Program Error

By MacsJeep

Episode 8.6: Part One

Project Asclepius
“Peckwash Facility”
Southern Front Range,
Colorado


The labs were like a prison to him – a place that he was familiar with, but no longer belonged.

He looked down with glazed eyes at the bloodied white coat he wore. The coat was meant to symbolize something to him, but he couldn’t remember what.

In fact, he couldn’t remember much at all beyond the primal need to kill or be killed, to be the hunter, not the prey.

The lights around him were muted and dull, and a throbbing red glow seemed to fill the entire complex.

Red – the color of blood – why did he suddenly enjoy the sight of it so much?

There were footsteps in the adjacent corridor and he paused, wondering if “the others” had caught up with him?

In the beginning, there had been many of them, but he had greatly reduced their numbers with his newfound skills.

He was more alert, more agile, and his strength grew with every heartbeat – with every cell division within him.

Panicked voices followed the footsteps, and he knew it was time to do something again he had once abhorred.

He ducked into a locker room and forced his back against the wall, waiting for them to come in.

On the wall opposite was a mirror, and what he saw in it made him flinch. Strange lesions and growths covered the flesh on his face and hands, and his eyes glowed with an almost yellow tinge that reminded him of a wolf.

He liked that idea.

Wolves liked to stalk their enemies, and they liked to tear them to pieces once the hunt was over.

Something wet trickled down his chin, and he realized he was drooling at the idea of taking the life of another human being.

Somewhere in his skull, a tiny voice asked “wasn’t that wrong?”

He shook his head and grinned, clenching and unclenching his fists in anticipation.

Eventually, the locker room door swung gently open, as if the person outside was wary of what was within.

The muzzle of a rifle tentatively moved through the opening, followed by its owner.

The newcomer wore a lab coat too, a thin individual with a wiry frame and terrified eyes that suggested he wasn’t familiar with this kind of situation.

The man’s hands shook as he held the weapon, and perspiration covered his skin until it glistened in the scarlet hue that was the only filtered light in the facility.

He moved closer, until he was just a few feet away.

And then, the short-lived battle commenced.

The rifle was quickly snatched from the lab technician’s hands before he could even fire a shot.

He yelped and tried to draw back from the “thing” – the man that was attacking him, but it was no use.

Both men tumbled to the floor in a pile of flaying limbs.

It was over as quickly as it had begun.

The technician lay at an odd angle, his neck skewed to one side where the vertebrae inside had been snapped.

His eyes stared out hollowly into nothing, and his legs twitched from some reaction in his already dead nervous system.

The killer sighed.

The death had been too easy, too boring.

He wanted a more suitable adversary, and somewhere in his warped and altered psyche, he knew the government would send one, and soon…

* * * *


MacGyver’s Cabin
Minnesota

Sam was sitting in the tiny row boat with a scowl on his face, a fishing rod gripped loosely in his hands as he stared aimlessly into the horizon.

After awhile, he took a deep sigh, set the rod down, and looked at his dad with an air of apology that suggested the tedium had finally gotten to him.

“Tell me again why we’ve been sitting here for the past three hours?” Sam bemoaned.

Mac smiled. “Food? You know that stuff you like to eat so much? And no additives, strange numbers or colorings. Not to mention, it’s a great way to relax.” As he spoke, something caught on his line and he began to gently reel it in.

Sam wasn’t convinced. “It’s so much easier to go down to the store! Actually, it’s easier to stay in L.A. and just go for a burger…”

“Don’t you know you are what you eat?” MacGyver smiled as he unhooked his “catch.”

“Then I guess I’m a very greasy burger with fries…”

Mac nodded. Teaching Sam that guns were a bad idea had been easy compared to trying to convince him to eat healthily.

Still, that hadn’t really been the point of bringing him out here to the cabin. No, that had been all about learning more about his roots, and about being at one with nature sometimes, rather than always living the city life.

So far, Sam hadn’t been impressed, but then this was only their second day.

Wait until I really take him into the wilderness MacGyverland style, Mac inwardly chuckled.

Sam sensed his dad’s amusement and rolled his eyes. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“Well, maybe just a little.”

“Yeah, well wait ‘til I try cooking that thing.” Sam gestured to the fish as if it were an alien object. “Then you’ll really wish you’d gone for the burger!” He opened his mouth to say more, but the sound of a helicopter’s rotors cut him short.

The noise instantly grabbed MacGyver’s attention too. It wasn’t very often chopper’s flew over as low as this one was – there simply wasn’t any reason for it in this neck of the woods.

Mac put a hand to his eyes to shield them from the morning sun, and eventually picked out the shape of a Bell JetRanger coming in low from the south.

He squinted, focusing on the logo on the tail until he realized it was Phoenix Foundation property. That probably meant it was Pete Thornton.

And to come out here like this, it also meant something must be gravely wrong. He would never ruin Mac’s “downtime,” especially not with Sam, unless it was an all-out emergency.

“He’s flyin’ pretty low?” Sam observed. “I’m guessing this is for you?”

The helicopter banked, disappearing behind a line of trees as it made its descent. It looked like the pilot was trying to get as close to the cabin as possible.

MacGyver puffed out a breath. He’d wanted to enjoy some time in the boonies with his son, especially after the Hawaii escapade with Penny, but it looked like that was about to be put on hold.

“Yeah, I have a feeling its Pete, and it’s something real bad…” Without saying more, the troubleshooter picked up the oars and began to row to the shoreline.

* * * *

By the time Mac and Sam reached the cabin, Pete Thornton was already seated at the meager table that sat at its center. Any hint of his usually jovial features was hidden behind a mask of unease which instantly set MacGyver’s senses tingling.

“Pete, what brings you up here?” It was a stock question, because Mac already knew it wasn’t a social call.

Pete sighed, his cheeks tinged with just enough of a red glow to say his blood pressure was up – he was spooked by something. “Mac, I hate to say this, but I need to speak to you in private.”

National security then, Mac instantly guessed.

He glanced at Sam, who shrugged and headed back for the door.

“I’ll go get the fish from the boat,” Sam offered, apparently realizing this wasn’t for his ears.

Before Mac could argue, he was halfway down the path heading back to the lake.

Pete seemed to sense his distance, and began to hurriedly talk. If MacGyver was honest, he’d never seen his old friend so flustered.

“Mac, I’m sorry to drop on you like this but…we have a problem. A big one.” Pete paused, apparently expecting to be chewed out for ruining his friend’s weekend. When it didn’t happen, he carried on. “A few months ago, a Russian scientist named Gregor Mitrovich decided to defect to the U.S. It was a relatively easy affair compared to the old pre-Glasnost days…”

“But I’m sensing a problem?” MacGyver intervened.

Pete nodded, fidgeting with his white cane. “Mitrovich is a specialist in nanotechnology – we’re talking cutting edge stuff. He’d been forced to use his research for military purposes when he originally only wanted to do medical studies.”

“I guess his old bosses weren’t too happy about him leaving and handing us all his work?” MacGyver was expecting to be told Mitrovich had been grabbed back by the “opposition” and he was required to plan some kind of rescue mission.

What came next was a surprise.

Pete squirmed on his seat. “We don’t exactly know what’s happening,” he admitted. “Mitrovich went to work in one of our top medical research facilities in Colorado. All he wanted to do was use the nanites he’d designed to target certain cells in sick people – like cancer for instance. The problem is the lab he was working at has gone quiet. It’s a grade “A” facility built into a mountain range, and we haven’t heard from them for two days.”

MacGyver cocked a brow. “And nobody’s tried to gain entry?”

Pete licked his lips. “When the blackout began, the military sent a Special Forces unit in, just in case the soviets were trying to steal Mitrovich back. We haven’t heard from them since they entered the mountain.”

Mac took in what he was being told, his brain already working on possible scenarios. None of them ended well. “Why me?” He eventually asked.

“The government thinks you’re singularly well qualified to go in there alone. After all, you do have experience entering labs with shall we say, issues.”

MacGyver was well aware of what Pete was talking about. Some eight years ago he’d stopped an acid leak at a lab that had been sabotaged and subsequently exploded. And then there was the affair at the Strategic Research Development Administration when the lab’s computer, named Sandy had gone just a little nuts.

Those kinds of situations usually had strings attached too – like time limits before the military tended to take out the “problem.”

From Pete’s dour expression, Mac was expecting much the same with this scenario.

“What’s the catch? Apart from the obvious?”

“The level of nanotechnology we’re talking about is unprecedented. Mitrovich was twenty years ahead of the U.S. with his work. That, coupled with the fact that the Special Forces unit haven’t returned, has forced the military to add a time limit to any rescue mission. Anyone entering the mountain has twenty-four hours, and then the lab will be targeted with missiles and destroyed.”

There was a stony silence as MacGyver took in all the information. It was what he’d expected, but it was still a lot to process. Yes, he’d dealt with these situations in the past, but nothing like this in years.

And while he wasn’t exactly dumb when it came to technology, he’d also had no clue that nanotechnology had progressed far enough to be useful, let alone dangerous.

“Jeez, Pete, you know how to drop in on a guy!” He paused for thought, needing more answers. “I’ve read Drexler’s stuff on this back in the eighties, but seriously? Mitrovich has made it work?”

Pete nodded soberly. “Trust me, I’ve read all the files with my very own fingertips,” he referred to his newfound skills with Braille. “It’s scary stuff, MacGyver. That’s why we need you to go in and find out what’s happened.”

MacGyver wanted to say no.

He wanted to finish his time out here with Sam without worrying about what mankind might inadvertently do to itself.

But he couldn’t, because that wasn’t in his nature.

Something had gone wrong, and he was needed to help fix it, for his country, for everyone.

“When do we leave?” As the words left Mac’s mouth, Sam returned with the fish they’d caught hanging from a hook. From his expression, he’d overheard his dad’s last sentence. “Sam…I’m sorry but…”

“You need to go. I get it.” Sam smiled wanly. “I guess I’ll just wait here and try and fend for myself. I just hope we have lots of canned food hidden somewhere, because I have no clue how to gut a fish…” He dropped the catch on the table and slumped onto a chair, making his dad instantly feel guilty.

It was the first time MacGyver would feel accountable for his actions on the assignment, but it wouldn’t be the last.

* * * *


Project Asclepius
“Peckwash Facility”
Southern Front Range,
Colorado

MacGyver wasn’t sure what he’d expected to find at Peckwash, but the entrance to the facility was on a lonely outcrop of land in the Southern Front Range, and it was currently being guarded by more U.S. soldiers than the he’d thought possible on such a small area of land.

As the chopper he was on finally touched down, he took a second to survey the landscape before exiting.

There appeared to be only one way in or out to the facility, via a heavily guarded door cut into the rocky outface of the mountain. This doorway was currently surrounded by troops, their rifles pointed unreservedly at the entrance.

More troops were stationed further back, at what Mac could only assume was the so called “command center” of the whole operation.

He clambered from the Huey’s doorway and headed for the large olive drab tent, but before he reached it a rather portly officer emerged along with Pete.

The officer offered up a hand as he approached. “General Eastman, and you must be MacGyver?”

Mac nodded and shook the general’s hand. “Yes, sir.” He glanced over his shoulder towards Peckwash, shouting over the noise of the retreating helicopter’s engine. “Any change in there?”

Eastman shook his head. “Still no contact. We’ve established the place is in primary lockdown mode, but communications are still up. If anyone is alive in there, they’re not getting in contact because they choose not to.”

“Or something, or someone is stopping them,” Mac pointed out. “So can you get me inside, or is that something I need to figure out too?”

Eastman ushered the group back to the command center. He had people inside working at consoles that were obviously linked to the mountain facilities computers.

“We have some limited control,” the officer confirmed. “We can get you inside, but then you’re on your own. I take it Mr. Thornton already briefed you on the twenty-four hour window?”

MacGyver nodded. “Yeah, just make sure your watch isn’t fast, okay?”

Eastman didn’t see the humor and grunted. “Just make sure you’re as good as they all say, and I won’t have to…”

* * * *

Peckwash was dark and deathly quiet as MacGyver entered through the main atrium. It was like the place had been closed down for months.

The fact that he wore a HAZMAT suit, just in case there was some biological issue wasn’t helping. Mac hated the dang things because they impaired not only his vision but also his senses.

Sometimes, you just had to “feel” a situation, and that was pretty hard to do with a thick layer of material and a visor between you and the outside world.

Given the facilities research subject, it made sense to wear one, though, until they knew what was going down inside.

Mac reached the secured entry zone and scanned the area with his flashlight. It was like standing in a dark metal box that glowed with a spooky red tint.

To his left was a desk that would have usually been manned, and a state of the art console with swipe card reader.

MacGyver fumbled in the satchel he’d brought, struggling with the cumbersome gloves he was forced to wear and retrieved a security card. He slid it through the reader, waited for a green light and then tapped in another code on the console.

After a tense few seconds, the Peckwash computer accepted his credentials, and the metal blast door behind the desk whooshed open.

Mac pointed his light down the long, foreboding corridor that lead into the heart of the mountain. It was narrower than he’d expected – perfect for an ambush, in fact.

The troubleshooter pushed that thought away and began the long descent down into the labs. He could hear the sound of his own heartbeat inside the suit and the noise of his rubber boots squeaking on the polished stone flooring.

Both made him want to cringe.

The silence was too much, like he was walking in a cemetery at night. But then, maybe all that was left here was the dead?

He pushed on, thinking about how he’d left Sam behind, and how this was just another job to deal with, and then he could return to the cabin.

There are people here, lives on the line…

Something ahead caught in the beam of his flashlight, and he redirected it to the source. There was a crumpled heap at the end of the tunnel that could be a pile of clothes – or a splayed out body.

MacGyver picked up his pace until he reached the thing that had once been human. He clumsily hunkered down in the suit and examined the man.

At a guess, he’d been dead a few hours, and no virus or biological entity had been the cause. No, this person had been beaten to death. It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t make sense.

Even if the Russians had come back for their man, they’d have used guns, not fists.

Mac moved on further into the complex, waving his light to and fro to try and pick out any more clues. It wasn’t long before he found another body.

And this one had come to a violent end too.

It was a petite blonde woman whose nametag suggested she was a scientist here, and someone had broken her neck.

Mac flinched at the sight, but there was nothing he could do for her.

He put a gloved-hand back into his satchel and plucked out a small monitor that detected foreign substances in the atmosphere. There was a whole lot it couldn’t scan for, but what it could was coming back clean.

MacGyver decided to take a risk, and pulled off the heavy HAZMAT helmet. In his head, he already knew what was happening here wasn’t airborne, and losing the bulky protective suit would give him much more freedom of movement.

He set the bright yellow garb down on a desk and retrieved his light and satchel before moving into the next area.

The place looked like it had once been a locker room for the staff, but now the carnage within had turned it into some blood-soaked arena swathed with corpses.

And all of them had been killed in some gruesome manner that appeared more animal instinct than murder.

Mac turned away from the doorway and had to put a hand to his mouth.

This wasn’t anything like what he was used to, and it certainly wasn’t what he’d expected.

So if it’s not a virus, then who is doing this? Why? And where the heck are the Special Forces guys?

The list of questions was a growing one, but he had yet to find one answer.

Mac moved back into the main hallway and tried to picture the schematic of the facility Eastman had showed him during his briefing. The main lab should be down the corridor, first on the left. Maybe there would be something on the computers there that would shed some light on what was going on?

He moved on in that direction, away from the bodies and gut-wrenching scene of butchery.

The main lab was exactly where he’d remembered it, and as he pushed on the door, Mac soon realized that it too held more death.

A young technician’s body lay sprawled against the doorframe, and Mac had to lunge at it with his shoulder to gain entry.

Avoiding eye contact with the mangled corpse, he headed straight for the row of computer consoles that adorned the right side of the room. They were still booted up, and someone had left them logged on.

Mac moved to pull out a chair, and then paused when he finally heard a sound – the first sound since he’d entered the complex.

The noise was from deeper in the bowels of the facility, and had he not known better, MacGyver could have sworn it was some kind of guttural howl from an animal.

The hairs on the back of his neck bristled and he felt his stomach squirm.

Peckwash and whatever it held, was spooking him out, and that didn’t happen all too often.

Ignoring the sensation that he was being stalked, Mac dropped down onto the chair and began to call up any files the console allowed him access to.

Every few seconds, he couldn’t help but look up at the only doorway into the lab, some inner voice saying he should have barricaded himself in.

Sheesh, will you stop with the freakin’ out already, Mac, what would Sam think? The inner-chiding didn’t work. His senses still screamed that he was being watched, appraised…hunted.

MacGyver carried on, drawing up a file that Gregor Mitrovich had been working on. Surprisingly, any passwords had already been bypassed.

He read the contents, trying to understand some of the scientific jargon that was beyond even his skills.

The crux of it all was that Mitrovich had designed a nanite that would travel via blood and replicate itself once inside the human body. The thing was programmable to attack different cells, including the likes of cancer.

If Mitrovich could make it work, it would change history.

Mac paused as he thought about it. This was something so huge that any nation in the world would definitely kill to get hold of it. But, it still didn’t explain why all the bodies had been torn up. Military units and spies didn’t tend to operate that way, they used guns, poison gases even, not their bare hands like some feral creature.

He checked more of the files and realized that some had either been corrupted, or wiped.

While that meant no immediate access, it didn’t mean the end of the road in Mac’s search. Retrieving lost files was one of his specialties, and he quickly set to work on the undertaking.

The bigger task at hand might be how to understand them once he’d recovered them. Nanotechnology was purely science fiction, not fact to most, and Mitrovich had broken the mould in that department with his discoveries.

MacGyver carried on regardless, his thirst for the truth dulling his instincts for self-preservation just enough for him not to hear muted footsteps in the corridor outside.

He tapped away at the keyboard, oblivious that someone had stealthily slipped into the room, using the low-key lighting to their advantage.

Several files finally popped into view on the screen in front of him, and he paused, pinching his nose and closing his eyes to take a second to deliberate.

It was then that he finally heard the shallow, rapid breathing behind him.

Without thinking that it might startle whoever, or whatever he shared the lab with, Mac whirled around on his seat, his imagination doing overtime until he expected to see some crazed monster staring back at him.

Instead, he saw a petrified woman in a lab coat, who he guessed was probably in her late thirties. She had her hair tied back, and wore dark-rimmed glasses that made her look terribly serious.

It wasn’t her expression that worried him, however, it was the automatic Beretta that shook violently in her grasp.

Was the weapon from the Special Forces unit?

Mac looked her over mentally, locking on the nametag that said Dr. Sharon Millward.

She’s a scientist – more likely to be able to get through to her, if she’ll just listen…

But Millward was beyond scared, her whole body was shaking, and her eyes were so wide they looked like they were about to pop out of their sockets.

MacGyver slowly started to rise from his chair, putting his hands in the air as he moved away from the desk. It was a neutral move, but one that was too much for Millward.

She closed her eyes in fear, and pulled back on the automatic’s trigger without even aiming.

But then, at this range, she really didn’t have to.


Continued...

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