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COVID-19

Hey, readers. I hope everyone is well and not running a temperature and having difficulty breathing.

But while you’re stuck at home and following the CDC guidelines because of the coronavirus, it’s a good time to give my books a chance and download any eBook in the catalog for free with the coupon code covid19. This coupon can be used once, but if the pandemic continues, I will likely send out another coupon.

Go to the eBooks and Enjoy!

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Free Fiction Rights

Free Fiction Rights

I love Brandon Sanderson’s stories and he has Warbreaker free to read on his website. He released the book under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. These rights can be a little confusing so he put together a good explanation of what you can and cannot do with his free fiction. I agree with his explanation and will have it apply to my free fiction as well.

Connie Myres
February 2020

Brandon’s Explanation of the Rights

In a more specific explanation, this means that:

1) You are free to share this book with anyone you like, provided you don’t change the document at all or profit from the distribution.

2) You may print off copies of the book for personal use, but—again—may not profit from doing so.

3) You may not change the text of the work in any way, or imply that you wrote the book, or anything of that nature.

4) There is a no derivative works clause on this, since I don’t want people adding chapters to the end or altering the work. However, I provide an exemption for fan art, provided you do not attach it to the document and clearly explain that the art is not mine or related officially to the project.

5) I also provide an exemption for fanfics, provided that—again—you do not attach them to this work or imply they are my work. In addition, by writing a fanfic that uses these characters, this magic, or that is related to this work in any way, you waive all rights to that work. (In other words, you can’t write a Warbreaker fanfic, then sue me for compensation if I happen to write something similar in a sequel. I’m not going to steal your ideas, but I’ve got to write something like this just in case. It’s every author’s nightmare to get sued for writing in their own worlds, and is one of the reasons so many of them are so afraid of fanfiction.)

6) The above also holds for any feedback or suggestions you give me regarding this work on my forums. By offering feedback, you waive all rights to those suggestions and waive all rights to compensation for your help. I love to get feedback, and it’s one of the reasons why I decided to post these chapters online as I wrote them. However, don’t sue me if I actually decide to take some of your suggestions!

Brandon Sanderson
June 2009

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 34

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

THIRTY-FOUR

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.

THE END

***

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 33

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

THIRTY-THREE

They scattered like cockroaches to various areas around the dimly lit room before the half-breed entered. Father crouched behind a chair on the other side of the table. Jack dropped Sarah’s clothes and squeezed under the bed, scraping his shoulders on the metal bed frame. Willis saw no place to hide except behind the door as it opened.

A half-breed entered the room, paused for a moment, and glanced back at the open door as if it was trying to remember whether it had previously been closed all the way or not. He did not notice Willis, who was attempting to flatten his body in the crevice between the wall and door, like a mouse squeezing through a narrow passage.

Tucked into a dark shadow, Father watched as the half-breed walked over to Sarah, who was sleeping on the bed. Lightning flashed through the window, leaving a momentary green aura around the alien’s robe and gray, bald head. Using its long fingers, it dipped them into the canister it held and pulled out a thick paste. It reached under Sarah’s sheet and rubbed it on her abdomen.

From beneath the bed, Jack saw skintight silver boots peak out from under the half-breed’s robe. They were so formfitting they appeared to be similar to a layer of thick lizard skin. He could hear it doing something to Sarah above him. He held his breath as it stopped what it was doing and stood still as if it were listening for intruders before it finished its task and walked back out of the room, closing the door.

No one moved until they were sure the half-breed was not coming back.

“What the hell was that about?” Willis asked, not moving from his spot.

“I was wondering the same thing,” Father said as he rose from behind the table.

Jack scooted out from under the bed, scraping his already abraded shoulders. He nudged Sarah. “It’s Jack. Wake up and get dressed.”

Sarah groggily opened her eyes. “What?”

Jack picked up Sarah’s clothes and sat them on the bed beside her. “Quick, get dressed we have to get out of here.”

Her hand trembled as she pushed strands of hair away from her forehead. “Jack, what’s going on? Where am I?”

Father and Willis turned their gaze away as Sarah sat up, at first not realizing she had no clothes on. She immediately pulled the sheet under her chin when she noticed her clothes lying on the bed beside her.

“Hurry, get dressed,” Jack urged as he looked at her uncovered legs. The candles cast a radiant glow on her smooth skin.

“Stop looking at me.”

Jack turned his back toward her. “Okay, make it fast.”

Sarah dressed quickly. When she stood to buckle the belt on her jeans, she felt her abdomen. “What’s this stuff?”

Jack turned around and looked at the creamy white concoction spread on her skin as she lost balance and sat back down on the bed. “We’ll talk about it later.”

“Can we look?” Willis asked.

“Yeah,” Jack said, helping Sarah stand.

Father and Willis walked over to Sarah, relieved they had found her seemingly unharmed.

“Jack, we should find the computers and Tony and Clare,” Father said.

Jack handed Willis his cell phone. “Text Clare and tell them we have Sarah and we’re going to find the main computers.”

Willis sent the text as Jack slowly opened the door. He looked out into the hallway, motioning the rest to follow. He led them down the stairwell to the back door where they exited into the storm. Thunder cracked as heavy rain soaked them. Jack looked around the corner toward what appeared to be the building that Max had pointed out to him.

“What do you see?” Father asked as he pulled his black clerical jacket over his head like a tarp.

“It’s hard to make anything out through the rain, but I see the building I think we need to get to. It’s red and connected to the reactor,” Jack said. “Unfortunately, it’s behind another fence and guard shack.”

Suddenly a shriek came from inside the building they had just left.

“Was that sound the storm or one of those things just realizing Mom is gone?” Willis said, pulling the hood of his sweatshirt over his head as he wiped the pouring rain from his face and eyes.

“We’d better get out of here, Jack,” Father said.

Jack looked around the corner again. “I don’t see anyone, so I don’t know if they’re in the guard shack, the building we’re heading to, or someplace else.”

“Let’s just go for it,” Willis said, holding Sarah’s arm to keep her from falling.

“We’re gonna have to,” Father said. “That alien will find us any second.”

Jack looked back at Willis, then at Sarah. “Willis, watch your mom. Let’s go.”

They ran along the fence to the guard shack. The torrential rain acted like a cloaking shield, blurring them into the background. Jack saw two people with AK47s go inside the building where they had held Sarah. With Jack leading the way, they ran through the guard shack gate to the engineering building, then burst through the main doors, feeling like rats escaping a flooded sewer drain.

Panels of computer screens, dials, knobs, and buttons lined the walls. Long tables in the room had monitors, keyboards, gauges, and telephones, reminding Jack of NASA’s Launch Control Center.

“Where the hell is a USB port?” Jack shouted as he took the wet flash drive from his soaked pocket. Water dripped from his clothing onto the floor, leaving a slippery path on the beige tiles. “I see everything except what I’m looking for.”

“Here,” Willis said sitting down at a desk. “Give me the thumb drive.”

Jack handed it to Willis who promptly pushed it into a port.

“They’re coming,” Father said looking through the rain pelted glass of the front door.

“Is it infecting the computer, Willis?” Jack asked, his jawline was tense. He nervously wiped the rain from his eyes as it dripped down from his wet hair.

Monitors flickered. “I think so.”

A human with an assault rifle and a half-breed reached the front door and entered the building. They stopped when they saw Jack, Father, and Willis with raised weapons standing their ground.

“The half-breed’s mine,” Jack said, aiming his Kimber toward the drenched figure. Its wet robe clung to its skinny body.

Willis and Father focused their weapons on the human who was aiming back at them with his assault rifle.

Jack glared at the half-breed who returned eye contact. “Stay right there, you bastard.”

The half-breed looked confused. “My name is Rausuca. I mean you no harm, Jack.”

Jack looked at Sarah, who was standing next to Willis.

“That’s him,” she sneered.

“You piece of shit,” Jack said. “You raped Sarah. I should kill you right where you stand.”

Then two half-breeds entered the far end of the room from the reactor side. They stopped as Rausuca held up his hand. Willis turned and pointed his Winchester in their direction.

“How do you know my name?” Jack asked, Kimber still pointed at its moist head.

“We know a lot about the people of this planet, Earth.” Rausuca looked at Sarah, who was pressing a hand to her throbbing temple. “We are from Zeta Reticuli and are here to stop the wars, cure disease, and heal the planet. Something your people have not been able to manage.”

“I want to kill you,” Jack said. “My trigger finger is getting a little antsy.”

“You do not want to do that,” Rausuca said calmly as if it felt no shots would be fired at him. “I am the ruler of this region and I need to produce an heir who will be supreme commander to my people and a messiah to your people. If any harm comes to me all of you will be destroyed, even Sarah.”

Sarah was slowly regaining her senses. She looked at Rausuca with disgust as images of what he had done to her in that room flashed through her mind. She was about to speak when the lights of the facility started to flicker, and all power went out. After several seconds, the emergency lights powered on.

Rausuca began speaking in broken clicks to the two half-breeds across the room. They drew weapons similar to a small wand and began walking toward them.

With inhuman speed, Rausuca grabbed Jack’s gun away from him with one hand and clenched his neck with the other. “It is quite a powerful human feeling to have this dominance over you. And as I savor this moment, Jack, I can tell you the human feelings of mating with Sarah were quite pleasurable. Do you want me to tell you all about it? I could tell you how she enjoyed every moment, as did I.”

“Don’t listen to him, Jack,” Father said, his handgun still pointed at the human with the AK47.

Jack tried to break free but seemed paralyzed, unable to move his arms and legs. He tried to speak but was mute. All he could do was look into the half-breed’s cold dark eyes.

“Instead, I will end your life.” Rausuca brought his wand up to Jack’s temple but before it could be activated, a long, straight blade swept between their faces in a blur, striking Rausuca’s hand, causing him to drop the slender rod.

Sarah lunged for Rausuca’s weapon. She picked up the golden stick as Willis began firing at the approaching half-breeds. She turned around to see his shots being deflected as if there were a shield around them. The golden rod made her hand tingle as she pointed it at the half-breeds. She felt no buttons, levers, or any type of trigger, but nonetheless, the wand shot a beam at the two aliens who fell immediately to the floor.

Then Tony and Clare ran through the front entry. The person with an assault rifle pointed it at Tony just as Father shot his leg, causing him to cry out in pain. He bent over, grabbed his bloody extremity as Clare ran up to the human and held her .44 Magnum to his trembling head.

“Give me your weapon,” Clare said. “Or do I have to kill you and take it that way?”

The man slipped the sling over his head and sat the rifle on the floor, leaving bloody handprints on the stock. Clare picked it up as Tony ran up behind Rausuca and held a bowie knife to its throat.

Rausuca released his grip on Jack when he felt the knife blade against his throat and saw Sarah pointing his weapon at him. Jack dropped to his knees. Sarah ran over to him and tried to help him stand while still aiming the wand at Rausuca.

“Sarah, you must be careful with that,” Rausuca said. Tony pressed the knife blade deeper against Rausuca’s throat, drawing blood as he spoke. “It has the power to destroy us all.”

Just then, the professor came in through the front door, gasping for breath from forcing his overweight body to keep up with Tony and Clare. He saw Rausuca and approached him, breathing heavy breaths inches from its face. “You’ve almost destroyed the human race, I find that appalling. You could’ve approached us on friendly terms, and we could learn from each other. But right now, I want nothing to do with your kind.” The professor inhaled deeply and let out a large moist cough, spewing infected droplets into the face of Rausuca.

Rausuca tried to break free from Tony’s grasp but was unable. “You imbecile, what have you done?”

The professor smiled. “I just exposed you to the flu, a virus that I’m sure you have no antibodies for. Sarah’s contagious too, so anyone who’s come into close contact with her or any of us will get sick and die.”

Tony’s biceps flexed as he spoke with a Dirty Harry voice close to Rausuca’s ear. “All the power plants of the world that you bastards are at are now infected, so I suggest you call your cohorts and leave this planet because there are more viruses where that one came from.”

“You think that exposing us to a virus will kill us? We have been to this planet many times and have never been hurt by your viruses.”

“But not half-breeds,” Sarah said, coughing. “Your human half will get sick and who knows how that will affect your alien half. You’re certainly immunocompromised and likely to die.”

For the first time, Rausuca seemed concerned. “May I have my device back?”

Sarah looked at the gold metallic wand in her hand. She felt a cold, electric sensation in her fingers as she pointed it at Rausuca. “This is mine now. Besides, I think you’re powerless without it.”

“I hate to mention this,” Father said. “But what exactly are we supposed to do with them?”

Jack regained his strength and retrieved his Kimber from the floor, pointing it at Rausuca’s crotch. “I think we should put an end to Rausuca’s fun.”

“Do not be hasty, Jack. I think we can work out a deal. We have been protecting your planet from the galactic war for decades in exchange for interbreeding. Your government has already agreed to this.”

Jack hesitated, unsure how to process what Rausuca had just told him. “What did you have in mind?”

Rausuca looked at the motionless half-breeds spread out on the floor. “Let me live and we will leave your planet.”

“What about the terraforming, zombies, and spider drones?” Sarah asked.

“All activity will cease.”

“I don’t trust him,” Jack said as his shoulder twitched.

“I don’t either,” Tony said, keeping firm pressure on the blade against Rausuca’s throat.

Then a warning alarm sounded, “Sixty seconds to core meltdown.” A large red button on the emergency shutdown panel glowed, waiting for confirmation to fire explosive bolts that would blow the control rods into the reactor, stopping a nuclear reaction.

Rausuca’s voice was raspy from the blade’s pressure. “You thought you were so clever shutting down the reactor but instead there will be a meltdown and you all will die.”

Rausuca looked up toward the ceiling and in an instant, he, the dead half-breeds, and the wounded human had vanished.

“Where’d they go?” Willis asked, walking over to where the bodies had been.

“I think they were transported to their ship,” Sarah said.

“Thirty seconds to core meltdown,” the warning blared.

“What do we do?” Jack asked running over to the emergency shutdown panel. In a frenzy, he raised his arms in despair as he looked at the mock Christmas display of flashing lights.

The professor ran next to Jack and examined the panels, buttons, and flashing red lights.

“Ten seconds to core meltdown,” the alarm sounded.

The professor held his hand over a glowing red button with the words IMMEDIATE SHUTDOWN COMMENCE. “I hope this is the right button,” he said. He pressed it and stepped back.

No one said a word as they waited for a sign that the professor had made the correct decision or whether they should run for their lives. Loud booming sounds came from within the reactor as if it were getting ready to explode and release radioactive fallout into the air.

Then the audio system announced, “Reactor shutdown successful.”

They all looked around at each other as smiles formed on their faces; they began to cheer and exchange hugs and high-fives in triumphant celebration.

Jack pulled Sarah close and held her tight. The jubilant commotion reminded him of the reaction in the control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory when the rover Curiosity had landed safely on Mars.

“I can’t believe it,” Clare said, clapping her hands above her head. “We actually did it.”

“Don’t get too excited,” Jack said, still holding Sarah close. “There’s at least one more human with an AK47 that may be out there.”

“Thanks for bringing us down, Jack,” Sarah teased, nudging him with her arm.

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 32

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

THIRTY-TWO

Tony pulled into Van Buren State Park and parked where they had on their last trip to Palisades Nuclear Power Plant. He looked at his watch. “We have two hours to find the central computers and Sarah.”

Professor Dillon coughed up a large gob of sputum into his saturated handkerchief and wiped his mouth.

“If we’re not sick now, we all will be by the time this is over,” Jack said, turning his head toward the window. He did not want to breathe in any of the professor’s moist exhalations.

 The professor blew his nose and placed the soiled linen cloth into his breast pocket. “Jack’s right. So even though you may not be feeling sick right now, you could all be contagious so don’t forget to cough and breathe on the aliens.”

“I don’t think I want to get that close,” Jack said. His breath placed a temporary patch of steam on the glass.

“Maybe you could kiss a woman half-breed,” Willis said, laughing.

“I don’t think so,” Jack said. He looked back at Willis. “But if duty calls I’ll do what’s necessary.”

Tony turned off the van’s headlights. “Are you able to get over the perimeter fence, Jack?”

“No way, we’ll all have to go in through the main entrance like you and Clare did last time.”

“I hope the gate’s open,” Tony said, flexing his biceps. “Last time they weren’t expecting us, but this time they have Sarah so they may be waiting for us.”

Clare rubbed the swollen glands in her throat and turned back toward Father and Willis sitting in the rearmost seat. “At the risk of sounding religious, I think Father should pray or something.”

“I guess it won’t hurt,” Jack said. “But I don’t think God has ever helped me in my life.”

Father smiled and nodded. “I think a prayer to Saint Michael would be appropriate at this time.”

The van was quiet as Father bowed his head and said, “Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits, who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”

Only Willis did the Sign of the Cross with Father, the rest wasted no time reviewing the map that Max had given Jack. After deciding on the best way to hide so that they could find the computers and Sarah, they left the van and walked together over the tree-covered dunes toward the power plant. When they reached the final summit, next to the perimeter fence, they crouched down.

Straight ahead and below them was the facility; to the right was Lake Michigan. A distant muffled thunderclap was heard over the waves as they slapped against the sandy shoreline. Flashes of lightning lit the horizon.

Tony looked through his binoculars at a box truck driving into the facility. “The gate’s open, looks like they’re still bringing in bodies.”

Willis looked through the scope on his thirty-thirty. “Which building is Mom in?”

Jack looked at the various structures. Security lights cast a white glow along walls and paths while other areas were cast in shadow. The 189-foot tall circular building containing the nuclear fission process of splitting uranium atoms and radioactivity seemed ominous, like a rocket ready to ignite and carry astronauts into space. He turned his attention to a building close-by. “Probably that two-story building over by where they’re packing in the cocoons.”

Clare looked back at the professor. “I hope you’re well enough to run because we’re going to be moving quickly.”

The professor nodded, his eyebrows raised and eyes wide open. “Don’t worry, I’ll be keeping up.”

“Shit,” Jack said, looking through his binoculars. “I see a couple people with assault rifles.”

“AK47s,” Tony added.

“I think we can still get in without them seeing us,” Clare said. “They look like they’re preoccupied with cocoons, and there are plenty of shadows.”

“Once we get inside we’ll split up,” Tony said. “Professor, you come with Clare and me to find the computers. The rest of you follow Jack and find Sarah.”

The group descended the hill toward the entrance where another box truck had just entered. They ran through the open gate then split up. Jack’s group crouched and moved through the shadows of vehicles in the parking lot toward the two-story building. The final row of cars was not far from the building. The approaching storm illuminated the steam rising from the mechanical draft cooling towers as the billowing vapor floated skyward.

Jack motioned for everyone to stay low and come toward him. He pointed toward the back of the building. After making one final look around he tried to run as if he were a Jedi Knight that could float through the air. Instead, the stones scratched the cement below his feet as he ran between the concrete block barriers and across the parking lot to the back door of the building. It was obvious he did not have the Force with him.

While everyone caught up and cuddled behind Jack, he tried the door, but it would not open.

“How are we getting in,” Willis whispered.

“I don’t know,” Jack said, examining the metal door’s lock.

“We could shoot out the lock,” Father said. “My gun has a silencer.”

Jack smiled. “You dog, good idea, but I don’t think your handgun is powerful enough. Besides, there are people, half-breeds, aliens, whatever the heck they are; on the other side of the building guarding the front entrance and I think they’ll be able to hear the impact.” Jack paused, and then said, “You can shoot the half-breeds in the head when we get inside.”

Father cringed.

“What about my thirty-thirty?” Willis asked.

“Sarah’s shotgun might work, but we don’t have it,” Jack replied. “I’ll try it first with my Kimber then you can use your rifle.”

“It’ll be loud without a silencer,” Father said.

“We need a distraction,” Willis said. “I could set off a car alarm.”

“What if there isn’t a car alarm?” Father asked.

“I’ll just break in and set the horn off,” Willis said.

“And how do you know how to break into a car?” Father asked.

“Don’t ask,” Willis replied.

“The distraction has to be something that won’t alert them to intruders and rather just be something that looks natural,” Jack said.

“Like what?” Willis asked.

“Maybe the car alarm could be caused by something natural.” Father shrugged.

“There are security cameras,” Jack said.

“They haven’t seen us yet,” Willis emphasized.

“He has a point,” Father said.

“I’m sure the cameras are working, but there just isn’t enough staff to man them,” Jack said.

“Where are the cameras?” Willis asked.

Jack looked around. “That pole looks like it has one.”

“Let’s just shoot it out,” Willis said.

“We need silence,” Jack reminded him.

The storm’s headwind blew a cold gush of wind over them. They turned their backs to the pelting sand as thunder cracked, and lightning momentarily blinded them.

“Time the shots with the thunder,” Willis said. “Besides, they’ll be running for cover when it starts pouring.”

“That’ll work.” Jack motioned for Willis and Father to move toward the corner of the building to avoid ricocheting shot and metal. Lightning flashed and just as thunder clapped, Jack shot at the lock. The echo of the shot reverberated with the thunder’s peal. He ran up to the door but was still unable to get in.

“Let me try,” Willis said, walking toward the door.

“Don’t stand so close,” Jack said, motioning for Willis to back up.

Willis backed away, adjusted his scope, and pulled the trigger as another round of thunder echoed through the complex. The explosive sound made it seem as though the nuclear reactor had been hit by lightning and was going to explode.

Jack ran to the door and pulled the handle. The door budged. He used his shirt to shake the hot metal pieces loose. The door rattled open with a firm tug.

“I’m a good shot,” Willis said, pulling back his shoulders and raising his chin.

“I loosened it for you,” Jack said with a wink.

The door opened into the back stairwell. There were stairs leading up to the second floor and down to the basement. Jack could see the central corridor through the small window in the door straight ahead. The guards would most likely seek shelter in that corridor when the rain begins.

Jack turned to the left and slowly went up the stairs, Willis and Father right behind him. When he reached the landing for the second floor, he looked through the hall door’s tempered glass porthole. He saw a half-breed leave a room halfway down the hall on the right. He stood still, waiting to see if anyone else exited the room. No one did.

Jack turned and whispered. “Be alert, I just saw an alien leave a room.”

They nodded and followed Jack into the hallway, quietly closing the stairwell door behind them. Jack gently turned the knob of the first door; it was locked. He walked to the next room, and it too was locked. They approached the room the half-breed had exited. Jack mouthed and motioned to them this was the room that the alien had left. Father and Willis raised their weapons as Jack put his hand on the doorknob; it turned. He slowly pushed the door open.

The ambiance of the room was subdued. Candles throughout the space were barely flickering as their flames burned low. A table of uneaten food and unused place settings seemed out of place. In the far corner was a bed, the bed Sarah was in.

Jack motioned for Willis and Father to stand guard at the door while he approached the bed and pushed aside the sheer canopy drape. Sarah was still, her eyes closed. He noticed drinks on the bedside table and that her shoulders were bare as they peeked through the top of a white satin sheet. He was drawn to the form of her breasts and her rhythmical breathing that slowly heaved them up and down. She seemed peaceful and in a deep sleep, reminding Jack of the fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty.

He gently lifted the shiny material away from her smooth skin. His hunch was correct; she was naked. He knew she had been violated, and he hated them for it. The soft curves of her body had to be ignored as he grabbed her clothes from the chair beside the bed. He nudged her shoulder.

“Sarah,” Jack said softly. “Sarah, wake up.”

She did not move.

“Someone’s coming,” Father said in a loud whisper.

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 31

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

THIRTY-ONE

“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.”

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 30

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

THIRTY

The throbbing from the implant in Sarah’s arm had stopped by the time the spider drones delivered her at Palisades Nuclear Power Plant. They set her down carefully inside a circle of half-breeds and humans. She rubbed her arms, sore from the drones’ tight grips. Looking around, she noticed she was in the parking area beside a two-story building not far from the reactor. The long shadows cast by the setting sun did not impede her view enough to keep her from noticing everyone staring at her. Then she gasped at what she saw. Some in the ring of people appeared half-human and half-alien, standing proper and still with hands clasped in front of their long white robes. The ones that were human were smiling and talking among themselves, like construction workers ready to begin catcalls. Then spotlights clicked on. She covered her eyes from their blinding glare. She felt like a cornered rabbit, not sure whether to run or stay put.

A half-breed approached her and held out its hand. In broken English that clicked as its epiglottis snapped back, it said, “My name is Rausuca, welcome.”

She looked at its pale human hand. It was the same hand she had seen extended to her as a young adult when she was awakened in the middle of the night by a flash of light similar to lightning. A being dressed in a white robe floated to the side of her bed and extended its hand. She remembers not making out any facial features; its face was fuzzy, but she had placed her hand in its and that was all she remembered. She had told her parents about it the next morning, but they had thought it was a dream. This being in front of her, however, was real. Using her hand for shade, she looked at its eyes, human yet larger. Its mouth was small with thin lips. The skin was gray. Oddly, she felt a familiarity with this being.

 She did not shake its hand. “Why am I here?”

“You are my guest,” Rausuca said, reaching for her trembling palm.

Sarah crossed her arms so that it could not touch her. She had been kidnapped and was not going to play along with whatever this thing had in mind. “You haven’t told me why I’m here.”

The half-breed came close to Sarah, so close she could feel a coldness radiate from its body and smell its sour breath. “I am the leader of Carenderlaa. We have come to join your people. We are peaceful and seek unity.”

“You infected us and turned us into zombies, how can you possibly be here in peace?” Sarah said, avoiding its gaze.

“The infection was unfortunate,” it said. “Soon an asteroid will impact your planet. To protect your species, my people need to alter your environment so that we can inhabit your world and prevent this cataclysmic event. It appears you humans did not tolerate the terraforming. It is quite regrettable.”

“Why didn’t you stop when you saw what it was doing to us?”

“It did not affect all your people, look at yourself,” it said. “The sacrifice is necessary for us to help you. We will rescue your kind and give you a savior.”

“You have hurt us, not helped us.”

“I know you doubt our intentions, but you must trust me,” it said. “Just as an earlier savior named Jesus Christ was born of a woman long ago, a new savior will be born to guide your people from darkness to light.”

Sarah looked down at the pavement, unsure what to say.

“Come inside the building with me,” it said, beginning to turn.

“I’m not going anywhere with you,” she said. She could hear the chuckles of the humans, and she knew they were leering at her. To get away from them, she would need to follow the half-breed.

“Please, follow me,” Rausuca said, walking toward the entrance. Its white robe billowed with each stride.

Sarah followed the half-breed inside the lobby of the building. Away from the glare of the floodlights, she was better able to see Rausuca’s facial features. She turned her head away from the unbelievable sight. The half-breed made her think of a deviant scientist’s lab, where human genes would be cloned with animals, producing ugly and deformed subjects. While this walking experiment was not hideous, it was not an ordinary human.

He led her down the hall to a room. “This way,” he said, entering the doorway.

Sarah looked inside the open door. She could not believe what she was seeing. The ambient light of the room was calming. A table of food, wine, and burning candles were to one side while cushioned chairs and a bed with a canopy was in the far corner. It was as if a romantic evening had been pulled from her head, but this was not Jack, this was a freak.

As the thing took a bottle of wine and poured it into two glasses, she knew its intentions. It wanted to have sex with her. She resisted the odd sensation to obey him but still took the stemware it handed her and looked inside the bowl. It did not contain wine but rather a nectar.

“Drink,” Rausuca said, sipping from his glass. “It is good.”

It took all her willpower to resist the sweet floral bouquet rising from the crystal. She did not drink, but the glass was still in her hand. “Why are you doing this?”

Rausuca seemed perplexed. “You are strong-willed. Look at me, and I will tell you all about it.” It placed a cold hand underneath Sarah’s chin and began to guide her face toward his.

Sarah stumbled back, dropping the glass she held. The thin honey drink spilled on the paisley carpet. She crawled away from her kidnapper, unable to stand and run. It was as if this thing had power over her and could drain her energy, even paralyze.

“You will not resist,” it said, walking up to Sarah.

“Stay away from me,” she shouted, now crawling as it approached. Looking up, she noticed it had something in its hand. Not a glass of nectar but a device similar to a long, slender penlight. Before she could block its hand, it had the light next to her temple and everything went black.

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 29

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

TWENTY-NINE

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.”

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 28

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

TWENTY-EIGHT

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?

No.

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.