The Lethal Agent – R.S. McCoy

Abraham dropped the fish and ran. What time was it? Late afternoon. They would be in the classroom. The children were working at their desks, each with a small board and marker, drawing and discussing clocks. Charlene was squatting next to Ellicot when he found her. “There’s—” He didn’t even know what to say. It was completely impossible. They were alone in a colony on the surface of the moon. How could someone be outside? Charlene’s features fell when she saw his face. “Stay here and continue your problems. I’ll be back in just a minute.” She did her best to sound calm, but they all watched her leave. The air sizzled with tension. “What happened? Are you all right?” She looked him up and down. Her hands clasped at his arms and shoulder, searching.

“I’m fine.” “You’re not hurt?” “No, of course not. There’s a—a man.” He might as well have said there was a lion. Charlene stopped dead in her tracks. “What?” “Come on.” Though he never would have dared before, Abraham grabbed her hand and ran with her to the greenhouse. He tried to ignore the warmth of her skin as they entered the plant-filled room. Rows and rows of crops, miniature fruit trees, and herb boxes filled the space. The floor-length window panels offered the only glimpse of the outside world.

To Abraham’s great relief and horror, the man was still there. At least he wasn’t imagining things. The stranger’s body was encased in some sort of bright-green suit with matching hoses. A plastic shield covered his face, but his skin was too dark to see. A plume of white escaped from somewhere behind him. Then, Charlene saw him, too. “Oh my god! Jesus Christ!” Instead of running toward the man, she darted out of the greenhouse. Abraham followed and found her in the corridor at a wall panel with a small box, one that had always been there but he’d never noticed before. When she pushed it, the panel slid away and revealed a set of controls. Charlene pressed buttons in a hurried frenzy until he could hear movement in the wall—mechanisms adjusting their positions.

Abraham could only watch her and try to quiet the pounding in his ears. Who was this man? What did he want? How did he get to the moon? Were there others? Charlene darted back to the greenhouse. She stood opposite the man and pointed to her left. His green-gloved hand pointed the same way, and she nodded. “What’s going on?” Abraham was desperate to understand. “There’s an emergency airlock. We have to get him inside. He won’t last long out there.” The green man’s steps were bouncy, like he didn’t weigh much, but he looked stout, though that could have been the suit. “You knew?” His eyes darted from her to the wall panel.

Back at the controls, Charlene pressed several commands into the panel and waited. The entire section of the wall slid into two sections along an invisible seam to reveal a room. It was dark and wouldn’t hold more than two people, but there in the middle, was the green man. He was bent over on all fours, as if he lacked the strength to stand, though they’d seen him walk moments before. Charlene darted in and pulled at his arm to help him up. The man wrapped his arm around her shoulders in return. Abraham’s jaw grew tense. “Are you all right? Who are you?” She peppered him with questions as she brought him to the kitchen and sat him in one of their chairs. “How did you get here?” The green man held up his hand to slow her. With stilted movements, he reached up and disconnected the three hoses attached to the face plate.

Then, in one motion, he pulled off the entire headpiece and set it on the table. The impact produced a cloud of crimson dust. A fresh drip of blood ran from a wide slice from his forehead to his ear. “Inglish?” His accent was thick but understandable. He wiped at the blood with his hand then looked at his fingertips to make sure he was really bleeding. “Yes, who are you?” Charlene answered as Abraham stood back and observed. Charlene fetched a towel to press against his head. He tapped his chest with his gloved hand. “My name is Siya. I got lost from my crew.

MMCSA Q2 452.” His accent altered his words. Name was nim, lost was luss. “You’re an astronaut?” Charlene asked. The man named Siya laughed, though he ran out of breath moments later. “I’m a miner. You have satellite?” “No, we’re alone. How did you get to the moon?” Siya stared at her as he might a ghost or a lunatic. He looked to Abraham then back to Charlene. “This is Mars girl.

” Gull. It hit them like a slap to the face. “No, I think you’re confused. It looks like you hit your head pretty hard. This is the moon colony, Luna. We’ve been here for years.” Siya sat up in the chair with considerable effort and looked her in the eye. “No girl. You on Mars.” THEO CPI-RQ2-05, NEW YORK SEPTEMBER 1, 2232 Theo and Mable sat in his room reviewing old case files.

They’d done it before—for hours on end— but now everything was different. Now, he’d almost killed her, and she’d forgiven him. Now, they were almost friends. Mable dragged the desk chair from her room across the hall and sat beside him. The holographic projection from her tablet danced above his desk. Theo’s hair was tied in a bun at the back of his head, like it had been there all along. It was strange how much he felt like himself with his hair long again, strange how something so small could affect him. And now, when Mable was short with him, he understood. Maybe not entirely, but he knew there was more to her than the callous exterior she put on. He knew she had a life before, a life in an underground city where she had a home and friends she loved.

He knew she took care of Hadley as best she could, even if it meant leaving. He knew Mable was a good person, deep down in there. It made it easier to deal with her tantrums, of which there were fewer in general. The case files were the same as before—dense with information but light on meaning. They watched the vids of extractions with vast interest, eager to avoid another catastrophe. They were finally working together. “Okay, next up, EG-23(Y).” Theo pulled up the next file. Mable flipped through the file with her finger, quickly moving to the area she found interesting. “Oh, yeah.

So, this one’s a geneticist. Dr. Emile Gould, He was doing illegal research to boost the immune system in Scholar cells.” Theo’s forehead wrinkled. “That’s not illegal. It’s pretty routine, actually.” While he’d never applied for a Child Permit or participated in any part of the process to garner offspring, Scholar genetic practices were common knowledge, at least for Scholars. “Certain genes are isolated from various animals or plants and transmitted via viruses into the embryos. At least, they used to. Now, all Scholars already have them—cancer resistant proteins, tumor inhibitors, antibody boosting enzymes—they’re already in the population.

” “So Gould was reinforcing the security around the brain. There’s the blood-brain barrier, right? It prevents macromolecules from entering the bloodstream within the brain.” Theo nodded. He knew it, though he was a little surprised she did. Mable continued to rattle off facts from memory. “Gould basically wanted to engineer offspring that had a physical barrier, rather than a membrane, to protect the brain. It would prevent all kinds of diseases, especially those related to radiation. His applications would have been for off-world colonies with limited atmosphere where the populations are at risk for more direct solar radiation.” Gould’s research made perfect sense, but Theo recognized that it would fall outside the laws of genetic modification within the Scholar class. There was only so much tinkering that could occur outside the vicereine’s approval, and this certainly wasn’t it.

Gould might as well have researched how to engineer humans to grow wings and fly. It was too much change of the human genome to get approval. “How far did he get before he was infected?” Theo wondered. Gould’s research would be particularly useful in the next fifty years when off-world colonies became more successful. Someone would want to know about his findings in the future. “According to his mentee, uh, a Dr. Roberto Mehnert I think, Gould thought he had it worked out. He had finalized his first test genes and transmitted them to an embryo. I guess they went out and celebrated. The next morning, Mehnert finds Gould dead on the floor of his lab.

He erased all his data related to his research, including the backups he’d sent to him. He also destroyed the embryo, so Mehnert basically has to start over.” Theo cringed. “They’re sure it was a bug? Sounds like the guy was murdered for doing illegal research.” “It’s almost poetic, right?” Mable admitted. “You think there are really bugs? Like maybe this is just some elaborate hoax.” “It’s pretty damn elaborate,” Theo replied. “And what would be the point? We’re sworn to secrecy and barely let out of the complex. Even if we fell for it, no one would ever know.” Mable sat back in her chair.

“I know, it’s just all so strange. Like there’s something they’re not telling us. It’s so weird, all these files. All this information that doesn’t really say anything.” “How do you remember all this? There are over a hundred files. How can you remember all these details about people you never met?” “I don’t remember all of them.” Her voice lowered. “Then what’s so special about this one?” Without answering, Mable flipped back to the top of the report. Her finger landed on a screen identical to ones they’d seen dozens of times. HOST: DR.

EMILE GOULD. SCHOLAR, GENETICS AGENT: ALEXANDER WILKINSON LOCATION: DGL-5, MUNICH EXTRACTION STATUS: COMPLETE “Okay?” He didn’t get it. Mable tapped again, this time on the name of the agent. Theo had seen the name a dozen times on various files. He knew some Wilkinsons, particularly in Atlanta, to be a premier Scholar family, but there was no way this was one of them. There had to be another reason. “Who’s Alexander Wilkinson?” Theo guessed ex-boyfriend. If so, Theo didn’t want to run into him. “Never mind.” Yep, ex-boyfriend.

“Did you look to see if Jane and Georgie are finished with the case file for our last one?” Theo didn’t miss the abrupt change in subject. “Uh, no. I can check. Hoping to relive that great experience?” “I was just wondering what they have on that Scholar woman.” Sure enough, Theo found the file added to the server, completed only a few hours ago. “She was a pharmaceutical researcher,” he reminded her gently. She’d had a bug in her brain after all. She couldn’t be expected to remember every detail. Theo personally wanted to forget it had ever happened, his second-greatest moment of shame. The personal background on Dr.

Divya Prataban appeared in the air alongside her profile picture, a sweet, fresh-eyed girl the day she joined the Scholar Academy. Mable’s eyes locked on the information as she skimmed the report. Of course, there was no vid. Theo had disabled the cam feed. “What are you looking for?” “She was doing some kind of research on anth. I was just wondering why a legitimate pharmaceutical researcher would be evaluating street drugs.” “Uh, that’s easy. She wouldn’t.” Theo felt the stab of guilt, the one that was becoming so familiar. He was responsible for her lapse in mental faculties.

“Well that’s what I fucking saw. There was a spreadsheet with dosages and numbers. If you hadn’t bailed you, would have seen it.” Mable leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. A moment later, she decided better of it. “We’ve done enough today.” She was gone out the door before he could argue. SILAS CPI-PQ1-RL, NEW YORK SEPTEMBER 1, 2232 “Come in, child.” “Sorry to bother you so early. I wasn’t sure if you’d be up,” Silas answered as he entered Ramona’s room.

She sat in bed, her hands folded in her lap. A grey-and-white braid fell over her the shoulder of her vintage nightgown. “I can come back later. It’s not important.” “Oh, please. Sit down.” Silas pulled her green lounger over, careful not to damage its antique wood frame. “Rough morning?” Somehow she could always tell when he’d overindulged. “Not anymore.” “What’s troubling you?” How many times had she asked him that exact question? Hundreds at least.

Silas rubbed a hand across his chin, still rough with stubble. “Maggie’s back.” “We knew she would be. What else?” “Kaufman was pretty beat up. Looks like he had a run in with someone he couldn’t handle.” “No, that’s not it.” Silas cursed silently. “I think Nick is starting to get out of line.” “You knew he would.” Ramona smoothed a wrinkle in her bedding.

He sighed. “Yes, but this is different. He’s questioning the way we run things, threatening to inform Masry of our practices.” “You mean he’s thinking for himself?” That was one way to put it. “Yeah, I guess so.” “Did you expect any less? You taught him too well.” Ramona tilted her head back and laughed. “Even so, I can’t risk Masry getting involved.” “You’re ashamed.” Scholars would always look down on him, despite his doctorate.

He wasn’t born into their class. He was less than them. No matter what he accomplished, he would never be accepted. Silas knew that was their problem, not his. “No—” “Don’t lie to me.” “I think she won’t understand. I think Nick, Masry, all of them. They won’t understand the kids.” “Because you’re not a Scholar?” “I think they’ll blame my background for my interactions with them. They’ll think I’m not refined enough to properly run a facility like this.

” “They’ll be wrong. You’re exactly what this place needs.” “I know. They won’t understand the kids need this place as much as it needs them. I’m afraid they’ll take it away from me.” “That wouldn’t be so bad,” she offered, though Silas knew she didn’t mean it. CPI was the last home either of them had left. Ramona founded the program. She couldn’t walk away, even now. “It would be bad for the kids.

What would Nick do with this place? He’d turn it into a Scholar’s paradise. He’d micromanage them until they suffocated. Osip would blow a gasket in a heartbeat.” Ramona laughed so hard Silas couldn’t help but smile. “He’d throw a fit,” she admitted between laughs. “And the teams that are already on assignment? He’d pull Abby from LRF. I know he doesn’t approve of her placement. She’d be crushed.”

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