Doctor Ahmad Jones, from concussed head to throbbing ankle, was down for the count. He bled from the gash on his cheek where Coffman’s knuckles had connected. He had twisted his ankle, and banged his elbow against the wall too, whacking the humerus bone and the cluster of nerve ends. He glared at Coffman, who calmly removed the stunner from Jones’ hand and pocketed it.
"Excuse me, doctor," said Coffman. He used the zip ties to fasten Jones’ wrists behind his back. He kept glancing over his shoulder to check on Bibeaux, but the lab attendant didn’t make a move.
"I will stop you," Doctor Jones insisted.
"Sorry, doctor, but you had your chance." Coffman dug into his bag. He grabbed two things. The first was a snub nose .22 caliber revolver, loaded with snake shot; the second, a small compact electronic device, also assembled in Taiwan, in a flat case not much bigger than a portable CD player. Coffman stuffed the revolver under his belt and placed the device on the table at the cadaver’s feet, opened it and activated it. It began to hum.
"Stop what you are doing," said Jones. "I am ordering you to stop."
"I would have preferred you cooperated, doctor," Coffman said. He shrugged. "But if this is how it has to be." Coffman took foam earplugs out of the side compartment of the bag. He tossed a pair in a sealed plastic bag to Bibeaux and hunkered down to insert them in Jones’ ears.
"This is for your protection. The frequencies emitted can be painful and do damage to the human ear." He put plugs in his own ears and Bibeaux quickly did the same.
Jones resisted. "Mr. Coffman, cease at once!" He tried to rise to his feet.
"Stay put!"
"I will not!"
Coffman pushed him down and used a zip tie to fasten Jones’ ankles together. Then he took the syringe Jones had prepared, intending to sedate Coffman, and rolled up Jones’ pant leg to inject the needle into the doctor’s thigh.
"This is outrageous!"
"No, this is precautionary. You tasering me was outrageous. That hurt like hell, doc, and you made me bite my tongue and piss myself and I don’t like that."
"You cannot, cannot, be allowed, to do, to do, what you are about to do."
"Relax, Dr. Jones. You’re injured, and there is nothing you can do about it."
Coffman stood. He had never been physically assaulted by one of the locals before. This was a whole new development and a troubling one too. There was no protocol to deal with this situation. Debriefing on the Leclerc incident was going to be rough. After being stunned and unconscious for a minute or two while his heart pounded in his chest, Coffman had only caught bits and pieces of what Jones had said to Bibeaux. Something about a chrysalis.
But the immediate task, the priority, was extracting the bug. "Get some gowns and surgical masks, please," Coffman said to Bibeaux.
Coffman raised his voice and made gestures. "Gowns and surgical masks."
"Oh. OK." Bibeaux nodded and hopped to it, compliant now.
The device emitted high-pitched frequencies. These, properly aimed and prolonged, affected the organism, irritated the hell out of it, even in its dormant state. Coffman donned the surgical gown and mask and put on tough but flexible polyurethane gloves: this was going to be one hell of a wake-up call for the fluke inside Marek’s corpse.
It wasn’t going to be happy.
Coffman spun the dial. To its max.
The device emitted a piercing sound. Bibeaux covered his ears with his hands and huddled in the corner. Coffman stayed on task. He took a scalpel and surgical instruments, an injector and a specimen bag in hand, determined to bag the bug and get this over with.
Within seconds, the cadaver’s abdomen began to move. The cold dead gray flesh with purple blotches of decomposition, taut beneath the ribcage, rippled. Coffman remained ready.
Then it burst.
The organism. Its pincers chomped their way out of the cadaver, making an exit tunnel out of the body of Lawrence R. Marek, its now defunct host. It wriggled and dropped its protective carapace in strands, like orange peels. Its eyes glowed now, awake. The segmented body, like a caterpillar, twisted this way and that, flagellum waving.
Coffman grabbed it with long tweezers and then lanced it. Gotcha, fucker, he thought. He gave it an injection and the squirming, segmented body went limp almost immediately. Coffman stuffed it in the specimen bag and sealed it. Done.
Coffman rezipped the body bag and removed his mask and gloves.
"You’ve murdered it!" said Jones. His face contorted. He wasn’t out. He was furious. The injection he had been given hadn’t taken effect. His whole body shuddered with rage.
Doctor Ahmad Jones wept. "The beautiful chrysalis!"
"It’s not so beautiful," said Coffman. "It’s an ugly parasitic thing and it drains its host. It is a killer, doctor."
"You can’t know!"
"I do know," said Coffman. "It’s my job."
"Doctor," said Bibeaux, "are you OK?"
Jones’ mouth gaped open. No words, no sounds emanated from him. Blood, instead. Bright red blood. It dribbled on his tie and splattered the front of his immaculate starched white shirt. Doctor Jones began to convulse.
"What’s happening to him?" said Bibeaux, crouching behind the freezer and peering around the corner.
"Jeez," said Coffman. "He’s carrying one too."
Jones bowed his head, his chin resting on his chest. Then his abdomen opened, torn in two, from sternum to below the navel, making a ripping sound like Velcro, and tearing through Jones’ shirt and suit jacket, it emerged. This one was not in a larval or pupal or dormant stage. It was not a chrysalis. It was a full banger mother and Coffman’s eyes widened and his body went tense.
It expanded and unfolded, like a blossoming flower. Tendrils shot out, strands waved, and frond-like structures, dark purplish and crimson in color circled its head and maw. It looked at Coffman with dark, serpentine eyes.
It spoke.
"Assassin," it said to Coffman. A shrill, hissing, angry voice that echoed Jones’ baritone.
"Holy shit," said Bibeaux and he averted his eyes and shrank behind the freezer.
"Mr. Coffman. Mr. Coffman, I am speaking to you. Attend to me."
Coffman stared at the thing, and then he said: "What?"
"You are wondering what I am."
"I know what you are."
"You think you know but you do not know. I will tell you."
"Uh-huh," said Coffman. His initial shock had worn off; he was thinking now. He nodded and took a few steps backward, letting his hand move slowly to the butt of the revolver tucked under his waistband. "I’m listening," Coffman said. "You got my full attention. What do you want to say?"
"I am."
"You are…what?"
"I am that which is hidden. I am completion. I am redemption. I am one of many. We are here to usher in the new age, when perfect peace and justice will prevail."
"Do tell," said Coffman. He watched it. Closely. Its slow, graceful movements were almost hypnotic. But its tendrils were slowly extending. Toward him.
"You do not believe. You are a creature of iniquity, of the past."
There were small, sharp barbs on each tendril, Coffman saw. These looked nasty.
"Do you really think you can halt the inevitable?"
"I’d have to think about it," said Coffman.
"It was a rhetorical question, Mr. Coffman."
Coffman saw the barbs were lengthening, like claws coming out.
"There is a new order of things that will supersede the old corrupt order. In places like Leclerc, that have been ruined and oppressed and plundered, the new order will arise. From each chrysalis that is planted and thrives in its host, we go forth. What you, in your arrogance and blindness, call a parasite is not a parasite at all."
"No?" said Coffman. Behind the eyes, he thought. There was a mass there, like the head of a snake. It throbbed.
"You, and what you represent, are the parasites, Mr. Coffman. Parasites on this earth, on nature, on society. A higher order of being is evolving. Your efforts cannot deter the process. We will dispel the old darkness, the exploitive and destructive regime. Time is up."
The tendrils reached the toes of Coffman’s shoes.
"Oh cripes," said Coffman. "Fuck you. I hate being lectured."
He stepped back and drew the revolver from under his belt, aimed it, and snapped off three bursts of snake shot in quick succession. At the center of mass, between its eyes. Then Coffman lunged backwards as the tendrils whipped at him, the barbs cutting the fabric of his pants and scraping flesh, burning. Falling, Coffman dropped the revolver; it skidded across the tile.
With a yell, Bibeaux came charging around the corner of the freezer, an aerosol can of WD40 in one hand, butane lighter in the other. He flicked the lighter, the blue flame popped and Bibeaux sprayed the aerosol, sending a plume of flame at the thing.
It screamed.
Coffman sat up and grabbed the revolver. The tendrils had retreated. Bibeaux dropped the empty aerosol can and took another from the pocket of his lab coat and continued spraying flame. Coffman fired the revolver until all ten cartridges were spent.