Author Topic: Chapter 6  (Read 6264 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 6
« on: August 25, 2022, 04:40:59 AM »
Chapter 6

She’d used him. For years! Every word she’d ever said to him had been a lie! Gil paced back and forth near the elevator, as Meera and Tyler interrogated Sanders. He was too far away to hear, and glad of it. Even Blip seemed afraid to intrude on his private, obvious rage.

Sanders was a shifter. A goblin. She’d obviously been searching the internet for any signs of Grimms, and came across his post in that message board. The capital letter “G”, engraved in a foundling’s blanket would have been like sending up a flare for her to see! The message board had crashed right after that, and he’d thought it had been a coincidence. She must have done it, to keep any actual Grimms from finding him.

She’d befriended him right from the start, hoping to help him find his family. Not so that he would be happy, but so that she could kill them! Or at least steal information from them, as she’d evidently done. Tyler had gone over the server room’s computers, and still couldn’t tell exactly what she’d accessed.

It was Gil’s fault; all of it. He should have known she was up to no good, but he was so intent on seeing the best in people. He’d just figured her pathological secrecy was merely an eccentricity. That maybe she’d been abused or something, and was in hiding. But she’d preyed on that.

Tyler came over quietly, and Gil was barely aware of him at first. “I’m sorry I brought this on you, sir. I’m sorry I didn’t see her for what she really was. I actually thought she was trying to help me!”

“I don’t blame you,” Tyler assured him quickly. “She spent years cultivating your trust. I might have fallen into the same trap, in your place. There’s something else you need to know, though. Your mother… she was killed by a goblin.”

“What?!”

The older man winced at the sheer hurt in Gil’s tone, and nodded. “She was bisected, and the wound was cauterized by acid. She died almost instantly, if that helps. Maria must have been taken by surprise, or she wouldn’t have gone down without a fight. It’s possible that our prisoner didn’t just cultivate your trust, but also made you an orphan in the first place.”

Gil felt like the whole world was collapsing in around him. It was the same sensation as when he’d found out they’d been killed in the first place. He was just a tool to Sanders. A means of tracking down his family. “What else do you think she’s done while she’s been here?” He asked dully, hearing his blood pounding in his ears.

“Nothing, as far as we can tell. She didn’t send any signals out to anyone. Jack’s team has done a complete check of the building and found no sabotage or explosives. It looks like she was just after our information. We have a list of Grimms in there, as well as our list of known shifters. We still don’t know if she got to either list. It’s typical goblin tactics. They’re loners mostly, and conduct internet espionage for the highest bidder. My guess is, she’s either Black Claw, or she’s planning on selling the Grimm list to one of their members for a hefty price. She probably didn’t find the list of known shifters, or she would have deleted it.”

“And it was only possible because of me.”

“Buck up, Gil. We caught her, so there was no harm done. Think of it as a lesson about how shifters operate, and learn from it.” He gave Gil a brief side hug.

“I’m not sure I’d be so forgiving if I were in your shoes, but thanks,” Gil responded darkly.

Meera was approaching from the room they’d moved the prisoner into. “She’s tough, that’s for sure,” she admitted. “Aside from her name, which is probably fake, I didn’t get anything out of her. She said she will talk to you though,” Meera looked over at Gil. “Alone.”

Tyler shook his head, but Gil lifted an arm towards him. He’d expected something like this. “I can do this. I know I can. I’ll tell you whatever she tells me.”

Tyler hesitated, and then finally nodded. Meera seemed more skeptical, but she didn’t object.

As Gil approached the holding room, he imagined a dark storm cloud brewing over his head. Part of him wanted to just hurt her for using him, but that was the smallest lightning bolt in the cloud. Violence just wasn’t part of him. Still, he needed to confront her. For his own peace of mind if nothing else.

“Was it all a lie?” He said immediately upon entering the room. “Our years of friendship? The advice you gave me when I broke up with that girl during college? Your troubled relationship with your mom? Was any of it true?”

She nodded at the table next to her chair, where a camera was mounted and recording. Gil gave out a grunt, and turned it off.

“Most of it was true, Gil. I’m sorry I had to use you to find Harrington, but that’s the only lie I told you! Everything else was real. I valued you as a friend, and I still do.”

“Why, though? Why was it so important that you find him? Tyler said that goblins are usually solitary creatures, on the internet. I get why goblins would hate Grimms, but to devote whole decades to the search? Why?”

“We’re called fuchsteufelwilds,” Sanders clarified grimly, “not goblins. I’m sure that’s not the only lie he’s told you, either. I’m not after him, personally. I was after your grandfather, and only because I didn’t know he was dead. He changed his name many times over the years. You know he served in World War 2, right?”

Gil nodded. “He saw a lot of friends die, and some of them were Grimms. Hitler’s plan was to create a shifter-controlled world, and my grandfather was fighting to stop that.”

“He was a war criminal, Gil! Your grandfather led a special group of Grimms all across Europe, torturing, mutilating and killing wesen wherever they went! Not shifters, either. Wesen. That’s what we call ourselves, no matter what your uncle says we are. We called your grandfather ‘hoffnugende’. It means ‘hope ender’! He wasn’t just targeting German soldiers, either. He and his team of butchers targeted anyone who was wesen, including civilians. Women, children, pets. No one was spared!”

Gil couldn’t believe this. “You’re lying. Word would have gotten out about something like that! Besides, the world doesn’t know anything about Grimms and shifters. He would have had to follow orders, and he wouldn’t have been free to go around killing whoever he wanted.”

“They covered their tracks, of course,” she went on implacably. “They couldn’t go all old-school and brand everyone with a skull-G like they did in the old days. But they did target wesen, and they did so with sanction from their superiors who were either Grimms themselves, or working for them. They were endezeichen- all of them! So is Harrington, and so are you if you work with him!”

Gil didn’t know that word, but she answered before he could ask. “It means ‘end sign’. It’s what all Grimms are, if they follow the old ways! Monsters who are no better than the people they claim to oppose! Everything that the Third Reich was, your grandfather was too, just on the opposite side. Think about what you’ve seen since you met your uncle! Have they treated wesen well, would you say? Have they acted like people who view wesen as equals? I know the endezeichen line- they claim that ninety percent of all crime is done by wesen! That our culture or our genetics, or both, turn us into criminals who can’t be trusted. Why do you think they’re coming up with a list of all wesen? They’re profiling us, just because of who we are!”

“What if they’re right??” He demanded. “You used me. Lied to me. Conducted cyber espionage on us through me. How am I supposed to trust you?”

“Because I’m trusting you,” she said, her voice suddenly soft again. Her anger was completely gone, replaced by an open and urgent expression. “I found something terrible when I got into those computer files, Gil. Something you need to see to believe.”

“Says the Black Claw infiltrator,” he retorted angrily.

Sanders shook her head. “I never worked with those maniacs! I’m against everything they stood for, and I’m glad they’re gone now.”

“Grimms aren’t like that, though! We’re defending ourselves from Black Claw. Burkhardt and Rubel over on the West Coast proved that by killing the Black Claw leader, Bonaparte!”

“Burkhardt and Rubel are the exceptions, not the rule! They actually have wesen friends, and listen to advice from our kind. That’s why they’re ostracized by people like your uncle. They’re useful to him, when it comes to fighting people like Black Claw, but they’re too sympathetic to be considered ‘real’ Grimms!”

After a moment of tense silence, Gil remembered how his uncle had described those two. Outliers, for being ‘out and proud’ Grimms who were known as such by shifters. By wesen, he supposed he should say. They might be monsters, but they should be called by the words they wanted. Tyler claimed that his colleagues over in Portland were avoided because they’d thrown away their secrecy as Grimms, but Gil could remember the tone in his voice as he’d described them. It was the same tone as when he’d instructed Blip to go into Stage Two and Three. Disgust, and revulsion.

No, this couldn’t be right. “And what about my mother?” Gil asked finally, trying to keep the conversation on topic. “You talk about wesen and Grimms working together, but you murdered her! You cut her in half like only a goblin can!”

Sanders gaped at him for a moment, and then swallowed hard. “I didn’t do that! I didn’t even know your mother was dead until you told me, Gil! If she was killed by fuchsteufelwild, it wasn’t me. I wasn’t even in the US back then!”

“You’re lying.”

“How do you know how your mother died?” Sanders persisted. “Do you have an autopsy report? A body? Do you have bones sliced in half with acid?” Her features changed in front of him briefly, becoming pointed and green. It only lasted a second, and then she was back to her old self.

“She was cremated,” he murmured.

She scoffed. “How convenient. Listen, I know you don’t trust me, but I don’t have long. Sooner or later, the hoffnugende’s son is going to come in here and kill me. He won’t just keep me prisoner forever, and he can’t let me go, not with what I found out. I didn’t kill your mother, I don’t work for Black Claw, and I didn’t come here to hurt anyone. You don’t have to take my word for it, either. Just look at the files I unlocked. All you have to do to find it is log in under your own name and use the special password. It’s the name of that chatroom where we first met.”

Gil shook his head stubbornly. “Why, so I can find information that you planted in there for me to find?”

She let out a hiss of frustration. “Gil, I was only in that room for five minutes. What I found in there… goes way beyond just Grimms defending themselves from wesen. I couldn’t have come up with something that horrible if I’d had five years!”

They locked gazes for another few seconds, and her skin seemed to wrinkle for a moment. She didn’t enter Stage Two again, but it was obvious she was agitated. With a growl, Gil turned away and left the room. As he went, she called out after him. “It’s time-sensitive, Gil. If you make up your mind, do it soon!”

He opened the door and made his way out into the basement level. Tyler and Meera were standing a respectful distance away, and Blip was nowhere to be seen. They waited for him to speak, but he had a hard time finding the words.

“She… accused your dad of being a war criminal,” he started out softly. “Went on a long rant about him butchering civilians during World War 2. She said he was endezeichen, whatever that means. She said she wasn’t part of Black Claw, and that she’d never even met my mother, but what else was she going to claim? Obviously, she was lying about all of it.”

He took a deep breath. Even Meera looked sympathetic to his situation. “She didn’t mention the Grimm list, but there’s no way of knowing if she found it, or even memorized parts of it. I understand that you can’t let her go. So does she, for whatever that’s worth.” He shook his head. “She must be totally devoted to Black Claw, to be that willing to die for them.”

Tyler squeezed his shoulder, and then pulled out his gun. He checked to see if it was loaded, and then extended it grip-first. “Do you want to do the honors?”

Not trusting himself to speak, Gil shook his head.

“Still having trouble with your oath, then? Not to worry. That’s what family is for,” Tyler said understandingly.

He strode into the other room, raising his gun, and shot Sanders in the head.

-.-

For the rest of the day, Gil walked around the building in a daze. He couldn’t seem to stand still, but he didn’t really want to go anywhere, either.

It seemed as though years had passed since he’d been a simple EMT working in the streets of Lisbon. He’d been happier then, despite his, well, grim profession. He got to help some people, and get them back on the path to good health. He’d been able to go to concerts and sports events and parties with his friends.

It felt like a whole different life compared to all the violence and blood here. He wanted to return there, and go on as if nothing had happened. Black Claw was gone now- everyone agreed on that. It had to be safe enough for him to return to his life. He considered asking Tyler for a plane ticket overseas.

Could he just go back, though? Knowing what he did now? How many people in the street might go into Stage Two without knowing it? Now that he was a Grimm, he’d be able to see them, and they him. With a chill, he realized that some of his friends could be shifters, or wesen, and he’d never known it before now. Come to think of it, they probably didn’t call it Stage Two or Three, did they? He could ask Blip, but it was doubtful he knew.

Whatever Sanders had dug up was time-sensitive. Gil felt like the world’s biggest fool for even considering trusting her word, but he had to know.

It couldn’t just be done willy-nilly, though. The strike team had relaxed their guard a bit, and now were conscripted into setting up decorations for the New Year’s Eve celebration tomorrow. Blip was arranging rooms for them near the ground floor, but he was careful to stay out of their way. Gil ran into him, and enlisted his help for the task. Then he went upstairs to talk to Meera.

If anyone might understand, it was her. Like him, she hadn’t been raised by Grimms, in the life of all of this violence. She’d adapted well to it, to be sure, but if he told her what Tyler might be up to, she’d at least listen. Finally, he found her on the building’s roof. Unlike other office buildings in the area, this was no skyscraper. Based on the shape of the open roof, it had once been an apartment complex.

When he explained what Sanders had really said, Meera’s first reaction was to reject it. “That’s impossible,” she said, looking at him the same way he’d looked in the mirror earlier, as if he was the world’s biggest fool. “Grimms have always existed to protect humanity- all of humanity. That’s our very reason for being.”

“So, you’ve never heard of these Endezeichen Grimms?”

“Sure I’ve heard of them. They’re a fairy tale. An actual one, not the ones we thought were fictional before becoming Grimms. Basically they’re the worst of the worst, according to shifter lore. Psychopathic monsters with no conscience, no heart, and no mercy. Still, you have to consider the source. What else are shifters going to say about us? Hitler used propaganda extensively in the buildup to and during the war, and he’s not the only one in history to do it. Not by a long shot.”

She made a certain amount of sense, but Gil couldn’t just let this go. “Whatever she found, it scared her, Meera. Don’t you think we should judge it for ourselves? Just to be sure?”

Meera looked over at the door leading down into the building for a second, as if nervous. “Why not just ask Mr. Harrington outright?”

Gil shook his head. “If Sanders was telling the truth, Tyler was raised by a war criminal. Someone so bad that the shifters gave him his own moniker. Either she was lying, or Tyler knows all about this already. If we confront him, he might just lie about it, and destroy whatever evidence she uncovered.”

“You’re assuming she did uncover something.”

He hesitated, and then shrugged. “There’s only one way to find out for sure, isn’t there?”

There was a long silence in the fading light. Noises from traffic downstairs floated up towards them, as Meera weighed the options. When she made up her mind, she didn’t waste any time. “All right. But we should leave our phones here before we go downstairs.”

That was a tangent. “Why?”

“Because Mr. Harrington can track them,” she said quickly. Gil noted she still called him that, despite having worked with him for years and being his sister by blood. Now that he thought about it, her willingness to even consider this was surprising. Maybe watching him kill Sanders had shaken Meera up a bit. It had certainly rattled Gil.

“He can monitor both where our phones are and what’s being said, if there’s a problem,” she went on, pulling out her phone. “It’s standard procedure that we worked up years ago. I saw him make the same adjustments to your own phone when we first scooped you up.”

That was a bit unnerving, but Gil put his phone down on the chair with hers. “And you were ok with that?”

“At the time, it was handy. I was cornered in one of DC’s sewers, by a team of crocs. They were gloating about trapping a Grimm. If not for that modification, Mr. Harrington would have never found me in time.”

“Fair enough.” Despite his words, Gil was still unsettled. Doing that kind of modification with permission was one thing, but no one had asked him if he wanted someone listening in on him. Though he was hardly in any position to point fingers, given what he was doing. He placed his phone on the chair next to hers, and followed her over to the exit.

-.-

With everyone still working on preparations, Gil and Meera had no trouble getting down to the computer room in the basement. She locked the stairwell’s doors once they were down there, and then put the elevator into maintenance mode.

“It does that randomly on its own, for half an hour or so every few days,” she’d assured him. “No one will take notice.”

“Right.”

Once at the computer, Gil quickly logged on. As Sanders had instructed, he used the special password instead of the one he’d chosen. Instead of logging him on, it opened up a new file system- unconnected to the shifter database he’d been studying most nights. The largest folder was labeled ‘Disclosure’, and Gil traded a look with Meera before opening it.

Multiple sub-folders sprang up on the screen, each with time stamps for when they were initially created and updated. Whatever this ‘disclosure’ thing was, it had apparently started about six years ago. Meera’s eyes widened, and she pointed. “There! That’s when I started working with Mr. Harrington, down to the day!”

She was indicating a folder labeled ‘Identification’. At her urging, Gil opened it, and they saw a list of names, each with an interactable picture. They were driver’s license pictures for the most part, but some were other forms of ID. Gil immediately recognized some of the faces at the very bottom of the list. “These are the wes- the, uh, shifters we’ve been identifying,” he said softly. “Those were the ones I pointed out at the game the other day.”

“Nothing new about that,” she said, apparently disappointed. “The only reason the folder was dated from when I arrived, was because on day one, I was doing the same thing: looking over footage to see who’s a shifter and what kind they are.”

He went up one level back to the main folder and looked at the names. One of the newest ones, from the time stamps, was labeled ‘Hadrian’s Wall’. Meera immediately pointed at it. “Open that one.”

He did so curiously. “You know what this is?”

“Yeah, HW is, or actually was, a counter-terrorist organization. It was started a few years back by several different nations and their intelligence communities. Total black-budget stuff, though. The people in charge were either Grimms or humans working for them. No one outside HW knew anything about shifters or Grimms. Teresa Rubel- you remember her- was a member. That’s why we were in Lisbon at the time. We were her backup, in case she needed it.”

“They were counter-terrorists? Did they disband when Black Claw fell?” Somehow, Gil knew it wouldn’t be that uplifting. Nothing in his life had been uplifting recently.

Sure enough, Meera shook her head. “Hadrian’s Wall took heavy losses a few days ago. Black Claw destroyed their headquarters in Portland, and killed most of their leadership. Rubel survived, as far as I know, but I don’t know much. There.” She pointed at the files under the Hadrian’s Wall folder. “That’s a personnel list.”

A few dozen names and faces were lined up, including Rubel’s near the top. Most of them were marked ‘deceased’, as Meera had said. Strangely though, there was another qualifier next to each file. Meisner, human. Rubel, Grimm. Chavez, steinadler. Eve, hexenbiest. “Wait, those are shifter names, aren’t they?”

Looking amazed, Meera leaned in and nodded. “Steinadler’s their word for hawk. Hexenbiests are kinda like witches. They have telekinetic powers, so they’re some of the most dangerous shifters out there. The Black Claw leader, Bonaparte, was the same kind of shifter. I had no idea Hadrian’s Wall was using shifters as soldiers. No wonder they got wiped out.”

“You use Blip,” he reminded her, but she shook her head.

“Blip’s not on the front lines. He’s an assistant, not a soldier. Besides, according to this, Chavez was an FBI agent, and there’s no file on this ‘Eve’ or her history. Just that she was assigned multiple tasks for HW, and is now missing.”

“I guess it doesn’t matter now, does it,” he said softly. At her agreement, he went back to the larger file folder. There were multiple entries next to Hadrian’s Wall. Press releases, timetables, campaign contributions… it looked as though Tyler might be running for office?

Gil didn’t like politicians very much, be they here in the States or back in Portugal, but running for office hardly made Tyler into the monster that Sanders had feared. Then, his eyes traced down further. One of the folders was labeled ‘epidemiology’.

What would the spread of disease have to do with a political campaign? He explained the meaning of the word to Meera, and then opened the folder.

There were multiple city names inside it, each one with data indicating infections, spread, and deaths. Next to each was a disease heat map, indicating how fast and far a highly infectious disease would spread. Each city was also indicated over a time scale. Day one showed several hundred cases, all in a small area near what looked like the center of… he checked the file name. This was New York City.

Day two showed that number jump to over a thousand, and the first fatalities popping up from the first group. Day three had just under twenty thousand in the greater NYC area, with nearly a third of them dead.

“This makes no sense,” he muttered under his breath, switching to another city. It showed a very similar spread pattern. “No disease I’ve ever studied follows this pattern. They track where people go, not where they’ve been. A family driving across the country would spread this thing from New York to San Francisco, but these spread patterns are almost like this disease, whatever it is, is airborne.”

“Look at the dates, though,” Meera said softly. “This isn’t an outbreak that has happened, it’s one that will.”

She was right. All of these were set to start in three days, at the very start of the new year.

“It’s gotta be a theoretical model,” he concluded. “The CDC sets up all sorts of doomsday scenarios for how epidemics and pandemics spread, just in case the worst should happen. Besides, no airborne disease would spread that fast, as far as I know.”

Something was nagging at him though, so he switched over from the city maps- of which there were dozens all over the world. He checked the disease symptoms and spread. It had a name in the next folder: fluvis pestilentia.

“Sounds old,” Meera commented. “Maybe it’s like smallpox, and was wiped out a long time ago, and that’s why you’ve never seen something like it before.”

“Smallpox isn’t as far in our rearview as a lot of people think,” Gil said grimly, and looked through the symptoms listed. “Actually, this thing looks a lot more like rabies than any virus I’ve seen. Look at these effects: cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, agitation, and violence. The weird part is that epidemiology map. It’s the same for every city we saw. This thing, this fluvis pestilentia, wouldn’t affect everyone. From what I can tell, maybe eighty percent of the population has a natural immunity.”

Meera raised her eyebrows. “So we’ve gone from smallpox to chicken pox?”

“I don’t know. These heat maps don’t go past day three- any of them. It’s as if whoever made them didn’t expect the disease to be a problem after a few days. Wait, here we go. Looks like they have data on people who were sick.”

He pulled up the medical data, and it showed several dozen patients. It looked like the disease had spread quickly through their bodies, causing lesions, boils and mental dysfunction, coupled with violence. It also seemed as though they already had a cure, though. Each patient had been injected with a serum that seemed to stop the virus dead in its tracks. There were no names given though, on either the patients or the doctors who’d treated them.

Something about this was seeming a little too familiar. “Meera, I had a somewhat sensitive conversation with Blip, about his medical condition. He said… that when he fell ill, he ended up attacking you, but didn’t remember anything about it.”

She grimaced. “Yeah, he went full-on Stage Three, right after we brought him into the hospital. He tried to bite me and everything. I had to knock him out.” She didn’t sound that upset about it, but then it probably hadn’t been that difficult. She was a trained soldier after all.

“These symptoms here,” he traced the full list. “They match up to what Blip described. When exactly did he get sick?

Meera paused for a moment, thinking. “It was in August. I remember that, because of the festival in town. Yeah, so about twenty-nine months ago now.”

“That matches one of these patients,” he confirmed. “All the other biometrics match up too. Height, weight, hair and eye color, approximate age. This was Blip. But why would he say it was a chronic condition, if it was caused by a viral infection?”

She shrugged. “Maybe he doesn’t know. Looks like it was easily cured, at least. He doesn’t have to take any special medication anymore.”

“He never did. Why would Tyler lie about that?”

They both sat in uncomfortable silence for a moment. To Gil, this was seeming more and more fishy by the moment. This fluvis pestilentia was close enough to rabies to be very concerning, especially if it spread through the air. Hurriedly, he scrolled through the other folders, until he came on some useful data about the virus. “It looks like Tyler, or whichever doctors he hired, since he’s not an actual doctor himself, have been experimenting on the virus for about six years now. They know how it spreads and mutates, and they know how to cure it. According to the initial notes, this disease has been around for several thousand years now, in some form or other. It hit mostly Europe, back in the day, before spreading here eventually.”

“What about that folder?” Meera pointed to the right of the viral studies. “The one labeled New Year.”

He clicked on it, and a very different collection of information popped up. This wasn’t medical so much as technical. He recognized a rocket design, complete with nozzles and fuel source. For scale, there was a man in the picture next to it. Whatever this rocket was supposed to do, it was only about two feet from end to end.

Then time seemed to slow down for him. “This is a dispersal mechanism!” Gil realized aloud. “They’re going to load a concentrated form of the virus on to this rocket, launch it, and then spread it over a wide area in the middle of a city! In a day or so, hundreds of people will start getting sick. That’s what the epidemiology maps were for, Meera! They’re projecting how far and how fast it will spread!”

Meera turned wide eyes towards him. “That would be suicide, though. If they tried to launch anything in a major city, they’d have the US military all over them in a matter of hours. The Air Force tracks objects like this all over the country, especially in population centers.”

“Which is why they’re going to launch during the New Year’s Celebration! Think about it. With all the fireworks going off at the same time, no one will notice if a rocket goes up at the same time. Not a rocket this small, anyway. Look, they even included an incendiary device on it to burn up what’s left of the rocket after it disperses the virus!”

They both soaked in the magnitude of the plan for a bit. It seemed inconceivable, but the evidence was all here. Sanders had been right. Whatever she’d done, or deserved, she hadn’t been lying about this plan. Tyler, and at least a few dozen others, were planning on spreading this disease all over New York City. Hurriedly, Gil checked the other heat maps. There were dozens of cities represented, from DC, to San Francisco, to Paris, to London, to Moscow, to Tokyo… all over the world. They were planning on spreading this disease in every one of those cities at the same time!

“This is insane,” he breathed out raggedly. “Thousands of people will die!”

“Hundreds of millions, actually,” Tyler’s voice spoke out from behind them.
« Last Edit: August 25, 2022, 04:56:41 AM by Daen »