November 8th: After the events of the hospital things moved quickly. Albany’s Chief of Police went on TV and declared a city-wide manhunt for the ‘drug crazed hooligans’ that had killed six people, including two highly decorated officers. I am sure that little soundbite was a great comfort to the citizenry as did the show of force that took place the next day. At high noon on November 5th the forces of law and order went marching through the poorer neighborhoods of Albany in all their army surplus enhanced glory. The whole scene was the very model of a post 9/11 dystopia. The final results of the brouhaha in body armor was twelve arrests on unrelated charges and outstanding warrants, a neighborhood dog being shot and not one ‘drug crazed hooligan’ taken into custody.
While all this was going on I was busy learning all I could about Dr. Fredrickson, my only clue as to what was really going on around here. I had assumed that I would learn that Dr. Fredrickson was some kind of mad scientist but it turns out that his degree was in criminology. He taught for a while at a downstate college before opening up his own private detective agency. That was when Dr. Fredrickson’s story got weird- really weird, Swan Lake being performed by mimes with Tourette’s syndrome in a running car wash weird. Dr. Fredrickson’s cases weren’t of the standard ‘act as a bodyguard’ or ‘find out of my spouse is cheating’ variety. He actually investigated grisly murders, mysterious disappearances and ninjas.
Yes, you read that right. Actual ninjas!
While I did my research things kept getting more and more complicated around town. There were almost a dozen sightings of the man-animals in Troy but they were all dismissed as hysteria and lies by the powers that be. Some unlucky citizens were attacked but those attacks were blamed on rabid animals. By the third chewed up jogger the local newspapers began to get suspicious but their investigations went nowhere because both the survivors and the dead had all been spirited away by those Serious Men in Serious Suits.
It took some doing but on the 6th I struck pay dirt. My investigations revealed that in 2006 Dr. Fredrickson moved to France to act as a consultant for Interpol and never came back. In fact he moved his whole damn family across the ocean with him. I found his Interpol email address and sent him a guarded message.
I got an answer almost immediately…
……the place: Troy, New York. The time: high noon.
Going to secluded locations at the behest of people you’ve just met on the Internet is only slightly dumber than climbing into the back of a van offering free vasectomies. But I went anyway, to the secluded location, not for the vasectomy.
I parked my car across the street from a flower shop and and made my way to the Volsung Corporation’s long-abandoned textile mill. Abandoned buildings are nothing new in Troy; the town is an urban explorer’s dream but the mill was unique in that after the Volsung Company shut down operations and moved production to Taiwan they held on to the property- and let it rot.
At least until the Volsung Corporation went belly up in 1985. The city took the property over and came up with one idea after another of what to do with it; each idea was stupider than the last, and none were ever acted on.
The mill was an ugly rectangle of red brick with tiny windows and a pair of chimneys. It looked like an orphanage out of a Dickens novel. Dr. Fredrickson had told me he was booking a flight to New York right away and he planned to meet me there. Personally I would have preferred to meet the man at the airport or a nice restaurant but if this was how he wanted to play it I didn’t have much choice.
Not if I wanted answers.
Like most creepy, long-abandoned buildings the mill was surrounded by a chain link fence that was crawling with tetanus. There is no way to casually climb a chain link fence in broad daylight so I just got it over with as quickly as I could. My bum knee screamed in protest when I landed but I walked it off.
There was a brief moment when I paused to realize there had been a man-sized hole in the fence just a few yards from where I had gone over but I got over it and started walking again. Trash and weeds ringed the building, one of the loading dock doors was wide open, it gaped hungrily, waiting for me to enter.
And enter I did. My pen light in one hand and my iPhone filming away in the other. The loading dock looked like… well, a loading dock. Truck bays, ramps and offices. A double door led to the interior of the building I nudged it open with mill was empty, no walls, no machines. The afternoon sun was level with glassless windows, I passed from shadow to light to shadow. Somewhere an owl hooted and flew away.
The only thing worse than the stink of a building gone to rot is the odor of death and lucky me, I was smelling both. I hated myself for not asking for more answers from Dr. Fredrickson but he’d insisted that he no longer trusted the security of Interpol’s email system.
Nice going Patriot Act.
“If you head there you will find traces of the Volsung Corporation’s true legacy.” Fredrick son’s last message had said, “Bring rope, flashlight and an open mind. Go tomorrow afternoon, before things get worse.”
Just in case this whole thing was a trap I’d decided against bringing a rope. I had no intention of being trussed up by someone as deadly as they were thrifty.
My penlight beam found footprints on the dirty floor. Dozens of them, all barefoot and all walking on the balls of their feet. I followed the trail deeper into the building. I began to find half-eaten animal corpses strewn here and there, I’m not 100% sure what kind they were but I imagined there were a lot of folks in Troy missing their cats and dogs.
Suddenly I began to wish Jasper was at my side instead of packing for his big trip. He still wanted me to go with him but how could I ever leave all this, and the Vorvolaka, behind?
“Stop right there!” a voice called from the shadows. It was soft, heavily accented in French and deadly serious.
“Look down,” the voice said.
There was a hole in the floor right in front of me, even with the occasional illumination I couldn’t see the bottom. I exhaled heavily, “I should have brought that rope.”
“Indeed,” A trench coated figure stepped into view, a beautiful young woman with refined features and ghostly white skin. She was an albino. “You’re Brian Foster, I like the hat.”
The stranger was wearing a chapeau of her own, a dark blue pork pie hat that anchored down her white curly afro. “Back at ya” I said, “And you are?”
“My name is Chloe Tree, you’ve been emailing my Uncle.” There was a rucksack over her shoulder, she pulled a slender object from it. There was a muffled crack followed by a hiss, the road flare she was holding burst to life.
Once I was done flinching I asked, “He sent you?”
Chloe Tree walked over to the edge of the hole and dropped the flare. The stick of reddish flame fell for eight seconds before hitting bottom. She nodded sagely and shouldered out out her rucksack. “Good, I brought enough,” she handed me one end of the rope, “please tie it around something solid.”
Like I said before the place was pretty much empty but Chloe brought plenty of rope and I managed to find a free-standing support column about six
to our left. “So,” I began, “Dr. Fredrickson is your Uncle?”
“Adopted,” she admitted, “when I was four years old I was orphaned by a man that thought my skin and organs could give him great power. The Fredrickson brothers rescued me.”
“And Dr. Fredrickson’s brother adopted you?”
“His big brother Garth and his wife Mary.”
I stared at the knot I had tied for a moment or two. I’d never been a Boy Scout and I couldn’t be sure the ugly tangle of rope would hold but it would have to do. “Ready!”
She dropped the rope down into the pit, “The Volsung Company presented itself to the world as an agricultural research company but they had other interests.”
“Bio-weapons?” I asked.
She flashed me a smile, “How did you know?”
“What can I say?” I shrugged, “I’m a good guesser.”
“Indeed.” After one last look around she hefted the rucksack and began lowering herself into the hole in the floor, “Climb carefully now.”
Climb down into a pit in an abandoned factory? That’s how I roll.
It has been a long time since I’ve done anything even remotely athletic and I started to ‘feel the burn’ with in a few seconds of making my way down the rope. How far down were we going? I thought eighty feet was a good estimate but that begged the question- what the Hell was down here? What had this company been doing on the side? “So,” I panted, “Volsung was making some kind of killer virus…”
“Worse, a morphic impacting pathogen.”
“I have no idea what that means but it makes me want to wash my hands immediately.”
She gave a little laugh and she dropped from the rope to pan d on the floor below, “You’ve seen the results of it on Martin Biddle, a complete re-writing of DNA to the point where a physical transformation is triggered. The transformation is mental too, millions of years of evolution are wiped away. Their minds become primitive and malleable.”
“Are you telling me,” I dropped down after her, “that this thing turns people into cavemen?”
“To put it simply yes. But the damage done is so profound that the children of any surviving victims will be pseudo-neanderthals.”
What she was saying was impossible, it was insane, it was the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey in reverse but I’d seen it. I’d seen what that poor bastard Marty Biddle had become, and I’d heard the rest of his furry posse in action.
She took the penlight from my hand and swept the beam around the chamber. The place was at least a thousand feet across in every direction and populated with long, flat buildings as well as obelisks and statues that rose up to brush the ceiling. I felt a shiver of worry at the thought I might be crossing into Dero territory again but I soon realized that this place had been designed with human aesthetics in mind. It was positively cathedral-like, “Why would anyone do this?”
“They called it the Valhalla Project,” she walked over to one of the statues, it was covered with an ugly, foul smelling mold that grew in streaks and lumps along what must have once been a seventy foot tall effigy of some saint or wise man. The coating of mold left its face and inscription impossible to make sense of, “let the virus do its work while a chosen few survivors waited in a dozen places like this around the globe. Then once the human race had been fully regressed they would emerge and guide mankind into a less warlike state of being. A kinder, gentler human race.”
“That’s… that’s…” I boggled, “You’re not kidding are you?”
“No,” she started walking then paused and glanced back at me before continuing on. It seemed like her too-pale face lingered in the shadows after her. Chesire-like.
I used my phone to snap a few pictures along the way but I knew I would never post them, not when everything looked like a shadowy photoshop job or a Yes album cover. “It would be nice if you could tell me what we’re looking for.”
“Some clue as to who blasted that hole up above. Everyone that experienced the Valhalla Project firsthand should be dead.
“Everyone except for my father and those doctors and spooks from Albany Med,” the entrance to one of the buildings was open, we took a moment to peer inside. There four rows of 70’s era looking computers a skeleton was slumped over one of the keyboards. It was covered with mold, everything was.
“What is this… gunk?” I ran my fingers along the wall, scooping up a handful of the stuff, it was moist and clammy.
“It was supposed to be a food source, I guess after the place was abandoned it got ambitious.”
“Ichhhhh!” I shook the stuff from my hand.
Up ahead was something that must have been a town square, a gathering place for discussions of great importance and possibly the occasional biome hoedown. A fire made from bones and shattered furniture blazed in the heart of it and ugly troglodyte figures danced about it in orgiastic fury.
There was a toppled obelisk nearby, Chloe and I took cover behind it and watched. Somewhere an amplifier was playing a speech that sounded like it had been recorded long ago, “Let every man remind their descendants that they also are soldiers who must not desert the ranks of their ancestors, or from cowardice fall behind…”
It boomed and echoed, the acoustics of the place were amazing.
“There are more than I expected,” Chloe said.
“O ye sons of heroes, that you strive to be the bravest of men. And I think that I ought now to repeat what your fathers desired to have said to you who are their survivors…”
I have so out of my depth in my life, and possibly out of my mind, “What do we do now?”
“We retreat, we contact the authorities and we hope.”
“Love it.” I said, “Best plan ever.”
There was a pause in the recording. We turned to go. I stepped on a bone. The sound of it snapping resounded like a gunshot…
…of course the man-animals heard it.
Of course we ran.
Of course they caught up with us easily.
The moment one reached us, Chloe clocked it with her rucksack. Then her hand was in the rucksack, grabbing two more flares.
There was a crack and a hiss. The road flare burned to life. The man-animals backed away in panic but surrounded us just the same.
We weren’t going anywhere.
“How long do those things last?” I asked her.
“Here,” she threw the other one to me and I almost caught it.
When I bent down to retrieve it one of the man-animals pounced. We tumbled along the slimy, moldy ground. Teeth brushed my throat. I fought to push it away but only managed to keep the creature from biting into my neck.
My scream was half-pain, half terror. Chloe was shouting something in French. I started to beg the creature nuzzling into the meat of my clavicle for mercy.
But it didn’t understand a damn word I was saying…