The van’s tires slipped and lost traction on the pavement as it climbed Blue Star Hill toward Owl Observatory.
“What the frickin’ hell,” Tony said, steering onto the shoulder hoping to get traction in the gravel. “There’s something slippery on the road.”
“Ice?” Clare asked, looking out the window.
“It’s too warm for ice,” Tony said. The muscles on his arms tensed as he tried to keep the van in forward momentum.
After slipping and sliding up the steep slope, they finally made it to the parking lot at the summit. While Tony and Clare grabbed their gear to take inside, Jack called Sarah on the cell phone.
“Hey, we’re outside, you’ll need to let us in.”
“Be right there,” Sarah said, and then hung up.
Willis got out of the van and almost slipped and fell. “There’s slime on the ground.”
“Mother nature chucked a loogy at us,” Tony said as he pulled a strongbox from the back of the van.
“That’s gross,” Clare said, closing the van’s back doors.
“I like the sparkles better,” Willis said. He walked with one hand touching the van to keep from falling.
Jack bent over to get a closer look at the slimy substance. It appeared to be a mucous fluid. He walked into the front lawn and looked down at the dry autumn grass. A thin layer of green moss with a powdery pink coating was covering the yard and spreading across the concrete sidewalk.
They walked to the side door where Sarah and Father Mitch were waiting for them.
“Hurry, get in here,” Father said, holding the door open.
Georgie and Dawn ran to greet them. Laughing as if they were greeting family and friends with presents in hand on Christmas Eve.
“Jack, look at the sky,” Sarah said, looking up.
Jack looked up at the pale pink haze. “No clouds. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen a normal cloud since this whole thing started.”
“No crickets, no birds and now no clouds,” Sarah said as she closed and locked the side entry.
“Did you see that slime and moss outside?” Jack asked, wiping his feet on the short pile of the textured carpet runner.
“We did,” Father said, climbing the steps to the upper deck.
Professor Dillon turned around in his chair to greet the group. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. “We think they’re terraforming the planet.”
Clare sat down the duffel bag she was caring and walked over to the professor. “I thought you were getting better.”
“It’s just the flu,” he said. He coughed into a handkerchief then wiped his nose. “I ache all over, have a sore throat and feel like shit, but other than that I’m okay.”
“It’s called influenza, Dad. You should lie down,” Clare said, wanting to pull him from the chair.
“I’m fine,” he said, turning back toward the computer.
“Have it your way,” Clare said, shrugging. She began describing everything they saw at Palisades, then asked, “What did you guys find out here?”
“You already know the aliens are setting up shop at nuclear reactors around the world,” Max said. “I think they’re planning to increase the radiation level on Earth with the terraforming they have going on and the fact that they are at the nuclear power plants.”
“The half-breeds must need the radiation,” Tony said. He took a soft cloth from a duffel bag and began wiping his rifle.
“They must need heat, too,” Max said. “Those high, thin clouds let solar radiation in, trap it, and cause the planet to warm.”
“Shit,” Jack said. “Global warming on the fast track.”
“We need a way to stop it,” Clare said as she began inspecting the bags and boxes they had brought inside.
Max turned back to his computer screen. “Damn it,” he said, slamming down his computer mouse.
“What?” Jack asked, alarmed.
“I had the Splicer in my sight, but it shot me down before I could escape,” Max said leaning back in his chair.
“Why do you play that damned game?” the professor asked. “You’re supposed to be working.”
“I need a break every once in a while,” Max said. “This game kept me sane while I was here alone, you know.”
Everyone laughed and began needling Max.
“Damn it,” Max yelled out, looking back at the screen.
“Watch your language, Max, there are kids here,” the professor said.
“I can’t help it,” Max said. “I was trying to upload a virus to the Splicer’s main computer and it shot me down again.”
“That’s it,” the professor said, wiping his runny nose.
“What’s it?” Max asked. “I can’t get the virus uploaded?”
“Not that,” the professor said. “Well, it’s similar to that but there was a nuclear power plant in Georgia that was recently forced into an emergency shutdown for forty-eight hours after malicious software was installed on just a single computer.”
“Cyberwarfare,” Sarah said, leaning back against the countertop.
The professor nodded. “All we’d have to do is have each group hit each power plant with malware, malicious code, at the same time to shut them down.”
“Where are we going to get a computer virus?” Jack asked. He pushed papers aside so he could set on the work surface next to Sarah.
The professor looked at Max. “Max can do it.”
Max raised his eyebrows. “Maybe I can. I could base it off the one I have been using on Planet Death Star. It could work.”
“How long will it take you?” Tony asked, now cleaning his leather rifle sling.
“Well, I already have a base for it, I’ll need to do some research on power plant computer systems. I think by tonight or tomorrow morning I’ll have something you can use.”
“Do it,” the professor said. “Now you have real monsters to shut down.”
“I hate to play the devil’s advocate,” Jack said. “But won’t shutting down the power plants cause them to meltdown and release radiation? Won’t that just give them what they want? Not to mention, kill us with radiation poisoning.”
“I’ll program the virus to put the plants in standby and lock the aliens out so that they can’t manipulate them,” Max said.
“These aliens are pretty sophisticated,” Jack said. “I’m sure they’ll eventually work around your code.”
“We’ll need to hit them with something else while they’re down,” Tony said.
“Another virus,” Sarah said.
“I can’t keep writing computer viruses,” Max said. “They’ll fix the vulnerability after the first virus so that no more malware can get through.”
“Not that kind of virus,” Sarah said. “The flu virus. The professor has the flu and probably some of us in this room have been infected with it and are likely contagious. All we have to do is infect the aliens or half-breeds. It’ll be like when the Indians contracted smallpox from the settlers because they had no antibodies to it.”
“It is flu season,” Clare said. “The other groups must have someone they know that has it.”
“That just might work,” the professor said. “I’ll get on the horn with the other groups and let them know that we’ll be sending them a cyber-virus and for them to find someone with a contagious biological virus. It doesn’t have to be influenza, any airborne virus spread by coughing and sneezing should work. Hell, maybe spreading a virus on their work surface will infect them.”
“Ouch,” Sarah said, feeling the inside of her left arm.
“What’s wrong?” Jack asked. He watched eagerly as Sarah took off her cardigan.
“My arm just got boiling hot right here,” Sarah said, touching a rice-sized red area on the inside of her upper arm.
Jack felt the spot next to her finger. “That is hot. I feel something hard inside. Do you know what it is?”
Sarah pressed on the spot gently. “No, I don’t.”
“Not again,” Max said, rising from his chair. “Those damned spider drones are trying to get in the front door.”
“They were friendly the last time they were here,” Wills said. “They kept Georgie and me safe from the zombies.”
There was a crash in the lobby as the drones broke through the plywood used to barricade the damaged entrance.
“Quick, in the conference room,” Clare said, grabbing her revolver from its holster.
Sarah held her arm; the heat was unbearable. Before Jack could pull Sarah into the safe room, the spider drones had swiftly risen to the upper level, clamped their appendages around her arms and legs, and were flying her out the front door before anyone had time to blink.
Jack ran down the steps so fast it was as if he was flying too, but it was too late, Sarah was gone. He ran outside and watched as they carried her screaming in the direction of Palisades.
Georgie began to cry while Willis gripped his rifle and ran behind Jack.
“We have to go after Mom,” Willis said, tensed, agitated.
“We will,” Jack said, agitated himself. He kicked the moss covered grass, releasing a sticky pink plume.
Tony walked over to Jack. “I wonder if Sarah is the female the half-breeds were talking about? That thing in her arm could’ve been an implant that they were pinging to try and find her. If it is her, they’ll be mating with her.”
“You mean raping her,” Jack corrected. A frown wrinkled his forehead.
“They probably took her to the power plant,” Clare said as they walked back inside.
The professor coughed into his elbow as he returned to his seat and began opening emails. “Before all the commotion started I sent an email to all the groups. Some have already responded and agreed with our plan. They’ll pass the word and wait for our virus to be sent to them as an email attachment that they can put on a USB flash drive.”
“They wanted Sarah,” Jack said. He rubbed his temples as if a migraine were developing. “We have to get her before they do something to her.”
“Wait until Max gets the virus working,” the professor said, his voice now a harsh whisper. He touched the swollen glands in his neck. “Then we can launch the virus at the same time as you get Sarah. There’s no sense going there without it. The other groups are waiting for the virus and the time to launch it.”
“He’s right, Jack,” Tony said. “We should wait.”
“It won’t be long,” Max said. “The virus was already made; I just have to modify it for the power plants.”