MONSTER COUNTRY: REQUIEM – SAMPLE CHAPTER 3

3

I looked at the shaking egg with a feeling that was equal parts anticipation and dread. I wanted to know if the egg was a match for the lizards that had turned our research team into zombies.

I feared it would be, but a part of me still held out hope that it was some other creature.

If we have the wrong animal, will Genizyz leave this alone? I wondered.

I had never disclosed that I’d made a video recording during that first encounter in the jungle, primarily because it felt like a good idea to hold it back.

If these eggs turned out to be something else—we had only assumed it was the lizards because of their proximity—there was a chance that our claims could be ignored. The pictures of the specimen could similarly be dismissed as an oddity.

Genizyz would move on to other projects. I had held back the video, on the off-chance that we were wrong about what was inside these eggs, to avoid giving them further proof that might tip the scales in a direction I didn’t want them to go.

As excited as our expedition team had been that first night while they had reviewed the pictures we had taken of the creature before putting it on ice, the pictures did not do the living lizard justice.

One could easily look at the photos and think that the creature had been mistaken for something it wasn’t. It was hard to make the leap from the pictures to a living dinosaur unless you saw the specimen in person or viewed the video.

I had watched the video in my apartment at home after I had encrypted and backed it up in several different ways, none of which had included online storage. I had opened up a safety deposit box at a local bank and stored a jump drive backup there just in case my apartment was ever ransacked.

I was sure that Genizyz would be upset if they ever learned that I had withheld it. There was undoubtedly something in my contract that would allow them to claim it as their property, but this was my ace in the hole. It was an insurance policy for any potential issues that might arise.

So far, Sharon had made good on her word to give both Sandy and I credit, but if she ever got it into her head to try to claim any for herself, I had something to refute it. But even if it came down to that, I still might not use it.

Returning to the jungle was the last thing I wanted to do. I was sure the moment that video was viewed by Paul Jensen or any other high-level executive, we would be heading back, regardless of what was inside the eggs.

Paul had decided to keep the full story under wraps from all but a few Genizyz higher-ups.

He accepted our assertion that we had returned with prehistoric creatures because we had evidence in hand—the pictures were compelling enough for that—but that’s where it stopped.

While we had run from the zombies, neither Sharon nor I had even thought about trying to snap pictures. The reality of the zombies had seemed so self-evident, mainly because of the high body count, that I was a little surprised when Paul had not believed us upon our return.

The internal company line focused on our discovery, not the ramifications.

Perhaps I’m not being fair to upper management. I don’t know that I would’ve believed us if I had not experienced it firsthand.

Without pictures or tissue samples, we had a hard time convincing anybody that we had left behind a bunch of zombies. And that was further exacerbated because Sharon and I refused to return to collect a zombie to prove it.

Until Paul saw it with his own eyes, he would remain skeptical. He was a good boss for our division in a lot of ways, but in this instance, I wished we would’ve had somebody else.

When both Sharon and I insisted that the zombies had come as a result of the lizard bites, he had pretended to believe us, at least when we were present, but had kept us from telling the story to others. Our reports on the zombies had been classified as company trade secrets. We had been forced to sign nondisclosure agreements before we could continue our work for Genizyz. The threat of termination had not been spoken, but they didn’t need to say it.

I understood how things worked.

After showing the pictures to his boss, Paul had wanted to immediately send out another expedition, allegedly to collect the bodies of the dead for the families. Sharon and I had both argued with him to let the dead remain in the jungle.

Or walk around, I had thought at the time.

It took considerable effort, but we convinced Paul to postpone a decision about returning until after the eggs had hatched, which proved that it had not really been about collecting the bodies in the first place.

Paul wanted a second expedition to verify our story, bringing back the dead was just a pretext for trying to accomplish it. They wanted Sharon and I both to accompany the expedition so we could come back with more solid proof than just a few eggs and some pictures of a dead specimen we had left behind.

“You came back with unbelievable stories,” Paul had said after provisioning us a lab to set up with the eggs, “prove them.”

Paul wants us to procure full-size lizards, I thought. Just the very idea sent chills down my back. It was bad enough that we had brought eggs from an unknown creature, bringing back full-grown adults was infinitely worse.

The prevailing attitude within the few members of Genizyz upper management who were privy to our full reports had been precisely like Sharon had predicted.

There was grief for those who had died, at least on the surface, but those I spoke to privately could barely contain their excitement about the eggs.

It had not yet been two weeks since we had returned to the states. The energy in the air made me feel like we were walking on the bodies of those we’d left behind.

The egg moved again, but there was still no cracking or visible sign of hatching.

I was loathe to notify Sharon of this development because I didn’t want to deal with her enthusiasm.

I just wasn’t in the mood for that today.

The prevailing attitude reminded me of the excitement that had filled our camp that first night after we had found the creature, before everyone had become zombies.

I had a hard time feeling excited.

While I recognized that I had made a solid career decision to not destroy the eggs, I was not confident I had made the right decision overall.

Who knew where all of this would lead?

Nobody could predict what things would be like a year from now.

And who can I trust to make hard decisions if hard decisions become necessary?

Sharon?

I shook my head.

Things were still strained between us, a natural outgrowth of what had happened on the helicopter. It did help that we were both in agreement, at least for the present, about not returning to the jungle.

The egg quivered again.

I was taken by a sudden desire to find a hammer and destroy the egg before it hatched.

I must destroy them all.

Without realizing what I was doing, I reached out to the shaking egg, thinking I could crush it before the creature hatched. I looked at the other eggs. It would be the easiest thing in the world to destroy each of them right now.

In less than a minute, I would have removed the immediate possibility of these guys turning all of Genizyz into a scene from the walking dead.

If the creatures were destroyed, there was no chance of them spreading the contagion that had turned our team into zombies.

I stopped before I got close enough to touch it and refrained from looking around, glad that nobody was here to see what I had almost done. I didn’t glance up at the camera, hoping my intentions had not shown through. If anybody ever reviewed the security footage, perhaps they would see it and think that I had just been excited about the pending arrival of the lizard.

The protective headgear kept my face hidden, so my malevolence toward the eggs would not be visible.

Sharon had not mentioned our little incident on the helicopter to anybody, probably because she had more to lose.

I didn’t pull a gun on anyone, but perhaps wanting to destroy a discovery with this type of potential would be viewed as worse.

It was almost as if the events in the helicopter had never happened, though the memory was still as fresh as the moving corpses we had left behind.

I doubted my decision to not destroy the eggs, waking up at times during the middle of the night in a cold sweat, fearing that I had brought about the end of the world.

Before our expedition, I had enjoyed the occasional horror movie, but I could not watch them now. I had just started watching The Walking Dead before I had left for the jungle, but the thought of finishing it now made me recoil in horror.

It’s different after having lived it, I thought, my eyes glued to the egg as it shook again in front of me.

Still no crack.

Sharon’s argument about Genizyz’s response had rung true when she had convinced me that destroying the eggs was not the right way to go. I had agreed, but only because that was the only pathway forward that had made sense. I would have taken the risk if she had been on board with destroying the eggs, hoping the contagion never left the jungle.

But it was not to be.

So I had been forced to make a terrible, horrible decision.

Could I trust Genizyz?

A corporation whose executives were worried more about the bottom line than making wise long-term decisions to protect humanity?

I couldn’t trust anybody else to bring these lizards back to the states. I didn’t know that I trusted myself to do it either, but at least I recognized the dangers and risks involved.

I also wasn’t blinded by corporate greed.

The egg quivered again, this time more than before. It sent a shiver down my back.

Here I wait for a new life to be born and I fear for all who might die by its birth.

The movement was increasing and sporadic, but the creature had not yet poked through.

I turned when I heard an exasperated sigh behind me, surprised I hadn’t heard the sealed door open.

Must be a little too focused, I thought.

“I told you that I wanted to be here when they hatched,” Sharon said as the motion-controlled door shut behind her. We had to go through an airlock that sprayed our suits with a chemical disinfectant both to get in and to leave. “Why didn’t you call?”

“It just started a few minutes ago,” I said, hedging, it was probably closer to twenty-five minutes. Sharon would review the lab video now, without a doubt.

Would she think anything of it when she saw that I had reached out towards the hatching egg?

Would she discern my true intentions?

“I was gonna wait until it started breaking through before calling. I didn’t want to make you wait another couple of hours.”

 “Vince, Vince! I would’ve been glad to come in early.” Sharon’s tone changed as she looked at the egg and approached, bending over until the plastic shield of her helmet was just inches away from the hatching creature. “You’re just lucky I decided to drop by before my meeting; otherwise, we would’ve had words.” She gave me a huge smile. “Isn’t this exciting?”

I grunted. “It’s something.”

“Don’t give me that look, I know what you’re thinking and you need to just stop. Stop it! We have gone through a lot to get here. These eggs are going to be the difference between a great career and a middling career. You’ll see. You made the right choice. Once these creatures hatch, we will be able to write our own checks. Think of that. Anything you want to do. Genizyz is going to be on board because you did this for them.”

I nodded, thinking I had sold out for my career. I was glad Sharon was circumspect in her word choice because we were on camera.

The egg cracked, bringing me out of my reverie.

My breath caught in my chest.

The crack grew until a small piece broke off, flying a surprising distance from the egg. Whatever was inside had some strength for its small size.

Bits of skin underneath showed through as the creature struggled to free itself. To somebody not familiar with the animal, it might have been a benign moment or even cute, but it sent a shudder down my back.

Even more pieces of the egg cracked and fell away until we had a clear look at the head.

“He’s here!” Sharon edged up beside me, looking down at the lizard. “And to think, you wanted to destroy this little guy. Isn’t he so cute? Tell me you don’t regret it now.”

I didn’t respond. She was so wrapped up in the moment that she didn’t say anything more to me as she bent down, extending a gloved finger to stroke the creature on top of the head.

Before long, the full head emerged, complete with four nostrils. The rest of the body soon followed.

I had a sharp intake of breath.

It is the same lizard.

Sharon went to a computer and pulled up a picture of the specimen from back in the jungle, she zoomed in on its head.

I didn’t need to see the comparison. The truth was obvious.

The baby was much smaller and had some of the roundness that one might expect from a hatchling, but it was the same animal.

The last remaining shred of hope that we had brought back something else was gone.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Sharon asked, the inside of her plastic shield fogging up as she spoke. Her eyes glazed over in a way that made me uncomfortable.

I gave a noncommittal murmur as I looked at the other eggs that were just beginning to quiver. I couldn’t shake the feeling we were messing with something we did not understand.

And that the only thing this discovery would bring was more death.

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