Several dull gray metallic objects with eight spiderlike spindly legs floated around the outside of the observatory. Sarah jumped with fright as the sound of one of them landed on the dome and moved around the top of the structure with a tinny pitter-patter. She looked around the ceiling of the curved vault for any possible entry points. Everything appeared to be watertight.
Everyone looked at each other, eyes wide, as one after another landed on the dome. Taps and bangs were echoing through the building, as it seemed they were testing for an entry point. From the few glimpses that Sarah could see of them through the windows, they did not look strong enough for fighting, but rather their purpose would be more for gathering information. Soon the entire observatory was surrounded with the sounds of the drones trying to peck their way inside.
“What’s going on?” The professor yelled as he climbed the steps to the dome.
“Quiet, don’t move!” Jack said, in a loud whisper.
Sarah looked at the professor who had stopped on the top step. His face was a pasty color and damp with sweat. He wobbled as if he was going to fall back down the staircase, but instead he grabbed the railing with his shaky hand and held it tight.
Then it was quiet, like the eye of a hurricane.
“Did they leave?” Willis whispered, toward his mom.
Sarah shrugged, putting a finger to her lips to remind Willis not to speak.
Jack stood up and looked out the window that faced the back of the property. “Those damn things have landed and are just standing out there in the yard, dozens of them. They know we’re in here and have us trapped.”
Everyone stood up and looked outside. The drones were less than a yard-tall standing with flexed legs in the uncut dry grass and leaves surrounding the building.
Clare walked over to the professor as he took the final step onto the landing. “Dad, you should sit down,” she said, moving a chair around so that the professor could set back down in front of the computer, where he had been working earlier.
“I’m fine, damn it,” the professor said, the chair straining under his weight as he lowered his hefty body onto the cushioned seat and turned toward the computer.
“How are you feeling?” Sarah asked, careful to keep her distance, unsure if he was turning into a zombie.
The professor looked back at Sarah. “You don’t have to be afraid of me, I’m not infected, if that’s what you’re thinking. I just have the flu or something.”
Max walked back to his work area from the window where Father Mitch and Tony were watching the crafts surrounding the building. “I think those spider things are drones for those alien bastards,” he said, setting next to the professor who was already working at his desk. “We need a plan. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to come up with anything in my calculations that would stop those things . . . unless,” he paused.
“Unless what?” Jack asked.
Max did not say anything while he read the message on the screen. “According to this email from a group in West Virginia, their GBT radio telescope is picking up objects surrounding the Earth and one of them is close to us,” Max said, leaning back in his chair, looking up at the dome’s broad shutter. “I need to open the dome and look through the telescope, but I can’t do that with those doohickeys out there.” He took a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket. “Damn it, my last cigarette,” he said, pulling out the last filter tip. He crunched the pack and threw it to the back of the table.
“Those cigs will kill ya,” Tony said, keeping watch on the drones. “I knew I should’ve picked up a carton of ‘em at the gas station.”
“Why did you want to get a carton of these cancer sticks if they’re going to kill me?” Max asked as he lit the cigarette with a click of his Zippo.
“I don’t want any smokers flipping out with a nicotine fit,” Tony said, giving Max an accusatory stare.
Jack walked up behind Max and leaned in over his shoulder. “Are you on to something?”
“I don’t know yet,” Max said, taking a long drag, then blowing the white smoke into the air away from the computer.
“Stop messing with me, I’m fine,” the professor said, pushing Clare’s hands off his shoulders. He slid his chair next to Max. “What are you finding?”
Max looked at Professor Dillon, who was wiping sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his camouflage jacket. Max glanced down at the dressing on the professor’s hand, still dry, and frowned. “I thought you were sick.”
“I’m all right; let me see your calculations.”
Max thrust paperwork in front of the professor and pointed at the screen. “According to this message from the Green Bank folks, it seems that the aliens are waiting for something. They’re holding their positions.”
“The spider drones are just standing there like they’re waiting for something, too,” Father Mitch said, looking out the window. “I wonder what they’re waiting for.”
“Something to happen down here, or something from above,” Max said, guessing.
“Maybe they want us,” Sarah said, walking toward Jack.
“What do you mean? Why would they want us?” Jack asked.
“Like alien abductions?” Willis asked, sure he had found the correct answer.
Georgie and Dawn giggled.
Sarah sighed. “Maybe, I mean now that we know aliens really do exist, I’m sure alien abductions have actually been happening.”
“But why don’t they just beam us up to their ship, then?” Jack asked. “Why bother with spiders and zombies?”
“Maybe these aren’t the same aliens,” Max said, looking over his shoulder at Jack.
“These are the bad aliens,” Clare said, taking off her camouflage cap and running her fingers through her hair before replacing it snuggly.
Max tapped the ashes of his last cigarette into a glass ashtray. “Can someone break into that old cigarette machine downstairs in the breakroom? It still has a few Camels inside. I’ve meant to fix that antique but just haven’t gotten around to it.”
“I’ll do it,” Willis said, already making his way down the stairs.