Past the water washed glass leading outside, the storm was subsiding with the rising sun. Shallow puddles of water on the concrete reverberated with a sprinkling of raindrops. Inside the engineering building, the control room’s lights flickered, unable to reach normalcy from the emergency shutdown.
Tony walked to the entrance and looked out. A warm, red glow blanketed the buildings from the sunrise. “I don’t see anyone or anything moving. I’m hoping that other human with the AK47 beamed up with the others.”
“Me, too,” Clare said as she walked up next to him. “Before we leave here we should check on those cocoons.”
Jack looked at Professor Dillon, who was sitting in a computer chair, leaning against a table with his head propped up by an unsteady arm. “Professor, how long will this power plant be safe before it melts down?”
The professor coughed into his handkerchief and gazed at its contents before replacing it in his pocket. He wiped his moist, red face with his sleeve. “I think nuclear power plants are supposed to have seven to thirty days of diesel fuel to power the emergency generators, but someone needs to be here to monitor it.”
“So we have about a week to get the hell out of Dodge before a meltdown?” Jack asked. “How far do we have to go?”
“I’d say at least one-hundred miles away from it,” the professor said with a voice so coarse and grating it was painful to listen to.
“There are nuclear power plants all over the place,” Sarah said, pressing her warm hand gently against her sore throat. “There are a couple not far south from here and one on the other side of the state.”
“Would Jackson be safe?” Father asked. “It’s right in the middle.”
“When we get back to the observatory, I’ll figure it out,” the professor said.
“Since none of us are nuclear scientists I think we should get out of here ASAP,” Tony said, opening the entrance door. “Everyone, stay close to Clare and me.”
The rising sun brightened the upper-atmosphere haze and warmed the misty air. It felt like spring outside in the open rather than autumn. They ran through the gate and past the vacant guard shack toward the first building housing the cocoons. While the group entered through the warehouse’s open doors, Tony climbed into the box truck and turned the key until its engine rumbled.
Inside the structure were hundreds of bodies attached to fleshy red veins by their mouths, like moth larvae suspended on twigs. From the base of their skulls, a stalk protruded through the pink tendrils that loosely encapsulated the bodies.
“This is sick,” Willis said, lifting his shirt over his nose. “It smells like moldy cheese in here.”
The professor walked up to one of the cocoons. “I can’t believe it,” he said. He removed his glasses, cleaned them on his shirttail, then placed them back on his face. “This looks just like Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the parasitic fungus that affects ants in tropical forests.”
“Can we save them?” Sarah asked, crossing her arms across her chest so that she would not inadvertently touch anything. “They’re moving.”
“They are not moving,” the professor said. He took a pen from his pocket and pushed aside the snakelike hairs. “The fungus, pupa or the thing that is growing inside them is alive. It is what’s moving.”
Clare ran out of the building, heaving until she finally vomited.
“What do we do with them?” Jack asked as he looked around at the legion of bodies stuffed into the building like pupae in an ant colony.
“I think we should burn them,” the professor said as he tossed his pen to the side rather than return it to his pocket. “I think they used to be zombies.”
“But they could still be alive,” Sarah said, almost joining Clare outside.
“Let’s just get out of here,” Jack said. “It reminds me of a nest of maggots and snakes.”
“Are they going to hatch?” Willis asked, still filtering his nose with his sweatshirt.
“Hopefully, the core will meltdown before that happens,” the professor said as he walked out of the building.
“Everyone into the truck,” Tony yelled through the open driver’s door window. “We’ll get the van, the dogs and then meet Max and the kids at the observatory.”
Jack leaned over Max—who was engrossed in the video game Planet Death Star—and firmly sat down a bottle of malted whiskey in front of the screen.
“Max,” Jack said as he pushed aside candy wrappers and sat on the desk. “I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”
Max looked away from the screen as Georgie and Dawn ran to the observatory’s staircase where everyone was whooping and hollering as they entered the dome carrying bottles of liquor and cases of beer. “What are you talking about Jack?”
“That computer virus of yours almost got us all killed.”
Max frowned as he looked up at Jack through his thick-lensed glasses. “But the malware worked.”
“Your malware almost put the plant into a nuclear meltdown.” Jack could not help but laugh at Max, who stared at him with magnified bug eyes. “But don’t worry, Max, we love yah.”
Max shook his head and opened the bottle Jack had placed in front of him. He took long biting swigs of the Scotch while everyone described what had happened at Palisades.
“Before you start throwing things at me and lock me outside, is it possible they really were here to help us by stopping an asteroid from hitting Earth?” Max asked. He took another nip and leaned back in his chair like a limp ragdoll. “I mean; our government could’ve been cooperating with them by allowing alien abductions in exchange for saving the planet. Is it possible we did the wrong thing by forcing the aliens to leave?”
“No way,” Jack said, slamming his can of beer down so hard it splattered on Max’s keyboard. “I don’t trust them.”
“What about those men who wore black clothes and drove a black car? The ones that Georgie and I saw in the parking lot while we were being attacked by zombies?” Willis asked as he took little Miss Foo from the warmth of his sweatshirt and sat her on the floor next to Jibber.
“Men in Black,” Tony said. “Secret government agents.”
“Tony, don’t get started on your conspiracy theories,” the professor said, sitting in his usual place next to Max.
“Hey Tony,” Jack said. “Thanks for saving my life by knocking that half-breed’s weapon out of his hand before he had a chance to kill me.”
Tony looked confused. “I didn’t do that.”
“Then who did?”
“I know who did it,” Father said, kneading the rosary he held in his hand.
“Was it you?” Jack asked.
“Not me, Saint Michael.”
Jack looked at Father in disbelief. “You mean an angel saved my life.”
“Jack, if you can believe in aliens and zombies, surely you can believe in angels,” Sarah said as she sat next to Jack.
“Speaking of sci-fi shit,” Jack said. “Where’s that wand you got from that alien bastard?”
Sarah reached into her purse and pulled out Rausuca’s weapon. She held it gently in her hand. “I think it can read my mind.”
“It scares the shit out of me,” Jack said as he looked at the slender gold, metallic rod lying in Sarah’s palm like a docile serpent ready to strike without warning.
“What happens next?” Sarah asked, putting the weapon back into her purse.
“Today we celebrate,” Jack said, putting his arm around Sarah. “We will worry about tomorrow when tomorrow gets here.”
“I think we’ll be running for our lives,” Sarah said.
f & f
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