MOD – Alzheimer’s

The following was written as a submission for the Machine of Death 2 anthology contest.  Before reading this, please read the rules of the machine so you can fully understand the mechanics of the story’s universe, and if you get a chance, check out the book which is awesome!

Alzheimer’s – 3100 words

Graham continued calling out on the radio, ignoring the stray bullets that pelted into the thin sandstone and tin walls that served as our poor excuse for cover.  I shuffled around the dead bodies of the insurgents who had previously occupied the house, and peeked out over the busted window sill.  The buzz of a helicopter minigun chewed the air, drowning out the crackle of enemy fire.

Graham chucked the receiver against the floor.  “It’s no good.  We’re cut off.”

I pressed my back to the wall and let gravity pull me down.  I tried distracting myself by checking the rounds in my magazine.   Seventeen left, and thirty in each of the spare mags on my tac vest, plus the 15 rounds in my sidearm.  It was moments like these I remembered the call.  The one every Alzheimer’s got.  The recruiter calling, saying they got my results in, saying what an honor it was for me to join as if I even had a choice.  It was the only thing from my previous life I could recall with any clarity.  Because that was the point where my old life had ended – the one of school work and parties and the part time job at the pretzel kiosk in the mall, and what else? A decent bed, my neck told me.  And in that life’s place, a new one of hell and destruction began.

Graham flipped the night vision down from his helmet and gave me a wide grin, a signal he was about to do something crazy.

“What are you doing?”

“Completing our mission.”

I looked around the room, and my eyes settled on one of the crumpled bodies as I worked up a decent excuse to keep my ass glued right there.

“Communications are down.  I don’t think -”

“That’s your problem,” Graham cut me off, still using his friendly tone, “You don’t think at all – you just worry.  You and I both know it’s impossible for us to die out there.”

I gritted my teeth.  It was the truth, but only half of it.  But I didn’t have a choice.  I followed Graham as he slipped out of the house and into the darkness of a city composed of sheet metal and rubble.

### ### ###

 I dug down into the dirt, my face inches away from a land mine ready to mangle the flesh from my bones.  I swept the field with my rifle, verifying what I had already suspected – they weren’t expecting us to come in this way, which was a comforting thought.  I signaled back and Graham flew by me like a ghost, sailing through the minefield without hesitation, sure he was invincible.

I knew better.  Sure we had the sensors, and because of our training we could spot the subtle differences in dirt and brush that gave the mine’s position away immediately, but we weren’t as immortal as everyone seemed to think.  Images of the aftermath from an earlier mission flashed through my head.  Waking up on a gurney after an IED had taken out my jeep.  The man laying to my left quivered as he stared at the crimson-stained bandages wrapped around the stumps where his legs should be.  The man on the right made no sound, there was only the pulsing of machines as they worked to keep his lungs breathing and his heart beating.  And then there was his face, under layer upon layer of pus and gauze, which would never again resemble that of a man’s.  I had gotten off lucky with second degree burns, a concussion, and bruised ribs, and was immediately thrown back into the field.

I shoved the memory back into the abyss, and watched for Graham’s signal, half expecting the earth to explode beneath him as he took post twenty yards from the compound.  I gave another quick sweep of my surroundings, and then I was on my feet, weaving through the sea of mines and praying I wouldn’t misstep.  I neared the compound, a sprawl of garages and warehouses, all interconnected to a central concrete building that passed as a mansion in this wasteland of a city.

Finally I was clear of the mines – legs still intact – and followed Graham as he edged up to an open door on one of the garages.  Two voices echoed off the machinery inside – male, and both well fed from the plod of their steps.  They really weren’t taking us seriously on this end of the city, and I could only hope it would stay that way.

Graham dove left into the building and I slinked in behind, taking the opposite direction.  I worked my way around grease covered engines and jeeps jacked up on concrete blocks, careful not to step on the tools strewn about my path.  I kept watch on the guard at my end, who strolled about with his hand relaxed on the butt of his gun as if there wasn’t a war going on outside.  Once I was within striking distance, I drew my tactical knife and scanned the room to find Graham and the other guard’s position.

Graham wrapped his arms around his guard’s neck and jerked back.  Their mass collided into a table, sending a tool box clattering to the ground. My guard spun.  The training kicked in.  I caught him in the neck with the blade as he turned, and covered his mouth to keep his gurgling cry to a murmur.  My other hand fought to keep his finger off the trigger, and was winning.  I yanked the gun out of his dying grip and dropped the man after making sure he had ceased breathing.  Across the garage, Graham let his victim crash into a tower of rusted tire rims, causing them to collapse over the lifeless body.

“You’d have thought they’d just handed us the keys,” Graham said, smiling as he jogged up.  “You know what, I’ve been starting to wonder about something.”

“This isn’t the time for another one of your theories,” I said.  For some reason Graham spent all his free time thinking about things too much, and had come up with theories ranging from why Cancer’s are no longer allowed to serve, to the actual nature of The Machine itself.  My favorite of his was why only 50% of Alzheimer’s were ever deployed.  Apparently it had been 100% at one point in time, but as Graham had said, the government had put all of its eggs in one basket – leaving major landmarks and buildings open to terrorist attacks.  A freak stroke of coincidence brought whole city blocks to be occupied by Bombing’s, Fire’s, and Crushed to Death’s, and what followed became one of the greatest tragedies in our country’s history.  After that, the government came up with the bright idea of saturating our cities with us “immortals”.  The thought crept into my mind of what my life would be like if I had been in the other 50%, but I could never fully visualize a different one.  There was no such thing, only me, now, trying to do my time while maintaining all my limbs.

“Well, I was thinking, what would happen if they started naming their guns and ammo ‘Alzheimer’s’?”

I froze up, the idea sending waves of terror through my body, but Graham nudged me on the shoulder and laughed.

“I’m kidding,” he said, “These assholes are too stupid to do something like that.”

He looked away and surveyed the garage’s exits.  I found it hard to relax and felt my eyes darting around the room, paranoid someone might get an idea and actually end our lives.

Graham looked in through a small window on the door at the back of the garage.  “Secure,” he said, switching gears from playful pal to cold blooded killer in an instant.  “From what I can piece together of the shit blueprints, this is the way in.”

We entered and were met by the sterile sting of antiseptics and bleach.  The sweat on my cheeks evaporated in the cool air that poured out of the wall vents.  A fluorescent light flickered momentarily as we took in every detail about the hallway in front of us.

“No hot bodies on this floor,” I said.  “They must have evacuated the non-essential personnel.”

Graham nodded ahead.  “There’s a set of stairs behind lucky door number seven.  Down we go?”

We crept down the hallway, suppressor equipped sidearms at the ready in case there were any surprises.  But we made it to the stairs without any.  We’re just scratching the surface, I told myself.

We worked our way further into the complex, crouch-walking from one hallway to the next.  We turned one corner and froze at the drone of muffled voices.  My heart thudded in my chest as we skirted back around the corner and pressed our backs to the wall.  I strained to hear over the hum of AC for any changes in the voices.  They carried on like they hadn’t noticed the two armed men in full fatigues.  I popped my head out for a quick glance.  Two men and one woman, dressed in scrubs, waved folders around as they discussed something.  Possibly the weather.  None of them were armed, and none of them matched the profile of our target.  I signaled to Graham and we continued our journey through a series of never ending corridors.

A thick white door blocked our path, a panel next to the handle telling us it was for very important people only.  I tightened the grip on my gun as Graham whipped out a small device about the size of a thumb and pressed it against the biometric scanner.  The door unlocked with a quick click.

“His office should be through here,” Graham said as he tugged on the handle.  “Easy in, easy out, right?”

“Don’t speak too soon,” I said, practicing my breathing.

We barged in, swept our guns without losing any momentum, and counted each door we charged by.  Another security device – this time keycard access – but we had the door unlocked in three seconds flat.  Graham nodded towards it, and took watch as I threw it open.

Amongst racks of beakers and medical equipment and piles of computer guts, hunched over a mahogany desk overflowing with reams of papers, a stringy man in a stained lab coat scribbled furiously into a notepad.

“I told you grunts not to bother me while I’m working,” the man said in a thick British accent, not even taking the time to look up from the papers that consumed him.  He didn’t see, nor did he hear, the two bullets I put into his skull.

He slumped over the desk, slowly staining the papers via the leak in his head.  The mission briefings weren’t detailed, but from the sound of it he had acquired information regarding The Machine, and had accepted a large sum of cash in exchange for him to recreate it.  Our government did not like that.

I exhaled, etching a picture of his slack face into my mind for later nightmares, then closed my eyes and left the office the way it was.

We hurried back to the secure door and were two room lengths away when it slammed open.  A man in cheap military fatigues rushed in, and his eyes widened to almost comical proportions.  He stumbled backwards and reached for the gun on his hip.  Graham put three slugs into the man’s chest before he could even unbutton the holster.  The man collapsed, his body wedging itself between the still closing door and the frame.  And through the gap created by the man’s body stood at least five men, now drawing their guns at the sight of their dead comrade.

“Shit,” Graham and I said simultaneously.  A barrage of bullets shredded the opening and ate into concrete and spit tile into the air.

I knew this was it.  The moment that was inevitable for those with the fate of Alzheimer’s.  I would be chewed up here and spit back out to live the rest of my life in a wheelchair, being fed through tubes and defecating into plastic bags.

Graham shouldered into me, slamming me into a door.  I landed hard on my side and rolled flat against it.  The thick door frame splintered into my cheek, but served as a thin veil of protection against the attack.

Graham cried out, not the normal yelling of orders he enjoyed, but a type of scream I had become all too familiar with.  I maneuvered myself to bring him into view.  He rocked on his back, blood pooling out from beneath him.

Without thinking, I stuck my sidearm out and emptied the magazine, tagging the neck and shoulder of a man who had dared enter the hall.  The rack slid back on the gun and I let it clank to the floor as I scrambled over to Graham’s position.  Pain shot up my entire right side as bullets punched into my back and lodged into my vest.  We had the best body armor the military could buy – they didn’t like tempting fate too much.  But despite the advanced technology, my legs wobbled beneath me, and my vision dimmed as the hallway swirled around me.

Graham fired his sidearm from prone position, creating a temporary lull in enemy fire and buying me enough time to fix my location in the hall.  I clenched my jaw and pulled Graham as he continued to hold the enemy back, the strain of his weight shooting sparks of pain up my side.  I stopped at a door and fumbled through his gear, finally coming up with the device I was looking for.  I swiped it and pounded my shoulder into the door.  Blind, we piled in.

I exhaled and winced at the pressure of what could have been broken ribs gnawing at my internal organs, now intensified by the bite of cold air in my lungs.  Goosebumps prickled up on my neck and sent a chill down my back.  I squinted in the dim emergency light and slapped at the walls until I found the switch.  The overhead fluorescents hummed on, gradually extending my field of vision.

“Holy shit,” I wheezed, mouth agape, staring at the wrongness of the room.

“Where are we?” Graham gasped.  I tore my eyes away from my surroundings for a second and reached for my emergency kit.

“You okay?” I asked as I pulled out the supplies. Graham’s legs bled out from several perforations in his pants, and a small trickle ran down his bicep.

Graham grunted as I applied tourniquets around both his legs and tied a quick bandage around the wound on his arm.  I’d actually risked my life to pull him to safety.  That was stupid.  But I was still alive – and there was the matter of this room.

Once he looked like he was in a stable condition, I pulled him away from the door and propped him against a table facing it.  He mumbled as he dozed in and out of consciousness, but he wasn’t going to die.  That’s how Alzheimer’s liked to work.

I stood, staring again at the room.  The right side was lined with gurneys, on top of which the faint outline of bodies rested under sheets.  The rest of the room was a larger version of our target’s office – a jumble of papers and science equipment and test tubes filled with liquids that could probably melt your face off.

I should have readied my weapon, prepared to fight, but instead I rummaged through the documents.  I assumed most of the papers had something to do with the Machine of Death, but I caught myself flipping through page after page, my fingers trembling as a common set of words seared into my eyes.  I flung my hand across the desk, sending a cloud of paper fluttering into the air.

Alzheimer’s Disease.  Airborne.  Virus.  Prevention.  Communicable. Respiratory.  Enzyme Enhancers.  Infection.  Phase One Complete.

They weren’t trying to create a Machine of Death here.  They were coming up with a way to fight fate, to defeat the seemingly immortal soldiers we kept throwing at them.  And it looked like they were damn close to accomplishing just that.

The papers floated down around me, and the door I should have been watching beeped as someone attempted to unlock it.  I spun, and my boot caught on paper, sending me careening into the wall of glass.  Shards rained down on me as I thrashed my arms.  My hands smacked against the table ledge, slipped off the shiny surface, and I collided with the floor.  Vials crashed around me, spilling out liquids that smoked as they touched the cold tile and brought my stinging eyes to tears.  I sucked in a lung full of the gas, and immediately gagged as my throat constricted to the size of a dime.

My face burned as I crawled away from the chaos.  Finally my throat allowed the air to pass through, and I lay there for a second just appreciating the ability to breath.  The chatter of automatic weapons leaked through the thick door, motivating me to prop myself up with the help of a small office chair.  The door beeped again, this time clinking as the locks recessed into the steel frame.  The sights on my rifle blurred in and out of focus.

The door flew open, and I jerked my rifle up at the last second. A handful of soldiers rushed in, outfitted in the same dark camo uniform as me.  One of them bent over and snapped his finger’s in front of my glazed over eyes.

“We’re here to get you out,” he said, his voice hurried.  “You alright?”

My eyes bobbed from him as he continued examining me.  I sized up the men hauling Graham off the floor, then settled on the papers and vials scattered just off to the side.

“I’m immortal,” I said with as much of a smile I could manage, and let him help me up and usher me out of the freezing cold grip of the lab.

Maybe I was infected by something that would cure Alzheimer’s.  Maybe I’d wake up a week later and not know the name of a single person around me.  Maybe this would spread through the rest of the unlucky bastards that had been put in the same situation as me, who had drawn the short end of the stick labeled destiny.  Let’s see what fate had to say about that.