The Rising Cost of Curiosity
It was the first time in three months Lila had seen Rick. She had all but given up on finding him.
His was the kind of job you could never discuss. She wasn't supposed to know Rick's "trips to meet with clients" were, in fact, secret government missions. (She never let him know that she knew.)
He would sometimes leave without notice on clandestine missions, but he would have a message of some kind delivered to her within a week so she knew he was all right, claiming there was a client emergency of some sort.
This time was different. She knew from the first day he was gone.
There were little telltale signs that indicated things were not like before, or the time before that, or the many other times.
And this video message was full confirmation. Rick explained what his real job was, and (in details she could never repeat) that he was on a rescue mission for a Canadian dignitary who had visited North Korea to speak with the country's leaders about opening up the lines of communication between them and the Western world.
And then, he was never seen or heard from again.
Rick led the mission, but he didn't know when he would be back or what was going on. Once he was inside the border, he said, he saw things he never imagined.
And that was it. The video ended, and Lila was left wondering what he was trying to tell her.
She knew someone out there didn't want her to see this video.
But she had connections, and hacking skills that were well-above average. One of the connections, a fellow hacker known as Pazuzu MacNeil, had procured and sent Rick's message.
Lila took a deep breath and steadied herself. She knew what she would have to do.
She gathered her things and prepared to leave.
After booking her flight to South Korea, she studied the borders on Google Earth to determine the best place to sneak in to the North.
Right before she left the house, Lila received another message from Pazuzu. This time, he said, it was the full video. But she needed to sit down for this one. It wouldn't be easy to watch.
She skipped past the part she had already seen, and saw something she was completely unprepared for. Footage of videos taken inside a secret government base. The dignitary was strapped to a table, twitching uncontrollably.
After doctors placed him under sedation, they cut into his skull and removed pieces of brain. Lila gasped as she saw the man awaken during surgery, screaming. More footage revealed the next experiment: The doctors cut off his right leg. Each video clip showed more and more body parts being removed, until the man was finally put down. In the final stages, he had some strange boils on his face that burst, splattering all over the doctors.
The protective suits worn by the doctors were no match for the infectious fluids that seeped through to their skin.
More footage showed the newly infected doctors strapped down to tables, this time, real hazmat suits were worn by the new group of attending doctors.
"I don't know how long I'll be gone, or what the hell is going on here. If I never see you again, please remember that I love you, and that you were the best part of my entire life," Rick said, right before military police broke down the door and dragged him away.
The screen went blank. End of message.
I have to find out what happened, Lila thought. I have to find out where the fuck he is.
On her long flight across the Pacific, Lila tried to figure out what could have happened. Why did they take the dignitary? Did the infected doctors live? And where did they take my husband?
Utilizing her route and her trusty PMHD (a portable motion and body heat detector designed to sense any humans approaching within a 50-yard radius), she crept across the border, past the guards and into safety.
Lila used her GPS tracker to find her husband. (She implanted a tiny chip into the base of his neck one night after serving up a GHB-infused cocktail.)
He was inside the government base, and she had to find him before he met the same fate as the dignitary. She crept inside, and all her gadgets went dead. Damn, she thought, they must have a jammer in the building.
She crept along the wall, listening carefully for any signs of other people. She crouched down to avoid being seen through a window, and her GPS fell, making a huge racket as it bounced several times off the floor before settling in the other side of the hallway.
The next thing Lila saw as she looked up was an incredibly smug face.
Lila was strapped down to a chair as men in white coats fired questions at her and examined her belongings. They were able to ascertain who she was, and who her husband was.
"You must be Lila," said a short man wearing an officer's hat. "I'm afraid you're too late to see Rick in person. I'm afraid this will be the best we can do."
He turned her chair around so she could view a large screen. It showed her husband getting beaten by men in uniforms as they interrogated him. Finally, a doctor entered the room carrying a large syringe. The men held Rick down as the doctor injected him.
"WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT? WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO WITH MY HUSBAND," Lila screamed.
"We named it Namguhng's Disease after our first major casualty. Dr. Namguhng was an accomplished scientist and a man of honor. He loved his country, and in the end, sacrificed himself for a great cause."
Lila stared in disbelief. "A great cause?!? What cause is that?"
"For the glory and praise of our supreme leader, "Kahn Jung XXVX! Kahn dreamed that it was North Korea's destiny to become the world's reigning superpower. In order to fulfill our destiny, we must create a weapon unlike anything the world has ever seen!"
He explained to Lila how they designed a supervirus powerful enough to wipe out entire nations within days of infection. However, they didn't anticipate the strength of the virus. They couldn't contain it, and Namguhng's Disease began to spread among the people.
Deaths caused by this disease were swift and terrifying. The beginning stage, a barely noticeable tremor in the hands, was something the average person could easily mistake for excess caffeine or low blood sugar.
Blepharospasm, or rapidly twitching eyes, would follow. Then, throughout the body, blood vessels would contract and tighten, causing wet gangrene and rapid necrosis. The pain suffered by the infected was excruciating.
But the most frightening part was how the disease spread. Blisters filled with pus and blood would explode, infecting all nearby persons upon contact. The acidic pus (which the doctors learned the hard way) could seep through any pores in one's clothing, so all those within the nearby vicinity of the infected must wear proper hazmat suits, or risk infection.
"We have been very careful to keep this disease contained," the man explained. "However, a few citizens have exhibited signs. Anyone suspected of having the disease is immediately transported to the treatment facility."
"So," Lila said, "You have a cure?"
"Unfortunately, no. We thought we did. We infected a group of monkeys, and successfully created an antivirus to combat the disease. However, it did not work on humans."
"So, now you're experimenting on the infected humans to find a cure?"
"We had no other choice," the man answered. "We have never seen anything like this. The disease spreads so rapidly, and every time we think we're getting closer to a cure, it evolves. Still, we can't risk news of our experiments getting out to the rest of the world. We have to keep our biological weapon a secret. Our work is too important."
"You still haven't told me what the fuck you did with my husband," Lila said.
"You see, we have to use every opportunity we can to find a cure. And intruders make the best lab rats, don't you think?"
He played a new video that showed Rick strapped to the table, his infection in the latter stages. His hands and feet were black, his skin covered with lesions. He writhed in pain as the doctors prepared to amputate.
Lila turned her head and shut her eyes as Rick screamed in excruciating pain.
"You bastards," she whispered.
"Yes, Lila. We are bastards," the man declared with a smug expression. "And you are another intruder."
Lila lowered her eyes and shuddered. She knew exactly what would come next.