IMMUNOLOGY 406 AND THE BUSHIDO DRAGON
Nessa was cutting the crust off the toast as she always had for Helena for the past forty years. This time she stopped for no reason at all. She had grown to love the old woman as a mother; then again half the country felt the same.
Something was not right.
After putting down the knife, she went to the small bedroom down the hall to check on her. She probably could have been in a larger home with better facilities for her old bones, but Helena insisted on staying in the house where it all happened almost eighty years ago. Nessa opened the door to the room slowly so as not to disturb her. She peeked in like she was peeking in on her own grandkids, only to see Helena seated in her rocker. Like always, she was looking out the window at the small slice of life outside.
"How are ya feeling mum?" she asked her.
Helena, with her long white hair braided into a rope, turned her head to the caregiver with a warm smile. "Same old aches and pains, dear. How are you?"
This was odd; she never asked how she was doing. Nessa was forever 'Young Girl' who came to cook and clean. She was eternally young and healthy to her.
"Fine mum. I just had a chill and thought you were in trouble." Nessa told her.
"As long as your nose wasn't itching. That means a fight." the old lady joked. "And how could I ever be in trouble?"
"Even you could be in dire straits." Nessa quipped back.
"And what would be the outcome? Do not fret over me. I am one of the few on this Earth that you never have to worry about." she reassured her.
"That's very easy for you to say, mum."
"Trust me, dear."
Nessa was at ease now and decided to go and finish the meal she was preparing. She took great pride in her meals. With all the dietary restrictions she was under, what she created was a marvel. She even thought about writing a cookbook of her recipes, but thought it would be in bad taste considering her position. So Nessa left the door ajar and went back to the kitchen. Just a few feet away, the thought of something dark filled her again. She looked back just in time to see the door slam shut on its own.
"The damn wind." she though at first, then realized that the window was closed. Nessa rushed back to the door, only to find the knob would not turn. This was strange since even when it was locked, the knob would turn in her hand a bit. Now it was frozen solid.
"Yes, Mother." Helena's voice spoke from the other side.
Nessa didn't like this. Helena's mother was dead at least sixty years. She pounded on the door.
Helena answered in a death scream that seemed more powerful than her frail body could manage. "NO!"
There was immediate silence after the cry. The cold knob miraculously gave way. Nessa pushed the door open to find Helena lying on the floor. Her angelic face was twisted into a permanent scream so horrible, Nessa herself screamed from fear.
One of the most blessed of people had just been scared to death.
By five of six, Vee was wheeling into the biology parking lot. Running late to her class, she still wore her lab coat to cover the mess. The Expedition smelled like an old rug; there must have been a leak while it rained. CIA zombies were spying on her and she now had to deal with the self-righteous student from hell.
What a life, Vee!
Luck was on her side a bit. All the midterm reports she graded were spared from water damage. Howie would explode in front of her if his master report were damaged. Then the fiendish thought of purposely dropping it in water ran thought her gray cells, but only for a moment. The humiliating grade of B+ should be enough.
With five minutes left, she ran into Fredonia Hall of Jewett College, her alma mater. Deep down she was proud of the fact that she was a professor, more proud of that than her research and marshal arts. The other two were close behind though.
The lecture hall was the same one that she sat in for freshman biology with Dr. Manti, a thousand moons ago. Now it was her voice that filled the hall. As usual, Darren sat in the front row next to Janet and Rudy. All the others sat further back, except for Howie. Howie always sat square in the middle. Nobody else would sit by him. Vee saw enough in her life to know this was intentional. He was one of those people who drove people away on purpose. Goatees and long hair do flatter the looks of many men, but it just made Howie look more annoying. Once after class when he was complaining about his grade, she caught a whiff from him that could kill oxen. Again, she got the impression that this was intentional. Only person she ever saw him with was Darren. It appeared they knew each other, but were not the best of friends.
"As I continue with monoclonal antibodies, I wish to discuss the different aspects of hybridomas." she started to lecture.
Immediately Howie's hand went up.
"Yes Howard?" she asked, knowing he hated being called that.
"I still don't understand why we're still working with such an archaic method? It hasn't been shown to work!" His attempt to assault her with words started in early tonight.
She smiled and saw Darren roll his eyes at her. For every bit of annoyance Howie had, Darren made up with charm. It amazed her that neither Emily nor Colleen ever asked her about him.
"Because Howard, it shows promise. Just because it is not performing as we had hoped, doesn't mean we give up on it. Very much like some of my students." she zinged. One thing she did like about Howie, she always got the better of him.
A soft laugh went through the class and Howie retreated for a while. Just as she drew breath to speak again, the back doors of the hall opened. Two of Stown's men walked in. In what might have been a sign of respect, they had their glasses off. One of them was the light haired agent who had interviewed her earlier. He stared at her with eyes just as frosty and pale as his crew cut. Every head in the class turned and looked as the two of them stood in the back of the room like stone pillars.
"Don't mind them class, they're my dates for later on." she joked and the class turned back to her. Even Howie remained silent. More than normal.
After she handed back the papers, Vee waited for the usual student complaints about the grades. It was customary to do battle over grades, although this time only Howie stuck around to talk to her.
"How could you possibly give me a B+?" He asked in total disbelief.
"Because your conclusion was based more on opinion than data. The shortage of vaccines is due to a lack of research and funds and yes, greed. But this is not a Social Problems class. You were supposed to write a science paper, not express your personal views." she conveyed in the most diplomatic way she could.
"But you're missing the point! It's up to the science community to address this problem." he snarled.
"Yes, you are correct. But this is a science class. If you look in your curriculum guide, it will tell you we learn about immunology. If you look under sociology, you'll see oodles of classes where you get to argue your point. Not here." she once again explained.
"You just don't get it!" he hissed. She envisioned steam about to spew from his ears.
"Don't bring my personal life into this!" she quipped.
"Make light of it! Your kind always does!" he growled and stormed up the stairs and out the doors. The two soldiers watched him leave then turned back to her.
"Would he fall into that suspicious category of yours?" she asked them.
They didn't reply.
As night fell, Elias had finished scrubbing the lab floor down for Burns. He could understand why she wanted all red bag waste burned early. It smelled awful. Now that she was finishing up her work, she was dissecting most of the animals used in her experiments. Not something you would want around. Piled in the corner, there had to be at least 20 bags with that weird biohazard symbol on them. Why the hell they couldn't just write 'biohazard' was a mystery to him.
He had wheeled the big bin up from the incinerator room and now he wondered if he could manage one trip. If it was anyone else asking him, he would have told them to make a flying leap.
No use in dilly-dallying, time to work. His father had always told him that a man's work is what makes a man. He wheeled the bin over and with gloves on, he grabbed the first bag. Immediately he felt the ribs of the monkey's dead body. It felt like the stuffed raccoon his dad had in the living room as a kid. Handling dead animals was nothing new to him, but the chimps were so much like people it did put a chill in his bones. A quick nip of Philadelphia whiskey took care of that, toot sweet.
One by one he loaded the dead monkeys into the bin. On some of them he could feel the open body cavity through the bag. Then one bag twitched in his hand. He dropped it immediately on the floor. He stared at it as it lay still on the green tiled floor. The red and green looked like a putrid Christmas decoration. It didn't move. He touched it again with his fingertips, then his palm. All he felt was a lifeless backbone shoulder blade. He wondered if he should open it and see if the little critter was still alive. Pushing the thought out of his head, he grabbed it and threw it in the bin. Nearing the bottom of the pile, he realized that he would be able to make it in one run. He seized the next bag and felt a sharp jab in the middle of his palm.
"SHIT!" he yelled and yanked his hand away.
Sure enough, he saw the little hole in the glove, and red blood seeping between his hand and the latex.
"God damn it, you whore!" he hollered and ripped off the useless glove. He immediately started to massage his hand to get it to bleed more. The extra blood, supposedly, would help wash out the wound. Out of instinct, he licked it. After all, that's what a dog does when wounded. Within a moment, the bleeding stopped. Before his eyes, it almost looked like the hole healed itself up. There was no pain and if it weren't for the hole and blood in the glove, he never would have known he was pricked. Sure enough, the bag on the ground had a syringe needle sticking out of it. Burns must have accidentally thrown it into the bag. If he'd been working slower, he probably wouldn't have poked himself. Very carefully, he picked it up and placed it in the bin.
The next bag was empty, ripped in half. Five minutes later he was done and happy to get out of the lab.
The incinerator was in the basement, mercifully in their own building. The other guys had to wheel their crap from all over the complex to use it. On a Friday, they would line up for an hour just to get their load on the conveyor belt. For that reason Elias always waited until nighttime. That way he could just dump the shit on the belt and let it get carried through the iron doors, only to be reduced to ash. Tonight he couldn't wait to hear the doors clang shut and seal off the blasted bodies forever.
The feel of that bag twitching was still in his fingertips, it had covered up all thought of the needle stick and began to consume him. He watched the bags carefully as they plopped onto the conveyor belt from the bin. Each one landed with a dead thump and started its journey into the flames. If he could only speed it up like on I Love Lucy, then this whole mess could be over with. He recognized the bag that had twinged before as it fell onto the belt. He watched it as intently as he did before. No movement. Just like all the others, it laid motionless as it made its way to eternal combustion. Far in the back of his mind, he saw flaming monkey corpses jumping out of the incinerator and hopping after him, a high-pitched scream yelling bloody murder as they descend on him. Before he knew it, the dreaded bag was at the doors and dropping off into the furnace.
With that out of the way he relaxed and looked at the last of them moving to their end. Now all of them looked like they were moving. Elias froze with fear. He couldn't tell if they were moving on their own or if it was just convection from the heat ruffling the bags. His mind told him it was nothing, but the growing fear told him it was the living beings inside. Just when he felt he was going to explode, the last bag fell in and the large doors sealed them off.
Solace warmed his veins as the nightmare was suddenly over. His stomach rang in its two cents, demanding steak, very rare steak. Elias looked back at the shut doors; enjoying the fact that all that fear was now gone with the flames.
And if his hearing had been better, he would have heard the screams from the other side.
Sensei Greg's dojo was sandwiched between a biker bar and a Laundromat. On any given night the parking lot would be full of Harleys with enough space in front of his karate school for his students. The bikers learned long ago not to invade his space during class time and they had lived in harmony ever since.
The adult class started at 8:05 sharp and was the last class of the day. Religiously, Dr. Anne Vroom had been a student at the Bushido Dragon for nine years. Her other marshal art schools were by far inferior and impersonal money gobblers. Whether she cared to admit it or not, this school had become her family. After being a research scientist and college professor all day, the Dragon had a way of putting her right back into place. Her real family was gone from the Earth for over a decade now and even her ex, whom she stilled cared for in a way, was out of her life forever.
The fates were playing with her tonight; she actually got to the school early. Through the huge glass windows, she could see Sensei still working the Kindergarten Karate. Watching the kids in their little white uniforms was one of the most adorable sights and always brought a smile to her face. Even the army androids to follow would have to smile at them.
She felt ridiculous walking into the waiting room with her smelly lab coat. She was going to have to have the car cleaned inside tomorrow it was skanking up everything. Of course Aziza was in the waiting room watching the news. Vee wondered what she was going to comment on first, her outfit or smell. Aziza reminded her of Colleen and Emily. The three of them together would probably tear up the town. They all had the attitude, but Aziza had the power to kick major butt. Being Sensei's girlfriend had its perks. Vee tried to sneak into the dressing room when she heard her start sniffing the air. Aziza turned around with a grimace and looked at Vee.
"Hai Aziza." Vee bowed, pronouncing it in an abrupt 'hi'.
"Hai, nice smelly lab coat girl." Aziza joked.
"It's been a long day." she almost whined. "I have to tell you and Sensei something important."
"You mean those government folk that's been watching you?" Aziza smiled.
"They've been here?" Vee asked.
Sarcastically, Aziza put her fingers to her temples. "No, I saw it in my mind." She closed her eyes and started to hum. "I see many men running after you and you not getting a single date." She sniffed the air again. "I wonder why?"
"Tell me all powerful annoying one, did they cause any trouble?" she asked her.
"Nah, they weren't anything. They just asked about the other students. Greg asked them if they wanted free classes. They didn't even answer." she told her.
On the TV, the screen showed a shipping yard with a ton of cops frisking bad guys against a half dozen creates. The voiceover from the reporter caught both women's attention. "Today, DEA agents seized a cocaine shipment hidden in two tons of chocolate."
"Oh my God! Did you hear that?" Vee cried.
"Good Lord!" Aziza responded.
"Find out what they're doing with that chocolate as I get changed." Vee told her.
"No problem. And if you want, you could take a shower too." she added.
Thank God it's early, she thought. Normally the dressing room would be packed with kindergarten karate kids. With the stench of wetness on her, they would be moaning whining. She adored children, as long as they went home. She just finished slipping on her gi uniform when she heard the onslaught of children storming the dressing room. As usual, the door flew open and a bewildered child stood there staring at her.
"Thanks for knocking kid." Vee told the little girl.
The door slammed shut, to be followed by a knock.
"That's better, it's safe."
The door flew open again, followed by Sensei's voice.
"Girl's first, you knuckle heads!"
Vee tried to squeeze out as the room filled with little girls no higher than her waist.
"Eew, it smells like Spot when he's wet." one of them cracked.
"Out of the way munchkins, Iz'a comin' through." she told them as she made it to the door.
"Are you going to kick Sensei's butt tonight, Vee?" another kid asked.
"Only if he trips and falls flat on his face." she told him laughing.
Back out in the waiting room, the TV was showing the Pope talking at St Pete's.
"Vee, the Pope confiscated our chocolate." Aziza chuckled bowing onto the dojo floor.
"Time to become Hindu." she bowed onto the floor.
The black belt class was as grueling as usual. Way back when she first started as a white belt, she never thought she could finish a single class much less become a third degree black belt. It was second nature to her now, but it was still exhausting and wrenching to her body. She was very grateful on the nights that Sensei took it easy on them. This was not one of those nights. After the sixth round of spinning back kicks, the flag on the wall began to sway all by itself. And to think she used to do this in her twenties with a hangover. Those days were LONG gone.
"Come on! Chamber those legs! You're black belts!" Sensei yelled.
Anyone else on the planet she would have given a flip answer. Not Sensei. On her last privet around Vee got her foot the highest it had gotten in weeks. Satisfaction filled her as she completed the perfect kick with her exhausted leg. Then she saw the agents watching her from the waiting room. Concentration broken, she shifted her weight and fell flat on her ass. The force of the thud slammed her teeth together, missing her tongue by a millimeter. Candy, a first degree black belt, and Aziza immediately stopped; Andrew gave his usual Simpson's laugh.
"Jesus Christ Vroom, you scared me." Sensei joked.
"Sorry sir. Our visitors distracted me." Vee mumbled with her teeth still vibrating.
"What happened to your concentration girl? I'd expect that from a green belt or Andrew!" he charged.
"Hey, I resemble that remark!" Andrew added.
Vee jumped to her feet then gave a look to Blondie in the waiting room. It took all her inner chi not to flip him the finger. She continued the class and decided to beat up Andrew again. She loved him like the little brother she never got to beat up. The drawback was that she had to listen to all his wise cracks about built up sexual frustrations, and loved every minute of it. These were her closest confidantes. Years ago it was Burney; they were inseparable. She always wondered if she was jealous of her when she married Steven. Now both were pretty much out of her life, funny how life turns out.
"Where's your head at woman?" Andrew asked throwing a round kick to her head.
"Memory Lane, Louie." she said blocking and throwing him on his back. Louie was her term for loser.
"Must be a long, long road in your case." he fired back. "So who are the suits out there?"
"Government folk." she said helping him up.
"Think they want to come out with us tonight? We're heading to Coppersmith's." he asked, getting back into a fighting stance.
"Not if I go home to bed. And that's exactly what I'm doing." she smiled, and then leg swept him.
"What are you doing in that lab of yours?" he asked from the floor again.
"Don't ask or they'll be at your doorstep." she warned, giving him her hand again.
"Any of them female?" he asked with a devious grin.
"Face your partners and bow." Sensei called out.
They complied obediently. Vee couldn't believe how fast the hour went. She always started a class exhausted and finished invigorated. It would be a hassle getting to sleep tonight, the brain was going to be in overdrive.
"Bow to Sensei." Aziza called out.
They all bowed to Sensei Greg Santos, one of the few people Vee actually respected. She had a respect for most people, but Sensei was one that actually earned it, MDs and PhDs included. Not too many people could get her to bow.
"Thank you for being my students." he told his class and meant it.
Most of the class left the floor as she stayed back to talk to him.
"Anne, whatzzzzz up?" Oh respected Sensei asked, flopping his tongue out. She also never told him she hated being called Anne.
"I hear my new found friends have paid you a visit?" she asked.
"Nice guys, anal retentive as hell." he told her watching the class trying to maneuver the waiting room around the agents.
"That's from the flags up their butts." she answered, scientifically.
"Nothing wrong with loving your country." he said in his Confucius voice.
They both looked to the agents, only to see Andrew making finger devil horns behind their heads. Blondie turned his head like a mechanical part to catch him. Andrew just grinned and slinked away to the dressing room.
"Are they going to be here every night?" Aziza asked, walking to them.
"You got me. I'm just as much in the dark as you. I hope they don't disrupt your classes." she told them.
"I don't know. Billy Idol there is kinda cute, in a robotic kinda way." Aziza remarked, and then shifted her eyes to Greg.
"Don't even try it. I'm immune to your mind manipulations." he told her in Confucius voice again.
"Well if they give you trouble, let me know. Not that I can do anything, but let me know anyway." she told them leaving.
"Will do, Doc." Aziza answered.
In the waiting room, Vee was surprised that the agents were not the center of attention. All were looking up at the TV. She conformed and saw that the news anchor was still on. Breaking News was scribed under her. Something serious had happened. With the life she led, she had little time to pay attention to the outside world. Lately though, it had been letting itself known.
"More violence in the Sudan as bombs have gone off in several mosques throughout the area. Some speculate that it is in retaliation for the bombings of the Israeli temples earlier today." she spoke, as footage of both bomb sites appeared on the screen. Both bombings showed scenes of people crying over the bodies of dead children. Suddenly, Vee's smelly car and busy schedule did not seem important. Greg and Aziza watched her from the other side of the glass.
"I'm worried. Should we follow her?" Aziza asked him.
"No, she can take care of herself. It's the new ones we must watch." he replied showing no emotion.
The agents waited patiently for her to leave, then followed.
Vee pulled into her driveway with the windows wide open. It had been a long day indeed, and her nice comfy bed awaited. A good hot shower would relax her muscles and free her of any residual smell. In the rearview, she saw the agents' car pull up behind her. She still had enough energy to give them a talking to, and a thorough one at that. In her ripe lab coat, she marched over to the car. In anticipation, the passenger window began to slide down, revealing Blondie.
"Yo, Malibu Ken, If you want to give yourself a break, you can log down that this my bed time. If you'd like, you could sit on my couch and make sure I don't spill any secrets in my sleep." she proclaimed.
"Not necessary, ma'am, have a good evening." he told her in that monotone southern drawl.
The window slid back up, sealing him off from her. Silently the car pulled off down the street. She hated the fact that he didn't even acknowledge her anger. Remembering her meditation exercises, she calmed herself down.
Her beautiful home beckoned to her. The single story ranch with all its warmth and coziness was all she needed. Putting the day behind her, she left the night outside and went in.
Ten minutes later, the back door of the Expedition popped opened and the creature slithered out. Its fur was wet and matted to its skin. Blood dripped from its mouth as its newly formed fangs kept slicing its gums. They would toughen up in time. The new legs were a hundred times stronger then the old ones, with sharp claws that could slice any prey to ribbons. And prey was what it now craved. The bananas that were its mainstay would no longer do. It lifted its nose to the air and smelled the prey inside. If her neighbor had seen the thing creeping on her lawn, she would have thought it a mutated dog on steroids. As it reached the lit bay window, it saw the silhouette of the woman on the other side.
Time to pounce.
It licked its lips, slicing its tongue and not caring. It regenerated immediately. As it leaped, the other swooped down from the sky and grabbed the thing in its talons. Inside, Vee heard a yelp like a dog. She looked out to only see her front lawn.
With a cup of decaf in hand, Vee clicked on the tube from her comfy sofa. Life was grand at that moment. The TV flickered on and the news reporter stared back.
"We have Vatican confirmation now, Sister Helena, The Living Saint of Bellamere has died at the age of 96. She was the last of the Bellamere Four who reportedly saw the Virgin Mary nearly ninety years ago. Recently, Pope Pius Leo flew to Bellamere. Many believe that Sister Helena withheld a secret that was to be disclosed only to the Pontiff at the time of her death." she reported.
"Oh great. Just what we need." Vee talked out loud while she flipped to HBO.