The Last Handful of Clover

Chapter 3.48: The Relentless March of Science

Book Three — The Stone in the Stream

NOTE: This chapter is available in audiobook format on the TLHOC Podcast.
Access previous chapters of the book on the Table of Contents page.

June 16, 4:55 pm

Sutton hung up the phone and leaned back in his old, comfortable chair.

This is going better than I could have dreamed, he mused. Mattie was on her way, with the chubby boy and his big guard dog. That practically guaranteed that Pratt would be along shortly behind. They would all arrive before sunset. It’s going to be delightful, he smiled, seeing the Disruptor’s face as he realizes that he’s lost, and that by dawn the city will be nothing but a smoking pile of wreckage and rotting corpses.

The man’s defeat would be delicious, but it would be nothing compared to the despair that was to come. When he butchered Keith Woo, the broken soul that was Richard Pratt would be driven fully into madness.

Now that will be something to savor!

The two Dark Ghosts stood in front of his desk, silent and waiting; still dressed in the bodies of the two scientists, and still holding their black cases. His hand lingering on the phone, Sutton examined them critically. The body of the bigger one looked strong and capable, despite his bloody and battered face. But the skinny one concerned him. He couldn’t help notice that the adrenalin and trauma of the little scientist’s injury had left him looking weak and pale. His left arm now hung useless—the hand burned nearly to the bone. Even with his angel in complete control, the man’s traumatized body was being flooded with pain and adrenalin. He knew it must be a struggle for his angel to make such a damaged tool respond to his will.

Hopefully, he thought, this is a husk that he can shed along the way for something better.

Sutton took a moment to look at the two black cases. He took one of them and opened it. It was the case that was not sealed with security tape, and it was labeled ANTX-170.

Anthrax. Weapons Grade.

There was nothing particularly special about it. Dried and powdered anthrax was a weapon that had been known and studied for years, and Dugway had been working on one strain or another since 1992. It was a descendant of the Ames strain, but what made ANTX-170 particularly deadly was that they had carefully milled the pathogen into particles just slightly larger that two microns in diameter. This made them especially deadly, since the powder was easier to disperse and would travel farther, suspended in the air. The case contained twenty vials, each in a clear glass grenade that had a small explosive charge in the center, to help begin the dispersal. The charge was no bigger than a large firecracker, but it would instantly shatter the glass and scatter the powder into a cloud several yards in diameter, which would then be picked up and spread by the wind.

Anthrax produced flu-like symptoms and was usually, although not always, fatal. It was unlikely that each of these twenty grenades would infect more than a few city blocks each, so they were not really the best choice for what he needed to do. They would serve as a backup. A little icing on the deadly cake.

For the cake itself, he would rely on the case labeled NVCK-9.

He had not been completely sure if the reports he had heard from his spies would be true. From their scattered and incomplete observations, Sutton had surmised that the Ditto had somehow obtained a strain of Novichok from the Soviets five years ago.

The Novichok series was a collection of the most deadly nerve agents the world had ever produced, and the West had long hoped that the Russians, who had developed them, had honored the chemical weapons reduction treaties from the 1990s, and destroyed the last remaining traces of it. But a string of assassinations from 2010 to 2021 which bore traces of Novichok had proved that it was still in circulation. And while publicly decrying its existence, Army Intelligence had been intent on getting the most recent strains for study and development.

As far as the world knew, the pinnacle of the Novichok series was Novichok-5. And how the United States had finally acquired a sample of it, he did not know. It must have gone missing from the Soviet labs after that string of assassinations, and he suspected it would have been impossible for that to have happened unnoticed. The very fact that even the tiniest sample of the Novichok had disappeared would have created a huge international incident—although it was one that would naturally never be spoken of outside of the tightest diplomatic circles, where threats and counter-threats were traded like playing cards. Sutton suspected that the intrigue surrounding that missing Novichok-5 sample would make a fascinating spy novel.

But that this strain of Novichok was labeled NVCK-9 told him that the Ditto had made significant new refinements to the nerve agent over the years, and that always meant that it had only become more concentrated and more deadly. Even this quantity of Novichok-5, if properly dispersed, could wipe out a city.

Sutton had carefully studied the literature about Novichok, since its development decades ago. The nerve agent was in a class of chemicals known as organophosphate acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. Scientifically, their lethality came from their ability to inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which then prevented the normal breakdown of a key neurotransmitter. The results were horrific, starting with headaches and vomiting, followed quickly by confusion, loss of vision, and incontinence. Death came quickly, brought on by muscle spasms and an inability to breathe. Those who didn’t die of suffocation died minutes later from cardiac arrest.

Unfortunately, death comes quickly. You can’t always have everything you want.

But all those effects were for Novichok-5. Exactly how deadly was Novichok-9? Well, he could only speculate. And the world would know by morning.

He ripped off the warning tape and opened the case there on the desk.

What he found almost made him squeal with delight.

The case opened up like a clamshell, and on each side were black foam liners, with small holes cut out, each no bigger than a large egg. These devices were tiny compared with the Anthrax grenades. But unlike the white powder in glass vials, these devices were not meant to explode. He picked one carefully out of the foam liner and examined it.

The white capsule itself was indeed very much the size and shape of an egg, but with a flat bottom of molded black plastic. Built into the top of each egg was a tiny aerosol nozzle, and there was a pressurization canister on the side, no bigger than a triple-A battery. There was also a watch-sized mechanism on the front, with several buttons and a digital display. As he held one up to his ear and shook it gently, he could hear liquid sloshing around inside.

He recognized the dispersal mechanism immediately. This Novichok was aerosolized and airborne, and the pressurization canister, digital controller, and nozzle on the top revealed exactly how the device was to be used. You simply set it off, either instantly or with a timer, and then let it slowly spray forth the contents. He estimated it would disperse the nerve agent over the course of at least an hour, perhaps even two, and that the deadly mist would instantly disperse into the air.

What they would send forth upon the winds was a wave of death that would kill everything it touched, wherever the wind took it.

The wind tonight was expected to be coming from the north. Which was excellent.

A few of these, well placed, could devastate the city. If all (he counted) sixty of these were released, the entire city would be uninhabitable by dawn.

He clicked the case closed and handed it back to the bigger scientist.

The board is set, he thought. Now all I have to do is move the last pieces into place for checkmate. My two ghosts, and my pilot.

Yes, most importantly, my pilot…

Sutton glanced across the room at Susan Jarvis. Or at least, the woman who used to be Susan Jarvis.

Bradley Seward was clearly still in awe of his new body, and now that his arms were free, he was tentatively touching his new face, his new arms, his new breasts. There was a look of wonder on his face and a growing, intoxicated joy in his eyes.

Sutton watched the man pawing at himself. He had hoped that the ghost would have gotten all of that out of his system by now, but clearly he needed a jolt to get his mind focused. So he crossed the room and slapped the woman across the face as hard as he could. It was a single blow, but it was enough. Bradley’s arms dropped to his sides, his ample chest still heaving with anticipation.

Yes, he will do fine, Sutton thought.

Quickly, he gave his three ghosts their orders. His instructions were simple, but precise, and he knew that the three angels in their new bodies were absorbing them, and would carry them out to the letter. They all nodded soberly.

Without another word, but with a nod of his head, he dispatched the trio. The big scientist and Susan each picked up one case, and the three filed out of the office into the late afternoon sun. Sutton’s Jeep was waiting outside. It would only be a short drive to the airfield, and he had already had a chopper waiting there, just outside one hangar. He had ensured that it was gassed up and ready to go, although he had been unable to find a way to eliminate the team of MPs that would be guarding it. That would be an obstacle, but one he was confident his angels could handle.

It would help, of course, that all three of his ghosts now had multiple weapons, collected from the trail of dead guards they had left in Building C. The long guns and sidearms were all stacked on the backseat of the Jeep, within easy reach. And even in the worst-case scenario—should they be stopped or shot, for instance—all they really needed to do was swap bodies with the MPs.

They’ll be on their way to Salt Lake City very soon, he thought, as he watched them climb into the Jeep. And they will be in place within an hour. Or at most, two.

The clock on his desk read 6:05 pm. Plenty of time.

He watched from his office window as the strange trio started the Jeep, and then drove off to the north. They would cross Stark Road and be at the hangar in just a few minutes. With perhaps fifteen minutes to get the helicopter off the ground, and then another half hour of flight time, they would be in Salt Lake by 7:30, at the latest. That was fine. Once they were in place, he had instructed them to wait until sundown.

What I have planned for this city will work much better in the dark. Terror is always much more delicious in the dark…

Now it was his turn. He had Susan’s keys, and her Ford Escort was parked in the lot just outside. It was time for him to head back to the Stone in the Stream.

Everything from here on out is just for fun, he thought, a shiver of joy running up his crooked and diseased spine.

The Last Handful of Clover is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you are enjoying this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.

For more information (including maps of the story’s world and a contact form) visit the author’s website.

To read previous chapters of this book, go to the Table of Contents page.

If you’re interested in listening to the book, rather than reading it, the audiobook is available at the Patreon link above, and also as a podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Anchor, and all other podcast platforms. Visit the podcast page for more details.

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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.

Wess Mongo Jolley

Wess Mongo Jolley is Utah native, who is now an expatriate American novelist, editor, poet and poetry promoter, living in Montreal. He is Founder and Director of the Performance Poetry Preservation Project, and is most well known for hosting the IndieFeed Performance Poetry Channel podcast for more than ten years. His poems and short stories have appeared or journals such as Off The Coast, PANK, The New Verse News, and Danse Macabre, Apparition Literary Journal, Grain, and in collections such as the Write Bloody Press book The Good Things About America. He loves hearing from readers, and can be contacted through his website, at https://wessmongojolley.com. If you are enjoying this story, please drop him a line, and consider supporting his work as a novelist at http://patreon.com/wessmongojolley. All of the trilogy's over 207 chapters are available there for subscribers, and new poems, short stories, and other content is posted there every Friday.

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