by Bill Bowler
part 1 of 2
Am not I|
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?
— Wm. Blake
Frank Stein and Lionel Plankton bumped heads as they leaned across Lionel’s desk from opposite directions.
“Will you please be careful!” Lionel rubbed his scalp.
“Sorry, Lionel.” Frank winced.
Both men gazed down at the photo on the desk between them, a hi-res aerial reconnaissance view of a walled compound. The word “CLASSIFIED” was printed in red across the top of the image.
Frank wiped his glasses and studied the picture. “Looks like you’ve got a coffee stain there, Lionel.”
“It’s not a coffee stain, Frank. They’re scrambling the image.”
“They can do that?”
“That’s not good.”
Frank took a closer look at the smudge. “So what do you think they’re hiding?”
“We have good reason to believe...”
There was a knock.
“What is it?” asked Lionel.
The door opened and a young woman entered. “I found the file, Admiral.”
“Come in, Tamara.” Lionel smiled. “Frank, this is my assistant, Miss Hari.”
Frank nodded. Tamara smiled demurely. Her clinging blouse was open three buttons down the front, drawing Frank’s gaze to the hills and shadows and the unexplored depths. As his eyes continued their journey south, he couldn’t help but admire her slender waist. He noticed that her skirt was shorter than might be expected in a professional office environment and that her thighs were tanned and muscular, like a tennis player’s.
Tamara put the file down on Lionel’s desk. Her eyes fell briefly on the satellite photo.
“That shot’s kind of blurry in the middle.”
Lionel turned the photo face down.
“That will be all for now, Tamara.”
“Yes, Admiral.” Tamara swung her hips and sashayed across the carpet on stiletto heels. She paused at the door. “Nice to meet you, Frank.”
“Likewise. Me, too,” Frank mumbled. He looked down but looked up again to admire the rear view before the door closed.
Alone again with Lionel, Frank took a breath and picked up the satellite photo. “If they’re scrambling the image, what are they hiding?”
Lionel lowered his voice. “We suspect, with good reason, that they’re enriching Exorbium at this site.”
Frank’s eyes went wide. Lionel continued.
“It’s a violation of the Non-Dispersal Treaty. Not that we signed the treaty. The boys upstairs want to play it safe and blow the place up, hit them with a surgical strike.”
“But,” said Frank, “the Exorbium could detonate. It could set off a chain reaction.”
“Can’t be helped.”
“They’d retaliate. The situation could escalate.”
“We have to take that risk.” Lionel’s face was grim.
“Listen, Lionel, we’re shooting in the dark here. We need to get inside the perimeter and take a look around, find out what they’re up to.”
“We’ve already tried that, Frank. Three infiltration missions have failed. Each time, our local assets have been identified by the enemy and neutralized. We’re running out of options.”
Lionel put the satellite image in a top secret folder and locked it in his desk drawer.
“I’m telling you, we can do it!” said Frank.
“I appreciate your enthusiasm, Frank, but—”
“We can get in there,” Frank insisted.
Lionel rolled his eyes.
“We’re ready,” said Frank. “The test results have been spectacular.”
“They won’t buy it upstairs.”
“Just give me one chance, Lionel, one chance.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come with me,” said Frank. “I’ll show you.”
Frank opened the door and bumped into Tamara, who was bending over in the doorway. She dropped a sheaf of papers that scattered on the floor like autumn leaves.
“I’m so sorry!” said Frank. “Here, let me help you.”
Frank knelt down beside Tamara and helped her gather the strewn papers. Her thigh brushed against his, and something seemed to pass between them, something that excited Frank and took his mind off the project, if only for a moment.
* * *
Frank and Lionel took the elevator to the sub-basement and walked down a drab hallway past uniformed guards to an unmarked door at the end of the corridor. Frank looked into the retinal scanner, the door clicked open, and the two men entered a spacious laboratory. Rows of tables with large glass tanks, heat lamps, plastic piping, and hundreds of test tubes in wooden racks filled the room. Men in white lab coats were bending over test tubes, peering into microscopes, adjusting gauges and dials, typing at keyboards, and milling around the room talking among themselves.
Frank gestured toward a table on their left. Lionel observed a glass tank, like an aquarium, covered with thin mesh and filled with swarming bugs. He began to feel itchy.
Beside the tank, a large glass tube rested upright on a stand. A thin metal rod ran the length of the tube. Attached to the rod was a brown flaky mass. As Lionel watched, the flaky mass slowly peeled open, and a large damp insect crawled out and unfurled its wings.
Frank pointed to their right, and Lionel saw a technician holding a grub with a pair of tweezers. The technician inserted a tiny metal sliver into the flesh of the larva and placed it gently in an empty test tube with a metal rod in the center. The larva crawled up the rod and began to weave a cocoon.
“This is all very interesting,” said Lionel, scratching himself, “but—”
“We grow the micro-electronics inside the pupae,” said Frank. “By increasing oxygen levels, we obtain greater payload capacity.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“The bio-electronic interface facilitates remote control.”
“Listen to me, Lionel. We’re talking about non-traditional air power here.”
Lionel scratched his head.
Frank continued, “We can modulate take-off, landing, heading, and velocity.”
A glimmer of understanding flitted across Lionel’s face.
“These things can be mass-produced rapidly.” Frank drove the point home. “Our remote control operators can deliver a unit within five meters of a designated target.”
“I think I see where you’re going with this, Frank. Can you hook up a little camera to one of these buggers?”
Lionel knit his brows and scratched his chin.
“All right then, Frank. We’ll deploy. Let’s see what those sons of bitches are hiding. This is your baby. I want you in charge of the mission. I’ll hold them off upstairs, but if anything goes wrong, they’ll pull the plug on the whole project, and you’ll be back testing bug spray in the private sector.”
“Don’t worry, Lionel. We’re ready to roll. What could go wrong?”
* * *
“It’s odd we keep running into each other like this,” said Tamara.
“You know what they say,” said Frank. “Twice is circumstance.”
“Or maybe destiny?” Tamara grinned.
They stood in the parking lot, smiling awkwardly at each other.
“You know, Frank,” said Tamara, “I was just wondering. Do you... Oh, never mind. It’s silly.”
“What?” said Frank. “Do I what?”
“I don’t know why I thought of it. Do you play tennis?”
“Um, no. I mean, I don’t, but I could.”
“I could teach you. It would be fun.”
“I’d like that. Very much.”
Tamara’s face lit up. “Then it’s settled. Here’s my number. Call me.”
“By the way, what were you showing Admiral Plankton in the lab? He seemed very impressed when he came back to the office.”
“I’m not supposed to talk about it, Tamara.”
“I know.” Tamara lowered her eyes. “But you’re such an interesting man, Frank. I want to know all about you. Everything.” She was standing right beside him, almost touching him. Frank felt the closeness of her aura and her magnetism.
“I, ah...” Frank cleared his throat. “I don’t know where to begin. It’s boring really, and kind of technical.”
“Nothing about you is boring.” Tamara touched his hand. “Please.”
“Well,” Frank glanced around, “we’re developing autonomous micro-electric cybernetic organisms.”
“But that’s fascinating. I’ve always been attracted to intelligent men. It’s clear you have a brilliant intellect, Frank.”
“Aw, not really.” Frank blushed. “Anyway, we insert the micro-electronics during the larval stage...”
* * *
Copyright © 2009 by Bill Bowler