Every Thought, Every Motion
She sent him to an island in the Antarctic so small and remote only a handful of intelligence agencies knew about it. The rock had been developed into a full biosafety level four laboratory by an organization even more clandestine than the one he belonged to. Grim had known about the lab for some time and let it be, because according to her, it was better to know what went on there than close it down and scare its backers into hiding.
But a third party found the island and wanted its deadly treasure for itself. Weaponized virus strains weren’t easy to make and didn’t come cheap, much easier to take those synthesized by others. Someone was about to hit the island, Grim got a call on her personal phone in the middle of the night, and then she sent him there to download and wipe the data files so at least the lab protocols weren’t stolen.
The cold, plastic-tiled floor shivered with the gusts from the Antarctic gale outside and held only a few bodies in yellow coveralls, along with smears of fresh blood and bullet casings from the constellations of automatic fire that scarred the walls. No scientists in white lab coats or squeaky hazmat suits, and his instincts told him there would be none.
He turned to make his way to the data terminals to check if the firewalls had held and he could still make off with the goods, when a simple, unexpected joy hit him. It tingled through his head and made every thought a pleasure, every motion bliss. Electrical impulses, action potentials, stirring of the nerves and muscles, yet at their heart, joy, only joy, simply for existing, for being at all. He had never felt anything like it, but it seemed common and natural, like the snow and ice outside, and it was calming instead of stirring, hidden in plain sight.
He couldn’t say what had started it. The still openness between the walls and the floor and his body? The howls from the Antarctic wind outside? The knowledge that his heart was the only human one beating more than a hundred kilometers out? After the initial sparks, he expected the joy to fade, but it kept going and going, glints of happiness in his body, yet not interfering with thinking, talking, moving.
“What do you mean there’s no one there?” Grim said via the subdermal speaker and microphone beneath his ear, the tone of her voice skirting but not having crossing the edge of annoyance right yet.
“Only corpses here now,” he said. “Seems most of the scientists have been abducted.”
“The lab protocols, Sam!” she replied. “Get the DNA sequences and we can ponder about the scientists then.” Now she was audibly annoyed at his slowness, mental as well as physical, which she probably interpreted as resistance for having sent him there in the first place. That tone used to nip at him, but now he only laughed into the microphone.
“All right, Grim,” he said.
She cut the comms.
Still inside the joy, he moved quickly and quietly through the cold, barren corridor, past a row of humming, refrigerated steel doors labeled “BSL-4 Biohazard,” into the sterile, white labs. Four five-thousand-liter liquid nitrogen tanks were lined up against the wall, the tubes that fed them thick with insulation against the extreme chill of the coolant. The third vat was open and breathing ice crystals into the air. He was glad he had loaded out with a virus filter in the mask. The power was still on, so the tank might freeze again. He pushed the lid shut, holding his breath just in case.
In the next room were several desks exhibiting small monitors, microscopes, trays of blue-capped test tubes and one-milliliter plastic containers, dispensers of brightly colored tape, along with rows of white cabinets and shelves. In the corner of the lab stood a series of polymerase chain reaction machines, their heating lids made from a dense, speckled-green material that resembled granite. Even in the room’s blank sterility and anonymous secretiveness, everything looked remarkable, alive, and his joy continued to flow, without him having any particular reason to be happy.
He vaulted over the fake-granite PCR machines while he chuckled to himself behind the mask, and quickly passed two stacks of neon-yellow plastic crates adorned with the three-horned symbol for biologically hazardous material on the way to the next room. Grim could probably hear him, maybe Charlie and Briggs too. They could even read his heart rate and blood pressure, as well as the oxygen saturation of his blood. The technology Grim had put together was like a wearable physician, and almost as invasive, but now he didn’t care.
A multicolored poster displayed and explained various hazard symbols, another told him that eye protection was to be worn at all times. He pointed at his trifocal night vision goggles. On the opposite wall was a lightbox with electron micrographs of viral structures taped to its glowing surface. The viruses were spherical, some kind of flu strain? At least they didn’t have the elongated, worm-like shape typical of hemorrhagic fever. He scanned them for Grim. She didn’t say a word.
In the final room an orange, rocket-shaped device hung suspended from the ceiling, ready to be filled with weaponized virus, seeding death to the other continents. He scanned everything, including the data terminal and monitor in the corner.
“That’s what we want, Sam,” Grim said. “Now hack the terminal.”
“Copy that,” he said, but couldn’t keep the smile out of his voice. She didn’t reply, probably thought he was laughing at her. “They never launched the device, but some samples are missing. I think they might have taken them with them.”
“Dammit,” Grim said. “Well, it shouldn’t be too difficult to track them and the scientists down. That number of people abducted, and such virulent strains of virus, have to leave a trail. And not many places to go from there.”
I know the feeling, he thought. “Affirmative,” he said, and connected his OPSAT link to terminal so Charlie could break into the virus vault’s network and empty its contents.
When the hack was finished just a few minutes later, Grim told him: “You’re go for extraction. And whatever’s jumping in your pants, Sam, I suggest you leave behind.”
This time he didn’t suppress his laughter.
He took the fast route out, over the cabinets, through the ceiling, and up a ladder to the snow-slick helipad on the roof. The air was drier and colder than anything he had felt before, even in Siberia. There the winter was freezing, buffeting, but here, in the Antarctic, the air was a blade that didn’t even need to move quickly to hurt.
He pulled the sharp air in through the filter in his mask, heard the plastic creak from the cold. In the distance the surrounding peaks were nearly all white, only their most wind-worn and steepest parts, running like dark gashes along their sides, were free of snow. The bay glittered with sea ice. Where the ocean met the sky, half hidden behind quickly gathering clouds, the Antarctic sun burned a pale, pure pink.
It felt like the brightness of the dusk slanted in through the top of his head and from there into his mind and body, like illumination from a skylight. He nearly dropped to his knees, but made do with leaning into the railing that bounded the roof of the facility. Grim had clearly delayed the helicopter, probably to “cool him down.” But even that tickled him.
Whatever dangerous and inconvenient places she would send him to next, that hijacked particle accelerator, the dirty uranium mine in Africa, the drug cartel mansion they had been keeping an eye on for so long, he knew he didn’t have to do it. He didn’t have do to anything. But he also knew he would go there nevertheless and without a doubt, to those places and the next, until his story ended. He smiled to himself and enjoyed the sight of the cold sun sinking into the sea.