Jack put the cell phone back in his pocket and looked at Willis. “You stay here and cover me. I’m going to get as close as I can.”
“What are you going to do?” Willis asked. He sat up and brushed sand from his elbows.
“I think your plan with the rugs to get over the fence was a good one, but I don’t think it will work to get over, what looks like, an eight-foot high, razor wire fence,” Jack said, raising the binoculars to his eyes. “Tony and Clare are going to check out the warehouse with the people inside. I can get close, but I won’t be crossing any fences today.”
“What about the VIPER team?”
“They didn’t see any security guards, only half-breeds,” Jack said, lowering the binoculars. He looked at Willis with the rifle on his lap. “Keep your safety on, I don’t want to be accidentally shot today.”
Willis nodded as he lay back down on the dune grass to support his gun. He looked through the riflescope. “There’s another warehouse over by the parking lot, maybe that’s the one Tony and Clare are going to.”
Jack looked again. “You’re right. The warehouse over there must be where they are. They must have bodies all over the place. I will go that direction, toward the parking lot and that warehouse. Do you see Tony and Clare?”
“Trees are in the way, it’s hard to see.”
“I shouldn’t be gone long,” Jack said as he began descending the opposite side of the sand dune, toward a tree-covered hill. He climbed to the top, next to the parking lot and perimeter fence. He realized there was no getting over this obstacle without something more elaborate than a carpet remnant and a step stool. He crouched down to catch his bearings and looked through his binoculars to try and find Tony and Clare, and the building where they were headed. The lot was half filled with cars, and he wondered if the people who owned them were now zombies roaming the enclosure of the secured facility.
The two guard shacks were empty. He turned his binoculars again toward the gray warehouse inside the fenced parking lot. He could see Tony and Clare next to the building.
Jack’s phone received a text. Do you see us?
Yep, I’m on the hill, he texted back.
Look inside what do you see?
Jack turned his attention and binoculars to the warehouse’s open door. While he could not see everything inside in detail, he was able to see what appeared to be people with their heads attached to foot-wide veins that wrapped the interior like a nest. The bodies had a stalk sprouting from the back of their necks and were wrapped in what appeared to be pale pink threads or wires.
“Shit, that’s just like the fungus that the professor was talking about, the one that turns ants into zombies,” Jack whispered to himself.
There are people infected with a fungus in there, Jack texted.
Anyone walking around?
Jack watched as Tony and Clare rounded the corner of the building and went inside with weapons drawn. He saw them pause as if in shock before walking up to one of the bodies.
Then Jack noticed two half-breeds and a human walking toward the building. Hide people coming, he texted.
Tony and Clare hid behind a stack of cocooned people. The pale pink threads encapsulating the bodies reminded Clare of hundreds of thin ribbed snakes that were sucking fluids from their prey. Clare accidentally bumped into a body; it squirmed. It was still alive. She wanted to vomit from the prickly texture of the coarse, hairy threads and rank odor of yeast. Before Clare could move away from the repulsive mass, the half-breeds entered the building with another person who appeared to be an ordinary human.
One of the half-breeds spoke in broken English with clicks. “We need the female soon.”
“I will get her,” the uninfected human spoke. He pointed to the people stacked in the warehouse, covered in fungal threads. “What about one of these?”
“These will not do; it has to be her.”
“Yes, I understand. I will bring her to you.” The man bowed and left the building in haste.
The two half-breeds spoke.
“Phase two breeding will be more enjoyable than phase one,” one half-breed said. He laughed.
“She is being protected,” the second said.
“Not for long. She has the matching genes to make the prince,” the first said. “It’ll be easy to get her, even though, her implant is not working properly. Her body has done a good job in rejecting it, but I will be able to pick up on her vibrations. I am looking forward to enjoying her with this body.”
“She may not tolerate too much radiation,” the second said.
“Her body has been slowly conditioned to tolerate it on previous encounters,” the first said.
The second looked at the cocoons. “These have transformed quickly.”
“The other shipment is arriving,” said the first one.
A semi-truck rumbled up next to the building. Two human people got out of the truck, opened the trailer doors, and lowered a lift. The half-breeds climbed onto the lift and searched inside the trailer for a few minutes before being lowered back to the ground.
“She is not here,” the first said. “Store them.”
While the humans began to unload racks of comatose people from the truck with a forklift, Tony and Clare found a back door and exited the building. Using parked cars and various smaller outbuildings to hide behind, they were able to leave the complex through the open gate and run to the protection of the tree covered dunes. Jack met up with them and took them to where Willis was waiting.
“So what happened?” Willis asked. He stood and brushed sand from his sweatshirt and jeans.
“Let’s get out of here,” Clare said. “We’ll talk about it on the way to the observatory.”
They left the supplies that they had brought to get over the fence hidden in the trees as they ran through the cottonwoods and red oaks of the backdune forest toward the van. When they reached a safe area to rest and catch their breath, they collapsed under the feathery branches of a stand of hemlock trees.
“So what did you see?” Jack asked as he leaned back on a tree trunk.
“The people in the warehouse weren’t dead,” Clare said, still gasping for air. “They were like . . . sleeping.”
“Why?” Willis asked.
“I don’t know why, but I think they’re breeding with them,” Clare said, taking off her cap.
“That’s sketchy,” Willis said, laughing.
“They’re looking for a female with the proper genes so that she can conceive their prince,” Tony said. He pulled a piece of evergreen wedged beneath his scope and dropped it to the ground. “But they can’t find her.”
“I wonder who the female is,” Jack said.