Foxworth Terminus by James Brumbaugh - Read Online
Foxworth Terminus
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Summary

Reggie Foxworth, brilliant bio-chemist, has spent the last fifteen years working on a top secret project to enhance paranormal brain function.  With success in sight, the project is being cancelled.  Knowing his career and future are about to be terminated and with nothing to lose, Reggie takes the mind expanding drug himself before they can destroy it.

Initially, the physical consequences are not evident but as time passes Reggie finds out just how powerful the mind can be.  More like magic than science, Reggie discovers that he can do impossible things.  These strange powers don’t go unnoticed and soon every government on Earth is out to steal the secret and eliminate Reggie as a threat, including his own.  They send assassins, turn his friends against him, alienate his girlfriend, try anything to stop Reggie.  How can he escape, end the attacks and find a way to win back the love of his life? 

Published: James Brumbaugh on
ISBN: 9781502377630
List price: $3.99
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Foxworth Terminus - James Brumbaugh

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Author

Also by J. Drew Brumbaugh

Shepherds

War Party

Ten More

Girls Gone Great

(Co-authored with Carolyn B. Berg)

Visit J. Drew at his website.

www.jdrewbrumbaugh.com

Dedication

To my lifelong friend, Bob Benline, who is still influencing my work, despite having gone ahead; to my wife, Carolyn, who is constantly challenging me to write better, flesh out the characters more, and present the whole story, not just the plot; to Sarah for her comments of encouragement; and to my son Jim, who convinced me that this story was worth telling. Also thanks to Yoly Fivas for a helpful beta read and to Renee Sabreen who provided the inspiration for Ron Jacobs’ coffee.

Chapter 1

Misery may love company but despair seeks solitude.  And at that moment, despair consumed Reggie Foxworth.  He trudged down the hall toward his office, overwhelmed by a sense of doom.  His short-sleeved shirt was wrinkled and stained under the armpits.  Head hanging, feet dragging, Reggie moved like a condemned man.  He felt like a condemned man.

He avoided eye contact with the stream of coworkers he passed in the hall.  The last thing he wanted to do was chitchat.  He could not share the pain churning his guts, at least not yet.  They didn’t know that the project had been terminated.  Reggie still couldn’t believe it.  Everyone else would find out soon enough.  Right now, Reggie was trying to deal with the consequences, all of them bad.  His emotions raged nearly out of control and he could barely keep them contained. 

In one balled fist he gripped the damning directive.  The Army was out, the project cancelled and everything he’d spent a lifetime building was being confiscated by the CIA.  Project MF2100 was dead.

They had announced the project termination at the monthly planning meeting he’d just left.  It had been so unforeseen that Reggie had no contingency plan, really no plan at all.  He had expected budget cuts.  But he’d never guessed they would end the project altogether.  The thought of it made Reggie physically sick.  It had been his life for the last fifteen years.  Without it, Reggie had nothing, no job, no future, nothing he could even put on a resume.

How many times had he steeled himself for budget cuts that would leave them underfunded?  But this.  It was worse than the worst-case scenario, which reminded Reggie of his mother.  She’d pounded into him to always prepare for the worst.  He could hear her now . . . Okay Reggie, what’s the worst thing that could happen?  Envision what that might be and figure out how you’ll handle it.  Then you can handle anything.  He wondered what she would say now.  This was worse than anything imaginable.

He passed the coffee kiosk midway to his office.  Normally he would have stopped and grabbed a cup, but his stressed-out, sour stomach revolted against the thought of caffeine.  Others, waiting to get a coffee or latte, turned to watch Reggie shuffle past.  He shook his head momentarily feeling sorry for them.  They didn’t realize it yet but they were all unemployed.  Their smiles and greetings went unacknowledged.

Goddamn idiots, he muttered to himself as he continued down the hallway, referring to the decision makers who had cancelled the project.  Yes, he thought, he was talking to himself.  A bad habit, he knew, but one born of the necessity to connect with (embrace, his mother would suggest) his emotions.  He was an only child, and as a kid sometimes he talked out loud simply because there was no one to talk to.  In high school and later in college, he talked as he worked out his math and biochemistry problems; in the classroom, in the library, in his dorm room . . . it didn’t make any difference.  Reggie figured that a person was entitled to talk to himself.  It was about the cheapest therapy you could get.  In retrospect, Reggie thought that perhaps the habit added to his mystique as the mad scientist.  Doctor Reginald Foxworth, brilliant eccentric.  More like miserable failure.

Reggie reached his office, yanked open the door and slipped in.  His office was small, windowless with a single desk, a worn leather executive chair, two Spartan metal chairs for visitors, and a 4-drawer file cabinet.  His PhD diploma hung on one faded blue wall.  A painting of some mountains hung on the opposite wall.  He didn’t know which mountains since the painting had been there when Reggie joined the project.  That was it.  His office was plain, without decoration, just the way Reggie wanted it. 

He tossed the termination notice on his desk and took a deep breath.  As he plunked down in his chair, he finally allowed himself to think about the ramifications of the current mess. 

He thought back to the beginning.  The goal had been to investigate and enhance paranormal abilities in people, specifically soldiers.  They’d studied rats, carefully selecting ones who solved the cheese-in-the-maze problems with statistically fewer errors than any other rat.  Rare as those rats were, it was their brain chemistry that became the focus of the research.  Eventually they discovered that a bio-compound they’d named rataze, for rats in the maze, appeared in every one of those rats.  Isolating rataze and injecting normal rats with it seemed to work, really work.  Now, all that research was being trashed.  Why?

Before Reggie could sink any deeper into a black funk, the door opened and Jennifer Collins whisked in, red hair flowing around her shoulders, green eyes flaming.  She wore a short-sleeved powder blue blouse and Navy blue slacks.  For the first time since they’d met, Reggie was too distracted to appreciate her beauty.

She paused in the doorway studying Reggie’s face. 

I guess this morning’s meeting didn’t go so well? she said, more statement than question.  I just heard.  How can they do this when we are almost there?  We’re ready for human testing.

You know that.  I know that.  The Army knows that.  But the CIA, who happens to own this project, apparently doesn’t.

Why not?

"How the hell would I know?  But they aren’t kidding around.  They’re going to shut us down and destroy everything.  Everything."

Jennifer plopped down in one of the guest chairs, crossing her legs.  She folded her arms across her chest, scowled.  What are you going to do?

I don’t know, he said, I never saw this coming, haven’t had time to think.  I wish I knew what to do.

Can we get funding somewhere else?

How?  Who?

What about one of the big pharmaceuticals? This would make them a fortune.

Reggie shook his head.  Even if rataze works, don’t forget, every attempt to synthesize it failed.  No matter how we tried to analyze the compound there was always something missing, a link that couldn’t be identified.

Jennifer laughed.  Don’t you think we could figure it out with enough cash behind us?  Every drug company in the world would love to get their hands on this.

Reggie had to agree the thought was appealing.  Still there was a catch and he said, Except everything is top secret.  Nobody will touch it and we can’t tell anyone about it.

Silence.  Jennifer pursed her lips, thinking.  What about some other government agency?  Homeland Security?

Even if we could, that takes time and so much of the equipment is custom built.  Once it’s destroyed I don’t see how we can recover even if we had the money.

How soon are they going to start rounding things up?  Maybe we can postpone it.

Today sometime.  I already tried to stop them, tried to explain in the meeting.  They don’t care.  They are determined to shut this place down as fast as possible.  And it’s not going to take them long.  I think they’ve been planning this for a while.  Maybe they’ve already started.

Are you sure the CIA isn’t just going to change venues and run this project without the Army?

Hmm. . . Reggie pondered the possibilities.  That would be like them.  But how could they continue without us?

I’d like to think they couldn’t, shot Jennifer.  But really, they have the drug and all the notes and the equipment to extract more.  It wouldn’t be hard for them to proceed without us.  Trashing everything is senseless.

Yeah, said Reggie, considering more covert alternatives.  Maybe the CIA did believe in the project, so much so that they didn’t want to share.

Jennifer took a deep breath.  If we can’t continue on this project what are we going to do?

Reggie crumpled up the report and threw it at the wall.  That’s the real bitch.  We can’t put anything about this place on a resume.  All we can say is that we worked on a classified government project. And when they asked why we left, we have to say the project was terminated?

It’s crap.  We have to do something.

The phone rang.  Reggie glared at it, angry for any interruption.

It rang again.  Reluctantly, on the third ring Reggie picked it up.  Hello.

Foxworth, is that you? 

Reggie recognized Captain Packard’s voice, a former rival for Jennifer’s affections.  Ever since Jennifer had picked Reggie, Packard had become increasingly antagonistic.

Who else would it be?

"You have an hour to gather your personal belongings before I have them start on your office.  Don’t take anything out of there before we have a chance to inspect it, and rest assured we will inspect everything.  Nothing that even suggests this project ever existed will be allowed off post.  And don’t think about leaving before security gets there."

Okay, said Reggie glumly, still wrapped in a mental fog that denied him rational thought.

And don’t try to get into the lab either.  It’s off limits.  We’ve already started there.  Got it? growled Captain Packard.

Sure, said Reggie.  Packard’s sense of triumph grated on Reggie’s nerves.  How’s this any better for you than for me? he asked, though he could guess.

You’re history and I’m a lifer.  The Army will take care of me.  You, not so much, said the captain.

The phone went dead.  Reggie replaced the receiver.

One hour and stay out of the lab, he said looking up at Jennifer’s sad face.  The thought that Jennifer, too, had just lost everything hurt Reggie more than his own plight.  She deserved so much better, he thought.  All he managed to say was, Not much time for farewells.

She slumped down, leaning her head against the back of the chair.  I suppose I should go collect my stuff.

Reggie thought of the few personal things in his office.  Compared to the research that was about to be lost, they were meaningless artifacts of a career gone sour.  To just pack up and walk away with success in sight – it wasn’t like him.  He was no quitter.  Never had been and he didn’t intend to start now.  But what could he do?  There had to be something, some way to save the project.

The need to do something festered in his mind.  What they needed was a human trial.  But how?  Who?  Slowly a kernel of an idea formed, growing with his swelling anger.  Quickly it blossomed into an ambitious plan, a crazy plan.  No crazier in Reggie’s mind than what the government was doing.  The plan was so radical, so out of place in his logical, structured world that it might have been generated somewhere else and imposed upon him.

What are you thinking? Jennifer demanded, noticing the mischievous gleam in Reggie’s eyes.

Nothing, nothing at all.  His smirk said he was lying.  Don’t we have a sample of rataze in the auxiliary lab?

Yes.  So what?

It’ll be the last place they go.  We could do something with that sample before they destroy it.

What do you mean?  It doesn’t have much of a shelf life.

Enough for what I’m thinking.

Injecting someone?

What else?  It’s the only way to save the project.  Show them that it works.

There’s no time.  How would you find a volunteer?  And besides it’s illegal to test on humans without the proper approvals.

Approvals we’ll have to do without.  You don’t think that would stop the CIA do you?  As for who, the list is pretty small because we’ll have to do it right now.

It’s too dangerous.

We don’t know that.

But the rats suffered through the transition.

Only temporarily.  They got over it and afterward they were different.  What changed?  That’s what we need to know.

It’s too dangerous.

It’s the only way.

Again, who’s going to volunteer?  And on such short notice.  It won’t take them long before they’ve confiscated what little is left.

He stood up.  She leaped up at the same time, guessing his plan.  She pushed on his chest with her right hand to hold him back.

Not you.

Who else?

What about the side effects?  Damn it, those lab rats were hurting. How do we know a human would survive?

How do we know they wouldn’t?

And the fatalities.  There were fatalities.  Some injected rats died.

None of the fatalities were connected to the experiments or had anything to do with the drug.  And the pain only signaled the transformation, changes in nerve connections, synapses that were cross-connecting or something.  Connections we can’t comprehend.  The pain wore off and then the rats were good as new.  No, better than new.  Don’t you want to know what we’ve found?

Yeah, but that was rats.  We don’t know what it’ll do in a human or if it’ll do anything.  Now she had both hands on his chest, forcing him away from the door.

He allowed himself to be guided back to his chair.  Compliantly he sat.  She stood over him, a scowl on her face.  Promise me you won’t do this.

Reggie squirmed under the intensity of her stare, her green eyes boring into him.

If I don’t, then we’ll never know what actually happened to the rats.  How they solved the mazes without a single error after the transformation when they messed up repeatedly before the injection.  And what about all the work we’ve done?  Lost forever.

I don’t care, she said, I don’t want you doing anything rash.

He knew she wouldn’t quit until he agreed.

Okay, he said softly.  I won’t do anything rash.

She bent over, kissed him on the cheek, and then straightened back up.  What now?

For me, collect my things and wait for the Gestapo.  Then I’m sure it’ll be off to security to turn in our badges and all that and then a final inspection before they kick us out.

I’ll grab my stuff and meet you at security, she said turning toward the door.

Okay.  I’ll be there as soon as I can.  Captain Packard left strict orders not to leave my office until his men showed up.  I can’t guarantee how long it’ll take.

Fine.  Just don’t leave without me, she said reaching for the doorknob. 

She smiled, a smile that seemed out of place given the carnage done to their careers.  Reggie managed a weak smile in response and got up from his chair.  He held the door for her and then watched her until she got into the elevator. 

As soon as the elevator door closed, he dashed out of the office, running for the stairwell.  He hurried down the stairs two at a time until he reached the floor where the auxiliary lab was.  It was a smaller lab off the main hallway that he’d been assigned for certain more delicate portions of the research.  It was here that he and Jennifer and a few others had done much of their most highly classified work.  And it was here where one vial of rataze was stored in anticipation of the now cancelled human trial.  More importantly, it had not been logged into the official records yet.  With any luck Reggie would get there before anyone else.

Chapter 2

Reggie reached the auxiliary lab unseen, his heart pounding.  At the frosted glass door he swiped his card and punched his access code into the keypad.  He couldn’t help smiling as the green light winked on accepting his code.  Cautiously slipping in, he surveyed the lab using the ambient light coming from the hall.  Good, unoccupied.  He reached for the wall switch to turn on the lights and then decided against it.  Lights would bring attention.  That was the last thing Reggie needed.

Pulling the door closed behind him, Reggie stood motionless for a few minutes while his eyes adjusted to the faint glow coming from the hallway.  Three parallel rows of lab benches ran the length of the room.  Slowly in the dim light, objects began to take shape: the imposing array of polished, stainless steel instruments, the computer equipment, the animal cages, and the maze table.  And though he couldn’t see it, Reggie knew the refrigerator sat in the back corner.  Carefully he made his way to the frig and opened it.  The light popped on.  Reggie snatched a tiny vial from the shelf and closed the door.  He turned to the nearest countertop and retrieved a hypodermic needle from one of the drawers.  Pulling up a high-backed stool beside the bench, he sat down. 

He took a breath, steadied his shaky hands and loaded the needle using the entire sample.  So far, so good, he mumbled to himself.  Faced with giving himself a shot, he paused.  This was going to be harder than he’d imagined.  He eyed the vein in his forearm, brought the needlepoint up close to the skin and faltered.

He hated shots, was a baby when it came to getting them or having blood drawn.  Sticking himself presented a psychological barrier.  He swallowed hard, tried again to force the needle tip through the skin.  His shaking hand refused to cooperate as he dreamed up excuses not to inject himself.  What if he missed the vein?  Would the drug work if injected into the muscle by mistake?  He tried to steady himself but couldn’t stop trembling.  He glanced away, searching for courage. 

How do diabetics do this? he asked himself.  But his question went unanswered.  Inevitably his attention returned to the sharp, silvery point.

Hard to believe that this single hypodermic full of liquid represented his entire career.  It was the culminating achievement of fifteen years of tedious labor, of experiments repeated ad nauseam, of separations and chemical identifications that defied the limits of science, of monumental advances in gene therapy and brain chemistry.  It had violated standard medical protocols from the beginning.  Rataze was an enigmatic compound that defied synthesis or even full structural analysis.  Separated and accumulated from selected rats and then injected into a normal rat, the results had been nothing short of phenomenal.  Now the government was about to flush that miracle drug down the drain.

What is wrong with those idiots? he asked aloud, leaning back in the black vinyl stool trying to ease the tension knotting the muscles along his spine.

Time was running out.  Either he injected himself and took the risk, or stood by and let his life's work go down the sewer.

Reluctant to take the final step, he scanned the lab uneasily from his seat in the farthest corner from the door.  The gloomy shadows matched his dark mood.  Reggie knew he had to take the shot.  And no one was coming to do it for him.  He thought about the imposing and expensive array of equipment that filled the auxiliary lab.  It had all been built just so he could cradle that hypodermic full of innocent-looking fluid.  And that was only the auxiliary lab. The main lab was several times larger and even more extravagantly equipped.  If rataze worked on humans like it did on the rats, well, the expense would be repaid a thousand times. 

The tomb-like quiet mocked his procrastination.

It has to be done, he muttered, trying to bolster enough courage to take the action.  I can't let these assholes waste all the work I've done, we’ve done.

What if it doesn't work in humans? his conscience argued.  What if it kills you?  A few rats died from complications, he reminded himself.  Complications, not from the treatment itself.  Some of the rats went berserk.  Yes, but why?  Without knowing the mechanism by which rataze did whatever it did, there's no way to tell. It's now or never.  Before the security thugs show up. 

He realized he was talking to himself again and stopped.  It wasn’t as if he was arguing about whether he should do it or not.  He knew it was about injecting himself, sticking a needle into his vein.  He cringed.

Taking rataze himself violated his sense of ethics, but what choice did they leave him?  He wished Jennifer was with him, wished she’d supported his decision.  She’d made it clear that she was against it.  No, no one could know until it was done.  You never gave up.  How many times had his dad drilled that into him?  Hard work and persistence was the only way to get anywhere.  Doing it, not talking about it.  If things didn't go right, you just worked a little harder.

He remembered his first Little League season.  He'd been eight, youngest kid on the team, and Dad had been proud.  But the memories weren't all good.  One game he'd come to bat in the last inning with the bases loaded, two outs and their team behind by a run.  It had been a three-two count.  He could still see the pitcher wind up, the ball coming toward the plate.  It was low, almost bounced over the plate.  He'd swung, and struck out on what should have been ball four.  On the way home, Dad had been sympathetic, but Reggie’s tears had come anyway.

Don't worry, Dad had said, there'll be other days.  All you need is practice.

Reggie had wanted to quit baseball right then and there.  Instead, his dad insisted on practice and more practice.  Work harder.  And practice they had.  Every night after school Dad had pitched to him, hours on end.  He'd become one of the top hitters in high school.  It was a lesson he hadn't forgotten.  Hard work was rewarded.  But this time if he didn’t take matters into his own hands, all the hard work would be wasted.  And that idea was more than he could stomach.

He turned back to his predicament.  He and his team had done the work, sweated to find the answer, and now that they were on the verge of success, it was being stolen from them.  It came down to this: either he took the drug now or the whole project got lost in red tape along with the careers of about a hundred people.  There was only one conclusion, the conclusion he’d already reached.  Time to act.

He closed his eyes and rolled his head to loosen the stiffness in his neck.  It didn't help.  He opened his eyes and exhaled softly through dry lips.  For a moment he stared off into the dimly lit lab.  And then slowly his gaze dropped back to the needle.  It always came back to the needle.

Carefully, he raised it, point up, and sighted across the liquid meniscus.  His disheveled, brown hair fell into his face, partially blocking his vision.  He eased the plunger inward until the barest drop oozed out.

Resolutely now, he moved the syringe down to the blue vein in his left forearm.  He steeled himself against his phobia.  Mechanically his right hand inched the needle closer.  Somehow, it steadied.  His left hand clenched several times, and then tightened into a fist.  He forced back the fear that threatened to freeze him.  The needle point pierced the skin and slid smoothly into the soft tissue.  Part of his mind noted with surprise that he hadn't flinched.  He watched, detached, as he pushed the plunger home.  A quick reverse flick of the fingers and the needle came free.  It was done.

He flipped the needle onto the shiny black lab bench at his elbow.  God, he felt tired.  He rested his head in his left hand and watched a tiny spot of blood seep from the circular puncture.  How long before he knew success or failure?

Chapter 3

Maybe it had been a minute, maybe an hour.  Reggie wasn’t sure.  The auxiliary lab door swung open and a tall, lean officer with curly, sandy hair and a hooked nose strode into the room.  Double silver bars flashed from the collar of his pressed uniform.  Wrinkles stood out on his prominent forehead, his jaw muscles knotted.  Steel gray eyes set below almost invisible blond eyebrows glared at Reggie.

Foxworth! snapped the captain, flipping on the lights, sending a blinding glare of fluorescent light through the lab.

Reggie flinched.

The officer marched purposefully to the slumping scientist.  His hard-heeled shoes clacked hollowly, his arms swinging loosely at his sides, barely breaking the perfect crease in his shirtsleeves.  He stopped sharply a few feet from Reggie, his feet spread, hands on hips.

How the hell did you get in here? demanded Captain Dave Packard.  This place was supposed to be secured, off limits.

Reggie forced himself to raise his head.  He felt sluggish, drugged, as if his head was too heavy to move.  Tiredness assailed him, his bleary eyes blinked repeatedly.  He was haggard, like he’d gone without sleep for a long time. He rubbed his face unconsciously with his left hand.

Ah, Captain Packard, said Reggie softly. I thought you’d be at the main lab destroying all our precious work.

Captain Packard hesitated, and then said, The CIA sent people to handle it.  I asked you a question.  How did you get in here?

Somehow, in the twisted reality that wrapped Reggie’s mind in fog, the question was funny.  He chuckled.  I work here, he replied.

Not anymore, smart ass.  Now how did you get in?  The codes were supposed to be deactivated.

I guess they forgot to override mine. 

Captain Packard's eyes locked onto the empty hypodermic.  His gray eyes flared.  Damn it, you were not supposed to have access.  I'll have to report this.

Packard stepped to the bench and deftly picked up the needle, careful not to touch the point.  He held it up to the light, assured himself it was empty, and then let his hand fall to his side, clutching the needle.

You know you look like crap, he said with a wry grin.  And I believe you've just guaranteed yourself unemployment.

So?  Foxworth's voice was distant, hollow.

So?  As important as this project was to you, I thought you’d be looking for funding somewhere else and continue.  What you’ve done now will make that impossible.

"Maybe