ORIGIN Copyright © 2009 by Joe Konrath
DESERT PLACES Copyright © 2004 by Blake Crouch
DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Falk
WATCH ME DIE Copyright © 2005, 2010 by Lee Goldberg
DISINTEGRATION Copyright © 2010 by Scott Nicholson
Cover design by Jeroen ten Berge
Fatigue from his journey, they later surmised.
They were wrong.
The twenty-sixth President of the United States was far from tired. Since Stevens's wire a month previous, Roosevelt had been electrified with worry.
The Canal Project had been a tricky one from the onset—the whole Nicaraguan episode, the Panamanian revolution, the constant bickering in Congress—but nothing in his political or personal past had prepared him for this development. After five days of travel aboard the Battleship Louisiana, his wife Edith sick and miserable, Roosevelt's nerves had become so tightly stretched they could be plucked and played like a mandolin.
“You want to see it
“Rest is for the weak, John. I have much to accomplish on this visit. But first things first, I must see the discovery.”
Roosevelt bid quick apologies to the puzzled group, sending his wife and three secret service agents ahead to the greeting reception at Trivoli Crossing. Before anyone, including Edith, could protest, the President had taken Stevens by the shoulder and was leading him down the pier.
“You are storing it nearby,” Roosevelt stated, confirming that his instructions had been explicitly followed.
“In a shack in Cristobal, about a mile from shore. I can arrange for horses.”
“We shall walk. Tell me again how it was found.”
Stevens chewed his lower lip and lengthened his stride to keep in step with the Commander-in-Chief. The engineer had been in Panama for over a year, at Roosevelt's request, heading the Canal Project.
He wasn't happy.
The heat and constant rain were intolerable. Roosevelt's lackey Shonts was pompous and annoying. Though yellow fever and dysentery were being eradicated through the efforts of Dr. Gorgas and the new sanitation methods, malaria still claimed dozens of lives every month, and labor disputes had become commonplace and increasingly complicated with every new influx of foreign workers.
Now, to top it all off, an excavation team had discovered something so horrible that it made the enormity of the Canal Project look trivial by comparison.
“It was found at the East Culebra Slide in the Cut,” Stevens said, referring to the nine mile stretch of land that ran through the mountain range of the Continental Divide. “Spaniard excavation team hit it at about eighty feet down.”
“Hard workers, Spaniards,” Roosevelt said. He knew the nine thousand workers they had brought over from the Basque Provinces were widely regarded as superior to the Chinese and West Indians because of their tireless efforts. “You were on the site at the time?”
“I was called to it. I arrived the next day. The—
, I suppose you could call it, was taken to Pedro Miguel by train.”
“Yes. After I broke the seal on it and saw the contents...”
“Again, all alone?”
“By myself, yes. After viewing the... well, immediately afterward I wired Secretary Taft...” Stevens trailed off, his breath laboring in effort to keep up with the frantic pace of Roosevelt.
“Dreadful humidity,” the President said. He attempted to wipe the hot rain from his forehead with a damp handkerchief. “I had wished to view the working conditions in Panama at their most unfavorable, and I believe I certainly have.”
They were quiet the remainder of the walk, Roosevelt taking in the jungle and the many houses and buildings that Stevens had erected during the last year.
Remarkable man, Roosevelt mused, but he'd expected nothing less. Once this matter was decided, he was looking forward to the tour of the canal effort. There was so much that interested him. He was anxious to see one of the famed hundred ton Bucyrus steam shovels that so outperformed the ancient French excavators. He longed to ride in one. Being the first President to ever leave the States, he certainly owed the voters some exciting details of his trip.
“Over there. To the right.”
Stevens gestured to a small shack nestled in an outcropping of tropical brush. There was a sturdy padlock hooked to a hasp on the door, and a sign warning in several languages that explosives were contained therein.
“No one else has seen this,” Roosevelt confirmed.
“The Spaniard team was deported right after the discovery.”
Roosevelt used the sleeve of his elegant white shirt to clean his spectacles while Stevens removed the padlock. They entered the shed and Stevens shut the door behind them.
It was stifling in the small building. The President immediately felt claustrophobic in the dark, hot room, and had to force himself to stand still while Stevens sought the lantern.
Light soon bathed the capsule setting before them.
It was better than twelve feet long, pale gray, with carvings on the outside that resembled Egyptian hieroglyphics to Roosevelt. It rested on the ground, almost chest high, and appeared to be made of stone. But it felt like nothing the President had ever touched.
Running his hand across the top, Roosevelt was surprised by how smooth, almost slippery, the surface was. Like an oily silk, but it left no residue on the fingers.
“How does it open?” he asked.
Stevens handed his lamp to Roosevelt and picked up a pry bar hanging near the door. With a simple twist in a near invisible seam the entire top half of the capsule flipped open on hidden hinges like a coffin.
“My dear God in heaven,” the President gasped.
The thing in the capsule was horrible beyond description.
“My sentiments exactly,” Stevens whispered.
“And it is... alive?”
“From what I can judge, yes. Dormant, but alive.”
Roosevelt's hand ventured to touch it, but the man who charged up San Juan Hill wasn't able to summon the nerve.
“Even being prepared for it, I still cannot believe what I am seeing.”
The President fought his repulsion, the cloying heat adding to the surreality of the moment. Roosevelt detected a rank, animal smell, almost like a musk, coming out of the capsule.
The smell of the... thing.
He looked it over, head to foot, unable to turn away. The image seared itself into his mind, to become the source of frequent nightmares for the remainder of his life.
“What is the course of action, Mr. President? Destroy it?”