Warren Murphy: Disloyal Opposition

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    Disloyal Opposition
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PEACE, LOVE AND DESTRUCTION. JUST ANOTHER DAY IN SUNNY CALIFORNIA Barkley, California, has always been a counterculture kind of a place, but now, its local historical society has decided they've had enough of Washington's politically incorrect ways.  They are seceding from the union...and they've hire an ex-KGB general with a supersecret particle beam weapon to blow up anything that moves so they can live in harmony and nonviolence. The news of some weird - the term being relative - scene happening in Barkley gives Dr. Smith an excuse to dispatch Remo and Chiun, who have been hanging around CURE headquarters far too long.  Ironically, from across the former Iron Curtain, another secret specter is hunting the Russian mad dog as well - someone Remo believes to be dead. The first great war of the 21st century promises to be a wild scene for all, including Smith, who just received a special gift from an ex-president: an assistant director for CURE.

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But although there were few things about himself or his work habits that he had changed over the years, there were some alterations he had made here and there, some out of necessity and some for the sake of convenience.

Four mainframes hidden behind a secret panel in the basement of the sanitarium had been searching the electronic ether long before the term "Internet" had taken its place in common parlance. Since assuming the reins of CURE as its one and only director, Smith had relied on the tireless efforts of the Folcroft Four to alert him to any criminal activity that might require his agency's attention. However, even though the mainframes were sophisticated, they weren't infallible. There were some connections that only a human mind could make. To make up for their deficiencies, during his tenure with CURE Smith had continued reading several newspapers per day. That had changed slightly in recent years.

Thanks to the increased popularity of the World Wide Web, Smith was now able to read hourly concise digests of breaking news stories that might not otherwise be of interest to the CURE mainframes. The explosion of the Every rocket was one such article.

There was nothing really new in the story. A number of similar malfunctions had occurred in recent years. An exploding Chinese rocket had destroyed an expensive Intel satellite, while another had landed in a residential area, killing many civilians. Other smaller technological firms had witnessed their share of similar setbacks.

Smith wasn't surprised. Although frugal in the extreme, he would never be so foolish as to entrust a piece of billion-dollar equipment to any nation with a spotty success record. It was a lesson his mother had taught young Harold from an early age: you get what you pay for.

Smith finished the report on the rocket's explosion, as well as the digests of the other top stories of the hour. There was some piffle about the dessert preferences of the wife of the recently inaugurated president, as well as a story about some benefit for the homeless in California featuring a large number of comedians. Smith saw nothing in any of these stories that warranted CURE's attention.

Smith was switching from the news digest to the constant data stream collected by the mainframes when his desktop intercom buzzed to life. He stabbed the button with an arthritic finger without looking up from his monitor.

"Yes, Mrs. Mikulka."

Smith's secretary was apologetic. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Dr. Smith, but there's a problem with a patient."

His eyes flicked up to the digital time displayed in the corner of his screen. It was only 8:57 a.m. "Dr. Paulakus is on duty," he said with a frown.

"He's the one who phoned," Eileen Mikulka replied. "He said it was one of your patients in the special wing. He thinks he might be waking up." Head snapping up, Smith felt his heart trip.

At the moment there were only three CURE patients in the security corridor. Smith was careful to keep them separate from the rest of Folcroft's population. One was a young woman, the other was a comatose patient whom he had been told would never awaken again. He prayed that he had been given a misdiagnosis for that individual, for he dared not think what might happen if the other man ever regained consciousness.

He struggled to keep the apprehension from his lemony voice. "Which patient is it?"

"It's the one you've been giving the extra medication to. He didn't say his name. I could check," she offered.

The color drained from Smith's face. His skin went from sickly gray to ashen.

"That isn't necessary. Tell him I will be right down." He nearly choked on the words.

Rising swiftly, Smith didn't even bother to shut off his computer. His ears rang. For the first time in his forty-year stewardship of CURE, he left his office door ajar.

When he hustled out into his secretary's office, Mrs. Mikulka glanced up, a worried look on her matronly face. A phone was pressed to her ear as she waited for someone to pick up at the desk in the security wing.

"Is everything all right, Dr. Smith?" she asked. He didn't even answer. Offering a stiff nod that could not but fuel her concern, he rushed to the door. Smith was so hurried, he nearly plowed into the man who was coming into the office from the hallway. The new arrival jumped in surprise.

"Oh, excuse me," the young man apologized. He was tall and thin, with a broad face and light brown hair. His cheeks were flushed, his greenish eyes anxious.

Smith didn't even acknowledge the man's presence. As the stranger spun a confused pirouette around the sanitarium director, Smith hurried past him and out into the hall.

Heart thudding, the CURE director rushed down two flights of stairs. The fire door led up to a pair of closed doors. A numeric touch pad was fixed to the wall. Smith only realized his hands were shaking when he tried to punch in the six-digit code.

Breathing deeply to steady his resolve, he carefully entered the number. A blinking light went from red to green, and an unseen bolt clicked back. Smith pushed the doors open and hustled into the hall.

An empty nurses' station was to the left. Ten evenly spaced doors lined the right wall. Only two of the occupied rooms were closed. Light spilled from the third.

Bracing himself for the worst, Smith steered a certain course to the lighted open door.

When he stepped into the room, he found a Folcroft doctor leaning over an emaciated patient. Drawing open one lid, Dr. Paulakus was shining a penlight into a brilliant blue eye.

Smith cautiously noted that the room appeared to be in order. An unused television was bolted to a corner of the ceiling. Beside the bed was a bare nightstand. Nothing seemed changed in the least.

Smith allowed himself a thin slip of relief. "How has the patient's condition changed?" he asked crisply as he crossed carefully to the bed.

The doctor turned sharply to the voice. "Oh, Dr. Smith. I didn't hear you come in." He stood up from the patient, slipping his penlight in the pocket of his white smock. "I hope I didn't worry you. It's not an emergency, but I think we need to discuss the patient's treatment."

"I have outlined his needs to you," Smith said slowly, his gaze straying to the man in the bed.

A mane of flowing, corn-silk hair spilled across the starched pillowcase. The pale, delicate face was almost feminine.

"I know," Dr. Paulakus said, shaking his head. "But the situation has changed. It's amazing given the level of potent sedatives he's been administered, but I think he's coming around. It's almost as if he's trying to will himself awake."

Smith's worried gaze returned to the doctor. "How so?"

"Well, his pupils aren't responsive yet, but he's giving other signs. I'd noticed over the past few weeks when I'd come in to deliver his morning injections that his hands were flexing a lot. It was a sort of repetitive clenching. At first I figured it was just a reflex motor action, but then I noticed this."

He pulled up one side of the hanging sheet. When Smith saw the patient's forearm, his jaw dropped. For years now, the arm had been a thin, fragile thing. As delicate as the bones of a bird.

It was muscled now. Not overly so, but toned and fit. He noted with sinking dread that the wrist had grown to an unusual thickness.

As Smith watched, the hand clasped and opened, clasped and opened. The narrow chest rose and fell in rhythms that were at once hypnotic and terrifying.

"The last few days I've been asking him to squeeze my hand," Dr. Paulakus was saying, oblivious to the look of quiet dread that had settled on his employer's face. "I'm certain that my voice is reaching him on some level, because he's responded every single time."

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