A/N: Alex’s powers and new knowledge will make more sense if you go read the first story in this series: “The League of Extraordinary Women”. The disclaimers, spoilers, and other information are all in previous chapters, not counting the disclaimer at the bottom of this chapter.
Riley Finn was playing ‘Rich Frank, ace reporter’ again. He didn’t really like undercover work. He didn’t like lying, and when you were undercover you lied constantly. He didn’t even like not being able to tell his folks and his friends back home what he really did. All right, he was allowed to say he did Special Ops for a small Department of Homeland Security program, but he could hardly tell them what he really did. As it was, his old high school girlfriend Lana had made up her mind that since he wouldn’t tell her what he did, he must be doing something fascist and illegal, and she wouldn’t talk to him anymore. The colonel’s advice had been really unhelpful: having his wife Sam beat the snot out of Lana was not a supportive approach. His mom had just said, “That Lana is always getting ideas in her head. Just give her some time.” His dad had just said, “That colonel of yours sounds like a real pistol!” His brother had just said, “You could’ve done way better than Lana in high school.” His brother was great; Riley was the adopted one, and Joe never complained about the ‘not even a real Finn’ kid being the one who got all the attention for being a sports star and going off to West Point and all of that junk.
Now he was tooling around Downingtown, Pennsylvania in a rental SUV that any local cop could verify was rented this morning from the Philadelphia airport using a business credit card that looked like CBS covered it. Grover had done his ‘invisible sneaking’ routine while Rich Frank gave the local cops his ‘big smile and a handshake’ routine.
The cops were too darn suspicious about an outsider. And as soon as Riley was out of the room, they were calling the sheriff and worrying about something getting uncovered. But having your own ‘invisible man’ was really handy for a lot of things. Grover heard all of their end of the conversation, and then followed one of the deputies who went over to the area near Dr. Hallen’s clinic to make sure there wasn’t anything to see.
So, after Grover reported back, Riley called a dummy line that the SRI had mocked up to look like it belonged to CBS, and he reported, “Richard K. Frank reporting in. Nothing interesting so far. I think we got a loser lead.”
Using the full name ‘Richard’ meant that he had something, and the ‘K’ meant that the local cops were involved in it in some way. ‘Nothing interesting’ meant that he was currently following up on a lead. ‘Loser’ meant that a GPS location on his current spot was meaningful. Everything else was just to distract policemen and enemy forces who might have nice little cellphone interceptors.
So the two of them were trying to find something in the area around the clinic. Riley had noticed that the parking area behind a small row of three shops was just too darn big. There was customer parking in front, and no one needed that many parking spaces for these small shops that only had one or two clerks. There weren’t any cars there now, but it looked like a couple cars had been recently dragged off on their back wheels by a tow truck. He could see the marks in the gravel. That had his suspicions up even more.
There were four security doors on the back side of the row of shops. Three shops and four security doors? He didn’t think so.
Grover did his thing and walked invisibly into each shop to slip into the back and open the rear door from the inside. And sure enough, the far left door was for the left-hand shop. The far right door was for the right-hand shop. The next-to-far-right door was for the middle shop. Door two went nowhere. Riley had guessed it would be door two. The real doors had ordinary key locks. Door two had a special security door with a number combination to punch in, and also a plastic square below the keypad that looked like security panels Riley had seen before.
He said to Grover, “This is going to be the sticking point. That square probably reads an RFID chip before it unlocks the door. So you have to have your entry badge, and you have to know the secret code number both, or you don’t go in.”
Grover whispered from over to his left somewhere, “What if you lose your badge?”
Riley said, “Most DoD installations with this level of security? You could get fired. But this isn’t DoD. This is something else. The only time I’ve ever seen a set-up like this that wasn’t on an official basis with proper guards and a security fence was in Iraq, and it was a secret chemical warfare lab.”
“I thought the Iraqis didn’t have ‘weapons of mass destruction’.”
“They didn’t. This was a private shop one of the Iraqi ministers had set up so he could kill off all his opponents and any rebels after he took power,” Riley explained. “We didn’t let him complete Step One.”
Grover muttered, “You know some really charming stuff.” He sighed, “So how do we get in?”
Riley said, “It depends. If they did their jobs really well, we won’t be able to get in with anything short of C-4.”
Grover said, “Which you’ve got in the trunk. Right?”
Riley said, “The colonel likes us to be prepared. And that’s why I’ve got the next little surprise for doors like this.” He got a particular valise out of the trunk and slung it over his shoulder. “Let’s see what we’ve got here…”
He reached into the valise and fished out a small spray bottle. He pumped several sprays of mist onto the keypad. Then he pulled out a small ultraviolet light and shone it on the pad.
Grover said, “I can’t see that.”
Riley said, “It’s UV. The solution reacts with oils in the skin. It’s a lot like luminol, the chemical all the cop shows use to look for blood traces.”
Grover testily said, “I know what luminol is.”
“Sorry.” Riley looked over the keypad. He said, “When you’ve got people typing in the same sequence over and over, and you don’t clean the keypad regularly, you get a trend. The oiliest button is the first number. The least oily number is the last number. The amount of glow tells us the amount of skin oils. So our secret code is 8-4-something-something-7, where the two somethings are either 9 and 3 or 3 and 9.”
Grover said, “Pretty impressive. How do you beat the RFID reader?”
Riley said, “Well, we can try something the IT guys cooked up. It overloads the reader with signals. If you’ve got security on duty, it may or may not open the door, however it definitely alerts the security forces. But it looks like this place is deserted. I figure that’s not a good thing. Or else they brought Walsh into that little New Jersey airport, drove her over here, let her do her thing, paid her off, and scrubbed the lab. That seems crazy, given how much getting a lab in here would cost them.”
“Who’s ‘them’?” Grover asked.
“No idea. No foreign powers operate like this, and no group like al Qaeda would set up a lab in the middle of Pennsylvania when they can have all the privacy they want in Pakistan or a half dozen other nations. That means we’re probably talking private industry, which is a pretty nutso idea too. Nobody spends two hundred mil on a biowarfare lab for private industry, especially not when anybody who would be doing this could afford to do it on a bigger scale in a high-security situation. When we’re in, we need to look for any sort of identifying information that will give us a hint.”
He had Grover hold the little RFID scrambler against the pad, while he held his Glock in one hand inside his blazer, just in case they got security forces charging toward the door.
The door clicked, so Grover hastily typed in 8-4-3-9-7. Nothing. He tried 8-4-9-3-7. The door clicked a little louder, and Grover pulled it open as Riley ducked to the side.
Grover quietly stepped in and took a look around. “Riley? You’re going to want to see this.”
Riley did a swift special ops entry from the side with his Glock out, in case there was still a threat.
There wasn’t. The threat was long gone.
There were three corpses on the floor. They looked like they had all been sprinting for the exit when someone behind them shot them in the back. Two security guards and a technician in a white labcoat were lying there and were very dead. Riley guessed from the look of the bodies and the dried blood and the smell that they had been dead for a couple days. He also figured from the complete lack of flies or anything around the bodies that the door had been sealed ever since they were killed.
Riley said, “Okay, let’s see what we’ve got…”
He pulled on a pair of neoprene gloves from the valise over his shoulder. The colonel went all out on things like a good breaking and entering kit, which made Riley wonder about some of the things the colonel had done before running the SRI.
He checked the bodies. Both security guards had Ruger Blackhawks. That seemed pretty excessive for handling ordinary security problems. He said, “Watch yourself. Anything that needs a Ruger to take it down is not going to be fun.”
Grover sounded like he was wincing. “It’s not gonna be giant spiders again, is it?”
Riley said, “With Maggie Walsh, I figure we’re always going to be guessing. She’s done human embryos, and we may never know what the heck she spliced into those poor kids. She’s done guinea pigs with tarantula DNA. She’s done some really weird stuff. Don’t be surprised if some day we get bunnies that spit cobra poison.”
Grover complained, “Oh great, now I’m going to worry about the lab rabbits too!”
Riley said, “Okay. We have three badges. The security guy with more seniority is probably the best badge to use, but we’ll take all three. We have two Rugers. I know Hanna’s been teaching you and Cindy how to shoot.”
Grover said, “It’s hard to be invisible when you’re toting a gun around.”
Riley said, “You got that pouch the colonel gave you?”
Grover said, “It’s better than nothing. I can carry junk in it, and ditch it just by pushing the strap off my shoulder. It’s in the car.”
Riley said, “Go get it. I want you carrying a weapon and the RFID scrambler and anything else you might need. Also, grab your earjack and tie a string from it to the pouch strap, so when you ditch the pouch, the earjack will go with it and you’ll be properly invisible.”
“Good idea.” Grover slipped out to the rental car.
Grover was back in seconds. “Hey Riley. There’s a cop car in the clinic parking lot, and two teens are trying to get the police to go investigate. The cops don’t look too excited.”
Riley frowned, “They wouldn’t be if there’s anything they need to keep buried.” He said, “Don’t do anything dumb. I’m going to walk over and play ‘Rich Frank, intrepid reporter’ and see what we get.”
Grover said, “I’ll just take a peek in the next room. Reeeeeeally carefully.”
Riley said, “Well, no further than that. I don’t want you out of my sight.” He winced and added, “Sorry.”
“It really is okay. I just… I don’t want to be standing here with three stinky dead bodies, okay?”
Riley said, “You can always come back out and be my backup. Sneaky invisible backup is the best kind.”
Grover said, “I kind of figure Terawatt backup is the best kind. She looks so…”
“Harmless?” Riley tried. Because Alex Mack looked like the girl next door. A sweet kid who’d never lie to you or try anything sneaky. And she was probably the most dangerous thing on the planet, even when you included a tarantula the size of a hill and a super-girl who grew up in Finland being trained from age two to assassinate a top CIA operative.
“Yeah.” Grover said, “Hanna too. Now Lieutenant Lupo looks like she could rip your head off, and maybe she’d do it if you ticked her off. Okay, Hanna has that look in her eye sometimes. You know, that ‘I can take you from way over here’ look. But Alex looks like if you were mean to her, she’d run home and cry.”
Riley put a tiny plastic wedge in the exit door so it wouldn’t lock him out. He shoved his Glock into his concealed holster. Then he jogged the long way around the shops so he could walk across their front parking lot and approach the police from a non-threatening direction. He figured the police would have to know about the security door back here. And the lack of any ‘concealed’ workspace at ground level at the back of the shops, plus the guy in the labcoat, pretty much defined ‘secret underground laboratory complex’. He wasn’t looking forward to checking that thing out without full back-up and plenty of CBW gear. No one built a secret lab like this to cure Alzheimer’s.
He trotted up to the foursome as they stood at the front door of the clinic. The door was open, and there didn’t seem to be anyone inside. Riley thought that was deeply suspicious, but the police were acting like it was proof the kids were over-reacting. The lieutenant, who he had met at the station, was playing ‘good cop’, while some sergeant Riley hadn’t met yet was playing ‘bad cop’. Or at least ‘grumpy cop’. And the kids obviously had no idea they were being played. Well, the girl certainly didn’t.
He walked up and interrupted the guy. “Rich Frank, CBS news. Can you tell me what’s happening?”
The sergeant scowled, “Aren’t you the reporter looking for that crazy lady scientist?”
Riley gave the man a big smile. “Yeah, that’s me. But the thing about crazy scientists? Not just simple murder, like we think she might have done to her old major professor. Maybe something really newsworthy! Like that giant tarantula that nearly ate a town a few days ago!”
The girl said, “I thought that was faked.” She looked pretty wholesome. Maybe a little too wholesome to be hanging out with Mister Bad Boy, who was probably just interested in getting into Miss Wholesome’s extremely wholesome panties.
Man, listening to the colonel and working in the SRI was really making him cynical.
Riley gave her a big smile, “No, that was all real. I know a couple of the guys who got to cover the aftermath. Even after the Air Force blasted that thing to kingdom come, there were still chunks of spider the size of a Buick. Martin Ridley, CNN, told me one of the spider legs from tip to where it joined the body was almost a hundred feet long, and bigger around than an elephant. He said it should’ve been too big to move, but it could go a good fifty miles an hour right up until Terawatt and the Air Force clobbered it.”
The guy asked, “Terawatt? The hot chick with the huge…” He glanced at the girl and changed what he was about to say. “…badguy fighting skills?”
Riley had to admit it. Mister Bad Boy would have been able to get into the panties of pretty much any teenaged girl on the planet. Even Jo Lupo would be looking this guy over. Between the good looks and rugged physique and the whole ‘tough guy’ attitude, this kid was going to be a ladykiller from now through his fifties. And really, there weren’t that many guys who could pull off the ‘tough-guy in leather jacket’ look. Riley knew that if he wore a leather jacket like that, he looked like he had borrowed it from a tough older brother.
Riley nodded, “Yeah. Terawatt was fighting the giant spider with her lightning powers. That’s what I heard from some other reporters. These crazy scientists are always up to something. Have either of you seen this woman?” He fished a photo of Maggie Walsh out of his breast pocket and showed it to them. Unsurprisingly, both shook their heads no. “So tell me, what’s going on with this place?” He pulled out a notepad and a pen.
‘Lieutenant Dave’ gently waved his hands, “Come on, Mister Frank. Getting these kids to make up more weird stuff is just asking for trouble.”
Riley smiled, “That’s okay. I can’t use anything I can’t verify. But I can find out who’s reliable and who isn’t. And maybe the…” He pretended to look for the plaque on the wall, as if he hadn’t already made a mental note of it. “…Hallen clinic had a problem with my crazy lady scientist.”
The girl said, “It wasn’t that at all.”
“And you are?” he asked.
“Jane. Jane Martin. And this is my boyfriend Steve Andrews.” Riley scribbled it down in shorthand. “We were out… just around, and we saw this old man. He had this reddish gloppy thing stuck to his hand and it looked like it was really hurting him. So Steve rushed him to Doc Hallen’s, because that’s the kind of guy Steve is.” Riley noticed that both cops sort of rolled their eyes, so he figured they’d had trouble with Steve before. “The doc asked us to go back out and see if we could find anything about the stuff, or how Old Man Warren got it on him. So we went back. And it was weird. There was all this area where there was nothing but dirt! Like every plant and bit of grass was just gone, except for a couple bushes that were eaten down to the woody part, sort of like there’d been a little teeny locust swarm. But we didn’t find anything more, so we drove back because Steve wanted to talk to the doc in person. And I was in the car when Steve went in, and he saw it…”
Grover didn’t want to be outside, because of the humidity, and the really sharp gravel in that parking lot, and he didn’t want to be inside with the dead bodies. So he stepped into the next room, which was just an elevator and a staircase, both with doors that sealed airtight. Airtight seals and an underground lab? That was probably not good at all. The stairs opened up for the security officer’s badge, so Grover tiptoed down the stairs. It looked like the entire complex, except the entry, was below ground. They must have spent a fortune to do this, and the town officials would have had to know about it. He wondered how many people had to be bought off. And the equipment looked expensive. Expensive and really new. This wasn’t a cheap operation. This one lab probably cost more than the entire chemical plant where his dad used to work.
The next level was a good thirty feet down. He used the badge to open the doors and look around. Whatever had been going on, they had cleared out fast. It looked like it was all paperwork and security offices and stuff like that. None of these lab areas were anything special, and most of them looked like the sort of work area where the lab techs would make special glass or plastic or metal or electrical gadgets for the big cheese researchers. So where were the real research labs?
He took the stairs down another level, and found a set of airlock doors that were all heavily secured with biocontainment seals. That was bad. That probably meant that whatever they were working on got loose. It might be a biological weapon or chemical warfare weaponry. It might be something like giant spiders. But none of those explained the three dead guys upstairs who had been shot in the back.
He went into the first airlock and studied the environmental controls. The air looked safe. The CO2 was still a little high, and some slightly elevated levels of CO had been cleaned up by the air scrubbers, but nothing dangerous was registering in the atmospheric analyzers. The biological scanners looked clean, even if the numbers looked pretty low. He figured that meant the place had been scrubbed top to bottom, and there weren’t any animals down here now. If there was something alive down here, the biological scanners ought to be showing something.
He went through to the next airlock. There were tv cameras that showed scenes down the nearby halls. The hall in front of him went straight for about a hundred feet, with labs and offices opening into the hall. There were two halls that branched off to either side not far down, and there were cameras on those halls too. There was nothing moving in any of the halls. Based on the recorded times on the motion sensors, nothing had moved in these halls for a while. He tried to pull up camera footage of the last time the motion sensors triggered, but it was old enough that the computer systems had apparently wiped it. He wished he knew how often that happened.
It looked safe. He texted Riley a message on his phone and hoped the signal would get out of the lab. Then he opened the last airlock door and took a look.
He moved down the hall, checking the labs and offices. The nicest office was probably for the big cheese. He took a look in there, and found a computer that was still on, but the screen was locked. He took the time to flip the computer over and pull the hard drive. ‘Acid Burn’ would be able to figure out whatever was on it. If Willow couldn’t, then probably nobody could.
Every office and lab looked abandoned. Like whoever was in it just dropped what they were doing and ran for it. A coffee cup dropped on the floor… but no coffee spill. Okay, that was odd. A metal chair knocked over as someone ran out. And weirdly, the nice-looking chair off to the side was fine, except the upholstery was completely gone.
There was a genome storage room with special security on the door, but the outer and inner doors were both left wide open. Every drawer of samples looked empty, or at least scoured clean. That was… weird. There was even a big walk-in refrigerator at the back of the second room that probably had the most delicate samples.
He walked back toward the airlock, and he saw something moving toward the intersection in the mirrored half-globe on the ceiling.
It oozed into the intersection, blocking him off. He froze. It was a massive reddish blob of… something. He couldn’t think of anything it could be. It looked like maybe an enormous single-celled protozoan, even if it didn’t move like one. But what would something that big eat?
Oh. Right. The coffee spill. The fancy chair that should have had fancy leather upholstery. The samples that were gone from the drawers. It ate everything
. It probably absorbed anything organic, up to some sort of cutoff. Like everything except pressure-treated wood and most plastics.
Like naked humans who were so stupid they didn’t look for a biohazard suit before they walked in here.
It stopped in the intersection. Christ, it was huge. It had to be a couple tons of ooze. How much organic matter did it have to eat to get that big?
Oh crap. Grover realized it had probably eaten most of the researchers down here, and then scavenged every single bit of ‘edible’ organic matter that was left behind. But he was invisible, and not moving. So no sound, no vibration…
It moved right at him.
It had no eyes and no visible sensory organs. It flowed over itself like a five-ton amoeba. It had to hunt by chemical signature. It sensed organic chemicals, and it flowed toward them. He might be invisible, but he breathed, and he sweated.
He was so screwed. He ran into the inner genome storage room and slammed the door.
It oozed against the door and began seeping in everywhere the seals were weak, all around the door. A half inch thick tongue of goo squeezed its way under the door toward him.
It was really a shame he wasn’t going to get to live long enough to have Riley yelling at him for disobeying orders.
A/N: This crossover is the 1958 classic movie “The Blob” starring Steve McQueen and Anita Corsaut. I know, you figured it out ages ago. The original has the blob arriving in a meteor, so I used elements from the remake, where it is a chemical warfare weapon run amok (which sounds just like the AlexVerse). I don’t own the movie (either version) or the characters.