They were supposed to be greeted by bombs and bullets as soon as they hit the shore, but what they found instead was something no one could have predicted. With their ship sunk and no rescue crews forthcoming, the only way off the island is to venture deeper into a mystery from the past, a mystery that might have the power to change the whole war. If they can escape, that is.
There's a quiet drip, drip, drip pecking at the air, ticking metronomically from some distant room like one of those old-timey pocket watches. Under any other circumstances, it would probably be somewhat soothing, somewhat tranquilizing, but combined with everything else—the dank rooms, the smell of stagnant sea water, that same persistent feeling of being watched—I’m left feeling disquieted and off-center. I readjust the FANG on my back and take a deep breath, forcing myself not to gag on the smell.
“Last…date that went poorly,” Boot says, his voice echoing off the laboratory’s tile walls.
“Ah, haha, I’m sitting this one out,” Lena replies, her eyes and nose partially illuminated by her helmet lights. I chuckle to myself and shuffle through some graduated cylinders inside a chemistry furnace, causing them to clink around like a set of wind chimes.
“Okay, it was two weeks before we shipped out,” Emma begins. “I had just met this guy at a bar, gave him my number, he called me and asked me to coffee the next day. So, we're having breakfast at L'Haricot, and this dude can't stop talking about his last girlfriend. It was all Rachel would have liked this and that was Rachel's favorite show, too. Honestly, it felt like I was a home wrecker or something. The way this guy talked about her it was like they were married or something. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to see our shipping orders come in the next day. I told him he could write to me if he wanted, but I never gave him my network address. Haven't heard from him since."
"Ooo, that's cold," I say, laughing with the others.
"You guys kidding me? Okay, I'm back in," Lena says.
A light moves across the room as Emma turns to her. "What, trouble in paradise? Dag only get you a half dozen flowers instead of splurging for the full dozen?"
Lena turns to her with a sarcastic expression. "He'd never even consider such a disgraceful transgression. No, this was just before I met Dag. I was wrapping up my sophomore year of college, looking for someone fun, someone quick, you know? Nothing too serious, since I was going home for the summer. Anyways, this guy comes along, sits next to me in the library as I'm studying for finals, and asks me out to go see Thalia."
"Jeez, that movie came out when you were in college? I think I was still in my seventh year."
"Shut up, Boot. No one asked you. Anyways, I think the moment that alarms started going off was when he showed up at my apartment in his mother's car, with his mother driving."
"Oh!" we all yell in collective disgust.
Lena raises her hand and nods. "That's not even the worst part. I thought I'd keep an open mind and just ignore the ride over—maybe the kid was just poor, what starving student isn't—but then when we got to the theater, his mom parked the car, got out, and came along with us! The dude said they'd been wanting to see the movie for months, and he didn't want to hurt her feelings and see it without her."
We're dying laughing on the floor by the end, and I have to hold onto the lab counter for support. "Hurt her feelings!" I wheeze, wiping a tear from my eyes.
Emma shakes her head and turns to a computer along the wall. "So, what happened between you two? Sounded so promising!"
"Yeah, the two of them were talking to each other the whole time, so they hardly noticed me get up and leave about halfway through."
"Alright, you might win this one unless Boot's got something better."
"I don't know, I mean there was this one girl—"
"Hey guys, come here," Emma says, cutting Noah short. The computer in front of her has come to life, glowing a faint blue color, with an array of technical looking documents open on the desktop. We pause what we're doing, which isn't much at this point, and gather around Emma. She sorts through the open pages, sweeping aside network browsers and notebooks, finally settling on one official looking document with the Panamerican seal on it.
"Should we call this in?" I ask as my eyes wander the screen.
"Can't. No radio," Lena reminds me.
"We'll take record and give Tuttles the geo tag," Emma says. She presses the record tab on her helmet, then scrolls to the top of the document and begins reading:
Program Execution Plan
The purpose of this document is to provide system-level objectives for the Grassroots project and establish protocol for executing activities according to the Defense Capabilities Document, signed 8 November 2177 by the Panamerican Defense Council. Although Grassroots is a joint endeavor, the office of primary responsibility will rest with the Naval Bureau of Emerging Technology (NBET).
On 6 June 2177, the PDC recognized a capabilities gap in human cellular manipulation consistent with emerging threats from the Northern European Coalition. In response, the Council authorized a fact finding operation, and established the Panamerican Grassroots Program Office. The program aims to address several key capability objectives. The first and primary objective is to manipulate human cellular regeneration by prompting organically occurring cues, and by coding pathways between energy-supplying organelles and regenerative processes. This will be accomplished through the injection of coded enzymes and repurposed bacteriophages on a regular cycle.
Subsequent research has uncovered the potential to expand the capabilities of coded enzymes, including the refraction of electromagnetic radiation, the direct chemo-thermal conversion of energy, and basal genetic manipulation.
“Jeez, Lena, you went to college. What does this all mean?” Emma asks.
Lena scoffs. “I got my degree in European History. I’m no scientist.”
She rolls her eyes, but then leans in and takes a closer look. “I mean, they don’t really go into detail, but it looks like they’re trying—tried, I guess—to make some sort of super soldier. They started by trying to get the body to heal itself, then moved on to stuff like…jeez, I don’t know. Genetic manipulation. You could do anything with that. Make someone stronger, faster, taller. Refraction of EM radiation, that’s stuff like light, bending it and whatever.”
“What would you do with that?”
“Well, they do the same with fighter jets and stuff. Make it invisible.”
Emma stares at Lena with eyes wide open, then raises her rifle suddenly and whips around to face the laboratory’s entrance, startling us into doing the same. Her breaths are rapid and short now. “You’re saying they’ve figured out how to become invisible? Like, people? Invisible?”
Lena shakes her head. “I don’t know. This document looks like it’s almost nine years old. Who knows what happened here.”