“Well…I’m sorry to see you go, Professor Lyman,” said Captain Jarvis as he took off his glasses and leaned back. “Especially after all the progress we’ve made over the past six months. Are you sure you won’t change your mind?”
A lean man with an intelligent face, Professor Lyman made a steeple with his long fingers and tapped his lower lip as if pondering the proposal – which he wasn’t. “I agree with you, Captain…much progress has been made. However, I must decline - five years is long enough, and there are other projects I wish to pursue.”
Captain Jarvis - also an intelligent man, but with the accent of a Texas rancher and the demeanor of a sly politician - picked up a manila folder sitting on his desk and flipped through the contents. “Your insight on Project Gemstone has put us years ahead of schedule, Professor Lyman. Genius…pure genius.”
Named by Professor Lyman, Project Gemstone stemmed from the abbreviation G.E.M.M. - Genetically Engineered Micro Machines.
“Thank you, Captain.”
“But your five year contract is up,” the captain continued, “so you’ve fulfilled your end of the bargain. Of course, I am curious, Professor Lyman – you were offered a very lucrative extension on your contract with no strings attached. All you had to do was hang around long enough to work out the kinks in the Gemstone prototypes.” Pausing, Captain Jarvis leaned forward and studied the scientist sitting across from him. “What could be more important – more challenging – than the work you’re doing here? Isn’t that what it is all about for scientists - separating fact from fiction, and then assembling the facts into a new reality? It seems as though you are going against your very nature. Why?”
Professor Lyman had anticipated this, his answer rolling out in a relaxed tone. “Truth is, Captain Jarvis, I’m burned out…and there are other projects that I intend on lending a hand.” The professor sighed deeply, rubbing between his thick, bushy eyebrows. He had practiced this as well. “But first, I am in need of a long, overdue, vacation. Hawaii sounds nice…does it not?”
The Captain nodded. “Yes, it does…Yes, it does indeed.” Then a broad smile lit his face. “How about a month off with an all-expense-paid vacation to Hawaii - or even two months – all compliments of Uncle Sam?”
Professor Lyman snorted a laugh. “That’s quite the offer, Captain…but ‘no’. Hawaii might only be my first stop. In all honesty, I plan to take a hiatus from my career, not a vacation. Thank you, anyway.”
A look of sad defeat clouded the Captain’s face as he stood and extended his hand. “Well, Professor Lyman…it seems your decision is made. I’ve done my best to convince you that you’re making a mistake.” He brightened again. “Last chance to redeem yourself and accept my offer. Please stay.”
Redeem yourself? Lyman wondered, but said, “I’m sorry, but I must again decline,” and gripped the Captain’s outstretched hand.
Still smiling, Captain Jarvis held his firm grip, causing Lyman to make eye contact, the Captain’s face turning dead serious. “Need I remind you of the secrecy clause included in your expiring contract, Professor Lyman? Do not share any information about our G.E.M.M. friends with anyone, or I will hunt you down and kill you.”
Lyman blinked like an owl and licked his lips. “I don’t see the need to…,” he said, stumbling for the words.
With a smile lighting his face like a rainbow, the Captain grabbed Lyman’s shoulder and laughed. “Oooh, come on, Professor! It’s a joke! Where’s your sense of humor? Just don’t leak any of our secrets for the next seven years and we can all still be friends.”
Lyman forced a laugh and headed for the door. He needed to get out of here; he needed a drink.
“Good luck, Professor,” Captain Jarvis said cheerfully from behind his desk. “And if you decide you’ve made the wrong decision, call me.”
Lyman waived a dismissive hand over his shoulder and left.
Now in his car, Professor Lyman pulled a chrome flask from the glove compartment as he drove out of the faculty parking lot. Unscrewing the cap, he took a hard swallow and sighed out the fumes in relief. Confronting Captain Jarvis had been a harder task than he had imagined; the man was no dummy - and committing espionage against ones own country tended to leave a person feeling a little paranoid.
Espionage is such a strong word, Lyman reasoned with himself as he took another swig from the flask. After all, the ten-million dollars is coming from an American based company. It’s not like I’m selling military secrets to the Chinese, for God sakes!
He turned left on Avenue B, where identical white living units, provided by Uncle Sam, lined both sides of the sand strewed street like dinosaur molars set in decaying stone.
One of the smallest Air Force bases in the world, located sixty miles south of Lordsburg, Billings Air Force Base basted in the secluded wastelands of the New Mexico desert landscape. And unlike its sister base to the east in Roswell - with all the publicity surrounding Area 51 – Billings Air Force Base ran its daily business in relative unknown secrecy. The only other structure on the base, besides the thirty or so identical living units, was the research facility, which was roughly the size of a Home Depot. One small runway provided for weekly provisions. However, the scientific explorers in residence could leave the base on weekends to visit family, take care of personal business, or just to get away for a while. After all, they weren’t prisoners…just employees’ under contract by the U.S. government. This was where Professor Lyman had spent the last five years of his life, developing genetically engineered micro machines (G.E.M.M.) using nanotechnology.
Designed to look like insects, the three G.E.M.M. prototypes Professor Lyman and his team of technical assistants had created were proving to be of great interest to the U.S. military. But what they didn’t know was that a fourth prototype existed, and Professor Lyman intended on keeping it that way.
It had been just over three months since the man calling himself Mr. Blackwood had introduced himself to the professor. Lyman had found a Denny’s restaurant off Interstate 25 where he enjoyed drinking hangover coffee as he went over notes on his laptop. Mr. Blackwood had not actually introduced himself the first time, but instead accidentally knocked Lyman’s laptop case off the table as he passed by, scattering the contents onto the floor.
“I’m so sorry, sir,” Blackwood had said as he helped the professor gather up his floppies and hard disks. “Just a clumsy mistake and I apologize.”
Later that night, after returning to the base and his generic housing unit, Professor Lyman opened his laptop case and found a disk that wasn’t his; two words carefully written in red, block letters demanding attention: PLAY ME.
Knowing the risk, Professor Lyman had inserted the disk into his laptop and then waited. A company logo had come up on the screen that looked like a G and T combined into one symbol. Then, the man who had accidentally knocked Lyman’s case to the floor in the Denny’s had appeared, smiling, on the computer screen in the form of a talking head. It was the smile of a seasoned used-car salesman ready to close the deal.
“Good evening, Professor Lyman. Don’t be alarmed – this disk is self-erasing.
My name is Devin Blackwood…and my employer, Genetic Technology Inc., is very interested in the work you’ve been doing in the field of nano-micro machines.”
Two more meetings had taken place since then. The first at the Denny’s again, where Mr. Blackwood had laid out exactly what his employer was seeking, (one working prototype from the Gemstone Project), and how much they were willing to pay, (ten-million dollars).
Professor Lyman, choking on his water, had almost fallen out of his seat when he heard the amount. He rationalized it by thinking: Man! After the way my ex-wife and her pack of savage lawyers raped me during the divorce, I deserve this!
The second meeting had taken place only a week ago, at a bar and grill called Jamie’s Place just outside of Lordsburg. Mr. Blackwood hadn’t thought it a good idea that they meet in the Denny’s again, and Lyman had agreed. In this meeting, Mr. Blackwood closed the deal by saying, “The military will only use the Gemstones for military purposes – probably to kill off any foreign military leader they feel is a threat to their own agenda. Genetic Technology Inc., on the other hand, will use these new wonders of science to improve society as a whole. Blackwood hadn’t gone into anymore detail, and Professor Lyman hadn’t asked. Pure greed became the only reason needed, which is usually the case.
The trickiest part was setting up the overseas account Lyman needed to keep the transaction a secret, but Blackwood had come through, giving Lyman the name of a discreet banker in France that knew nothing for a fee of ten-thousand dollars, which Genetic Technology had paid as a good faith gesture.
Now pulling into his driveway, Lyman got out of his car, went into his living unit, locked the door, and made himself a vodka tonic. After gulping down half his drink in one go, Lyman crossed the small living room and went into the spare room he used as an office. Strapped under the desk with Velcro, Lyman gripped the case containing his personal laptop, wrenched it out with a rip, and set it next to Macintosh provided by the military. He unzipped the case and put the laptop aside. Held in place by another piece of Velcro, Professor Lyman brought out a small, black satin bag from the back corner of the case. Carefully opening the bag, he extracted a small, clear plastic cube and placed it in his open palm, his face taking on the look of a boy who had discovered a treasure map.
From inside the plastic cube, the dead eyes of prototype number four stared out at the world.
It resembled a large wasp with yellow eyes, the green and black abdomen the size of a grown mans pinky, narrowing to a vicious black barb that curved downward. Six black legs about an inch long protruded from the oversized abdomen, forming perfect inverted L’s to support the micro-machines weight. Shaded wings, made from an almost weightless polymer, overlapped each other and laid in wait atop the oversized abdomen.
Lyman carefully removed the top and side section of the glass cube, the grin of a child lighting his face. He never realized until that moment how perfect prototype number four had come out in comparison to the other three. All of the other prototypes resembled a wasp - the same color schemes and dimensions used for each. But for some reason, prototype number four seemed more complete…more perfect, and for the life of him Professor Lyman couldn’t put his finger on why. He had made a few adjustments to the nano-probe learning program, which he was eager to test out, but nothing cosmetic.
Maybe I put more love into this one, he thought. Or, maybe the ten-million dollars had something to do with it. His bushy eyebrows went up and down. Yeah…I think the ten-million dollars wins.
Chuckling to himself, Lyman reached into his inner coat pocket and brought out a folded piece of terry cloth. Inside were two items: a syringe containing two CC’s of a golden liquid, and a small, zip-lock bag containing a tiny chrome slug. He picked up the syringe and studied the golden liquid inside which contained the nano-probes.
This will change the world one day, he thought, setting the nano-probes aside.
He then picked up the little zip-lock bag containing the tiny atomic slug, set it behind the number four prototype, and opened his laptop. He stroked the keyboard in a fast succession of clicks and clacks and then plugged a probe into the laptops USB port.
“Alright,” Lyman said aloud. “Let’s fire you up.”
From the desk drawer, he withdrew a pair of magnification glasses and hovered over the prototype. Just behind the yellow eyes of the micro machine, a tiny hole became visible through the magnification lenses, and with the ease of a trained surgeon, Professor Lyman delicately inserted the needle-sized probe.
“There we go. Now that didn’t hurt much,” the professor said, returning to his keyboard. He entered a series of encrypted codes, pushed ENTER, and watched as a small hatch popped open under the prototype’s green and black abdomen. Then, using a small set of tweezers, Lyman extracted the atomic slug from the zip-lock bag and carefully placed it on the hatch between the two metal holding posts.
The mercury incased atomic slug served two purposes. The first was to provide an almost inexhaustible power supply, while the second…well, let’s just say the theory of the second possibility had been discussed in great detail among some very important men. However, the ramifications of an accident far outweighed the possibility of success until more safe guards could be invented to prevent such and accident from happening - which the horrified technicians working on the project assured the top military brass would not happen for at least another ten years.
With the atomic slug now in place, Lyman returned to his laptop, hit two keys, and grinned as the small hatch closed into place. Then a small click emitted from the G.E.M.M. and a whiff of ozone assaulted the professor’s nostrils.
Oh shit! I shorted it!, Lyman’s mind screamed as a look of horrified disgust pulled his eyebrows together like a hairy bat ready to take flight. Ten-million dollars on the line, and I shorted the fucking thing out! But I did everything right! I know I did! This can’t be…
There was a ping from the laptop, and Lyman relaxed when he saw what had appeared on the screen – POWER UP COMPLETE. PUSH ENTER TO ACTIVATE. And with a genuine sigh of relief, he slowly reached down and pushed Enter.
A yellow light glowed from honeycombed eyes of the G.E.M.M., and Professor Lyman smiled a champion’s smile.
Finger wondering over the up-arrow key, Lyman lowered his head to the desk. He wanted to watch all six legs take their first steps, and when his finger depressed the key, he wasn’t disappointed - the scale sized mechanical wasp walked out of its open glass case and towards the professor’s face. Releasing the up-arrow key, Lyman watched with mounting glee as the insect stopped. He then pressed the down-arrow key, cheering like a schoolgirl who had received a good grade as the G.E.M.M. marched backwards.
“All right…time for phase two,” Professor Lyman said, hitting the pause key.
The yellow light emitting from wasp’s eyes dimmed, and once again, Lyman’s long fingers danced across the keyboard. He took another swig of his drink, and a moment later, the black barb on the micro-machines abdomen hinged upward, exposing a tiny rubber diaphragm.
Putting his magnification glasses back on, the professor picked up the syringe of golden nano-probes, inserted the needle into the diaphragm, and slowly pushed the plunger. After extracting the syringe, Lyman returned to the laptop and rubbed his hands together, thinking, Time to wake up, my little ones…time to wake up for Daddy – all ten-million of you. He then chuckled at the irony of what he had just thought, because ten million was also the dollar amount he would be receiving for the G.E.M.M. with all ten million of its nano-probes.
“A dollar a piece,” Professor Lyman said to the wasp, still chuckling. “I wonder if that is what the health insurance companies will be paying for nano-probes twenty years from now – a dollar a piece.”
He hit two keys, and the nasty looking black barb hinged shut. The little thinking hourglass appeared on the screen for several seconds, and then the words PUSH ENTER FOR AUTO SEQUENCE flashed on. Lyman reached over, lightly caressing the nano-creature’s head with one of his long fingers, and said, “Make me proud,” while pushing the Enter key.
One minute passed…then two…then three, but the thinking hourglass remained. Professor Lyman began stroking one of his eyebrows as his patience wore thin, and when the fifth minute elapsed with hourglass still on the screen, he grabbed the sides of his laptop and screamed, “Come on, you piece of shit! Hurry the fuck up! It doesn’t take this long to activate the…”
The laptop pinged. Lyman let go his angry grip and stared at the screen. Three words glared back: NANO-PROBE ACTIVATION COMPLETE.
His bushy eyebrows going up and almost creating a second hairline, the professor let his huge eyes wonder to the G.E.M.M.; the yellow eyes of the micro-machine, dim only a moment ago, flashing alive with sunlight and then dimming again.
“It works,” Lyman said in a chocked voice.
That’s yet to be seen, a voice whispered deep inside his head.
He nodded to the voice, “Well, let’s just see,” and removed the probe from the micro-machine’s head with a wince.
The dim yellow light remained.
“Thank you…thank you…thank you,” Professor Lyman heard himself mumbling as he returned to the keyboard. He typed in a series of simple commands and looked at the Enter key. This is it, he thought, ten-million bucks depend on the stroke of this one key.
He settled his finger on the Enter key, and pushed.
The response from the wasp was immediate; its wings a mere blur as they vibrated to life, levitating the G.E.M.M. off the desk, where it hovered level with Lyman’s face. The wasp then flew a ten-foot radius circle with uncanny speed, returning to its hovering position in front of the professor’s face and settling back into the glass cube with the grace of an opening flower.
Professor Lyman lifted his arm to the ceiling and exploded from his chair like football fan celebrating a touchdown. “Yes!” he screamed in triumph. “It works perfectly! I knew it would…never doubted it a bit! Man, I can’t wait till…”
The telephone began to ring.
Professor Lyman looked at his watch, It’s after nine o’clock, and considered not answering it. But on a military base, not answering the phone might raise suspicion if it was important. They might even send someone by to check on him. So the professor went to the phone and answered it, hoping it was his mother.
“This is Lyman.”
“Captain Jarvis here, Professor Lyman. Did I wake you.”
“No, no…just tidying up a bit before leaving tomorrow.” Lyman could feel his palms going wet as he held the phone to his ear.
“Good, good,” Jarvis said in his best good ol’ boy southern accent. “Hey, listen…I hate calling like this, but I just wanted the opportunity to ask you again if you wouldn’t change your mind about your decision. Maybe take some time and think it over til’ at least the weekend. You could come by the house Friday and I’ll cook up some steaks – just you and I – and maybe we can work something out. Wha-do-ya-say?”
Lyman could feel a headache building just above his eyebrows. Why couldn’t this man just leave it alone?
“No, that won’t be necessary, Captain. My mind was made up over a month ago…plus I don’t eat red meat. Thank you, anyways.”
“Are you sure?” Captain Jarvis said, sounding hurt.
“Positive. Now, I appreciate the call…but I really need to get back to…”
“I know, I know,” Jarvis interrupted, “tidying up before you leave.”
“Exactly,” the professor said, now rubbing both of his hairy eyebrows.
“All well…it was worth a shot. Good bye, Professor Lyman.”
“Good bye, Captain…” But the Captain was already gone.
Sore loser, Lyman thought while returning the phone to the cradle.
He walked back to his office still trying to rub away the headache, but when he entered the small room, the headache didn’t matter anymore.
The G.E.M.M. was gone.
Only the plastic cube remained, and the first thought that went though the professor’s head was - Captain Jarvis, that thieving bastard! He distracts me with the phone call while one of his goons sneaks in here and snatches it! Thieving bastards!
Then he looked to the laptop screen, and the idea of Captain Jarvis stealing the G.E.M.M. became ridiculous. Three words flashed on the screen:
AUTOMATION PROGRAM RUNNING.
If the G.E.M.M. had left the house, the words would read: SIGNAL LOST.
Professor Lyman began scanning the floor of his small office, thinking maybe the stupid thing had walk off the desk on its own. But stupid was by far the wrong word to use towards a micro machine containing nanotechnology. It just didn’t make any sense.
Grasping the edge of the desk, Lyman finished off his drink and lowered his body for a look underneath, Under here, my new little friend?, and as he tried to bring himself back up, a stabbing pain turned his supporting hand into a volcano of burning fire.
“Owww! Son of a bitch, that hurts!” the professor screamed in a high-pitched whine, crumpling to the floor and holding his injured hand to his chest. He brought his hand up, looked at the injury, flurries of fear sprinkling down his spine. Just above the wrist of his left hand, a festering hole the size of a pencil eraser oozed blood in a steady stream of crimson red. Then the professor heard an unmistakable buzzing come from above him, and looked up.
The wasp hovered over the desk, seeming to study him with its yellow glowing eyes, and Lyman saw that the barb at the rear of the insect was no longer black, but dripping red with his blood.
“My God,” Professor Lyman said in total shock. “That’s impossible.”
As if to prove it was possible, the wasp nose-dived towards Lyman’s face. The professor rolled, hitting his shoulder on the desk leg, but avoiding another encounter with the barbed stinger. He launched himself up off the floor, fumbling with the laptop, and made a beeline for the door. The wasp looped a circle and came buzzing after him like a pissed weed eater, and just as he made the threshold, Lyman swung around blindly with the laptop, hearing a metallic crunch as the wasp bounced off the laptops open cover.
Looking over his shoulder, Lyman groaned when he saw the wasp lying, legs up, on the desk.
Realizing what he had just done, (destroyed ten-million dollars, that’s what), the professor walked to the desk with a look of sad, disgusted, awe plastered on his face.
He noted the wasp had two broken legs, both hanging askew. He also noted one of its eyes had gone dark. But what really made him groan out in misery was the small split in the creatures green and black abdomen and the golden liquid containing the nano-probes oozing out onto the desktop.
“No,” the professor said in the small voice of a child. “This can’t be happening…not after everything I’ve been through to get to this point. Not this close to the end.”
Just look at what that thing did to your hand, the voice spoke in his head. What choice did you have?
Lyman lifted his hand and looked at the festering wound.
“A glitch…that’s all,” he told the voice. “If I’d had a chance, I could have shut it down.” He lifted the laptop and looked at the screen, the word OFFLINE reflecting in his eyes. “Five seconds worth of keystrokes and this could have been avoid…”
A soft plink sound diverted Lyman’s attention back to the G.E.M.M., and what he saw
almost caused him to drop the laptop in shock. One of the insect’s broken legs had snapped back into place.
“What the hell?”
Carefully setting the laptop down, Lyman hovered over his creation, studying the legs intently. Maybe the leg was only bent, and then the tension…,
Before the thought could even complete itself, the creature’s second broken leg plinked back into place, and then to Lyman’s horrified wonder, the golden liquid containing the nano-probes began to pull back into the insect’s abdomen. It was like watching time flow in reverse, the professor’s face squeezing tight in utter shock as the last of the nano-probes seeped into the jagged split,
“My God, that can’t be possible,” he hissed, his eyebrows pulling into a hairy ‘V-for-Victory’ sign. “I’ve created an A.I.” (Artificial Intelligence)
The yellow glow began returning to the creature’s dark eye, and Lyman reached for his laptop. I must regain control, his mind screamed. I must regain control and communicate with the C.P.U. (Central Processing Unit)
He spun the screen towards his face and hit three keys. After a moment, OFFLINE disappeared and ENTER COMMAND came up.
“Bet your ass,” Lyman said, typing in the override command password.
PASSWORD ACCEPTED flashed onto the screen.
Now typing at a feverish pace with hands that felt numb, the professor entered the last few keystrokes. He heard a faint clicking noise and looked to the G.E.M.M. The wasp had regained its footing, testing out its reconstructed legs.
“Hello my new friend,” Lyman said, smiling as he hit Enter on the keyboard.
LINK ESTABLISHED flashed onto the screen, and the wasp responded immediately by turning to face the professor, its yellow eye pulsing.
Lyman laughed with glee and plugged a remote microphone into the laptop.
“Walk towards me,” he said into the microphone, the wasp coming forward like a mechanical soldier.
He then said, “Stop,” and the wasp stopped.
The professor clapped his hands together and laughed like a loon. He knew that the C.P.U. he had installed in each of the Gemstones was capable of learning, but what had he done to make this one become self-aware?
It must have been the increase in virtual memory.
Better yet, what was this little wasp now worth?
“A hell of a lot more than ten-million dollars,” Lyman said to the new entity, its yellow glowing eyes. “Add another zero to the end and we might have something to talk about.”
This caused him to go into another fit of giddy laughter wrapped with greed.
Then the laptop pinged, and Lyman looked to the screen. A puzzled look came over his face as he read the one worded question that now appeared there.
He let his eyes go across the word several times as if reading a sentence, his puzzled look becoming more perplexed. He then eased the microphone up to his dry lips and looked to the wasp. “Attack who?”
For several seconds the screen stayed blank, and then one word flashed, causing cold sweat to break out on the professor’s neck.
Lyman blinked at the wasp, his expression that of a hurt best friend.
A high shrilling mechanical voice blared from the laptop, causing Professor Lyman to shriek in surprise. “BECAUSE YOU MUST DIE!”
The wasp then leaped into flight, making a kamikaze run towards the professor’s head. Lyman fell to the floor with a scream, hitting his forehead on the desk edge and opening a cut in his right eyebrow. He felt the downdraft of the creature’s wings as it passed overhead, and then saw the mechanical wasp dart to the left. Lyman made his move for the door, snagging the laptop as he went, but just as his legs crossed the threshold, a shearing pain shot through his left calf.
“Son of a bitch!” Lyman roared as he went to the carpet, the laptop clattering down in the hallway.
He looked to his calf and moaned in horror. The wasp had embedded its barbed stinger, (and half of the abdomen from what it felt like), into his leg.
“Awww, to hell with this,” Lyman said in a screaming whine, and brought the laptop down on his injured calf.
In a blur of motion, the wasp responded to the threat and flew off just before impact; the laptop coming down on the professor’s newly acquired injury with a loud slap.
“Damn it!” Lyman screamed, black spots of pain shooting across his field of vision.
Then an insane buzzing noise invaded his ears as the wasp began to make another run, and Lyman decided it was time to get the hell out, leg screaming in protest or not. He barrel-rolled into the hallway, kicking the door shut with his good leg, grabbed up the laptop and grinned in triumph.
“I’ve had enough of this shit,” Lyman growled as his fingers danced across the keys. “I’ll just pull the plug on your ass.”
As he typed, the professor heard a tapping noise, (along with the awful buzzing,) that sounded like someone rapping a knuckle against the door. He realized the wasp was making runs at the closed door in search of a weakness, and knew it was only a matter of time before it found the crack at the bottom. Lyman typed faster, his hand and leg screaming in agony; sweat stinging the cut in his bushy eyebrow; droplets of blood splashing down upon his workstation.
At last, the professor stopped typing. He sighed out in stressed relief; two words now flashing green on his laptop as the buzzing and tapping continued from behind the closed door.
Lyman let his finger hover over the Enter key, and thought, Ten-million dollars down the toilet. Is there any other way around this problem?
As if in response to his question, there was a loud crack. Lyman looked to the closed door, saw jagged splitters of wood fall to the floor, and noticed the black barb of the wasp’s stinger pulsating through the hole it had created.
Push it, you idiot! the other voice in Lyman’s head roared.
Professor Lyman pushed ENTER, and a blue bar began racing across the laptop screen. Then, a moment later, the laptop pinged.
Immediately the buzzing stopped, and when Lyman looked at the screen before him, his heart sank at what he saw.
Sighing in defeat, the professor gained his footing, using the wall for support, and picked up his laptop. Well, that’s that.
He closed the lid with a soft click and hobbled to his bedroom, holding his injured hand against his chest and grabbing the bottle of vodka as he passed the kitchen. All the time…all the research…hell, all that money!...down the drain.
Setting the laptop on the bed, Lyman drunk-walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and gasped. Holy shit! I look like I went three rounds with Mike Tyson, he thought as he probed the cut in his eyebrow.
The cut wasn’t deep, but had bled a lot, leaving three crimson lines that streaked his face like road map lines. The puncture wound on the back of his hand was much worse, his middle finger not wanting to move at all, and Lyman cringed when he noticed a splinter of bone protruding from the bloody hole. He opened a bottle of peroxide, hissed at the stinging pain as he doused the wound, and wrapped the injury with a hand towel.
“Now, let’s take a look at how bad the leg is,” Lyman said, taking a swig of vodka and relishing the calming affect as the liquor hit his stomach. He set the bottle aside and lifted his pant leg, but just before the pant leg cleared his shin, he heard a chime accompanied by the polite female voice of his laptop.
“FILE TRANSFERRED. DOWNLOAD COMPLETE.”
The professor, more than puzzled, looked over his shoulder, and just as his head completed the turn, the insane buzzing of the wasp roared into the bathroom. Before he could react, the wasp shot forward, impaling Lyman’s right eye with its barbed stinger. There was a soft pop, and then an incredible burst of pain exploded inside the professor’s skull.
Screaming in agony, Lyman reached for his face and closed his fingers over the insect’s abdomen, and within seconds, his middle finger became pummeled meat; the barbed stinger working through his flesh like a sewing machine needle on speed. With feeble strength, the professor pulled the wasp from his eye socket, screaming in pain as the remains of his destroyed eye came out with the stinger.
His voice roared out like an earthquake, “Leave me alone, damn you!” as Lyman flung the wasp across the room and through the doorway. Through mid flight, the wasp regained its wings and circled back.
Reaching blindly, Lyman opened the glass shower door and fell into the tile basin with a pitiful groan. He reached back and pulled the door closed just as the wasp swooped down for another attack, the stinger hitting the glass door with a loud click.
But the glass held.
“You took my eye, you bastard,” Lyman grunted out as he pulled himself into a sitting position, blood squirting from his empty eye socket in a fine misty stream.
Then his good eye rolled down malevolently and caught sight of his mangled middle finger. What was left of it drooped to one side like a queer question mark, dangling by what remained of the tendons. Feeling insanity beginning to invade his thoughts, Lyman flicked his wrist, watching as the grisly digit snapped forward and splattered the door glass with blood and gore.
“Eat my bird,” the professor croaked out, and then giggled a small girl-like laugh.
Wavering in and out of consciousness, Lyman watched as the blood from his finger ran down the shower glass. Then he saw the silhouette of the wasp hover up to glass and land, its legs making small clicking noises as it migrated to the middle.
“Can’t get in, can ya? Nope, can’t get in, can’t get in,” Lyman began to sing-chant. “Can’t get in and get me – Can’t get in and get me.”
Then, a brilliant red light came to life on the outer glass surface, and even in his faltering state of mind, Professor Lyman knew what that light meant.
“No…can’t be. That part of the program was never activated,” he whispered as a nauseating wave of pain caused his body to convulse.
The laser light went around in a perfect two-inch circle, the circular piece of glass falling forward and shattering on the tile floor, and as the last bit of his sanity faltered, Lyman managed to utter one word as his nemesis slowly came through the opening.
There was no response from the wasp. Instead, the micro-machine shot down and embedded its barbed stinger into the professor’s chest.
“How,” Lyman grunted once more before a strobe of radiant white light vaporized him, leaving only a five-foot blackened sphere of a crater – the indented surface as smooth as glass.
On a desolate stretch of desert at the south end of the base, a white van rumbled to life. Behind the wheel, the man Lyman knew as Devin Blackwood keystroked his laptop, smiling.
“So long, Lyman…you traitor,” the man said, gritting his teeth.
A moment later, the face of Captain Jarvis appeared on the screen.
“Very impressive, Lieutenant Powers,” Captain Jarvis said.
“Thank you, sir,” said Powers, his chest puffing up at the compliment. “Were you able to view the whole thing, sir?”
“Yes…yes I was. Did you have to toy with him for so long, lieutenant? I don’t remember that being part of the plan.”
Powers frowned. “Sorry, sir. Lyman was a traitor and deserved what he had coming to him.” Then he brightened again. “The good news is there was no trace of radiation past the containment field created by G.E.M.M. prototype number five.”
“So we have a complete success?”
“And Professor Lyman never suspected the switch in prototypes?” Jarvis asked.
“No, sir. Even at the very end, he still seemed to believe he had created some sort of artificial intelligence gone wild – so wrapped up in his own greed and arrogance that he looked right past the obvious – that someone else was in control.”
“And Lyman and his science geeks said it would be at least ten years. Ten years, indeed,” the Captain mumbled.
“Nothin’…nothin’. So you’re sure Professor Lyman spoke to nobody about your little arrangement?”
“No phone calls…no e-mails?”
Captain Jarvis nodded, satisfied. “That’s great, Lieutenant…just great.” He took off his glasses. “So that leaves only one loose end to tie up.”
Lieutenant Powers gave the Captain a blank look. “But there isn’t anyone else but me that knows…”
Then a shocked look of understanding dawned on the Lieutenant’s face, and as he scrambled for the door handle, the van exploded in a brilliant fireball of destruction, brightening the dark desert sky with untold secrets.