Chapter 61 of Silent Vector

Chapter 61, in which a rat envisions his future

CHAPTER 61

LAB RAT

It is near midnight when Schnelling finishes the third and final review of his calculations. The figures confirm that the pace of production exceeds his expectations. He is two days ahead of schedule; four more days in the lab will do it rather than six. He’ll soon have enough of the formula for the six two-liter cylinders, one for each target city. Allocating the formula to the containers, threading a valve welded to a suitable dip tube in each, sealing the valve and pressurizing the filled containers should take no more than three hours once production is complete.

Schnelling is aware that pressurizing the cylinders before he removes them from the lab increases the risk of an inadvertent release en route. He has to balance that possibility against potential incompetence at the cell level stateside. He knows nothing about the capabilities of the five men and one woman responsible for the final stage of the mission, a reasonable security precaution. With that in mind, he decided to nearly eliminate the need for any sort of technical expertise at the point of delivery.

The plan calls for each cell member to simply place a single pressurized cylinder in a crowded public space, open its valve, and walk briskly up wind and away from the cylinder’s crippling emission. Any traitor worth his salt should be able to handle it. The odorless formula, having no immediate effects, will cause no concern if it is noticed at all. Its devastation will become apparent days and weeks later, at which time it will be too late. It is the perfect weapon: cheap, almost undetectable, and brutally destructive, both physically and psychologically.

He turns the light out as he leaves the main production room. The flames of three small gas burners needed in the process will provide the only remaining light until he returns to conduct a routine and detailed inspection of the lab’s functioning equipment four hours hence. He walks past the small radio room where he’ll forward instructions for the early extraction during tomorrow’s scheduled transmission. He passes through a set of swinging metal doors into the small living quarters that will be his home for his last days on St. Thomas. He checks a panel of lights above his personal desk. Four red lights indicate a reasonably secure, booby-trapped perimeter. A fifth light tells him the generator is functioning as designed.

Schnelling sits on his cot, checks his watch, and winds and sets his small travel alarm clock to go off at 4:00 a.m. He removes his glasses, sets them on his desk and, without undressing, stretches out on his cot and thinks about the approaching climax of more than two years of work.

Four more days and he’ll be off the island, away from the meddling Americans; four more days and the personal fortune waiting for him in a Swiss bank account will be one step closer to being his; four more days and his dream of engineering a strike as psychologically devastating as any in the history of warfare will be one step closer to being a reality. Four more days.