Well, here it is, the final installment of this story. I’m both sad and excited by it. As I wrap up this story, there is so much more I can do with it. It’s at about 40,000 words now, but can definitely be expanded into a novel. I will be working on this as soon as I finish my current work in progress, the novelization of my serial, Extra Innings.
I will continue posting original short stories and serials on Mondays. Look for a new one next week. The short stories will eventually be edited and pulled into a collection some time this year.
Thanks for hanging in there with Joyce, Dr. Haybrook and Gini on this fun journey into serial writing.
No Pain, No Gain – Part 21 – The Conclusion
Schmidt fought to free his ankle from the grasp of the body on the floor. He was just about to kick the creature in the face when he caught a glimpse of his target. This caused him to hold back on his kick. It was a female human that was naked except for remnants of a scaly outer skin that was sloughing off of her body. Just as he held back on his kick, her eyes opened and met his.
“Where…where am I?” she asked in a raspy voice.
As Schmidt searched for an answer, Haybrook and Gini rushed into the containment chamber. As the female came more into consciousness, she released Schmidt’s ankle and rose to a sitting position. As she became aware of her nakedness, she struggled to cover herself as she looked inquisitively at those that had entered the chamber.
“Where am I?” she asked again, her voice becoming stronger. “What happened?”
Haybrook answered her question with a question.
“Do you know who you are?”
She paused for a second to think. Haybrook could see her eyes register increasing clarity.
“I’m Joyce, Joyce Martin,” she said with her strongest voice yet. “Tell me where I am,” she demanded.
“You’re at…,” Haybrook began.
“I’ll answer that,” Blaylock said in a loud voice from the doorway of the containment cell. “You’re in a treatment center. We’ve been able to treat your condition.”
Others in the cell began to come back to consciousness and also worked to cover their own nakedness. They all looked puzzled.
“When can we get out of here,” one of the males asked.
“We need to check you out first,” Blaylock said. “We want to make sure there are no residual effects. Once we do this, you’ll be let go with a handsome reward for the trouble you’ve been through.”
Haybrook wanted to believe what Blaylock was saying, but he had a nagging feeling in his mind that all was not as it appeared. Was Blaylock really going to let these people go and possibly pay them for their silence? Was that conceivable? While he thought this through, Blaylock broke the confused silence.
“Mr. Schmidt, why don’t we leave Dr. Haybrook and his assistant to their work. You and I can begin making the arrangements for our friends here to be released.” Then to the room, “we will get you some clothes and something to eat while the good Doctor checks you out. We apologize for any inconvenience while we do what’s necessary.”
Blaylock then motioned to Schmidt to join him in the corridor.
Haybrook and Gini began taking blood samples from the subjects in the room. They also checked their vital signs. From what they could tell, even in the most advanced mutated subjects, the effects of the nanotech had been completely reversed.
“This is great, Mitchell,” Gini said. “It appears that we’ve been able to completely eradicate the tech. Now we just need to get the word out to help those in the public that are affected.”
“It appears so, Gini, but I think that public announcement will have to wait for Blaylock’s approval,” Haybrook said for the benefit of the surveillance camera he was sure was capturing their actions and words.
They worked their way through each of the subjects and, once they were done, Haybrook addressed the group.
“All of you appear to have normal vital signs and reflexes. That is a great sign. We just need to check your blood samples to be certain the treatment was successful and then you’ll be cleared.”
Joyce raised her hand while she covered what areas of her body she could with her other hand.
“Yes. Did you have a question?” Haybrook asked.
“What exactly were we being treated for?” she asked.
“You were being treated for a series of mutations,” Haybrook said. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
Joyce thought about this for a minute.
“I remember feeling really strong and losing weight after using my Buff Cuff for a while. Then I remember being pulled into a van and waking up here feeling very different. What’s happened to me?” Joyce asked as she started to break down.
Murmurs from the others in the room echoed the same question as the group started to move toward Haybrook and Gini who stood between them and the exit.
“I think it’s time, Mr. Schmidt,” Blaylock said.
They were located near the mechanical room. Schmidt and his minions had reattached the terminals for the room to the electrical power source.
“Okay boss. All I have to do is throw this switch and the room will be at full power.”
“Great. I need you to go in there and retrieve Dr. Haybrook and Ms. Gagrani. Then we’ll be ready.”
Schmidt looked at Blaylock and hesitated for a minute.
“Is there a problem, Mr. Schmidt?”
“Not at all boss,” Schmidt said with a look that contradicted his statement.
He motioned for his men to follow and they went back to the containment cell. Blaylock watched them from the tablet device. He moved toward the switch that Schmidt had shown him. As Schmidt and his men entered the cell to collect Haybrook and his assistant, Blaylock moved his hand toward the switch.
“Please move away from the power source, Mr. Blaylock,” a familiar voice commanded from behind him.
Blaylock knew the voice, but not in this context. He turned to confirm his presumption as to its owner.
“I said, move away from the power source,” Michele Rolfe, his assistant demanded once more as she pointed a handgun at him.
“Michele, what is this? What’s going on?”
Michele had four people, two men and two women, dressed in dark suits flanking her.
“That’s FBI Special Agent Rolfe, Mr. Blaylock,” she responded. “You are under arrest for conspiracy to commit murder and a laundry list of other charges. I suggest you move away from the power supply and kneel with your hands behind your head.”
Blaylock reluctantly did so. For one rare occasion, he was speechless. The other agents moved into the containment cell to secure Schmidt and his team.
“Michele, I had no idea. You’ve been with me for nearly two years.”
“Yes, it’s been a long undercover assignment that has finally paid off.”
“But how…”, Blaylock started to ask.
“Sorry, Blaylock, but you’ll be the one answering questions, not me,” Michele responded with a satisfied look on her face.
Her hard work and patience had finally paid off. She snapped handcuffs on Blaylock’s wrists, pulled him to his feet and escorted him out of the mechanical room.
Two Months Later
It was another busy day at Kongo Fit. Dr. Haybrook, Gini Gagrani and their team were facing another round of treating those that had been afflicted with the ill-effects of the Buff Cuff. They were finally nearing the end of the treatments at the New Mexico facility. Haybrook had overseen the setting up of regional treatment centers all over the country. The federal government had helped expedite the necessary permits and power requirements while Kongo Fit had funded the entire effort.
All existing Buff Cuffs had been deactivated and the story had been the topic of every news outlet for nearly a month as the word was spread through the public. Initially, efforts centered on bringing in those that were the most advanced in terms of the nanotech mutations. Some of them, unfortunately, had to be brought in forcefully and treated in containment cells identical to the one in the subbasement of the New Mexico facility. Now, those that were less severe were coming in for scheduled appointments.
All of the funding from Kongo Fit was the result of total liquidation of the company. Once the treatments were complete, the company would no longer exist. Funding that remained would be split up among those negatively affected by the technology. In cases where the person didn’t survive, their family would receive the funds. It would be a substantial amount.
Haybrook couldn’t believe how swiftly the government moved on this case. Michele Rolfe had been placed undercover by the FBI after General Butler had witnessed the failed military demonstration of the technology coupled with Kongo Fit’s release of the Buff Cuff. He contacted the FBI Director and brought him in the loop of what had occurred.
The FBI had ensured that Michele would be hired as Blaylock’s assistant by fabricating a background for her that made her the most qualified candidate for the job complete with glowing references. They had also facilitated and funded the retirement and silence of Blaylock’s previous executive assistant.
Timing was critical for the operation and Michele had pulled it off flawlessly. Blaylock and Schmidt were indicted and charged with the murder of Jeremy Alberg and Ray Hanson along with culpability for the deaths of 326 others that had succumbed due to the mutations from the Buff Cuff. The technology had been seized and locked away along with other deeply classified information so that it could not be used again.
Joyce sipped her Margherita as she read a trashy novel by the pool of her Key West hotel. She had received a sizable settlement from Kongo Fit. The amount she received, along with the others held in the containment cell, was enough for her to not work again if she chose not to. She was thinner and in better shape than she had ever been. The one lasting effect from the Buff Cuff was her enjoyment of exercise and her taste for healthy foods. She had decided to escape for a month-long vacation. Key West was a great place to stay in shape by biking and running around the island. It was also a great place to enjoy herself and escape the trauma of her experience.
The dreams were becoming less frequent. Her settlement included work with a therapist to overcome any lasting effects. She had taken advantage of these sessions and, instead of having nightmares every night about the containment cell and the collective, she was down to a once per week occurrence.
As Joyce lay soaking up the sun in her two-piece bathing suit, she couldn’t help but notice the admiring looks from the men that passed by her lounge. She went back to her novel with a contented smile. She just might get over this and ironically, she had the Buff Cuff to thank for her new life.