Do Humans Go Splat If They Fall from the Sky?
rating: +11+x

Kilometers underground, in a laboratory holding cell, a woman writhe-crawled on the floor screaming – although any noise from her cry of pain would simply be drowned by the torrents of blood that her mouth expelled as if it were a geyser of crimson.

And while Dr. Thayer, on the opposite side of the viewing window, stood in a much more serene environment, there was an equally blood-red color fringing his wide eyes. His dehydrated mouth, as well, bore red flecks where it cracked into cuts.

Any sane human hearing an anguished plea to help someone would be driven to do exactly that, but Thayer – with fingers shriveled and shaking from culturing viral samples, and hair that had gone prematurely white – was anything but sane now. He witnessed the final transformation of the test subject.

The woman was no longer recognizable. Her face had sloughed off, degrading into some squelchy, red mass that sank back into the now-exposed musculature of her head. The rest of her skin followed suit, boiling and breaking to expose a sea of muscles and curdling scarlet. Only the mouth – a cavernous black maw – remained.

The woman-creature doubled over still ejecting blood, forming a garish puddle on the floor that grew and grew, while the two long, bony spines that had risen from her shoulder blades tore themselves free from the back of her skinsuit and unfolded into great, macabre wings of loose, red flesh.

It flew. The grisly red angel rose triumphantly up to the tops of its holding cell, its screams mostly human – but with an intensity shriller and more savage than any bird of prey.

And all the while, it continued to bleed.

Thayer watched with childlike wonder as bloodfoam poured out of the winged creature’s every pore as it flitted across its pen, collecting into fine, red aerosols of tissue that seemed to trail the angel as if it were a comet’s tail.

This mist, in no time at all, condensed, and blood began to rain.

It was gods-know-the-hour. Thayer had not seen the Sun in months, and none of his timekeeping devices were in sync for one reason or another. He was in his private office next to the laboratory.

The man sitting opposite to Dr. Thayer had none of his manic enthusiasm, but it was apparent that there was something equally unwell about him in the way he studied the methodology which allowed Thayer to tamper with cultures of the Blood Rain Virus, and examined the graphic reports on the tests Thayer conducted for each variant of the genome, all with a disinterested gaze.

Thayer’s final, new strain of the virus, christened “Sanguine Storm,” was undergoing peer review.

“And I’m the first person you’ve shown your work to?” The other scientist asked.

“With this much clearance, yes. My support staff don’t know a thing about what I’ve created. And certainly no power-hungry colleague of mine is going to steal my own claim to glory from me.”

“It was my assumption that your pack of radicals in Serratus put aside petty ambitions to advance the anomalous above all else.”

“You of all people know how naïve that sounds, Marty.” Thayer spoke with bitterness. “I’ve wasted away in my lab. Looking for a lead. An Item I could improve on, evolve even. This is my chance to vindicate the insanity I’ve subjected myself to in these last few months. When field testing proves to be a success, I’m taking full damn credit for Sanguine Storm.”

Caduceus raised an eyebrow. “You’re thinking about releasing this into the world?”

Thayer shook his head. “Ah, Marty. In terms of how slowly it’s been exploiting the full potential of its Items, the Nucleolus cell has become too tame. And maybe, so have you. The Insurgency is stagnating again. Serratus will remind its ruling powers within the Falchion that science cannot be slowed down. The devastation that Sanguine Storm can quickly bring to our enemies will prove that.”

“It’s… more complex than that.” Caduceus shifted in his seat. Bolder men would use the word ‘squirmed.’ “Why do you need me for all this, then?”

“Support. Back up my findings, recommend it for field testing, and maybe sponsor it for further experimentation at IRUS. You’ve risen up in Insu since we last worked on a project after Aleph. Perhaps your help could bring me to the top of Serratus as well, and I can aid your own schemes from there.”

The scientist from IRUS broke into a grin. “I’ve never seen you this ambitious.”

Thayer smiled as well at that. “Will you help me?”

“What do you need?”

“I only have one request,” Thayer leaned back into his seat, at ease. “For now.”

An orb of bright-red light in a sea of black. That was Thayer’s first impression of the satellite, whose sculpted, slender body levitated just a few inches beyond the cliff upon which he stood.

It was hard to tell if Quasi was purely mechanical, even at close-range. What could be called her head and upper half were made of some rare, polished metal whose angular projections all pointed backwards. Her lower half was asteroidal in form; rocky, like a piece of earth plucked by an angel.

It was also hard for Thayer to tell if Caduceus had described her in this way purely in jest, or if the doctor harbored some strange fascination with the extra-terrestrial spacecraft. He glanced aside at Martin, who stood with arms folded, impassive. The glow from Quasi’s sensor-eye concealed any red flush that might be present on the doctor’s face.

“So you just want me to fly him around and find nearby enemy bases to test his virus on?” Sweet. The satellite’s voice was sweet.

“If it won’t take too much time out of your busy schedule.” Cad said, still with a stoic expression.

“Of course not.” Quasi said. “Satellites like me can work twenty-four-seven. I don’t need to rest, unlike a certain somebody who just up and collapsed in his lab last w-”

“Quas-“ Caduceus started.

The satellite made a noise approximate to a human clearing their throat. “Kidding. Just kidding.” She lowered her altitude so that her top surface was level with the cliff. “Alright, Dr. Thayer. Just step aboard and I’ll show you the world in all its shimmering splendor.”

“I never asked,” Cad said as Thayer prepared to go. “What’s in the briefcase?”

“The only way for anyone to access the data behind Sanguine Storm.” Thayer responded. “I deleted my backups at the lab. I was serious about getting full credit for this thing, Marty.”

Caduceus squinted his eyes, then shrugged.

Thayer took a wary step towards the edge of the cliff before hearing Caduceus speak again. “Quaesitor has a localized gravity field. So long as you’re standing on her top surface, you won’t fall down even if she flies too fast.”

With that, Thayer said a quick thanks to Caduceus and hopped onto the top surface, finding that his feet seemed to cling – almost as a magnet would – onto the vessel whenever he set them down. Quaesitor began to gain altitude.

She stopped when her eye was level with Caduceus, her head peeking from the cliff.

“Are you sure you won’t be getting jealous?”

“Proceed with the mission, Quaesitor.”

Giggled. The satellite giggled.

Thayer thought that he could glimpse back down at Caduceus once the satellite was a few meters above the cliff, if only to see if the phlegmatic doctor’s face had indeed been blushing – that itself, he reflected, was an insane thought to have - but Thayer was already concealed by layers of clouds before he knew it.

Quaesitor darted forward.

“That was fast.” Thayer said, peering down as they broke through the cloud layer. They had flown for tens of kilometres, by his estimate. “We’re already above the closest major Foundation facility?”

“It’s the closest Farce facility worth checking.” Quasi corrected. “We passed by close to a dozen on the way here.”

Thayer scratched his chin. “I didn’t even know they had that many now.”

“Their organization has gotten a bit bloated, as of late.” Quasi’s surface vibrated in a way that resembled a shrug. “But here you are, this is the first place you wanted to scout out. D’ya think it’s the perfect place to wreak some havoc?”

Thayer inspected the site. In public, the sprawling complex beneath claimed to be an abandoned power plant. Such a description hardly justified the fortified walls surrounding the lot, the manned guard towers, the busy garage, and the full-armored soldiers watching a single-file line of men in jumpsuits walking from one building to another.

“Prisoners?” Thayer inquired.

“D-Class. My scans say many of them are from our own captured Sigma-level recruits. Most others are taken from local jails. The Farce uses these men as subjects for their own tests.”

That’s a thought that seldom crossed Thayer’s mind. He knew the Foundation also spent lives to study its anomalies, but he never realized the scale at which such a large rival group could round up people like cattle. And for what cause?

Thayer once heard Helios deliver a polemic on how the Farce used their D-Class. In the past five years, the Falchion’s spies reported that the most common cause of death for such ill-fated souls was being left to die in alternate dimensions and pocket realities. Abandoned by their mission control after a piecemeal exploration that salvaged nothing useful.

For added perspective, the second most common way they died was through human sacrifice.

“Not one of those prisoners will contribute to the advancement of science, will they?” Thayer said. He sounded as if he pitied the men below.

“Hmm. Cad was right. You are a bit unhinged.” Quasi said.

Thayer clutched the briefcase with the Sanguine Storm data. “If I release the virus into this site, I can at least give these D-Class, and everyone else down there, a chance to evolve… a chance to contribute to actual research…”

Quasi hummed. “In a vacuum, it wouldn’t be a bad idea. You’d kill hundreds, if not thousands, depending on how much of this Site is underground. You’d take a Farce installation out of the fight. It might destabilize their hold over the entire area, so we could take control. Not to mention the spectacle – scores of those bloody angels screeching and disintegrating into so much red.”

“Yes, yes!” Thayer was beside himself in joy. “You understand! This place will surely be my first choice!”

“How are you going to release this virus?”

“I have a few ideas.” Thayer said. “Sanguine Storm is fast-acting. Once its presence is detected, we have only a small window of time before the Farce composes a countermeasure. I have to infect the largest concentration of people in the first few moments to achieve success.”

Thayer paused to catch his breath. He was panting. “With that in mind, the logical tactic would be to disperse the virus over the vents, but the Farce may be using advanced air filters to keep viral anomalies out… so a detonation of viral material in high-density areas, such as their mess halls and workstations, may work… the question is how to get such a bomb into those places. I would need clearance on something like the Shapeless Knave…

Quaesitor emitted a faint hum. “By devising a small, stowaway container to quickly release the virus, an Item like the Knave could get it under their noses. Maybe you could work with someone from IRUS for that. Dr. Kuhli might be able t-“

Quasi froze.

Thayer crouched as the satellite jolted upward. Without a moment to gain his bearings, they were already above the cloud layer.

Only when they were well and away from the Foundation facility did Quasi speak up.

“Something down there was scanning me.” She said.

“The Foundation caught you on their sensors?”

“Not them.” The satellite replied. Thayer had nothing else to say as they flew.

The satellite’s mood was all but restored by the time they circled around the second planned site.

Thayer eyed the three bulbous, steel-grey drones that hovered a few feet away from Quaesitor. Although depowered, they continued to tag along, limp as ragdolls. “I thought SEPIA UAVs posed a threat to airborne anomalies.” He inquired.

Quasi synthesized a sound that was not unlike a “psh!” in human parlance.

“SEPIA’s cancellation protocols aren’t that advanced yet. I can still overwhelm these Skyjackers’ anti-anomalous defenses and magnetize their systems like any other aircraft. I’m pretty sure their chiefs down below are already in Scarlet Signal alert; that means they’re mobilizing their Aetherguards thinking an enemy attack’s about to happen, but we’ll be safe up here for the time being. So, like what you see below?”

In contrast to the ugly, utilitarian Foundation site, SEPIA’s smaller campus was pristine. The lot was nestled in a thick forest. It looked peaceful, with its lush grass, clean white walls, and tall pines.

It didn’t look like a camp that collected captured Teal agents and… changed… them into beings that were devoid of anomalous power… or living souls. It looked like a prep school for affluent children.

An H-shaped four-story building stood at the center. It could have posed for a university. There was also a continuous hum of drones and automated turrets surveying the perimeter, oblivious to Quaesitor’s own stealth.

“You can’t use the Knave here, you know.” Quasi said. “SEPIA might still not be advanced enough to harm me, but their surface cancellers are already potent. One time, while assaulting another base, they turned our clocktipedes into twisted cogs the moment they entered within range.”

Thayer ruminated on his choices. “If I’m confined to using our baseline assets, I have an idea as well.”

“What is it?”

“Human wave tactics. We send in more fanatics than their defenses can handle; even if only a fraction manage to slip past the guards and enter the installations at various points, we can easily start an outbreak. I figure a couple of platoons from our Sigma-level radicals will do the trick.”

Quaesitor decreased her flying speed. “I’m beginning to see why you’re Cad’s friend. But wait… requisitioning that many fanatics – even baseline humans – would be pretty costly, right? And it seems rather… inefficient…”

“Well, why not? I say we storm this area. They can’t stop all of us.”

Thayer folded his arms. “I believe this site is another solid choice, Quaesitor. I have only one last place to check out, and then, we can return to Base. I’m about to write the most important document of my life.”

“Loyalists.” Thayer spat, as if the word was made of battery acid.

The rocky hills concealed a yawning tunnel entrance. Base Eighty-Three was below. A hold-out of the Insurgency that hadn’t yet sworn allegiance to the Falchion.

“Just note that I’m sending you to space the minute your spittle lands on my topside.” Quasi was quick to remind.

“My bad.” Thayer replied. “But just by seeing how decrepit their entrance is right now, I feel disappointed thinking that the Insurgency could degrade like this at any time. I fought in Aleph, you know. Before the Falchion took up arms, when Creed and his cronies were running Insu, it was like working at a poorer and looser version of the Foundation. It was… shameful. Nothing meaningful advanced.”

“You’re really into this ‘advancement’ dogma, aren’t you? I respect that. Is that the core tenet of Serratus?”

“Ah, Marty told you? Well, it is. Thank you. But contrary to what the mainstream members of Nucleolus believe, Serratus isn’t trying to break away from the cell’s ideology. We’re a movement of reform. Things like safety and security protocols in the Falchion faction are too tight these days. We want freer experimentation to find ways to benefit the cause.”

“Are you afraid the Falchion will lose its dominance over the Insurgency’s other factions one day?”
Thayer shrugged. “It’s a possibility.”

“Then how will you impose our dominance on these loyalists?” Quaesitor returned their attention to the ramshackle base below.

Thayer considered his choices for several moments.

“The Loyalists are our ideological and symbolic enemies who no longer operate on reason. As such, an approach that speaks to their emotions will work best. We infect a few subjects and create a force of the bloody… wretches… to do the job. By luring even a few of their diminished units out into the open for infection, we can show them the consequences of their timidity.”

Satisfied, Thayer stopped atop a tall cliff at a nearby mountain to rest and reconvene with Caduceus, whose life-sized image Quaesitor projected from her eyeport.

“I have to say, Marty, your satellite here has been a miracle worker. I never knew we could collect so much intel from the field.”

“Quaesitor is an indispensable asset in Nucleolus’ Item Arsenal. She’s been stellar in assisting our Acquisition and Retrieval teams lately, especially in detecting the Teal-class humanoid that was roaming around Canad- did you say my satellite?”

Thayer patted his briefcase. “Now all I need is clearance from Command and I can pump out my project proposal in a matter of days!”

“Ah yes, about that. I returned to bring you news concerning Helios’ rejection of your use of Sanguine Storm. He said it’s an abject and irresponsible safety risk.”

By then, Thayer’s wide eyes – which were once fringed with red – were entirely bloodshot. “We are the Chaos Insurgency!” He bellowed, losing any restraint he had in his voice. “What part of ‘Chaos’ has anything to do with safety?!”

“I don’t believe you’d understand.” Caduceus replied.

“Really? Mister Beta-class Senior Researcher of IRUS can’t boil down a complex idea so that his poor ol’ Delta-level colleague-me can understand with his inferior mind? You fucking swine!

“Relax yourself, Benjamin.” Caduceus said. “I appealed your case to Helios myself. He has other plans. He doesn’t want to escalate tensions with the Farce or with SEPIA at this critical moment. You aren’t allowed to contaminate their bases with Sanguine Storm.”

Thayer ran both hands through his hair. “What about Base Eighty-Three? They’re bloody Loyalists, Marty! We hunted those cretins! Helios couldn’t possibly care about inciting a war with Insu’s remaining weaklings, could he?”

“Benjamin… Base Eighty-Three is a ghost site. The Loyalists abandoned the place years ago.”

Thayer’s vision swam. “What about a village? Give me a fucking village in the vicinity and I can show that bastard that my creation works. I can even target the families of the local Foundation units in the area… wouldn’t that be great?”

“You can’t do that, Ben.” Caduceus replied.

“Why, in Haos’ name, not?”

The two entered a tense silence at Thayer’s utterance of that name. Caduceus’ eyes narrowed with contempt.

Caduceus broke the silence first. “You want to… deliberately infect… non-affiliated human beings to a lethal virus – one that transforms them into airborne weapons that could carry the pathogen tens of kilometers away – and create the health crisis that finally collapses baseline society, all because you want to justify wasting the past five years of your life trying to engineer a bioweapon?”

“Are you trying to lecture me about the Hippocratic Oath now, hypocrite?”

“You’re more ambitious than I thought.”

Thayer laughed, bitter as bile. “Says the shill who sold out his friends to suck up to Nucleolus’ big-shots. Were you afraid about your prospects for promotion when Cavendish finally kicked the bucket?”

“Provoking me is not in either of our best interests, Thayer.”

“I’ll tell you what’s in our mutual best interests, then, Martin. Science. I thought the Insurgency sought its advancement above all else under Falchion rule. Are we really no better than the Loyalists we cast down? I say we are better. And I’m going to take my chance to prove it to you and Helios.”

Dr. Thayer ran. Although he was frail, he managed to leap back onto Quaesitor’s top surface. And then he opened his briefcase for Martin to see.

“How’s this for safety? A herme-sealed briefcase that wouldn’t crack open even if I ran a tank over it. Look at how many vials of sanguine massacre are in store for the Insurgency’s enemies, Marty! I could contaminate the whole continent with this. But I won’t. I’ll just release a teensy amount of the aerosol down a town in the middle of nowhere and create a new age for ano-biowarfare!”

“Cad?” Quasi inquired.

“We could change the world, Martin. Expand your ambitions.” Thayer pleaded.

Caduceus stared into the sky, and then at his colleague.

“Bring him to the nearest village, Quasi. Quickly.”

“You’ll see, my friend. You will.” Tears welled in Thayer’s eyes as Quaesitor rose into the heavens.

And she rose close to the stratosphere, and further on.

“I think this is high enough, Quasi. We should fly towards our destination now. Or are you trying to avoid something?”

“Yes, you.” The satellite emitted a deep, angry hum, and Thayer’s feet – in the next moment – were reminded that they did not stand on steady ground.

With the gravity field disabled, Thayer lost his balance and toppled over the edge of Quasi’s topside. He screamed, but his free hand found purchase somewhere. It was in a deep indent on Quaesitor’s rocky lower surface. With the other hand, he held tightly onto the briefcase. And all the while, the satellite continued to ascend into the wild blue boundary beneath the stars.

“You bitch!” He cried out as wind rushed past him.

Thayer already had a plan concocted, despite the adrenaline threatening to take over his higher thinking. Although he knew next to nothing about Quaesitor’s internal physiology, he surmised that there was likely a tiny part of her which was biological. If he smashed open every vial of Sanguine Storm in the briefcase and forced it into every seam and crevice on her exterior – and even her eyeport, if he could manage – even a few particles that reach her biological matter could infect her.

And Martin would watch in despair as his satellite metamorphosized into the most majestic red angel to grace the earthly sky.

“A fitting end,” Thayer said, as he began to dream. There was little air to breathe anymore, but the sensation of drifting into an endless sea of clouds seemed to follow him into eternity.

Four pairs of heavy boots left the Jeep. It was approaching dark.

“Small blessings.” One of the figures spoke. “At least it’s dark enough that no group of kids would wander this deep into the woods. I didn’t want to deal with unintended casualties today. We have it at last.”

With protective gloves on, Caduceus picked up the dented briefcase from its impact site. He inspected it, found it free of cracks, and handed it to one of the three figures wearing full-body L4 biosafety suits. He inspected the papers on the briefcase’s front pocket.

“This paper is atrocious.” He said. “It seems like I’ll need to improve the proposal before turning it in for review. The paper truly has to justify the time I spent engineering Sanguine Storm, after all.” Caduceus turned back to the Jeep.

“What about him?” His secretary spoke, pointing to “it.”

“Ah yes, the meat?” Caduceus said, already sitting down. “That’s why we brought the crate along. Have the two extract as much of it as can be managed. We might as well repurpose it in some way.”

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