Kick the Bucket

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Chapter Six

Moving vehicles and equipment around in suspicious ways when your satellites pass overhead, and, occasionally, escorting frostbitten spies ... excuse me, I meant lost global warming environmentalists and tourists ... to safety, provides our troops much needed relief from their normal boring routines.

Now that my mandatory humorous introductory comments are out of the way, please take the CIA’s assessment of the threat these things pose to my country, your country, and human life in general, back with you: we’re in deep trouble.

Taking into account their steadily increasing frequency of appearance in locations we’ve never encountered them before, and their growing propensity to supplant the human genome with viable random foreign genetic materials ... our ability to solely conceal their activities is quickly coming to an end.

For this reason, among others, high-level meetings between the heads of the United States and Russia will be held shortly. Provided these bureaucrats don’t panic and incinerate the planet, heads of other developed nations will be informed of the situation as needed. And, with any luck, world leaders will be able to put aside their differences and expeditiously craft an effective response before it’s far too late.

Yes, I know, there are better odds I’ll win the lottery three times in a row.

Getting back to your question, we’ve been keeping genetically-suspect personnel and citizenry in a holding facility located in central Oklahoma. In a final flash of brilliance tendered to his superiors shortly before his death by natural causes, our first commanding officer proposed a solution for a then-minor problem. Namely, what to do with a very small number of DE victims who’d survived genetic mutation.

Taking a page from Russian history, he picked the best location and means to organize our very own Potemkin village. And, upon his passing, he was buried in the local cemetery and the town renamed in his honor.

Thus, the town of Sleeper’s Rest, formerly known as Cashion, Oklahoma, came into being.

With an official census never reaching seven hundred, and surrounded by nothing but vast swatches of farmland in all directions, the town’s only claim to fame is the high number of ... supposedly ... retired military personnel living there. Middle age and older folk who are, like most rural Oklahoman’s, family oriented, friendly, hard working ... and distrustful of anybody who threatens their town’s privacy.

And, well beyond the norm, very, very heavily armed.

A classified population tally of all inhabitants stood at seven hundred and eighty six last month. As of two weeks ago, that number went up one more when a mare DE victim successfully gave birth to her second foal. The town’s population total now stands at six hundred and seventy-three humans and one hundred and fourteen ... not so much.

Yugoslav Belinky: Sorry to interrupt, but did you say ... mare?

Able Hartman: That’s correct. While on honeymoon vacation, she and her husband stopped overnight at the motel Colonel Forrest previously mentioned. The night manager was consumed; she and her husband were not. Hotel security cameras recorded the DE attacking them in the parking lot while in transit to their vehicle; presumably to visit a nearby restaurant.

Both were engulfed by the DE’s halo for approximately one minute and forty-two seconds before reappearing as very young yearling quarter horses. Within the mare’s skull is a highly sophisticated and greatly enlarged equine brain. She is remarkably intelligent, and her personality and memories survived with very little change. He was not so fortunate . . . if that’s the right word. Whether out of loyalty to her former husband, or some kind of instinctive carry-over equine behavior, she refuses to leave his side or cooperate further with our veterinary staff if he is euthanized.

Natasha Semenov: What about the ... foals? You did say foals, correct?

Able Hartman: Yes. The first, a filly-foal, born two years ago, exhibits the same enhanced cerebral endowment and metabolic enhancements of her dam. Within a month of birth, the filly-foal underwent a mandatory surgical procedure to ensure she will never successfully reproduce. Aside from that, she is healthy and fully grown.

She is presently in the care of new keepers, and will participate in ongoing studies investigating the enhanced longevity displayed by many highly mutated DE victims, and the majority of their offspring, versus their animal-norm counterparts.

Tests on the second, a colt-foal, born two weeks ago, presently show nothing beyond a genetic baseline norm for the breed. However, as per standing orders, it will be removed and destroyed after rising hormone levels compel his dam to begin work on number three.

The risk of long-term damage to the world’s biological integrity if a reproduction-capable DE victim escapes is incalculable. Whether or not she will be allowed to proceed with any future pregnancies to completion is currently under review.

Oleg Mikhailov: Excuse me, Colonel. I have a security question for Doctor Kelly.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Go right ahead.

Oleg Mikhailov: If these DE’s can alter human DNA with the slightest touch, what countermeasures have been put in place to insure people working here are who, and what, they’re suppose to be?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: After a few unfortunate incidents, anyone having access to our storage vaults has his, or her, DNA scanned on a bi-monthly basis. Our troops in the field undergo the same lab tests every time they’re deployed.

Oleg Mikhailov: Could you please describe some of these ... unfortunate incidents?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: Very well. Ten years ago, and two years later, a lab assistant and security guard, respectively, were accidentally exposed to a DE. In a manner similar to Doctor Everette, both were touched in the performance of their duties. Unlike Doctor Everette, the contacts were neither filmed nor witnessed by anyone else; not even by the victims themselves. Their transformations were exceedingly slow and the initial stages went unnoticed.

Did they become equines, too?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: No. Over a span of three years, the lab assistant’s transformation eventually ended as a child-size high-end mid-stage semi-bipedal, O. cuniculus domesticus. Her personality and memory were mostly expunged during the transformation, and her remaining mental capacity was measured somewhere between a three and four year old human child. She survived from apparent youth in this form until her death by old age in the span of six years; which is the typical longevity of a rabbit of the giant Flemish breed.

Oleg Mikhailov: If it took so long to transform, why didn’t she opt for euthanasia?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: That protocol only became available to victims five years ago. Transformations of this degree are fairly rare. We kept her as comfortable as possible while questions of accelerated aging and possible inter-species procreation were researched. So far, we have no ability to moderate the former, and the latter was inconclusive.

Counter Admiral Sergey Vasiliev: What about the guard ... the soldier? Did he change like that, too?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: Once again, no. It was far worse. The DE that altered his genetic structure destroyed several homes before it was eventually captured inside the shopping mall Colonel Forrest also told you about. One of those homes belonged to a small-time amateur herpetologist and reptile trader.

Out of the apparent kindness of his heart, he’d take common lizards, snakes, and turtles to schools where young children could learn about the importance of animal conservation and habitat lose. He also used the publicity this well-regarded activity provided as cover to travel around the country poaching rare and endangered reptiles from national parks and rural areas. Those he sold using anonymous encrypted dark-web message boards, and illicit private reptile auctions not caring how many poor animals suffered and died in the process.

Personally, I hope the DE took its sweet time melting his face off.

His favorite pet at home was a full-grown water monitor, varanus slavator. At a hundred pounds and eight feet in length, it could easily injure anyone it came in contact with. However, from all accounts, it was a friendly, inquisitive, intelligent, and loyal companion that crawled under his bed to sleep at night and hardly ever left his side. He’d even walk it around the neighborhood on a leash every so often to terrify the local canine population. Its DNA was the one the soldier was exposed to.

Counter Admiral Sergey Vasiliev: Are you saying he became a lizard-man?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: Just the reverse, Admiral. A man-lizard. Almost exclusively, a DE will ... enhance ... human DNA with those of lower animals to one extent or another. It’s a bit like someone customizing motor vehicles with stolen parts.

The end result can be anything from fascinating to bizarre, but never fully original. No matter how much the chop shop tries, the underlying original framework remains for anyone with a discerning eye to see ... or in my case, a fully stocked laboratory and highly trained technicians.

In the case of the guard, there was absolutely nothing left. The DE used his genetic template as a blueprint and programming schematic to create a fully sentient adult reptilian humanoid, and threw everything that was human away.

Using my earlier analogy, it’s like someone melting down a cheap mass-produced automobile into its distinct metal, plastic and silica elements to build a super car that never existed before ... a highly intelligent anthropomorphic seven-foot-tall three hundred and twenty pound long-tailed reptiloid carnivore armed with weapon-grade fangs, claws, and talons; a sentient being that could have appeared on Earth if evolution hadn’t favored synapsids over sauropsids around three hundred million years ago.

Oleg Mikhailov: Can he talk?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: We tried our best, but no. Starting from what was essentially a blank mental slate, he began to produce an astonishing large array of bird and lizard-like vocalizations in under a year. The number and complexity of which increased dramatically as we taught him English, but he never did manage to mimic anything approaching human speech.

That inability did nothing to slow his extraordinary ability to comprehend words and their proper grammatical arrangement. By the time he was two and a half years old, he could memorize dozens of words in a matter of days and understand their variable significance if used in a sentence.

Oleg Mikhailov: Is that common?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: Each case is different. It depends on the degree of change and the DNA donor. With numerous exceptions, the majority of high-level DE victims are limited in their ability to verbalize, or process complex sentence structure. The human central nervous system can only tolerate a minimum amount of alteration before critical areas are negatively compromised, or rendered non-functional.

Oleg Mikhailov: If they can’t talk, how do you communicate with them?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: Our audio-visual lab is well stocked with the latest software and rehabilitation technology to help brain-damaged patients recover from strokes, or who had surgery to repair a cancerous larynx; all of which work just as well with DE victims unable to speak, or who lack any ability to utilize standardized hand signs. And I’d advise anyone here against challenging my staff to a game of charades ... you will lose.

Oleg Mikhailov: You do larynx surgery on DE victims?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: Yes, among many other surgical interventions by our highly skilled teams of veterinary surgeons. You’d be surprised what can be achieved when money is no object, and it’s possible to actually question a patient standing on hooves or paws.

Counter Admiral Sergey Vasiliev: Where is the man-lizard now ... Sleeper’s Rest?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: She ... is dead. Seven years and five months after confinement on the Building Three’s sixth floor, his manner suddenly went from friendly and open to belligerent and territorial. He refused to continue language and general education classes, or even leave his cell except to consume an unprecedented amount of food. A miniaturized x-ray scanner built into his cell’s door was triggered by his sudden weight change, and it detected at least twenty eggs growing rapidly in his swelling abdomen.

Many reptiles are known to procreate, or even change their sex, when kept in isolation. It’s a way nature insures survival of the species when environmental conditions are suboptimal, or a mate is unavailable. This DE victim was no exception. Orders were immediately sent down to eliminate the threat. She, her clutch, her cell, and any other location she might have concealed an egg, were thoroughly examined and incinerated shortly thereafter. There was no other option.

Counter Admiral Sergey Vasiliev: Did you administer euthanasia yourself?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: She could readily identify human facial emotions and body language. I deemed it too dangerous to attempt any form of normal euthanasia.

Counter Admiral Sergey Vasiliev: How did she die?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: Large caliber weapons and immolation by napalm. Some of our troops don’t carry just liquid nitrogen on their backs.

Counter Admiral Sergey Vasiliev: Who were these orders sent to?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: I did my duty, Admiral.

Counter Admiral Sergey Vasiliev: I understand.

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: If nothing else, please take this absolute truth back home with you: we are in a war for survival. There’s little doubt if the Terraformers and Uplifters had functioned as likely intended in the Common Era, humans would be extinct or altered beyond recognition by now. If they’d done so at any point in the prehistoric past, it’s an absolute certainty nothing we’re familiar with would likely exist ... including us.

Water covers a little over seventy percent of the earth’s surface, and there are vast swatches of land rarely, if ever, seen by human eyes. Right this moment armies of reptiloids, or worse, could be gathering somewhere infected with DE mutated species-specific pathogens we have zero resistance to. And food sources on land or sea our populations depend could become poisonous, or vanish, without warning. We are doing the best we can, but the pace is accelerating.

It’s clear our decision to keep other countries out of the loop this long for secrecy and security concerns was ... shortsighted. For what it’s worth, please accept my personal apology. If any of you still wants to gripe about it, go right ahead. I’m sure whatever Roger Corman abomination crawls out of the muck with greater intellect, physically prowess, and utterly ruthless nature than ours, won’t much care about your outrage while its kind hunts the last of us down for food.

Are there any more questions?

Oleg Mikhailov: Could I speak to Doctor Everette before I return home?

Doctor Mary Kelly MD PhD: May I ask why?

Oleg Mikhailov: To deny I’m not scientifically curious would be a lie, but mostly to say good-bye and wish him well as one scientist to another. I can’t even begin to understand the stress he must be going through, and how hard it must have been to meet us ... like that.

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