Chapter Nine: The HuntEdit

Montgomery went to visit McPherson once again. He advised him to tighten the cordon. McPherson acted normal this time, and agreed to what he saw as a wise idea. Then Montgomery returned to the children with three black, heavy suits and night vision goggles. "It's time for the hunt," he had said.

By now it was the night after the accident. The trio lurked around the place where the accident had occurred and progressed outward, making nearly no noise at all and without flashlights. Their night vision goggles were enough. They knew, however, that it would take a long time, and that it could very well be a failure if the National Guard troops caught up with the mysterious creature before the trio did. Then the creature would definitely be killed, and there would be no chance of saving the children's father.

For that was what he meant to do: to save James Harper.

And so, into the night they lurked.

The three ventured together, so that they would not need radio communication but could whisper to each other, and to protect each other if need be. The night became darker with every passing minute; the sun had long descended; the dark outlines of the trees nearly blended with the sky. The green vision of the night goggles became more and more blurred, and their watches passed the 1:00 am mark.

Suddenly, but no, it was an illusion; there was nothing there, nothing important, anyways.

Suddenly, the nothingness seemed to get darker, but that quickly dissipated, leaving, once again, nothing. And the children were now scared, as they knew that whatever could get his father could also get them.

Suddenly, it appeared. A black menacing figure in the distance. They were certain that that was it, the thing they were looking for... and they huddled together again, but their wills were steeled, and they knew that they must go forward. It was, after all, their father they were trying to save.

Suddenly, they heard a loud screech behind them, and they whirled around. A car came up on them, and jolted to a stop. The driver looked at them, expecting them to be the monster that had snared Mr. Harper.

Suddenly, they saw an eerie glow... from the darkness, came upon them a lavender streak in the far distance. The three huddled closer together, but realized that it was nothing but the first sign of the approaching dawn. Only then did they discover how tired they were.

Suddenly... it had become disappointing, this hunt. They had yet to find what they were looking for, but several times already they had been scared near to death. This time, it was a gunshot, fired into somewhere. The rapport almost knocked them down. When they looked toward the source of the firing, they saw a string of men approaching, at regular intervals in both directions as far as they could see. The National Guard cordon. Moving in, and towards them. And a lieutenant who had his rifle aimed straight at them.

Chapter Ten: The HuntedEdit

Montgomery put his hands up, and the children did likewise. Satisfied, the lieutenant lowered his aim and beckoned them to come closer.

"Who are you and what are you doing here?"

"I'm Ranger Montgomery and these children are under my care. We're out to search for the monster. You know, the-"

"Yeah I know. Come with me now."

Behind them, the troopers continued their grueling search. Along the way in the lieutenant's car as they drove to the office, the lieutenant explained: "While you were gone, we gained notice that the creature had been found. HQ has identified it as a bobcat; now, whatever that means, I have no clue. But we're headed there right now."

"What were you doing with the cordon then?"

"It's apparently been found that the bite of the bobcat transmits a prion that turns its victims into itself. Similar to a werewolf. We don't really know if prior to that time someone else has been infected, and since anyone affected with it turns into a bobcat as well, we had to check the entire place to exterminate any lingering threats."

Montgomery sighed. So Officer McPherson was right in ordering that the National Guard be called in, was right in saying that it had better remain as classified information.

They arrived at the rangers' building. Officer McPherson was there to greet them. Not one for small talk, McPherson launched right into what he had to say.

"I've been authorized to tell you the full story, Montgomery," he said bluntly. "It's been decided that we'll need you to have full knowledge."

"What d'you mean the 'full' story?" Montgomery asked incredulously. "I thought I was fully informed."

"I might as well tell you with those kids around since you'll probably eventually tell them the entire story anyway," McPherson said with a note of resignation in his voice.

Chapter Eleven: The RevelationEdit

"Ten years ago, scientists discovered a new virus in the Himalayan Mountains. The virus had lain dormant in the ice for thousands of years, but two Sherpas had uncovered it and freed it from its fossil prison."

"Two Sherpas?" Montgomery asked. "How can you know it was exactly two?"

"Quiet!" McPherson barked at him. "Anyway, the virus immediately infected the Sherpas, causing horrible mutations and soon death. Chinese scientists kept it frozen in special containers, but then a Russian scientist found out and stole the virus in hopes of using it in chemical warfare. The Russian was captured on his way back by several American marines, who demanded to know what he was carrying. He tried to infect them with it but was killed before he could free the virus from its container. The marines took the container back to the U.S., where it was studied extensively by our scientists, who discovered that the virus had a, uh, it's not exactly my field but I believe it was a lethal strand of RNA or something like that that caused the mutations."

"Why didn't you kill it then before it went on to infect the kids' father?" Montgomery asked indignantly.

"The lethal strand was removed by an inhibitor protein," McPherson continued as though Montgomery had not said anything, "and the virus was then used as a viral vector, transferring desired genetic information from one host cell to another. The virus was apparently accidentally exposed to ultraviolet radiation, which caused several bases in its genes to be switched. This caused it to be able to transfer information from one organism to another, thus causing several scientists to have their genes combined. Being unable to handle all these new genes, they went insane and were killed. The virus was then placed back in storage until a way could be found to reverse the mutation.

"Someone tried to steal one of the containers, but he was caught by one of the night guards, who fought him for the container. He pushed the thief off an overpass, sending him to his death, but the container fell too, and spilled open on the ground, freeing the virus. The virus apparently infected several wild animals, which became carriers. It traveled in their saliva and bloodstream and we've since determined that one bite transfers the virus and consequently the animal's genes." McPherson paused as the story came to an end. "That's all we know," he said, "now you're fully informed and you understand how dangerous this thing really is."

Montgomery was aghast. Then he regained his composure. "So what is it that you want me to do, Officer?"

McPherson peered at them more closely. "I want you to find a cure for this disease. Since biology probably isn't your strong point, you may have to assemble together a group of scientists to work on this. You have your specimen!" McPherson turned briskly and pointed at a monstruous black mass. "Now get to work. I have to make a report for the government. They'll be interested in how all this plays out, I'll warrant you."

Chapter Twelve: The CureEdit

Dr. Harper and the bobcat remained in their cells for the next few days as a team of scientists worked on developing a cure in the adjacent room. The rangers' building had been totally converted to a laboratory, with various polymerase chain reaction engines and running electrophoresis gels along one side of the room. Adjacent to them were two centrifuges of different sizes, and a stack of weights. Various sampling plates were being delivered at this time, and scientists in white lab coats milled about with their samples and equipment. Nearby were three refrigerators, each with a nearly maxed out supply of Tacman (r) solutions and various pink and purple primers being kept frozen for the time being. Whirring vibrators and tilting machines were busy as well, and pipettes and flasks were being filled, deposited, withdrawn, emptied, and disposed of in a never-decreasing flurry of activity. All the while, a geiger counter sat in the corner ticking away very slowly while several displays on the screen showed the CT scan results from the day before. These were attached to four local computers and a printer, and a pile of papers showed various allele frequencies for different parts of each gene being investigated for that day. Along another wall were books on the discipline, as were various utilities; a robot sat across the room spattering 0.02 milliliter drops of testing solution into a series of testing trays. A scanner was making screeching and zzz-ing noises as lasers flashed internally. Then the nearby computer terminal displayed an update of the genome being sequenced. Trays of pipette tips lined the corners, before which were keypads. In the center of it all were the two cells, with the two specimens and bioengineering equipment inside, and soundproof shatterproof glass around the cells.

It took humanity ten years to sequence the human genome, and a few months to sequence drosophila. It took this team, and various proxies working elsewhere, a scant two weeks to sequence the two specimens.

And through it all, Montgomery was overseeing the operation, McPherson was typing in the office next door, and the two children were standing around, befuddled by all the activity and the terminology: "P-values, chi-squares, tau, Hap-Map, majors and minors, isotopes, adenosine triphosphate versus adenosine diphosphate, prions..."

The lead research fellow then called the onlookers to come and see the major event. A needle was injected into the man-become-bobcat, and as they watched, Dr. Harper stilled, then started shaking violently. Nearby, both Audrey and Brian were shaken; it seemed as if their father was on the verge of death.

"What's going on?" they asked.

"Not to worry, this is to be expected. This is called insulin shock. It's the second step of our procedure. We've injected the first treatment...oh, I'd say about four hours ago. Something should happen in the next hour."

They all looked on at the cell, as gradually, the black hair on Dr. Harper began to fall out.

It was an agonizing wait.

A very agonizing wait, to watch as individual hairs fell out, to strain to see the small changes that would come to signal success in the making and reaffirm everyone's hopes that the millions spent in the research procedure had not been in vain... Then body parts slightly changed shape, blood oozed from the bite wound, and the mutations began to dissipate.

It was, indeed, a most agonizing wait...but it worked in the end.

However, that's not the end of our story. In fact, it's only the beginning...

Chapter Thirteen: The ExpansionEdit


The hot sun shone down across the sands of Death Valley. A cloud of dust appeared on the horizon as an army jeep drove across the desert. From within a rocky outcropping, a particularly large gila monster watched the vehicle's progress. Suddenly, the jeep slowed and the engine began to splutter. Then it stopped. "Doggone it, the engine's overheated," shouted a hard-faced liuetenant, jumping out of the cab. "It won't start again today. How far is it to the Los Angeles base?" he asked. "Bad news," said a soldier. "It's another twenty miles, and our gas is runnin' low." The liuetenant slapped his knee in frustration. Then he looked up at the rocks. "There's some shelter," he said. "We can keep from dying of the heat in there. Is there any water?" A soldier pulled four canteens out of the back seat of the truck. "Right here, Liuetenant Marone. It'll keep us until we can get help." Liuetenant Marone hurried everyone out of the truck. The truck contained about fifteen other soldiers, who were under the liuetenant's command. The group began heading toward the rocks. Liuetenant Marone took his radio and contacted General Stuart at the Los Angeles military base. "General?" he said. "We need someone to get out here and help us to Los Angeles. Our engine's overheated."

There was a low groan on the other end, then the general replied, "Where are you?" Liuetenant Marone gave him the location. "We're about twenty miles southeast of you," he said. "All right, we'll send out a helicopter. Can you stay cool in the meantime?" Marone told him about the rocks. "We'll stay there until the chopper gets here," he told Stuart. "It should take about thirty minutes," said General Stuart, "So keep everyone underneath those rocks until then. Over and out."

As the small retinue reached the rocks, the gila monster crawled noiselessly down toward the desert. It made its way slowly toward one of the soldiers.

As Marone reached a small cave inside the outcropping, there was a shout from the edge of the group as one of the men struggled with an enormous lizard. "Help! I can't get loose!" Several of the men turned their guns toward the scene, but were afraid to shoot lest they accidentally kill their fellow soldier. "AAAUUUUGGGHHH!!" The soldier cried in agony as the gila monster sunk its teeth into his shoulder. Then it moved away. Luietenant Marone took his M-16 and shot the reptile.

The group gathered around the gasping soldier. "Seargent Andrews!" said Marone with concern. "Are you okay?" The soldier moaned as he grasped his swollen shoulder. "That thing got me deep," he said. "I don't think I can make it thirty minutes!" Liuetenant Marone grabbed Andrews by the arm and pulled him up. "C'mon, let's get you inside. Don't move your shoulder; it'll spread the poison!" The retinue moved into the small cave, where Seargent Andrews was laid down. Another soldier gave him a drink from one of the canteens. The young man's eyes were starting to close, and his breath was getting heavier. "Stay awake, Andrews, or you won't last long!" exclaimed Marone. But his words fell upon deaf ears. The seargent was out.

Chapter Fourteen: "No One Can Know"Edit


Dr. James Harper sat up on his cot in the living room. It was morning, and bright sunlight was streaming in the windows. His daughter, Audrey Harper, walked into the room. "Good morning dad," she said, kneeling on the floor beside him. "How are you feeling?" He felt his forehead. "I've got a slight headache," he said, "But other than that I feel fairly good." It was a week after being cured of his terrible "werecat disease", and he was still recovering. It was two weeks before Christmas, so Grandma Harper had flown in to the Penmount airport help take care of her son. She was being driven home by her grandson, Brian.

Fred Montgomery, the ranger of the Porcupine Mountains State Park who had helped cure Dr. Harper of his horrible transformation, was at the Harpers' at the moment, helping Audrey while her brother was gone. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.

"Oh, they're here early," Dr. Harper said, getting up to answer the door.

"No, sit down," Audrey said. "You were...hurt. I'll answer the door."

"It's my mother - I have to answer it!" Dr. Harper protested.

"No, let me do it," Audrey insisted.

As Dr. Harper and his daughter continued to argue, Montgomery walked towards the door and opened it. However, it was not Margaret and Brian Harper on the other side and Montgomery immediately began to close it.

"Yoo-hoo!" a high-pitched female voice shouted. "Am I not welcome here?" The two Harpers looked up to see Chaleen Bright, the reporter for a local station.

"Yeah, that was the idea," Montgomery told her coolly. "This is a home and you have no business here."

"You don't need to be so cold!" Audrey said immediately. "Let her in!"

Audrey ran up and opened the door all the way. Montgomery wanted to scream. Audrey had no way of knowing that Chaleen had been trailing him all week to try to glean information about the mysterious top-secret 'incident' that happened in the Porcupine Mountains.

"Well, hello, there," Chaleen said sweetly. "You look like such a nice, little girl." Audrey glared and said, "I'm seventeen years old."

"Oh, oopsy daisy!" Chaleen replied. "I'm terribly sorry about that."

"It's okay," Audrey said immediately. "Why're you here? Aren't you on the news?"

Oh, now she figures it out, Montgomery thought in annoyance.

"Yes, I'm on Channel 11!" Chaleen replied as though Channel 11 were roughly the equivalent of being Hollywood movie star. "I'm here to do a story on your father."

"What about him?" Audrey asked curiously.

"The, uh...'incident' that happened to him in the mountains last week," Chaleen said in her giggly voice.

"That's top secret!" Audrey said immediately.

Great, Montgomery thought. The government had been denying Dr. Harper's involvement.


Chaleen Bright confronts Audrey.

"Really?" Chaleen asked in mock surprise. "Well, you can tell me. I promise I won't tell anyone." Audrey looked at her incredulously.

"How can you do a story on it if you won't tell anyone about it?" she asked her.

"Well, maybe I just want to know for myself," Chaleen said brightly. "Of course, don't be surprised if I accidentally let something slip."

"You mean like 'accidentally' doing a news story on it?" Montgomery suggested. Chaleen turned to look at him.

"I don't like you," she told him. "I much prefer talking to my lovely friend...uh, what's your name?"

"Audrey Harper," Audrey answered, "And that's all the information you're going to get out of me, so you might as well go." Chaleen looked insulted.

"Well, now I don't like you either," she decided and got up to walk towards the door. Before, she took the handle, however, Officer McPherson burst in.

"A reporter's coming! A reporter's coming!" he shouted before catching sight of Chaleen.

"You're a little late, McPherson," Montgomery said dryly.

"You didn't tell her anything, did you?" McPherson asked desperately.

"No!" Audrey said immediately. "You think I want all the kids at school to know?"

"And what are you doing here, Montgomery?" McPherson asked as though he were committing some kind of crime.

"I'm visiting my friends and helping them out for when their grandmother arrives," Montgomery answered indignantly. McPherson sighed.

"Sorry," he said quickly. "I should've known you wouldn't tell anyone, but you do know no one can know - not the reporter and not the grandmother."

"Wait, my mother can't know?" Dr. Harper asked in surprise.

"No, this is top-secret and we have to draw the line somewhere," McPherson declared.

"Well, why can't we just tell our Grandma?" Audrey asked. "I mean, it's not like she's some kind of secret agent or something."

"Well, technically, you shouldn't even know," McPherson pointed out, "and you're very lucky I let you hear the truth."

There was silence for a moment. Dr. Harper had no trouble with not being able to tell Chaleen Bright - after all, it would probably lead to paparazzi trying to peek in the windows to get a glimpse of him - but his own mother? Who would she tell? He wondered whether he ought to tell his mother anyway. It wasn't like there would be anyway McPherson would know...would there?

"Oooo, not even the grandmother can know!" Chaleen said cheerfully, breaking the silence. "This is interesting!"

"Get out!" Dr. Harper barked at her. Chaleen anxiously backed towards the door, when it burst open to reveal Margaret and Brian Harper had finally arrived.

"Wow, you didn't say you were having a party," Margaret said in surprise. "I would've worn my good shoes."

Chapter Fifteen: General StuartEdit

Drs. Henry and Carol Jennings were not only a pair of great doctors, but they were, in fact, husband and wife. They both worked, day-in and day-out, at the Banal Hospital in Los Angeles. However, their lives would change from their boring day-to-day routine when Seargent Andrews was brought into their hospital. A horrifying sight awaited them. "Good heavens, what's happened to this poor man?" cried Carol. The liuetenant grunted as he and another soldier followed the paramedics into the hospital room. "He was bit by a gila monster," Marone said, "Though for dang's sake I've never seen any man respond to it the way he has!" The seargent looked as if had returned from the dead. His hair was starting to fall out, his eyes were crusted shut, and his skin was starting to peel off as if he'd just had a bad sunburn.

"Come on, let's give him some antivenom," urged Dr. Henry. His wife went to get a vial. When she came back, both men were leaning over Andrews, their faces heavy with concern. "What the heck could it be?" asked Marone. "I've never seen anyone react like this to that venom! It's not even as poisonous as a rattlesnake's!" Carol poured some of the formula into a syringe. "Here it goes," she said as she injected it. "Now let's leave him alone for a little bit." Henry was still worried. "I hope that stuff works," he said. That man looks like a zombie!"

Lieutenant Marone told the couple what had happened. "Our truck's engine overheated on our way to the base," he said, "So we stopped and took shelter at a small outcropping of rocks. There was a gila monster there, and it bit Sgt. Andrews. It wasn't very long before he was unconcious. Luckily, General Stuart arrived soon in a helicopter, and we got him here. But can you believe what it did to him!" Dr. Henry had a question.

"Is the general here now?" he asked.

"He's waiting out in the helicopter for my report," said Marone. "I'll radio him now." He pushed a button on his radio. "We got Andrews the antivenom," he said. "Dr. Henry Jennings wants a word with you."

"What's he want?" came a gruff voice. Marone looked taken aback.

"I don't know," he said slowly, "But I assume he wants to discuss how Andrews got into this situation."

"You were there when he was bit, Sergeant," Stuart pointed out. "Can't you tell him whatever he needs to know?"

"Well, I-" Marone began, but the radio went off. Henry and Carol looked at him.

"He's okay, really," Marone explained. "He's just a bit testy and-and blunt. It's just his way. Why do you want to speak to him anyway?" Henry thought about it.

"I dunno," he answered. "I always like to talk to everyone involved with something like this in case they have some useful information or something."

"Well, he doesn't apparently," Marone said dryly.

"It's not always something a normal person would consider significant," Carol pointed out. "You know, like on that TV show with the British guy who talks in an American accent?"


Marone and Henry

"The point is he could know something important and not even's important," Henry finished. Marone handed the radio to him.

"You talk to him," he said, "I've had enough of him yelling at me."

"Excuse me, General," Henry said into the radio. "This is Dr. Henry Jennings. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions?"

"Just ask the stupid questions, already!" Stuart bellowed. "Why do people always ask to ask questions? It would save precious time to just ask the questions, wouldn't it?"

"Uh, yes," Henry said nervously. "I was, uh, hoping I could speak to you in person?"

"Why?" Stuart asked. "How's that different from talking to me on the radio? You can still get all the information you need without the inconvenience of either of us having to move." Henry looked at Marone.

"He's big on efficiency," Marone commented.

"No kidding," Carol said wryly.

"Listen, General, it's kind of important because this guy looks like—"

"I know what he looks like, dang it!" growled Stuart. "I suppose you want to ask me why he appears so undead?"

"Well, yes, if you know," said Dr. Henry.

"It's classified. At the moment, it's not for you to know. All I can say is that the gila monster that bit Andrews contained some kind of, well, virus. Whatever it is is affecting his nervous system and is changing his appearance. There, is that good enough?"

"No," said Jennings, "Why can't you tell us what this virus is? Is it a threat to national security?"

"You might say that," said Stuart roughly. "Now bug off! Where's Marone?" The lieutenant took the radio. "Right here, General Stuart," he said. "We'll be heading back to the helicopter now." Henry stopped him on his way out. "Lieutenant, Stuart's hiding something from us. As doctors, we have a right to know about this virus." Marone looked at him dryly. "You think I can convince him to tell you? He won't say more than that to me about it!" And with that, he left the room.

Henry and Carol followed him out. "We're not going to let this slip by," said Carol firmly. "Seeing as how we're treating the seargent, I think he should tell us what's going on." Marone was frustrated. "It'll be like speaking to an angry warthog," he said.

They went out into the sunshine where the massive helicopter stood. The wind generated by its rotars struck them like a hurricane. Suddenly there was a shout, and the blades died down. An angry-faced man jumped out of the chopper in front of them. He had a large brown beard (which made him look like Stonewall Jackson) and his eyebrows were dark and bushy, giving him a very imposing presence. "Dr. Jennings, I presume?" he said angrily. "Didn't I tell you to bug off?"

"Now come on, General, he's a doctor you know," insisted Marone. A dark glance from Stuart quieted him. "Henry," he said, turning again to the doctor, "What part of "classified" don't you understand? If I said it's private, then it's private."

"General," said Henry with a growing temper, "If we're to help this man, we must know how this virus works. Otherwise, he'll succumb to whatever disease it is that's ravaging his whole body. Don't you care about him?"

"I care enough about him to see to it that he gets in here," said the general. "Now, would you mind going back to him? I can assure you, we'll take care of this situation as best we can. Your job is to report to us how he's doing." He motioned to Marone, and the lieutenant got into the helicopter. Stuart signalled to the pilot, and in a few minutes the chopper was on its way back to the base. The two doctors looked at one another. "With all due respect," said Henry, "That man's a cold-blooded reptile to be treating one of his own men like that."

"Tell me about it," said Carol dryly.

Chapter Sixteen: A Secret No MoreEdit

"Would anyone mind telling me what's going on around here?" demanded Margaret Harper.

"I'm sorry it's such a mess," said James, "We've—I should say they—have been getting the house ready for your arrival. Plus, Christmas is only a week away and the kids and Fred have been doing some decorating."

"Okay, back up, who's Fred?" Margaret asked.

"Oh, he's our new friend," James explained quickly. "He's a ranger he the...ranger station." Margaret looked at him for a moment.

"I see," she said. "What is that you're not telling me?"

"Not telling you?" James asked in surprise. "Nothing, why?"

"Don't be silly, dear," she told him. "I'm your mother - I know when you're keeping something from me." James decided to tell her what he could.

"Okay, something did happen," he told her carefully, "but it's classified and I can't tell you about it Heck, I don't know hardly anything about it myself."

"You can't tell your own mother?" Margaret asked incredulously. James bit his lip.

"I'm afraid not," he said. "I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is." Margaret sighed.

"Well, I understand," she said eventually.

"You do?" James asked in surprise.

"Mm-hmm," Margaret replied. "Apparently your patriotism is so great that it means more to you follow an idiot decree than to tell your own mother about your something that has obviously had a huge effect on you. Yes, I can understand that."

"Wait, wait, that's not what I meant!" James told her. "You - you don't understand how dangerous this thing is."

"If I don't understand, why don't you tell me?" Margaret asked him.

"Look," James said in exasperation, "this is a really awful thing and I want to tell you as much as you want me to, but I really don't want to get in any more trouble. I'd really rather forget this thing ever happened."

"All right, if that's how you feel about it," Margaret said as she got up, "I'll just walk into the kitchen to help Fred and leave you alone...with your thoughts."

As the elderly Mrs. Harper got up, Fred came into the living room. "I'll tell you," he said. "I don't care what Chief McPherson wants, I think it's important that you should know."

"Are you Fred?" she asked.

"Fred Montgomery. You must be Margaret Harper. Nice to meet you. At any rate, you mustn't let anyone know that you know of this, understand?"

"I suppose so," she said, exasperated, "But why is it that important?"

"You'll understand once you've heard the story. Now to begin...

Officer McPherson burst open the front door. He had been listening outside. "No you don't, Fred!" he shouted. "This isn't for her to know!" Fred glared at him. "Stay out of this, John, she deserves this knowledge. This is her son, after all." McPherson looked back and forth between James, Ma Harper and Mr. Montgomery. "I advise against this, Ma'am," he said to Margaret. "You're not going to like it." Marget looked indignantly. "Officer," she said, "I can't tell you how many things I've heard about my son I don't like. Like the time he first took a drive all by himself and crashed our brand-new car into a ditch. Come on, Fred, let's get on with it." Officer McPherson growled and left.

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