A Numberless Basement Room At Fort Meade...

The man in the too-well-tailored blue suit entered the makeshift, windowless tracking center with an entitled strut. An automatic door swished shut behind him as he paused for a second to clandestinely adjust his hair, straighten his stiff Brooks Bros. collar and scope the layout. Then he sniffed hard.

A stifling fug redolent of hundreds of hot, dusty vacuum tubes, countless whiffs of burnt solder flux, thousands of long-dead cigarettes, barrels of cooked-off human sweat, and a melange of less readily identifiable electronic guts clamped his nostrils.

 He sensed internally, rather than heard, a pervasive 60 hertz hum. Amid a jumble of military-grade metal boxes and racks joined by a hopeless clusterfuck of armored connecting cables, he could see tops of  heads bobbing.

Blue Suit's narrow patrician nose wrinkled, shifting the nosepiece of rimless glasses that he had affected to make his rattlesnake eyes seen milder. They did not.

“In the fully-friggin'-modern NSA building, you'd think they could have piped a little air conditioning down here,” he muttered to himself.  "Even peons deserve that."

He coughed once, much more loudly and somewhat more politely, to announce himself.

“Have you got that goddam thing working yet?”

He addressed a pale, pudgy middle-aged male in a nylon-blend Montgomery Ward dress shirt and heavy headphones, staring at a round radar screen. The words were phrased as a question, but the tone was purely imperative.

“We thought we had a lock on Pavlov in San Francisco, sir," the pale man answered tiredly, defensively. "Then he fell right off the screen. Then he reappeared 200 miles away, minutes later. Then he disappeared again. Been bouncing all over the continent like that – West Virginia, Texas Panhandle, Northern Ontario in Canada. Been going on for hours!  We think we get it fixed and it happens again. No rhyme or reason. We've swapped in new high-pass filters, new squelch circuitry, a regular string of flyback transformers – all of which checked out totally stable when we retested 'em, by the way. By now it should be rock-solid, but it seems like there are still bugs.”

Bugs?" said BS.  "Half a million bucks and all we've got is bugs? How much for bug spray?

His face screwed into an expression wholly reminiscent of a fresh can of smashed assholes.

The pale man shrugged, a peculiar techie gesture comprising part-cringe and part-contempt. He knew he was several tens of IQ points up on this asshole, and probably drew at least the same pay range. but the asshole was management. And right now the asshole was a few rungs above him on a very slippery ladder, stomping his fingers.

The techie's stress was evident. Flop sweat spread out from his axilla through the thin cloth of his shirt, like a bucket of hot chip oil poured onto a polished marble floor. His pudginess, fully revealed through the slick material, looked like a hot pink heart attack in the making. 

“Bugs.” BS echoed himself. “Jesus. What about the woman?”

"This system can't pick her up. She manifests no residual radiation to speak of from the Kannenberg lab explosion. We're tracking her using local police reports.”

BS nodded. Then scowled. “Police reports...? That's all we've got on her?”

“She's buck naked. Walking fast. In a straight line. Pretty easy to make when she gets close to any road or settlement. But every time the locals move in, she...” he paused, uncertain.

“Yes. Please go on,” urged BS sarcastically.

“Well... she, uh,  has intercourse with the arresting patrolmen and gets away. Then a couple of hours later, the police file their report, and we put another pin in the map board.”

Blue Suit squinted, trying to discern if he was being had for a practical joke. He knew what techies thought of him, and he was in the belly of their beast. 

“Intercourse, as in sex?”


“Police reports... What? She rapes 'em? Pretend I'm dumb and paint me a picture."

The barest shadow of a smirk flitted across the techie's face for a nanosecond. Then stress regained ascendancy. Brief as it was, BS had noticed it.  In that moment, he had already sworn to exact his revenge at some pleasurable deferred moment. But right now, he needed this dweeb's skills.

“No sir. The attending officers all invariably have...” the techie cleared his throat.  “Attempted to rape her.  No idea why. None of them has any previous related complaints in their internal affairs jackets. But she... er... just fucks the shit out of 'em. Right into comas, apparently. Five at once, day before yesterday, at Rio Rico, just across the Mexican border. In two minutes flat.

"The squad room down-low in her wake is that she's some kinda...” he hesitated again, swallowed, and bored onward. “...Vampire. That she feeds that way.”

Blue Suit sat down, leaning hard enough into the back of the chair to notice it was far less comfortable than the one in his office. He took off his glasses and massaged his temples as if he might have a massive headache. When he reopened his rattlesnake eyes, the techie flinched.

“Fucking mother of Jesus,” BS  muttered wearily. “Why couldn't it have just been a couple of simple berserk serial killers?”

He uncoiled upward to bark a harsh blanket ultimatum over entire dim room.

“I don't want to know what you fuckups don't know. I want these unknown unknowns known. Along with all the other known unknowns we track! I want them un-unknown yesterday! I don't want to hear about any more goddam bugs, either! Know what I mean?

Everyone in the room had involuntarily risen to something like attention, and was nodding mechanically. Blue Suit turned on his heel and stormed out. A faint, offended ripple of Old-Spice scented coolness radiated out from the automatic door, which improbably seemed to have slammed behind him.

"Whaddaya know..." grumbled someone unknown, from behind an electronics rack. He didn't sound like his heart was in it.