Quantum Troopers Episode 9: Demonios of Via Verde by Philip Bosshardt by Philip Bosshardt - Read Online

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Quantum Troopers Episode 9 - Philip Bosshardt

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4-3-17

Chapter 1

Demonios

Village of Via Verde

Republic of Valencia, South America

December 30, 2048

0645 hours

For Dr. Hector del Compo, the trip up the Yemanha River came at a particularly bad time. Work was piling up at the Ministry, his eldest daughter was set to be married in less than two weeks, and the Deputy Minister had just rejected his choice to head up the public health lab, the dolt. So when U.N. BioShield advised the Ministry of some kind of ‘disturbance’ in the vicinity of Via Verde, unusually high nanobotic activity was the way the report had phrased it, del Compo gritted his teeth and organized a quick expedition to see what BioShield had detected. Maybe it would be a distraction from all the politics back at the Ministry. After all, it wasn’t every day you got a message from BioShield that some kind of mass casualties had occurred way upriver in the black heart of la selva, the rain forest that covered the western two thirds of Valencia.

Esta aqui? came a voice from the back of the boat. It was Montoya, sergeant of the Guardia Nacional detail that was accompanying the scientists from the Ministry upriver. The village is nearby, no?

Del Compo watched the coffee-colored waters of the Yemanha River slide by. The two-boat fleet had chugged nearly forty kilometers upriver from Afalamos, heading for the last known encampment of Xotetli Indians, a place called Via Verde, the locus of the ‘disturbance’ according to BioShield. The sun was high in the sky—it was just after noon locally—but the light had fallen off in the dense canopy of wiry pandanus and tapang trees, now forming a cathedral arch over the sluggish river.

Just around the bend, Sergeant, Del Compo called out. Let’s maneuver closer to shore.

Montoya waved acknowledgement, then barked, Watch for logs and shoals! De reche…steer toward the shore!

The two boats slowed and shifted course, their props thrumming and churning water as the helmsmen turned them to starboard. The prow of the lead boat nosed around the curve of the shoreline, through swarms of buzzing insects and the first crude thatch lean-to’s of the Xotetli village came into view, perched on a shelf of cleared ground. Smoke issued from a smoldering fire in the center of the circle of huts.

Montoya snapped off more orders and the boats were poled to the river banks, their engines turned off. The Guardia detail climbed out and quickly secured a perimeter around the village, nosing briefly into the forest, poking bayonets and mag weapons into the huts, looking for anyone.

One soldier, Corporal Quinones, gave a shout.

Aqui…aqui! Pronto!... The corporal waved the others over.

Del Compo scrambled over the makeshift gangway and clawed his way up the bank. The village of Via Verde was little more than a collection of crude thatch huts and log lean-to’s, gathered in a circle around a fire pit that was still smoldering.

Even as del Compo and his fellow scientists approached, they could see the legs of prostrate humans, sticking out of the huts.

Texeira bent to examine the nearest body. Quinones shone a flashlight on the face of the Xotetli Indian….it appeared to be a young male, otherwise healthy and uninjured, but indisputably dead. He had died with his eyes open. The young male was covered with painted tattoos and his lips and nose were pierced with tiny bone ornaments.

What happened? asked del Compo, noting at least four other males lying nearby.

I’m not sure, but— Texeira turned the body over, looking for lividity and other signs of external trauma. No open wounds…poison, maybe. They both knew the Xotetli fashioned curare for their darts and arrows from the leaves and stems of chondrodendron vines.

Gonzalez! del Compo called back to the boat. Bring the equipment…we need to do an autopsy.

Gonzalez waved back, then hoisted up a crate and lugged it on shore, carrying the crate up to the village.

As the scientists set up, Montoya and his detail did a quick reconnaissance of the village and surrounding jungle. He came back after a few minutes, his face grim and pale.

Profesor…the whole village…they’re all dead—

"What?’

Montoya unholstered his own pulser and pointed it toward the huts opposite the fire pit. Come…see for yourself—

Del Compo went with Montoya around the village, where the rest of the Guardia detail…Herrera, Uruguin, Fuentes and Goncalves…were systematically probing every hut and bush, turning up bodies by the dozen, slumped, sprawled and folded in every conceivable position.

Del Compo bent to examine an older man, maybe the curaca, or chief. He was adorned with a complex cape of vines and strips of tree bark. His face was hidden behind a mask of feathers—when del Compo peeled the mask back, he saw a middle-aged face staring up at him, eyes open. His lips and cheeks were noticeably blue.

The exam was interrupted by the sound of a heavy thud. Del Compo and Montoya both turned, and saw two of the soldiers had dropped to their knees, and were having trouble breathing…both were heaving deeply, gasping for air.

Del Compo got up and went to Herrera and Uruguin. What is it? What’s wrong—what is it?

Uruguin was young, his eyes wide. His hands fluttered about his chest. I don’t know…I can’t breathe…my lungs…no air… He gurgled and throttled, then pitched onto his side, his mouth working up and down like a fish out of water.

Del Compo bent down to examine the soldier’s face. It was turning pale, somehow he wasn’t getting enough oxygen. He started to probe around the soldier’s mouth, but stopped, feeling light-headed himself. Startled, he stood up abruptly.

Texeira—

The chemist had already uncrated the autopsy-bot and had set it to work on the dead man by the fire pit. The bot attached itself to the man’s chest and neck with programmed efficiency and extended forceps and probes as it deftly sliced into the corpse.

Texeira…the air…it’s bad! There may be an underground leak, toxic gases venting—

Texeira nodded, quickly reading results from the bot. Asphyxiation, senor Profesor…I thought so…blue lips and cheeks. The CO2 level’s way too high in his bloodstream….if this thing is right, it reads better than twenty kilopascals.

Del Compo was now coughing as he came over. Others too…Montoya was already tending to Uruguin, even as two more Guardia soldiers collapsed.

Hypercapnia…there’s too much carbon dioxide around here, del Compo croaked.

That’s…that’s not all, said Gonzalez from the shoreline. He was struggling with more instruments, taking measurements from the riverbank. He swayed dizzily, then clung to a vine of strangler fig for support. The air…she’s crazy…look at this! Not just the carbon dioxide is loco…it’s everything. Chlorine…fluorine…methane…this isn’t normal air, profesor! It’s crazy—

Poisoned-- Del Compo breathed out. His own lungs were on fire. Something’s in the air…we’ve got to get out of here!

Montoya signaled for the detail to return to the boats. The soldiers stumbled, coughing, clawing at their faces and chests, as they fell down the riverbanks and into the boats.

Del Compo sucked, coughed and wheezed as he helped Gonzalez get his gear back aboard. Montoya helped his own men and the boats were started up, their engines chugging against the water. Moments later, the craft eased out against the current, heading further upriver. Against Sergeant Montoya’s wishes, del Compo wanted to track the boundaries of this ‘bubble’ of bad air.

If I’m right, he wheezed, panting for breath, it’s some kind of rogue nanobotic action, altering the air right here.

Or maybe toxic gases, suggested Texeira. His face was still pale and beaded with sweat and he sat heavily in the stern, still gasping for breath. ---venting from an underground reservoir.

The fresh breezes helped and by the time the detail had rounded the next bend, the worst