Elsa
By: Walter G. Esselman

"You okay there Al?" asked General Cobb.

Alaister did not even notice the general's slip. He hated being called 'Al'. But right now he was trying to not throw up. The general awkwardly patted Alaister on the back while standing well away. Once the worst was over, Alastair slowly straightened up to look at the painting.

It was of a blonde haired girl in fatigues driving a gas truck. The girl was half in and half out of the truck with one hand on the wheel and the other holding the Separatist flag aloft. The girl in the painting looked so proud and joyful despite the fact that she would be blown apart in less than a minute.

"Aw jeez Al," said General Cobb. "I didn't think it would…you know, I thought you'd be proud. She's remembered as a hero. And she's inspired so many in the Separate States."

Alastair managed to focus on today. Not that day in his lab, over a year ago, when he found out that his daughter Elsa had died during a battle with the United States. Or more importantly, last Friday when he found out what really happened the day she died. He had to focus on today. Get through today. Almost done, he thought as he pulled his thin frame upright and gave a wan smile.

"I'm okay," said Alastair, though his voice still sounded shaky. He took a deep breath. "Or, I'll be okay. I got a bit of a hangover today."

"I heard you went out drinking with the boys last night," grinned the general whose uniform looked so starched you could bounce a quarter off of it. "I was sad I couldn't make it."

"Well, I went to high school with General Sootman," said Alastair.

"That's right. That must have been a blast."

"We didn't really run in the same crowd, but we got along okay. It wasn't until after the Separation from the US that I really got to know them."

Cobb looked back at the painting of the girl in the gas truck. "You know President Hanover salutes that painting every morning on the way into work."

"I had not known that," said Alastair thoughtfully.

"Well, we better get to our meeting," sighed Cobb, but then he stopped. "You going to be okay?"

"Sure," smiled Alaister. "Just a little under the weather, but no headache."

"That's a blessing!"

General Cobb led Alastair deeper into the underground headquarters of the Separatist States. It had been an old bunker during World War Two, but had now been retrofitted with an Army base around it.

"Have you ever visited here?" asked Cobb.

"Never got the chance. But I made up for it yesterday by walking from one end of the base to the other and meeting everyone. Though I saved headquarters for today," said Alastair, and then he sighed. "Before this, I was always at the lab."

"You gotta get out more," replied Cobb jovially.

"It's not easy to manufacture a virus, so no playtime for me. This was the first time I've gone further than ten miles from my lab in three years since the Separation."

"Not even a vacation?" asked Cobb.

"Who has time for that?" asked Alastair. "Besides, our favorite campground got turned into an Internment Camp for Muslims, gays and other undesirables."

"Which one is that?" asked Cobb.

"Clearwater," replied Alastair.

Cobb made a face of disgust. "I'm sorry that one of your favorite places got turned into that. But we needed those camps to send problems to. President wanted to start the Separatist States off right."

"No trouble to anyone anymore," said Alastair softly. "I dropped by Clearwater camp on the way here."

"You did?" asked Cobb in surprise. "Why's that?"

"Just wanted to remind myself what we're fighting for," said Alastair.

"Freedom," barked Cobb quickly, and it was like a flag snapping in the wind.

"And with the US is knocking on our border. If we don't have a more serious deterrent than guns…" And Alastair let that lie where it was.

"If only we had gotten to the nuclear bombs before those army bastards sabotaged them," said Cobb.

"I thought we were going to reengineer those to work?" asked Alastair.

"Just between me and you, they are slag so they won' be any help," sighed Cobb. "Well, the ones we can get to. The other base with nukes in our territory blew up the every path inside. It'll take us years to dig in and those bombs are probably in no better shape. And yesterday, we lost two more fighter jets because of the No Fly Zone."

"What do we have left?" asked Alastair.

"You're pretty much our ace in the hole," replied Cobb.

Alastair looked at him in surprise.

"We got small arms up the yin–yang," said Cobb. "But the US military has, with precision, taken out most of our big guns. I was hoping you'd be done sooner than this."

There was a hint of reproach in Cobb's voice, but Alastair shrugged it off.

"You don't want what I made to go wild," said Alastair. "Genetic engineering is tough, but making sure it does not come back and bite you in the ass is really, really difficult, especially in the time we had."

"All it has to do is get in there and kill off a million people," shrugged Cobb dismissively.

Alastair threw up his hands. "It isn't getting the first million dead. It's stopping the virus from mutating and killing a billion after that."

"Now you're just exaggerating," said the general as they turned into a meeting room. The room was almost bare of anything except a table, four chairs and a dry erase board with no markers.

Alastair shook his head. "A year ago, the virus I created would have wiped out 98% of the people in Washington DC within two days."

"And you sat on it?" asked Cobb as his voice dropped to a dangerous tone.

"It would have wiped out DC, and then the Eastern seaboard in a few weeks."

"No big loss," shrugged the general.

"And it would've reach our states soon after that."

"But we would be ready for it."

"Even ready for it, I project we'd lose 60% of our own population in the Separate States shortly after DC."

"You're kidding," whispered the general.

"That's why I asked him to wait," said a new voice at the door. Both Alastair and Cobb turned to see a lean man in a dark blue suit and perfectly coiffed hair.

"Mr President?" asked the general as President Hanover breezed in. Hanover slapped the general on the back and shook hands with Alastair.

"You told him to wait?" asked Cobb in a dangerous voice.

"It was too dangerous," shrugged Hanover. "We don't want to kill ourselves as well."

"Isn't 60% a little…high?" asked Cobb in almost a whisper to the president.

But Alastair responded. "Actually, that's a conservative estimate based on the original virus."

"We needed something that could take out a large chunk of D.C. population, but wouldn't bite us back," said the president.

"And this new version is going to burn out quickly," said Alastair confidently.

"Let's sit," ordered the president. "No reason to stand around." Hanover flopped into a chair with a happy sigh. "I've been running around all morning."

Cobb sat, after a moment, next to the president with a stiff spine. Alastair took up a spot on the other side of the narrow table. Hanover looked at Alastair.

"So what is this new thing again?"

"It's a hemorrhagic fever like Ebola," explained Alastair, and then he saw their blank looks.

"It turns them gay?" asked Cobb with a chuckle.

"No, they bleed out, from everywhere," said Alastair.

Cobb made a face at that. "Ew." Then he shrugged. "Well, then again, maybe DC could use a little of that."

"So, explain more about this virus you created," said the president ignoring the general.

"It's reminiscent of Ebola Zaire that has a 90% mortality rate," said Alastair. "But that is a blood–borne pathogen." The scientist saw the general's look of confusion. "You have to get stuck with a dirty needle that has infected blood on it to get the disease."

"But this doesn't do that?" asked the president.

"It's more like Ebola Reston in that respect," said Alastair. "With Ebola Zaire you have to be exposed to blood. But Ebola Reston can be transmitted by just breathing the same air, and it is highly contagious. But Reston only affected monkeys."

"Ours doesn't affect only monkeys does it?" grinned Cobb. "I mean some of those politicians in D.C. act like monkeys."

"No. Put an infected person in the middle of DC and less than two weeks later, 96% of people in DC and the surrounding area are dead. Bled out," said Alastair.

"How many people?" asked the president thoughtfully.

"Between one and two million," said Alastair. "Gone in a blink."

"Sounds great," crowed Cobb. "That'll cripple the US for sure."

"Now this new version will burn out quickly, won't it?" asked the president.

Alastair gasped as he hunched up. But as Hanover was about to stand to help, Alastair straightened.

"You okay?" asked Hanover.

"Fine, fine" said Alastair. "Drank way too much last night. So yes, Elsa should affect almost two million people, and then it should run out of hosts."

Hanover and Cobb looked surprised.

"You named it after your daughter?" asked Cobb warming to the idea. "Striking once again into the heart of the enemy."

"Do you really want to do that?"asked Hanover wearily.

"I'm doing this for Elsa now," said Alastair. "You know what happened to my wife and son during the Separation. The US said it was an accident, but…well, now this is all for Elsa. My family supported Separation from the United States from Day One."

"This will honor her memory," said Hanover carefully.

"Revenge against those that wronged her?" asked Alastair to no one in particular. He looked above the men to some distant point only he could see.

"Revenge is a strong word," said Cobb who was starting to look a little worried.

"I saw your broadcast," said Alaister to the president. "When you promoted Elsa's captain, Smith, major. Smith said that his squad was pinned down by US forces. The squad would be dead if Elsa hadn't gotten into that gas truck."

"Bravest thing anyone has done in this war," nodded Cobb.

"Is it?" asked Alistair. "Do you what a Donkey Punch is?"

The president and general looked confused.

"Is that a drink?" asked Hanover.

Cobb looked at the president. "Naw, it's when you're doing a girl hard from behind, and just as you're finishing, you punch the girl in the head."

Hanover drew back in disgust. "That's horrible."

"Well, it's not like I ever did it," shrugged Cobb. "But still a funny idea."

"I always thought it was worrisome," said Alastair softly. "Punching someone in the head and knocking them out is actually very dangerous. I mean, films make it look harmless, but there can be severe side effects. On the other hand, if you want to stop someone you're violating from crying out…"

Hanover and Cobb stilled. For a moment no one breathed as they looked directly at Alaister.

"So, you know," said President Hanover quietly breaking the silence.

"My daughter was dead when Captain…sorry, Major Smith and his men put her in the gas truck," said Alastair.

"She'll be remembered as a hero," said Cobb quickly. "Isn't that a better way to remember her?"

"I remember how proud she looked when she graduated from boot camp to fight for the Separatist States," said Alastair in a light voice. "She believed in the mission to keep our state's independent from the United States. When women were allowed to join, overruling General Cobb's orders I believe…"

"Women have no place in combat," spat Cobb.

"But we need Every Single Person to fight right now," said Alastair, and it sounded like an old argument. "Because we're losing."

"We're not losing," snapped Cobb at the president.

"But we're not winning either," said Hanover. "And the balance is tipping out of our favor."

"Which is why we need to hit DC now," said Cobb.

"We're losing heart," said Alastair. "People are losing hope that we will win. That's why when they were pinned down, Captain…I mean Major Smith said he was going to run away. Which my daughter objected to. None of the other soldiers got involved as the Captain…I mean Major and my daughter argued. And none of them got involved at first when he pushed her down to teach her a lesson. Pushed her down and positioned himself behind her."

"How do you know this?" asked Cobb with thunder in his eyes.

"One of her squad came to me and confessed last Friday," said Alastair. "He was desperate to confess. He had not taken a turn with my daughter, but he had held her down. Until Captain…I mean Major Smith punched her in the back of the head. Then she didn't move so much."

"We couldn't tell people," whispered Hanover.

"I did some research, but without an autopsy…," started Alastair. "But the man who came to me said that she was dead before morning. Was it a stroke or something else? Who knows? But she was dead when that gas truck started. And now…"

Alastair trailed off.

"Popular opinion is falling like a rock," said Hanover quickly, and a little desperately.

"The people are behind us," countered the general glaring at the president.

"The die hard soldiers," replied Hanover. "The die hard soldiers will follow us into hell, but the rest…too many families have lost…" And the president stopped and looked at Alastair unable to keep talking.

"I've heard that statistic," said Alastair. "90% of every family in the Separatist States have lost at least one family member. Some every family member."

"A high profile trial of Captain Smith and his men would have further eroded confidence in our cause," said Hanover. "Lots of families have daughters, wives and mothers in squads."

"What he's saying is that we had no choice, but to sweep it under the rug or lose, said Cobb.

"Without something big," said Hanover speaking in a rapid pace. "Without some big blow to the US. The Separate States are going to start breaking apart, and then we'll be picked off piece by piece. We need the virus. We need Elsa to strike before it's too late. This isn't about revenge, it's about survival."

"Revenge?" asked Alastair as he looked above their heads. "I'm not talking about revenge."

Hanover's eyes grew wide as he looked at Alastair.

"Your eye!" said the president.

Alastair blinked and then wiped his hand under his eye. His fingers came away smeared in blood. The scientist gave a wan smile.

While the president puzzled over the smile, Cobb jumped up and marched around the table. He grabbed Alastair by the shirt and hauled him up. The general pushed him back and slammed the scientist against a wall.

"What have you done?" demanded Cobb.

Alastair just chuckled, and Cobb hit him twice in the face.

"Talk!" snapped the general. But Alastair grinned wetly and Cobb could see that his teeth were stained red.

"C…Cobb?" stammered the president in a terrified voice.

"Maybe I need to break a few fingers?" growled the general to Alaister.

"COBB!" wailed the president.

The general glared back at the president.

"What?" demanded Cobb. "Don't tell me you're going soft on me now?"

"L…look!" stuttered the president as he pointed to Alastair's lower half with a shaking finger. Cobb looked down at the man he held and saw that Alaister's pants were dark and wet with blood. The general jumped back letting go of the scientist.

"What the…?" cried Cobb. He glanced down at the chair that Alastair had been sitting in and saw that it too was soaked with blood.

Without the general holding him up, Alastair slowly slid down the wall and hit the floor a little harshly on his butt. But he did not appear to feel it. The scientist still smiled, but his eyes were starting to look distant.

"What do we do?" asked the general in a barely controlled panic.

"Seal off this room," said the president. "No one in or out."

"What about us?" asked Cobb more urgently. "We need to get out."

The general started for the shut door, but the president jumped up so quickly his chair clattered on the ground. Hanover ran over and stood in front of the door. Cobb was wider than the president, but not taller. However, neither had any illusion of who would win in a fight.

"Get. The. Hell. Out. Of. My. Way!" growled Cobb.

"Wait, we don't want to infect others," said Hanover a little breathlessly.

Then they heard the damp chuckle from the floor. They looked down to see Alastair in a growing pool of his own blood. The president and the general jumped away from the pool. Dripping from his nose and ears, Alastair still smiled.

"Too late," crooned Alastair. "Too, too late."

The general pulled out his gun and Alastair saw it and started laughing. That laugh quickly turned into convulsions that lasted almost a minute. These caused Alastair to slip to the floor on his side. When he was done, he looked back up at the president and the general with mirth.

"Maybe I should have called the virus Valkyrie or Stau…Staufenberg," grinned Alastair.

"That's bullshit!" snapped Cobb.

"Staufenberg? Who's that?" puzzled Hanover.

"Claus Von Stauffenberg was part of a failed plot to kill Hitler," growled Cobb.

"Is he comparing us to…," started Hanover in shock.

"We're not like them," snapped Cobb, but a little too quickly.

"And I didn't pay attention to all that died until it was my daughter," said Alistair as his smile faded.

"We need to get to his lab," said Hanover in a panic.

"Gone," said Alastair. "Nothing there now. All data gone. Samples gone. Gone. Except for one email to an old friend at U of M."

"Wait! How contagious is this disease?" asked Cobb showing the whites of his eyes.

"He…he said that just breathing the same air for a minute can spread it," said Hanover.

"He said he walked all over the base yesterday!" said Cobb.

"Didn't he drink with the general's last night too?" asked the president.

"He said he was just hungover from last night," said Cobb softly.

"And just like that," said Alastair slowly and deliberately. "The war is done."

THE END

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