific individual, I would have to engineer the virus so that it only integrates its DNA with a certain region of the host cell’s DNA, preferably a region that is found only in the person you wish to target. In order to find a suitable region, I would need to have access to the target’s complete genome – a road map, if you will, of his or her genetic makeup. Unfortunately, genome sequencing is still quite new and very expensive, so very few people have a copy of their own makeup.”
There was a long silence as the hooded man tried to digest the information dump that Sinnesbieger had unloaded on him. Finally, he seemed to give up.
“And that’s why you need this sequencer?” He asked.
“Yes, unless you can provide me with a copy of your victim’s genome,” Sinnesbieger said.
“I see,” the man said. “Well, where can we find such a sequencer?”
Sinnesbieger couldn’t believe this was going as well as it was. “Seine Biosciences SA in Paris has developed one that looks quite promising… Leaps and bounds ahead of their next leading competitor. They are a top contender for the Archon X Prize.”
The man nodded. “Very well. I will arrange to have it brought here.”
He turned to leave.
Sinnesbieger held up a finger. He hadn’t intended to suggest that they steal the sequencer… But on second thought, backing down now would probably raise some questions he didn’t want to answer.
“You must keep in mind that this is an extremely delicate piece of machinery we are talking about,” he said carefully. “Jar it just so and you could easily render the entire device useless!”
Another long silence as the man considered the information.
“Very well,” he said finally, “You’ll come along to supervise the handling. But your daughter remains here as insurance that you won’t try to escape. I hope I don’t need to remind you what happens if you do.”
“No, I believe we have a complete understanding,” Sinnesbieger said.
* * *
Last edited by tammer
on Fri Aug 28, 2009 11:10 am, edited 3 times in total.