Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus (2 page)

BOOK: Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus
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To say that this is not the future my parents envisioned for me when I said I wanted to become a virologist would be an understatement. They pictured a life of scientific accomplishment and research performed in perfectly clean, brilliantly white rooms, with no fewer than five layers of security between me and the things I worked on. They pictured marriage, a family, and above all else, safety. Their daughter was going to be a doctor. Their daughter was going to find the cure for Kellis-Amberlee. Their daughter was going to save the world.

They were sort of right. For a while, I’d thrived in just the sort of environment they’d imagined for me. I had gone from Health Canada to the Canadian branch of the CDC, an organization established after the Rising for the purpose of keeping things on a relatively even, zombie-free keel. I’d met a good man, gotten married, and started thinking about children. There are people who say that it’s immoral to bring kids into the world we have today. Most of those people aren’t really thinking about the long-term consequences of their words. If everyone stopped having kids, the human race would die out. Maybe not directly because of Kellis-Amberlee, but does that really matter? We’d still be dying out due to the zombie apocalypse. Screw that.

Then came the outbreak at Simon Fraser University. My husband, Joseph Abbey, was on campus, giving a lecture to a class of future software engineers. Someone got sick, someone died, the dead began to walk, and rather than sending in a team of soldiers to save the healthy, the people at the switch decided to cut their losses and burn the whole thing to the ground. It was the first major firebombing on Canadian soil since the end of the Rising. There were no survivors. Including my husband. Including, once I had managed to beg, borrow, and steal my way into accessing the few shreds of footage that had managed to survive the “accidental” purge that followed the bombs, my professional career.

They—Health Canada, the CDC, the governments of their respective countries—were lying to me, and had been lying to me since the day I said, “I think I want to go to medical school.” They weren’t keeping us safe. They weren’t searching for a cure, or even for a solution. They were just writing us off as acceptable losses. After Simon Fraser, I couldn’t believe that any losses were acceptable. Not unless I saw them with my own eyes.

I’d handed in my resignation the day after the funeral. The CDC had refused it. They had also refused the second one I handed them. I don’t know if they bothered to refuse the third. I was gone before anyone could come looking for me. I’ve been gone ever since.

Technicians walked past me in the hall, and if any of them found the wet splotches on my shirt, or the fact that I was soaked to the knees, to be a little bit strange, they were smart enough not to say anything about it. It’s always nice to have confirmation that I hire intelligent people—sometimes brains are the only things that stand between a living person and a gruesome death. Or maybe brains and Kevlar.

Joe lifted his head when I opened my office door, looking perplexed as only a large canine can. I offered him a smile and closed the door behind myself, heading for the closet on the other side of my desk. “It’s okay, Joe,” I said. “Barney just gave me a few hugs too many, and now I need a fresh shirt.”

Joe’s tail thumped the floor hopefully. I sighed.

“No, not right now. Sorry, buddy, but I really do need to finish these expense reports before Joey calls me up and wants to know what happened to all that human growth hormone he shipped my way last quarter. I’ll make it up to you later, all right?”

Joe’s tail hit the floor one more time before my “no” processed. Looking sad, he put his head down on his paws and heaved a sigh deep enough that it seemed to have deflated his entire body. I grinned. I couldn’t help myself. There was just something about an overly dramatic dog that amused the hell out of me—a direct contradiction of my reaction to overly dramatic interns, who were generally sent packing at the first opportunity. One nice thing about running my own private, illegal lab:
Everything
is work for hire.

Our current facility was one of the nicer ones we’d had for a while, and we’d been there for coming on three years. That was a record for my little operation, which normally got driven out of each new facility within eleven months. I blamed the changes in the status quo that had accompanied our relocation to Shady Cove, Oregon. All my previous labs had operated in a climate where the CDC was the enemy—no question, no quarter—and the government was actively working against research into Kellis-Amberlee reservoir conditions. Thanks to some dangerous houseguests of mine, there had been what I could only describe as an ideological climate change. I wasn’t coming back to the fold of “legitimate medicine” any time soon, but the new world we were moving into was a lot better for people like me.

If I was being honest with myself, I had to admit that “legitimate medicine” wanted to deal with me about as much as I wanted to deal with it. Joey knew exactly where I was located these days. So did Dr. Danika Kimberley, an EIS researcher who had managed to worm her way into the upper echelons of the restructured CDC. Either one of them could have set the wolves on me at any time, and they didn’t, because they knew the work I was doing was as important as it was impossible for them to do. No ethics committees for me. No oversight. Just a bunch of skilled technicians, a lot of animals, and the knowledge that someone should have started years before I had.

It was nice, still being in Shady Cove. I had told Joey that we’d be cutting our losses and running, during the final showdown between the old CDC and the branch of the EIS that would go on to become the new one. He had cautioned me to wait a little while, to be patient, and for once in my life, I had actually listened, maybe because Dr. Joseph Shoji was one of my only old colleagues who had never, not for a second, tried to write me off as deluded or insane. He had always understood that there was a difference between anger and loss of faculties, and he didn’t throw around ableist terms like “mad” just because it made him look better. So when he’d asked me to stay, I’d given him the benefit of the doubt.

My reward was the Shady Cove Forestry Center. It had been the site of the single largest massacre my team had ever experienced, when a CDC spy who had managed to worm her way into my interns decided that she could exterminate a whole lot of problems with one pair of lock cutters. She’d been torn apart by the test subjects she released, before they went on to kill eleven more of my people.
Eleven
. I had never lost that many team members in a single day, and if the infected hadn’t killed her, I would have done it myself.

I had always known that the CDC was watching me. They would have been stupid not to be, and while the CDC was many things—corrupt, cowardly, morally bankrupt in a way that all the “mad science” in the world would never be able to match—they weren’t stupid. They never had been. I’d even rooted out a few of their previous spies, many of whom were still with me in one capacity or another. It was amazing how quickly exposure to the real world would deprogram the little darlings, many of whom had never seen unredacted infection data in their lives. My IT department was excellent, and backstopped by the latest technology from the antisurveillance teams working in their own part of the modern underground. One of the past moles had admitted, after he changed sides, that the CDC called my lab “the roach motel.” Data got in, but it didn’t get out.

“Once I managed to get hired, I was supposed to keep my head down and wait for you to trust me enough to send me on a supply run,” he’d said, looking just chagrined enough that I hadn’t wanted to belt him upside the head with a stapler. “Then I could transmit a signal back to the CDC with everything I’d managed to learn.”

“Did you?” That had been my only question, and when I’d asked it, he had shaken his head.

“Never got the chance,” he’d said. “Can I stay?”

“Sure, Tom; you can stay.” And then he’d shaken my hand and gone back to hydroponics, where he had proceeded to test the rumors that people could die from marijuana overdose. Since he’d survived, I was pretty sure those rumors were just that—rumors, and no more true than the one about the human clone living somewhere in Canada, off the grid and out of the public eye.

Well. Maybe that one had a little grain of truth to it.

The Shady Cove facility had everything we’d ever needed and a few things we hadn’t considered, such as the octopus wading pool and the sizable living quarters that had been provided for the rangers and college interns who had originally ruled the forestry center. For the first time in a long time, my people were comfortable, no one was worried about using up the last of the hot water, and we were even starting to make acquaintances within the local black market, rather than just going for the mutual exploitation model.

It was a pretty sweet gig. I had all faith that it was going to come to a terrible end, and very soon, because that’s what happens to pretty sweet gigs. And in the meanwhile, no matter how much I tried to delay or deny it, there was still paperwork to be done.

I produced a dry shirt, pants, and socks from the stock in my closet, kicked off my shoes, and tossed my wet clothes onto the floor to be dealt with later. It only took a few minutes for me to get myself re-dressed, and no elves or CPAs or other mythological creatures appeared to do my paperwork in the interim.

Sometimes, it’s not so good to be the boss after all. I sat back down, picked up my pen, and bent forward. This time, the sound of screams did not come to save me.

3.

After two hours of paperwork, broken up by three cups of coffee, a banana-mango smoothie, and the corresponding trips to the bathroom, I was done. Virtually anything would have been better than filling out one more itemized list, and that included dealing with another outbreak in my own living room. “Life was easier when assholes tried to kill us on the regular, Joe,” I said. Joe replied by lifting his head and thumping his tail against the floor again, eternally hopeful.

Might as well reward him for his patience. “Come on, buddy,” I said, and stood. “Let’s go on an inspection.”

Joe was immediately on his feet, tail wagging so hard that his entire massive body shook. This time, I left my lab coat on the hook as I opened the door and stepped out into the hall, Joe pacing along beside me. Together, we filled all the available space, forming an impassable wall of scientist and dog. I liked it that way. It was good to remind people that when something needed to move, it wasn’t going to be me.

Again, some of the psychology that went into my lab design and behavior could be seen as cruel, but there was always a good reason for it. I wasn’t here to foster a loving workplace environment or encourage my people to be the best that they could be. I was here to save the world, and to hopefully do it with a minimum of casualties. That meant, among other things, that I needed people to remember the chain of command, and to not think that they were somehow above it because they had feelings, needs, and opinions of their own. Surprisingly enough, wandering around with a carnivore the size of a small pony helped me get my point across.

The lab where Barney had performed his classic face-hugging stunt was empty, and I was pleased to see that the floor and ceiling had both been dried off. Two of the smaller octopuses were in the tank, one of them clinging to a rocky outcropping high in the corner, and the other lazily wandering around the bottom. Joe pressed his nose against the glass and made a little wuffing noise. I pulled him back.

“Don’t bark at the octopuses,” I scolded mildly, wiping the wet spot his nose had left on the glass away with my sleeve. “You know they hold grudges.”

Joe looked at me dolefully. I ruffled his ears and pulled him away from the tank, stepping back out into the hall. The air smelled of bleach and artificial citrus: The cleaning crew had been through recently. I nodded to myself, satisfied with their work, but kept studying the walls and floor as I led Joe through the facility. Part of being the head of an underground lab is knowing that no one is responsible for your survival but you. I didn’t have
a
job—I had
all
the jobs, from making the mac and cheese on Tuesdays to scrubbing out the octopus enclosures. The fact that I outsourced them from time to time didn’t make them any less my own, and it wouldn’t save me from the consequences if they were done poorly.

Joe sniffed the ground as we walked, his tail waving wide and creating a dangerous barrier behind us. A dog that big, with a tail that long, can leave bruises just by being happy to see you. The various interns we passed all gave Joe a wide berth, until we reached the lobby of the forestry center. Out of all the rooms in the building, this was the one we had changed the least. It was too big and too oddly shaped to be of use for much beyond storage and socialization, and we already had several storage rooms. Consequently, the lobby was where couches and chairs from the rest of the building went to die. They were shoved up against walls and curved into conversation pits, some of which were currently in use. I waved but didn’t approach. My people, no matter how much they liked me and appreciated my leadership, weren’t here to be my friends. All I’d do by approaching was make them uncomfortable.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. If you ask me—and why wouldn’t you ask me? I’m a genius—heavier yet are the shoulders that wear the lab coat. Everyone in this facility depended on me to keep them alive. If that meant I wasn’t invited to the Friday movie nights, well, so be it.

Sometimes I really missed the days when Shaun Mason and his little band of fools had been in and out every time I turned around. Shaun had never been afraid of me. He’d been suffering from PTSD and obsessed with getting revenge for his dead sister, and most of his people should probably have quit and come to work for me, since at least I don’t hit, but he’d been
fun
. He’d been trying to make a place for himself in a world that doesn’t yield easily to people like us, and he’d been doing it while knowing exactly how broken he really was.

BOOK: Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus
10.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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