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When the Clock Strikes Fourteen (The Blake Meyer Thriller Series - Book 4)

By C. Kevin Thompson

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(A continuation of Books 1-3 of the series)

Book 4
Chapter 1

Genforma Laboratories
On the Outskirts of Novosibirsk, Russian Federation

Lazar Nicolescu entered the decrepit backroom of the Genforma
Laboratories’ biohazard lab every twenty minutes to check on a graycolored
marmot that looked like a large, overweight groundhog with
a squirrel’s tail, otherwise known as specimen number fifteen. He grabbed
the clipboard hanging inside the door and headed straight to the animal.
This experiment—the last one, if Lazar’s plans worked out—began
two hours ago. Unlike the others, especially the last one involving Peter
Zakayev, the Russian dissident handcuffed in the next room over, this
one was designed to “reset” the contagion’s timeline. Lazar believed that
if he was to expose Peter to the contagion now that he was theoretically
immune, he needed to replicate the best and most realistic scenario he
could muster in this God-forsaken hole of a lab.

As Lazar bent over to examine the test subject, he noticed specimen
number fifteen shaking slightly, as if the animal was afraid. He tapped on
the glass, and the animal lifted its head slightly but was not reacting the
way Lazar thought it would or should have.

Then, the marmot shook its coat, like a dog trying to dry itself after
taking a bath, and crawled into the corner, snuggling in like it was going
down for a nap. The exertion caused the animal to breathe heavy.

He is not his perky self. And his breathing seems labored. Lazar jotted
his thoughts down in the log. Test subject is showing signs of distress.
Nothing substantial, but definitely a change from the last check twenty
minutes ago.

Lazar pinned the pencil to the clipboard. “This experiment should
have reset the contagion’s timeline,” Lazar said to himself, thinking
aloud. “Specimen number fifteen is the first to be infected in this round
of testing. He should not be showing signs already.”

Like the rats in his previous experiment and the ultimate infection
of Peter Zakayev, each time the bacteria jumped from host to host, its
incubation time accelerated.

However, this time, Lazar infected the marmot exactly as he did the
rats from the previous experiment. It took them several days to show
signs, even the one who received the full brunt of exposure.

Lazar grabbed the pencil again. He flipped the log sheet over and
used the blank side to jot down his thoughts.

So, why is this specimen acting as if it was next in line in the previous
experiment? This should not be happening … Something in the marmot’s
immune system must have caused the change … Maybe its system is defective
in some was...

If that is true, then we cannot—with any certainty—estimate or determine
how this contagion will spread. If the genetic blueprint of the person or
animal being infected can accelerate the bacteria’s growth, then all bets are off.

Within a population of hundreds of thousands, surely one or two
individuals will carry in them the genetic disposition to jump-start this
beast, causing the spread to become deadly much sooner than we originally

Lazar stopped writing. If this is true, and it reached nursing
homes … hospitals … the devastation would be catastrophic.
“Vladimir, what have you done?” he said to himself, peering at the
marmot huddled in the corner of its cage.

Lazar exited the specimen room just as the outer doors to the decontamination vestibule closed. He peered inside and saw Karina standing
in the center, holding another food container.

I hope she has word on the ventilation system.

“Is she bringing more food, Doctor?” Peter said, sitting on the edge of
the metal table. “I am not hungry at all. As a matter of fact, I feel queasy.”

Lazar walked over to Peter. “Let me look at your eyes.” He lifted
Peter’s chin and examined him. “I have to say, Peter, you look the best you have looked since I infected you. I would venture to say your upset
stomach is a result of nerves.”

“You think?”

Lazar formed a slight smile and patted Peter on the shoulder. “We
will begin soon and get this over with.”

Just then, the large dryers shut down, and the inner doors to the
decontamination unit opened.

“I brought you both some hot coffee,” Karina said with a smile. “Just
made fresh. I figured the next few hours were going to be long, so whatever
I could do to make it more pleasant was the least I could do.”

“Thank you, Karina,” Lazar said. “It would appear your timing is

Karina furrowed her eyebrows. “Trouble?”

“I need to show you something.”

Karina started to laugh but stopped. A huge smile spread across her
face. “Ah, yeah, well, I am not sure I need to see whatever it is you need
to show me, Doctor. The last time I fell for that … well, you know what

Lazar’s eyes grew and became manic. He motioned with his head
at the walls. “No, you misunderstood me, Karina. I need both you and
Peter to join me in the specimen room. It seems our experiment may
have taken an unexpected turn, and I need your expert opinion.” With
his arm, he motioned for them to head in that direction.
The three entered the darkened room, and Lazar made sure the door
locked behind them.

“Karina, you, of all people, know that Klebnikov and his crew monitor
that lab. They have a video camera and microphones. It is a wonder
they have not placed such devices in here.”

“How do you know they have not?” Peter said.

“Because, Peter, if they had, they would have already arrested me for
treason. You, too, I might add.”

Peter bounced his head back and forth in acknowledgement.

“May I ask what is going on?” Karina said.

“Look.” Lazar pointed at the marmot in the airtight specimen container.
“I infected him two hours ago.”

Karina stepped closer and examined the animal. “He is showing
signs of respiratory distress.” She spun around and gazed at Lazar. “What
stage in this experiment is it?”

Lazar peered back at Karina for a long few seconds. “The first.”
Karina turned back to the test subject. “But, in your notes from
before, subjects were not showing signs of infection this quickly until
several stages had occurred. Four if I remember correctly.”

“It was five, actually.”

“So, what has changed?”

Lazar shrugged. “Nothing in my introduction of the contagion has
changed. I used the same sedative on the subject and the same strain of
the contagion.” Lazar huffed. “It should have taken this animal a minimum
of two days to show signs.”

Peter, listening to this conversation take place, pointed at the marmot.
“I am not sure about everything you two are saying, but from what
I do understand, this animal got sicker much quicker than you expected,

Lazar and Karina nodded.

“And you want to expose me to it?”

“Well, that was the plan before this happened.” Lazar crossed his
arms. “It should not be showing signs already, Peter. It is the first host
in this line of testing. All the others that were first in line took two to
six days to show signs, depending on their exposure to the contagion.
I found those times to shrink as it jumped from host to host. By the
time it infected host number four, it was down to two to six hours. But
this…,” Lazar said with a quick wave at the test animal, “I do not have any
answers. Only theories.”

Karina gazed into the cage again. “So what do you think is causing
it, Doctor?”

“It obviously has to do with genetic disposition.”

“Of course,” she said, turning to face Peter. “Just like any other disease.
Our autoimmune systems vary from person to person. Two people
can be exposed to the common cold. One gets sick, the other does not.”

“Yes,” Lazar continued, “but with this contagion, it would appear it
actually attacks the autoimmune system instead of trying to skirt by it undetected. I wondered about that possibility during the previous tests,
but I did not have the equipment nor time to run the necessary experiments.
However, it makes sense. This contagion was modified. I have no
doubt about that. It is military grade material, for sure. But like all other contagions, you expect to find a protocol … steps … a series of things to happen that can be counted on. That is how we combat so many diseases
today. We know how they operate. We know what the incubation periods
are, what symptoms to look for, what body systems will be impacted,
and therefore what medicines and treatments to implement. However,
if a contagion is designed like a bomb, then we have an entirely new and
lethal threat on our hands. Even more troublesome than I originally

Peter shook his head and squinted a little. “I do not fully understand
what you are talking about, Doctor, but you make it sound like some kind
of precursor to a real zombie apocalypse.”

“Think about it this way, Peter. When a terrorist designs a bomb, they
can build it many different ways. One way is to connect it to some kind of
timer. The timer counts down, and when the timer reaches zero, Boom!

“Now, if the bomb squad tries to deactivate it and cuts the wrong
wire, it could cause the timer to speed up, if it is engineered that way.
Cut another wrong wire, and it could speed up even more, until time
runs out.”

“Or if it is designed another way, cut the wrong wire and Boom!”
Karina said.

“That is true as well,” Lazar said, pointing at the marmot. “The problem
with this bomb is we do not know how it was designed until it is
already built. As we have learned from these two most recent experiments,
the test subject seems to determine the ‘design’ of the bomb.” He
paused and turned his eyes to Peter and Karina. “But out there, amongst
the masses of people who would become infected, you could have as
many as a hundred different bomb designs activating at the same time.”

Peter rubbed his face. “So there is really no way to stop this thing
once it gets turned loose, is there?”

Lazar thought for a moment. “So far, Peter, you and that black rat
over there are the only positive outcomes of this entire lab. You two survived exposure. At varying stages of the contagion’s vector, I might
add. Therefore, we must proceed as planned to make sure your antibodies
can withstand whatever this contagion throws at you. If you survive,
that gives us great hope for others, regardless of their health condition,
provided they are somewhat healthy when they come in contact with this

“And if they are frail?” Karina said with a slight catch in her throat.
“Elderly? Infants? Those who are susceptible due to an autoimmune

“I have spent many hours thinking about it. It is all in my notes.
However, Karina, I think you already know the answer.”

Lazar’s sudden generalities made Karina well up. “My mother has the
beginning stages of cancer. She underwent her first chemo treatment two
months ago.” A single tear escaped. “She would not make it, would she?”

Lazar unfolded his hands and placed a hand on her shoulder. “It
would depend on when and if she was given our antidote or our soon-tobe-
tested vaccine.”

Karina covered Lazar’s hand with hers. “So, what are we waiting for?”
She nodded at the animal. “Your test subject is sick. Peter is ready.”
Lazar smiled and waved Peter over. He placed a hand on each of his
friends’ shoulder. “Peter, she says you are ready. But I need to hear it from your own lips.”

“Doctor, I told you I was ready. If I am to die, let it be in the service
of helping others. It beats being taken outside and shot behind a shed.”

“Very good.” Lazar turned to Karina. “So, first things first. What did
you find out about the ventilation system?”

“It is a typical one for a laboratory. Nothing elaborate. However,” she
said, pointing at the marmot, “the only access point big enough to house
a specimen container that size is at one of the larger intakes. And the
problem with that is this: as you might well imagine, there are special
filters every so often in each vent leading to each room to slow down and
prevent precisely what we are attempting to do.”

Lazar nodded with a slight smile. “Sverdlovsk. Omutninsk. Stepnogorsk. Koltsovo, Siberia.” He continued to nod more and more. “It
would seem we have learned something after all.”

“I am not familiar with all those towns.”

“Well, we have already established that you know about Sverdlovsk.
Omutninsk was where some of the first lab work in the area of bioweapons
was performed. That is where we learned how to create nutrient
media in order to grow whatever bacteria we wanted to test. From there,
we learned how to test the bacteria under any and all circumstances. I
guess you could say that it was our work at the Omutninsk lab that made
this variant strain of the plague Peter has been infected with possible.
Klebnikov and his team have simply taken that work and perfected it.

“Stepnogorsk was responsible for bringing Anthrax 836 into the
world as we know it now. The lab there was tasked with becoming Russia’s
assembly line for the mass production of weaponized anthrax.”

“Did they succeed?” Peter said.

“At the end of the fourth year, they were creating five thousand tons
of it. Per year.”

Peter blinked. “That is insane.”

“That is what evil does, Peter,” Karina said. “No doubt, much of the
work we do started as trying to find cures for diseases. A good thing, yes?
But someone realized that the process could be reversed. Microorganisms
could be used as weapons.”

“They will invent ways of doing evil…” Peter looked at both Lazar and
Karina. “That is what my girlfriend says all the time. Every time some
bad news comes on the television, or we hear about it from somebody we

“She is right, Peter,” Karina said. “There is only one explanation for
why people are mean to each other … why people hate other people … why
people put down others with malicious intent, or treat others disrespectfully.

It is inherent within mankind. You cannot find a group of people
unaffected. We all have our biases and prejudices. We are all ultimately
looking out for ourselves, often at the expense of others. Or at least at
the neglect of others. We all stare into our own pool of water while a war
rages around us. All of us are narcissistic at our core.”

Peter whispered the word. “Sin.”

“That is why we are here. Someone wishes to hurt millions of people.
Figuring out for what purpose is our goal.”

“I get it … selfish ambitions,” Peter said. “So, we need to stop them
before it is too late.”

“Yes, well,” Lazar said, patting his two friends on the shoulder on
last time, “on that uplifting note, it would appear Karina that you must
remove all the filters in the ventilation system, except for the main ones
at the initial intake vents.”

Karina’s eyes widened. “All of them?”

“If you do not, the contagion may not make it all the way to the other
labs and ancillary areas. If it does not make it to those locations, the
workers here cannot fall ill. If we cannot infect everyone in this facility,
our plan will fail.”

Karina stared blankly at Lazar without moving. “That is another
effect of sin, Peter. It forces people like you, me, and the good doctor
here, to step over the line. Now, we must kill people in this facility—some
would argue that they are innocent individuals just doing a job … who
were not made aware of what they were helping to accomplish. But,” she
said with a deep breath, “we must kill them to save many others.

“So, I hope you see now. Sin has made the world a very messy place.”

“Very true,” Lazar said, “but before we label ourselves as mercenaries,
let us stick to the plan. If all goes well, they may have a chance … if
they read my notes.”

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