It had been almost three years since Russ Barnett’s wife died from cancer. A chance encounter in the parking lot where he worked sparked a renewal in his interest for a romantic relationship. Unfortunately, world events would conspire against any chance for a fresh start. A plot by terrorists to sabotage America’s industry goes horribly wrong, causing a global pandemic which devastates the female population. After fleeing his home and becoming trapped in a mine, Russ and his blind cat, Ray-Ray, wander across a postapocalyptic landscape, meeting survivors along the way. Russ is totally unaware that each day sends him closer to an ultimate battle with an evil army colonel who has his own plans for the remainder of humanity.
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By John J. Lardieri
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2017 John J. Lardieri
All rights reserved.
A POX ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
- Klingon proverb
"It is done Najah," Mujahid Al-Fayyoumi said to his wife as they sat in the X small kitchen of their one-bedroom apartment, which was located on Atlantic Avenue in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn, New York.
"There is no turning back, now," he added a moment later, after taking a drag on his cigarette. It was down to the filter. He put out what was left in the ashtray. Mujahid let out a long sigh. He was resigned.
"When will we know?" she said, as she took her husband's hands into hers across the table.
"Soon ... a week, ten days maybe. It was never tested."
"And our departure?" she asked.
"No hurry, we have some time," Mujahid lifted his wife's hands to his lips and kissed them, knowing full well what the kiss meant to her.
"Ana bahabeek," he said to her softly.
Across from the Atlantic Terminal subway station was the Al Farooq mosque, also known as Masjid al-Farooq, where Mujahid and his co-conspirators worshiped. Many of the people he planned this with had already left the country The rest of the congregation had to be left in ignorance. Martyrs for Allah.
Neither Mujahid nor his associates had any way of knowing that the plan, which was so simple in execution, was about to go terribly wrong. It was doomed from the start for basically two reasons. First, it began with a madman and second, the economy sucked. Not knowing what it is you're buying from someone who has gone gently and subtly insane is a bitch in itself, caveat emptor at its worst. But, what they thought they had wasn't what they had bargained for. Their agenda was being usurped. They were the ones being used.
The second part was also beyond Mujahid and his associate's control. He wouldn't find out about the room change until his eight-pm shift started. At that point, he and his crew would be there just to clean up after the event. There was no mistake on his part. He was where he was supposed to be and did what he was expected to do. The containers that were shipped to him had arrived undetected. Who would suspect such a simple everyday substance? Only he knew that the regular tanks had been refilled, and as the head night maintenance crew at the Javits Center, he had free reign to all of the needed areas without the prying eyes of a fully populated building. What he had done to put the plan into effect wouldn't so much as raise an eyebrow, even if he was seen. The attack would be infinitely subtler than slamming hijacked aircraft into buildings, but with a result that would make what the infidels experienced before look like a hangnail. In the end, it came down to a last-minute headcount, a headcount that would cause another "swap" to be made.
Getting bumped from the room you relied on for weeks, well ... There wasn't even time to change the signage.
The event that changed everything was a multi-business sponsored gathering called REHIRE AMERICA. It was basically a huge job fair planned for the main lobby at the Jacob Javits Center. Businesses were lured in by several White House initiatives, some of which promised tax breaks to companies that hired more employees. The main exposition area was prime real estate and not every event would warrant this type of pricey square footage, but REHIRE AMERICA did, at first. New York was a great place to attract fresh talent. Companies from all over America were scheduled to attend, but the economy had worsened further since many of the companies had signed on. In the end, enough businesses had canceled over the last couple of weeks to cause the event planners at the center to take another look at the venue. It was decided that the REHIRE AMERICA event would be moved to one of the smaller rooms on the second floor. There was a scheduled EFPIA gathering, which had grown considerably larger since booking at the Javits Center, planned for the same day. They originally wanted the large first-floor exposition room, but the sponsors of REHIRE AMERICA had booked it two weeks prior. EFPIA stood for the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations and represented nearly twenty-two hundred European companies committed to researching, developing, and bringing in new medical treatments. Doctors, medical professionals, and related business men and woman from all over the world, including the United States, would be in attendance. Sponsors of the EFPIA group were delighted at the last-minute change in plans. They would get the larger room. What they wouldn't have been so pleased about is what most of the people attending the conference would be bringing back with them.
* * *
Two months before the REHIRE AMERICA and EFPIA events being held in New York, Dr. Vladimir Rochenko was sitting at his desk at the State Center for Virology and Biotechnology, which also went by the name Vektor, in Koltsovo, near Novosibirsk. His desk was cluttered with papers and files. He was seventy-five years old and exhausted. What little hair he had left was pure white. He had the decision to make tonight; two actually. They would want to know soon whether he would give them what they wanted. He opened the drawer of his desk and took out the bottle of vodka he kept there. He was in one of the underground sections of the compound in an area of the facility that was used mostly as storage and low-level experimentation, so he wasn't worried about anyone seeing him. He took a drink, then another. There was a picture of his late wife, Irena, on his desk; he picked it up and looked longingly at it. She was killed when those two Chechen bitches blew up the airliners coming out of Moscow's Domodedovo airport back in 2004. She was among the ninety dead. He took the picture and put it in his briefcase. There were two other pictures on his desk. They were of his two sons, both of whom served in the military. His first son, also named Vladimir, was killed during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He was only nineteen. His eldest boy, Anatoly, died during 2008 South Ossetia conflict by the American-backed Georgian fourth brigade. He had given his beloved Russia everything he had. The Americans and the Muslims had both ripped from him his very reason for being. All he had left was his work, and that too was slowly being taken away. The biological weapons work he had been involved in over the last fifty years was considerably scaled back. While they still engaged in several secret projects, Dr. Rochenko's work now dealt with the development and testing of vaccines. Some of the younger minds had been given the more advanced military projects, while he was relegated to testing new flu cures. He was considered a cold war relic, something his country didn't need any more. At the height of his career, Rochenko and his team had developed some of the most lethal biological weapons known to man. Even after the Biological Weapons Convention of 1975, his country continued research and development at a fevered pitch. There was one project that Dr. Rochenko was involved in that he considered being his greatest achievement, another child, so to speak. It was a unique genetic resplicing of the smallpox virus which affected the alteration of the XX female genome. There were various versions of weaponized smallpox already developed, but not like this. The project was code named VXV. It was short for Vixen-X-Variola. In nature, the disease came in basically two forms: Variola major and Variola minor. The Variola-minor version had less than a one percent fatality rate, while the more common Variola major strain had a mortality rate of thirty to forty percent. It was a brutal equal opportunity killer in its own right, but what Dr. Rochenko and his team had done was to make the new virus misogynistic. They made it a woman hater. It was also promiscuous. Vixen had the ability to merge with other viruses increasing its methods of transmission becoming mostly, a virus within a virus.
VXV wasn't just to be used as a battlefield or regional weapon, it was a doomsday virus. What population would be left, would have a slim to no chance of bouncing back because ninety percent of the women would be dead. Modifications to the protein coat would also raise the kill ratio from thirty to forty percent, to as high as seventy percent or more in the males. Those who remained would have to deal with sickness, starvation, and man's good old inhumanity to man. In the end, however, what samples of VXV existed were ordered destroyed. The Soviet war planners at the time considered it impractical for use as a biological agent because, after several mutations with other viruses that it would come into contact with in the natural world, it would do something that rendered it useless as a weapon. It would go airborne and come back to haunt whoever had released it. Dr. Rochenko had lost several team members finding this out. In any event, the project was canceled before his team could experiment further. Had they been able to go on, they would have discovered the virus's real potential.
Dr. Rochenko took the remaining picture and put it in his briefcase. He took another swig from the bottle of vodka and put it back in the drawer. He let out a long sigh. He had made the first of the two decisions that were before him. He would give them what they wanted. The bastards were offering a lot of money, not that he would need it. He got up from his chair and grimaced in pain. He gave himself a moment to recover. Cancer in his liver had been stage four for quite some time now. The fact that there was no stage five helped him make the second decision. He would give them more than they bargained for.
To hell with them all.
Dr. Rochenko walked through a maze of corridors until he got to a level four secure area deep within the compound. Despite his lower tier research, he still had all of his high-end security clearances. He walked up to a small refrigerated vault, one of many at the facility used for the storage of experimental vaccines destined for commercial purposes. He typed in his access code. These vaults were not under camera scrutiny, because what they contained was considered less of a hazard. The door popped open. He removed a vial from in back. It was something he had placed there long ago before the installation of the newer hi-tech security systems. Despite the orders given to destroy the remaining samples of Vixen, Dr. Rochenko couldn't bring himself to do it. He couldn't kill what ended up being his last surviving child, his finest work.
Rochenko put the vial in his pocket and relocked the vault. He signed out of the facility like he had done every day for the last fifty years and left the compound. He made the rendezvous as agreed and handed over the vial and was given a black briefcase in exchange.
Fools ... They should have killed me right then and there. They deserve what they get.
Back at his apartment, Dr. Rochenko got a fire going in his fireplace before relaxing in his comfortable chair; there was a full bottle of vodka at his side. He closed his eyes and let out a long slow breath. The warmth of the fire felt good. Pictures of his wife and sons sat on the table next to his chair. He opened up the briefcase that was given him earlier that evening; it had fifty million US dollars in it. Dr. Rochenko took one of the neatly stacked bundles of hundreds and threw it into the fire; He kept doing it until both the briefcase and bottle of vodka were empty. From the drawer in the end table next to the chair in which he sat, he removed a 9mm Makarov pistol and placed it in his lap. The fire was beginning to dim. He felt no need to answer for what he had done, at least not in this world. Dr. Rochenko took both pictures of his wife and sons and held them across his chest. He reached down with his right hand and picked up the pistol that was in his lap. Without hesitation, he put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
* * *
Mujahid reported for work the night before the event and instructed his maintenance crew as to their usual duties. He informed them that he would work the cleanup and restock on all of the first-floor bathrooms this evening. Mujahid could have assigned the task to anyone, it wouldn't have mattered: they would have no idea, but he wanted to be sure. He went to the stock room and loaded up his maintenance cart with the usual bathroom supplies. Mujahid went to one corner of the supply room and moved several boxes. The box he was looking for had been well hidden for the last two weeks. Mujahid would need it now. It was time to deploy the weapon and strike fear into the heart of the infidels. His people would send a message like no other. Mujahid took the box and placed it in the back of his cart. The carton was labeled STERELL Hand Sanitizer. He pushed his cart to the first of ten men and women's bathrooms located on the first floor. It was after hours, and no one would be using them until morning when they would be freshly cleaned and supplied. Mujahid began work in the first bathroom. He mopped the floor and wiped down the sink counters to a shine. Mujahid then went to work and replaced the toilet paper rolls where needed. He wanted everything perfect for tomorrow's big event. The last task in this bathroom was to refill the hand sanitizer dispensers. He opened the plastic cover and removed the container. It was still half full. He removed it and placed it on top of his cart. He then took the case of hand sanitizer from the bottom of his cart and removed a box cutter from his pocket. He looked at it for a moment. His people had accomplished much a decade ago with a handful of box cutters. They had killed almost three thousand Americans and exacerbated an already worsening recession. The carnage that was about to be done with this one would be staggering, maybe beyond their ability to recover for decades. He took the box cutter and sliced open the top of the carton being careful not to cut into the plastic containers. He removed the first container and examined it before placing it into the dispenser. What looked like perfectly normal hand sanitizer was actually a biological gel similar in both color and consistency with the standard product. Multiplying in that all you can eat buffet was Vixen. Mujahid knew that most people would wash their hands when they were done with their business. They wanted to kill any unwanted germs, of course. Only when they went to use these dispensers, they wouldn't be killing any bacteria. They would be infecting themselves with smallpox.
"Allahu Akbar," Mujahid whispered under his breath.
He snapped the cover shut and proceeded to the next bathroom.
When his shift ended at seven am, Mujahid had cleaned all ten first floor bathrooms and replaced forty-eight hand sanitizer stations with what was essentially liquid death. By the end of the day tomorrow, hundreds of American businessmen would be carrying the plague to all corners of the United States. They, in turn, would give it to thousands more that worked for them. Those thousands would bring it to their families and friends. It would leave their economy in shambles. There would finally be justice in numbers for all of the oppression and death the Americans had caused to his people around the world. Jihad would be felt across the Great Satan's land. It didn't matter that he became infected as well. Like many of his comrades before him, it was to be a martyrdom operation. Mujahid left the Javits Center secure in knowing everything was in readiness. When the first of the infidels began to clean their hands after using the restrooms, the virus would do the rest. He would be back that night at the start of the next shift, as usual, to perform the routine maintenance and replace the contents of the dispensers with the standard product. No point in leaving any traces. In any event, by the time they figured out what was going on, they would have much bigger things to worry about. What biological medium that remained in the dispensers would be dumped down the storage room sink's drain, a little something extra for the city's water supply. On his way home, Mujahid stopped at a kiosk to get a paper. He handed the attendant a dollar and waited for his change. Much like the British giving the Indians blankets infected with smallpox, the dollar bill he gave the man for the paper passed on Vixen. It gave the term "filthy lucre" a whole new meaning.
Ironically, Mujahid hadn't come to America in pursuit of jihad. In fact, it was that exact reason he had left Pakistan with his wife in the first place. Mujahid even had two cousins killed when a suicide bomber blew up the Imambarghah Ali Raza mosque in Karachi in the middle of evening prayers, killing fourteen other worshipers and injuring thirty-five more. Sectarian strife or not, it seemed his people were more adept at killing each other than the westerners. He had applied for and was granted an H-1B visa due to his degree in chemical engineering after being told by many that the United States was the gateway to a better life. The "American Dream", they called it. Mujahid took what money he had and flew to America in the hope such a life existed. In Pakistan, he landed a somewhat rewarding job at the Akbari Chemical works developing and refining industrial chemicals soon after graduating the Aligarh School of Technology. But, the salaries compared to his counterparts in America didn't begin to compare, and Pakistan was becoming more and more dangerous each year. It wasn't just the jihadi, but war with neighboring India was a potential nuclear powder keg waiting to be lit as well. At the end, when his wife asked when they would be starting their family did he decide to pack up and leave.
Excerpted from Vixen by John J. Lardieri. Copyright © 2017 John J. Lardieri. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1 A Pox on both your Houses, 1,
Chapter 2 A Day in the life, 15,
Chapter 3 We interrupt this relationship to bring you the end of the world, 36,
Chapter 4 Ray-Ray's world and welcome to it, 151,
Chapter 5 I smell dead people, 223,
Chapter 6 Route 80 and the first survivors, 253,
Chapter 7 Getting away from it all, 333,
Chapter 8 Another Nightmare on Elm Street, 458,
Chapter 9 The Truck, 481,
Chapter 10 Eagle vs. Shark., 524,
Chapter 11 Trader Joe's, 594,
Chapter 12 Black Talon, 673,
The End Of Book One, 873,