By Ricardo J. Méndez, (c) 1998
Damn this season.
Harry rubbed his hands together and tried not to feel the cold. Hell, if it wasn’t this darned rainy, too, it might be tolerable. Freaking weather. No wonder the plane had taken so long to get here.
Just to have something to do, he again took out the color printout of the two images he had received in an encrypted e-mail message. It had been signed only “Ingrid, DG” and came with precise instructions on how the message should be wiped and the printout shredded. He could only assume that it was the same “Ingrid” that had called him once to his very own home phone shortly after Mr. Quirós’ heart attack (about two years ago!) and said a lot of mumbo jumbo about a secret US government project called Delta Green with whom Mr. Francisco Quirós had been working and that now needed a new contact here. Apparently, Mr. Quirós had put the word in for him after an incident somewhere called Rincón de la Vieja, so when he died she decided to contact him. She also explained that, appearances being what they may, Francisco’s death might or might not have been natural and that he shouldn’t tell anyone about this call unless he wanted to put both him and his family in danger. Not from Delta Green, of course, but from some people conspiring against the US government.
Of course, he would be glad to help. The only problem was that the time he had allotted for secret agent matters was already full, so that she would have to wait until the Mossad relieved him from his duties–he replied, wondering which of his friends might be pulling his leg this time. There was silence on the line for a moment and then she hung up after a brief “We’ll be in touch”.
The lady had no sense of humor.
He didn’t give it much thought afterwards. Some time later he went to the US Embassy to renew his visa and it turned out that he was given a permanent one, with a resident option if he so desired. But that must have been a clerical mistake, and a nice one at that. What wasn’t a clerical mistake was when that stern man from the CIA knocked on his hotel door in Orlando and introduced himself as “Martin, from Delta Green. Ingrid sent me to have a word with you, if I may”.
The pictures Martin took out of his briefcase had blown him away. They showed several beings that looked like flying polyps with spidery legs and a mass of something where a head would be. Things that looked just like those he had managed to convince himself were just a bad dream.
Harry climbed up the last stretch of barely visible green and landed suddenly into what could well be a lunar landscape. As far as the mist allowed you to see there were only rocks. Volcanic rocks; small, gray rocks; light brown rocks; whatever size, shape or color you wanted, but only rocks and not a small hint of anything alive except the moss on some of them.
He turned and signaled Francisco to come forward. Why Francisco had insisted so badly on coming to the Rincón de la Vieja instead of just going to the more accessible Turrialba was beyond him, but it was worth the sight. For the last part of the ascent, the whole scene changed every 200 meters or so. Everything: the vegetation, the insects you saw, the sturdiness of the ground, the thickness of the mist.
He hadn’t understood the expectant look on Mr. Quirós’ face until he saw the beauties that this area had in store for them.
Later, when Francisco had insisted that they went “just a little down into the crater” because he “thought he saw something” he started worrying. What the heck could he have seen with this mist? Is not like he has x-ray vision or whatever. And they shouldn’t be going down into the crater anyway, so why did he insist on it
But then he heard the flapping, and out of the mists the thing came at them. He stood mesmerized, just looking at that impossible something that defied everything he had learned all these years with its very presence, looking at how the mass of tendrils that it had for a head changed color when it approached them with its constant flapping and how that weird rod it had on its hand glowed oh so softly. At least he did until Francisco tackled him and they both rolled downslope into the crater. They tried to regain their balance and stop their slide, but both kept getting on the way of each other. When they finally managed to use a large rock to stop, he had to check himself to stop shouting. He didn’t even know when he had started.
Someone kept telling him to shut up and finally he did, only to hear that flapping coming again but this time at least from two different directions. Francisco had finally stopped chastising him and was taking a big mother of a gun from beneath his jacket. A .45, Harry observed with weird detachment, like the weird sound wasn’t coming towards them.
On a whirl, Francisco turned and fired two quick shots into the mists. Something shrieked just after the second, and he heard something soft hitting the ground and the accompanying slide of rocks. But then a flash came from somewhere in ahead of him and the rock against which they had stopped rolling vanished. Just like that, it was gone in an instant. Francisco whirled again with a speed Harry didn’t know he had and fired once, twice, three times. The flapping intensified, and the thing came at them with a suddenness that he didn’t expect from such a frail body. Francisco fired twice again, and the thing collapsed to the ground.
Still in shock from the whole thing, Harry looked at the being on the ground. It looked a lot like some kind of winged fungi with legs taken from a spider and it clutched something on them.
“Just what the hell is this?” he wondered out loud.
He could have stared at it forever, but suddenly everything went black.
When he came back to his senses his shirt was covered in blood. Mr. Quirós explained that he had slipped and hit his head, and by the time when he had fished him out of the crater and stopped the free flow of blood from a small cut on his scalp he was mumbling something about flying things. And that was the end of it, since Francisco wouldn’t go back down into the crater (it was a stupid idea in the first place, sorry), had never owned a gun, didn’t even knew how to shoot one and would remember if he had seen something like what Harry described.
So the things were for years a product of his imagination, maybe what you get from reading too many of the wrong kind of books.
Until Martin explained that Francisco had been with them for over five years when the “small incident” at Rincón de la Vieja had occurred. Them being, of course, Delta Green, a covert inter-agency project of the US government working to investigate and whenever possible contain an alien threat that has been with us for longer that you can imagine.
Sure, those things you saw there were aliens, or at least something inhuman. Sure, you did see them. From what I read at his report, Mr. Quirós hit you with the gun and made up the story to avoid more explanations than necessary at the time, but when you both returned to the city he gave us your name and you have been listed as someone to contact if need arises.
“Those things you saw are members of one of the races we’re dealing with, Mr. Randall.”
“Harry. They are dangerous, and they have technology that is way ahead of what the human race has developed, even giving that the public doesn’t see the latest advancements. Delta Green was created to contain the threat, but we can’t reach everywhere so sometimes we need people to be our eyes and ears for things you don’t see on CNN. Mr. Quirós helped us in Costa Rica, and now we need you to help us. You are the ideal recruit, since you already had an encounter with them.”
Harry had looked from Martin to the pictures, back and forth, back and forth, until he came to the conclusion that he was way out of his league here. Hell, he did know how to shoot but didn’t own a gun.
“We’ll provide you with the material you need, but we don’t expect you to work as an agent. Your job would be mainly as a local contact.”
“How would I do that?”
“There will be an e-mail address where you can send secure messages, and a local phone that will be forwarded to your contact’s phone. We may get in touch from time to time, but you will be mainly a watcher.”
“That doesn’t sound a lot like what Mr. Quirós was doing over at the volcano, does it?”
Martin’s face tightened a little bit more. “Mr. Quirós sometimes took things into his own hands. The volcano was one of those times. You shouldn’t even have been there. We are very strict about our methods.”
“Oh hell. What if I say no?”
“I’ll just walk out of here and you will never hear from us again.”
“Did you have to do anything with my visa?”
“Indeed. That is a little token of good faith. And by the way, not that anyone would believe you, but whatever you chose to do, you can’t ever tell about this conversation, Delta Green or what happened at the volcano to anyone.”
“Or you would be a threat that needs containment.”
So Martin had taken his pictures and walked out with his suitcase full of secrets and left him with only a disk. The disk, apparently, had a text file with an e-mail address and a PGP public key for his contact so that he could safely contact him, her or it. It didn’t take him too long to decide, and he had sent his agreement in first thing when his vacation was over.
He didn’t hear from them again until two years later, when a message from Ingrid asked him to meet at the Juan Santamaría airport the two agents whose photographs were attached, and to destroy the message after reading it.
He did, of course. You don’t mess with people that call you at home, can get you a visa and locate you at whatever hotel you’re staying on a random vacation. But the price to pay was that he was freezing his butt off while trying not to get his feet stomped by the multitude of people coming out of the airport with their kids, luggage and assorted imported goods. It seems that most costarricans never travel just to visit someplace, but had instead to make a thousand purchases. And they say the country is on a bad economic situation.
He took another long look at the printout, to make sure that the agents hadn’t appeared yet. What kind of person does it take to fight an inhuman race? he wondered. How can it affect you to have to chase whatever things it is that could be a whole evolutionary path so far unknown to science?
Circling above somewhere called Alajuela on which the captain had assured them they would be landing soon, Richard Müller, NSA analyst, Delta Green operative and known as Joseph Bierce for whatever anyone including customs were concerned looked again at Harry Randall’s profile. 27-year-old costarrican, had been studying law for some time but had seen the light at some point and switched to anthropology. Apparently he and one of his anthropology professors had had a run in with the fungi on a volcano over here in Puerto Rico. Scratch that, Costa Rica. Puerto Rico is an island. His professor was a DG friendly but had died some time back, and then Mr. Randall had been contacted. His encounter, the recommendation from Quirós and Mr. Randall’s reported interest in weird occurrences and occult matters had made him a typical friendly case.
A short grunt from his side told him that his travel companion had awakened. His DG name was Jonathan, Jonathan Adams for this trip, really a DEA agent whose name Joseph didn’t know and who had been on this longer than Joseph. That, of course, made him a little bitterer.
“Is that the friendly’s profile?” Jonathan asked softly so that he was not overheard.
“How much does he know?”
Joseph quickly looked at the security note. “Apparently not much. He thinks that DG is a sanctioned agency trying to study and contain some recently discovered inhuman races.”
“Sanctioned. Study. Ha” was Jonathan’s humorless comment. Delta Green wasn’t sanctioned at all. For the past 30 years it had been working as an underground organization, channeling funds from wherever they could and covering up for the agents they reallocated as best as possible. And you could bet that they weren’t trying to study as much as contain, especially with high caliber containment. That was his specialty, in fact. Full metal jacket containment, which was all you could do to stop those beings from taking us over. Joseph here, he seemed to care a lot more about the endless possibilities studying them would offer than doing what had to be done. But then again, I suppose that’s what you can expect when you confront hi-tech types with the kind of toys these fellows have. That’s when you have to be careful, when the temptation shows its innocent-looking face.
“What was that again, Joseph?”
“According to Ingrid’s notes, we should be careful when handling this case. Since the news has already made international headlines, it is possible the MJ-12 is already on the track.”
See, there you have some people that succumbed to the temptations. MAJESTIC-12 was a branch of the US government (a sanctioned one, but secret too) that dealt with the things for their technology. They believed that the beings were just friendly aliens from another planet and gave them animals and people (people!) in exchange for trinkets. MJ-12 also made sure that the things could fly over our world without being bothered by the military and what not. And MJ-12 took special care that everyone they knew to be from Delta Green was terminated.
“I said that your mind is wandering too much today, Jonathan. You know that is not a good sign.”
“Sorry. Fucking airplanes. Don’t know why they have to keep us up here.”
“Stop bitching, there are kids around. It’s descending now, you see?”
Jonathan looked out the window. “About fucking time.”
The landing had been uneventful, which could be counted as a blessing with all this rain. The project wouldn’t send them in first class, since it might raise too much of a suspicion, so they had to wait until the droves of people got out of the plane to even start recovering their handbags from the compartments. The possibility existed that they were being tracked, so the small papers important to DG security were on those bags.
The person at immigration didn’t almost check their papers. He was examining them thoroughly as if they wanted to stay in Costa Rica as illegal immigrants and work on a supermarket, but apparently he noticed the hundred dollar bill that was inside the folded DEA letter politely requesting that the agents here present would have all the help they needed. Jonathan was sure the guy hadn’t read the bloody letter, but he turned, called in a short man who was lugging bags around and told him to “help the gentlemen and make sure they don’t get bothered. They are here on an official trip.” Jonathan also saw him pass the little guy a thousand colones bill, which if he was correct was about five bucks. Talk about an earnings percentage.
But anyway, the money was well spent. They didn’t go through customs and so didn’t have to flash their fake IDs to explain the guns and the rifle on their suitcases.
Lacsa anuncia la llegada del vuelo 644 proveniente de Orlando y Miami
Well, they are here at last.
Not a long time later, Harry saw the two men come out of the terminal area. The one in the front, one Joseph Bierce from the message, was a man of about 30 years, somewhat thin and with short, well kept hair. He was scanning through the crowd, most likely looking for him, but it was the other man who saw him first. Quite possibly in his 40s, Jonathan Adams was a bulky man who obviously worked out regularly. His hair was cropped short in an almost military fashion, and he advanced with a sureness and economy of movement that the more active Joseph didn’t seem to have. Jonathan tapped the shoulder of his companion and they were soon with him.
Joseph and his eager attitude got first to where he was.
“Mr. Joseph Bierce?” Harry replied, shaking the offered hand.
“Sí. Hablo inglés, señor Randall?”
Harry smiled at him. If he was going to be at the airport on a rainy Saturday, he would at least have some fun at it. “I truly hope so, because you don’t seem to speak Spanish.”
Jonathan’s laugh shook Joseph out of his bafflement.
“What? What did I do wrong?”
“You asked him if you spoke English, Joseph.” Jonathan shook Harry’s hand. “Jonathan Adams.”
Joseph blushed. “I’m sorry, Mr. Randall. Your profile didn’t mention you spoke English, so I tried my hand at Spanish. That should teach me.”
“Don’t worry, and just call me Harry. Are you planning to rent a car or will you move around by taxis?”
“How did you get here?”
“I took a bus.”
“So we’ll be renting a car. I suppose we can do it around here, right?”
“Sure, right this way.”
Twenty minutes later they were on their way to the capital, somewhere called San José. Joseph was driving and had been questioning him about Costa Rica for awhile, but with a special slant towards all matters pertaining Limón.
“So you’re here about the Mason business.”
From the passenger seat, Jonathan took a long stern look at Joseph. Luis Mason was a man from Limón of about fifty who had been on the costarrican news for the last two weeks. According to what had been sent by Randall, Mason had stigmata on his hands and side that matched those that are usually associated with Jesus and some saints. As usual on these cases, the wounds bled a little but didn’t get infected.
But that was just the beginning. Reportedly, Mason had the power to cure the ill if they left them with him for a while by just imposing his hands on them. The persons who had so been cured reported only a quick, momentary dizziness, were paralyzed for a couple of minutes and walked out of there without their diseases and maladies. Common colds, heart conditions, AIDS, even cancer. You mention it, he cured it. Several cases had been reported where patients who had been with Luis for a night showed a marked improvement on even the worst of conditions, and after a week the diseases were just gone.
“Subtlety to question has never been one of his strong points, Mr. Randall.”
“But you didn’t answer his question either. Yes, Harry, we’re here to look into it.”
“Bear in mind, Mr. Randall, that this is a secret operation. You are not allowed to comment this with anyone and you are in a need to know basis, which means that for your own safety you will be informed only of what we or the command consider you need to know.”
Harry stiffed at that.
“Here, Jonathan, no need to deal with things like that. What do you know about the matter, Harry?”
“Well, what I have sent Ingrid which I assume you already have. There was some newspaper coverage when it started, but right now only one sensationalist tabloid is still reporting on the news.”
“Why do you think that is, Mr. Harris? It would seem like a rather important story.” Jonathan asked.
Harry didn’t know if to go for it and voice his opinion. Let’s face it: they were experienced investigators for a secret agency and he was an anthropology student. But what the heck.
“I believe it is because of Mr. Mason’s religious convictions. I believe that the Catholic Church is killing the story.”
The healing power wasn’t the end of the story. To begin with, Luis Mason was black. That wasn’t bad at all from the church’s point of view, since they had black saints too. The real problem was that Luis wasn’t catholic or even from some side sect, but practiced a mix of Santeria and Hoodoo and insisted that the healing had nothing to do with Jesus, Krishna or whatever, but instead came directly from a Loa that wanted to turn enough people to the true faith.
The answer seemed to be what Jonathan was expecting, and Harry would wonder later if he was being tested.
Joseph took his eyes from the road. “And has the Church in Costa Rica taken any active measures to conceal the story?”
“Like what? Threatening TV executives? I wouldn’t know. But I can tell you that several priests that appear on TV and have articles on newspapers have issued warnings so that the faithful beware of the Beast that will want to lure them by posing as a son of god. That hasn’t stopped many devout Catholics to go visit Luis, but they make sure that their local priest doesn’t find out.”
“Are you a catholic, Mr. Randall?”
“No, I’m an atheist. Are you?”
“I’m not.” Joseph said.
Jonathan didn’t even turn to him. “Do we have any pictures of Mr. Mason?”
“No, since he hasn’t allowed himself to be photographed. He believes the camera will steal his soul.”
“Yeah, I saw that once on a Twilight Zone episode.” Joseph cut in “Something with a camera and African hunters coming out of it”
“Too much TV, Joseph. What about medical examination? Do we have any details about what doctors have reported?”
“Not about him, at least. He claims not to believe in medicine as we know it and believes that doctors will only harm him, since his Loa might get angry at him.”
“How long has he been active?”
“It’s hard to tell. He came into the public eye about three weeks ago, but rumor has it he has been helping people around Limón for anything from one month to three years, depending on the source.”
Jonathan browsed through his printouts. “Any chance that we might be dealing with a scam?”
“I wouldn’t think so, since he reportedly has refused several offers of money and lives on a simple hut.”
“So he’s just a crackpot and we should be going back home.”
“A crackpot doesn’t cure AIDS or cancer by laying hands, Joseph.” was Jonathan last comment until they got to the hotel.
It turned out that Ingrid had already made a reservation for them, so Harry left them at the hotel and took a cab home. Against Jonathan’s best complaints, Joseph insisted that Harry came with them to Limón. It would help them blend in better if they looked like two tourists with a guide instead of just two guys asking questions, and Jonathan had to give in to the sound reasoning.
“But I can’t stay for long. I have to go to work on Monday and I have classes on Tuesday.”
“You can. We’ll make sure you get whatever papers you need if it will help the assignment. Money is an universal language.”
So he came back for them early in the morning and they left for Limón with Harry driving this time around.
Three days before, Dr. Lilly Thomas, microbiologist, had sat on a nondescript office on one of MAJESTIC buildings in Quantico. She had been summoned there by one Robert Geller of whom she had never heard about, but the summons had come on a paper envelope that included a classified file that had really gotten her attention.
“So, Ms. Thomas, what do you think about the file?”
“I’m baffled. When did this happen?”
“Over three years ago. It’s stated right there on the file.”
“I’m sorry, everything happened in such a hurry that I concentrated on the scientific parts. Why I’m I being given clearance now?”
“We believe that the Messiah might have resurfaced on Costa Rica, and we want to send you with a team to investigate and if deemed convenient recover the subject.”
“I appreciate it, but I’m not a field agent. I”
Geller waved her excuse away. “We believe that you are the most qualified person available at the moment. We need to send a scientist there, because we don’t want the cleaning team to get too trigger happy.”
“Yes. We’re sending you with a military detachment in case something goes wrong. Part of the job will be a recovery operation, but we consider it correct to send a cleaning team in case things get out of hand.”
She thought about it for exactly two seconds. You just don’t turn assignments down at MJ-12, especially if whoever assigned you insisted.
“When do we leave?”
“In six hours.”
When Lilly came back with whatever few things she had packaged for the trip, a helicopter was waiting to take her to the airport. From there she left on one of the MAJESTIC planes that would take her and her “team”, four men in suits that looked like anything but science personnel, to Costa Rica.
After they took off, one of them came to her seat. He was a man of about 35, blond, green eyes, clean cut and clean-shaven. A poster boy for the army. She closed the dossier hurriedly, since she didn’t know what kind of clearance these men had.
“How do you do ma’am. I’m Lieutenant Meyers. I was instructed by Mr. Geller that you should be protected at all times.”
She was going to start protesting that she could take care of herself, but then she noticed that he was extending her something. A nickel-plated handgun. She looked at it like he was offering her an alien artifact.
“It’s a 9mm automatic. Keep it with you at all times, but use it only if need arises and if you use it on a civilian return it to one of my men so that we can dispose of it. I understand that you have formal training.”
“Yes, I do when I was on the FBI Use it on a civilian? Why would this protection be needed? This is merely a scientific operation. And who is in charge, anyway?”
Meyers seemed to think things through before answering. “This is mainly a scientific operation, but we don’t know the state of things were we’re going and we don’t want one of our agents being mugged and the information appearing on the news, since we would have to cover up why you were there. Also, from what I’ve been informed the bunch surrounding the subject has become something of a religious mob, and mobs are always to be tread around lightly.”
She took the gun as offered and checked the magazine. It was fully loaded, and Meyers was already handing her a spare. As he turned to go back to his men, she said, “You didn’t answer my question.”
“You didn’t answer me who is in charge.”
Meyers returned to her and bent down so that he could almost whisper to her ear. “I have instructions that you are to be obeyed as a superior officer in all matters pertaining to the scientific operation, but if things get hairy this will become a military operation and I’ll be in direct command. No buts about it and it will be my call.”
“But what if I disagree?”
He smiled a predator smile and she understood that all his niceness was just a façade. “I would seriously advice against doing it.”
“Does it always rain this much?”
“No, but we’re in winter. Even if the weather wasn’t as screwed up as it is lately it would be raining.”
Joseph turned away from the window at the shabby Limón motel. “I don’t know why you insisted that much on this place, Jonathan. There must have been places with a lower rat count than this, I’m sure.”
“Maybe, but we’ve got to keep a low profile. And I haven’t seen any rats yet.”
“Why would that be, Mr. Adams?” Harry interrupted.
“Maybe there aren’t any.”
“I meant, the low profile. Why do you guys have to keep everything secret?”
“I’m afraid that you’re not cleared for the information, Mr. Randall. Let’s just say that there are factions that would want to interfere with Delta Green’s operations.”
Joseph stepped in to try to put things a little more diplomatic and less true to reality.
“Basically, Harry, the US government doesn’t want other countries to know that Uncle Sam is either interfering or prodding around their business. We can’t afford to be seen nosing around this case by anyone who might be tracking the arrival of US officers to the country.”
“So that’s why Delta Green is inter-departmental.”
“That’s why Delta Green is an inter-departmental effort. It’s harder to track and make relations about people from different departments than two CIA agents, or two FBI men.”
“But why are you interested in this Luis? I thought that you were concerned about inhuman races. Do you think this guy is from another planet?”
“That’s classified, Mr. Randall. It just happens to fall in our range of interests.”
“Hmpf. Whatever. I was going to get the food anyway. I’m surprised to see that you secret agents eat.”
After Harry had left, Jonathan resumed his watching out the window. It was Joseph who broke the silence.
“Don’t you think that you are being a little too hard on him? The guy is a friendly that takes time for a five-hour drive under this rain and agrees to help us as a cover.”
“Security matters, Joseph. He’ll be treated as any friendly until someone upstairs says so.”
“But Jonathan, for all we know, we both might get killed on this action and he will be offered a promotion into the group. Shouldn’t he at least know what the hell he’s dealing with? That way he’ll be able to fill the report better if we’re gone.”
“He doesn’t need to know the facts about DG to write a report about what happens here, and he will be debriefed if he is ‘promoted’, as you call it. Right now we just know he’s a contact who hasn’t even been under close scrutiny lately. He might be a MAJESTIC agent for all we know.”
“Sure. MAJESTIC recruiting students in Costa Rica. They’re not as desperate as DG, you know? They could bribe their way into a more influential place if they wished.”
“That’s beside the point.”
“But what isn’t beside the point is that he should know what he’s up against. At least he should know about MAJESTIC.” Joseph was raising his voice now, an uncommon occurrence. “Hell, he might be being bloody followed right now by them, or getting run over or kidnapped for interrogation or begin munched by What’s the matter?”
He was sure Jonathan had flinched. By the time he tried to make sure it was gone already, but he was positive he had seen something. Now the only thing that remained was Jonathan’s usual expressionless mask, and the mask told him more clearly than words that it was time to shut up.
“You should rest, Joseph. Tomorrow we’ll go see this Luis.”
Even after the seven-hour trip to Limón, they still had to drive another half-hour to get to Mason’s place. It was way off the tourist routes, just over some terrain a banana packaging company had left unused and that had been filled with squatters (‘precaristas’, they call them here) in no time flat. Apparently Mason had been living in this ‘precario’ for some time before manifesting his abilities, or at least talking about them in public.
Despite the rain quite a crowd had assembled to see Luis Mason, and there was a line of people over two hundred meters long and at least three persons thick, and since Mason spent anything from twenty minutes to one hour per patient, it didn’t seem like they were going to get anywhere near him today. Joseph steeled himself for a night under the rain.
From what Harry had told them, he almost never came out in public, but instead stayed inside his house (more like a hut, and a shoddy one at that, Joseph thought) and people were brought to him. They were here since six a.m. and he had appeared in public only once, and just barely. Jonathan could say anything he liked, but from this distance the man looked like a nutcase to him. Too bad Jonathan hadn’t had a chance to see him and change his mind.
There were all kinds of people waiting in line: well-dressed people, poor people, old people, young people, even tourists. Jonathan came back, reported that he heard some guys speaking in French down the line, and a couple that looked like Germans or maybe Dutch, and decided to have a look at who had arrived since they had gotten here.
“Who knows, maybe his fame spread on the few days that the news was on.” Harry offered when he left “Or maybe he’s being used as a tourist attraction.”
Further down the line, Harry saw a business-like woman of about his age, or maybe a little older. She looked like a tourist, but appeared to be doing her damnedest best not to show it. Most likely she is afraid that someone’s camera will take a picture of her and then she’ll have to explain to her priest just what the heck she was doing there.
She looked quite good, in fact, which was what had caught his attention first. Her short, well-kept hair told him that she was a woman not to waste too much time on trivialities, and that make her even more attractive. Best of all, she seemed to be alone.
Harry decided to try his luck and started walking away from Joseph.
“Hey, hey, were are you going?”
“Nowhere. I mean, I saw someone I want to have a word with.”
“Sure. And what I’m I supposed to do if someone approaches me, huh?”
“Just look like the tourist you are and say ‘No hablo español’. They usually get that as a ‘go away’, even if they speak English.”
Joseph saw Harry walk away as if he had no specific direction at all. Further down the line, he stumbled on something and stopped his fall on a lamppost. The lady that was beside the lamppost made a movement to help him, but he had already straightened up and was beaming a smile at the woman. Damn it, it apparently had been planned.
This guy would make a nice undercover agent, he thought.
“Are you alright?” Yes! She bought it.
“Sure, sure. Thanks for coming to my rescue. It surely seems to put a twist on the damsel in distress situation.”
She smiled at him and extended her hand outside her umbrella. “Lilly Thomas, my pleasure.”
“Harry Randall.” he took on a businesslike manner “So, what are you doing outside on this rain?”
She looked around her for someone. Damn, most likely a boyfriend. Or husband. Oh shit. And she was thinking her answer over. Definitely a husband.
“Well, same thing as everyone. Just waiting to see if I can get to see the man himself.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Two days. Well, my companions and I take turns at waiting. In fact, they insisted that I go rest and they’ll stand in line and let me know when we’re near, but it didn’t seem fair since it’s I who wants to see Mr. Mason.”
“I’m sorry.” he felt rather embarrassed. “Is it some illness?”
“No, no, thanks goodness. I’m just well, curious. Professional curiosity. I’m a doctor. A microbiologist, to be exact.”
“Wow. I’m studying anthropology here at the Costa Rican University.”
“Nice. Taking out a master’s degree?”
“Er no. Just my bachelor’s.”
This time it was her who felt embarrassed for raising the degree question. “Sorry, me and my mouth. I”
“Hey, hey, don’t blush. I understand. It’s just that I’ve been more at work than at school lately, and I also studied law for two years before I decided to switch over to something I really liked.”
“What do you like about anthropology?”
“Well, I don’t know. Digging out history and finding about things long gone has always had an appeal to me. I really wanted to study archeology but they don’t teach it here, so anthropology with an emphasis in archeology was the next best thing.”
“And why here? Why didn’t you study in the US?”
“It’s hard to get a student visa.”
“Are you a costarrican? I didn’t notice. Your English is really good, then.”
“Thanks. I got the last name from a British ancestor somewhere and I learned English by myself. Yes, I know you’re not asking. Just showing off.” he smiled “Listen, how long are you going to stay in Costa Rica?”
“I don’t know That depends”
“Well, I’m staying at the Ultimo Camino motel with some friends.” he turned and waved to Joseph, who waved back. Funny, something seemed to be eating him up. Whatever. “Maybe I can give you a tour of San José later and you can explain me if this Luis is a fake or what.”
Her face tightened at the offer. “Sorry, I don’t think I can I’m very busy, you see”
“Is everything alright, dear?” The voice had come from behind him. Harry wheeled around to find himself in front of a massive chest. Someone’s chest. Oops.
The husband’s chest.
Topping the soldier-like body was a sargent-like face that clearly stated that he wasn’t on his place on the line, a military haircut and eyes with a stare that told him that he was wasn’t safe doing whatever it was that he was doing with the lady. So he did what anyone reasonable would have done in the situation.
“Hi.” he said to the chest and turned back to Lilly “Well, remember, the drugstore is one block east and two blocks north, and if you do catch a cold just ask the man for something for ‘gripe’. He’ll understand. See you.” And he walked back to where Joseph was, all the while feeling the man’s eyes burning a hole on his back.
Jonathan had already returned, and apparently he wasn’t happy. He took Harry by the arm and dragged him away from the crowd. Harry didn’t like his attitude, but his grasp was firm and he couldn’t free himself.
“Just what the hell do you think you are doing, Mr. Randall?” he hissed.
“What do you think you are doing? You don’t just walk to anyone in the line and talk to them. You could be endangering the operation.”
Harry wriggled his arm free and decided that the best way to handle this was to stare the man down. “Listen, Jonathan, I’m not a part of your bloody operation. I’m here to help you and Joseph, but if I damned well want to speak to a woman I like I will. And unless you or the full fucking Delta Green are going to come to my rescue when the husband shows up, I don’t think that you have any right to say anything.”
“Husband? I don’t think that’s her husband, you nitwit.”
“Nitwit? So who would he be, smartass, her bodyguard?”
Jonathan was looking at something over his shoulder. Harry turned, trying to single out what it might be. “On that corner. And there, a little behind her on the line. The man with the umbrella. Almost the same haircut, all with faces that mean business and all exchanging glances now and then. See them?”
It took Harry sometime to notice what men Jonathan was talking about. They blended perfectly with the rest of the men, but once you noticed the pattern it was clear that the three were aware of each other, and most likely working together.
“Who are they?” he asked not a little embarrassed.
“I don’t know, and that’s exactly the point. You don’t speak to anyone without my permission unless we know who they are and have a complete file on them, understand?” Jonathan started walking back to the line “Even if you are not a fully debriefed operation member you can still endanger us. What did you tell her?”
“Nothing. My name and that I was from San José. Oh, and why I studied anthropology. I think that the world is safe.”
“Don’t play a smartass with me, Mr. Randall. I won’t think twice about getting rid of you for the sake of the operation.”
Harry was considering raising another complaint, but this time it seemed to him that even Joseph had a long face.
“Who was that, Ms. Thomas?”
“Just a guy from San José. What’s this ‘honey’ deal? Don’t get too personal, Lieutenant.”
“And you don’t get your hopes up just yet.” again that darned smile “I assumed that he would go away faster and with less questions if he took me for your boyfriend, which apparently he did.”
“And why would you want him to go away?”
“Because this is a serious operation, Ms. Thomas, not a field trip to collect samples. You don’t mingle with the natives unless you have to.”
“You make it sound like he just climbed down from a tree to greet me.”
At about 8:00 at night Lilly had gotten in to see Luis. Harry wasn’t able to get even close because of her entourage, but one thing he knew was that Mr. Nice Haircut had gone in with her. They had been in for about ten minutes, the shortest visit so far. Most likely she had tried to get him to agree to tests of some sort and he hadn’t liked it.
Judging from the line in front of them they would be getting to see him tomorrow.
Lilly had hoped that the visit would be more fruitful, but she should have known better. What was worse was that she expected exactly what Meyers had taunted her with afterwards: that he would talk to her about his abilities and would allow her to get some samples. Yeah, right. Hi, I’m a scientist and I know that you don’t trust us, but would you allow me to get some tissue samples? A fingernail or a femur would do.
Well, she had gotten them anyway, or at least partly. She hoped that the thin gelatinous stuff that she had found on her hands after Luis had held them would shed some light on the matter.
All in all, she was amazed. She had seen his wounds and they did look natural and weren’t infected at all. Of all the dirt and crap on the house, nothing stuck to them. But then she had noticed the little girl that lay on a mattress on one corner of the room. She had approached the peaceful body and had seen the gangrene on the leg, receding before her very eyes.
She had read about it on the file, but it was quite something else to see it on the flesh, so to speak.
Well, after all her wondering the report was done. “Lieutenant, I’m signing and encrypting the report and sending it to you so that you can digitally sign it too and send it to whoever it is that we report to. Since we weren’t able to talk to Mason about tests, I’m requesting instructions as how to proceed.”
Meyers was printing something out. “I just received a message from HQ. It might be our instructions.” He took the last page from the printer. “Frigging hell, I knew it. Too much of a bloody coincidence. Rickles, come here right now.”
“What’s the matter?” Lilly asked. She didn’t like the tone on Meyers’ voice.
“This message has a list of US government agents that had left for Costa Rica since this matter got global publicity. This guy look familiar?”
She couldn’t be sure, but the picture that Meyers was pointing at looked a lot like the man Harry had waved to earlier.
“What is this supposed to mean? Harry is an agent?”
“We don’t know, but certainly his friends are.”
“So what? What if a US government official wants to see Mason for himself?”
“This man is an NSA guy, and he left the US in the same flight as this DEA agent. He never entered Costa Rica. Doesn’t that sound strange to you? Because it did sound strange for HQ and they want us to keep an eye out for them. Luckily they screwed up.”
“What is this here Delta Green? What does that mean.”
Meyers had already turned to the only one of the agents that wasn’t guarding Mason’s hut. “Rickles, call McConnell and Jiménez. Tell them to leave their posts and come here. We have some things to mop up.” He was then back to her. “Do you know where they are staying?”
“What?! What do you think you’re going to do?”
“I’m taking over, and we’re eliminating them. Since they entered the country under an alias they will be just two tourists getting mugged. Right now I can’t argue with you. I have to make plans and acknowledge to HQ.”
“Like hell you are! I’m not letting three men get killed for no reason whatsoever.” she racked her mind for some reason he would understand “This is still a scientific operation and I’m still in command unless HQ says I’m not!”
But something was blinking on his screen. There was a new message.
She saw everything in slow motion. He opened the message, read it on what seemed to be hours and turned to her.
“Well, now you are not.”
To: Magdalene team
Command has decided that, given the visibility of the subject and the possibility of Delta Green agents on the country, extraction of a live subject isn’t worth the trouble. Command doesn’t wish to have a subject running free. Deal with the matter as you see fit, Lieutenant, but see that samples are taken.
It’s about fucking time I was getting close, Jonathan thought when he had just one group more before him. Taking advantage of the small cover that the hut provided from the rain, he decided that it was a good time to start smoking again.
It was early the next morning and Jonathan had come to substitute Joseph who had volunteered to stand on line all night. Pretty nice for a chap who doesn’t seem to take this seriously, he wondered while taking a pull of his cigarette. Then again, Joseph wouldn’t be in Delta Green at all if someone didn’t think he had what it took.
Jonathan had to wait another half-hour and then the black lady who seemed to assist Mason came out with the couple. Both looked like locals, and the woman was helping the man walk out. He looked a little wobbly, most likely from the dizziness that had been reported after Luis’ had used his touch.
As the couple passed him, Mason’s assistant told him to please wait a couple of minutes and he’d be brought in. Something about Mason being tired. No, he thought to himself, I’m going away right now after waiting here for two days. Sure.
So wait he did. He just hoped that Ingrid was wrong about this one.
Lilly paced the confines of her hotel room like a caged cat. She wasn’t happy at all with how the things had developed. Meyers taking over wasn’t good on itself, and the bunch of people who were about to get killed didn’t sit well on her stomach either. But what was she to do? Geller had been quite specific about what was to be done and he had sent the letter directly to Meyers, which meant that she was out of the loop as far as command was concerned.
Of course, she could make an anonymous call to the police and tell them what was about to happen, only she didn’t speak Spanish. Or she could try to call the front desk and let them know about the complot, but then they would have her name and she would have to answer too many questions.
And then again, was she sure that she wished to sing like a bird on something where MAJESTIC was concerned? She wouldn’t be able to re-enter the US without being noticed, that was for sure, or at least she wouldn’t last for long. You don’t betray MAJESTIC.
So she could at least try not to expose it.
The only other option available was getting in contact with that young man who appeared to be with the two agents. If whatever Delta Green was could forge identities for its agents, maybe it could do the same for her if she cooperated.
She opened the door just a little bit. That hulking troglodyte called Rickles and his scarred chin had gone somewhere, most likely to stand in for one of the guards on break. Turning back to her briefcase, she took out her passport, laptop, all her money, and the thick file she had been handed by Geller and headed towards the elevator.
Back at their ratty motel, Harry woke up slowly from his slumber. Something had awoken him from his sleep. On the bed next to him, Joseph snored like it was the last chance he would ever have. Poor guy deserved it after spending the whole night out in the rain, anyway.
There it was again. Someone was knocking on the door.
“Coming!” he yelled with a raspy voice while he lurched towards the door. Looking through the peephole, he saw that Lilly Thomas was standing outside on the porch. His porch.
He took some steps back from the door to try to give the impression that he hadn’t yet seen who it was, and turned towards the far wall to displace a little the sound of his voice. “Give me a second, I’m coming.”
Joseph made an attempt at waking at that, but he just turned on the bed and stopped snoring. Harry ran to the bathroom and smoothed his hair as best as he could, unsuccessfully trying to hand-iron the wrinkles out of his shirt at the same time. Five seconds later he was opening the door and wondering what might have happened to the husband.
“Hey, hi! What are you doing here?”
She stepped into the room quite decisively and didn’t seem bothered at all at the sight of the sleeping man on the bed.
“We need to talk, Mr. Randall. Where is the other agent?”
“What?” he closed the door “Agent? How did you get here?”
“You told me you were staying at the Último Camino, remember? I just asked for your name at the front desk. I need to talk to you all. It’s a matter of life and death.”
The shack where Luis lived was damp and dark, and there was a strong smell of spices in the air. Slowly helping himself in, Jonathan removed his glasses and tried to get his eyes used to the dark. Mason’s nurse (he couldn’t think of her in any other way) started saying something to him in Spanish but switched to English almost immediately.
“Come in, sir, come in. We’re sorry about the lack of light, but it bothers Luis. Keeping the windows boarded also helps with keeping the reporters out.”
“Don’t worry, I’m fine. It just takes a little time to get used to it.”
“Good. What is your problem?”
“Why are you here?”
“I’d rather discuss it with Mr. Mason, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, no, sir, I have to make sure that you have a legitimate reason. Mr. Mason is a very sensitive man and he has been bothered by reporters and doctors who don’t believe in him.”
Jonathan looked at his feet. Shit, he wished she hadn’t made him throw that cigarette away. Well, there was an idea.
“It’s my lungs.” he lied “Even with the physical training and the exercise, there is still something wrong with them. The doctors’ best guess is a tumor, but they say that it could be cancer too.” Hell, where am I getting all this from? “And I well, they want to take a biopsy and I don’t like operations. So I figured I don’t know, maybe I should go back.”
“Oh no, sir, please don’t. I’m sure Luis will be able to help you.”
He tried to look embarrassed. “Thanks, many thanks. Jonathan Adams, my pleasure.”
“Are you a relative?”
“No sir, I’m just a friend.”
“Not that old.” she paused “He helped my husband with a terciopelo snake bite, a deadly bite, and I’ve tried to return the favor to him in this way. I’ll go tell him you’re here.”
With his eyes a little more used to the dark now, Jonathan tried to take stock of the place. It was small and judging from the dimensions of what he had seen outside there could be only two rooms: the almost furniture-less lobby where he was standing, and the room beyond the curtain through which Kirsha had disappeared. Most likely that was where Mason received his visitors.
On the far side of the room, there was some kind of makeshift bed and a sleeping girl lying on it. Jonathan took a closer look, but nothing was visible about the girl except her face.
He felt someone approaching and turned to find Kirsha staring at the figure. “She’s a girl from around here who cut her foot with barbed wire, and her parents didn’t want to bring her to Luis because of all the things the priests have said about Luis. I got them to bring her here when her foot started getting bloated and dark.”
“Yes, I believe so. A lady yesterday called it that. Luis will see you now.”
“Listen, mind if I ask you a question?”
“Doesn’t he ever sleep? I was out all night and they kept bringing people in.” another lie, but Joseph had told him so it was pretty much the same thing.
“No. Luis insists that one imbued with the true faith is able to forget about the physical needs, and can concentrate only in the spiritual needs. He eats only rarely.” her tone changed, as if she was either embarrassed or ashamed of something “I’m striving to follow his faith, but since he doesn’t believe himself to be a teacher it is hard.”
“Don’t worry, and thanks for telling me. Let’s go in.”
Kirsha moved the curtain and showed Jonathan in. The room was darker than the living room, but his eyes were used to the lack of light by then. The room was almost bare, except for a dirty rug on the floor and a shelf on the back of the room, which was filled with at least two dozen burners filled with incense and who knows what else.
On the rug, there was a thin black man who wore only something that looked like a long loincloth and several bead strings on his neck. His hair was haphazardly cut (or maybe like it fell off in patches), which didn’t help the look of the skin stretched over his bones. He looked like a cross between a black Ghandi and a heroin junkie.
Mason appeared to be staring at his feet, but his eyes were closed, so Jonathan sat down on the filthy rag that covered the floor to a better view of the man’s face. It was hard, given the almost total darkness and the fact that the spices were getting to his head. There might be some opium in there too, he thought.
Mason’s back straightened slowly, but he didn’t open his eyes.
“Seeker, how may we help you?” a voice worn by tiredness called to Jonathan from the body that was in front of him. “Have you come to request our help?”
“Yes. I have a lung problem.”
“We can help you.” Mason nodded “But we have only a request. We request that when you go, you spread the word that man’s religions aren’t true.” he swept the room with his arm “That it is only through nature that we can be saved. Man must know that Catholics, evangelics, popes, Mormons, Krishnas, all are wrong; that religion is only a fabrication, that”
Mason’s voice sounded familiar, and the fact alone that Ingrid might be right distracted Jonathan from Mason’s ravings. The man was clearly insane, but that didn’t affect the fact that he was here on a mission.
Jonathan leaned a little closer to Mason. Slowly, out of the mist that the drugs were causing on his head, the man’s face took form. With his mind, Jonathan tried to imagine Mason as he might be if he fed at all, to find the resemblance between him and his old friend.
He wished he hadn’t. Suddenly, Mason’s head stopped moving and his closed eyes seemed to stare at Jonathan, who sat back with a start.
“What happens, seeker?”
There was a lump in Jonathan’s throat. He didn’t want to face this situation; he didn’t want to be the one who had to cope with it. It wasn’t fair that Ingrid had assigned him to this, and no matter how many times he repeated himself that it was just another assignment, the fear was still coiled inside him, just waiting to jump up and strike. Was this what awaited him? Him, and Joseph, and all the others? Would they end up like this instead of the more merciful death?
“Lewis, it’s me, Logan.”
“Logan? Do you know me?”
Jonathan looked beyond the curtain, to see if Kirsha had left. As usual, she appeared to be waiting outside the shack.
“Yes, Lewis. It’s Logan, from Delta Green.” he paused for a moment, guilt making speech harder “We I thought you were dead.”
Mason’s lids rolled back slowly, revealing to white balls criss-crossed with dark red channels. It was only through all the small veins that Jonathan could locate the pupils, which were almost as white as the eyeball.
But the worst part was that if Lewis appearance was shocking, his stare was infinitely worse. The eyes stared at him with an unidentifiable look, something that seemed a mix of madness and pain.
“Logan My name is Luis Mason, not Lewis. Please leave.”
Jonathan refrained himself from leaning forward to reassure Lewis, since he didn’t know how he might react. His mental state was obviously fragile. “Lewis, please, listen to me. DG sent me to see if it was you, and to help you.”
Jonathan was afraid that someone outside might hear them, and it was the first time he was grateful for the incessant rain. Lewis was mad, but he might still be able to talk some sense into him.
“Please, Lewis, remember me? Remember Largo? He was killed in the mission where we lost you. Don’t you remember? I’m here to help.”
For the first time, there was something in Lewis’s eyes that he could identify. Recognition.
“Logan Long time ago.” he paused to catch his breath, which came only in sudden gasps “Help? Delta Green won’t help me. We never helped anyone, did we, Logan?”
“We did, Lewis, we helped a lot of people. Maybe the things would have taken over if it weren’t for us. Lewis?”
Jonathan didn’t like the look in Lewis eyes. Something had suddenly come over them, and he was leaning towards Jonathan, arms outstretched.
“Look at me, Logan.” he hissed turning his palms to him, where the stigmata were clearly visible “They did this to me. MAJESTIC did.” he pointed at a wound on his right side “This is where it entered, and it just won’t come out and it won’t let me die. Now I only have the faith” On a moment, Mason lurched forward and grabbed Jonathan’s shirt, pulling him close. “Now I’m one of the things we hunted, Logan, and I know you are here to take me out like we did many times before.” he let go and stood up, his emaciated body tensing with the effort “But I won’t let you. Go away!” Lewis screamed “GO AWAY AND LET ME BE!“
Jonathan was going to say something, but he saw Kirsha coming back into the hut. Hopefully she would have been the only one to hear, so he prepared to make a calm exit.
“What is going on? Are you OK, Luis?”
Lewis had slumped back to the floor, motionless.
“Sir, you have to leave. What did you do to him?”
But Jonathan was out on the rain again before she could ask anything else. Trembling, he lit a cigarette and stumbled into the rain, a mass of confusing feelings going through his mind.
The worst thing is that he’s right he wondered Most likely command will want him taken out.
About a hundred yards from Mason’s home, Meyers watched the DEA man walk under the rain without an apparent direction. Something had gone wrong with his interview, he was sure. The man had taken only about five minutes, and right behind her the black woman had come with an apologetic manner.
Maybe if we act now he’ll be to blame, he thought with a smile.
Jonathan fumbled with the keys to the room, they fell to the damp welcome mat and on a fit of rage he started kicking at the door. Almost immediately Joseph opened and he entered the room dripping all over the cheap carpet.
“Jonathan? What is going on? How did it go?”
Just as he was about to answer, Jonathan realized that there was a woman sitting on the far bed. Just the same woman he had seen Harry talking to the other day, the woman who was constantly watched.
“Just what the fuck is she doing here?!” he yelled “Who the hell brought her here?”
Joseph closed the door behind him. Startled as she was by his outburst, Lilly was the one to answer. “I came here myself, sir, I have to”
“You don’t have to do anything. What do you mean you came here yourself?”
“Stop yelling, Jonathan. I told here where I was staying when we spoke yesterday. You hadn’t told me anything about this secret MAJESTIC group and all that crap!”
“I hadn’t what? How the fuck do you She’s a MAJESTIC agent and you told her where we were staying? You idiot!” Jonathan took out his gun and pointed at Harry. “I’m going to fucking shoot you both right here, right now.”
Harry raised his arms on a reflex, and Lilly followed his example. The man was visibly distraught, and it was best not to upset him.
“Hey, Jonathan, hey, stop it man. What is happening to you?”
Jonathan whirled and aimed at Joseph. “Do you want to know what is happening to me? Luis Mason was one of my fucking companions from Cell L. His fucking name is Lewis, and he’s all fucked up because of something MAJESTIC did to him. They did to him!” he screamed, pointing at Lilly with the silencer-equipped weapon.
“We know, Jonathan, we know.” Harry interceded without lowering his hands “She came to tell us. She also came to tell us that the people who came with her know about us and are going to eliminate both us and Luis.”
The news had startled Jonathan and he finally appeared be running out of steam.
“What do you mean, she told you?”
“Well, she didn’t know that he had been with Delta Green, but she told us what happened to Luis.”
“She did?” he sat down tiredly on the bed, the gun in his lap “What happened?”
“Mr. Adams, is it?” Lilly started, lowering her arms “I’m a microbiologist. I worked two years at the FBI before being recruited by MAJESTIC, where I was for the past five years. This week, someone who is apparently my superior gave me this file.” She slowly extended it to Jonathan.
“What is it about?” he asked “I don’t have time”
“It’s about something MAJESTIC calls the MESSIAH. It’s some kind of creature. They don’t quite know what it is, but on its most basic form looks a lot like a three inch slug, or a small moving pile of goo.”
“What the heck does it have to do with this?” Jonathan asked, losing his patience.
“Well, the MESSIAH is a parasite. It uses the human body as a carrier, entering by the side and burrowing directly into a rib. From there, the MESSIAH starts eating through the bone marrow and extending itself inside the bones at an incredible pace. I know, it’s rather disgusting. Somehow, it manages to substitute the functions of the marrow like the production of platelets and red cells, and masks itself so that the human body won’t reject it.” she pointed at two x-rays that Jonathan was looking at “See the bones here, how they look a lot more well defined at the center than they should? See how all the bone looks the same color, like it was metal or all bone? That’s the MESSIAH, that for some reason behaves like that under x-rays.”
“What are these prongs that extend towards the palm of the hand?”
Having explained it once today already didn’t make it any simpler, and Lilly wondered exactly how to phrase it. “Those are part of the MESSIAH, its contact with the outside world. Through there it sort of stings its would-be victims and injects a prion it generates that, in certain amounts, can quickly remove anything that doesn’t belong on a human body like viruses or even renegade cells like cancer and almost magically restore tissue, breaking down afterwards. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to synthesize it. They. At MAJESTIC.”
“That’s his healing ability.” Joseph put in.
Jonathan had been hit with more than he could digest and his expression showed it. “But I don’t understand Why does it do that?”
“Well, the MESSIAH slowly feeds on a human body, usually wearing a person down in a period of three to seven years, depending on how strong they are, and apparently instinctively injects the prion on humans to clean up possible new hosts. When the host dies, the MESSIAH consumes the body with a chemical and dissolves most of its own mass, going back to the basic form to look for a new host.”
“You’re telling me that this thing assumes that his current victim will come into contact with other persons once they have been infected?”
“It doesn’t. Usually the MESSIAH takes control of the body, turning it into a walking feast. All human aspects are lost, of course, but the person moves around as an almost normal but wild human until the body just gives up and is fully consumed.”
“Yes. In a couple of cases it was observed that the host could retain his will. That’s what happened on Mason’s case.”
Jonathan looked straight at her, the strong grip returning to the gun. “How long did you people have him?”
“I didn’t, Mr. Adams. I didn’t even know about him a week ago, I assure you. I was sent here based on my expertise.”
“You didn’t answer me.” he pointed the gun at her.
“Jonathan, easy man.”
“About one year, judging from the report. He was kept on a chamber and purposefully infected with the MESSIAH, but before the MESSIAH wore out the body the group decided to gas him. He apparently died, but later the body disappeared when it was scheduled to be cremated. My best guess would be that the MESSIAH managed to repair the damage done to the body and escape.”
“You should have seen him.” Jonathan said to nobody in particular “He’s mad, you know? This whole thing must have driven him crazy.”
Harry was the first to break the silence. “You said you knew him?”
“Yes, he was on the same cell as me for a year. He got captured at a raid, and I thought they had killed him.”
“So that’s why Ingrid sent us?” Joseph asked “Because she thought that it might be him?”
Jonathan nodded. “Lewis Mason was one of the names he used. He must have remembered it through his madness. So when a person of the description, apparent age and a similar name popped up on a weird circumstance, we got sent here. Don’t ask me how he got to Costa Rica, I don’t know.”
“How does it reproduce, Lilly?” Harry wondered.
“As far as we know, it doesn’t. For all we know this same thing could have been around for thousands of years. It might well be the reason behind all those healing cases. Even Jesus Christ himself, who knows.”
Jonathan turned his back on them and went to his suitcase to start packing. “Well, first we move. Then we go to get Lewis and ship him out of the country to DG where someone can get that thing out of him and he can retire.”
Silence fell behind him, and he turned to find them all looking at him like he was mad. “What?”
“We can’t take the MESSIAH out, Mr. Adams. Mason’s marrow is all gone by now, and without it a human body can’t survive. We also don’t know how many of his organs are still functional. He might be dying as we speak.” She tried not to sound like a doomsayer, but there was no other way. “It just can’t be done.”
Jonathan covered his face with his hands. When he removed them, his face had turned into a mask of purpose. He went to the bed, picked up his gun and removed the silencer. Next, he checked the magazine and put it back on his holster.
“Well, then the least we can do is alleviate the pain.”
A thousand confusing thoughts raced through the person that had once been Robert Fulton, then became Lewis at the service of Delta Green and finally ended up being Luis Mason, the Messiah-like person in Costa Rica. For hours he had sat alone in the darkness, images and feelings mixing freely in his head. The images of his torture at the hands of MAJESTIC; the hideous feeling of the thing as it entered his body and tried to take over his mind as it extended throughout his whole being, trying to relegate his personality to a dark corner where nobody listened; the gas coming out of the vents in the floor of the room, bringing blackness and blissful oblivion with it; and the awakening in a body bag. All the mixed scenes in somewhere that could be Mexico or could well be anywhere else on this damned continent, as he tried to run away as far as he could from his captors, trying to consume himself in peyote and other natural drugs as he tried to forget the thing inside his body, the thing that tried to force him to submit somebody else to the same fate he had; the thing that, even if unable to fully control him, was able to stop him from ending his own existence.
Then the madness took over again, returning him to his new persona. It just oozed over his conscience, slowly digesting the traces of the memories that tormented him and returning him to a peaceful oblivion. But something remained: the strong feeling that the man who was with him earlier, whoever he was, had come here to kill him. For some reason, Luis Mason was sure that he would have done the same thing if the tables were turned, which was a confusing feeling because his faith didn’t allow it. But he knew what he had to do. He had to tell the seekers outside that his time with them was coming to an end.
Seth Rickles stood waiting on the line of people outside Mason’s hut, just about ten groups from getting in. His instructions were to get inside to see Mason, take him out and take a few tissue samples for the white coats back at home. One person behind him, Jiménez, waited to make a diversion and convince everyone that some rabid Catholic fanatic had murdered Mason.
The only problem was, the crazy old coot hadn’t received anyone for the last twelve hours, and Rickles was starting to get restless.
Then, slowly, the door opened and the black woman came out, helping a man that seemed more like a walking corpse. The sorry excuse for a human being let go of the woman and helped himself walk along to the first post that held the shaky tin roof. Everyone fell silent as he made a sign, beckoning them. People started approaching slowly, as if afraid of the man they were so eager to see just moments before.
When he had enough people close to him, Mason started speaking to them on a clear, strong voice, with the black woman translating to Spanish as he went along.
“Seekers, the end of my time here is at hand. I’m going to die at the hand of strangers, strangers that want to remove me and my message. I won’t be able to see any more of you, and I’ll just wait for my destiny.”
A murmur of disappointment swept through the assembled crowd, but Rickles couldn’t believe how lucky they were. The Delta Green man had come in earlier, Mason had stopped receiving people afterwards, and now he was saying that he was about to get killed. Surely people would think that he was an accomplice of the DG operative, and the man would be to blame.
Apparently it was the same thing that Lieutenant Meyers thought, because his earpiece cracked with static. “Rickles, take the man out and try to get a part of the body like a finger or a tooth or something. Jiménez will provide cover for your escape.”
Rickles started moving closer to Mason, who had kept on rambling.
“I know that you will expect me to see you, and if I am wrong I will. But my time left here is too short and I don’t want to endanger any of you by having you with me when it happens.”
Rickles, now at the front of the crowd, took out his .38 handgun, pointed it at Mason, and shouted “HEATHEN! DEMON!” The first line of people receded with the first shot, which hit Mason squarely in the chest and sent him crashing to the floor. Rickles jumped forward, screaming “Die in the name of the true God! Die, pagan!” and emptying the rest of the five shots into Mason’s head and chest. He bent down, picked up a handful of the mass that had been Mason’s cranium, and turned to see what Jiménez was doing.
What he saw was Jiménez jumping towards him, brandishing a cobra metal baton.
“Asesino!” Jiménez shouted as he hit Rickles on the jaw. Rickles dropped the gun and his mind reeled with confusion as he spat blood and teeth to the floor, and then the mob was upon him, all punches and kicks and broomsticks, hitting him with whatever they could.
Just 150 feet away from Mason’s hut, Jonathan and Joseph were moving forward. Harry just hovered nearby, wishing he could help but feeling that this time he should stay out of it.
It all happened too fast. They saw Mason come out and start to address the crowds, and saw the man they believed to be from MAJESTIC jump forward and kill him. Seconds later, another man led the mob to attack the shooter.
Jonathan couldn’t believe what he was seeing. When he reacted, he screamed and tried to run towards the crowds. Joseph and Harry tried to stop him, but didn’t reach him until he was trying to punch his way through the mob.
“Jonathan, stop it! Jonathan! Listen man, easy! There’s nothing we can do now! Jonathan!”
They subdued him as well as they could before the crowd turned on him, and ended up holding a shaking, sobbing man to the ground.
It is really disgusting to see a mob in action, especially if they are any sort of fanatics. After having started the attack on Rickles, just as the Lieutenant had instructed him, Jiménez detached himself from the bunch that was tearing Rickles apart and went to Mason’s body, as if to check if he was alive. He knelt besides it, picked up a small mass of gray tissue and bone that was spread on the floor, and quickly disappeared into the other huts after picking up what was left of Rickles’ earpiece.
Three days later, Jonathan Adams, Joseph Bierce and one Janet Robinson were saying farewell to Harry Randall at the Juan Santamaría airport. DG had considered it prudent to send a private jet to pick them up, given the situation.
“Well, sorry it had to end like this.” Harry said.
“Nevermind.” said a taciturn Jonathan who shook his hand and turned towards the jet.
“Sure, man, we did all we could. You helped a lot, if it’s any consolation. Be seeing you.” Joseph said with his permanent smile before following Jonathan.
“What about you now, Lilly?” Harry asked Janet. “What happens to you?”
“I suppose that MAJESTIC isn’t going to be all too happy about me turning on them, so Delta Green is just going to hide me for a while and then I’ll resurface somewhere else with my new identity. Most likely I’ll join in, if they’ll have me.”
“Even after this?”
“Especially after this.”
That same day, Mauricio González, an intern at the morgue of the OIJ opened up the freezer compartment where the remains for Luis Mason were held. And to think that it had taken the police to remove this loony from the crowds, he wondered taking out the tray that should hold the body.
Only the body wasn’t there. The only thing on the tray was the white sheet that had covered the corpse, set now over a small pile of colorless slime mixed with a little of something that looked like blood.
“What the hell?”
Mauricio removed the sheet and looked at it. It just fell out of his hands as he ran towards the exit, looking for a security guard.
There was nobody in the room when a glob of slime detached itself from the rest and oozed towards the floor, passing over the white sheet that held a perfect image of Lewis’ body as he was when he had been laid on the slab, and then oozed on towards the small drain at the center of the room.