Tuesday, April 10, 2012


President Dobbs looked a lot cheerier than he felt. Or ever was, for that matter. Cursed or blessed with cherub cheeks, Kris Kringle laugh lines, merry eyes and just enough fat to make him look honest, he gave off an aura of accessibility and friendly empathy.
“Shut the fuck up for one goddamned minute, for Christ’s sake, and let me see if I got this straight!” 

The bureaucratic murmuring stopped, treating Dobbs to a blessed moment of silence. They were in the “War Room,” as his predecessors had named it. Although these days war was more the norm than the exception and he thought it na├»ve to keep the name limited to the one room. Two of the walls had large maps of the world, mostly for show these days. Two huge television screens made up the third and fourth walls. There were no windows.

Taking up both screens at the moment was Mother Earth herself, seen in all her glory from a whole bunch of miles away and Dobbs was hard pressed to think of anything he could care less of a shit about.

“A satellite has left orbit and is going to crash somewhere –

“Not the satellite sir, just its payload.” Paul Reinman, NASA geek extraordinaire, continued. “What I mean, Mr. President, is that the satellite itself is still in a stable orbit. It’s the detachable pod with -- “

“I know what you mean, Paul,” Dobbs interrupted right back. The thing’s crashing into earth as we speak, so I think calling it fucking ‘detachable’ is a bit redundant. Now, if you don’t mind?” For a second Reinman looked like he was actually going to continue, but thought better of it at the last instant.

Thank you, Jesus.“ A pod has detached itself – don’t say it, Paul -- and is going to crash somewhere in the Continental U.S., three weeks from today.”
Stop the presses; Dr. Reinman had something to add. “Yes Paul?”

“The pod itself won’t be entering the atmosphere for months. It’s the pod’s contents that will be making landfall in three weeks."

“Paul, does the fact that it's the pod’s contents, rather than the pod itself, plummeting to earth, even as you interrupt me, decrease the chances of millions dying before Thanksgiving?”

Dr. Reinman glanced around the room looking for a sympathetic face and found none. “No Sir.”

“Then please, shut the fuck up and let me continue. Thank you.” The President shut his eyes for a moment and took a calming breath.." A goddamned detachable pod has detached itself from a goddamned satellite and it’s going to shit the apocalypse all over the goddamned U.S. of fucking A. Does that about sum it up gentleman?" Proving that the DNA pool of the Tea Party was shallow but not empty, the room remained silent. “I’m in office for six months and today I wake up in a Michael Criteon novel,” he muttered.  “Tom!”
Defense secretary Thomas Manzo looked up from his papers. He was older, fatter and much less cheery looking that Dobbs.

“Mr. President. Back in 1982, the CIA, as well as NSA, received credible information that Saddam Hussien had obtained various biological agents of weapon grade quality. Anthrax, small pox, Ebola-C, and others.”

“Didn’t he obtain those from us?”

“Yes sir. Which is why we had little trouble verifying the information,” Tom continued. “At the time the administration felt that Saddam Hussein was a reliable ally, but he later proved to be difficult.”

Dobbs raised his eyebrows. “Ya think?”

“Yes sir. Under a ‘non-existing’ Executive Directive, President Clinton approved funding for continued R&D on a few biological weapons, despite the 1972 ban on developing, producing and stockpiling biological and Toxin weapons.”

Dobbs rolled his eyes. “Thank you for that legal opinion, counseler. Get on with it.”

“Yes sir. The result was Zygote3. A relatively hardy bacteria that thrives on inert material until introduced into a living host. It can remain dormant for excessive periods of time and needs only oxygen and hemoglobin to reproduce, which it does at an extraordinary rate –

“Blah blah blah. I read the back of the cereal box. It alters the cell structure of animals, turning them “inert,” but mobile. Now listen to me very carefully, Tom. What, the fuck, does that mean?”

“Yes Mr. President. What it means, sir, is that once infected, the body ceases to live but doesn’t die. Not exactly. That is, it continues to move in order to hunt. Zygote3 kills the host, but it needs living tissue to thrive. So the host is preserved to the extent that it’s able to hunt and ingest living tissue. When the host attacks a living organism, the tissue, once ingested, provides the bacteria what it needs to thrive and the organism that was bitten becomes infected.

“Fine,” Dobbs interrupted. Sounds like a lot of work to kill a few enemies, but whatever. So now this stuff is headed to earth. How much?”

“Twelve hundred nodes, sir.”

“That sounds like a lot,” Dobbs growled.

“Sir. In order for Z-3 to be effective, it needs to be in a living host. I know 1,200 sounds like a lot, but the chances of any of these hitting a living organism are slim to none. Assuming any even survive re-entry.”


“Yes sir.”

“Now the bad news.”

“Yes sir. It’s going to be very difficult to retrieve all – or any – of the bacteria nodes, because they were encased in what for all purposes looks like a small rock. I mean, they are perfectly round so there's no mistaking them for actual rocks, but imagine trying to find 1,200 gray marbles scattered throughout the United States and you have an idea of the enormity of the task.”

Dobbs shut his eyes again. “Super. How long will the virus remain active without a host?”

“Well, we don’t know sir. All samples were put in orbit before tests were completed. The thinking at the time was – well, I’m not clear on exactly what the thinking was, sir.”

“Great. Okay. Assume we win the apocalyptic lotto and one or more people become infected. How fast can or will this thing spread?”

Tom Manzo cleared his throat. “Again, sir, we can’t be sure. It only spreads by direct contact and that’s not an effective method of transfer. It was designed to terrify as much as kill. But if we catch a bad break and don’t contain it in time, it could be severe. Possible projections are in the synopsis.”

Dobbs glanced at the paper, again. “Yay. So. Possible plague of biblical proportions forcasted for Thanksgiving, but football season and turkey continue to remain likely.

“Yes sir.”

“Could be worse.”