Not your normal winter flu. This one killed.
Several students in training at at the Naval Training Center had come down with it.
Young, virile, peak of health. But two had died already, several more were in isolation at the base hospital.
Their common background was the steam-power plant training building.
Some accident started it off. A massive leak of steam had escaped when a control valve failed. No one was hurt at the time.
But their fevers started only a few days later.
Since it was mid-winter, no one suspected that a deadly virus had somehow been released.
Now I was sent to find out the secret behind a mortal steam-powered flu.
All in 24 hours, while the evidence and bodies disappeared.
Those boys in the morgue didn't die of simple flu, even though the base Medical Examiner said they did. He had the samples out for tests, but I knew their bodies and the evidence would all disappear within 24 hours.
Because I wouldn't be here unless that was the case.
"Here" this time was the cold, blustery winter of Great Lakes, Illinois. North of Chicago. And if you wanted to visit lake side, you could make it out over there. Lakeside meant bluffs of ice blown up on the shore from waves of lakeside spray blown from those waves from that wind. And you soon learned why it was called the "Windy City". And why naval winter pea-coats had tall collars.
This time, my name was Della. A civilian secretary for an Admiral who was off visiting somewhere I wasn't needed. So I had the ID and authority to get almost anywhere I wanted. The rest was up to me.
The case was this flu. A minor epidemic. But not that they knew it yet. My job was to get it resolved before the other dozen cases that were isolated in the base hospital turned south and drowned in their own fluids. Some sort of viral pneumonia.
As near as I could tell, it had to do with the steam plant training area. That's where I was headed now. My sturdy low heels giving me a bit less purchase on the icy/snowy sidewalks than I wanted. Gloved hands in pockets, slacks instead of skirts with "long-handled" underwear below those. All that meant that I was taking tiny steps to get from here to there, since all the extra layers only added more padding to my falls than helping me prevent them.
Soon I felt a arm take mine. Looking up into the hooded face saw my partner Finn's in there.
"Thought you could use some help getting to the steam plant building."
"Thanks, Finn. Wish you'd been here when I started out. Would have saved me some bruises."
"I'll work on that next time. But you know that anyone but you seen coming out of the Admiral's office would be suspicious."
"Well, a gal can wish, can't she?"
"And wishes look good on you."
"Bet you say that to any girl who's bundled up above her head and down past her ankles. What would you know about how I look underneath all that."
"OK, don't answer that. I've got the news on this one - two young sailors dead, with another 12-plus in ISO."
"...and something to do with the steam plant. The read-out says it's something changed on the piping."
"Finn, I looked it up in the records. There's some new test equipment that was installed to improve the efficiency of the heat exchange. But it's all marked confidential."
"Doesn't that figure. I'll see if the AI can give us some more scoop on that. Surely there's something that's been declassified since then."
I stopped at that, which took a few steps so we didn't take each other down on this icy sidewalk.
"Then? I thought your data was real time."
Finn shrugged. "Carol's been talking to it for a bit now. And found out that it's running a bit outside of the scene its been sending you to."
"Whoa. 'A bit outside?' And who's this Carol - you've got a new yeoman in there?"
"No, sorry, and let's take that last question first. I shouldn't have let it slip, but yes, I've got some help with your cases now. She's not Navy, but she's got some connections. And yes, she's getting up to speed on the project. Very helpful. So I gave her a login connection to the AI to find out what it knows - which turns out to be a lot."
"Oh, you must mean Carol."
My gloved hand punched his shoulder, far less effective with all this padding we were both wearing.
"Well, I'll make this quick. Yes, she's pretty. Cute, even. And before you ask - no, we haven't been on a date yet."
His green eyes peered into mine. But I knew the red on his face was more than just the weather. "Erotika, isn't it a bit too cold out here to get frostbite checking up on what I do when I'm not with you?"
He had a point. I nodded and started us walking again. Tiny steps, like before. "So before I took up that tangent - and don't think you're getting off the hook - what were you going to tell me about this case we're on?"
His arm was still in mine, and the small warmth and steadiness was welcome. "What the AI hasn't covered is what happened in that facility. There was a report of an accident, and reports of a flu outbreak, but then the guys got well - but the amount of transfers shot up. So something happened in there."
"What about the two that died?"
"They don't wind up mentioned in any official records."
"So there might be more before this runs its course."
Finn's silence spoke loudly for the next few steps.
When we stopped to cross the last street before the building, he took my arm. "One other point. There was some testing going on about some new equipment trial. Also not well documented."
I nodded. Could be our goon squad at work...
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