“It’s done,” Max said, sitting back in his chair, lighting one of the old stale cigarettes that were earlier forced from the antique dispenser in the breakroom by Willis and Georgie. He looked around the quiet observatory dome lit only by computers and a small desk lamp at his workstation. He had been working so intensely on the computer virus, he did not realize it was now the middle of the night and everyone, except him, was sleeping.
The cigarette smoke caused Max to cough violently as if his tar-coated lungs were unfamiliar with the toxic irritant. After coughing up a wad of sticky yellow mucus, he shouted, “Hey you guys, wake up. I have the virus done.”
Jack raised his head from his outstretched arm that he had been using as a pillow on the desktop where Professor Dillon had been sitting earlier before deciding he was too ill to continue. “What?”
“The virus is ready. I’ve already emailed it to some of the other groups who will then forward it on.” Max picked up a USB flash drive and handed it to Jack. “I’ve put the virus on that thumb drive. All you have to do is plug it into a USB port on the main computer and the self-executing code will take care of the rest.”
“I have one of those,” Clare said, moving an olive drab blanket away from the duffel bag she was using to sleep against. She unzipped it, pulled out a ring of keys and slid off the USB drive. “Does anyone else have a thumb drive? We should put the virus on more than one key just in case we get separated, or it gets lost.”
“The professor must have one of those on that building supervisor key ring of his,” Jack said, razzing the absent professor. “Is he still sleeping downstairs in the breakroom?”
“I’ll get him,” Clare said, standing as she put her camo cap on. She handed Max the flash drive before descending to the lobby.
“Let’s launch the virus in three hours,” Tony said, rolling up the military bedding.
“I’ll let the other groups know right now,” Max said, yawning as he typed the message. When he was finished, he slid a sheet of paper along the desktop toward Jack. Max’s nicotine stained finger was pointing to a building near the reactor. “I printed out this Google map of the Palisades complex and I think this is the most likely place for you to find a computer terminal to load the virus.”
“Where do you think we’ll find Sarah?” Jack asked, looking up from the paper. He stared at Max’s magnified eyes as they darted left then right behind the thick lenses.
“It’s hard to say, but this building here could be used as living quarters,” Max said. “It’s my guess they’ll have her close to the reactor, not in these buildings farther out.”
“Okay, let’s hit the road,” Jack said, sighing as he folded the map. He stood and put it in his back pocket and picked up the Kimber pistol that had been resting beside his head and placed it into the back waistband of his jeans.
“I’m going with you this time,” Father Mitch shouted toward the dome as he walked out of the bathroom off the lobby below.
“If you’re going with us, you’ll need a weapon,” Tony said, picking up the strongboxes. “I have a handgun with a silencer in the van.”
“Aren’t you out of weapons yet?” Jack laughed, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Pretty much,” Tony said as he walked toward the spiral staircase.
Professor Dillon and Clare rounded the top of the steps.
“Too bad I have to go,” the professor said, coughing up sputum into a wrinkled, overused handkerchief. “I feel like shit. If I weren’t the vehicle for the biological virus, I’d go back down on that lumpy couch and not get up for days.”
“I’m going, too,” Georgie said as he began following Tony down the steps.
“No way, Georgie. You and Dawn are holding down the fort here with me,” Max said lighting another cigarette. His hand quivered when he noticed the date on the monitor revealed it was now Halloween. Being only a little superstitious, he took a long drag, then mumbled, “This whole thing is turning me into a chain smoker.”
“Let’s get this over with,” the professor said with a voice that sounded like his throat should be bleeding from the swollen sandpaper lining in his airway. He walked back down the stairs with a stagger. His sweaty palms slid along the metal railings. “I don’t want to gross anyone out, but I’m going to be smearing the contents of this handkerchief on knobs and keyboards when I get there.”
Clare flung one of the duffel bags over her shoulder, took the USB drive from Max and caught up with the professor. She turned back toward Max. “I left one of the duffel’s for you guys, Max. And you and the kids stay safe. Barricade and lock the doors behind us.”
“Don’t worry about us,” Max said, looking over to Georgie and Dawn and then to Sarah’s 12-gauge shotgun lying on the counter. “It’s you guys that are getting into the thick of things.”