Chapter 1: Friends
They were our two best friends. They were the same age as us, and we had similar ambitions in life. Rhonda and Josh Hamilton were the closest things to family that we had in this godforsaken city. Both Trudy and I were born and raised in the country and loved it there. The clean air and wholesome atmosphere were things that we truly missed. When we dated, we would sit under the stars at night and be awed by the vastness of space. We had agreed that one day we would return to the healthier way of life that the country had to offer.`
Trudy is the love of my life. Through my eyes, she is a most beautiful woman, petite only 5’2”, with the loveliest blonde hair I have ever seen. I’m just an average Joe, you know, average height, average weight, average looks, but boy can I play the guitar! We are here in the big city to make our fortune; something we both felt could not be accomplished in a rural setting.
My name is Peter Borough, Josh and I work for one of the biggest brokerage firms in Boston. That’s how we met. We’re both traders on the stock exchange. It’s a high-pressure job because of the amount of money passing through our hands on a daily basis. Things had been a little crazy at work lately. I guess it was because of all the trouble between China and the free world, but mostly the United States.
The USA defeated North Korea in a war two years ago. China’s official line was that North Korea was warned about flaunting their nuclear ambitions to the world. They even threatened to use them in the USA. China hadn’t approved of the way the USA dealt with North Korea. By the time all was said and done North Korea suffered losses of a million people. North Korea had tried to attack using nuclear missiles but failed miserably. Kim Jong Un, the dictator of North Korea, was assassinated by the generals of his army after they surrendered to the USA.
China became quiet where the USA was concerned.
Since the war, trade with China had been business as usual, but there was still an uneasy tension between the two countries. The markets had anticipated the conflict between North Korea and the states and had become volatile long before war broke out. In fact, the markets had corrected themselves and were back to normal trading levels, much to our delight.
The guys in the office were going to stay late today. It was Friday.
Everyone including Josh and I had to make sure that all the trades from the rest of the week had gone through as scheduled. They ordered a few hundred dollars worth of Chinese food, and five or six veal sandwiches for those of us who didn’t enjoy Chinese, like Josh and I.
We had arranged to meet our wives downtown for drinks and a show after work. After the show, we went to The Four Aces Bar, which is a few blocks from the show. As usual, after one drink the laughter started. We always had a good time when we were with Rhonda and Josh.
It was during this enjoyable evening that Rhonda and Josh broke the news.
They were pregnant after being married for four years. They had decided to try to get pregnant six months ago. We were excited about our friend., What great news.
Josh was a good-looking African American man, very tall about 6’2”, and very fit. Rhonda was a pretty white girl originally from London England. She and Josh had met six years ago while they were vacationing in Aruba. After finding out they both lived in Boston, the die was cast. They continued their relationship on their return home and eventually got married.
Josh and I were back at work again on Monday morning.
We could look forward to another stressful week ahead of us.
On the elevator going up to the office a friend of ours got on.
“Good morning John, how are you?” Josh asked.
“Fine, I guess. I started losing weight though.” John replied
“Hey that’s great John, we were getting a little concerned with how big you were getting,” I replied.
“Well it’s not a diet or anything, I just started losing weight, I have an appointment with my doctor tomorrow,” John said.
“I hope everything is ok John? Josh said with concern.
The elevator doors opened, and there we were back in the thick of it again. Don’t get me wrong; I love my job, I find it very challenging and at the same time very rewarding. Josh feels the same way. We have had many discussions about it. We agree on just about everything when the topic is work.
Every day we walk the same route through the office. We say good morning to the same people each morning. It must be as mundane to them as it is to us. Josh and I have agreed that there is a degree of comfort knowing that our friends are always there to greet us every morning when we walk in. But something was different.
“Did you see Grant, it looks like he’s dying his hair, it seems a shade darker to me, did you notice?” I asked Josh.
“You know I did notice, that’s, weird eh?” Josh replied.
A few steps later,
“Did you notice how Sol’s beard looks thin, it used to be so thick?” asked Josh.
“No, I didn’t notice that,” I replied
We arrived at our desks and settled into our daily routine. Josh’s was about ten desks or workstations away from mine. He was still close enough that we could visit whenever we wanted.
Something was going on. Something you just couldn’t put your finger on, but you knew it was there. I tried all day to classify my concerns but just couldn’t come up with it.
I discussed it with Josh on the way to our cars after work. He agreed with me. He had felt the same thing and was unable to come up with what it was. We decided to compare notes at the end of every day for the next while until we uncovered what was going on.
When I got home, Trudy was on the phone talking with Rhonda. They were talking the way people do when their spreading rumors. So I went to the fridge and got a beer. Then I headed to the balcony to relax. We were on the tenth floor of our condo building and had a beautiful view of the area. Our unit faced west so we could watch the sunsets every evening if we weren’t too busy.
Trudy ended her phone call, grabbed a glass of wine she had poured earlier and come out to join me.
“How is Rhonda today?” I asked
“She’s fine, I think,” said Trudy
“You think?” I said questioningly
“Well, she was a little upset with a friend of hers at work. “ Trudy said
“Oh why, what happened? I asked
Trudy went on to tell me that Rhonda’s friend, named Ali, had gone to a tanning spa without telling her. Then she denied it when Rhonda questioned her about it. Rhonda told me that Ali insisted that she had not gone tanning. Rhonda said to me that Ali’s skin was always so fair that she had to be careful when in the sun. She had to put on lots of sunblock. Rhonda said her skin had a yellowish hew to it now as if tanned. Ali had always been a terrific friend to Rhonda. The two had always been very close.
I told Trudy that was odd. Then I told her about what happened at work. The feelings that Josh and I had by the end of the day. Like something was wrong, but you just couldn’t put your finger on it. Trudy and I dismissed the day’s events as “just one of those things" and continued with the evening.
On the news that night there was a piece they did on the deteriorating relations between the USA and China. The more I listened, the more I became concerned. It was the same sort of rhetoric countries used to offend other nations. No threats were being used by either state, not obvious ones anyway. Just another thing to worry about I guess.
The rest of the week went by with more unusual incidents surfacing. More things that were small but odd enough for Josh and me to take notice. John, from work, had been to the doctor and walked away with a clean bill of health. He was still losing weight though. The doctor told him that he didn’t want him going under one hundred and ninety-five pounds. If he got close to that weight, he was to come back so he could refer him to a specialist.
Grant’s hair kept getting darker and thinner. Convincing everyone that he was dying it. Sol’s beard was all but gone. What in hell was going on?
Friday rolled around, and the office worked late again. The Chinese food and veal sandwiches had been ordered. The guys at work were all displaying some kind change whether it was their hair color, or their complexion getting darker. They all seemed to be losing weight, everyone but Josh and I.
After work, we met the girls again for drinks at The Four Aces. Before long we were laughing and having a good time. Rhonda was drinking virgin Pina Coladas, because of her delicate condition.
“I guess that’s how you’ll tell me your pregnant Trudy when you stop drinking wine,” I said
“Are you saying I’m a wino, dear?” Trudy fired back.
“Oh no honey, I’d never say that about you, but our liquor bill is a little high,” I said jokingly.
As the evening wore on Trudy reminded me of her friend Ali. Trudy said she must have been going to the tanning beds more often because her skin tone has changed. She is a lot darker now but still refuses to admit she’s going to the spa. It’s very odd.
Josh spoke up to comment on how things were turning into a freak show at our office.
“It wasn’t just one or two people anymore, but just about everybody was somehow changing, except Peter and I.” Said Josh, It’s almost eerie.
“I agree, if it wasn’t people losing weight, then their hair was getting thin and lighter” I commented.
“It must be something in the water; maybe we’re being poisoned,” I said sarcastically.
“It’s our crooked government again; I wonder what they’re doing now, I wouldn’t put anything past them,” Josh said
“Maybe they’re planning another 911 event, and kill off another few thousand good Americans,” I said with disgust.
That started a whole debated on the government and conspiracy theories, which lasted over an hour. At the end of the evening, we all agreed that something was going on. We were going to pay more attention for the next week and then compare notes again on the following Friday.
During the next week relations between China and the USA had deteriorated further. The rhetoric between the two countries had become more threatening. I thought to myself that if anything did happen between China and the USA, Boston was probably one of the targets identified by China that could be bombed. I didn’t want the four of us to become casualties.
Trudy and I would have to have somewhere to flee to in the event of a war breaking out. At some point, I was going to talk to Josh about it. We would try to come up with an evacuation plan should things get any worse.
The next week went by quickly. Josh and I found our selves ordering veal sandwiches again on the Friday overtime session. The week had been fascinating to the point where Josh and I felt uncomfortable at work. It seemed everyone around us was changing in some small way; most just started looking sickly. Josh and I couldn’t wait to discuss the subject again with our wives.
Later that day the four of us were seated at The Four Aces bar. This time it was different. The girls were acting strange, to the point of concerning Josh and me.
“Ok, what’s going on, you two, why are you so quiet tonight, Rhonda is everything ok with the baby?” I asked with concern.
“Yes, the baby’s fine,” Rhonda, replied as if doubting her own words.
“Then what’s wrong?” Josh said strongly.
“Rhonda and I have been talking on the phone while at work, as you know we rarely do that,” Trudy replied.
“We are scared; we are afraid something is going to happen,” Rhonda exclaimed.
“What the hell do you mean?” I said thinking something was wrong at work.
“Things are happening at work, or even on the street, just about everywhere you go,” said Trudy
“You know something, they’re right. Come on Peter you and I have both seen it at work.” Josh said excitedly.
It took an hour for us to nail this one down. How some people’s hair was getting lighter, how a lot of people were losing weight and looked almost ill. Even their complexion was changing. It seemed to be getting darker or yellowish virtually like jaundice. But why was this happening?
The four of us agreed that it was happening. Now we had to try and figure out how and why.
“Maybe it’s got to do with the problems between the USA and China,” I said
Suddenly, a man in the next both leaned over the top of the booth and said
“Sorry, I just can’t help myself I have to speak up.” Said the stranger.
“You’re right; something is going on. I work for the Federal government and the word is that we are under attack as we speak.” The stranger went on to say.
“What do you mean?” Josh said
“First of all, you people are in the minority of people that have noticed the changes that are going on. Most people are just not seeing it. And I might add it’s getting worse.” The stranger said. We invited the stranger and his wife to our booth. We wanted to get to the bottom of this right here and now. It was a relief though knowing that there was something, in fact, going on, that it wasn’t our imaginations.
The stranger introduced himself as Henry and his wife was Irene. Henry went on to say that this began before the trouble between the USA and China started up. Just after the Americans bombed North Korea, his office had been made aware of a plot by China to take over the USA. The details of the plan were sketchy at first but as time went on it was clear what they had started doing.
“But why are you telling us, and what position do you hold? Won’t you get into some trouble for telling us what must be classified information?” I said
“I’m a supervisor with Homeland Security,” Henry said
“I’m only talking to you about it because no one else see’s it. I have had many discussions with my team. They all agree with me that the threat is real, but nobody sees it, until now.” Henry said in frustration.
Henry went on to explain the following. Since the USA bombed North Korea with small nuclear devices, China has been trying to infiltrate our society. We don’t know how they’re doing it, but they are. You’re not the only ones who have noticed that people are becoming ill-looking. It’s not your imagination. We are looking for citizens who have seen the changes taking place. I must ask you though to keep it to yourselves for now until we can verify it.
“But how in hell could they make people ill?” I asked
“That’s impossible, isn’t it?” Rhonda asked
There is only one way that we know of to alter the physical well being of any person; Henry went on to say. That’s with genetically modified food. If the Chinese introduced a strain of food grown using some mutant gene, and these genes were associated closely with the genes of toxic food products. Then it’s possible to turn food poisonous, according to the scientists. The poison in the food would be virtually undetectable and would only become toxic after ingesting the food over an extended period. The poison would affect people in different ways. Some people become gaunt looking with a yellowish hew to the tone of their skin. Others lose their hair, or it changes color. All the while most people would feel just the way always have, with no side effects. Until it’s too late, that is.
At this point, we haven’t a clue as to how they are doing it. The Chinese could introduce it through our water system, or our food. But we just don’t know.
Peter I’m going to give you my card. I would appreciate it if you could call me and let me know what else the four of you have noticed over the next week. Until we get to the bottom of it, please talk to no one about it. If I were you, I would have a plan just in case you have to leave the city in a hurry. We have to go now. I look forward to hearing from you.
With that said Henry and Irene got up and left.
“Well, isn’t that a kick in the teeth.” Said Josh.
“Do you think he’s full of it?” Rhonda asked with concern.
“Well there is no denying it, something is going on. Do we all agree on that?” I said
Everyone shook their head and mumbled in the affirmative.
“Then if we all agree on that, it doesn’t matter if Henry is full of it or not,” I said.
“The fact of the matter is that we are at war with China. So I think we should discuss what our plan should be. What do you think Josh?” I asked.
Josh thought for a moment and then went on to set out the following observations. First, we should think of our families. Both my people and Rhonda’s people live in Canada. That’s far enough away that if something were to happen here in Boston, it would not affect them. Secondly, we have to decide whether this is a credible threat to our well being. If it is, then we must have a plan as Henry said.
I own about one hundred acres of land in Canada. It’s not much but there is an excellent house on the property, and it would be big enough for the four of us. It’s about seven hundred miles from here and would take two or three days to get there. You are our best friends; Ronda and I would like you to join us.
“That sounds like a good plan, and thank you so much for including Trudy and me,” I said.
Trudy told Rhonda and Josh that both of our parents lived in farm country and were hundreds of miles from Boston, she was sure they would be all right.
I assume that you’re suggesting that we try to liquidate everything we own and quit our jobs then?
“How and when would we do this?” Trudy asked.