PANDORA'S BOX (Con't)

Chapter 4. Arrival in Washington Saturday June 23, 2029
Julia arrived at Washington Dulles Airport at 2:07 a.m. aboard an Air Force fighter jet from Moffett Field. As she disembarked still clutching the canister, she looked terrible. Her hair was a mess from the rain and the flight helmet that she now carried in one hand, with the cylinder still tightly gripped in the other. She had bags under her eyes from lack of sleep for the last two days. The stress of the lab break-in, the guard's death, and the flight had also taken its toll. Her nerves were near the breaking point. Mark leaped out of the black limousine on the tarmac and dashed through the rain to greet her. "Are you O.K.," he asked, with genuine concern in his voice. "Yes, I'm alright, but really beat." she replied in a voice that cracked from exhaustion and the strain of the past events. "I've got some news on that guard, but first lets get you settled and that damn container into a safe place. Tomorrow were going to have a peek at your little friend and see what we can find out." They climbed into the limousine with the two NSA agents he had brought with him, and they sped into the night.

Mark met Julia in the hotel restaurant for breakfast around nine in the morning. They sat in a corner booth as far away from the other patrons as possible. Julia looked rested and somewhat refreshed, although her usual chipper demeanor was still suppressed. Mark began, "We've got to keep a lid on this incident until we can figure out what we're dealing with." "No need to spread panic needlessly." "The NSA has sealed off the section of the Ames Center where your lab is while they search for that thing." "So far they haven't been able to find it." He paused to take a drink of his coffee. "They did an autopsy on that guard that died at your lab," Mark stated, while watching Julia's reaction out of the corner of his eye. "They found two puncture wounds that penetrated his jugular vein about a half inch apart. One was larger than the other and the smaller one was quite swollen, apparently where the venom was injected. The vein was filled with an extremely potent poison that traveled directly to his brain causing instant paralysis. Death occurred within a couple of minutes. There was also two small pincer type marks on either side of the wounds. It appears the thing that stung him, had clung there with small craws before delivering the fatal sting." Julia began to describe what she had seen in the container at the lab. "It was ugly, sort of reddish tan with two pincers and a stinger in its curled tail similar to a scorpion but the head was much different. It had two large eyes like a housefly, but they were fluorescent red. Really eerie," she replied as she gave a little shudder.

"I'm curious about the larger puncture wound," Mark pondered, as they headed for the cashier. Mark's fear was that this killer was a female, but he didn't want to stress Julia out any further than she already was. They grabbed a cab outside the restaurant and headed for the National Research Building where Mark had secured the container the night before.

The meeting with the Director of the NSA and the Presidential Secretary was scheduled for two p.m. so they had time to take Pandora's box to the Research Lab under tight security. The cylinder was placed in a Level 3 Biohazard chamber where Julia, using the remote arms removed the cap from the container. The creature was still in the same position she had seen it the day before. She grasped a set of forceps with the remote arms and began slowly to remove the alien from the cylinder and place it on a specimen dish in the chamber. It didn't move and appeared to be dead.

There was a small hole behind the large eyes in the head where some green fluid had seeped out. It was dead. Using a special caliper Julia spread out the tail and measured the length. 82 millimeters. Next she spread out the wings and measured the span: 106 millimeters. It couldn't be classified as an insect, although the wings looked like the wings of a dragon fly, but larger. It had an exoskeleton, or hard shell covering, that almost made it appear reptilian, and the claws and tail were very similar to a scorpion, but the body was longer and much thinner, with six legs attached. Four of the legs were consistent with the body size, however it had two larger articulated legs at the rear of the abdomen, similar to a locust's that appeared to be used for springing long distances. Mark had Julia move the magnifier over the head. A small needle-like appendage was visible on the head. He suspected this one must have been male. As an entomologist mark marveled at the evolutionary changes that this creature must have gone through on Mars to reach this stage. It could spring long distances to get out of tight spots where it couldn't spread its wings; fly quite rapidly to its target with great precision; could grasp its victim tightly and withdraw blood while injecting a virulent deadly poison; survive in extreme temperatures and atmospheres, and had a hard outer shell for protection. It was the perfect killing machine. His fears were mounting. It would take much more investigation, but it appeared that two of these creatures had survived the long trip from Mars in the container together. One male and one female. Merv had done his job well, unfortunately too well! If they have mated, the female may have killed the male to provide sustenance for the offspring when born. The guards' blood it secured, he surmised, would be used to feed the eggs, or embryo, until hatched or born, and how many would be born? How had the creature managed to zero in so quickly on the guards jugular vein? Did it have some kind of sensor? Mark knew there were more questions than answers at this point in time, however one thing was certain. They had to find the female, and quickly. An alien species like this, loose on Earth, could make the COVID-19 Virus look like child's play.

But, the worst was yet to come.

Chapter 5. The Meeting
Monday June 25, 2029
Mark was deep in thought on the way with Julia to the Oval Room at the White House for his 2:00 p.m. meeting. They had managed to seal the floor of the center where Julia's lab was located with plastic sheeting and had set up a decontamination entrance within a couple of hours of the guards' death. All the NSA agents permitted access wore white self-contained decontaminations suits with Pest Control marked on the back. The story given to the media was that this was a normal pest and roach decontamination procedure. Nothing out of the ordinary. He knew this would not keep them at bay for long. They had to find the creature, and quickly, if it had not already escaped their enclosure. With Julia's help Mark had prepared a short briefing paper for the meeting on what had transpired to date and sent it on ahead to the White House. His cell phone suddenly interrupted his thoughts. "Damn, …alright extend the perimeter, but try to be discreet. We can't start a wholesale panic." He turned to face Julia in the cab with him. "They've not been able to locate it. It looks like it's on the loose. Were going to need some help on this one."