You are on page 1of 419

For Debby, without whom this story-

and my own- would be very different.

1
Prologue

In 2001 a woman sits in calmly in a councillors office in New York city and talks about

some strange dreams she has been having.

“My dreams are very powerful,” she tells him.

“Powerful. How?” he asks her, in his self help CD voice.

“They provoke strong emotions, or sometimes a terrible numbness, amounting to

physical coldness.”

“I see. Describe your dreams.”

“That’s just it Doctor,” the woman replies, “they are very hard to describe. They

are...abstract somehow, while at other times almost impossibly detailed.”

“Tell me about the abstract ones.”

“There are often no images. Just a voice. It is confused, and there is anger. I feel

frustration in these dreams, as if I am pushing for some sort of realisation but cannot

2
reach it.”

“How do these dreams make you feel?”

“As I told you, frustrated. Sometimes scared, confused... I feel as if I am trying to unlock

a great mystery...or as if it is.”

“It?”

“Yes. I am sure that in the dreams I am not the main character.”

“I see. Is this where your confusion comes from?”

“Partly.”

“Tell me about the other dreams.”

“They are very visual, and often unsettling. Oh, its just that its more what you might

expect my husband to dream about.”

“Your husband?”

“Yes. He likes science fiction and all that. I’m more of a Jane Austen type. The dreams

3
have images in them of other places. Animals and plants that I have never seen. It is

confusing. In my dreams I try to process what I see but I cannot. The information is

indistinct and disorganised. Sight, sound and feeling all merge for me in the dreams.”

“So in these dreams you try to make sense of these things?”

“Sometimes I do, and sometimes it seems that another does.”

“Another?”

“A traveller I think, who goes to these far off places.”

“What does this traveller want?”

“ It is not even aware that it wants...it just...is.”

“You feel empathy for the traveller?”

“I suppose.”

“Do you feel a need to travel?”

“I think of it often yes, but we do travel, me and my husband. We’re going to Florida in

4
the summer.”

“Do you feel trapped?”

“Me, no! Not for a moment.”

“Hmm.”

“Do you think these dreams actually mean anything?”

“Do you? You are the one who scheduled these sessions after all.”

“It’s just that the dreams are so frequent, and make me feel so strongly.”

“Has anything changed in these dreams?”

“They make more sense as they go on.”

“The images become more human in nature?”

“No, I seem to understand the alien images more and more in my dreams.”

“Tell me.”

5
“I can’t. The images lose all sense when I’m awake.”

“But you understand them when you dream about them?”

“I guess so. I know, it all sounds so crazy.”

“Not allowed to use that word in here,” the doctor joked flatly.

“Sorry,” the woman said with a small smile.

A few weeks later she came back, still smiling, still radiant in fact, and friendly as

always, making the councillor feel at ease rather than the other way around.

“I assume since you’re here that you have had more dreams?”

“Yes I have. Four out of seven nights a week now.”

“They have increased.”

“Yes.”

“I see.”

6
He said this alot, despite the fact that he did not.

“They make more sense now, are more organised.”

“Can you tell me about them clearly now?”

“No, not clearly, but I can give more detail,” the woman said, little shadows of

nervousness playing in her eyes. She maintained the smile though she wrung her hands

ever so slightly.

“They are very powerful, as before, but the impression left by them is... different.”

“How so?”

The woman became more clearly nervous at this point

“Whatever is organising these thoughts is coming to conclusions, making decisions,

having ideas.”

“Whoever? These dreams are the product of your own mind- do not confuse that. You’re

talking as if there is a separate entity- remember they are dreams.”

The woman ignored the councillor.

7
“...Is having ideas...and the impression left behind is one of malevolence.”

“Which means something I guarantee, but it is nothing to be alarmed about.”

“No, sorry. I’m just...they feel less like dreams than they do...insights into something

terrible.”

“Dreams can often seem like they are giving us insights, but they are only insights into

ourselves.”

“I’m sure you’re right. It’s just that after the dreams I feel, infiltrated by this feeling of

despair and darkness. I feel helpless to stop it.. in my dream, I mean...”

“Now we’re getting somewhere. What do you feel helpless about in real life?”

“Evil.”

“Evil?”

“The overrunning tide of it. These days...I don’t know. People do terrible things to each

other.”

“Yes they do. But obviously you are not one of them. You cannot control what you

8
dream about. Perhaps these dreams are just a reflection of real life worry about society, or

a family member?”

“It does not feel like that- when I wake up, I feel encompassed by evil. I’m sorry but that

is the only word I can use.”

“Often we are all overwhelmed.”

“I don’t think you want to listen- I’m telling you that what I see is getting closer

somehow, and that it is aware now, aware of everything, conscious.”

The woman left and never came back to see the councillor. She was mugged two weeks

later as she went to a local store to get milk and was left in a comatose state.

Consciousness

9
Cave Creek, Arizona,

Summer 2009;

Terry Cartel woke up promptly at half five as he did every morning and put on the casual

clothes he had left discarded on the wicker chair beside his bed. He did not eat breakfast,

or read the paper, or turn on the morning news. He just dressed and brushed his teeth,

combed his greying hair, and sighed. It was the same every morning. It had been for the

past seven years. He’d wake up, dress and drive the ten minutes to the local hospital,

where he would walk in and have breakfast with his wife, watch the news with her, read

the morning papers. Then he would drive home again and change, holster his revolver,

shine his badge, and go to work, ignoring the increasing mess that his house had become.

Terry came from a long line of police officers. A long line. His great, great grandfather

had in fact been the sheriff of Cave Creek. Terry had never lived there but had been

brought there often as a child to visit his grandparents. He had always found the trip

disagreeable. Arizona was too harsh, and even though he had spent very little time there

really he had always felt somehow smothered there. He remembered the mind numbing

drive thorough desert canyons and unforgiving plains, viewed through the distorting haze

of half sleep and sweat dripping into his young eyes. Cactus’ loomed out of the orange

haze, erieely human- like to his child’s mind; prickly forms adopting some ritual stance,

guarding an empty shrine to heat and suffering, like organic scarecrows, engineered by a

malevolent world. Only flickers of life emerged when the sun set, after the blaze of

orange had surrendered to the clear cool night, as if extinguished. Shadows shifted across

10
the road, desert foxes and small geckos watched by Terry’s sleepless wide eyes, two orbs

taking in the surreal dreamlike journey the way a squeamish kid watched a horror movie-

afraid but unable to turn away. We are drawn to our fears; and Terry Cartel was scared of

the desert. He felt people were not meant to live there, and even though Cave Creek was

actually a large town, he always remembered how it had looked from the air when

George Carter had taken him up on a photography flight in his little two seater. The town

had seemed besieged by the desert. Surrounded and small. Enclosed and threatened, as if

the desert was trying to encroach upon its borders like a creeping evil.

That day was no different to any other, and it past without incident. He had just gotten

back from visiting family in New York and was glad of a quiet day. At about four the

phone rang down the hall and Barry Johnson came walking in with a bemused look on his

face. Barry was a bear of a man, thick grey beard streaked with white, and dark grey hair

streaked with the remains of black. He had kind eyes though and more often than not a

smile creased what you could see of his face beneath his beard. He stood framed in the

doorway to Cartels office now, one hand resting easily on the holster of his old Revolver.

“I know you want out’a that office Chief,” Barry said. Terry shot him a look that said,

‘Don’t tell me how petty the call-out is, I’ll come.’

Half an hour later Terrence Cartel sat in his patrol car looking forlornly at Ray Stanton

and Barry Hedges, his right hand man.

“So she said she wanted us out here because her husband was acting strangely; playing

11
with the kids and the like.”

“Yep. Also she said that her brother had called and invited them out to tea like he used to

years ago.”

“You’re making it real easy for me to poke fun at small town policing Barry.”

“She said she was afraid that there was some sort of conspiracy.”

“Her husband pays some attention to his kids instead of going to the ‘Alien Spirits’ to get

drunk and her brother wants to catch up- yea, obviously they’re part of a sacrifice cult.”

“Terry, be diplomatic.”

“Diplomatic? What do I say to Harvey Ferrier when he asks me why I was out at his

house? Your wife is concerned you spend too much time with your children? Yea, that

sounds real good. We’re cops, not private detectives.”

“Fair point, but what if she’s right? You need to take this stuff seriously, small town folk

are perceptive about change Terry, you should know that by now. You know that western

cliché of a stranger in town causing a stir; well it’s true. Out here people are more attuned

to the fine detail. That would be one advantage over city folk right there.”

12
Terry opened his mouth but found no argument. Barry was right about this one. Men

could sit dead on a subway car for three days before someone noticed in the city.

Terry and Barry had a running repartee based on this small town/big city rivalry. When

the other cops decided to take offence at Terry’s bemusement at their town, Barry had

made a joke and begun a comical dialogue that was the basis of their friendship. Terry

trusted Barry, he was a smart man, and resourceful, although he had lived in Cave Creek

all his life, he understood the ways of the world, and people. Barry had three children

with his wife, Marlene. He was younger than Cartel by nine years. Barry’s wife and three

kids were fond of Terry, and only Barry could see what his wife could not- he would

never invite Terry around for Christmas dinner, or even a birthday party- because he

knew, he knew it shattered the big man to pieces. Barry’s life was what Cartel had always

wanted his to be- three kids, a loving wife. Now Terry was painfully alone, and only

Barry could see it clearly. So he never invited him, and Terry never took offence.

“Looks like she’s not even in, let’s head back, we’ll take the back road and check on the

canyon, make sure our glue sniffers aren’t back.”

“Ray!” Barry shouted, “Ground control to major Tom there!”

Ray, who had been engrossed in a hardback graphic novel, snapped to alertness and

dropped his book.

13
“What is this Ray? More saucer men from Mars? Not on patrol kid, not on patrol!”

“But you said…”

“I know what I said Ray, but if we get a random inspection from some bigwig, and I’m

sitting here, letting you read- what does that say- ‘The Killing Joke’- then I’ll look

mighty stupid now won’t I?”

“Yes sir, I mean, I don’t mean to imply that you’ll actually look stupid sir, I…”

“He gets it, Ray, he gets it. Drive on. Thought you’d gone off these things anyway?”

“Recently I’ve had a resurgence in interest.”

“A resurgence… ah. Other folk rediscover family interests and you fall back in love with

comic books- maybe there is something going on in this town! I’m just glad it’s not

another UFO mania.”

“People start treating each other better and here we are all suspicious. You’d think we

was city folk! Heck, last week ole Misses Harington started teachin’ again. Hasn’t

darkened a classroom door since Greg passed away in the school fire of 78’. Didn’t think

she ever would. She taught me you know. When I showed up,” he added with a smile.

14
“I hate to play into my cynical city guy stereotype, but there was Harold Granger last

week, who was found covered in blood after havin’ butchered those cattle...”

“That was as strange a thing as ever I seen I must admit,” Barry conceded. “That kid ain’t

raised his voice to so much as a cricket all his life, let alone his hand...but to do what he

done ...well, I just feel bad for his folks. There’s obviously something badly wrong

upstairs that somehow got missed till now by all his teachers an’ family.”

“They’re lucky it wasn’t them he cut up.”

“No Terry, Harold ain’t got it in him to murder people,” Barry said, shaking his head, but

not sure.

“I’m telling you, I’ve seen it before so many times. I know it make no sense, and it’s not

a nice thing to think about, but that kid just wanted something to kill. He found the cows

first.”

An unsettling quiet fell over the car, Ray Stanton not knowing where to look. He stared

hard at his comic book.

“Then again people can get better as well as worse,” Terry added wearily, the words

carrying a knife edged double meaning for him, “sometimes.”

15
With that, they headed back to Cave Creek police station, a gothic old building that had

once been the town hall. It seemed to jar with the rest of Cave Creek, which to Terry’s

mind at least, still looked like an old frontier town. The rest of the day passed

uneventfully. There was an issue concerning Mr Cartwright’s lighting and whether or not

it was one hundred watts or less. If it was it needed to be shielded, the light forced down.

This was just one of the seemingly petty town laws that Cartel had inherited when he had

taken over as Chief of police. Things like making sure dogs did not bark between 10pm

and 7am, or that RV’s or other portable homes were covered up. These things were the

bread and butter of Terry’s average day and had been for the past seven years. That and

visiting Lilly at Cave Creek General every morning and night. That way it was like he

still left her in the morning and came home to her at night. On valentine’s day, birthdays

and anniversaries he would watch a DVD with her and bring her flowers or music to

listen to. Often he would be heard talking his way through the movie as if she could

answer him. At the start he always felt like she was there, and it comforted him, but lately

he had felt more and more alone in that room, colder somehow. George, Lilly’s father

thought Terry should move on and try to etch out some happiness while he still could, but

he would not even entertain the notion for a second. Terry had always identified himself

two ways; as a husband as a cop. He had been denied the joy of fatherhood early on. Lilly

could not have children. They were considering adoption when she was attacked, and

now Terry was left only with his identity as a cop and the shattered, torn remnants of his

role as a husband. He would not abandon it now. He would be the best he could be at

both, but lately it was getting harder. Cave Creek with its small problems and slow pace

was idyllic for many, but it was sucking the soul out of Cartel, a man who had been

16
regarded as the best cop in his precinct and tipped for detective at the time of Lilly’s

mugging. It seemed everything had stood on the brink that night, and if only they had

made it beyond that night they would have made it. All that they had built in their young

love misted minds had been swept aside that night, and Terry had been left to the ravages

of life without her. Now he was truly like a ship without an anchor. Whatever force had

bound him to her still remained, even if she was absent. Such is the curse and the wonder

of love. It sets up a line that must be walked yet often strips us of what we need to walk it

happily. Still the line must be walked, regardless of death or betrayal. Terry often

pondered darkly on these things, and many times concluded angrily that there was no

point to anything, and that the darkness always wins in the end. He had abandoned any

hope of ever speaking with his wife again, but would never seek another. Even had Lilly

died he would not have. It was just the way he was.

Terry was cursed with the need for meaning and answers. Everything had to mean

something to him, there had to be reason, cause. For Terry, life just had too many secrets.

Terry was a religious man, and with thought he came to the conclusion that much of

human frustration comes from our condition as essentially spiritual beings living in a

physical world. We constantly want to exceed our means. Who hasn’t wanted to fly like

superman, or move things with their mind like a comic book figure? Terry figured maybe

we were missing the abilities and insights that a spiritual being should have. Barry

laughed at him; it all seemed like too much philosophising for a cop, but then again Terry

had reason to ruminate upon the matters of mind and soul more than most.

17
Once a young nephew of his in New York had asked him after church, “What happens to

Aunt Lilly’s soul if she’s in a coma? She’s not dead, but not fully alive, so what does it

do- just wait?”

Others had laughed, but Terry had taken it to heart, mulling over it on the flight down to

Phoenix. Terry used to believe that human beings were made up of body and soul, and

that the soul and the mind were one and the same. Since Lilly’s accident however he did

not know anymore. She did not have the use of her mind anymore. Where did that leave

her soul then? Waiting? What about an Alzheimer’s patient? Their minds are not

functioning properly. Does that mean that the soul is faulty? Terry thought not, so figured

that people must be body, mind and spirit. In the case of coma victims or Alzheimer

patients Terry figured that the soul was somehow locked out of contact with the mind,

like a man sitting in the cab of his car being tied up. They’re still in there, but unable to

interface with the normal controls of the body. If this were true then consciousness would

be the result of a connection between the mind and the soul. Or maybe not; all these

things were the ruminations of Terry Cartel, cop and grieving husband, not philosopher

or scientist. It was all just a way for Terry to try to rationalise what had happened, to

somehow take it all and have some sort of control over it. At the end of the day, when all

other distractions and the stimulating noise and colour of the day were gone, there was

always futility. No matter what philosophic spin Terry could put on it all during the day

and for most of the night, in the tiny hours of the morning, at the loneliest, darkest part of

earths turning, futility always won out as the chief feeling, leading despair, loneliness and

emptiness behind it like a lord of Demons parading in victory to sicken its defeated

18
enemy. What was there left for a man of Fifty two, who had no future but to sit by the

side of the woman he loved, while she was there but not. To be so close to her, but

divided from her by the infinite distance between consciousness and unconsciousness, as

tangible and real a gap as between Heaven and Hell.

George and Meredith had been married a long time, and at the beginning no one

suspected that the loss of Lilly would change that in any way. It was well known that

young couples sometimes do not well survive the loss of a child, but a couple like the

Carters, who had been married for twenty four years already? At first they were grieving

together, only of course things went unsaid. Then one would grieve when another began

to get over the initial shock, and normalize. Meredith never understood how quickly

George had re-adjusted to life after Lillie’s accident. To her, Lilly was as good as dead, to

George, who had thought that way initially, there was hope. Lilly was in a coma; people

can wake up from comas. You hear about it on the news every so often., right? All

Meredith could see was her daughter lying still and helpless. Even if she did wake up,

sometimes it took twenty years, didn’t it? She doubted she would be around for that. To

the outside world they were a normal married couple, dealing with a terrible trial

together. Only Terry seen the truth. It was part of the reason he was not invited around so

much now.

When Terry had first arrived in their home, an eighteen year old with a sketchpad under

his arm full of comic book illustrations, it had been him and Lilly who were embarrassed

by her parents. They were cringingly ‘touchy feely,’ as Lil had put it then. Terry knew

19
that the Carter house was two houses now. George went to work all day in the living

room and basement. They opened up into each other and he had a refrigerator down there

so he did not need to come up again until tea time. Meredith said it was like he commuted

to the basement every day, because for all she seen of him, he might have well of been in

another city. That half of the house was undoubtedly his, with war memorabilia and Tom

Clancy books, stacks of old newspapers and the like adorning the living room, like it had

all overgrown somehow. Meredith had not been in there in six years. Her half of the

house was the good room that they entertained in- the globe, as Meredith called it, for it

was there that the put on their performance-and the kitchen, garden and bedroom. George

slept in the basement, causing the bedroom to become ’overgrown’ with her things. He

had not been there in six years.

It had happened one Thursday, on their wedding anniversary. They exchanged gifts, and

cards. It was hollow though, and unaccompanied by any joy. Meredith had not bothered

to tidy herself up when they went out for their customary dinner, and George did not

bother to order more than one course . They ate in silence, irritated by the laughter of a

younger couple a few tables away, and the scraping of soup spoons. George looked up

after his soup to see that Meredith had pin pricks of sparkling liquid at the corner of each

eye, and suddenly he resented her. She looked up to see the piercing pin pricks of that

resentment in his eyes, and that was that. No words were said, no fight was had, no

protest, no SOS, no attempt to save their sinking ship. They were never going to leave

each other, never that, and it was not about love, or the lack of it. They simply could not

bear to be around each other any more. Nothing to say, no plans to make, no point. He

20
slept in the basement that night and moved his things out of the bedroom the next day.

Not a word passed between them about it since. It was a mutual understanding, the type

of synchronicity that had made them right for each other in the first place.

It came as quite a shock then, when George suddenly arrived up from the basement that

morning at one o’ clock. He came into the kitchen to get a sandwich. He hadn’t been in

the kitchen at that time of day in six whole years, and Meredith watched him with no

small wonder. Further still surprising was the sound of his voice in the kitchen. At first

she did not hear what he said- only the sound of his voice. He had not spoken to her

without first being spoken to in so long. Then the meaning began to filter through and she

was further astounded. ‘Go out somewhere for lunch this afternoon?’ He had said that

right? Then he smiled- not at someone behind her, or at a sarcastic put down of his- but at

her. Even this at first, did not register, her brain struggling to recall the meaning of that

particular expression, but eventually she stammered that she would, and left the kitchen

quite shaken. Then she came back in;

“With you?” she asked tentatively, mentally chiding herself for thinking he had been

asking for her company- ‘he must have meant he wants me out of the house,’ she thought.

“Yes,” however, was all he said, himself beginning to look astounded now.

‘Had she said she would?’

21
Something good had happened. And it was not just Lilly’s ageing parents; all over Cave

Creek people were seemingly re-living lost vitality and interests thought long since dulled

by time and forgetfulness. There was a general feeling of good will. Old memories were

becoming stronger, as if accessed by some unseen force and brought to the fore once

again. Secretly most of the people knew what was causing it. They were on their

fireplaces, and on their windowsills, perched on bookshelves and hidden in cupboards.

Come eleven that night, Cartel was just settling down in his office at the Cave Creek

police department, when the phone rang out in the main reception. Young Ray Barkley

answered it, then burst into the Sheriff’s office with characteristic melodrama and

blurted, “Someone just called from Fincher’s Hill! They say there’s been some sort of

close encounter!”

Terrence Cartel was not one bit amused. He wasn’t some hick sheriff; he had been an

NYPD detective. Ten years investigating the grizzliest murder scenes imaginable. He

wasn’t going to be treated like a country bumpkin just because he had moved to a small

town precinct. His wife needed to be near her parents since her accident, and he had not

hesitated for one second in making the choice between his career and Lilly. However, he

was not going to be taken for a fool. Not that he looked on his new colleagues as fools,

just as less experienced and smaller minded. He had no doubt he was patronising. He

didn’t care. Lately some of the youngsters in the town thought they could make an ass out

22
of the police service. To be fair they had, in Terrence’s opinion. Until now. Now it

stopped. Folk might not like him, colleagues may murmur about this ‘city slicker’ with

his classic porche, but he didn’t care. They were right about one thing; he looked

ridiculous riding around in his porche. In the city it made sense. Here it was constantly

caked in dust and mitigated by pick -ups.

“Cars haven’t reached this far yet,” Terrence used to say. Backward. That’s what he

thought the place was, backward. The porche would have to go though. It was ridiculous,

and in truth, any car was useless out there.

These were the thoughts that Terrence dwelt on as he climbed the dusty hill side on the

outskirts of town. He had insisted he go alone. Behind him, the town lights huddled

together. From there the town looked so small, as if the desert was threatening to swallow

it up at any moment. It was dusk, and a warm wind still blew down the hillside at him as

he climbed. He shouldn’t be out there he knew. No police officer should. They were

being pranked again. Even so, the claims were of a potentially serious nature if they held

any truth at all, and Terrence was determined to check it out for himself. Then he could

go personally to the suspected hoaxers. He hadn’t gone to school with their fathers or

dated their mothers in high school like half the police force. The pranks would stop.

Police officers were not an object of mockery in New York, they were feared and

respected, and it would be the same here. He remembered the last ‘prank’ call. Someone

had called the station saying a ‘spaceship’ had crashed on their land. Terrence had not

believed his ears at the time, but this was Arizona. The so-called ‘Area 51’ was only

23
about one hundred miles into the desert from were he lived. People made their living here

‘coning tourists and be-spectacled trekkies,’ according to Terrence. People came looking

for lights in the sky and hoping to sneak close to Area 51 all the time. Terrence had

driven pretty close a few times on duty. It didn’t look like much and he didn’t care much.

‘If the military are keeping secret planes there then let them alone,’ was his attitude. As if

they would anymore, with all the attention the place got. The ‘space-ship’ turned out to

be the engine of an old tractor wielded together with washing machine parts and the like.

Whoever had organised it had dug up the ground as if the object had made an impact

crater. It was even on fire when they arrived. Of course the young officers Terrence had

sent to investigate had jumped the gun and talked to the press, and now the police looked

like asses. Again. It had happened before. Terrence had looked over old newspapers

when he first arrived to see what kind of publicity the police had gotten in previous years.

His heart sank when the first headline he read said, ‘Police unearth alien artefact.’ He

sighed as he turned to the next weeks headline which somehow he knew would read,

‘Police admit alien artefact is junk mocked up by girlfriendless hicks who list ‘melting

stuff’ as a pastime.’ Of course the headline wasn’t quite that but Terrence hadn’t been too

far wrong;

‘Local police embarrassed by Alien fraud.’ It was pitiful.

So Terrence was out on a distant hillside that night, thinking about his porche and the fact

that now he could personally put an end to all this rubbish. He reached the top of the hill

and looked down at the flat plain below, allowing his eyes time to adjust. It was dark

now, and darker still on the other side of the hill. He shone his torch down and called out.

24
“Where are you? This is the sheriff, you called me half an hour ago?

At first there was no answer. Nothing stirred in the dim half light. He started to walk

cautiously down the hill, into the black. Then a faint murmer came gently, almost on the

wind it seemed. The first part of it was unintelligible, but the end was clear.

“…am I dead?”

Terrence shivered. All around him were bodies. Strewn across blood stained sand; men,

women and children, bloodied and pale, their faces contorted in former pain. One man

lay right at his feet, a large man, black thinning hair streaked with blood. He had a check

shirt on, a pair of muddied jeans that smelt like cow dung, and big heavy boots.

“Help me.”

Terrence stumbled back, and shone his torch all around, searching for the source of the

voice. Finally one figure stood up. Among the dead stood one slight young man, dressed

in the colours of the local baseball team.

“Are you ok, Son?” Terry called out, keeping the torch out of the boys face. He did not

answer.

25
“Were you the one who called me?” again no answer. Terrence lifted his torch beam until

it fell full on the young mans face. He dropped the torch immediately and started to run.

Terrence had never felt such a wild fear grip him before. He knew he shouldn’t run, but

reason was gone. He got over the hill and halfway down before he made himself stop.

Was he being affected by the paranoia of this place? That young man is very badly hurt

obviously, he told himself. Disgusted with himself, and with considerable self control, he

made himself stop. Made himself go back. He found the torch and the young man where

he had left them. The boy did not move. He did not look hurt, not exactly. There was

clearly something very wrong with him, but hurt? No, it was something else. It looked

like no injury Terrence had ever seen. Shakily, he lifted his radio to his mouth.

“Bill this is Sheriff Cartel, you better send someone out here, I’m over at Fincher’s hill.”

“Who do you want sir?”

“Everybody.”

26
Two days ago:

George Ridley threw on his old check work shirt and faded levis and headed through the

house to the back door. The night was still and quiet. He passed his two young children

doing their homework at the kitchen table, and he momentarily stopped to glance around.

It was a fine scene, he thought. Recently the house had been renovated radically. It had

been his parents house and he could never bring himself to replace it completely, but it

had needed work, no doubt about it. He knew it made his wife especially happy. She’d

married this big farmer, left a good job in the city, and finally after all the years of living

in an ‘outdated shack’ as her mother called it, Laura Ann Ridley finally had what looked

like a real nice home. Standing there George could almost pretend that the horrible

nightmares he’d been having were just nightmares. Those ghastly images of grabbing his

kids and sucking them into his hands as if they were play-dough. He could drown out the

rising sense of insatiable hunger, the visions of hellish fury, and the knowledge that went

beyond his humble education. The guilt. The monstrous human guilt. Not to mention the

fleeting loss of control he had last night. His arms had started clawing mercilessly at his

own back, and he couldn’t stop it. He felt like they were trying to dig a hole.

George continued on through, not wanting to disturb the kids again. The last time he’d

done that they’d ended up watching re-runs of Knight Rider all night and making

smoothies. Laura had given off, teachers had complained.

‘Only kids and still they get grief if they don’t meet deadlines,” George had said. Really

though, he felt bad. He was not a stupid man, but he had no education to speak of, just

27
experience and what an astute father had taught him. He didn’t want that for his kids. The

farm was going very well but it may not forever. Jenny already longed for the faster city

life her mother used to know.

As he reached the door he heard his wife come into the kitchen.

“That took self control,” she said, smiling at him.

“Will they be finished soon? There’s a cow about to calf and I’d like them to see it, I

think they’d like to.”

“I think we can let them stop for that,” she said, through a smirk, “That little teacher

really put the fear in you George.”

“No she didn’t, well, ok- did you see her eyes?! Looked like my old high school teacher.”

“You seen her often enough to remember her?”

“Ha, Ha. Yes…when I was pulled in by the county police for truancy.”

“Ah. Go on out honey, give us a shout when Annabel’s ready.”

Laura Kissed her husband and turned back into the kitchen. George left, as ever

28
wondering what people must think seeing a gorgeous women like that with him. Even

though they’d been married seven years he still looked at her with wonder. Walking up

the back lane, away from the warm kitchen light seeping out of the house, he suddenly

stopped. It was so dark. There wasn’t a single star in the sky above him. Somewhere

ahead he heard the sound of Annabel lowing. ‘She’ll be ready soon’, he thought. Maybe

it’ll persuade Jenny to love farming a little more.

As George stumbled up the field in the darkness he heard the lowing again, but different

this time. Shrill and distressed. It sounded terrible. He began to run over the uneven

ground. Ahead he could only make out a shape on the ground against the black sky.

Annabel? He sped up, panic stricken all of a sudden.

“If Peterson’s dogs have been here again I’ll…”

He stopped. Something warm was at his feet, and a foul stench, encompassing and

overpowering, hung in the air. He knew the smell. Entrails. Just feet away lay Annabel,

lowing for all she was worth, nearly shrieking. George was suddenly afraid. Cows never

sound like that, even during botched slaughterings. He pulled out his torch and he could

see that Annabel was impossibly mangled, in fact, too mangled to be alive. Still she

lowed, her mouth contorted in pure fear and pain. Her body barely recognisable as

anything living. A mass of jutting bones and misplaced limbs. What else could he do?

Confused and sick with fear and horror, he raised his shotgun and blew off the extremity

that nearest resembled a head.

29
*

Cartel bent over the body. He’d seen bodies before, oh yes, but not like this. Never like

this. They were in the hastily assembled forensics tent, standing at the door looking at the

organised rows of bodies laid out inside. Raymond Barkley, a young officer who liked to

read trashy sci-fi comics, was on professional mode;

“Ok sir. Here it is. His name is George Ridley, married father of two, farmer. His

pickups’ parked over there with the others. Cartel glanced over at the cluster of trucks

glistening in the moonlight. ‘Parked’ wasn’t exactly the right word. They were

abandoned, as if the owners had hurried to leave them, or hadn’t cared. Some were

perched precariously on sand dunes, others had actually hit the truck beside them, denting

them. Something about the abandonment made Cartel shiver a little. They just didn’t

care.

“He was last seen at his farm two nights ago by his wife, Laura Ridley, currently being

held at our local hospital after she had a suspected nervous breakdown during

questioning.”

“How long they been here?”

30
“Doc thinks twenty four hours.”

“And we only hear about it now?”

“Dust storms have kept people away from the hill. Our survivor must have searched the

bodies for a mobile phone.”

“Keep local press away Ray, make sure of it. I don’t want anybody from town finding a

picture of their husband or wife’s burst carcass in the Inquirer, that clear?!”

“Yes sir, I’ll get on it now.

Ray turned to leave but stopped after a couple of steps. “ Sir, what sort of a serial killer

can lure all these people out here to kill them?”

“Maybe it was mass suicide. Ever hear of the Heavens Gate incident? It was a cult. Mass

hysteria and group suicide. They believed they were freeing their souls so they could be

‘beamed up’ by a passing alien space-craft.”

“No kidding?”

“No kiddin.’

31
“Hard to believe people could believe such a thing so much they’d kill themselves.”

“Not just themselves. Some of the bodies were kids; they hadn’t offed themselves. Then

there were the ones who freaked out.”

“Freaked?”

“Yea; imagine it- your all prepared to kill yourself, but as the killing starts, the reality of

what you are about to do overwhelms you. You realize you’ve made a mistake- I mean,

can you imagine the terror? There are people screaming all around you, dropping like

flies, and you...you don’t want to die anymore- you want to live, more than ever. But

there were some guys left behind with guns to make sure you could not run.”

Ray shivered, watching Cartel in the half light of the tent door, silhouetted against the

dark of the sky outside.

“Yea, but how did our group do it? Terry, some of these people have injuries the Doc

there has never seen, he said, nodding toward Doctor Raines. “It looks as if many of

them...burst....excuse the lack of a better word.”

“I know. It’s beyond everything. Looks like they drank something maybe, acid, I don’t

know.”

32
Just then a young officer came running up to Terry holding a crumpled sheet of paper in

his hands.

“Sir, you should read this, I found it on Harlan’s body!”

Terry took the note in one hand and dug his glasses out of a breast pocket as he did.

‘Something’s wrong. Feelings of happiness and strong memories fading to something

else. I know you all feel it too. I’ve been having urges. Urges to do bizarre and violent

things. We have to meet. Fincher’s Hill, Wednesday night. Please come. Maybe we can

undo it before it’s too late.’

“Search the other bodies,” Terry said without looking up from the note.

It was done and the note was found on several others.

“We need to find out if anyone else in town got this note and maybe ignored it. Maybe

they can tell us what these notes are on about.”

“It seems alot of people knew what was going on, it was organised- this does seem like a

suicide pact to me,” Ray said.

33
“Yes it does. Especially with all that talk about ‘feelings of happiness’ but what about all

this about ‘strong memories fading’ and ‘urges to do bizarre and violent things.’”

“It’s almost as if they’re trying to prove your point,” Barry said as he entered the

forensics tent, “Your dim view of human nature.”

“You’ve read it too then?”

“Yes, I found this one on Molly Richards body. Scary stuff. Especially when you think

that so many of the people in this small town were involved and we did not know.”

“I know, that more than bothers me too. We’d better start informing the families. Ray,

you come with me, you need to learn how to do this. Barry you get started too.”

“Terry, I’ll take Ray. You go and see the survivor and visit Lilly.”

“Barry...”

“I know how you get when you don’t see her- and it’ll give you time to think- you’re the

best mind we have with the most experience in this sort of thing.”

“You’d nearly think I didn’t outrank you,” Terry said gruffly.

34
Barry smiled fleetingly. “Hey, I am the deputy Marshall.”

“Yea, you’re the deputy,” Terry said, emphasising the last word. He sighed and looked

away off into the night, then said, “Ok, you take Ray and start informing the families.

After I finish up here I’ll head out to the hospital. I’d better go see the next body,” he said

grimly, looking down the long line of cloth covered corpses lined up in the makeshift tent

below Fincher’s Hill. Thirty seven in all. It looked like one of those ghastly pictures

taken by American soldiers at Ravensbrook or Auschwitz.

Henry Cartwright woke with a terrible jolt. That black, slick rock, those foul running

beasts. The peace broken by shrill cries and slipping entrails. What a dream!

“No more cheese for you old boy,” he thought as he hobbled down the stairs towards the

kitchen. “No more late night horror either.”

In a way he was chuffed. He’d always had boring dreams. He had been told at school that

he had no imagination whatsoever, and he had proved it by becoming an accountant. But

dreams like that, every night for a week? ‘Dreams come from your mind’, he reasoned,

‘so I must be hiding some serious creative talent up there!’

35
They were strange alright, and not just because of their content. A powerful melancholy

had hung over him all week, like a thick black spirit of pessimism and doubt that would

not lift. It was like a resignation- life was empty and disappointing- and he found it oddly

comforting. He embraced it like a hot water bottle on a cold winter night, or a warm cup

of tea.

He shuffled around the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to warm, listening to its slight hiss

rise to a shrill urgent cry. It reminded him of his dream, which was also oddly

comforting. He stared out at the night through steamed up windows, watching the steam

writhe on the glass until it impaired his view completely. He shivered slightly, even

though he had barely noticed that it was cold. Usually he hated the cold, and found the

drop in the desert temperatures hard to bear at night. Lately however he had barely

noticed it. He was standing on the kitchen tiles in his bare feet, only aware that it was

cold, without really feeling it; in fact, it was more than that; he was comfortable with it.

He had broken a lifetime habit of craving the heat, at the age of sixty two. Cartwright

thought that strange, as anybody would, and he faintly remembered some saying about

‘old dogs,’ but he could not recall it fully. That had been happening a lot recently too. At

his age that was to be expected wasn’t it though? Cartwright did not accept the notion of

slowing down, he never had, not even when he was told to give up hunting for his

health’s sake, but even recently that had been a bore to him- and then there had been that

incident. The one he had not told Mary about, the one he never would tell Mary about. Or

anyone else. In the last few weeks their marriage had regained a spark that he had thought

36
was gone forever. They had talked more, sometimes late into the night like teenagers, and

she had even had her hair cut differently for the first time in years, just to impress him.

But a few days back something altogether different had happened, something terrible and

hideous, nightmarish.

A rabbit had run out of a hedge right in front of him. Cartwright had fired but only

wounded it. Crying out frantically, the rabbit had hobbled on, trying to make its way back

to the cover of the hedge. Cartwright fired off another barrel in haste, and again hit the

rabbit on its back legs. Still it dragged itself over the grass, with Cartwright running after

it. Finally the animal could go no further, and it fell on its side and began to cry out,

sounding for the entire world like a baby. Cartwright stood over it, re-loading his gun.

The creatures’ cries were terrible and they bothered him like never before. His hands

shook as he loaded the cartridges. ‘Don’t be so silly old boy,’ he chided himself, ‘you’ve

heard injured rabbits before.’ Still he continued to shake, so much that he could not load

the second cartridge, and he snapped the gun shut with only one barrel loaded. Just as he

placed the gun to his shoulder and focused on the sights he realised this was different. He

stared at the rabbit, helpless, wide eyes staring up at him in pure terror, grey fur caked in

drying blood, and he felt triumphant. Monstrously, intoxicatingly triumphant. The more it

cried the more jubilant he felt, until he was almost drunk with its fear. A terrible thought,

at first fleeting and abominable, crossed his mind, and he dismissed it. He focused on the

sights again, but every time he looked at the rabbit that same thought came back, and

back and back, until finally he fell on the rabbit, and gnashed it savagely with his teeth.

He picked it up, and held it in his jaws while he pulled at it with his hands. All the while

37
the rabbit squealed in shrill, chilling tones until finally it was dead, ripped to shreds in his

grasp.

All at once his senses came to him, and he spat out the bloodied fur and was violently

sick. He fell on his hands and knees and whimpered like a hurt dog, then he crawled on

retching and sobbing. That had been two weeks ago, and it had faded in his mind. He had

put it down to some effect of the desert heat. What else could he do? Some things are too

horrible to dwell on. He would not believe that he was losing his grip.

Now Cartwright stood in the coolness of the kitchen, staring at the steamed window and

sipping his tea. He poured it out half way through, it was too hot. All of a sudden tired, he

turned and went up the wooden stair case. He turned right into his bedroom, walking

carefully on the floorboards so as not to wake his wife. She was fast asleep as he entered

the room. He lifted up the bed quilt and was just about to get in when all of a sudden he

noticed his wife stirring in her sleep. For some reason he was startled by her face, her

hair, her mouth- everything. He became overtaken with a terrible fear and he knew if he

ran he would wake her, so instead he began to beat her madly around the head.

“Sir!” an urgent voice called from down the line of corpses, “There’s a domestic over at

38
the Cartwright place!”

When Cartel arrived at Cartwrights farm the neighbours were already in the house.

“They restrained him sir, and it’s a good thing. He would have killed her if they hadn’t.

She’s been taken to the hospital with wounds on her head and face.”

“What kind of wounds?”

“I don’t know, they took her away in a hurry and there was so much blood.”

“Henry Cartwright never struck me as a wife beater, or a murderer. What is going on in

this town tonight?” Cartel said as he entered the house, more to himself than the young

officer beside him.

Immediately he saw Henry, handcuffed, and sitting on the bottom step of the stairway.

Two cops and a neighbour stood over him. His balding grey head was held in wrinkled

hands, and Cartel noticed his wedding ring, which seemed very golden in the

comparative dimness of the hall. The blood on his hands seemed redder too. He was

crying, his small head bobbing lightly in his hands.

“Henry,” Cartel said softly, “You have the right to remain silent…”

39
“How could a man stand such a thing?!” Cartwright burst out, “it made no sense, it made

no sense!”

Suddenly Cartwright’s head snapped up, and he looked around him with fearful eyes. He

studied the two cops and Harvey, with a strange leering stare, before turning his gaze to

Cartel. Then a look of terrible venom came into Henry’s soft old eyes, a look of age old

hatred, as if all the enmity in the universe had gathered there. He let out a low hiss and

fell forward, only being caught by the handcuff on his left hand. His head slumped down

and he began to wretch horribly, until he began to scream and yell.

“He’s cracked!” shouted one of the young officers, “Get him a straight jacket!”

Julie was nineteen and pretty in that small town girl way that meant she would for ages

be regarded as the ‘good friend’ or the ‘sweet girl’ but very rarely as the object of desire,

not until someone was willing to really look at her, to match her personality, sense of

humour and keen mind to her looks and see her as a whole. Besides, when she was

animated, when she was passionately talking about Chaucer, or Shakespeare, or her

favourite film, she was very beautiful, almost a different girl entirely. No one knew this

of course, because she was very shy, happy to keep her head down in school and at

parties, never speaking unless she was with her sister. In a group of people larger than

two she was invisible, naturally retiring inside of her imagination for consolation.

40
Working on a story. Her first novel maybe, but more than likely a short story as most of

her writing ended up being. She never finished much of it and was still discovering if she

was cut out to write novels or short stories anyway. The pacing was hard to figure out

with novels. This one was a good candidate, she thought. There was plenty of characters

with interesting arcs. She’d get enough for a novel out of them. Right now they were all

in her head, characters that she had nurtured from when she was sixteen, used to escape

the loneliness of her situation and make herself feel accepted and wanted. It was not as

much a story as it was her ideal. The life she would have if she could. The main character

was a strong person, with the capacity to deal with her problems as they arose, someone

who could overcome by sheer weight of her personality. The real Julie, so Julie thought.

The other characters were all friends, loyal and true, interesting and varied. All admired

the central character and knew her worth. It was to this world that she would go when she

was overlooked at a party, or eclipsed by the more dominant personalities in a group. She

would think of those familiar characters and places, imagine that life was hers, and she

would instantly feel better. She would even feel smug; she knew a secret, she felt. Of late

however there had been a harder edge to her imaginings, a grittier edge. She put it down

to her grandmothers recent death, and the increasing loneliness that had come with that.

in many ways her grandmother had been the only one who had seen her potential, and

had faith in her.

As she sat in the corner of her sisters birthday party now, her beautiful, popular twenty

one year old sister, she seemed to be staring into space. She was holding a cup of tea, but

had not touched a drop of it. She was somewhere else, imagining how to officially start

41
her novel off. She was sure she was ready to try writing it down soon, and was working

on the opening chapter in her head. The feelings that had made her want to write gritty

hard prose were gone, and she felt at ease, ready to write a stirring tale of adventure and

travel across stars and worlds. She would be published, then all the people who had

ignored her would see that they had judged her wrong. She sat still and imagined, her

eyes open but seeing another place almost. She was always like that when she was

imagining. Even being spoken to did not bring her out of it with ease, much to her

fathers’ annoyance.

Her main character sat in a bustling room full of people gazing out upon a vast starfield.

Off to the top right of her view there was a distant spiral galaxy, gleaming like a diamond

in the midst of all the grandeur. Inside the vast space vessel, really an immense hotel

touring a far off universe, many thousands of people travelled, hoping for adventure,

hoping for romance, hoping for a job on one of the many exotic planets that needed terra-

formers or miners, people to built distant hotels or homes. Dressed in a figure hugging

jumpsuit, with long dark hair swept back professionally and incredibly dark eyes burning

out from under long lashes, the main character was neat and tidy but ravishingly

attractive all at once, at least to Julies’ mind. She sat at a table by a huge window, holding

an exotic looking drink that glowed a slight pink in the dimly lit club. It was a mood

drink, the latest craze on star-cruises. It made flirting easier, letting someone know how

you felt, or didn’t feel, with great ease. Light pink meant you were relaxed. Julie was not

sure why she had picked light pink for relaxation, but it seemed to make sense somehow.

She was watching carefully for her mark. It would not be easy to pick him out among the

42
many holiday-makers there that night. The room was huge and round, lined with tables

just like hers. One whole side was transparent, and overlooked the star-field. The center

of the room was a dance floor, and there were plenty of couples up and dancing. It was

honeymooners night, and many of them were completely taken up with each other. That

might be an advantage, Lucy thought. A small one, but still, it might just help...

The hospital was only ten minutes drive from Fincher’s Hill, but Terry took his time; he

had a lot on his mind after seeing all twenty six of the dead bodies, being at the

Cartwright house, and then of course there was that other thing all the time. Then there

were the really confusing facts- some of the bodies were missing parts. Hands, feet,

sometimes just fingers. That was bizarre. Terry had investigated a cannibal murder case

when he was in the city, and it had never left him since. It had been the worst case of his

life, because it had got to him. Other cases got to him because they involved hurt for

families, children, fathers, mothers; but this case got to him because of its nature. It

disturbed him. ‘How can one human being eat another?’ Terry had thought. How do they

look at other people when they go into a shop? What do they think about when they put

their heads down to sleep at night? When the killer was finally caught, he barely looked

at Cartel. He was standing half naked in his bedroom, wrapped in a blood stained sheet.

He was so young. His shock of dishevelled light blond hair was speckled with blood-

later discovered to be the blood of over thirteen different people. He looked like a

43
vampire. A pathetic, pale vampire. Cartel always carried a great rage while he

investigated that case, until he seen the perpetrator. Then he was struck with a terrible

awe, an awe of the depths men can sink to. He wanted to shoot the creature, there and

then, for entirely different reasons- it affronted him by its very existence. There he had

been, born of a woman the same way Terrence was, a whole human being, clever and full

of potential. The potential to love and make others love him- but he had turned it all into

an abomination, a filthy aberration that was barely an animal. Why not kill it?

The killer looked at him, leered at him, never looking him in the eyes, and Terrence

realised what he was looking at. He realised how the killer seen other people and slept at

night. Food. Terry was no more than potential food to the man. He even doubted that the

man understood him when he spoke. The realisation shook him, and he eased his finger

off the trigger. It was the closest he ever came to using his gun. ‘That’s why I won’t kill

him, he thought, because I’m not him, and I’ll never be.’

Terry entered the hospital, scowling. He hated the place, had always hated seeing doctors

the way he might hate to see the grim reaper. He’d always noted how nobody wore good

clothes to the hospital, almost as if they had already told themselves the news would be

bad and nothing mattered. No one was ever well dressed in a hospital apart from GPs and

doctors. He hated it all but one room. A room he had made into an extension of his own

home.

“Here to see Lilly, Sheriff?” the receptionist asked him.

44
“No, I’m here to see the young boy who was brought over from Fincher’s Hill earlier.”

“Of course, weird one that. The doctors won’t tell me a thing about that one.”

“Neither will I Laura.”

Laura shot him a dirty look out of the side of her pretty blue eyes. She was used to Terry

being curt though, so eventually just rolled her eyes and told him where to go.

The short, grey haired doctor met him as he got off the elevator on the third floor,

walking fast and a little short of breath. Dr Raines. Cartel knew him well from previous

visits. He was definitely trying to slow Cartel down.

“He hasn’t spoken a word. You were the one who found him Terry?”

“Yes?”

“So you’ve already seen him?”

“Yes, of course I have, where is he now?”

45
“When did you see him last?”

“About two hours ago, what difference does it make?”

“Oh dear. I was hoping you’d seen him lately. Maybe we should show you some pictures

to prepare you.”

“I’ve seen the kid, I know he looks bad! Listen, I’ve been in New York for ten years, I’ve

seen all kinds of stuff Martin. Now please, stop wasting police time, I need to see the

boy.”

“Your funeral,” Martin said, throwing Terry a deadly serious look that seemed to be a

real warning.

The silhouette on the thin cubicle curtain looked normal enough to Terry. Just a boy,

sitting up in bed, shivering. The doctor’s hand shook as he reached for the curtain. Terry

remembered the feverish fear he had felt the first time he had seen the boy though, and

suddenly wished he had had a glance at the photos. He was just about to say this to the

doctor when the curtain was snatched back.

The boy sat there with his hands crossed slightly, like a corpse. His hands. It was as if his

wrists had lengthened by half a foot. His skin was flushed red with blood and barely

46
covered his forearms. In fact, it appeared to be peeling and cracking. The nerves were

visible underneath the splintered skin. Terry’s eyes seemed to focus on the wrists, as if

somehow zoomed in. He let his gaze travel up to the fingers. Some of them were twisted

and elongated, covered in fractured skin exposing raw nerves or what looked like new

bone. There were strange hairs growing from the exposed nerves.

“Will he die?”

“Probably. For some reason his immune system is cannibalising itself. Fifty per cent of

his white blood cells are dead.”

“How?”

“The other fifty per cent. Some kind of mutation; and his blood is clotting at an

astonishing rate. It’s as if his body is trying to save him from bleeding to death during

this…process.”

“Don’t get all sci-fi on me Marty. I hope you haven’t spoken to the press.”

“Heck no, I haven’t, do think I’m stupid?! Anyway the FBI showed up an hour ago, and

ordered a black out. All non essential staff have been sent home. Talk to Doctor Hopper

our virologist, down the hall there, he’s waiting for you.”

47
“Your virologist?”

“He’ll explain.”

“He has a virus. Very unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It acts like a virus, taking over cells

and making them reproduce it, only, it doesn’t look like a virus at all. Here, have a look.”

“I wouldn’t know what a virus looked like anyway.”

“Have a look all the same, I want you to get this so that you co-operate.”

“Co-operate?”

“Please Sheriff, just look.”

“See, this looks like a single celled organism, more like a bacteria. It has appendages for

moving, like tentacles, can you see them?”

“Doesn’t it divide?”

“No, that’s what I mean. It does not divide, because its not a bacteria exactly. It’s like a

bacteria with the properties of a virus. It can only multiply by invading other living cells

and forcing them to create others like it.”

48
“Where in his body is it?”

“The base of the spine. Growing like a tumour. The curious thing is, they’re acting like

organ cells.”

“Organ?”

“Yes, like liver, heart, lung cells. It’s as if he’s growing new organs.”

“ But organ tissue can’t act like a virus?”

“Of course not! Don’t you at least watch the discovery channel? Terry, if this is

contagious, the town has to be quarantined. Every man, woman and child has to be

checked. No one can leave the town.”

“Who ever does?”

“No one can come in either. Until we know more. Really. I have no idea what this is, and

I don’t like to boast, but if I don’t know it could be anything.”

“Nothing like modesty.”

49
“No, nothing like; but I’m serious Terry.”

“I’ll close off the town, call a meeting of…”

“Doctor!” called a running lab technician, “We double checked it, you can look for

yourself if you want!”

“Double checked what, would you remember where you are!?”

“The virus; its brain tissue!”

Just then the boy began to scream.

“All the world’s! I never done that, I never ate a soul, please, this guilt is not mine, it’s

not….their faces! Oh the hell of the universe, blackness of a thousand worlds, the dark

nebulae that consumes the sun!” He paused for a moment, then “Why is it so hot in

here!?” he cried in a blind and terrible rage, his voice twisting into an deeper, older voice.

“Strap him down” Doctor Hopper yelled, but to no avail. The young man sprang off the

bed and started off down the hall. Cartel lunched for him in a rugby tackle but was

pushed aside and went sprawling across the polished floor into the wall.

Cartel struggled to his feet, and grabbed his radio, “Close the doors and let no one out!”

50
“He’s not going out sir, we did block the door but he didn’t want out it seems. He headed

for the storage rooms the doctors said.”

“Ok, get down there and get him before he hurts someone. Be careful, he’s delusional and

possibly looking for a weapon.”

Cartel started to walk down the hall, but a sharp pain in his leg slowed him to a limp.

“Once I could have taken that fall in my stride,” he muttered.

The officers were taking so long. There were three of them after all. One slight young

boy, however mad, should not give them that much bother. The tension was high though

in Cartels mind. The whole events of the night were really starting to un-nerve him. Old

Henry Cartwright trying to kill his wife- and the way he’d done it… now this boy, this

strange virus…

“Sir, he’s locked himself in one of the storage units!”

“What? What’s it got inside?”

“It’s a freezer!”

51
The four cops edged tentatively towards the large freezer unit. Through the glass doors,

frosted on the inside from the cold, they could see the outline of the boy, silhouetted by

the inside lights. There was barely room for him and he was pressed against the glass.

The strange bristles on his arms stood on end, seeming to move curiously.

Cartel made it down the hall finally to find the four young cops drawing their guns.

“No! Guns away now!” he barked.

“Sir, the things he was raving about! This is weird.”

They were spooked pretty badly. Cartel could not have known that there was so much

more to their fear. He rolled his eyes and walked towards the freezer.

“Son, you’ll die if you stay in there. Come out. No one’s out to get you.”

The boy yelled out all at once, and shook the unit ferociously.

“This is not right! I can’t breathe!”

He burst out of the unit, spilling frozen organs and blood as he did. The four officers

scattered as he lunged at them, knocking Terry over again. He pulled himself up quicker

than the others and ran after the screaming young man.

52
He really did not want to have to shoot him, but if he got unto the patient wards he would

have to. Maybe he was too crazed to use the elevator. That might give Terry time. He

didn’t need it. All of a sudden there was a cry from one of the rooms to his right and the

boy burst out from within, sending the double doors wide. He slid across the floor and

stopped when his head hit the opposite wall. Terry raised his gun but the boy did not

move, except for the strange bristles on his arms, which moved in all directions slowly,

until finally with an almighty heave of his chest, the boy died and they slowly fell flat.

Terry took his time until he approached the body. When he did, he turned him over

carefully, feeling the raw nerve and the spine-like bristles. There was a surgeon’s scalpel

in his neck. He’d killed himself.

As doctors and police officers began to gather, Terry stood up and waved his hand

dismissively, wearily, his back to the gathering crowd.

“Get this body out of here. Let no one see it or touch it except cops and doctors who

already know about this boy. I’m going to see my wife.”

So Terry walked the halls of that place he hated so much, into its very heart, like a maze

in which his own mortality was a Minotaur, ever stalking him. Finally he made it to the

rose garden though. The ninth room of his house, five miles from where he lived. Lilly

Cartel lay there like Snow White, in eternal sleep. She looked as beautiful as the day

they’d met to Terry. The young nurse, Silvia, who had more or less treated Lilly like her

53
own mother since the accident, kept her well.

“Hi Mister Cartel,” Silvia beamed as he entered the room.

“Terry, Silvia please. You’re like family remember- this is my ninth room.”

So it was. Filled with pictures of Terry and Lilly’s wedding, ornaments from home, even

books Lily had liked to read, it seemed like walking into a vortex and being transported

to another dimension where time stood still. Terry frequently had dinner there with his

wife on Valentine’s night; watched old films with her on a projector that Silvia had set

up, and read Jane Austen to her. When he told her about the nine eleven attacks a tear had

trickled down her cheek. It was the most life she had shown in a year.

There was no reason to believe she would never wake up, but as the years passed and

even her mother and father gave up all hope, Terry had stayed by her side.

“Your wife is in a coma,” the doctor had said.

“What exactly does that mean?”

“She is not conscious.”

Yet she had cried. She had understood. Still she was unconscious?

54
‘What is consciousness anyway?’ Terry had thought.

...the mark as it turned out was easy to see. He was tall, a full six foot four, and towered

above many of the tourists that were there. His eyes glowed under the throbbing lights, a

pale blue, and a metallic gleam on the side of his head told her that he was wearing a

Netcom, another new craze to hit twenty seventh century Earth. It was a computer that

fed directly into the brain, allowing internet access, and fast communication without

words. It also accommodated virtual reality programs that someone could download at a

price from different distributors. This one was developed by the ancient Microsoft

corporation. Obviously the guy was wealthy. He would be wearing his for the fast

information benefits that it gave. Possibly it was feeding him a picture of her now,

helping him find her. Pushing through the crowds, he finally spotted her, still sitting on

her own in the corner. It was almost a shame that he would have to kill her, he thought.

She was beautiful.

He started towards him but all of a sudden was cut off by another man, a shorter man

wearing a similar jumpsuit to Lucy who stood in front of him steadily.

55
“He ‘s gonna kill you Lucy!” the shorter man said, “I intercepted his Netcom

transmissions by hacking in with mine!”

All at once Lucy was on her feet, charging towards the taller guy, she swiftly grabbed his

arm and pulled it behind his back, then kicked him in the back of his legs, sending him

roughly to his knees.

“So much for being my loyal informer Bryan,” she said angrily to the taller man, who

still came to her shoulders, even on his knees.

“You’ll never stop us anyway!” Bryan said through clenched teeth, his eyes still glowing

under the neon lights had taken on a reddish glow now. Back at her table Lucy’s drink

was still pink. Once you’ve drunk some of it, it reacts with you remotely. The point was,

Julies’ main character was still calm.

“Thanks Charlie,” she said to the shorter brown haired man.

“Wasn’t going to let him kill you, now was I?” Charlie said winking. Lucy drink did

change a little then. It became a deep purple colour. Charlie glanced it but said nothing,

merely turning away to hide his smile.

“Better get this one to the command centre Luce,” he said, cuffing the man with energy

56
handcuffs.

“Ok,” she said, taking one of the man’s arms and pulling him up, “Let’s go.” They

marched the man out of the club and stepped

into one of the waiting lifts that shot up through the transparent tubes that led up and up,

thousands of feet into the control centre for the entire hotel, the headquarters of the deep

space security firm that Lucy Starfinder had been left by her famous father, the late

bodyguard extraordinaire Harvey Starfinder...

Dirk Renault knew his legs hurt more than he felt it. He was numb all over apart from the

feeling of the wind on his face. Vaguely, alarm bells were ringing, but he didn’t care.

Words seemed to pop up at him that said, ‘LOW FUEL’ but they might not be real.

Nothing really was. Not hope, not peace, and certainly not love. So why should the

warning sign and the alarm bells in his head that said “If you don’t find a gas station soon

you’re a dead man,’ be real? The road ahead was straight and empty and on either side of

him all he could see was desert and cactus. Sometimes he would imagine they had waved

to him, and he would wave back. They might have waved. He wasn’t really sure. Then

again how could you really be sure of anything? You couldn’t. Not about hope, or peace,

and certainly not love. The bike wobbled slightly under him, and somewhere in the haze

57
of road, sky, dust and heat a voice reported “It’s because your drunk and haven’t slept in

two days,” but he ignored that. “If the bike goes you’ll crash and you might die,” the

sensible voice said. The threat seemed a joke. Still, if he was having sensible thoughts it

meant he was surfacing- ‘oh no,’ he thought, ‘I’m approaching sobriety again- now I

really need a gas station.’ He glanced down at his satnav. There was nothing but the road

for miles. As he looked up again another swarm of dust hit him in the face. Faster. For

some reason faster was the answer; be lost in the whipping wind and roar of the engine,

the still numbing morphine bliss of tequila. Yes, faster. Further. Further away from

himself. Further away from her.

Faster and further; two fine new goals in what may be a very short life. And why not?!

They were enjoyable, cheap, and above all, obtainable. He could do these things. These

things were not beyond him, would never be outside of his reach. You can always go

faster and further than how fast you’re going and how far you are- if you find you can’t

then you are probably dead. So- faster and further; two new ambitions in life for the man

who had lost all others mere days before. Already he had excelled himself, oh yes. Seven

hundred miles at one hundred and fifty miles per hour, only stopping a few times for gas.

There would be no negative target reports this week. No lecture from Mr. Harris about

how he was “Falling behind” the rest of his group, or “Wasting the companies time”- no-

Dirk Renault was an ace now. Employee of the month- the ‘Faster and further’ award

winner two consecutive days. Tomorrow would be no different. Nor the next day. No-

matter how long he lived. And the cause of this sudden change in employment?

58
He had stood there and listened to all of it in a kind of fourth dimension. It was as if he

was watching it happen to someone else; as if his wife was not telling him that it was

over, or that she had ‘met someone at work,’ and that she was leaving him and taking the

hamster. Furthermore, this had been going on for a few months, and ‘Keith’ was

everything she ever wanted. Pain like this hits you like an atomic bomb, in waves. First

comes that terrible trembling, and your heart jumps up into your chest with complete

disregard for whatever else is there. Then comes the hurt- a dull ache that pervades your

every pore and numbs you. It feels like dreaming. Then the longing hits you. You watch

her say these things that are crushing you, yet you still love her; the way she looks, the

way she gestures, the way she walks- even the mannerisms she uses to tell you that it’s

over. All you want is for this not to be happening. The next wave- the one that really

knocks you for six- is futility. She is implacable, the decision has been made a long time

ago, and for some reason the worst part is that you had nothing to do with it and do not

know exactly when it happened. There is nothing to be done. Some do not realise this-

and that’s the worst predicament- but Dirk Renault did realise it, right away, and with

complete clarity. So he stood there, and said nothing until she was done. Dirk had always

been a crier. She probably expected that now. There she stood, expectantly, like a

Labrador waiting to be walked.

Instead of tears an odd coldness came into Dirk. This too, hits you in waves. First the

realisation that you can do nothing, then the cold detachment sets in. Dirk simply walked

over to the hamster cage and picked it up.

59
“I get the hamster sweetheart,” he said, a hard edge to his voice that she had never heard,

“It’s everything I ever wanted.”

Then he walked out of the house and into his brothers next door. Without a word he went

through the house to the garage, not sure what exactly he was doing. After rummaging he

quickly found his dad’s old leathers and some rope. He tied the hamster cage to the back

of his brothers Harley and put on his dad’s leathers. Dirk had never rode a motorbike in

his life. That had been his dads’ and his brothers’ thing. Dirk was the bookish one, the

one his father could not relate to. He ignored his sister- in –laws’ pleads to ‘wait and talk

to Dave,’ and rode out of the garage, taking the first direction that came into his head out

of Phoenix.

That had all been two days ago, and now he was in the middle of nowhere running out of

gas fast. A flicker of difference crossed the satnav screen and he looked down. Squinting

at it through the dust he could see that there was a town up ahead, just a further fifty

miles. He had never heard of it but it would do. Instead of slowing down to reserve fuel

he gunned on down the road towards the town of Cave Creek.

“He’s not like the same man,” Ray Stanton said.

“Neither would you be if you’d just beat your wife senseless,” Terry said grimly. He had

60
just gotten back from the hospital, and was still shaken from his confrontation with the

boy.

He stood behind the double sided glass of the interrogation room now with Ray Stanton

and watched Ivor Cartwright. The little man sat behind a desk that seemed to dwarf him.

The few wisps’ of reddish hair on his bald head glowed under the light as did the rim of

his large round glasses. Cartwright was a pillar of the community, a trusted accountant

who was friendly to all and would go out of his way to help a stranger. Terry had to

convince him to lock his door, so trusting was he. He had doted on his wife, Irene, his

childhood sweetheart.

“I’m going in to see him now.”

When Terry walked in, Henry got up and backed against the wall. His eyes were wide

and bloodshot. Curiously he had not been crying.

“Henry,” Cartwright said quietly.

Suddenly Henry’s head snapped up, birdlike, and he looked at Terry without recognition,

as if he was looking right through him. His glasses reflected the overhead light so that

Terry could not see his eyes.

“Why don’t you come over to the table and have a talk with me Henry.”

61
“ She was so…she looked different. Not like me. Like you.”

“What do you mean by that Henry?”

“I don’t know, I… I’m so confused.” He sobbed lightly, wiping his tears away with his

palms. Then he looked up again, quizzical, “Terry?”

“Yes.”

“How do you breathe?”

The question was bizarre, and caught Terry off- guard. He was torn between pity for the

wreck of a man before him, and disgust. He heard someone come in behind him, and

turned his head slightly, still watching Cartwright out of the side of his eye.

“Sir, can you come out here for a moment?”

Terry left, with Henry’s eyes following him all the way.

“Misses Cartwright died ten minutes ago due to massive haemorrhaging,” the officer said

quietly once they were outside the interrogation room, “What’s Cartwright saying?”

“Not much that makes sense. I think its shock. I don’t even know how aware he is of his

62
surroundings at the minute.”

“He was terrified of us when we brought him in. Not like guys usually are; he was like a

frightened animal. He scratched a few of us. It took five of us to get him in here. I’m

telling you man, it scared me. His fear scared me. He wasn’t like a man at all.”

A shout went up from the viewing cell. The sound of people retching in disgust. Terry ran

into the cell, pushing past the official who tried to stop him. Henry Cartwright was on the

floor. His skin was bloated as he flopped unto the table and slid off, tipping the table up

ad scattering a mug of cold coffee. Terry felt there was something wrong the moment he

touched him. He felt pliable somehow as he screamed a terrible scream of pure confusion

and panic. Horror itself was etched in the sound as his mouth opened wider and wider,

until his bottom jaw melded with his neck in a grotesque nightmare cry. Terry dropped

him in shock and jumped back. Henry Cartwright flopped to the floor and one of his arms

bent under him like as if it was made of rubber. Now he was bloated to two times his own

size, with all but his face indistinguishable from the amorphous blob that was his body.

“Most of our agents are formatted to be dedicated to the job and nothing more. No

hobbies, no interests, no relationships, no particular eating preferences, no selfishness,

no family, nothing. This way they live the job. It is their interest, their hobby. They find it

63
fascinating in an almost obsessive way. Obsession without the usual human flaws that go

with it. Gant was formatted more than the others, and he needed regular formatting.”

Director of operations and Agent welfare, IPCA.

Charles Gant opened his eyes at exactly six o clock am. No grogginess hung over his

gaze as he focused on the ceiling. He sat straight up and got out of bed. He stood up, six

foot two and lean, with wiry arms with a leathery face, jet black hair and a naturally high

forehead, he looked imposing as he stood in the half light of the morning, staring at the

various monitors all around him. Six computers hummed like worker bees, engrossed in

their work, displaying international news, satellite surveillance, and monitoring radio

frequencies. One of the computer screens displayed a website that had only ever been

visited by seven hundred computers. The words ‘International Policing and Containment

Agency’ would deceive anyone who accidently stumbled onto the site, although no one

ever could, and even if they had, the links on the home page looked so pedestrian;

‘Policing the borders.’

‘Containment of immigrants within safe parameters.’

‘Dealing with the microscopic: total civilisation transit.’

64
‘Headquarters and the rule of the office.’

‘Formatting and the necessity of maintenance.’

And so it went on. Like a very boring government site. The makers of the site knew that

people are basically indifferent, easily bored. They would scan the site, not read it. They

would see the title, and the garble of stuffy terms, and merely scan the page. However

they would never see it. Unless they hacked in. Even then it would have to have been an

accident. After that the hacker would have two choices; work for the agency or die. They

all worked for the agency. They were all on missing person lists for a few weeks then

mysteriously disappeared from all records or lists anywhere. Sometimes the agency let

people find the site. Then they would recruit them.

Gant looked at the screens, studying them all individually. No relevant international news

had been highlighted by the computer. It scanned his all news channels for key words or

images constantly. Sometimes the news knew about incidents before the agency did. Not

often, bit there was always the chance. Satellite surveillance showed nothing but a few

meteor showers, that came up as blue trials over a map of the world. The radio

frequencies garbled unintelligibly, being checked like the TV channels for watchwords

and phrases. There had been nothing significant; a few reports made to the F.B.I.

obviously the office didn’t think there was anything to them.

65
Gants phone rang. Without taking his eyes off the screens he reached down and picked it

up.

“Gant here.” He knew who it was already. It was never anyone else. It couldn’t be, no

one had his number.

“We need you to go out to Arizona and bring something back to the office. The exact co-

ordinates are being sent to your sat-nav.”

The man on the other end hung up. Gant immediately began to dress. He had never been

to the office more than once a month for his main formatting. Most agents went there

once every two months. Agents worked alone and usually uni-laterally in terms of action.

They all used the website, they all got the calls. They all called in to inform of their

activity, but usually they were not answered. Silence was approval. If an agent failed, and

his activity was important, a replacement was sent. Agents never met each other, except

on jobs which required more than one. They had no friends, no relatives, no pets, nothing.

The formatting took all that away. They did not forget, they just were not interested. Fun,

recreation, interests, love, cars, fashion; all these things were faded to a dim whisper in

their minds. Emotion existed for them like a hazy distant fact in their minds. Like when

you or me cannot remember a name, we know its there, right there- but we just can’t get

at it. The hellish things they were required to see or do, the pressure of the constant

knowledge, the loneliness, and the fact that there was no way out- In the beginning no

one had survived with their sanity intact. So they invented formatting. Gant needed

66
formatted a lot more than the others. Without a word to his minder, who was sleeping

behind a heavily locked door, Gant left the apartment.

Gant drove through the night on straight endless, desert roads. He felt the chill of the

night time desert temperatures and witnessed the eerie stillness of the desert at dusk. His

steely eyes moved like scanners across the horizonless plains. No other vehicles passed

him. Faint stars appeared in the dull blue of twilight and fought to become blazing

beacons in the star ridden blackness of the desert night. The glowing eyes of desert foxes

darted across the road, indifferent to the large black sedan cruising relentlessly through

this alien habitat were men would die of thirst and go blind in the day, and nearly freeze

to death at night. Gant stopped to re-fuel when he had to, never slept. After two days he

had arrived on the outskirts of the small, remote town of ‘’. The road curved towards

huge rock formations reminiscent of spaghetti westerns and then, once around those

towering testaments to natures dominion in the desert, you could see the lights of the

town, nestled together like sleeping glow-worms.

Richard Lee hadn’t seen his agent for hours when he got the call. He dreaded that dial

tone as if it was his death knoll. It might be the agency. What would they do if he had lost

their man? Worse than that- what had the agent done?! Had he killed somebody? Had he

67
fallen in a ditch somewhere dead? Worse again, had he talked? It gave Lee a migraine, an

awful head-thumper that nearly blinded him. He didn’t sleep, he barely ate, and he

watched his phone as if he thought it might sprout arms and mug him if he took his eyes

off it for a second. When it rang, he froze, unable to answer for a full thirty seconds. Then

he pounced on it, grabbing it hungrily to his ear.

“Mr Lee,” the voice on the end said, not as a question, as most people would, but as a

monotone declaration.

“Ye…yes?” Lee replied, with quivering lips, thinking, ‘I want transferred to tech support,

I don’t care how sexy she thinks field agents are..’

“It’s in the forest Mr Lee. The police found it. They’ll not talk. You should come. I

require an apparatus for extraction. Something is alive inside it.”

That was all. The agent didn’t even say exactly where he was, or why he’d been gone for

two days. Lee thought, ‘I’m not a field guy anyway, I’m a babysitter – those CPU-driven

sociopaths are the field agents.’ Lee shivered-

“They’ll not talk- I bet I know what that means,” he muttered as he lifted the hated phone

and called the Agency.

“Lee, 44921, seeking to report on whereabouts and activities of format controlled agent

Gant, 44922.”

“Report.”

So Lee gave his report, wiping his soaking, heightening brow, all the while thinking,

‘Report? Report?! I’ll give you a report! My agent killed a man in a

men’s room in San Francisco two months ago…he hacked into the

68
pentagon with his mental internet link- which is supposed to be

controlled by his formatting computer, not him- and he won’t talk to

me, just stares, unless we’re on a case and he has to. He’s a

psychopath. He writes in binary sometimes. He works out like a

machine. He acts and looks like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and

Dirty Harry. He’s going to kill me someday, I’m sure of it! How’s that

for your report!!’

The agency told him to get to the forest. To assist his agent extract the life form with as

little fuss as possible. If only they knew. Gant would probably kill it. He was supposed to

be impartial but he was… he seemed to hate them. He definitely showed less tolerance

than the other format controlled agents. Lee knew he got double the dose of formatting,

and knew Gants file backward. There was nothing of the man in the file left in Gant

44922. Reading the file, Lee thought that was a mercy to Charles Colin Gant.

When Gant pulled into town the first sight that met him was Sheriff Cartell coming out of

Alice Bergman’s house, grim-faced, his deep set eyes narrow and glaring at the sedan. It

was probably the only other car in the town. A pregnant young woman was being helped

out of the house by younger officers; she was crying and clutching her stomach, with a

worried husband following close behind.

69
Gant turned off the ignition and stepped out of the car, purposefully, importantly, towards

Cartell. He moved like a large panther, making those around him feel he could kill them

if he wanted.

“F.B.I Special Agent Charles Gant,” he announced, flashing a genuine F.B.I badge at

Terry, who looked at him as if he was interrupting a funeral.

“Sheriff Terrence Cartell, how can I help you?”

“We received a call about an object that came down in this area. It may be part of a US

spy satellite and it’s crucial we recover it.” His voice was deep and full of gravel, and of

such an unusual authority that you would pick it out easily in a noisy room.

“I don’t know anything about that. We have our hands full here,” Terry said, wondering

was that all the Feds were investigating. Their timing was suspicious, and don’t they

work in pairs?

“Can I help in any way with the young lady?” Gant offered, eyeing Alice with closer

scrutiny than made her comfortable.

“No, that won’t be necessary.”

70
“There is a chance the debris from the satellite was radioactive,” Gant quickly lied, “She

should be checked for radiation poisoning if she’s been near it.”

“I ain’t been near no satellite,” Alice Said through her pain, “But I’ve been near

something out there all right, a lot of us were.”

Cartel could not help glaring at her just then. Why had he not been told about this? He

asked her.

“Everyone knows how you feel about all that stuff. But I’m telling you, this one’s the real

deal.”

Terry looked at Gant and rolled his eyes. “See what I have to put up with around here?”

Gant smiled backed with his mouth, but his eyes did not follow its lead. He was looking

at Alice.

“The radiation may have made her hallucinate. Have you had any other strange

happenings lately in the community?”

‘Here it is’ Cartell thought, ‘this is why he’s here. Why can’t the feds ever be direct?’

“We have, big-time. A number of bodies were found over by Fincher’s hill there,” Cartell

71
gestured with his head, “then old Mr Cartwright beat his wives face in last night. He’s in

our custody now, but he’s raving.”

“What condition were the bodies in?” Gant asked suddenly.

“I thought you were here to investigate space debris Mr Gant?”

“I have experience in the effects of radiation on people Sheriff.”

Cartell took a sharp intake of breath, and smiled cynically. ‘This guy thinks I’m just a

small town cop. Radiation can’t do that to people.’

“Listen, Mr Gant, Peterson there can take you out to find your ‘satellite,’ and then we can

talk.”

Gant stood still for a minute, staring into space, Cartell noticing how his green eyes

contrasted with his jet black hair and otherwise dark attire. Cartell thought he looked

rather like Clint Eastwood.

“Ok Mr Cartell, thank you.”

Alice Bergman had attacked her husband a few weeks earlier with a kitchen stool. When

Cartell heard about it he had made some joke about pregnant women, but his humour had

72
soured when he had visited Ted Bergman in hospital. Seventeen stitches, a black eye and

concussion. She’d hit him three times, very hard. Murderously hard, Terry thought.

The stool was no joke either, oak and heavy. Terry had had mostly humorous mental

images of the crime when he had first heard of it. He could imagine Ted trying in vain all

day to cheer up his increasingly neurotic wife, until finally she snapped and hit him with

the stool. His own wife had been notoriously hard to live with during pregnancy. During

the birth of their one and only child Terry had told his one and only lie to his wife in

order to escape her unreasonable behaviour. He had told her he had to work a late beat

when in fact he went to his parent’s house. Terry was ashamed. It was the wife who was

supposed to run to her mother. Terry poured out his woes to his father, who chuckled

heartily most of the way through, then leaned over to his son with a deadly serious face

and said, “Don’t you ever lie to that girl again.” Terry’s father, an old style New York

cop, could break a suspect faster than any of the younger men on the force, and his words

were spoken in the same intensity to his son, who never did lie to Lily again. His fathers

way had been to be all quick wit and genuine smiles one minute, and deadly serious the

next. Both qualities were genuine, he knew nothing of pretending. People trusted him. In

New York, Terry, who had inherited many of his fathers’ characteristics, was trusted too.

In Arizona things were different, causing him to wonder if he had coasted along on his

fathers’ good name all those years. The self doubt was not evident, but it gnawed at him

beneath the skin.

Now Terrence Cartell thought Ted must have hit Alice. Here she was calling the police

instead of the ambulance and with strange bruises on her stomach. Ted was in cuffs,

73
although both he and Alice were protesting his innocence. Terry’s main concern was to

get Alice to hospital. The baby may have been hurt. He ordered the younger officers to

take Ted Bergman to the station, while he accompanied Alice to the hospital. Maybe

away from Ted she would admit what happened.

... Lucy and Charlie finally reached the disc-like structure at the top of the huge stalk that

rose out of the hotel. It was actually a spaceship, the entire thing; disc, stalk and all. It

could disconnect and fly off to connect with another hotel, flying city or large cruiser,

whoever hired the Starfinder security firm. They stepped off the lift and into a glowing

room full of computer consoles and lights, in the centre of the room sat a familiar figure

surrounded by consoles and hanging screens. He was an older man, with deep set eyes

and a slight grey and white beard. A scar ran down at the edge of his right eye, the result

of a very close call with a thirsty crustacean blood creature. One huge claw had missed

his eye by the merest millimetre. It was the blood creature that had killed Lucy’s parents.

Cane, Lucy’s uncle, had saved them by killing it, and taken Lucy in as his own. Her

father’s will had left the company to Lucy, hers to run when she got old enough. She was

now twenty one, and so it was hers.

“Your mark turned out as I said he would,” Cane said, voice laced with anger and

concern at once.

74
“He planned to assassinate me but Charlie intervened.”

“Yes,” Cane said, with a curt nod to Charlie. Then he turned his eyes to Lucy again, “I

told you not to trust him. Why won’t you learn girl?”

“But he said he could get inside the conspiracy...”

“Yes, by betraying them- never trust a turncoat.”

Cane came out from the consoles and embraced her in a fatherly hug, smiling as he did,

and frowning too in that way relieved fathers often do. Lucy felt safe. Safe and lucky.

She turned to the prisoner.

“Lock him up in containment,” she said, nodding towards the row of cells that lined the

sides of the disc shaped room. Charlie threw him into one of them and the energy bars

appeared instantly.

The man had not struggle once, although he was easily four inches taller than Charlie,

and more heavily built. He turned and leered at Lucy now, strangely smug. A dark

twinkling came into his eyes, black as ebony, and he smiled a tight and bitter smile as if

he knew something that she did not. Lucy felt deeply uncomfortable watching him...and

so did Julie. Her darker mood had returned, and that scene had had such a strangely

affecting sense of despair and dread to it that she visibly shuddered as she sat alone at her

sisters’ party...

75
*

“Here’s where it is, Mr Gant,” Peterson said enthusiastically, “it fell a few months ago.”

“And no one told Sheriff Cartell?”

“He was away to visit family in New York. We thought it best not to tell him, he gets

awfully annoyed about stuff like that, and he would disapprove of us cops being so

involved. Thinks it’s all nonsense, but we know better now. Almost the whole town went

out to see it, everyone heard it come down. There was this glow from it too, and it had

spines all over it; you’ll see.”

The truck they were travelling in veered off the road towards the entrance to a deep

ravine. High, steep, rocky walls soon shut out the sun and in the startlingly immediate

darkness, Gant could see a light blue/green glow up ahead. It seemed aquatic somehow,

like the pattern a fish tank might cast on a wall in the light.

Up ahead lay a huge black object that resembled a giant opal or shell. It was perfectly

smooth apart from the fine ‘spines’ Peterson had described. They were actually more like

hairs, with what looked like clear sacks of liquid on the ends.

76
“They glow at night,” Peterson said, in awe.

“How many times have you been here?”

“Most of us have been back at least ten times, though not all at once.”

“Is there a way in?”

“No, we can’t find a door.”

“Why come back so often if you don’t want to alert the Sheriff? He seems a very astute

man.”

“Being around it gives you a nice feeling. At least it did, until about the tenth time I seen

it. After that I had terrible nightmares.”

“Did any of the others have nightmares?”

“Yes, not sure who else had, but I know Henry Cartwright did, and Alice Bergman.”

77
Richard Lee drove lazily. It was so hot, and even with every window open in his car he

felt stifled. The endless desert road and sparse landscape made him think of the movie

‘Duel’, and he found himself marvelling that he had ever been a person who had time to

watch movies. ‘Watch movies?’ that was a luxury for the ordinary people, for civilians.

For couples who went to the cinema, or kids. Not for minders of top secret but highly

experimental extraterrestrial detectives. That’s what Richard called them jokingly, but

really he thought as he travelled in the blistering heat, they’re more like exorcists. The

things he had seen already, after a year with the Agency were...incomprehensible. And he

had only seen them at a distance, always on the outside if Gant went in, always behind

the monitor if Gant interrogated, sometimes in a haz-med suit. Yet he had seen, and

heard, things that would remain with him for the rest of his life. He feared he was already

too tainted to leave the Agency. Not that anyone ever leaves. There had been rumours of

one man who had got out years back, a man who was all but legend in the organisation.

Some said he was among its founders. Others that he was its sole founder. It was

rumoured that he invented the formatting by some, while others said that it was the very

idea of formatting that caused him to leave. Now of course he was branded a traitor, but

there were still some among the minders and the overseer’s who spoke of him with

trusted friends. Mostly they speculated on how he had achieved his escape. Undoubtedly

he had been loyal to the Agency, yet he had also seen to it that he could leave without

being killed when he had served what he deemed to be his service. Lee did not know

what to think. He only knew he bitterly envied the agent who had gotten away, and that

he hated Charles Gant for dragging him out here to this remote and barren town of Cave

Creek to chase goodness knows what manner of near- demonic organism. Lee was

78
young, only twenty nine, but already his usual expression was one of unchecked

weariness. He was not gaunt, but had the promise of gauntness in his handsome features

now, tempered by his youthful dark eyes and easy smile. Even so, he was beginning to

look like a detective; on the thin side, and always tired. He had been seeing a young lady

who worked for the Agency for a year now, but lately she had noticed the change in him

too. The truth was that the Agency would run him into the ground if he did not make

himself stronger, mentally and physically. They would simply replace him, but him and

Haley would have no future of any kind- not that he was thinking about any specific

future anyway- the notion of marriage was still as alien to him as many of the creatures

that he knew lurked in the shadow of distant moons, and he always shirked discussing it

when she brought it up. He felt harried by her, and had taken the job with Gant to get out

of the HQ, have adventures, be in the field.

“Idiot boy,” he said aloud as he thought on these things now in the Arizona heat. Never

taking his eyes off the straight, dust swept road ahead he muttered, “I think I’ve ended up

married anyway.”

Doctor Audrey Henson prepared the ultrasound. Only a month ago she had seen Alice’s

husband come in with terrible head injuries. Now Alice was in with bruises on her

stomach. She had been with the x-ray people and was now ready for her ultrasound. The

79
monitor was turned away from her just in cast there were problems with the baby. No one

else was in the darkened room. Sheriff Cartell waited down the hall. Alice had not said a

word. She looked so scared, and it was hard to believe she had caused her husbands nasty

headwound. Personally, Audrey thought Ted could never have hit her either. It was

strange enough Elizabeth Cartwright coming in earlier, her face all dove in like that. She

passed the scanner over Alice’s stomach gently, getting a good image on the monitor. She

could feel Alice’s eyes boring through her as she stared intently at the images. Everything

seemed normal. Little feet kicking, little hands…the arms looked odd though. The baby

suddenly jerked and Alice screamed sharply. It happened again. Audrey peered close to

the monitor as Alice became increasingly distressed. Then she dropped the scanner and

ran out into the hall with Alice’s shrill and fearful “What’s wrong with my baby!?”

sounding in her ears.

“Sheriff Cartell!” she called out, “Call Doctor Raines and come quickly. Minutes later

Raines came out of Alice’s room, his thinning hair soaked with sweat, and his face a

sickly white. He took off his large rimmed glassed with shaking hands.

“I can’t be certain, but only because my mind cannot accept what my eyes are seeing,” he

croaked in a low, confidential tone.

“Have you told Alice?” Terry asked, assuming she had lost the baby and Pembroke was

outraged at Ted Bergman’s brutality.

80
“How can I tell her Sheriff Cartell, that her own child is eating her alive from the inside

out?”

...Lucy Starfinder sat alone in the command console cantina, save for Cane, who was

busy preparing food. Lucy had been drawn to the window, where she could observe the

hotel spreading out vastly beneath them, a gleaming metallic blue jewel, inhabited by a

thousand lights and buildings, looking for all the world like a city laid out below.

“What troubles you child?” Cane said eventually, breaking her reverie.

“The prisoner, he... is unexpected.”

“Surely the betrayal was not that shocking? That is why you had Charlie there Lucy?”

“I didn’t need him there to protect me Cane,” Lucy said indignantly, her dark eyes

burning brightly all of a sudden, “I can handle myself!”

“I’ve no doubt of that.”

Lucy raised a smile at that, and looked fondly at the ageing man.

81
“Yes, you do. Of course you do. Every security camera in the club followed my every

move all night.”

“It was a risky operation,” Cane said, embarrassed to be caught playing the worried father

figure so obviously.

“I certainly trained you to be observant,” he said with a smile of his own, “Your father

would be so proud of you.”

There was a glimmer of emotion in her eyes as she brushed off the comment.

“No, it was not the betrayal. It is his manner- he is too cool, to calm. I don’t...”

“I don’t like the way he looks at you,” Cane cut in.

“Neither do I, even behind those bars...”

“I meant Charlie...”

82
Gant plucked one of the smaller hairs from the object. It came free with surprising ease,

and a release of a gelatinous substance from what looked like a huge pore. It felt flexible

and strong, like a fly’s hair and it only bent slightly under the weight of its liquid sack.

“Has anyone else ever removed one of these?” Gant asked.

“Yes sir, all of us. They don’t glow away from this thing though. But they can make you

feel pretty high. Don’t worry, they grow back.”

“Do you have any?”

“Just one sir, we all have. It wouldn’t be right to take more than one.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I don’t know.”

Gant made as if to take another one and Peterson suddenly attacked him with animal

ferocity, snarling and snapping his teeth. He pulled Gant back by his jacket and flung him

to the ground. Gant got up just as Peterson came at him again, but this time he caught him

by the arm and swung him around. Peterson stumbled and reached for his gun. Gant did

not want a shot to draw attention so swiftly broke his neck. Boy, it was easy. It would

83
have been more useful to question him he knew, but a gunshot would have opened up a

Pandora’s box of complications. He bent down and picked up the stalk he had dropped,

then he harvested more. A lot more. He felt no happy feeling in this place. He felt

nothing, only the vague notion he should leave soon and take Petersons body with him.

He took Petersons’ truck miles down the road and purposefully ran it into a large rock.

He cut his face hitting the windscreen and was stunned for at least twenty minutes. When

he had recovered he noticed the truck was mounted up on two wheels, with one propped

up on the rock. With great effort he pushed it over to make the crash look worse, then he

took out a sharp pocket knife and slit Petersons leg. He then dragged him through the

sand, squeezing the leg to release blood. It made a convincing trail, off into the desert.

Gant hid the ‘spines’ high on a rocky ridge, climbing like a professional rock climber,

and buried Peterson’s body in the sand. He would return to take it long before the

authorities got there. Then he began the long walk back to town in the searing heat,

letting the blood from his forehead drip. It would look good when he told Cartell about

the accident.

It had been two hours since Peterson left. The autopsy on Henry Cartwright was going to

be interesting. Already one forensics guy had passed out and another had been violently

sick. His ‘body’ lay on a cold metal table, covered only in a light sheet. The harsh light

fell on his remaining human features, which really consisted of his face. His arms and

84
legs had ‘melded’ with the rest of his body. It was as if he had melted.

“Get someone in there to autopsy him or I’ll do it myself!” shouted Cartel. He was sure

what was happening to Alice Bergman was connected to what happened to Cartwright.

Eventually one young woman came in and approached the autopsy table. She had auburn

hair tied up as it had to be, and very blue eyes. She was no more than five foot five, yet

she approached the table with a tenacity that even Terry could not have matched. She

reminded him of Lillie.

She took a scalpel and carefully began to make an incision where his chest should be.

The body bled as the skin broke.

“Well,” she said in a soft southern accent, “he bleeds red.”

Then a thin white membrane was sliced open, and immediately a thick, black substance

came out, in consistence like mucus. The body moved. Moved like live prey inside a

snake, spilling more black mucus from the incision. Lisa stood back, but did not scream.

She held her scalpel up ludicrously. Tiny gurgles came from the body, and then it settled.

Cartwright’s remaining eye blinked once.

“Is he alive?” Terry asked, to be answered only by silence.

85
“My father keeps butterflies,” Lisa stammered, breaking the awed silence.

“What? What’s your point?” Cartel asked, his eyes locked on Cartwright.

“Something moved in there, I seen it, only in a flash. That substance, I don’t know what

it is, but it reminds me of the inside of a cocoon.”

Just then one of Cartels officers ran in.

“Sir, it’s Peterson, there’s been an accident! He’s missing!”

Dirk felt the bike go out from under him and could do nothing. Before he could react the

dusty road had swept up to beat the wind from his chest and bruise his face as the visor

on his ill fitting helmet shattered. As he lay in the dirt a voice all of a sudden said,

“Young man, you best get up and explain what you think you’re doing!”

“Wha?!”

“Flying in here like that. you could have killed somebody!”

86
“Yea; myself!” Dirk growled, standing up and dusting himself off vigorously while he

eyed the old lady looking accusingly up at him. She was mid sixties at least, with whispy

white hair and large glasses that hung around her neck on a fine string. She had that

grandmother look that some old women get, all benevolence and grace- yet her voice was

as sharp as pins in Dirks head. She reminded him of his high school teacher.

“This Cave Creek?” he asked bluntly, not looking at his accuser.

“Nope. It sure isn’t, though it said so on my satellite navigation interface!”

“Your what?!”

“My satellite Navigation Inter...”

“Her sat-nav,” another woman’s voice cut in, “Margot’s a star trek fan, she likes to give

everything its full technical title. Huge crush on Patrick Stewart.”

“I’m also an English teacher- I just like to say things right!” Margot snapped irritably.

“I’m Margaret. Do you know what’s going on here sir?” the younger woman said.

Dirk shot her a sardonic look and said, “I just fell in here on a motorbike going sideways

at eighty sister, what makes you think I know anything about anything?!” And you... I

87
knew you were a teacher!” he said, glaring at Margot.

“Ok, sorry, but I thought you may be from around here,” Diane said, suppressing a smirk.

“Well I’m not! I’m from...” he looked around in unbelief and laughed slightly, “...way

out of town. I’m fine by the way.”

“Sorry, it’s just that we know you’re fine. You’ve been lying there for an hour and we

had a doctor check you out.”

“An hour?! This doesn’t look like a town that has a doctor.”

“No, this is...a derelict town by all appearances. Not a soul here except a small crowd

looking for Cave Creek.”

Dirk shook his head and looked around at the rundown down. It looked like an

abandoned western set. Maybe it was.

“Where’s my bike?” he asked suddenly.

“About a hundred yards down the street,” Diane said pointing at a distant gleam of metal.

“It’s not too beat up, unlike yourself. Your hamster is fine too,” she added incredulously.

88
“ That tough little sucker!” Dirk said irritably, “She had enough of a man right there in

that cage without leaving me for Keith!”

“Pardon?”

“Nothin’. Nothin’ at all.”

“You should go and get checked out with Colin. He’s the doctor who examined you.”

“I’m fine lady. Where are the rest of your little entourage?”

“Across the street...” she replied, moving her eyes sideways to look, “...in the saloon,”

Diane added with a giggle. She was young, about twenty nine, wearing glasses too and an

unflattering baggy denim skirt. Dirk thought without the glasses and with the natural curl

of her brown hair tamed she might be quite pretty. He shook off the thought with a stern

‘never again’ and stalked off towards the saloon, feeling a great sense of surrealism strike

him. The old teacher Margot followed him, asking him if he wanted a cup of tea, fussing

like his grandmother used to when he was a boy. Halfway across the street he stopped

abruptly and simply glared at her, but she met his gaze with surprising defiance and

neither backed down.

Dirk waved his hand in disgust and walked up the steps to the saloon, leaving Margot

shaking her head in the street.

89
“What a big mess,” she was saying. “Someone has to know how to get out of here.”

Night was falling by the time Cartel stopped interviewing Gant. Men had been sent out to

find Peterson and had confirmed Gants story. Peterson had lost control of his truck and

hit a huge rock. Gant had been knocked unconscious and when he had woken up Peterson

was gone, with nothing but a trail of blood leading into the desert. Gant had not counted

on Cartels insisting he be questioned so rigorously. He sat opposite Cartel in the

interrogation room, his leathery face with sharp cheekbones highlighted under the glaring

overhead lamp. Speaking in a disturbing monotone, he told of the accident and Peterson’s

disappearance.

Cartel didn’t like him at all, but his story checked out, and he was with the F.B.I after all.

The moment Cartel was happy with his story, he let him go, and Gant left immediately in

his black sedan. He picked up Petersons body and the ‘spines’ he had taken from the

object and began the long drive to the headquarters of the agency. He turned on his

laptop as he drove on the straight endless road and sent a message ahead requesting entry,

detailing the object and the spines, sending the pictures he had taken. A distant feeling

swept over him. Excitement, maybe? The Agency was sent into a high alert and every

agent was re-called from the field for a briefing on worldwide repercussions. Within forty

90
eight hours they would all be in the headquarters, all seven hundred.

...the prisoner leered at Cane now, as he sat alone having his morning coffee in the

command centre, which was now lit by the light of a nearby sun that the hotel had begun

to orbit in anticipation of letting some travellers down to shore for a while. He watched

the transport ships being loaded in huge ‘dry docks’ that ran like immense trenches along

the hotels hull. Lucy and Charlie would be here soon. Last night they had gone on a date.

It seems his remark about the way Charlie looked at her had done nothing but push them

together. Now he stood sipping his coffee and watching the dots below come and go from

the transports. The monitors behind him were a hum of sounds, turned down low enough

not to annoy him but just high enough to provide comforting background noise. Still,

with the prisoner there he felt little real comfort. He could almost feel the guy staring at

the back of his head.

“You just gonna do that forever?” he asked irritably without taking his view from the

view below.

“Just until she gets here,” the prisoner replied through that strange smile.

Just then the hiss of an arriving lift sounded and Lucy stepped into the room, even more

91
beautiful in the sunlight of the near star. She was wearing the jumpsuit again, but this

time her hair was flowing naturally instead of swept back.

“Morning Cane,” she said cheerfully, almost bounding over to him. He only regarded her

with wary eyes and sipped his coffee moodily.

“Yes,” was all he said.

“It is,” said the prisoner, though I find it unseasonably bright.”

“Well you’re lucky your fate is not up to me, otherwise I’d introduce you to that star real

close up!” said Lucy.

“Would you?” said the villain, “would you burn with me?” He said the last phrase with a

sickening drawl, a poor sexual innuendo barely hidden.

“That’s enough!” Cane snapped, turning to the villain, “You will not say another word

until the prison force come to take you down, do you hear me!?”

“Actually Cane, that’s why I’m here,” Lucy said, “there’s a political coup going on on the

other side of the planet and all police personal are too thinly spread as it is. It won’t pose

a threat to our people, but it means we are going to have to take the prisoner down

ourselves.”

92
Cane looked very troubled at this and took her by the shoulders.

“Then we all go, Lucy. Notify... Charlie,” he said, nearly biting off the last word midway

through his mouth.

Lucy laughed and stepped back from the man she regarded as her father, though neither

spoke of it.

“Will do,” she said through a smirk. The villain in the cell just sat back and stared darkly,

and all of a sudden a deep sense of unease swept through Lucy, a lack of confidence she

had never known once in her adventurous life...

Cartel had asked to be called whenever Alice Bergman’s baby was delivered by

emergency sesarian section. He couldn’t get the young woman’s’ scared eyes out of his

head. He was sure she must have heard the doctor, “…her own baby is eating her alive.”

Terry shivered. Henry Cartwright was still being autopsied, but he had had to leave. What

could do that to a man? Was this some terrible disease? Doctor Raines was coming down

to see the body. Terry was glad it was Raines. He had always taken a great interest in

Alice after the accident. Not that Raines didn’t have his hands full too. First the boy and

93
then Alice Bergman, now Henry Cartwright. Terry did not like to entertain the notion but

he couldn’t deny to himself that something very strange was happening. Somehow he

knew it was all connected. Everyone would make the connection too late.

In the autopsy room black mucus was everywhere, oozing like a living thing from the

corpse of Henry Cartwright.

“There is no bone. Except for a skull. The skin is very pliable. Bone seems to have been

dissolved by unknown enzyme. Liver is intact, but not connected to anything, most

internal organs are gone. Prior belief that the body moved must have been caused by an

effect of escaping gases after initial incision.”

It was a fact that people dug up by superstitious European villagers in the 17th century and

staked through the heart often released a gasp, thought of as proof of vampirism. Today

many believe this was the effect of gases that build up during decay being released. It

was as Milly thought on this that there was a slight spasmic kick from somewhere in side

Mr Cartwright, displacing a large amount of the black mucus. There was no doubt about

it. It had been a limb. Milly carefully examined closer with her gloved hands, feeling the

warmth of the substance until she felt something firm. It kicked again. A leg and half a

torso were twitching under the mucus, joined with the mucus, forming from the mucus.

She realised what she was looking at. She’d seen it before when she’d dropped birds’

eggs from a tree house as a child as she tried to take them home to show her father. It was

a partially formed embryo.

94
“Henry Cartwright’s body has become some kind of cocoon,” Lisa said, confident of her

theory, “Like a butterfly cocoon, the insides have become liquefied into some sort of raw

material. How this has happened is beyond me, and what was forming is way beyond me.

Whatever it was, it’s dead now. I wish we had a live one.”

“We do,” Doctor Raines interrupted; coming in grimly, eyes black rimmed and haunted,

“I just delivered something from Alice Bergman. It had caused massive internal bleeding

and we lost her. It’s in an incubator that’s been taped shut.”

Terry gawped at Raines, as if he’s just grew an extra eye there in front of him. Raines

went on.

“We’re testing its blood now. I can tell you, I’ve never seen anything like it. Tried to bite

me as I delivered it; looked at me, turned its head and looked right at me, and tried to bite

my hand. Not human.”

“Hang on Doctor, now back up a minute. Could this be some sort of mutation, or genetic

disorder that’s only coming to light now?”

“All the victims are non-related, unless you believe the jokes about small town in-breed

ing, and as for mutation, I just don’t know enough. Mutation does not work like this. It

gives poor babies extra limbs, or grown folks cancer there are no power plants near here,

95
unless your really suggesting we blame this on out phone mast? Let me see Henry

Cartwright now.”

“What about the boy?”

“The boy has been examined quickly. He has the same odd spine-like growths’ as the

new born and deformity of the internal organs. No wonder he killed himself. It’s as if

something is trying to change each of these people, trying to produce a specific result, but

is trying in different ways.”

Terry spoke quickly to Ray, who was standing beside him.

“Get on the loudspeaker in my pickup now, go through the town telling anyone to report

strange medical issues immediately to the hospital or the station. Tell everyone else to

stay in doors. Issue an order to block entry to the town. Actually, hang that, I’ll come

with you, and then we’ll visit every house ourselves. Call the station and tell them to

wake any officer who is at home tonight.”

The doctor got four feet before he collapsed, clutching his neck. Terry beside him,

helping him up, noting mentally how he had fallen in exactly the same way as the boy

from the freezer.

“Colder in here,” Raines murmured gently, “Scalpel did the trick. Don’t cut me up like

96
Cartwright and I’ll be fine.” Raines glared over Terry’s head, at the horrified Milly, and

nodded in her direction, “You’ve been with Cartwright for long enough.”

Raines began to bloat almost the moment he said it, just as Lisa began to scream, “I never

meant to kill her…the rabbit tasted like blood and soil…oh, sheriff, what’s wrong with

me?!”

She held out her delicate hand to Terry, who could only watch as she began to collapse

like a bouncy castle with no air inside. There was nothing he could do, no words, no

actions. He could only watch her pretty features change. She’s seen inside Cartwright,

and it was in her eyes, the fear. A thought struck Terry then, a terrible thought-

‘What if they remain conscious as cocoons?’

Lilly flashed before him, her likeness to Lisa suddenly even greater, before Lisa became a

monstrous parody of human life.

“Everyone out!” Cartel yelled. Everyone ran out of the autopsy room and burst into the

main station.

“No one is to go anywhere near the autopsy rooms!” Terry shouted to the shocked

officers that looked up. Cave Creek was such a small town that many of them were at

home, or out helping Barry inform the Fincher’s Hill families of their relatives deaths.

97
“Ray! Pickup, now!” he shouted.

The wheels skidded as Terry pulled out of the station. He had the speaker in his hand

before he left the car park.

“This is Sheriff Cartel. Stay indoors until further notice. Any strange occurrences or

medical complaints are to be reported to the doctor…to me on my cell or any of the other

officers. Do not go to the station.”

Then he called the hospital. He knew the number so well, better than his home number.

“Prepare for quarantine measures, and call in any consultants you have to. Dr Raines? Dr.

Raines is dead Cassie. I’ll explain it soon, just please, and hurry. There is a contagious

disease in the town, and it may be airborne.”

Ray looked across at the Sheriff guiltily.

“Sheriff,” he said, looking down at his fiddling hands like a schoolboy who had been

caught smoking, “I might know how this is spreading.”

“Ray, I haven’t got time for any of your sci-fi rubbish, unless you’ve been reading

virology textbooks on the ludicrous amount of sick days I’ve given you this….”

98
“Nearly the whole town went out to see it,” Ray interrupted. Terry stopped and glared at

him, his eyes occasionally orange under the flash of streetlights.

“You were away. Henry Cartwright woke me up; I must have been the only one that

didn’t hear it. There were at least thirty trucks went out. Drove for an hour into the desert.

Found it in the ravine; it was all glowing, or rather the little spines were. We all visited

time and time again, it felt so good. We all took one of them home then, but only one. It

didn’t seem right to take more than one.”

“How many?”

“What?”

“How many people Ray?!”

“Nearly the whole town, about ninety four?”

“Why wasn’t I told about this?! Where did it come from?!”

“Space I guess.”

“Oh come on, no more Ray!”

99
“Where else did it come from!? They heard it crash, it was still smoking when we

arrived. Bits of it burned out all over the desert, they looked like charred bone.”

“Show me one of these ‘spines.’

“Mine doesn’t glow anymore.”

“How many cops were involved in this incident?”

“Sir, I don’t feel comfortable….”

“How many!”

“More than half the force at least.”

“Okay. We’re going to my house, and your going to write me down the names of every

officer and civilian who were there that night, do you understand me!”

Terry was shocked and scared. If the ‘infection’ was spread from this so-called object,

then half the town and most of the police could be infected. Then another thought hit him.

Gant. Gant had been asking about a ‘satellite’ that had come down.

100
“Was Peterson there?”

“I think so.”

“You think so isn’t good enough Ray, was he or wasn’t he?!”

“He was, I’m sure. He was standing on top of a pickup truck waving his arms.”

“Sounds like Stockwood, Ray. What was that you said about it making you ‘feel good.?”

“Made you feel safe, warm, out of touch sort of. Now...not high sir, just peaceful. Then

later when you went home you had nightmares. Everybody had. Me and a few others in

the force had a meeting about what we dreamt about every week. Usually we had similar

dreams.”

“Like some cult in my own station,” Terry muttered, his eyes on the dark road ahead as

they left the edge of town.

“Others met too, some of the wives and that. Thought it was a real lark to keep it from

you.”

“You fools! Do you know what you might have done?! The authorities should have been

alerted. You knew nothing about this thing, or those ‘spines’ you took from it!”

101
Ray said nothing, just fidgeted with the cuffs clipped to his belt.

“The dreams, what were they like?”

“Dark rock for miles, black even. War between strange life, running, screaming, guts,

things that looked like they shouldn’t have life taking life from others…made me feel…

guilty. Isn’t that crazy sir?”

“Nothing seems as crazy as it used to,” Terry said, eyeing Ray with new suspicion. He

began to wish he hadn’t taken him along.

They arrived eventually at the Cartel farmhouse, an impressive one hundred and fifty

year old house three miles out of town. Pale blue paint, flaking now, covered its porch

and fence as an array of flowers slept in its front beds. Across the yard there was a large

barn, unused now, were Terry kept his Porsche under a large sheet. The step of the porch

creaked as Terry and Ray ascended. Even in these strange circumstances Terry felt that

pang of hurt as he opened the front door. He hated his house almost as much as he hated

the hospital. A memorial to a romance prematurely shot in the head, a life hung in

oblivion between time and eternity. The flowers had been planted by her. They re-grew

every summer. She stayed lying there in her bed, not feeling sunshine or rain. They were

more alive, he thought. Yet that tear gave him hope. Strange thing to impart hope, a tear;

yet not. How much life does a tear express? More than some of us fully conscious can lay

102
claim to. It expresses our ability to empathise, to fear, and to feel joy.

All these things were dulled to Gant, who was nearly at the headquarters of the Agency.

The millions of nano-robots inside his body were sending him their reports, delivered to a

small handheld devise that only responded to his fingerprints. It was no bigger than a

PDA. The nano machines reported to the device every 4 hours, every day. Gant carried

more nanobots than the other agents, as he sometimes needed emergency formatting

which they could carry out. They could only do this once, and then Gant would have 48

hours to get formatted before a grab team picked him up or a kill squad shot him dead.

The main function of the nanobots was to diagnose medical problems early, and they

were equipped to deal with some of them. Cancer could be detected within twenty

minutes of the first cell mutation. Often the nanobots could destroy it. When it was time

to report the nanobots joined together, sharing information and creating a signal. Their

collective report came through as Gant reached the abandoned airfield. No one but a few

knew where the Agency HQ was situated. Every agent, and all other employee’s got to

the Agency on an underground train system that kept travellers in complete darkness and

applied sensory perception denial to disorientate them further. No one would be sure

what direction they had travelled in or for exactly how long. Gant stopped his car in one

of the many hangers and stepped out, then he typed a command into his PDA that told

103
HQ he had his car with him and wished to take it to HQ. It would need sterilised after

contact with the spines. A deep humming sound kicked in, seeming to pass a slight

vibration through the whole building, and a sleek white round capsule rose from the floor

of the hanger it was completely smooth with no cracks or signs or marks on the outside

that may indicate a door. As Gant approached it, it opened easily, a portion sliding into

the shell of the egg like machine with almost no sound. Inside the capsule was well lit

and inviting, with soft seats encircling most of the curved walls and very little else. When

Gant stepped inside a small robotic arm came down from above him and to the right

holding a syringe. Gant submissively held out his arm and pulled back the sleeve of his

suit and the white shirt underneath. The arm came forward with a light whirring sound

and drew blood from him, then pulled back and up. Gant waited for two minutes, a slight

dizziness coming over him, then the arm re-appeared and injected him again. He had

been accepted. An imposter would not have received the injection- he would been left to

die by the poison that had been daubed on the end of the first syringe. Then he would he

would have died quickly, and been brought to the HQ where they would be investigated.

The Agency would find out who they were and where they were from. They would

interrogate their loved ones, family and friends until they were sure that they knew

nothing. If they knew something, there was always forced recruitment- that is if they

wanted to live. The Agency was not a large organisation. It was in fact quite small really,

but highly effective and secretive to the point of being truly invisible. No one but those at

the very top knew who really controlled it. They only knew that it was not any

government or particular country.

104
Gant sat down in the capsule and the door closed swiftly. Then the bright whiteness of

the room blinked out of existence and the sensory deprivation began. Sitting in the

darkness, Gant could only perceive the start of the journey, going down again. Down into

the darkness.

Nano units in system: 700 million

Damaged units: 120 million

Repair to damaged units imminent.

BPM:

Glucose: 4.5

Liver: Good

Heart: Good

Lungs: Good

Foreign agents detected: Cold Virus- Status: Eliminated.

Unknown entity:

Query…

105
Possibilities…

Virus, bacteria, biological agent…???

EXECUTE INVESTIGATION…

Group breaking up…prioritising…re-organising for strategic procedure.

Scan in progress. Estimated result of scan: 2 hours.

There would not be enough time.

...Lucy moved toward the prisoner, taking out the hip mounted pistol that Cane had given

to her when she had graduated as a member of the Starfinder Guard Academy. It was

silver and blue, and reflected the bright sunlight of the nearby star as she raised it level

with the prisoner. Just then Charlie came off the elevator.

“Wait, before we start to move him, before Cane gets here to start barking orders; Lucy

I...” he walked over to where she was and stood near her, much nearer than a friend

would stand, “I should have told you this ages ago, I...”

106
“I know. I do too,” Lucy said through a dazzling smile. He swept her into his arms and

kissed her, filling her with hope and a feeling that everything she ever wanted was falling

into place. There was such peace, love and respect in his arms, and she felt warm tears

come to her eyes, tears of joy. Her mind began to fill up with all the things that would

come to them now, marriage, family, a life to be made...and all of a sudden Charlie

stiffened in her arms, and cried out. She pulled away from him, and he slumped to the

floor on his back. An evil mass of red seeped onto the marble floor. The villain stood

behind him, a large curved dagger in his hands with wicked teeth on one edge. He moved

towards Lucy, whose bliss had turned to pure horror in a matter of seconds. She had

never felt this way, never lost certainty like this. She longed to go to Charlie, to get him

to the medical wing, but the villain was advancing on her now, deadly intent in his black

eyes. All of a sudden a shot rang out, and the villains right shoulder exploded in a mass of

bone and blood. Cane stood by the elevator, a plasma rifle in his hands, ready to take

another shot. “

“We need medical up here!” Cane shouted into the intercom, “Run Lucy, I’ve got this!”

And he had. The villain only had his dagger to Cane’s gun. He was trapped.

“I never run,” Lucy said through gritted teeth as she raised her own weapon and pointed

it at the enemies head. The villain stood upright, ignoring the glaring hole and copious

bleeding from his wound. His face was contorted in a terrible smile and his dark eyes

gleamed as he leered first at Lucy, then turned to Cane.

107
“You’ve nowhere to run,” Lucy said with authority, but with anxious tears forming in her

jewel eyes. Charlie groaned and turned over. “Where’s medical!” she shouted, her voice

losing its usual control.

“Move away from Charlie,” she ordered to the prisoner, motioning with her weapon.

He stood firm. The urgent hiss of four lifts arriving at override speed announced the

medical teams’ arrival.

“It’s over prisoner, now step back!” Cane yelled.

“Prisoner,” was all the villain said. He said it oddly, as if the word was alien to him. As

if it amused him. He looked around the room. The medical team wore the white uniforms

and helmets that they used when they anticipated trouble and where armed with syringe

guns full of tranquilliser.

“I am often a prisoner. But no prison cannot be unlocked. Every one a puzzle, each with a

key.”

His words were laced with hidden meaning, and Lucy couldn’t help but feel unnerved.

“I’ve heard enough, shoot him up!” Cane yelled in fury.

The syringe guns popped as they fired, and the prisoner stood firm as seven separate darts

108
hit him. Everyone in the room relaxed. Any second he would fall in a heap and be out for

days. Seconds passed painfully as the standoff continued. Suddenly the prisoner turned

his full gaze to Lucy for a full few seconds, and lashed out at the medical team.

It happened so fast that it was all a blur. How exactly he had attacked them was unclear.

It had looked as if a tentacle had whipped out from his back and cut three of them down

in showers of gore. Then he had leapt upon the remaining four in turn, ripping their

throats out as they screamed. When Lucy opened her eyes there was blood all over the

pale walls and marble floor. The large glass panels that overlooked the loading bays were

smeared too. The medical team where lying everywhere, some still groaning, all dying.

Cane struggled to his feet after being knocked over at the beginning of the assault. He

tried to raise his gun but it simply fell from his hand and melted on the ground. He looked

at it in numb shock and began to approach Lucy to help her up. In seconds the villain was

upon him, and had lifted him up with arms that resembled two thick and powerful tendrils

now.

“Watch,” the villain said, turning to Lucy. “All of you like a puzzle box, each with your

own key...the point where it all opens up to me.” With a swift movement he broke Canes

neck, letting his head fall awkwardly to the side, a drip of blood on his chin.

Lucy screamed, screamed long and hard until her throat was burning. The horror and

confusion filled her and filled her, like dark cold water rushing into her very soul. Then

she felt herself pulled roughly to her feet, and the villain stood before her, its arms

tentacles and the rest of it still human, including its’ face. In the gore of the command

centre her eyes fixed on that face, and all at once it was oddly seductive. When it started

109
to come closer she shook but did not move. She felt it embrace her, and hold her close to

it, and the closer she got to it the less human it seemed, the less human she seemed. That

human face leant forward with a hideous grin and kissed her, and as it did Lucy became

fluid and insubstantial, fading into the villain that now resembled nothing human in any

way. At the last moment, she looked down at her own body, and with infinite horror

could only see tendrils and slime. Her new body was transparent and glowed a light pink.

She turned away from the sight and embraced the creature fully. Then there was only

oblivion.

In her sisters party, Julie shivered suddenly and convulsively then became deathly still.

She was gone. The prisoner looked out through her eyes at the revelling party-goers.

In the late seventies it was surmised by some academics with too much money and time

on their hands that if extraterrestrial life wanted to let us know they existed they may

send us a sample of their biology, rather than some kind of message. They believed that

the vast distances involved in traversing the universe meant it would be a more realistic

to expect frozen cells or DNA that may survive for indefinite periods in the coldness of

space. It may take thousands of years, but we would get the message eventually.

A young man named Jason Bradford theorized that communication may arrive in the

110
form of a single cell engineered to split and develop into the full organism or at least a

body part. Some predicted serious concerns about bacteria from space that could wipe

away our hard earned immunity to earth bacteria and cause the extinction of the human

race. Either way, it was decided by a secret branch of NASA that safeguards and

protocols had to be put in place against the possibility of microscopic life from space

making it to earth. Even bacteria brought into space accidently on satellites may be

changed so much by conditions outside earth’s atmosphere that they would mutate into a

deadly plague.

The branch set up to investigate these claims was the unimaginatively named

Extraterrestrial Organic Research Division. It was a small unit full of theorists. Brilliant

men who were rejected from mainstream science because their ideas were too far out

were left to develop defenses against an enemy no one was sure existed. That was in

1980. In 1982 they got their first break. A shard of meteorite that fell to earth in Kansas,

wiping out a small farm. It stood upright in the crater that it created, lodged deep in the

ground, one sharp end skyward, sheared off by some ancient collision. It looked like a

giant arrowhead pointing the way towards its celestial origin. When the dust cleared in

the Kansas Dawn and the meteor had been gone over meticulously, a chunk of it was

taken back to the E.O.R.D labs. As Bradford peered at it through a microscope he

discovered strange raised symbols on its’ surface. They were definitely pictorial writing

of some kind. Upon further investigation they were found to be made up of a green dye

that turned out to be organic in nature. Cells. The writing was made up of billions and

billions of cells. That night Bradford was violently sick, and was quarantined. The next

day when hesitant scientists returned to the quarantine viewing area, they saw that

111
Bradford was perfectly well, but not much amused. Upon his release, he asked that the

rock sample be quarantined immediately. Before being ‘locked away, it was studied again

by microscope. The scientist on the job let out a deafening yell and jumped back from the

microscope, pushing it away as if it was infected with rabies. When he could be calmed

down he claimed there were words on the rock in English.

There were the same amount of cells on the rock, but they had reorganized. Bradford

said that while he was sick he had lost all his power over language. He could not even

think in English, his thoughts a terrifying gibberish in his mind. Then in the morning all

of a sudden he was well, in an instant.

There was definitely a connection between Bradford’s’ strange affliction and the

translated writing, though at first no one wanted to say it. It was Bradford who had the

guts to suggest the theory that seemed so clear to everyone else. The cells had interfaced

with his brain somehow, infected him for the purpose of translating their message into a

human language. It was found that the whole meteorite was covered in the same message;

‘YOU ARE IN THE HADES CLUSTER’

What was it? An acknowledgement that they knew where we were here? Perhaps that

was the name given to our galaxy by a distant race? Bradford thought more darkly that it

was a warning of some sort. Together with the random, almost desperate way that the

same words were etched again and again into the same rock over and over again.

In the next few years the warning started to make sense. Three possible biological

112
‘messages’ arrived on earth, some of them obviously well meant, but most causing

horrific disease in whoever came into contact with them. It seems the reference to the

‘Hades cluster’ meant our planet was in the firing line of many worlds seeking to

‘communicate’. Whoever had warned us felt that these ‘messages’ may bring us danger.

The work became about containment. Often families needed to be killed to prevent the

spread of some alien bacteria, meant as a communication. The original team could not

cope anymore. They were making decisions about life or death on sometimes a huge

scale. Two of them had nervous breakdowns, one committed suicide. Bradford stayed on.

It was then that the Agency began looking into expansion, into ways of training their

agents to cope. It was then that formatting was invented. A method of ‘re-wiring’ a

person’s brain so that complete unhindered focus could be given to one task. Many

religions taught meditation and focus, but this was complete reigning in of the minds

many pathways.

Gant had not been the first, but he had been easily the most difficult. He had been

brought in, pacified by his initial formatting, a disheveled young man who looked like a

travelling salesman. He wore a faded grey suit and large Clark Kent glasses. It seemed he

had been through some trauma. That night his formatting broke down, and his screaming

echoed throughout the large, calm halls of the Agency building. He had to be formatted

again, and given twice the dose of the others. Once formatted completely, Gant became a

brilliant tool of the agency, but Bradford had his doubts from the start. Gant was a free

radical. He still did not act like all the others. He displayed a certain flair in his work, a

finesse almost, albeit the finesse of a cold mind. Gant was a stylish monster. There was

113
another thing. Once on patrol he had been attacked by a group of men, evidently because

he looked wealthy in his Agency suit. The men were found broken. One of them had had

his neck broken, the other had an arm very nearly pulled off. All of them were dead.

After this the Agency assigned Bradford to watch Gant, to be his minder. In fact, all of

the agents had minders. Some non-formatted member of the agency to keep an eye on

them. It was an interesting, dangerous, often disturbing job. Each agent had a base of

operations, a house or an apartment somewhere, usually a very non-descript location. The

minder would live nearby and watch them. There were problems with the formatted

agents. They could not socialize normally, and seemed confused by questions pertaining

to their wellbeing. Some of them spoke aloud the messages relayed to them by their

resident nano-machine swarm in public. Others did not sleep. Often they stood static or

slept all the time until orders came in. Once one nearly killed his minder for asking too

much about an operation. If one missed a bout of formatting, which they needed once a

month, it was a terrible trial- the minder responsible would lead a team to either kill or

capture the agent before they talked. Most of them ended up in hospitals, or arrested,

having been found raving about things most people simply could not even imagine. If the

agents got close enough they could send a signal to the nanobots that would tell them to

cause a blood clot, inducing a heart attack. Sometimes the agents had figured ways to

block the signal, sometimes they had even found a way to re-program the nanobots. It

was a nightmare. They were a nightmare. Bradford was never comfortable with them,

with formatting. Especially Gant. Gant scared him.

Now he stood, sixty, watching Gant move through the crowd of agents below. At his

114
shoulder, Abe Handel stood, the same age, with the same weary eyes as Bradford.

“Gant?”

“Yes. Where is his minder?! Also I’m concerned he might be out-growing the mark III

formatting. He doesn’t talk at all to the others now. And I don’t like this Abe, all of them

being here, it makes me nervous. Are you sure this response is warranted?”

“It’s a mess; his minder is in the desert Town Gant has just returned from, looking for

him. We’re trying to contact him, but the town seems to be a communications black-spot.

Judging by the samples Gant sent ahead, I’d say this response is more than just

warranted; have you seen this thing?! It’s some sort of bacteria with virus-like qualities.

It shows signs of being a mutagen and most importantly we have an active specimen in

the labs right now.”

“Yes, the dead police officer from where was it, Cave Creek in Arizona?”

“Young guy. Gant killed him. Broke his neck by the look of it.”

Most people assume top secret organisations would have pretty unspectacular faces for

their headquarters. The opposite was true of the Agency. The headquarters was a

towering glass fronted building, rising like a jewel into the sky. The Agency had funding

from the NSA, and had a perfectly above board secondary function; they investigated

insurance fraud. This meant they could travel far and wide with a good cover, and

question many people without suspicion of their true intention. They actually did file

insurance fraud cases. This is what they mostly done, as matter of fact. Until a crisis.

Then they cold be mobilised very quickly, like pawns set in place, they waited in silence.

Usually they dealt with bacterial infections from space, and they could be pretty horrific.

115
Occasionally, things were worse. Actual intelligent life forms would make it down. Most

of them weren’t humanoid like we imagine. Almost all were dangerous. Not particularly

by virtue of their nature, but by virtue of the fact that many had crashed landed, and

found themselves surrounded by hideous alien forms. Often the interactions between

human and alien were horrific beyond words. The formatting did not make the agents

into zombies, or robots. They could feel emotion, they understood emotion, and they

were lethally clever. Chosen from the top universities, they were almost all of above

average intelligence. Many of them were geniuses. The formatting allowed them to use

one hundred per cent of their brain power for the job. This produced some very surprising

results. The focus, absent in most ordinary people, made agents weaker areas improve

vastly. Mathematical skill increased even in poor maths students, as did scientific

understanding and logical thinking. Memory became perfect and photographic to the

extent that they could pick out the colour of someone’s eyes in a room they had seen

months ago. They could memorise whole books. This focus allowed them to train hard as

well and Gant especially was terrifyingly strong, though he was lean. They were trained

in the use of most weapons, and technology. Oddly, the formatting did not improve

creative skill in terms of imagination. That was a gift, and often it made the difference

between a good agent and a brilliant one. Gant had imagination. He took chances others

didn’t, he thought of things others could not. Some said it was his extra formatting, but

that was not true. The extra formatting Gant received was a mystery, and no one really

knew why he received it. They did not even know about his extra dose of Nano machines

that could format him away from base.

116
Gant walked among his colleagues now. They only talked about the job, and the

problems and queries of it. High above, in a room suspended in the middle of the room

upon a glassy stalk, the directors watched. Especially Pierce Bradford. He found it very

disturbing to be in a room full of agents. To move among them was even worse. Trying

to strike up a conversation with one was something the other directors found hilarious,

but not Branson. It made him feel like a Nazi camp supervisor. Listening to them talk to

each other was always a particular chill. You almost always heard something that kept

you awake that night. That total objectivity. ‘They’d kill us all if they thought they had

to,’ Branson thought. He shivered now, watching Gant walk tall among the others. He

knew their nanobots were all reporting to the central control intelligence in the building

now that would compile a general report on their health and well being. Bradford was

near retirement, and hadn’t counted on this type of red alert before he checked out for

good.

“Make sure they all get formatted before they leave,” he heard his own voice say, barely

recognising it, “three hundred and forty need swarms replaced. Bring Gant straight up

here.”

When Gant arrived in the ‘Director’s chair’ as it was called, Bradford asked him to

report.

“Shell like object came down in the desert outside town. It is covered in these spine like

growths that glow intermittently when attached to the shell. It seems to be natural bio-

117
luminescence. The shell itself shows no sign of being anything but organic in nature. It

undoubtedly came through our atmosphere recently. About 94 of the towns population

have harvested these ‘spines’ including many of the local police. No organic threat has

been detected. I have brought many of them here for study. When I attempted to remove

one I was attacked by a law enforcement officer, who I had to kill. I did so by separating

his spine from the base of his skull.”

Bradford flinched. Gant offered no justification for his action.

“I have also brought his body here as he may contain infection of some kind. The sheriff

of the town is an astute man, but suspects nothing. He is a sceptic.”

Just then the report came back from the central control intelligence.

700 agents present.

669 are in 96% perfect health

1 has cancerous growth that will be eliminated in 4 minutes.

5 have various foreign bodies:

Cold virus

118
Flu virus

1 is not formatted according to regulations and has nicotine present in system.

“Seize that one!” a director yelled, as one man turned against the tide to run. As the

scuffle went on below, the computer drolled on:

Attention…

Foreign body detected in lab technician..

Correction. 2 lab technician…correction. 7…

Unknown biological agent present in agent population. Increasing at dangerous rates.

Quarantine recommended immediately to contain suspected viral outbreak of

extraterrestrial origin…

ALERT! ALERT!

Unknown conscious entity detected in main building. Unauthorised entity.

Query? What is unknown entity?...

119
Processing….

Agent Harold Jones is unknown entity.

Query? How can Harold Jones be unknown entity?

Processing….

Unable to compute Harold Jones brain wave pattern.

Query?

Why is Harold Jones formatting not effective?

Processing…

Brain wave pattern of subject not consistent with human thought patterns. Formatting is

obsolete.

Query?

Why has Harold Jones Killed Timothy Harris?

120
The main floor was in chaos. The directors had only heard snippets of the computers

chillingly objective attempt to understand as they rushed to manually cancel the lift that

led up to the directors chair. It was too late. Below them the masses of agents went in to

action to contain the threat. They should have dealt with an intruder in moments. Surely

the computer was confused. Gant knew what it meant, at the same time his own nano

machines finished their own investigation into the virus:

Unknown entity not identified.

Outcome not understood…

Classification uncertain: Is material viral, bacterial or other entity?

Query? Why is control function compromised?

Processing…

Nerve manipulation from somewhere other than the brain.

121
Processing….

Consciousness existing independent of normal brain function…

Conclusion: Unknown biological entity poses threat to genetic integrity of host life form.

Action: converge nano life forms to give greater processing ability.

Goal: stop progress of unknown entity.

In the director’s chair screens that monitored individual agents began to flash alerts:

Agent Raymond Green

Integrity of rib cage compromised

Action…

Mobilise nano machines to aid clotting

Changes in enzyme activity and basic biology detected…

122
Unknown consciousness present…

Query? What is causing sporadic appearance of unauthorised consciousness…

Processing…

Unknown biological entity present in human population has spread to 70% of HQ…

Conclusion:

It is likely source of unknown consciousness…

Agent Paula Philips

Lacerations to facial muscle tissue

Action…

Response cannot be computed…

123
Ongoing attacks on structural integrity of bone structure

Blood loss cannot be contained

Gant had been in the director’s chair when the general reports had been compiled, so he

had not been assessed. His nanobots were telling him the virus was inside of him, but had

had not taken hold. They reported they could beat it and that he had not been the source

of the headquarters infection.

Gant realised all at once, too late; it was the ‘spines.’ Realised too that the HQ was lost.

That the agents were all infected. Cold logic told him what to do next. First he crossed to

the director of the Agency and grabbed him by the arm, spun him around and slammed

him into the viewing glass. Other overseers ignored him and ran. Taking out a pen knife

he reached down, cut off the man’s index finger and shoved the screaming overseer to the

ground. Putting the finger into a small cold box that he found in the ‘Chair’ he stepped

towards the lift and commanded it to go to the ground floor. He ran from the ‘Chair,’

through the sea of dying and changing, screaming and confusion with a calm heart. Twice

he shot two of his comrades who had gone on a killing spree. Others were pushed aside

as he cut a swathe through the hordes of former agents. It would have been odd to any

one other than an agent, to see the bleeding, dying and grotesque writhing in soundless

agony. The expression of pain through sound is emotion, and the agents were incapable

of demonstrating that. Some of them however, shouted bizarre things at Gant as he ran

124
by, unknown names and places, claims of great power and murderous rage.

Gant stood inches away from the glass seal that closed off the base as it descended, and

watched his colleagues burn to make sure no one got out. A few made attempts to escape,

slamming into the glass with mindless ferocity, and it was impossible to tell whether they

had been deformed by fire, attack or the alien virus that was raging inside the HQ.

When the last fire ravaged skull had been exposed and the last twisted creature fallen to

leave mangled skeletons behind, Gant turned to consider his next challenge. The Black

Train would be offline. To his knowledge there was no other way out, yet there had to be.

A voice in his head, no, not a voice, a string of words that appeared to sear across his

mind’s eye said ‘There is an emergency activation code for the train.’ Gant wondered

at this, for it was not usual, and the bases main computer, which could communicate with

his formatting com, was offline too. in any case it could not send messages directly to

Gant like that. When Gant made it to the train, he found it open. It was in darkness apart

from a small console that had slid outwards from the main body. Gant stepped up to it

and the ‘voice’ said ‘2461/EMERESCAP/RAP.’ Gant wondered at this, but typed in the

code and stepped inside as the Black Train blinked into life again. This time it did not

contest his validity. It did not even black him out or deprive him of the use of his senses.

As Gant felt it pull away smoothly like a Japanese bullet train, he began to calculate his

next move. Back to Cave Creek.

The threat must be contained.

125
*

Lee sat in the local bar, fairly sure if he asked the local police about Gant he would

discover something of his whereabouts. Gant may move discreetly, but this was a small

town, and strangers got noticed. Especially men like Gant. The town seemed excessively

quiet, as if there was a wake in every household. Only a few older men seemed to be

drinking at the bar, and there was a subdued atmosphere in the streets, where maybe one

pickup came through every half hour. Lee shuddered, wondering in a part of his mind

reserved for irrational fears had Gant killed everyone in the town. He had heard what may

have been a stifled scream when he first arrived in town, but he had been told by a

chuckling old woman sitting on her porch that it was just the wind whistling through the

canyon nearby. Still, there was something disquieting about this little town. Cave creek

was not a large place at all, although it was spread out. The town was dominated by one

long street, along which were the main hubs for any town. The police station lay at the

north end of this street, a large gray brick building, formally a town hall. It loomed across

the street from where Lee sat now, rising up against the reddening sky. In the corner of

the room a jukebox played a grainy rendition of Tequila Sunrise. The barman, a stocky

man in his mid fifties who looked far too much like a character in a western, watched the

dishevelled young man intently. Lee was in a trance- like state, staring first at the sky and

wondering what monster had descended on this sleepy little place, and then down into his

drink, thinking of Haley, and whether she would find some over- muscled, half- witted

over-seer type to console her in his increasingly long absence. He really did think he was

126
fated to live like this forever now, serving the Agency until he was too old or too dead.

Even if Gant was killed, he would not be free, not by a long, long shot. At times he

wondered about Gant- after all, in his file it had said... and if there was even the slightest

hint of the man inside left then... but all of this was just fantasizing. He chuckled bitterly

to himself, ‘the way I used to fantasise about aliens,’ he thought. He had been such a star-

struck little kid, full of light and life, always the optimist. A real silver lining type. ‘Meh,’

he thought, mentally waving his hand dismissively, ‘ E.T nearly got me killed. My father

would’ve been safer letting me see ‘The Thing’ like I wanted.’ He thought without

amusement of the first time he had met an extraterrestrial being.

“Stranger, eh?”

“Pardon?”

“You’re not a local are you?”

“No sir I’m not, as a matter of fact I was looking for a friend of mine, also not from

around here...”

“Yep, seen him- big guy, real intense stare, dark suit, no sense of humor?”

“That’s him.”

127
“You a fed too?”

“What?”

“He said he was a federal agent,” the old barman answered, openly enjoying Lee’s

discomfort.

“Yes, sorry. Yes I am, but it’s not usual to just go around blurting it out. Do you know

where he is right now, where he’s staying?”

“Don’t know. I know he spoke with the police chief, then he headed off into the desert

with one of the younger officers.”

“He did,” Lee said, a distracted sound to his voice as he hurriedly gathered up his coat

and PDA

“Where will your Chief of police be now?”

“Maybe at the station, or if not at home. He lives beyond the edge of town, in a large two

storied house that looks like it doesn’t belong.”

128
Cartel stood in his darkened living room, staring at the pile of mail that had built up out

in the hall. He could hear Ray shifting in his chair in the kitchen. He caressed the hammer

of his nine millimetre. He should have left Ray in the street. Still, he knew about the

‘object’ and if he was left on the street he may hurt somebody. Cartel still found it hard to

believe Ray could be dangerous. Everything inside the house had taken on a bluish hue in

the pale moonlight. Ray was at the kitchen table trying to remember the names of all

those who had gone out to find the fallen object that night. Cartel had also asked him to

draw a map of where the object had come down. Instead he was drawing a sketch of a

solar system he had never seen before. No one had ever seen it before.

The clatter of cutlery made Cartel’s head snap up from reading his excess mail. He

dropped the remaining letters to the floor, their dull flutter contrasting with the violence

of the sounds from the kitchen. He drew his gun, hoping he could constrain Ray.

“All the children of the singularity…” Ray muttered under his laboured breath as Cartel

approached the kitchen archway.

“Ray? Your sick, but come with me to the hospital.”

“Yes, sick. It hasn’t worked you see. Very different biology.”

As he said this, his facial skin seemed to be sucked from his face into his eye sockets,

129
nose and mouth, leaving only pure white bone. His lower jaw hung limp without any

muscle to support it. Ray held his head in his hands and writhed around like some

grotesque man-sized puppet, his fingers tracing the empty eye sockets again and again.

Cartel, too shocked to process what he had just witnessed, raised his 9mm and backed

into the wall, knocking down a collection of china plates as he did.

Ray’s skin broke all over his body, like cement in an earthquake, and thousands of little

spines poked up through the cracks, moving like plants following the light. They had

little transparent sacks on the end, and glowed a light blue every so often, like a deep sea

fish might. Falling to his knees, Ray began to crawl towards Cartel, but stopped suddenly

and heaved as if he was going to be sick. Instead an overwhelming tangle of writhing

tentacles burst from his stomach, spilling his intestines all over the floor. He fell over

onto his back and the tendrils shook violently upwards, as if in a seizure. Cartel took aim

with his 9mm but instead decided to hold off. Maybe he could capture it alive somehow.

Suddenly one of the writhing tendrils seemed to gain control of itself and stopped

shaking. Instead it stood upright and seemed to be looking around life a cobra tracking

prey. Then another stopped writhing and joined it, then another and another until they

were all standing upright and ‘looking around’ like large comic earthworms. They looked

terrible and ridiculous all at once, thought Terry. Then one lunged forward, towards him.

Terry screamed and jumped, backing into a row of shelves that came down with a

deafening clatter all around him. ‘No’- he decided- ‘just kill the thing! What here you

thinking!’ backing off more, he raised his nine mill and began to squeeze the trigger. The

blood was pumping through his body faster than it had in years and in some detached

130
way he realised he had not been so scared since the night Lilly was hurt. It was such an

affront to him- this connection between that night and this abomination, that he began to

shoot there and then, his face contorted with rage and anger. Tentacle parts flew

everywhere.

The creature responded and Ray tried to get up, raising himself on his knuckles with

tremulous arm. When he could not, some of the tendrils arched to the ground and lifted

him up until he was level with Cartel, who continued to shoot. He was determined to kill

it now. Then Ray moaned. Ray, not the beast. Terry faltered. He stopped shooting. Was

the young officer still conscious, still alive?

“Terry, I...” a weak voice groaned feebly, one bloodied hand outstretched among the vile

gore covered tentacles.

“Ray?” Terry said, his voice filled with true horror.

“My heart fell, out, I, I should be dead...but it...oh I hear it Terry...I hear it! It hates me

Terry, it hates you...”

The tendrils made another lunge at Cartel and all of a sudden a shot rang out. Terry’s’

mind reported it was a magnum. The side of Rays head simply exploded and the creature

slumped to one side, tendrils falling over the kitchen sink, smearing it with blood and

gore, then sliding down, leaving a bloody trail. The whole sickening mass twitched

131
sporadically as it lay there. Cartel looked up to find the source of his salvation and seen a

slight young man with a huge silver .32 staring intently at the fallen intruder.

“Always go for the head, no matter what the rest of it looks like,” said the young man,

almost to himself, half to Terry. “You the chief of police?”

“Yea kid, who are you?” Cartel said wearily from his uncomfortable position on the

floor, not quite sure if he should take his eyes from the dead creature on the floor yet.

“I’m Richard Lee,” the kid said cautiously, lowering his gun as he spoke, “Where is

Charles Gant?”

“You’re with the FBI?”

“Er, yes, I am. You need to tell me what you know Sheriff.”

“Help me up son,” Cartel said resentfully, “and show me your badge.”

The kid reached inside his coat, and seemed unsure of which pocket it was in.

“Why do you FBI keep your badges in there? I wear mine on my chest.”

“Call it a love of suspense,” Lee said irritably, “Here it is.”

132
Terry looked at the badge with little awe and said, “Ok, that’s fine.”

“Now, Mister Cartel, tell me all you know about what is going on here.”

“No kid, you first, this is my town you’re in- what’s Gant to do with all this, you seem

like you’ve lost him.”

“Gant is my partner sir, and he just got here before me is all. We have not heard from him

since and we need to find him.”

Terry did little to hide his untrusting scowl from Lee, but accepted the lie. There wasn’t

time. “Gant left town. I’m more than sure he was involved in the death of one of my

men,” was all he said.

Lee looked alarmed at both pieces of news and his slender shoulders sagged. “You’re

turn,” Lee said.

“Ok, fasten your seatbelt kid...” Cartel began. With each new development in the story

Richard Lee looked younger and more tired, all at once. The fear in his eyes- fear with no

unbelief, scared Cartel. The kid knew more, knew that there was plenty reason to be

afraid, even more than Cartel suspected. When they were finished talking, it was Lee who

said with urgency, “We have to go to the town now. It’s crucial we know the extent of

133
these apparitions.”

Just as they pulled out of Cartels’ yard they seen a large black sedan pass by the bottom

of his long drive. Gant was back. Cartel floored the gas, and roared off after him. Lee

knew if Gant was back it meant trouble. It meant the Agency wanted containment. It

meant there may be a sweep force behind him, a ‘clean-up’ crew. Murder squads, and

probably all Agents too. Cave Creek would be wiped away as if it had never existed. Lee

watched the tail-lights of Gants sedan bob up and down up ahead through the dust.

Something seemed off. Why had Gant come back so far ahead of the others? Lee didn’t

like it. He felt there was something terrible coming, something even more terrible than

the contamination control of the Agency. Sitting wordless beside Cartel, all at once he

just wanted to leave this little town. Then he thought for a moment, an idea beginning to

form inside his mind. A risky one. A gambit for sure. They reached the town, driving past

the ‘Welcome to Cave Creek’ sign that seemed a mocking joke even more to Terry now.

Gant made a right just ahead past the old defunct railway station, and Terry looked on in

amazement- he was going straight for the police station. Cartel immediately started the

siren. Whether he was giving himself up or not, Cartel was going to take him in. They

pulled into the station car park just behind Gant and cartel stepped out quickly. Lee

jumped out and moved to cut him off.

“Look man,” he said, a little shakily, “You don’t need to antagonise him.”

“I’m not intending to just antagonise him kid,” Cartel said gruffly. Just then Gant stepped

134
out, like a black shadow moving away from the larger shadow of the sedan with a kind of

terrifying grace. Cartel moved towards him.

“Charles Gant, there’re a few things I need cleared up from you,” he said reaching for his

cuffs in case of trouble. Gant moved towards Cartel but paused when he saw Lee. He

looked at him oddly, but said nothing.

“Gant,” Lee said with a curt nod but nervous eyes.

“Mr Lee,” Gant said, and with surprising submissiveness fell into step beside Cartel on

his way to the station.

Julie walked among the guests at her sisters party with new confidence, or so it seemed to

those around her. She walked until she was in the middle of the room, among the guests

that danced around her. Her sister came up to her smiling,

“You look different!” she shouted above the crowd, “You look good honey, you should

ask someone to dance! Go on!”

“I want someone with greater physical mass,” was all Julie said.

135
“Is that geek for ‘I want someone with bulging muscles?” Kim replied, bemused.

‘Yes. It hasn’t worked, you see.”

“What hasn’t?”

“It hasn’t worked.”

“Honey, what are you talking about?”

Julie just glared back, with a look that cut through all the music and chattering voices,

then doubled over as if she had been yanked down by her head.

“Julie!” her sister yelled. A few girls from across the room giggled, assuming she was

wasted.

Julie fell to her knees, then unto her palms and began to shudder violently. Her back

began to bubble like molten lava and her arms broke outwards, the wrong direction,

sending bone splinters into the crowd around.

“Curtis!” Kim called to a medical student who was dancing across the room.

136
“He’ll do!” Julie suddenly screeched as the boy ran over, and suddenly she stood up. Her

arms hung wildly at her side, as dark shadows twisted and writhed behind her,

indistinguishable under the pulsing lights. She ran towards Curtis and sent him flying

into a wall. He panicked and struck her, but she yelled and swung back towards him

again, her face contorted in hatred, her mouth open in a hideous snarl, dripping saliva.

She lunged at his neck, teeth gnashing.

“She bit me!” he shouted, eyes wide with terror, and grabbed at a hockey trophy that was

perched on a shelf behind him. Julie came forward again, with no hesitation or fear, not

turning away from the inevitable blow or closing her eyes. The prisoner smiled. It would

begin again for him now, yes, but afterwards he would be stronger. The process would

work better next time.

The blow split open her head and sent Julie sprawling back to the floor. Curtis was at her

side in an instant, now panic stricken over what he had done. As he began the mouth to

mouth he knew was hopeless, he began to feel an overpowering sense of connection to

Julie.

‘Thirty compressions, mouth to mouth, then thirty more...’ was all could think. ‘Just keep

it going until the ambulance arrives,’

Curtis kept going, like a machine designed for one purpose. Then, an abnormality burst

into the rhythm of his thoughts- a name, Starfinder, and then another name, stranger still

137
and for which there were no words. Curtis screamed. Screamed long and hard. He seen it

all now, seen it coming, felt it begin. As the ambulance pulled up he collapsed unto his

back muttering;

“He’ll do.”

The ambulance crew took him away along with Julie, heading towards Cave Creek

General where no one suspected yet.

When they made it back to the police station the first thing Cartel did was to throw Gant

into a cell. Lee watched in amazement and flinched every time Cartel handled him

roughly.

The police force made their way to the station across their town of birth, some running,

some creeping, others pulling up in large pickups. Some shot over their shoulders as they

ran; others came laden with weapons, guns, knives, and tasers. They came with stories of

wives that had tried to kill them or children that had to be locked in their rooms. Others

spoke of waking up beside half hatched cocoons. All were ashen faced and haunted

looking. Many brought healthy family members with them, wives, children, and parents.

Some did not come and it was assumed they were dead, infected or too afraid to venture

out of their homes. One came to the door with a massive mass of skin hanging from his

138
shoulder and what looked like a primitive second head beginning to form. He got out the

words, “Not dark enough,” before the heavy bulletproof door was slammed in his face. In

all, twenty cops came back. They all stood now in the main hall, a grand, ball room sized

space. They reminded Cartel of the images from the New Orleans disaster, refugees in

their own town, huddled together and shivering, some in dishevelled work clothes, others

wrapped hurriedly in night robes. Most had wild hair and tired eyes; there was Philip

Hicks, the chemist, who had lost his wife to the Flinchers’ Hill suicides. He was on his

own now; clutching a double barrel twelve bore and covered in blood. Maggie Smith who

had woken up to find her husband hollowed out like a bloody canoe, Paul Smith her son

who had ran from a hellish apparition in his room that had told him to clean his room one

moment, and tried to put a knitting needle through his chest the next. All had stories of

horror and close escapes, told through eyes tired of crying. Many had been keeping

secrets for weeks. The nightmares, the frenzied attacks on family pets, the memories they

could not account for, the love of the cold, attacks of rage, the strange and sudden hatred

for socialising.

Cartel watched them come, watched each cautious opening of the main doors to let

another fear stricken person come tumbling in. No one from the hospital came. It was a

good few miles out of town. Maybe they had not reached there yet, he thought, but then

there had been that boy…no, he had infected Doctor Raines. It seemed they could only

infect one each at a time. All he wanted to do was roar out of town in his pickup and

make sure Lilly was safe.

139
“Listen up, and listen good!” Cartel shouted from the main desk, “Anyone who went out

to the object that crashed in the ravine a month ago, and took one of those ‘spines’ home

with them, is to raise their hand and walk over to the right side of the room.”

“Anyone who is lying runs the risk of putting us all in danger,” he repeated, and waited

for a minute before going on, “Ok. Lock those few up and take any potential weapons

away from them. It’s just a precaution.”

Cartel took out the list Ray had written for him and announced over the intercom that

every officer at the station was to meet in the main hall. Thirty of them had gone to see

the object. Only nine of them had turned up at the station. Those he had locked up.

“Ok, this is the deal. Anyone who has had contact with this object is potentially infected.

Anyone who has taken any of these ‘Spines’ from the object is probably infected too.”

“It’s only the Spines,” Gant cut in, standing calmly behind cold prison bars, “Normal

contact with the object will not cause infection. They will have to have had prolonged

contact with one of the ‘Spines.’ A sack of fluid at the top of the spine seems to hold the

infection.”

“You, you killed Peterson didn’t you?! Killed him because he seen this thing and knew

where it was?!”

140
“No. I killed him because when I went to take more than one of the spines he attacked

me. He was obviously infected.”

“What’s your connection to all of this?”

“I am part of an organisation that monitors and contains extraterrestrial threats to Earth.

None of you will live unless you let me out. You don’t know how to deal with this thing.

You have to let me study the infection.”

“No, you’re not going anywhere. This is what we do- first we have to destroy the two

bodies down the hall in forensics- Henry Cartwright and Lisa Riley.” He paused, thinking

in a way they were both Henry Cartwright, “then we have to work our way through the

town, destroying any ‘cocoons’ or half-forms that we can find. This thing either turns a

person into a cocoon or it tries to alter their biology more directly. When it does not work

it kills itself.”

“And why does it do that Sheriff?” Gant’s voice boomed. “Sounds to me like it is trying

to achieve a certain biological state.”

“What do you mean?”

“This may not just be a virus or bacteria. It may be a life form, using the raw genetic

material to re-create its biology.”

141
“Re-create?”

“The infected say strange things, don’t they, have nightmares, become

uncharacteristically violent?”

“Yes?”

“If the computers at my headquarters are right, then it seems they are trying to restore

their consciousness too. The personality of a life form, stored in a virus-like disease,

feeding off your intelligence until all that is stored in it- memories, images, sights and

sounds, gain self-awareness again, becoming conscious. Clever survival mechanism I’d

say. That’s why they kill themselves; perhaps, they know the process has not worked.

They will start again, and the virus will mutate, to better infect the next host. Anyone

who has been near a corpse may also be infected.”

“How can you fight something you can’t kill?!”

“As I said Sheriff Cartel, it is an excellent survival mechanism. My guess is that the

cocoons are second generation versions of the virus, from the people at Fincher’s Hill.

They may produce a pure form of the organism. Let me study the bodies in forensics.”

“You’re not getting out- I can’t trust you, you killed a good cop.”

142
“A lot of good people have been doing bad things tonight Sheriff.”

Henry Cartwright sitting behind his little accountants desk sipping tea and smiling his

benign smile, wearing his trusted status like a badge of honour, flashed before Cartel.

“Ok, but if you get infected I’ll take you down.”

Cartel had no sooner released the pad lock than the cell door burst open, hitting him in

the face and sending him sprawling to the ground.

“There is some tranquilliser for animals in the vetinary practice down across the street,”

Gant shouted, shotgun aimed at Cartel. “Now you men,” he ordered, peering at two of the

cops to read their name tags, “ Robert and Jason, go get me a lot of it, and a tranquilliser

gun. They’ll be in the fourth cabinet across in the room marked, ‘Employees only,’

colour coded red. Go!”

Robert and Jason left in stunned silence, eyes flitting between Cartel and Gant.

“What are you doing?!” Cartel yelled, the sudden loss of control irritating him more than

the burning pain in his jaw.

“What you would not. The men need tranquilised. If we kill them the virus will migrate

143
to us, it we let them live they will either kill us or kill themselves and the virus will

migrate that way.”

“Some of that stuff may kill them.”

“It is the only way to stop the spread. Yet you would not attempt it for fear of killing

them. Show me the bodies of Cartwright and Riley.”

Cartel had ushered all the families into the station. When he had first arrived he had

insisted on greater security, and metal shutters had been installed on all the windows.

They had been installed everywhere except the main hall. The police were all there now,

waiting, watching their caged colleagues, hoping they could tranquillise them before they

began to change in any way.

Just then, Jason and Robert burst into the station spilling a box of vetinary supplies all

over the floor. Jason was as pale as his white uniform shirt.

“Sheriff, Mr Gant! It was waiting, in the Vets! It got Jason with a kind of dart!”

Cartel and Gant came rushing out of the lab.

144
The officers had cleared a desk and had Jason sprawled on top of it on his back.

“It got me. Grabbed me with those tentacle things!”

He was in a lot of pain. Gant opened his shirt to reveal big circular welts across his

stomach.

“It hurts so bad! Like someone’s stuck a big circular saw up inside me and started it up!”

“Where is it now?!” Cartel asked, suddenly slamming the door shut and bolting it.

“I shot at it and it ran away. There are some of those cocoons over there at the vets, all

empty and hollowed out, like canoes, and loads of dead pets. Some just dropped dead,

others ripped to shreds, just ripped up, looks like, from the inside out.”

At that moment the large window by the reception was smashed to a million glittering

pieces, and an indiscernible shape lunged into the main hall. What looked like a mass of

red covered in little spines with liquid sacks on the end that turned every way and glowed

softly when Cartel tried to reach for his shotgun, stood up slowly.

Gant could see it clearly now, more clearly than anyone could, his view not skewed by

fear or loss. It had two long arms that held it up, but the rest of it was hard to discern. It

145
was a mass of thick tendrils, mostly dragging on the floor or softly writhing in the air, as

if it was under water. It was covered in the same little spines that Ray had developed, like

smaller versions of the spines the townsfolk had brought home. They moved in the

direction of every sound in the room.

‘Complete three hundred and sixty degree perception,’ Gant thought coolly.

The head was a real anomaly, still very human in appearance. It protruded from a flap of

skin in the neck. There was no sound of breathing, only a low hiss that sounded like gas

escaping from a punctured tire.

Behind the creature, Robert raised his 9mm. The last thing he saw was the spines on the

creatures back moving slightly in his direction, like a small alien forest blowing in the

wind. They shimmered an aquatic blue, and the creature turned round, facing him with

that exposed human like skull. The spines turned a deep scarlet red. Suddenly the

creature’s human head screamed and contorted in pain, then the muscles in the neck

tightened, strings standing out clearly as the head pulled up and up until it came loose and

rolled off the shoulders. Through the gaping fleshy hole that was left instead of the head,

a bony face emerged, pure bone. No eye sockets were visible, only rough teeth and two

nose holes. The skull front moved outwards, then upwards like the visor on a knights

helmet, revealing a mass of teeth suspended on individual stalks. The sickening mass

sprung forward, enveloping Roberts whole head like a huge muscular slug, then all of a

sudden relaxed its grip, as Gant hit it with a syringe full of his own blood. The creature

146
sprung around, throwing Robert’s remains violently to the side like a pulpy rag-doll. Gant

seen in a flash that his head was gone.

Gant never flinched. The creature had to have a brain at least, and right then a million

nano-machines were surging towards it. They had to have some effect.

The beast faced Gant for a few seconds, standing upright on softly writhing tendrils. It

seemed to radiate curiosity at this controlled creature before it. Suddenly it lurched

forwards and down all at once, it’s body flashing through a dizzying array of colours. It

rolled over unto its back and before it could die Gant grabbed its tendrils and dragged it

over to the main door, kicking it open. He threw it out unto the top of the station steps

and kicked it roughly down onto the street. Then he hurriedly but calmly came back in to

the station and closed the door.

Richard Lee immediately came over to where Gant was. “ We have to call the Agency

right now,” he said with conviction.

Gant turned his disturbingly steady gaze to him and said, “The Agency cannot help us

now. They have been...compromised.”

147
Gant studied the Cartwright Cocoon first. It had already been investigated and the life

form inside was well and truly dead. He studied the black mucus, speaking in a clinical

monotone into his small silver Dictaphone as he did;

“Victims body has been bloated to twice its normal size, and skin has become extremely

pliable to accommodate the conversion of internal structures into a mucus like material

which tests show has a cellular structure. In fact, they resemble human stem cells.

Hypothesis; that a foreign body has converted every cell in this persons body into human

stem cells. The mucus may provide a mesh or organic scaffold for growth or may contain

nutrients, more tests will be needed to ascertain its exact purpose. What is clear is that the

description of this body as a cocoon seems very accurate. Hypothesis; that the foreign

body has ‘reprogrammed’ the new stem cells to produce a new organism. If this is correct

then what I am dealing with is similar to a virus, in that it can reprogram other cells to

reproduce its genetic structure. However this goes far beyond mere reproduction of a

simple genetic strand over and over again. How the cells have been de-evolved to stem

cells is unknown, and the cells are now presumably producing different organs and tissue.

Perhaps the term ‘womb’ would be accurate as a description of the Cartwright body,

although the term ‘cocoon’ is also accurate, as he has been liquefied and then re-built as

something else. What is certainly true is that the stem cells now present are human, but

what they are producing is not. The remains of the creature contain genes, but their DNA

is wildly different from ours. An autopsy on the complete creature that attacked the

police station will tell me more.”

148
“It doesn’t even look like it should be able to walk around. Very little bone structure.”

“It’s not oxidising at all, suspect it may be breathing carbon dioxide.”

Gant spoke clearly and professionally into the Dictaphone as he walked around the

creature.

“Making first incision. It bleeds clear thick fluid. Taking a sample for closer inspection.

Moving onto the head.”

Gant held the skull face firmly in his hands and pulled it up. It was hard, as asleep the

creature’s muscles gave him no help. Gant was strong though. He held the skull back

with one hand and stared into the face of the creature.

“Organism has overlapping lower jaw with about one hundred teeth. The upper jaw is

smaller and tucked behind the lower. It has about twenty larger teeth. There are two small

eyes just above the right and left curves of creatures’ lower jaw. Teeth of the lower jaw

are uneven and jut in many directions.”

Next Gant took a section of flesh from the creature and separated the spines carefully,

putting them into a separate Petri dish. He then slipped a small sliver of flesh into a

microscope slide, accidentally pricking himself with one little spine he had missed on its

149
surface.

His nanobots reported almost instantly;

Damage to lower layer of skin tissue consistent with digestion.

Action…acting to neutralise.

ALERT!

CANNOT NEUTRALISE…

Processing…

Loss of whole hand if digestion continues…

Gant did not grimace or pause as he picked up a sharp knife and steadied his hand on the

worktop. A swift slice and the top of his left index finger was gone. He bound it and went

to with his investigation.

Black eyes came to life. The exposed face contracted and the skull slid over it, forming a

perfect mask of pure malevolence.

150
Gant lifted Cartels shotgun and shoved it against the fleshy side of its head. All at once it

sprang up, its tendril structure engulfing Gant, who fired off the shotgun into its neck,

catching himself with a few stray balls as he did. The creature dropped him and

disappeared out of the double doors.

“The dark room,” Gant announced as he walked into the cantina, bloodied and dripping

with a thick clear jelly. Lee looked up from where he and Cartel had been standing,

Cartel filling him in more on the nights events. Lee was especially interested in asking

about the spore.

“What about the dark room?” he asked Gant, irritated at his cryptic way with words as

usual.

“The creature still lives. It takes shelter in the dark room but I hear no sound from there.”

Without a word Cartel walked over to the security desk in the reception hall and turned

on the CCTV monitor. He searched through the various camera images until he found the

green haze of the night vision darkroom camera.

“It’s in there for sure,” he said, his face a mask of grim fascination. Lee and Gant came

over and stood around the monitor.

151
It was in there all right, standing still, unmoving. They kept watching for about three

minutes.

“Is it sleeping?” Cartel said in disbelief.

“No, possibly more. It said our planet was too light for it earlier. It looks very much like a

creature in hibernation,” Gant replied, his voice distant.

Cartel had a thought just then and rummaged in his pocket for the scrap of paper on

which Ray had drawn the solar system. He held it out so Gant could see it, and Lee

pushed his way in between them to have a look. Gant spoke.

“The planet depicted here is a large planet. Assuming this is drawn to scale in some way,

the sun in this system is very small. They like the cold and the dark. They are simple

organisms in makeup, not more complicated than most bacteria in some ways. Like

bacteria, the sunlight is bad for them. In the dark, their life span is prolonged. In complete

darkness they slip into suspended animation.”

“But they have been running around in dark houses all night,” Lee said.

“Few people have ever experienced true darkness. I’m guessing these creatures come

from a world where there is a fairly constant amount of light, not enough to damage

them, not too little to send them into hibernation. Complete darkness would be needed,

152
not one sliver of light.”

“It wouldn’t kill them?”

“No.”

“Would prolonged exposure to sunlight?” Cartel asked doubtfully.

“I do not know the answer to that, but it seems we have a lot of questions to answer

Sheriff. Meet me at the door in ten minutes.”

Cartel never left Gant alone especially as his next announcement was that he was going

to the armoury. There was “No way ever,” that Cartel was going to let him do that

unsupervised, and Gant offered up no objection to this. Lee followed Gant and Cartel

around, wondering what Gant had meant by saying that the Agency was ‘compromised.’

Whatever was going on, Gant had not started killing the townsfolk yet. There must be a

good hope of containment. At any rate, Gant was subdued.

Cartel was relieved. The pain of Gants attack on him was still raw and he knew Gant was

strong. He also knew Gant would have killed his officers had it not been for the enemies

unique survival mechanism. He was still afraid he might.

Only at the door of the station did Gant explain his plan;

153
“I’m going to Macy’s Gun Emporium to retrieve a night vision unit. I need to inspect the

creature that is trapped in the dark room. If it is hibernating we need to know. It may be

the only safe way to neutralise them.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“No, that makes no sense. You have to maintain leadership here. Locate the healthy

inside the fortified sections of the station. Watch the others on your CCTV network but

do not approach them. If they attempt suicide, do not stop them. If they begin to butcher

each other, do not stop them. Do not inspect the bodies. I will deal with them when I

return.”

“I should come,” Lee offered, “I’m the only other Agency member here Gant.

“No, you stay here as you have always done. If I fail you are the only one who knows

protocol.”

Lee shot him an angry look. He felt useless.

“Actually,” Cartel said, “There is something you could do, since Gant may be about to

give us a distraction.”

154
Lee looked up, his eyes grim for someone so young.

“A few hours ago the station picked up a radio transmission from a few miles out.

Sounded like a family, someone in trouble. They gave us map co-ordinates and

everything.”

“You have so many to worry about here,” Lee said.

“Yes, but there’s another consideration- it seems to me we need to know how widespread

this thing is, how far out these creatures have got. I want you and Barry to go check it

out. Also maybe further out people still have communications. If they do call the outside,

get someone down here.”

Gant looked oddly at Cartel just then but said nothing. Lee glanced at Gant and registered

surprise.

“Don’t take any chances but help anyone you find, kill any of those things. Your Agency

would want you to do that, right?”

He said the last part with more than a little distrust.

“When Gant begins his ‘mission’ you guys take Barry’s truck out from the side of the

station.”

155
*

Gant stepped out into the pitch black street with no fear. Only alertness. The cold steel of

the Ak-47 gripped tightly out of professionalism, not anxiety. There was no answer to the

problem of killing the ‘Abstract’ safely. He would have to slow them down and avoid

them. ‘360 degree perception’ he remembered. That was tricky.

The wind blew softly through his hair, and dust swept along at his feet. The town looked

like a western set just then, deserted and quiet. Gant figured he could make his way along

the roofs safely enough. He did not remember seeing any spines on the top of the

creatures head. Maybe that was their blind spot. All life has a weakness. To his left there

was a family bakery, ‘Gannon’s,’ with a shop on the bottom floor and living space above.

In the roof was a skylight. Gant decided to go though the house and unto the roof. The

buildings leading down to the Gun shop were close enough together to aid his journey.

It was making it through the bakery that was the problem. Gant remembered back to the

list of names that Cartel had written during the role call. Before him in his mind’s eye he

could see the list clearly, better than if it was really there, in fact. No Gannon’s. They

were all home. Or something was.

Directly in front of him after he entered the building was a flight of stairs that led

upwards, to his right was the bakery. The stairs he ran, not in fear but because it was

156
smart. He didn’t want to get caught out by something coming from the bakery. Once he

made it upstairs he was met with a corridor with two doors on the right, one on the left,

and a door at the very end. Again in his mind’s eye he traced back; back down the stairs,

out the door to the street. The skylight seemed to be over the second room on the right.

He passed the first room as noiselessly as he could, apart from a few unavoidable creaks

that would have been unbearable to a normal man. He noticed there was blood coming

from the room, leaking under the door, but ignored it. When he made it to the second

door he paused for three minutes, listening. What he heard was unmistakable; silence.

He gripped the door handle with his left hand, letting part of the guns weight rest on the

strap over his shoulder. His finger touched the trigger. No time would be wasted if he had

to fire.

Slowly he opened the door, still hearing nothing from the inside of the room. Only the

wind. He was met with a large oak desk and a double bed. There was nothing remarkable

about the room at all, really. There was no window except for the open skylight, and no

personal belongings except for a leather bound diary on the desk. Absolutely none. Gant

noted that.

Gant picked up the leather bound diary and opened it at the first page. It read, ‘To my

darling Joseph, from your loving wife, Linda.’

157
He flicked through the diary until he found the date of that fateful night one month back.

June 29th

‘Business is slowing so much now. I worry about how Linda is taking it. The kids are

leaving for college and now the business is going too. It feels like all that is left of our

youth is being taken from us. Nothing much to add today, can only hope and pray

business picks up.’

Then, less neatly;

‘Cannot describe in any adequate way what we have just witnessed!!! Have lived here all

my life and never believed it. I will try to put it down as it happened:

About midnight there was a tremendous boom, and a sound of large hails stones hitting

the roof. Of course we never get hailstones here! We thought a plane had come down, so

me and Linda ran outside to find half the town out. There was a trail of smoke in the sky,

leading into the desert. A lot of excitement and fear in the streets. Even the cops were out.

We were all worried the Sheriff would show up and send everyone inside, but then Ray

Stanton told us he was gone to visit family in New York. I like the sheriff personally but

he has a much closed mind for a city man, and he insists on driving that porche! He

doesn’t understand this town.

158
We all drove out in our trucks, along the way finding burned fragments that looked like

bone oddly. We drove for an hour until we came to the ravine and seen the glow. A

bluish glow that shot up from the ravine in beams through smoke. Descending into the

ravine we discovered a huge shell like object, covered in strange growths. I knew

everything was going to be ok, and I still do. We all stayed there all night but found no

life and no way in. We think the object itself is life. There is such a feeling of

benevolence from it, it must be alive.’

June 30th

‘Been back to the shell. We are going in shifts sort of. The sheriff comes back soon so

we’ll have to be careful. He’s too cynical to understand.’

June 31st

‘Have decided to take one of the growths home. It came loose easily, almost giving itself

to us. Sadly it does not glow anymore. It is on the mantel piece in the living room. We

will have to hide it when the Sheriff comes back.’

June 32nd

‘Have to write down the extraordinary nightmare I have just had!! I don’t know if it has

anything to do with the object, but I’ve never had nightmares much before. Linda said

159
she had one two days ago.’

July 30th

‘Woke up last night and thought how warm it was. Opened the window. Need more

plants. Only one moon. Heard someone say ‘It’s not working’ and thought it was Linda.

It wasn’t.’

July 31st

‘A voice in the night asked me why I ate through my mouth. I didn’t think it a strange

question. Isn’t that funny? Linda is eating live puppies in the shed. So warm.’

July 32nd

‘It says I’m going to die. We all are. Every single filthy one of us. It’s done terrible

things. I’ve done terrible things.’

July 34th

‘The blabbering fool is gone. Oh how he worried about the voice in his head! Little did

he know he was merely the voice in mine. The female is one of us almost, but we will kill

160
these forms we now inhabit soon. Their biology is difficult for the microform to convert.’

Gant put the diary into his pocket. He was sure he was forming a good theory about this

case now. For sure the ‘infection’ was nothing of the sort, he reasoned as he looked

around with his stern calm eyes. These townsfolk had been entered by a virus-like agent

that stored memory in its genes. The ‘virus,’ developed inside the host until those

genetically stored memories became consciousness again, continuing the existence of the

original life form.

It was devilishly clever, and had one more twist. The process was obviously triggered by

the life forms death. This much Gant had figured out. The purpose of the quill covered

object was more puzzling. Gant also had a theory on it. It was probably an escape pod of

some sort, and had entered earth’s atmosphere, probably by mistake. The spines were a

perfect method to ensnare only the intelligent life forms needed for the process to work,

Gant thought. The intruders had counted on the curiosity of intelligent life to spread

themselves. The glowing spines were irresistible. On top of that they seemed to give off a

substance that caused feelings of happiness. Emotion is only felt by higher life forms.

Were the intruders’ originally viral beings? No, this seemed unlikely, based on the

assumption that they had built the crashed object. Had the object been ‘built’ though? It

looked thoroughly organic in origin from the outside. Gant theorized that it might be a

huge spore of some type, released into space in much the same way that some flowers

release spores. The fragments that were found over the desert may have been part of a

heat shield of some sort.

161
A sudden noise interrupted Gants train of thought, and his head turned towards the

doorway leading to the corridor. Gant knew he was likely to meet a second generation

creature. Maybe two. He took a breadth and jumped for the overhead skylight, grabbing it

with powerful hands and pulling himself up. He had to move fast- he still had no idea

how to safely kill them. The skylight did not open wide and Gant could not just climb

straight up. He had to swing his legs up and angle himself out and up. It would have been

much easier for a shorter man. As he swung his legs up he caught a glimpse of movement

with his peripheral vision too late and felt his hair gripped and yanked down. Pain rippled

through his head and neck and he tightened his grip on the windows edge. Too close to

see it clearly, he had the impression of tendrils and dull blue barbs on the end of writhing

stalks. The face seemed a mass of antennae and bioluminescent light, occasionally though

a flash of a terrible face or ragged teeth was visible. A look of pure hatred lived in small

black eyes that hid like limpets in a mass of coral. The creature jerked Gant downwards

again, attempting to dislodge him, and his shoulder swung into the skylights hinged

opening which closed on his knuckles. He let go but as he fell he reached out for the

creatures head and grabbed a handful of its facial tendrils, pulling it down with him.

They both tumbled to the wooden floor with a thump and Gant was up and running first,

down the corridor, into the first room on his left- still going for the gun shop, he threw

himself through the one window in the room straight across a narrow alley and through

the window in the next building. It was a necessary risk, and that was confirmed to him

as he heard a hundred pin prick sounds like bb’s bouncing off the window frame behind

him. His nanobots reported a deep laceration in his right forearm but it was no where near

162
the main artery. It could wait to be treated. Gant was already in the next room when he

heard the smash of the remaining window glass being smashed.

The gun shop was only two buildings away but he could hear them on the roof. Time to

abandon that plan. As he ran down the stairs into the hall a dark shadow met him. He

tripped over a mass of organic material as he entered the living room. A cocoon. The

large window to his right smashed in. Three of them now. There was only one thing to

do. Gant ducked into the fireplace and shoved his back against one side, his feet braced

against the other, and began to climb. When the first limb came up towards him he fired

down with the Ak-47, nearly deafening himself inside the chimney and sending sparks

and bullets bouncing inches from his feet. He creature screamed, a high pitched hooting

sound that sounded like a whale somehow. He could hear them back off, but knew they

would not give up. Inside Gants prison, he heard the nanobots report:

‘Unknown entity neutralised. Host agent is immune from intruding biological agent.’

Gant just had room to check the magazine before he dropped down and started firing.

They snarled, screeched, as they saw him appear, each shimmering like underwater life

forms. The first one lunged at Gant and was caught in mid-air and thrown back into

another, who took most of the bullets that had passed through his ‘comrade.’ In a swift

movement Gant changed position; fire and move, he remembered, fire and move. The

manoeuvre saved him as the organic ‘darts’ came sailing into the sofa he ducked behind.

Unphased, the creature strode over on powerful legs, its tendril structure wrapping and

163
unwrapping slightly. Gant waited a moment. It fired no more darts. Maybe it had to wait

until its body produced more. It was right over him now. Just as he raised the gun he felt

himself pulled up by his collar, jerked right up by his shoulders and held, his eyes level

with the creatures’ chest. All of a sudden a split that ran down the middle of the chest

opened, and a flailing group of tentacles burst out like frenzied leeches.

Gant calmly lifted the Ak-47 and fired into the writhing mass, feeling warm liquid cover

his face and hands. He dropped to the hard floor and still it stood there, spilling nutrients

from what Gant guessed was its stomach- ‘like a starfish,’ he said glibly, whipping out

his Dictaphone, and pushing the already dead creature over roughly. As he left the scene

he spotted the twitching cocoon on the floor. Striding into the kitchen he found a large

meat cleaver, and then he walked back in and ripped the cocoon open callously, watching

the life inside it die. For good measure he riddled it with bullet holes. Wait. This was

anger. He wasn’t supposed to feel anger…he wasn’t supposed to feel the cold, or care

about the entrails all over his face and neck, or worry how he was going to survive in this

hellish town. He decided he’d better get to the gun shop fast. He was feeling rage and

discomfort. Other emotions would come through soon; more debilitating ones. He

dumped oil from the basement over the carcasses and struck a match. It might stop them

from migrating, it might not, but he was going to give them as little chance as possible.

He made it to the gun shop with surprising ease, the others obviously cautious after

seeing him emerge from the blazing house instead of their own. The night vision goggles

were easily found. Even the gun cages were unlocked. A trail of bodies and blood told a

164
pathetic, tragic tale. The old gun shop owner, Mr Macy, lay inside the main shot gun

store, a spray of empty shells all around him, in a shimmering pool of his blood. Gant

checked him. He was definitely dead. Over the opposite counter lay the shops assistant,

bent backwards over the till at an awkward angle, a huge gun shot wound in his neck, and

a shock of malformed limbs hanging from the back of his head. This one had gone badly

wrong.

Before Gant reached the door he heard a low murmur, “There are arms on the back of my

head, there are…” Gant turned and began to squeeze the trigger, tucking the AK into his

shoulder so he would not miss. The target was the assistant, who was actually barely

alive. He was just a boy. Gant wavered. He knew the boy was overtaken, but…what was

this? This was not how he was supposed to think! The boy was something else

now...something else. Not human. Maybe he was both, trapped in there somewhere

watching this nightmare with front row non-refundable seats? The thought seemed to

send a surge of electricity from Gants brain to his trigger finger.

Fear. Pure fear; fear of an unfathomable attacker. Fear of a half dead boy with alien arms

growing out of the back of his head, reaching out through his bloodied yellow hair. Fear

most of all of a living boy inhabited by an alien mind. Gant got within fifty yards of the

police station and dropped to his knees in the dusty street, shuddering violently and

sobbing like a child.

At the now partially boarded police station reception window Cartel was watching, his

165
eyes a streak of white light as the moon shone through the hastily nailed boards.

‘What on Earth is he doing?” he breathed, more than said, for fear of making the others

jumpy. They were still pretty shaken. Maybe Gant had been wounded, hit with one of

those darts- or worse, infected.

“Gant!? What’s going on?!”

No answer. Gant was on his knees now, his palms flat on the ground, head low. Even

from the police station Cartel could see he was shaking violently. He was waiting for the

tentacles to come bursting out of Gant’s chest, spilling his guts over the dusty street.

Silently he prayed it would not happen; Gant scared Cartel, but he was slowly giving in

to the creeping truth that they needed him. He had handled the thing that had killed

Richard, and might be the only one who had the first clue how to survive the next few

hours. Also he was a competent forensics expert and a level head- too level though. Gants

cold logic was what worried Cartel most. He thought Gant would kill them all if he

thought it would contain the threat of spread. Now Gant was helpless on the desert road,

crawling. That scared Cartel even more.

“I’m going out to get him, Marty, Jenson, arm yourselves and follow me out.”

Nervously the three men barrelled out of the station, heads turning in all directions, ready

to fire at a whisper. Now outside, Cartel could see the Bakery burning down the street,

166
lazy embers floating ghostly across his deserted town. He wondered how many survivors

were still huddled in their homes, or nursing loved ones who would turn on them in a

terrible instant. He ran to Gant, his eyes flitting across the rooftops and into any darkened

entrances as he did. It was then he heard Gant sobbing.

“Are you hurt?”

“No, not hurt. Formatting is failing. Haven’t been formatted in too long… colours to the

images now, once like black and white photographs… it’s like subtitles…delayed

subtitles to my memories…oh God help me…Martha? Julie? I killed them both…”

Gant helped him up with Jenson’s help, and started back for the station, Gant still

clutching the pair of night vision goggles he had taken from Macy’s Gun emporium.

Quickly they closed the heavy station door behind them, hearing human and inhuman

snarls and cries, and the soft crackle of the bakery fire, smelling the stench of burning

flesh, human and inhuman, that was wafted towards them on a slight breeze. The cries

could have been cries of pain. They could have meant there were survivors out there

dying, or that more of the first generation abstract were killing themselves in hope of

infecting another host and being reborn as they originally were.

Gant fell to the floor heavily the moment Cartel eased his support of him. Richard

stumbled to, unable to support Gants weight alone.

167
“Clear the room!” Cartel shouted, “Just me and Gant.”

“Sir, I don’t trust him, he’s acting weird, maybe we should do for him what he done for

our friends.”

“I’ll be armed Rich, and careful. Go on now.”

Cartel stood seven feet from Gant, who was now sat up against the wall, his knees drawn

up to his chin, his jet black hair dishevelled, and his eyes wide and staring, streams of

tears trickling down his razor cheeks. He could have been a different man, and the

illusion was furthered when he spoke, in a shaking, soft voice, that might have been

friendly under other circumstances.

“They formatted me minutes after I discovered my wife and daughter. I was in trauma-

the same trauma I’m in now…they’re dead, they’re dead…so confused they are…were.

Oh it’s so confusing…it all overlaps. I’m still living it now, like a delayed reaction…”

“Gant, you’re not making any sense to me. What is this? Are you infected?”

“I was a professor of virology. Graduated top of my class at M.I.T and won a scholarship

into medical school. Imagination was the clincher they said. There were others smarter

than me, but I had imagination; I could think of the things no one else would. That’s why

168
they wanted me. The Agency. Because of my background in virology. I wrote a thesis on

the ‘Andromeda Strain’ you know, the book? Looked at the possibility of such an

incident. Think that impressed the Agency.

There was an outbreak in a South American village near the Brazilian Argentinean border

and the government recruited a team of experts. There are all kinds of new medicines

come from there, but less known are the deadly new viruses and bacteria that lurk out

there. It was a ‘clever’ virus. It was only ever dormant in the first person it came into

contact with, ensuring it spread far and wide. We finished up, wrote our reports and got

out. There was nothing we could do but biopsy the bodies. Many of them, their stomach

wall disappeared. They died a very painful death.

I was a carrier. The first thing I done was go straight home to my wife and child after I

got back to the states…they cried out so horribly… it was such a fast acting virus. Ten

minutes after I had hugged my girl Julie and kissed Martha they just…they just started

screaming… like in the village, the endless screaming, comfortless, like a damned soul in

the fires of Hell itself...

By some grotesque coincidence that is when the Agency, who I had decided to join,

showed up at my home. They held me down and told me there was a way to escape from

my pain, and they formatted me there and then for the first time. It was like the most

powerful clarity you can imagine.”

169
“They took your memory of the event?”

“No, they relegated my emotional response to my subconscious. Over time they

introduced me to the job, and then everything except the job was relegated to the

subconscious; hate, fear, love, pity, hobbies, personal ambition. I watched Martha die

screaming and I just stood there and watched, thinking of the tests I could do on her once

she was dead. How could I have done that?! We met at M.I.T, she was so beautiful and

smart…Julie was born a year after we married, she was six when…she didn’t even look

like a person…fear and pain and hurt as I stood watching…”

Gant broke, crying into his hands, curling up like a child might. Then he started to

hallucinate, to talk about buying Julie a bike, and bringing Martha to see the Grand

Canyon. Cartel considered him with eyes full of pity and wonder. It was him, seven years

ago, kneeling beside Lilly’s battered, blood soaked head, too stunned and awed by grief

to give chase to the men who had spilled the twenty cents they stole as they ran. It was

him, fumbling for his radio to call in an ambulance, riding in the back beside her bloody

hair and eyelids. He left Gant there and locked the door.

“Watch him, make sure he does not try to hurt himself, just like a prisoner on suicide

watch,” he said to Richard as he picked up the night vision goggles.

‘Like I did at the subway’ he thought.

170
“Didn’t think that guy was the type for suicide or much else to do with human emotion.

Where you going with those?”

“To the dark room- send me four men who are handy with a hammer and some good

boards. We need to block out all light from that section of the station so none gets into

the dark room when I enter.”

“When you enter?” Richard said incredulously, “With all respect, you don’t even know

that thing is asleep or hibernating, for all you know it’s an elaborate trap!”

“We are running out of options here, it can’t be long before the creatures on the outside

organise, as they seem capable of doing, and they’ll come for us here. We need to know

as much about them as we can. Just send me the men.”

Barry and Richard were driving off the main road to Cave Creek hospital, off into the

desert. The road was rough and dusty. Lee could hear the jeep rattling beneath them as it

crossed the bumpy terrain. All around them only the cactus’ watched them blaze a dusty

trial off into the empty wastes, framed ahead of them by towering rocky precipices. Barry

was irritated at having to take this kid along, this guy young enough to be his son. Why

couldn’t he just go himself? He didn’t trust the kid. He didn’t trust Gant. Some part of

him felt unsure about leaving Cartel with Gant, and he knew for sure he wanted Gant

171
nowhere near his family, who were back at the station.

“You reading that thing right?” he said.

Lee just shot him a glare.

“Keep going north-east,” he said dryly, “ and try to follow my lead once we’re there.”

“Excuse me?!” Barry said, enraged by the suggestion, “I’m the cop here, and you’re in

my office kid!”

“Oh, so you’ve done this before then?” Lee replied calmly with a wry smile.

“Any fool can see Gant’s the boss kid. You’re the lacky right?”

“I’m the minder, actually. I make sure he stays on track,” Lee replied indignantly, but

unable to keep his youthful hurt pride from his face. Barry said nothing, just listened to

the radio transmission playing over and over in the car, asking for help, sobbing. It

seemed to him that all the human fear of ages was captured in that primal crying, that

desperate question- ‘Will you help me?”

Something else, something terrible and full of despair, like a wave of dread swept over

him all of a sudden, and for some reason he found himself gazing west, towards the

172
canyon, that searing wound in the heart of the desert that now seemed the focal point for

some nameless despair. He forced his gaze north-east again and gripped the steering

wheel firmly,

“We nearly there?” he asked through partly gritted teeth.

“Yea,” Lee said groggily, as if he too was coming out of some deep reverie. “just another

three miles out.”

Barry frowned. There was certainly nothing out there as far as he knew. No houses, no

towns, nothing but desert. Still aware of the gathering feeling of dread from the west, he

subconsciously pressed his foot harder on the accelerator. Eventually some buildings

loomed into view up ahead and Barry frowned again.

“Which town is this?” Lee asked.

“There are no towns out here,” Barry said, slowly the jeep down slightly as he came to

the first few buildings.

“It’s a ghost town,” he said, almost reverently. “Me and my brothers used to roam for

miles to find them. They’re scattered all over these parts, mostly small frontier towns that

died in their infancy or got left out when the railroad came.

173
“We got the right place?”

“According to the map co-ordinates,” Barry said, “But why would anybody be away out

here?”

They reached the town. It was a simple one street affair, run down wooden buildings on

both sides. Barry drove slowly, swinging the jeeps big searchlight around as he did. It

illuminated empty windows that seemed like sharks eyes coming to life. They passed a

building that had clearly been a general store. A faded wooden sign above its porch said

‘Carter’s Supplies’ in large letters. The shop front was faded red and empty shelves cast

eerie shadows inside. Next they passed by a large wooden house, a faded blue. It was a

huge rambling affair with add-ons here and there, next to another building that was

recognisable as a saloon, complete with swinging doors, though one of them now lay on

the ground. All around there was the whistling one the wind through houses that had not

known any other sound for hundreds of years. Dust was the only resident here. As they

approached the centre of town Richard exclaimed and pointed forwards over the

dashboard.

Barry followed his gaze with the spotlight and immediately slammed on the brakes. The

jeep came to a halt in a dusty skid before a tall gleaming object that seemed rooted to the

ground. It was black and roughly coffin shaped. As they sat there the object seemed to

pulse every few seconds sending vibrations through the jeep. Richard took out his PDA

to contact Gant, but found that his signal was interfered with.

174
“Weird,” he remarked, “Check your phone.”

“What?”

“Do you have a signal on your phone?”

Barry fished out his phone, his large fingers gripping the small Nokia awkwardly. Lee

smirked at his discomfort. “Not a big technology guy are you?”

“No,” Barry said grumpily. “My wife’s the real technophile in our home.”

He studied the phone.

“Well?”

“Which is the signal indicator?”

“Give it to me!” Lee said impatiently and took it without waiting. Barry looked on in

bewilderment.

“You have none,” Lee said, “It’s the bars in the top left by the way, they indicate how

much signal you have.”

175
“Cave Creek has had a communications problem lately. No one can call out of the area.”

‘Really? I think this thing here may be some sort of device for blocking

communications.” Just then Lee had a thought.

“Do you have a Sat-nav?”

“A what...oh yea, there’s one built into the dash apparently but I never use it. My wife

insisted on it but we never leave Cave Creek, no point!”

Lee already had the sat-nav turned on and set it up.

“I’m asking it to pin-point our position.”

“Can’t your fancy PDA thing do that?”

“Mine’s an older model than Gants’,” Lee said with resentment and annoyance in his

voice.

Barry didn’t answer. He was staring at the sat-nav screen.

“Looks like you haven’t did the best job with this one,” he said, “It says we’re in Cave

176
Creek.”

“I see that, but it’s not my mistake.”

“You think this thing is sending out a signal that tells people Cave Creek is here?”

“That’s exactly what I think, but the question is why? We need to have a look around.

Radio back to Cartel and get Gant on. He might have some idea of what’s going on.”

It wasn’t only his family’s death; it was everything, all the missions with the Agency, all

the colleagues who had died, the men he had killed in defence of dark secrets. The faces

of the outsiders, if faces they could be called. The knuckle-crackling-like snap of

Petersons’ neck, sending bone jutting out into the palm of Gants hand at an impossible

angle; the burning of the Agency…

He had brought them back; the spines. He had infected the Headquarters. Again it had

been him. Somewhere inside him the ghost of old formatting said, ‘They were men with

no families anyway, no better than zombies.’ He remembered something that a supervisor

had said to him once about voodoo, but at the time it was irrelevant to his formatted

177
mind. Once in the Caribbean men had disappeared or been reported dead. Years later they

had been discovered in fields, planting seed or moving burdens, amongst hordes of other

expressionless people. They could only work the fields. They did not recognise relatives

or friends. They did not try to escape. It is believed that their deaths were faked in some

cases, that they were not dead but heavily drugged to induce a death like state. A

witchdoctor would dig up the body and give them the juices from a certain tropical fish.

It was said any one who came into contact with the substance was stupefied, all higher

brain function gone, and highly open to suggestion. They were used as slave labour in

obscure farms owned by the rich witch doctors, only the term slave hardly applied, they

were incapable of having the will to escape, and so were not kept exactly against their

will. This is where the notion of the zombie had come from. Now Gant made the

connection. He wondered in a detached part of his mind had the Agency adapted the

blowfish serum to create the formatting process; no Agent knew how it worked. If there

was no spontaneity, no personal choice as such, no individual characteristics- were the

agents even conscious as we understand consciousness?

There was no hit squad coming for him. No back up. No Agency. No way to silence his

pain now. He was the last one.

But wait…there was a way. The nano machines in his body could format him once, but

not on their own. He would have to give them the signal. Orders could be sent to them

from the receiver that Gant used to get their reports, but special orders such as formatting

and self destruct could only be given by harmless ‘trigger’ chemicals injected into the

178
blood stream. Desperation surged through him, as it might through a heroin addict. Then

he realised; the viols where in the car, at the other end of town.

Terry stood outside the dark room, feeling ridiculous, not afraid. Maybe he had seen too

much that night, but he found himself thinking about how silly he looked in the night

vision head gear, a fifty two year old man, grey tufts of hair poking through the straps

that held it on his head. Gant, that efficient fascist, he’d already set the straps for his own

head. Cartel pictured himself; this huge machine awkwardly angled on his head, his

square jaw jutting out below the two frog like orbs, be-stubbled and grizzly, his stomach,

a paunch now, bulging slightly over his belt and gun holster. Cartel was heavily built, and

was still a strong man for his age. He had a John Wayne quality about him, an everyman

and a man’s man, though it had not helped him to find favour in Arizona. Staring at the

words ‘dark room’ on the door before him, he felt that they were very appropriate name

indeed for the place he was about to go. He watched the last light vanish and the

silhouettes of men boarding windows become one with the greater darkness in the

hallway. Then he fumbled to switch on the infa-red goggles. The dark scene was all at

once thrown into a grainy green, the men around him with glowing eyes. Fear started to

kick in then, realisation of what he was about to do, like the prisoner who somehow never

really believes he is going to be electrocuted until he feels the cold steel clamp him to the

chair, Cartel felt very afraid now standing with his hand on the dark room door.

179
“You men, give your eyes time to adjust. Is there any light at all from anywhere? We

have to be sure about this.”

Sure about this, that was a joke.

They waited painful minutes, then one ran off to cover up the bottom of a door at the far

end of the hall with some police jackets.

Finally they said it was dark enough. Cartel radioed back to the monitoring room.

“Any change? Has it shown any sign that it is aware we’re here?”

“No sir, still as a dead horse.”

“Ok, thanks,” he turned to the officers beside him, “be alert, if you hear anything, torches

on and get ready to fire. Don’t hit me.”

Just then his radio crackled into life and he jumped.

“Terry?” Barry’s familiar voice said in the gloom.

“Crap Barry, you scared me witless! What’s going on?”

180
“We got to the map co-ordinates. It’s a ghost town, about fifteen miles northeast of Cave

Creek.”

“Any sign of the family who sent the transmission?”

“We’re just about to look for them- we found something strange Terry. There’s a plant

here or something. It’s organic whatever it is. It seems to be the source of our mobile

phone problems.”

“Can you destroy it?”

“I don’t know yet. There’s one more thing; it affects satellite navigation equiptment.”

“You’re using the sat-nav?”

“It was the kid, and something real funny’s going on- the object is sending a signal that

tells a sat-nav that the ghost town is Cave Creek.”

“Ok. Get to the bottom of this Barry. We’re working on a theory on how to kill the

intruders right now. if there’s a family there save them- but that plant may have

manipulated radio transmissions too.”

181
“You’re thinking trap?”

“Yes, so be careful.”

“Will do. Is Gant there?”

“He’s had a few problems Barry, I don’t have time to explain now. Maybe the kid can tell

us more when you get back.”

“Yea. Ok Terry, be careful whatever you’re up to.”

“You too. Call me back the moment you know more.”

With that Cartel turned back to the door and opened it, more casually than he would have

liked. A terrific coldness swept over him once inside, and he was intensely aware that

there was a presence in the room. There it was with its back turned to him, standing

absurdly underneath and among photographs of crime scenes and felons, unmoving.

Cartel gripped his shotgun, feeling this was a ridiculous and stupid idea, and chiding

himself for coming in to such a place on such a floppy theory. Raising the gun, he began

to edge around the creature. He had heard the phrase ‘otherworldly’ before, and he had

seen countless representations of what an alien life may look like, but this was…

He was a mere foot from its face now, this thing from another world that had used a

182
family man and husband as a cocoon and stole his mind; that may have lived this way for

untold millennia, being killed time and time again only to exact the most terrible revenge

on its murderer. Cartel could see the bioluminescent stalks, little ‘bulbs’ extinguished

now. It was completely helpless and at his mercy. Or was it? He could not kill it, though

he wondered if it was unconscious here in the dark, if maybe, without cognitive ability it

was unable to perform its little ‘trick’. Maybe the dark had put it in a coma?

This could be a way to safely kill them, he knew, but it would have to be tested. He

remembered what Gant had said about Mr Macy and shuddered at both the mental image

and his own ghoulish idea.

It was the only way to safely try his theory. He had already confirmed that it was

incapacitated in the complete dark.

“This is what we are going to do,” Terry said. “That thing is in some sort of coma or

hibernation in there, unable to react to stimulus. As I reckon it that means its brain is not

working at full throttle. If we kill it while it is in this state it might not be able to migrate.

It’s not much of a theory maybe but it’s all we got right now. According to Gant, one of

these things used Albert Macy’s body while he was dead. What we do is kill it, and leave

a corpse in the dark room. Then we watch. Its grizzly and I don’t like it, but if it gives us

a way to kill them, it will have been worth it. Any idea on how to kill it from a distance?”

183
“We could pipe gas into the dark room from the lab, and then ignite it.”

“No, we’d burn the corpse too, and may not be able to control the fire.”

“Why not just shoot it from the door?”

“Too close. We don’t know how far away you’d have to be to be safe. We don’t even

know how it communicates the virus.”

“Sir, can we be sure Gant was telling the truth about Macy? He seems pretty out of it.”

“I don’t know what is wrong with Gant, but he knows more about what is happening here

than any of us. I’m sure he was telling me what he saw…”

“Okay, we douse it in kerosene, careful to douse only the creature, then we light it. It

would not die immediately, so anyone would have time to light it up and get out.”

“Sounds like a plan. Okay, we need a corpse that we know is not infected. Two groups;

one to retrieve ammo and as many night vision headsets as we can get out hands on, and

the other to find a corpse and look for survivors. Set it all up. Richard, you’re in charge of

the corpse and survivors squad, Mark, you’re over goggles and ammo. Meet me in the

main hall in half an hour.”

184
*

When Cartel arrived back to the cantina, Gant was gone. Only two white faced young

officers and missing boards from a window told the tale.

“He was sobbing and a wreck, how’d you let him past you?!”

“He was so fast sir, and strong. He told us we would all die if he did not get out. I think

he’s on something sir, heroin maybe. He was all pasty and shakin’ sir, like you see on

films, and he was raving about, what was it Lenny? ‘Ghouls’ and the end of the world.”

“Okay, calm down son. Did he say where he was going?”

“He ran towards that black sedan parked down there at the corner.”

“Board up that window behind me and be ready to let us in through the front door.”

Cartel could not believe he was stepping out of the broken window, unto the abandoned

side walk, armed with a shotgun that might as well be a huge hypodermic needle to inject

himself with the virus with if he shot at and killed one of them. What had Gant called

them, ‘The Abstract?’

185
There was Gant, sat in his car, low down, clutching a huge needle full of greenish liquid.

“Gant, you’re on Heroin?!” was all Cartel could manage.

“No,” Gant croaked, not drugs, it’s chemical. It tells the nanobots to format me.” Gant

could barely raise his head, and he looked up through red rimmed eyes.

“Format, nanobots? Look man, you better start speaking some real plain English to me

real soon, cause I know you killed Peterson, and you very near broke my jaw earlier. You

scared my men half to death just there now, and to be frank Mr Gant you scare me too.”

“We have to leave…down now! Into the car!”

Cartel was pulled into the car before he could argue. His only view was through the rear

view mirror as he lay across the back seat, heart beating loudly in his chest. He could see

them, filing past the car. They just kept coming. There must have been hundreds.

“They’re not heading for the station?” he whispered.

“No, they are going to the object,” Gant replied. Some were dragging cocoons behind

them. Others were first generation, partly human still, dragging…wait…was that live

people? Yes, they were dragging screaming, live human beings behind them too, future

hosts or guinea pigs perhaps.

186
“We have to stop…”

Gant reached back and held Cartel down firmly.

“We have to stay here until they are gone,” he said in a menacing croak.

“You’re not well Gant.”

“I’m not sick, matter of fact, I’m cured.”

“Cured?!”

“I was infected, probably by Peterson. All agents have nano-machines inside them, to

diagnose disease and in some cases, cure them. Back in the bakery, I was able to kill four

of them, because the nanobots figured out how to kill the virus; I’m immune.”

“Could you pass this immunity on?”

“I don’t know. The other agents were not immune, but I have… more nanobots than the

others.”

“Why can’t you call your friends in? Isn’t this what you do?!”

187
“They’re…all dead. They were all infected. I had to…I’m the only one left.”

“You killed them,” Cartel said, voice laced with disgust.

“It’s the formatting, it takes away your emotional response to things, you do…anything

that you have to…doesn’t matter who or what…it’s like, feelings are a little niggle, like a

déjà vu, or a song name you can’t recall.”

Cartel laid his head back in the sedan. He closed his tired eyes and listened to the cries of

the captured, the unintelligible ravening of the intruders. Listened to them dragging the

monstrous cocoons through the desert, imagined them blinking with wide eyes like

Cartwright, tried to fathom their state of mind if they had any left. What is this; the end

and nothing to be done?

Lilly.

It came to him like waking from a dream on a summer’s morning, and he heard the words

escape his mouth rather than purposefully made them leave. No thoughts preceded them,

no embryonic forming of a notion; it was born of pure passion, and feeling, and longing;

“Could your nanobots wake a coma patient?”

188
“Possibly; but those people in the cocoons are much worse off than…”

“I’m not talking about that. It’s my wife, she’s…she’s been in a coma for the past seven

years. Mugging in the city left her that way. New York, that is.”

“There is a very slim chance, and there is no way we are going to leave here until I’m

formatted.”

“You can’t format yourself again!”

“Why not! It’s the only chance any of us have- it can make me able to fix all this Cartel,

including your wife.”

“When your ‘formatted,’ you’ll not think about my wife, or your wife, or the lives of

anybody in that police station. You’d kill them all if it stopped the infection.”

“I couldn’t.”

“You already have- in your headquarters.”

“What would you have done?! Let the infection spread?!” Gant shouted suddenly,

breaking his dry monotone and momentarily stunning Cartel.

189
“I’d have contained them and tried to find a way to cure them first!”

“There was no time, and the healthy ones were being slaughtered anyway!”

“All you want is to drown your sorrows, you’re no better than a drunk!”

“ No I don’t! This is about saving many more lives than there are in that building!”

“It’s about saving a wife and daughter who are already dead!! Stopping the spread this

time!”

“No!”

“Your family are dead!” Cartel shouted, spitting at the word ‘dead’, “The people in the

station still have a chance!” he grabbed Gant by the collar and slammed his head into the

window behind so hard it cracked into red spiders legs.

“This is about your wife Cartel!” Gant said, staring hard into Cartels face with his

startlingly green eyes and shoving him back sprawling into the opposite car door, “This

isn’t about the townspeople, you resent them!”

“I’m a cop Gant, I protect and serve; I’m not some government clean-up guy with robots

190
in my blood and some sort of freakish top-up to suppress my conscience!”

“That’s not what it does!”

“That’s not all it does, no! It turns you into a robot yourself. Think about it; if you can

ignore emotion, if you are conscious of only your job, and nothing else- how human are

you?”

“Your able to be perfectly human; all your brain function running at 100% capacity,

focused, alert!”

“Alert of only one thing! No compassion, no love, nothing. You said you watched your

wife die, and all you could think of was how to evaluate and contain the virus that killed

her. Needful, yes? Human, no.”

“Don’t talk about her!”

“Listen, they’re gone, we need to get back to the station now. I’ve had men gathering

supplies and…something else; the creature in the dark room, I went in…”

“You didn’t do…”

“I wore the night vision gear. Looked ridiculous too; but the point is, it’s incapacitated in

191
the complete dark, like we thought it’d be.”

“Maybe if we kill it in the dark…”

“Exactly.”

“A body, use a dead body. Macy, he…”

“We are, I sent a group out to find a corpse.”

“I’ll hold off on the formatting for now, but Cartel, when the time comes, we’re going to

need it.”

Cartel did not answer. He knew Gant may be right. All he could think of was getting to

the hospital, attempting to wake Lilly from her coma.

New hope and new horror on the same night. He wondered had Barry and Richard

discovered any more about ghost town yet.

192
Barry walked tentatively up the creaking steps of the saloon, his revolver drawn, Richard

Lee on his right with a nine millimetre pistol.

“If you see anything aim for the head and run before the infection spreads to you,” Lee

said.

“You think?! That’s if they still have some human features left- what if the more

advanced forms have no heads?!”

“Fair point,” Lee said grimly. “I’ve seen some weird stuff, but never anything quite this

ferocious and purposeful. It’s true their biology may be so wildly different from ours that

they cannot be killed as we understand it.”

“You shot Ray, right?”

Lee looked at Barry warily.

“He was probably your friend?”

“He was a junior officer. I know you had to do it- my point is, how do I know you’re not

infected now by whatever was in him? How does Terry know he isn’t?”

“We don’t. If I show any sign of it you have to kill me,” Lee said without conviction. He

193
smiled weakly and added, “I’d do the same for you.”

“Huh,” Barry snorted, “How do I know what’s weird for you?”

They pushed the doors open with a creak and stepped in, their footsteps creaking too as

they did. Barry raised the flashlight and shone it around.

There was a bar and dusty wooden tables and chairs, even some old beer bottles still

adorned the rotten floor.

“Yippee-kay-yay,” Lee said dryly.

“This place is like a movie set,” Barry said in awe. All of a sudden a giggle rang out

through the musty silence.

“Ok, that was just plain wrong,” Lee said, shivering.

“For more reason than you know,” Barry said oddly and moved towards the stairs. He

began to head up, moving cautiously, a strange look of anxiety on his face.

“Barry?” Lee called up, “I wouldn’t...”

But Barry was already at the first door upstairs. He swung it open and levelled his gun,

194
then exclaimed, “Louise!”

Before him was his twenty year old daughter and her boyfriend.

“You’re supposed to be across with your aunt?!” he roared, “What’s going on here?”

“We...We were on our way back...the satnav brought us here and we...”

“Do I want to hear the end of that sentence?!”

“It’s not like you think! We had to spend the night, and then other people began to

arrive.”

“Other people?”

“They’re mostly away at the far end of town, they thought this was Cave Creek too!”

“Ok, get up- you too!” he shouted, glaring at her boyfriend, who slinked out of the door

before Louise even flinched.

Lee called out from below.

“Er, Barry, we have another situation here- there are lights at the far end of town, looks

195
like the girl...”

“Louise!” the girl snapped indignantly as she passed him on the stairs. He glared back.

“Looks like... Louise is right about others!” he continued, eying the two new members of

their entourage with amusement.

“Makes sense. Anyone trying to reach Cave Creek would end up here unless they knew

where they were going.”

“Why would they want to keep people out? Surely they use people?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know about any of this. It’s all so beyond anything I’ve

experienced...and you young lady?! You have no idea the nightmare you’ve just walked

into! You should have stayed with your Aunt for three weeks like we planned!”

“What are you talking about Dad?!” she said angrily, her face still red from

embarrassment and shock.

“People are dying Louise! Your mother and sisters are hiding out in the station with half

the town- something bad is happening there, something I don’t understand.”

Louise’s large green eyes widened in fear. She had never seen her father afraid or

196
uncertain like this before, and it scared her more than anything that he said.

“Are mum and the girls going to be ok?” she said tearfully.

“Yes, don’t worry. They’re with Terry...Sheriff Cartel, and he’s not going to let anybody

hurt them. We’re out here looking for a family that sent a radio transmission asking for

help, but...you’ve complicated that now!”

“I can help,” Louise said, then looked at her boyfriend, “We can,” she said. He did not

look thrilled but nodded.

“Fine, but only because I’m not comfortable letting you out of my sight again. Now bring

me to these other people.”

Barry and Richard walked up the street of the ghost town with Louise and Brian. Brian

was a tall lanky kid with greasy black hair hanging down in ragged strands. He kept his

distance from Barry, preferring to walk beside Richard Lee, who preferred to ignore him.

This influx of people was irritating him. The beacon calling people to this dead town

meant that the enemy was organised and intelligent. It meant they were calculating and

had a plan and purpose, not like some of the lost or instinctual creatures Lee had

encountered before. There was something else behind it all too, a feeling that he had

never had so powerfully in all his life; as if all was wrong and pointless, and there was no

hope.

197
Against the desert sky he could see cars outlined at the other end of town. Some people

still sat in them and tried in vain to use their mobiles to call for help. There were family

cars, lorries and a motorbike parked by the sides of the street.

“Most people gone inside for a look,” Louise said, “When they discovered they were lost,

they all pooled their resources to try to navigate. They know we can’t be far from Cave

Creek. Guess they were right after all.”

A tall figure stepped away from the motorbike and approached Barry-

“Cave Creek police?” he said, “Glad to see you. I take it this isn’t your usual beat

officer?”

“No sir, this is a derelict town some fifteen miles out of Cave Creek.”

“Dirk Renault,” the biker said taking off a glove and extending his hand. The man didn’t

exactly look like the biker type. He was bookish looking with eyes that would look more

at home behind glasses than a visor. He had days old stubble on his cheeks and his eyes

were rimmed with black. He walked stiffly, as if he hadn’t been off his bike in a long

time. His voice was haggard and his speech slightly slurred, yet Barry knew it wasn’t just

drink. He had stopped enough drunken drivers to know- this was something else.

198
“Officer Barry Johnson.”

“What’s going on here Officer? Everyone here’s panicking something shockin’ and

there’s something real freaky down the middle of town.”

“It’s what messed up the sat nav systems.”

“Knew it had to have something to do with that,” Dirk said.

“You’re very calm Mr. Renault,” Barry said, “You can help me round up everyone.”

“No. No way. I’m sorry Sheriff but I’m moving on. Just point me in the right direction.”

“No- I need as many cool heads as I can get, and trust me, you don’t want to go looking

for Cave Creek without directions. There’s nothing but desert in most directions from

here. Now can I count on you or not?!”

Dirk looked at him with rage in his eyes and seemed he may be about to throw a punch.

“You think I got a cool head?” he said through a smirk that he could not suppress.

Barry looked at him seriously and said, “Yes I do. Maybe too cool, but that’s fine by

me.”

199
“Have it your way,” Dirk snapped, “but these people will be hard to calm down. Most of

them already have us dead and buried in dust forever. Most of them where stupid enough

to get lost out here with their children!”

“That may be so, but I need you to go tell them they can trust me. Tell them to

congregate in the big Georgian house at the bottom of the street.”

“You sure you want them to walk past that plant thing? It’ll shock them worse.”

“Good. I need’em shocked, for what I have to tell them’ll be easier to accept if they’re

already halfway there.”

“And what’s that?”

“You’ll know when they do.”

“ Just let’s say you’re going to be less eager to get to Cave Creek,” Lee cut in. Barry eyed

him with annoyance but said nothing.

As Dirk turned to leave there was a rumbling sensation and shimmering lights appeared

out of the ground just beyond the Georgian house. Lights that seemed to be trying to cut

off the town.

200
Lee set off running, and when he had got halfway up the street he turned and yelled, “I

can see them at the other end of town too- we’re surrounded!”

Dirk turned to Barry, amazement thinly veiled on his face.

“Explanation, now.”

Screams sounded at the top of the town, and people began running down towards them.

“So much for having to round them up,” Dirk said. “Now, explanation.”

“I have no explanation; but I can tell you some things that have been happening.”

Dirk and the others listened as Barry re-counted Cave Creeks nightmare night as it had

unfolded from his point of view. They were gathered in the large house at the end of

town, on the bottom floor. The wind was blowing through the house gently and the four

children that were among them huddled closely together with their parents, who held unto

them as if they may vanish at any moment. Barry noted how much they looked like those

he had left at the police station but different- they had not yet seen all that those at the

station had seen.

“And what are those things all around the town?” a plump father of two of the kids called

201
out hoarsely.

“We are not sure,” he said. Lee stepped forward.

“We know the object at the centre of town is some kind of beacon. It blocks mobile

phone signals and we believe it manipulated your SatNavs’ also.”

“Thanks,” Barry said grudgingly, then went on, “ We have to determine whether or not it

is safe to pass them. Then we will organise a convoy and bring you to Cave Creek. I

assume no one has enough fuel to go back the way you came?”

They were met with silence.

“Ok. Me and Agent Lee will take two teams and check these lights or whatever at the

perimeter. The more men we have, the quicker this will be. I’d prefer volunteers.”

“I’m in,” Dirk said, and as he did a few other hands raised.

“I’ll help,” Louise piped up.

”No,” Barry said firmly. “You stay here with everyone else until we get back. Lee- go

and get the spare two-ways’ from my truck.”

202
“But you said you needed as many as you could get!” Louise protested.

“As many men!”

“That’s a bit off!” another female voice cut in, one of the mothers.

“They have a point,” Lee offered, shrugging, “and they’re willing,” he added, glaring at

‘all the men who had said nothing.

“Ok, but you’re in my group,” Barry said with a crooked smile.

So they set out. Barry took a group of four. Louise, Dirk, the plump father who turned out

to be called Michael and a business type called Winston who said he had come to Cave

Creek to buy the local coffee house. Barry made a poor joke about hoping he was killed

first which was met with only black looks and rolled eyes from his daughter. They had

passed the two -way radios around until every two in a group had one. Lee led a group of

four too, made up of the mother called Diane Finch, a building contractor named Colin, a

teacher called Margot, who had rallied along behind Diane and a lecturer of theoretical

physics named Colin, who kept to himself and said little.

Lees group moved along to the outskirts of the small town. The ‘lights’ were a strange

distortion that was shimmering at the edges of town.

203
“It looks like the Northern Lights,” Margot said.

Lee picked up a stick and tried to throw it through the distortion. Nothing happened. The

others looked at him questioningly.

“Thought it might be an energy cage or something,” he said, although he had certainly

never seen one before.

“What exactly to you do? Diane Finch asked him, regarding him sceptically.

“I’m an expert in matter such as these,” he said irritably, looking closely at the object

before him.

“Maybe it only reacts to organic matter,” someone said quietly. It was Colin.

“Yea?” Lee answered,” good thinking, but how do we test it?”

Margot removed a bewildering length of her hair and held it up, “Clip in extensions,” she

said, “It’s real hair. That’s organic right?”

“Yes,” Lee struggled to say, “Give it to me.”

He took it as if it was a tangle of snakes and threw it. Nothing happened.

204
He lifted his two-way and reported.

“Barry?”

“Go ahead.”

“It doesn’t seem to react when organic matter is passed over the threshold.”

“You figured it was a shield too? What did you use for your organic test?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“\Oh. Well, it seems the same here. They must be dangerous in some way though.”

“That’s what we’re assuming, but what if they’re not?”

“What else would they be?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know!” Lee suddenly shouted in frustration. He wished for the first

time in his life that he could just contact the Agency.

“What’s Cartel’s radio frequency?”

205
“I’ve tried it but there’s nothing. If they do anything they block radio signals.”

“The other one didn’t.”

“Maybe they’ve learned.”

“That’s like something Gant would say. We need him to see this Barry. He’s the real

expert,” he added quietly, “and we need to know if these things have appeared in Cave

Creek too. Something bothers me about these- everything else that the intruders have hit

us with has been organic-no machines or tech of any sort, until now.”

All of a sudden the air appeared ripple somehow and a massive dome shaped area above

the town began to crackle with strange blue lightening.

“You seeing this?!” Lee shouted into his radio.

“Yes! Move your people back now!” Barry yelled back as a humming began to

intensify \all around his terrified little group. He grabbed Louise by the arm and began

dragging her back to the Georgian House, “Back to the house, Lee!”

Lee didn’t need told twice. He ordered his group to run and they set off over the dusty

street, the humming beginning to hurt their ears. There was a blinding flash, the sky

206
seemed to change colour overhead, then all was quiet.

When Barry opened his eyes he gasped. The sky was filled with rolling planets and

burning suns. The landscape all around them was charred black rock instead of desert.

They were not in the Arizona desert any more. He doubted they were on the planet Earth.

The ghost town was still there alright, but the rest was gone. In the distance light began to

appear. Cars. Two of them. This was as strange as the many planets in the sky. The cars

approached the two groups of fallen people, who had not quite made it to the Georgian

house again, and stopped.

A group of men stepped out of the first car and approached Agent Lee. They were

dressed in ebony robes over a suit and tie. The first one came up to Lee with recognition

and spoke;

“Richard Lee- as a result of emergency protocol 401- In the event of catastrophic disaster

that kills or incapacitates more than 95 per cent of Agency personnel -we have left Earth

to preserve certain treaties that are crucial to its survival- but you- you must return and

assist Agent Gant in the salvation of the human race.”

“But...how did you...”

“In time it will all become clear. Now you must hurry. This group of people will be

immune now. You must use them to save Cave Creek. There is a bigger threat than the

207
intruder. The spore that brought them to Earth is...it has not been seen before, but we fear

its capabilities. The Earth is your responsibility now- you and Agent Gant...and Terry

Cartel, he must play his part.”

“Wait! No! Tell me more!”

“These people here in Cave Creek are now the Agency.”

“This isn’t Cave Creek!”

“Not now. This is the first Cave Creek, the one that failed.”

With that the humming resumed and all sight was lost to a blinding flash of light again.

When the light faded Richard could see the desert all around them again. The strange

plants were retreating into the ground.

“Lee?!” Barry’s voice sounded out, “What was that!?”

“That was the Agency.”

“What kind of people are these you work for that can...that can...what did they just did?!”

“I’ve never seen anything like that!” Lee snapped with sudden ferocity, “I didn’t even

208
know they were all dead!”

“So what now?”

“We get back to Cave Creek,” Lee said, tears burning in his eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

“He must have done this- Gant- he killed most of the Agents at headquarters!”

“Friends?”

“There was a woman...” his voice trailed off.

“I’m sorry Lee. I don’t understand much of what is going on here, but I understand that,”

Barry said, clapping his hand on Richards shoulder. Richard’s young face seethed with

powerful emotions. Barry knew the look.

“You can’t do this now,” Barry said.

“He killed her,” Richard said, tears flowing freely, “the one good thing in this stinking

world- to hell with it! To hell with it all! Now they come to me and say it’s my

responsibility! No. For the past nine years I’ve babysat their monsters- that was all they

209
seen I was good for! Now they think I’m what? The guardian of the earth?! Forget it, I’m

done, I’m out!”

He strode off towards one of the cars and got in.

“Where are you going!” Barry shouted, pulling the door open.

“To Cave Creek- I have something to see to there before I leave!”

Barry grabbed him and pulled him out of the car, “No!” that will solve nothing! I don’t

like Gant and part of me wants to shoot him myself- but we need him Richard! You know

that better than anyone!”

Barry was much stronger than the slender Lee and the younger man struggled in vain for

a while before his shoulders sagged and he gave up.

“He’s the last formatted one,” Lee finally said through clenched teeth, spitting out his

own tears, “we do need him,” he added bitterly.

“Ok. These people need you to explain what just happened- and what weight is on their

shoulders now. I can’t do that.” He let go of Lee and put his hands on his shoulders again,

“They need you to be a leader. You’re the only one who can do it.”

210
*

Julie Walked out of the party into the night air. It was too warm. Far too warm. The wind

felt like a blast furnace to her. The stars looked wrong and the ground felt funny. Strange

sounds filled the air that filtered through her brain and were interpreted into meaning.

Conversation. She tried to duplicate the sound but could not do it with any real success.

Sensation reported to her mind more slowly than it should. Still, it was sensation. The

strange nothingness of half awareness and semi-consciousness, that mixing with the girls

mind, not sure what was her and what was itself- it was horrible- now the prisoner was

free- or at least more free. This body was sluggish, and it only had a few rigid limbs that

allowed for limited, stiff movement. Soon the biology would change though. Patience.

Gant and Terry had found a body lying in the street and dragged it inside the station. The

‘experiment’ was all set up. Terry went back into the dark room with the night-vision

goggles, dragging the body with him. Then he hastily moved away, brushing the creature

as he did. He shivered involuntarily and doused the creature carefully in the kerosene. All

of a sudden he felt irresponsible again, stupid, a man lost in the craziness of a situation

that had no precedent in human history. He turned at the door, struck a match and threw

it. The moment he lit the match he realized his mistake. Even as it erupted in a hot blaze

it flailed at him in rage. The sudden burst of light blinded Terry in the night vision

goggles. Fumbling for his gun, he backed into the half open door and fired, but still the

211
creature came. Gant had seen the whole thing on the monitor and was already on his way.

Bt the time he had arrived Terry had bolted out of the dark room and was running down

the dark corridor.

“Seems they burn quickly!” he yelled. Just as he said it the body appeared behind him,

standing shakily, the creature grotesquely integrated with it.

Gant grabbed Terry and shoved him away from the body. He fired into the head and the

enemy dropped.

It had not worked. No one knew for sure how the dark would affect the enemy’s ability to

migrate. Maybe the pain of the fire had woken it. Gant noted that the creature did not

infect the dead body, but somehow integrated with it instead. In the station, people were

getting desperate. They were in the back of the building, behind the large oak doors and

emergency shutters. The corridors and stairways were lined with frightened, traumatized

families, or what was left of them. In nightclothes or hastily thrown on mis-matching,

blood-stained regular clothes, they were sleepless. Cartel observed the mass of wide,

saucer eyes, most seemingly propped open by shock and fear. The station was a very

strong old building, but it was cold now, and uncomfortable. A few children sobbed

lightly in the corner. No one was with them. Cartel shuddered- had those kids ran across

town by themselves? In the holding area of the station another echoing shot rang out.

Gant had fired another wounding shot at one of the infected officers. It was probably old

Bill Wesley; he had looked pretty bad when Cartel last seen him. As long as Gant didn’t

212
kill them, Cartel thought, what would one of those things not do if they infected a man

like Gant?! Then he heard a sudden gasping and yelling. He did not investigate. He knew

what it was. The grinding of the shutters coming up sounded, followed by an excited

gaggle of voices and Gants commanding voice booming “Lift, lift, throw it out now!”

then there was a thud. The heavy oak main door slammed and there was a general scuttle

back to the safety of the shutters. At that moment Gant strode in, blood speckled, calm

faced, a single red spatter marring the unnatural green of his eyes.

“ We’ve thrown out another cocoon. None of them are dead, but I’ve had to wound three

of them. Your young officers can’t listen to their ‘ramblings’ anymore.”

“Ramblings?”

“Imagine Hannibal Lector recalling his favorite recipes in conversation with Vlad the

Impaler about throwing a good tea party.”

The imagery was momentarily hilarious, and Cartel found himself wondering at Gant,

who seemed completely unaware that he had said anything funny.

“They are telling the men that we will all die and that soon they will be eating their own

children. One of the men confessed to having already. Sheriff, morale among your men is

low. They have seen their friends become murderers, indeed, butchers. They’re not ready

for the way things might get later.”

213
“And what way is that?”

“This town may have to be completely destroyed. If all communications weren’t gone the

army may be here already. As it is we have to assume no one outside Cave Creek knows

what is happening here, and so it will fall to me, and your men if there are any of them

left, to destroy this place thoroughly.”

It was then that the roar of engines was heard in the street, and Barry and Lee returned at

the head of a small convoy. They came into town at speed, and it was not long till

frenzied attackers were bouncing off the sides of each truck and over car bumpers.

Dirk, who refused to leave his bike behind, rode beside Barry and Lees’ jeep with a

shotgun in one arm. Scores of tentacled nightmares tried to stop the convoy but it was

moving too fast and too close together. Every time one came close to Dirk it was blasted

back and he reloaded the pump action gun with one hand. He smiled as he did.

“Are they mad?!” Terry shouted, “Doesn’t Barry know they’ll be infected?”

Then his radio burst into life, “Sheriff, this is Agent Lee, I need you to open the side

garage for us quickly and stay back until we close it. I can’t explain it all now but we’re

all immune to the infection.”

Terry ran to the garage controls at the reception desk and opened the large sliding doors.

214
He had had them installed when he first took over as sheriff. He turned to the monitor and

seen each car and truck pull in. A huge lorry pulled up outside and the driver jumped out

and ran in, Dirk covering his approach by pitching his bike at the opening and firing at all

that moved.

The intruders outside snarled and turned a deep angry red, retreating beyond his shotguns

range but no further as they watched the huge doors slide shut again with a resonating

metallic clang.

Terry observed his old friend as he talked. Barry seemed more alive somehow, more

awake than ever. He had been re-united with his family and had returned Louise to the

others also. He was explaining all that had happened to Terry and Gant in the stations

conference room. Lee had not wanted to do it and Barry had not argued. He still did not

trust him around Gant. Instead Lee was co-coordinating the ‘ghost town group’ including,

to Barry’s annoyance, Louise. When Barry was finished, Terry shook his head in

disbelief.

“Incredible,” he said, “even after all I’ve seen tonight.”

“Believe it,” Gant said. “The Agency have been aware that as a group they may be

destroyed someday. A certain number of them were chosen to go to…another place, in

the event of such a catastrophe. There are things I do not even know of. In any event,

they have done this to preserve the Agency in some way. How they made the group

215
immune I do not know, but they seem to be. It may be they used the information from

my last nano-machine report.”

Terry looked at him questioningly.

“Too much to explain Mr. Cartel,” Gant said.

“Fine, I’m not sure I can handle more anyway. Now, I would really like to meet that guy

on the Harley.”

“Ah, yes, Dirk.”

“Yes, I’m sure being immune makes you all braver, but he’s just reckless.”

“I think he’d have behaved like that whatever Terry. There’s something going on with

that guy- he reminds me of you when you first came to Cave Creek.”

“You mean just after Lilly was hospitalized.”

Barry opened the door to the briefing room and hollered for Dirk, who appeared a few

seconds later, holding a hamster cage.

“Tough little sucker,” he said, half in admiration, half in disgust as he held up the cage,

216
“Survives seven hundred miles non stop strapped to the back of a Harley, teleportation to

an alien planet and a running shotgun fight.”

Terry just stared at the man in disbelief.

“You wanted to see me Sheriff?”

“Yes, I did Mr. Renault; you strike me as the kind of man who I can use. Barry’s

explained to me how you came by your immunity.”

“To be honest I’m still not clear on what exactly I’m immune to?”

“It’ll be explained to you. I need you to keep a cool head and not pull any more stunts

like that Terminator routine out there, ok?”

“It worked didn’t it?”

“Save that sort of thing for when its needed,” Barry said.

Gant had been silent throughout the whole interview. Terry approached him while Barry

explained the infection more fully to Dirk.

“You’ve never heard of the Agency doing something like that have you?”

217
Gant seemed not to hear him at first, but was lost in thought, his leathery face unyielding

any signs of bewilderment or confusion.

“Never. I was not aware that the extent of their power was so far reaching. It is a

problematic occurrence, for it suggests that they may have had some prior knowledge of

these creatures. I know the Agency has experimented with teleportation, but the method

used here...”

Just then a scream sounded from the main room. Cartel barely gave the shutter time to

clear his waist but bent under it and into the main hall, gun drawn. The officers on watch

were holding one of their colleagues down.

“He wants to go out sir, there’s a man out there being attacked by…” the officer glanced

at the window, “there’s more of them now!”

Gant pushed past Cartel and stood at the window, staring out. For a second Cartel

watched as his reflection stared back, and he wondered just how accurate that was-

should Gant be on the outside?

When he turned his head and looked beyond his own reflection what he saw was truly

bizarre. Animals about the size of a large cat filled the air, flying on transparent fly-like

wings. Their heads were taken up by one huge football sized eyeball, and behind that

218
there was a dark green maggot like body flanked by six little legs on each side. Each leg

ended in a tiny four fingered hand that they were using to pick up bin lids, pull up car

hoods, open curtains, investigate unfortunate stray cats and dogs that had escaped in the

craziness earlier. They turned the animals over and stared at them from all angles with

their immense blinking eyes that moved rapidly in their sockets as they looked around. In

the midst of all the madness there was an old man, lifted right off the ground by five of

them, some tugging at his shirt collar, or gripping his ankles, while one of them examined

his glasses. The man was shaking in terror, his face locked in one terrible expression of

utter incomprehension.

“Where’d they come from?” Barry said in disgust.

“The spore I suppose,” Gant said way too conversationally, even though he was watching

them with a hungry interest, completely engrossed. He peered into the midst of the little

swarm, that was still causing havoc in the street, spreading rubbish and broken glass

everywhere. There was one area was there was a higher concentration of the creatures,

where they appeared to swarm like a large school of fish do in a bait ball around a

slightly different being. It was a larger creature, similar, only with one large black

eyeball, like a sharks eye. It held what looked like a brain in its little hands. The front

two legs were different from the others. They tapered to sharp points that penetrated the

brain around the frontal lobes. The brain was very pink and healthy looking. It appeared

fresh and healthy. The creature also had antennae that the others did not have, at least six

along its back, running parallel with every other leg. It’s eye did not blink, but merely

219
turned slowly and calmly to observe the others with strange intelligence.

Cartels first thought was that it was sending signals to the others. They looked like

drones, he thought.

“They appear to be some kind of organic probes on a reconnaissance mission,” Gant said,

watching another swarm further down the street, around another black eyed creature with

antennae. “Each swarm appears to have a central control, based around a creature that

appears to be transmitting information from a dismembered human brain.”

“Think they’re dangerous?” Barry whispered.

Gant’s reply was to step back from the window and pick up a large shotgun from the

corner of the room. The other men knew if he was wary they should be too and all drew

their weapons and shrunk back, never taking their eyes from the window. In the dark, the

huge eyes seemed to glow a light orange color, and appeared to be floating free. Barry

was entranced by the almost graceful way that they glided, like alien fireflies, some of

their eyes streaked with an emerald green. The spell was broken when one of them all of

a sudden came straight for the window and smashed through with surprising ease.

All of a sudden it was in the room, that huge orange eyeball right in Barry’s face. He

could see his reflection in it. He still looked terrified and utterly uncomprehending,

despite all else he had seen. It looked so much bigger up close, and the whole body took

on a stronger green under the electric lights. Barry could feel the little wings whipping

220
close to his face, could see when he stopped staring into his own frightened eyes, the

texture of its skin, tough and fleshy, with fine red vein pulsing visibly under the skin. The

six little legs worked feverishly, like a flies, always restless. Eventually he felt with some

shock one little hand on his face, then another. Slowly they traced the contours of his

face, around his eyes, over his mouth, his nose, even pulling on his beard. The other men

stood watching in awed shock, afraid to move in case it turned its attention to them or

they attracted more of them. Gant was the only one who moved, very slowly, almost not

at all, ever closer to the creature hovering inches from Barry’s head, raising a large

hunting knife as he did.

The creature suddenly jerked one tiny hand and pulled away a clump of hair from Barry’s

beard. Barry opened his mouth to scream but before any sound came out two little hands

were jammed into his mouth, one pushing his lower jaw down, one clamped around his

front two teeth, pushing up, pulling his mouth open. Barry was frantic, unable to close his

mouth and terrified if what might be coming next, he made a grab for the creatures main

body. The eye all of a sudden erupted in a blinding white flash, like a camera and

momentarily stunned everyone in the room. Gant was the first to re-gain his sight, in time

to see Barry, limp, with his head hanging back, the creature still peering into his mouth,

lifting his tongue and studying it carefully. In one swift movement Gant lunged forward

and thrust the knife between the animals wings, down into its fleshy body. The eye

flashed again as the creature lurched in mid air, this time a deep red flash, and instantly

he sound of more wings began to sound. Gant was blinded again, and everyone else was

stumbling wildly as they felt a hundred grabbing hands and moist huge eyeballs being

221
rubbed against them. then another sound rang out, a marine like sound, and Gant knew

immediately that he needed his sight back fast- it was one of the abstract. For three

minutes, like being in Hades itself, the bizarre creatures tugged and probed, clicked and

hummed, picked them up and set them down again. Through the red/white haze that Gant

could see when his vision began to clear, the abstract came into view. It was in the

doorway, small black eyes rolling back and forth, observing the flying creatures. Fresh

blood stained its long, uneven teeth that jutted crazily out of its lower jaw. It’s tentacles

writhed gently at its side, making smooth waving motions as if it was swimming on its

back. The flying beasts gave the abstract a wide berth, swinging wide rather than flying

close to it, and it was not alarmed by them at all. It looked as though it might be

supervising them. Then one of the controllers arrived, hovering like a ghost through the

haze, one black eye staring unblinkingly at the scene. It’s little antennae glowing through

a range of colors as it approached the abstract. The abstract suddenly burst into a dazzling

array of colors, changing its skin pigmentation this time, and the controller responded

with a muted green flash of its oily black eye. Immediately after the display the smaller

creatures dropped their subjects and began filing out of the door past the abstract and

back down the street. Gant still had the shotgun in his grasp. The abstract began to

slaughter the officers the moment the little creatures left, wrapping one tentacle around

the firsts ones leg and dragging him across the marble floor, screaming for all he was

worth. The abstract lifted him clear of the floor effortlessly with one tentacle, and held

the hysterical man up until it was looking into his eyes, his ragged lower teeth inches

from the mans face. Seconds past. Gant struggled to move. He felt paralyzed. His strong

hands felt like jelly and he could barely use the shotguns pump action mechanism. As he

222
raised himself to his knees shakily, the spines along the abstracts back shimmered lightly

and it began to turn it’s awful head towards him, it’s empty eyes holding nothing but pure

malice as it did. In one swift motion it had Gants trigger hand and his gun held in its

slimy grip. He had cocked the shotgun but had never reached the trigger. Now he was

being pulled slowly up by his wrist. He felt strong muscles inside the tendril contract with

terrifying strength, threatening to crush his hand and shotgun together in a mess of flesh

and metal. He reached up with his free hand and attempted to release himself from its

grip but only got a handful of a stinging gelatinous substance that was oozing out of

every pore on the tentacles. As it held the two men up, suspended like some nightmarish

mobile it strode easily over to another man and reached towards him with its two front

limbs, lean, sinewy appendages that were the most human part of it. It simply picked him

up and gripped him around his head with both its ‘hands’, slid a moist tentacle around his

waist and pulled his head right off his shoulders. At that moment a shot rang out and the

abstracts face seemed to explode. Gant and the officer were dropped heavily to the hard

marble, and the creature stood still for a moment, rigid as if it had seized up, then

collapsed on its ruined face, spewing a massive red wave as it did. What happened next

happened so fast Cartel sometimes questions whether it happened at all. Immediately as

the creature hit the floor Grahams severed head began to bubble and writhe, the white

eyes rolling madly, the tongue flicking in and out as the mouth worked, trying got form

words. Cartel leveled his magnum again, but Gant grabbed his arm and he missed, hitting

the floor instead.

“Next time it’ll find a brain that’s still attached to a pair of shoulders!” Gant yelled as

223
Cartels shot echoed around the hall, “They are not all immune!”

He bent down without a moments’ hesitation and took the head in his hands, grimacing a

little from the pain in his right wrist.

The entity felt...something. knowledge perhaps. Knowledge of nothing in particular,

just...knowledge. Awareness without perception or sense. Images but not seen.

Remembered. Then a sharpness. A distinctness in the void. Emotion. Attached to

something. Memory perhaps. Logic. Memory causes emotion. Emotion is a reaction to

experienced phenomena, reliant on your understanding of and relation to said

phenomena. Then...presence of emotion implies entity has experienced...self

awareness...I. The entity is I. I remember because I did those things. Consciousness

returned to the entity.

Lilly Cartel opened her eyes.

Lilly found herself standing outside a cinema. It was raining and blowy, and water was

dripping over everything in sight, falling in huge snakelike drops down the sides of

buildings and windows, lampposts and clothing. A crowd of people stood outside the

224
little cinema in Cave Creek, waiting to get in.

‘Star Wars!” large letters over the entrance announced, the grandeur of the words

drowned somewhat in the rainy haze.

“What is this?” she said out loud, fearing she knew full well what it was.

Out of the crowd one figure stood out suddenly, a dark figure, indistinct and without

shape.

“It’s you, isn’t it?” Lilly asked, shivering against the cold water running down her back.

“You are the one I’ve been talking to?”

“Yes.”

“We are...this is the past? How are you doing this? Am I dead?”

“We walk among your memories,” it answered swiftly.

“This is... this is the night I met Terry.”

“I am interested in your mate,” the creature answered bluntly, “In why he comes to the

small room to see you even though you cannot commune with him.”

225
“Why have you brought me here?”

“The virus that brought me to you is programmed to usurp your consciousness and

replace it with mine, then to use your biological material to reconstruct my true form

but... it cannot fully access your mind.”

“What are you?”

“I am one of many who have descended on your world. I must tell you that they mean

harm.”

“And the dark one. The one who is your leader. He is not like you.”

The intruder grew fearful at the mention of the dark one, although Lilly could not quite

tell how exactly it was she knew he was afraid but the impression was quite

overwhelming.

“ How do you know of the dark one?”

“He has spoke to me...as it has to many I suppose...he speaks great doom and

hopelessness.”

226
“The dark one is not one of us, and yet it is. It was created by us, and yet has become our

master. It was never meant to be an intelligence, but it became self aware some millennia

ago.”

“Self aware?”

“Yes. It was meant to gather information from every world that it came to, in order to

change it; but over millennia this led to intelligence, and an awareness of self.”

Lilly’s face froze as she was lost in remembering.

“Years ago, just before I was attacked...the councillor told me they were only dreams...I

had some sort of connection to this thing?”

“Yes. I can see this in your mind. It puzzles me why this happened...but it is clear that

what you experienced was some sort of empathic phenomenon. The dark one has many

abilities, not all of which it could always control. Around the time that the spore began to

learn there was a change in it..the normal function of its being was disturbed somehow. In

viral form we have no real consciousness, but we do have a basic hive mentality. We

sensed the dark ones transformation, and it was as if it was feeding off the mental ability

of another.”

“Me?”

227
“It is a possibility.”

Cave Creek General had been turned into a monstrous carnival, a twisted mirror image of

a hospital. It was a grand, old building, originally an asylum. It was showing its true

colors again that night.

Inside, behind opaque curtains, in operating theatres turned into monstrous theatres of the

grotesque, wild, inarticulate shapes slithered and groaned, roared and screamed. The

abstract, some trapped in bodies mid-surgery, were desperately trying to migrate to

healthy humans.

In the quarantine section, the remaining doctors had sealed themselves in armed with

only a hastily lifted fire axe, caked in the blood of those they had sworn to heal. The

room was full of mostly children. All around them the hellish choir sang out, joined by

human voices of either terror or devilish malice as they struggled with the ‘newborn’

consciousness inside their mind, fighting for supremacy against a power so evil and old it

had forgotten any original purpose and was bent only on murder.

Meanwhile, in Lilly Cartels room, Rebecca knew that one of them must be infected.

She’d brought one of the little spines up as a decoration for Lilly weeks ago. Now she

228
was cowering in the corner of that room, waiting for Lilly to wake up, as she always

waited, but expecting fully that she would try to kill her. She felt the tremors that had

rifled through the building die away but did not even dare to look out of the window.

She held a scalpel in her delicate fingers, or all three of them; since old Misses Spinnaker

had simply pulled one off in the recovery room. Rebecca had hit her with the pole

holding her morphine drip and ran. She hadn’t killed her. Still, she would never forget it;

“I hit an old woman and knocked her down today.”

It was not something Rebecca Clarke had ever expected to say;

“After she pulled one of my fingers off.”

She wished she could go back to find her engagement ring at least.

She hoped she would not have to hurt Lilly. She hoped it would be her instead. The

moment she felt there was something wrong she would do it; yes, she knew how easily a

surgical scalpel cut flesh. It would be easy. Closing her eyes for a moment, she found

herself wishing that Terry was there. He had always been like a father to her. Her natural

father had been a drunk, cruel, had beaten her and her mother so badly Terry had had to

arrest him for attempted murder. Ted Clarke had resisted, and fiercely. Rebecca would

never forget it.

229
Hiding under her kitchen table, hearing the plates and mugs on it smash and clink

together as her father hit her mother. One of the broken plate shards had fallen unto the

tiled floor, making Rebecca look up through her tangled brown hair. It was like second

nature, the impulse; she picked up the shard, feeling it’s razor edge with her little fingers

and holding it by its’ smooth side, she drove it deep into her father’s left calf. Even so

drunk it hurt like crazy as the glass sliced the muscle. Ted Clarke howled in agony and

reeled back from the dinner table with an almighty shove, toppling it and revealing

Rebecca as the source of his injury. He glowered at his daughter through eyes blurred

with alcohol and rage, and cast his wild eyes down to the gleaming bloodied shard

protruding from his leg. For one moment everything paused and his labored breathing

was all that could be heard; then it began, an onslaught so vicious and brutal that Rebecca

was sure she would be killed. She never imagined it was possible to feel so much pain

and fear all at once. The fear was worse somehow. She had prepared herself for a day like

today but that was all swept violently away now.

As her head spun and her vision began to swim her father raised his huge hand for

another blow, all at once, the world stopped. Her father turned away from her and was

knocked off his feet by a barrel chested, grey haired man who put his foot on his chest

and held him down; the monster, the dragon, the one

she feared instead of the boogey man- Terry Cartel held him knocked him flat, turned

him over roughly, and handcuffed him. In that moment Rebecca knew what having a

father was supposed to be like.

230
All of a sudden a realization broke her reverie. ‘The note!’ she remembered, and

scrambled to Lilly’s bedside.

Gant squinted at the dead drone on the floor.

“They were possibly some kind of remote viewing tool,” he theorized. “One thing is

obvious- they were gathering information. It is likely that this means another event is

approaching, something they needed greater knowledge to achieve.”

All of a sudden a plaintive bleeping rang out, as alien a sound as any of the creatures

outside.

“I thought all the mobile phones were destroyed?”

“It’s my pager… I…there’s a special number I left beside Lilly’s bed, it was stupid

really, I thought she may wake up when there was no nurse around.”

Cartel looked at his pager, a curious mixture of confusion and hope etched on his face;

231
‘Do you know about the second spore?’ was all it said.

Then the high pitched bleeping sounded again.

‘I can tell you what they’re doing.’

“Cartel?” Gant said, “What second spore?”

A sound like low thunder stormed overhead, followed by a tremendous series of crashes,

as if half the town was being ripped up, and Gant turned immediately and bolted for the

main door, gun drawn. Cartel made it to the opened door behind him in time to witness

Gant standing on the top step of the stone stairway leading up to the station, shrouded in

billowing dust. In the blistering Arizona sunset, the dust turned a hellish red hue, and as it

cleared ragged silhouettes came looming out of the mist. There was a trail of destruction

leading through the town hall’s clock tower, into the general store next door and across

the street, were there had once been a war memorial. Nestled among the debris of the

church was a large bulbous mass, gently moving in and out as if breathing, displacing

dancing specks of dust as it did. It looked just like a smaller version of the first spore.

Then other shapes started appearing out of the mist, from the opposite end of town,

accompanied by in human cries and snarls. When the first few came past, Cartel stood

back in shock, his nerves were shredded. Gant stood there like a stone, watching with

232
obvious interest and grim realization.

“What’s with all the rats?” Barry gasped in disgust.

“Not just rats. Unless rats look a lot like horses these days.”

“What on Earth?”

Sure enough a huge black stallion bolted down the main street with crazed eyes and a

braying in sheer terror, followed by an elegant white mare, riding saddle and bridle still

attached. Then two dogs went by, then three more, then a few cats, and more rats until the

street was filled with a stampede. A whole herd of cows went by, and hundreds of dogs

and cats, all running with wild eyes full of fear and confusion, pure terror even.

“There must be hundreds of them!”

“Thousands, every animal in the city.”

“But where…”

“The second spore.”

“Why?”

233
Gant turned at last and pulled Cartel inside. He sighed slightly, knowing the next course

of action would cause a situation with a lot of variables- Gant did not like variables.

“I don’t know exactly why Cartel, but whoever just got in touch with you over that pager

might. We’re going to the hospital.”

Cartel looked at him, and Gant could see the question in his eyes, the inner turmoil.

Despite alien spores and bizarre animal stampedes Gant could see that Cartel was still

shaken by the message.

“We know nothing Cartel. It could be a trap; it’s probably a trap. Barry, you’ve been to

the hospital, now take us back. You can brief us on the way about the hospital’s situation.

Tell those who stay behind to do nothing until we get back.”

“Uh, I wouldn’t go driving up to that hospital if I was you,” Barry’s deep voice cut in.

when I was leaving there was something real weird happening to the canyon road.”

“I’ve heard and seen a lot of weird tonight Barry,” Cartel said, unaware that he was

glaring at his friend, “So define this new weirdness for me, please,” he continued, feeling

increasingly weary. He’d asked his mind to accept a lot of things that part of him still did

not believe, and he wasn’t ready for any more.

234
“The land was sprouting odd growths, kind of like funny lookin’ trees. I think they’re

changing the very land round here Terry, somehow bending it to their will.”

“Be more specific, if you can.”

“There was geysers all over the place firing off this thick gas high into the sky, and the

rock was turning all black and smooth. There were these veins everywhere, coming

through the ground, smothering farm houses- kinda black thick tendrils with blood red

viens running through them, like the monsters have. We can’t go that way Terry, I’m

telling you.”

Terry closed his eyes and felt like crumbling there and then. What did it all mean? How

could this spongy object that he had not even seen yet be doing all this? He could

scarcely take in what had happened to Mr. Cartwright. Even what had happened to Lilly

he could fathom, because he was a cop, he was a man who had seen the worst of people

and was surprised by very little. Anything else that happened in Cave Creek he could

handle- but this, this was something he could not truly handle, and he knew it. He would

have to rely more and more on Gant, who, as wild as his story was, seemed to know so

much more than everybody else about these otherworldly things. Cartel watched him

now, watched the wheels turning behind Gants impenetrable green eyes. He had a theory

about what Barry had described, but Cartel was reluctant to ask him what it might be.

With terrible resignation he decided to wait until Gant let him in, and set his mind to

getting to Lilly again. He thought of the vast distance between them, the desert roads that

235
separated the town from the hospital. In his mind he could see Cave Creek, surrounded

by the unfeeling, creeping desert, a small isolated creature waiting to be swallowed up.

He thought of George Carter and his blasted helicopter, and wondered if George was still

alive, if Meredith was with him… if his chopper was still flyable.

“Find me George Carter,” Cartel snapped to Whatever officer was nearest, :if he’s here in

the station.”

As it turned out, George’s helicopter was on the other side of town. At least that meant it

was in good order. Barry was less optimistic; he was staring from George to Terry in

bewildered disbelief.

“How on Earth are we supposed to get to this tin can on the other side of hell?!’ he

muttered to them, eyes burning beneath his thick graying eyebrows.

“We can land on the roof if we have to, though the heli-pad is close to the main

entrance,” George Carter said in his characteristically low mumble.

“ I really wish there was someone else to fly George,” Terry said to his father in law, a

man in his mid seventies, “But right now there’s nobody else. We go armed and we take

three extra men. Gant can cover us from the clock tower with a sniper rifle. if we have to

defend ourselves we wound them- if we must kill them we do so at a distance…the

immune have to stay here and defend the town. Lee, you’ll be in charge of them. We

236
know they’re coming here, and in numbers.”

“If any of you think you are infected do not hesitate to shoot yourselves. Make sure you

do it right. I’d prefer not to waste sniper ammo on you.” Gant added matter of flatly,

though his voice had lost some of the monotone dullness that had so chilled Cartel earlier

when he interviewed him. Terry nodded grave approval to his men, and in that moment

he looked older than he ever had.

“Dirk and Lee, I want you to say here and help guard the people in the station. You are to

organize the other immune people into a defending force.”

“We could help better if we come with you,” Lee said.

“No, Gant’s coming with us, and we’re not trying to occupy the hospital, we just need to

get in and out. Besides, I’ve put my wife over the townspeople tonight too much. You are

the last line of defense for the town now. Gant thinks the enemy will siege the building

soon. Now we have an army of our own.”

Dirk nodded back grimly and put his hand firmly on Lees shoulder.

237
“He’s right,” was all Dirk said.

Barry looked anxiously at his daughter, not sure at all about leaving her here, and even

less happy about her being actually involved in the fight. The rest of his family would be

protected in the heart of the station.

“We’ll look after her Barry,” Lee said earnestly.

“No you won’t !” she snapped, “I’ve been chosen for this as much as you have!”

“Chosen?!” Barry yelled, “Don’t be getting any big ideas of destiny- this so -called

Agency scooped up a bunch of lost misfits at random and put this all on them- I doubt

they would have ‘chosen’ Margot by will!”

“Enough!” Dirk shouted, “We’re all in this now whatever happens. Do you really think

anyone in this station won’t have to fight if they come?! Really?! What do you think that

one eyed flying freak-show was about?! They’re scouting us out- seeing how many are

left and where. So, you all go do your bit and we’ll do ours!”

“That’s right Renault, cause you’re not afraid to die are you?! You don’t care either way!

What was it eh? Laid off? Girlfriend leave you cause you’re such a jackass?!”

238
Dirk flew at Barry and hit him hard across the jaw sending him sprawling. Barry reeled

more from shock than anything else. It had been a long time since he’d met anyone who

could challenge him in a fight; and he reckoned he still had not- Dirk was slender, almost

skinny, but there was a ferocity to him that made him dangerous. Something was driving

the young man, and Barry had grazed a nerve. He lashed back at the younger man,

knocking him back with a forceful uppercut that he knew had stopped bigger men than

Dirk Renault. He expected Dirk to stay down after that but instead he bounded back up

from the floor and drove his head into Barry’s stomach, forcing him into the wall. He

held him by the collar and raised his fist, but just as he brought it forward everything

stopped. He found he simply could not move his arm. Barry felt himself pushed back

harder and the younger man pulled away. Both men looked questioningly at each other

and then at the tall shadow between them. Gant stood holding Dirk back by his elbow,

with his other hand on Barry’s chest. Dirk had never known such a vice like grip. Gants

touch was like cold steel, and gave nothing when he struggled. Lee looked at him and

nodded in sympathy.

“Wasting your effort struggling,” he said through a half smirk.

Gant looked at both men with his unnerving calm and said, “ Fighting among yourselves

is not profitable to the survival of this group. Both of you are important in leadership and

decision-making roles. You are also both members of the Agency now, and as such fall

under my command. Since none of you are overseers, the formatted Agent takes charge.”

239
“How do you know we’re not overseers?!” Dirk said, defiantly but with a definite shake

in his voice.

“You are not,” Gant said in a tone of grave finality, “because I say you are not.”

For a moment a glimmer of emotion seemed to ripple across his face, but it passed

quickly and he let the two men go with a harsh jerk.

“What was that?” Barry said, as he walked away. Lee said nothing, but watched Gant

with concern as he left the room. He hoped the formatting would hold at least until

Cartel’s group got out of the hospital.

By the time they barreled out of the door again, the streets were empty, except that is, for

a large mismatched crowd of animals gathered around the crashed spore at the church.

Something about the shrill cries and wild fear in their eyes flashed before Gant again. His

formatting was losing more of its hold over him now, and in truth he felt like collapsing

to the dusty street again and howling with the beasts in rage. He knew he couldn’t do that

now. Cartel had been the pillar, the organizer of the frightened people, leader, strong, but

since he’d gotten that message his strength had left him, and he was caught in some sort

of trance like reverie now. Gant thought he was at his most vulnerable mentally. Barry

was dependable, but he was a family man, his resolve was deep, but his ability to deal

with the tragedy was limited. As strong a man as he was, that strength had never been

240
tested, things had always came easily to Barry. He had no experience with blocking out

hardship, of compartmentalizing fear or pain so he could manage it. He might crack if

things got any crazier; which is why Gant kept his theories about the second spore to

himself. That it had come from the original was obvious, but it was becoming terribly

clear to Gant that the town may already be lost. He also kept his theories about Lilly

Cartel to himself. With the first grateful feeling he had felt in years, he looked up at the

sky and seen that it was darkening.

“Barry, do you know where the hospital generator is?” Gant said, striding close to

Barry’s shoulder as they walked like gunslingers down the abandoned streets of Cave

Creek.

“Sure do,” Barry said staring ahead with tense eyes, his voice artificially confident.

“Good, you’re going to shut it down.”

“I don’t know how exactly, it may take time.”

“You just pull the pin and throw it.”

“What?”

“The grenade .”

241
Terry blinked the rain out of his eyes and the dark shape of the chopper slowly came into

focus. Of all the nights for it to rain! He suspected that this was not normal rain though.

The rules did not apply to that night. None of them. Rules that say the dead stay dead, or

the good stay trustworthy, rules that say you are safest in your bed with your family

sleeping nearby; none of them applied anymore. Only Gant had stood out as a free radical

from the rampaging unpredictability, but now he was becoming unstable too. There were

moments when Gants eyes would glow with personality, or when his speech pattern

would change to something more like human. They quickly passed, but Cartel knew he

was changing. He barely understood the ‘formatting’ that Gant kept talking about, but he

knew that had something to do with it. Gant had said it prohibits personality and

individuality, but that it was wearing off now because it had not been updated. Cartel

could not imagine what ‘updated’ meant, but he reckoned it sounded a lot like

brainwashing, indoctrinisation; things his father had told him about from the war, things

Hitler had used in the ‘Hitler Youth’ and in the media of Germany in the years leading up

to the Second World War. Now, staring through the heavily falling rain at George

Carter’s chopper, Cartel felt for the second time that night that he was about to do

something utterly, terribly crazy. A crack of thunder boomed overhead, so loud Cartel

looked up, half expecting the sky to shatter. He shuddered. What if it did, just right now,

just split down the middle and let Hell come pouring in? Is that what the intruders are

doing? Opening some kind of gateway? All of a sudden Gant was at his shoulder, his

242
approach hidden by the thunder. Cartel jumped at the clear green eyes looking into his as

he turned.

“Don’t do that!” he exclaimed irritably, and allowed his eyes to bore into Gant’s, “I

could’ve shot you.”

For a second they just stared each other out, then Gant finally broke the spell, in between

bouts of thunder, “I doubt that you would be fast enough,” he rumbled, something like

annoyance flashing in his eyes.

“Well then, good job your on my side now isn’t it?” Terry half growled back. He was

sick of Gant. Sick of his monotone drawl, sick of his all seeing green eyes that stared like

the eyes of a painting, or the one from dollar bills that had freaked him out as a child.

Most of all, Terry was sick of the fact that he needed Gant, sick of how much Lilly

needed him. The creeping feeling that Gant was using him, and could not heal Lilly at all

was always at the back of Terry’s mind.

“Everything is ready,” Gant informed Terry, back to his monotone. “The aircraft is

loaded with automatic weapons, the men have bullet proof vests- that will help them

little- and first aid equipment is also present on board. Every man has his radio. I have

acquired a flamethrower and some grenades too.”

“Time to get going then,” Terry said grimly, eyeing his men.

Once they were all on the chopper, and George had ran through an abridged version of

the pre-flight checks, the rotor blades slowly began to spin and the engine whine. This

was a search and rescue to all intents and purposes. Find the doctors and the children, get

them out. Discover if the hospital could be used as a safe-point for those at the station.

For Terry, it was a chance to bring his wife back from the dead, although he did not really

243
let himself believe that. For Gant, it meant a chance to fly over the spore and the ravine,

and test his theory about what exactly it was doing.

The wind rocked the chopper as it descended, rain streamed across the windows, and

lightning flashed all around them. To the men inside, it was like being surrounded by a

vast malicious nothingness. It looked so dark outside between lightning strikes. Soon they

were sweeping over Cave Creek, over scattered house fires and through vast columns of

smoke that towered into the sky. One of the young officers cried out and pointed towards

the cockpit window. Terry strained against his seatbelt to see, but could only see the

darkness. They were beginning to think the young man may have been seeing things

when suddenly there was another lightning burst and Terry saw it; beyond the town, out

toward the ravine, illuminated by brilliant yellow streaks of electricity were huge

columns of gas rising from large termite mound structures. In that first flash Terry

thought there had to be about fifty of them.

“What on earth are they doing out there?” Barry muttered from the back seats, gripping

his handgun and wiping a cold sweat from his hands. “ Mr Gant, you any ideas?”

Gant said nothing for a few seconds, not even looking at Barry, then he barked, “Turn

towards where the spore is- don’t fly through the pockets of gas.”

Terry opened his mouth to argue that they should go straight to the hospital, but realized

that they had to see it- that he has to see it, this object that had caused so much death.

They banked right, taking an arc that gave them a side on view of the huge gas field that

covered the desert, then, George began to maneuver into the field, between the pockets of

oily gas.

244
“The spore is right in the middle of all this looks like,” he said flatly, his eyes never

leaving the view before him. Terry looked at him in wonder- George wasn’t even

shaking, or sweating. His voice was calm and measured. It was like he was flying a few

tourists over the ravine on a holiday afternoon. Terry had always admired that calm in

George. That ability to shut down strong emotional reactions and see a thing through.

Terry had soldiered on for seven years without Lilly, and he had heard the whispers about

how brave he was, heard admiring exclamations of ‘I don’t know how he does it.’ But

those people didn’t know. They didn’t know what Terry’s house looked like on the

inside, a wrecked homage to a marriage cut short; they were not there to see Terry throw

chairs in frustration, or lie awake all night until he could take no more and brake an age

old promise to his father never to get drunk.

A startled gasp drew Terry out of his daydream, and into a nightmare. As the helicopter

cleared another thick column of smoke a huge object came into view, blocking out all

view of the sky and the desert. An immense black tower rose out of the ravine to a sharp

point. It looked leathery and organic, with folds that reminded Terry of a closed flower.

The impression given was very much one of authority, like a palace.

“It did not look like that the last time I saw it,” Gant said.

“What do you mean?”

“It was a lot smaller and more spherical eight hours ago.”

Terry found it hard to believe that the vast structure before him had ever been smaller and

spherical in shape.

“And this thing crash landed a month ago?” he said, more to himself than anyone else…

245
“and you all kept it a secret? Had secret visits? Took those ghoulish little barbs into your

homes?!”

“ Terry,” Gant said, and Terry was stunned into silence. Gant had never called him or

anyone else in Cave Creek by their first name. “ Save your anger for the foe. Your men

could not have known . Mankind is complacent to the point of having no self preservation

instincts at all sometimes. We are astonishingly trusting at times, murderously suspicious

at others. The spore was designed to seduce intelligent life with all its curiosities. In

many ways it is an oddly beautiful thing; even now, as this ‘dark tower’ it has a certain

beauty. It is in mans nature to believe that something which is aesthetically pleasing

cannot do him harm.”

The coldness had gone out of Gant’s voice, and he spoke with the color and authority of a

Shakespearian actor, “We should head west now, to the hospital. Barry, are you ready to

implement the plan we discussed?”

“What plan?” Terry queried immediately, shocked Barry and Gant had talked at all.

“Yes. But we had better hurry up before I change my mind,” Barry answered, smiling

sheepishly but with eyes full of determination. He never met Terry’s questioning glare,

but Gant answered for him.

What was left of the decimated Cave Creek police force handed out weapons to the

‘ghost town group’ with begrudging submission. Lee was watching over the loading of

nine millimeter pistols, shotguns, revolvers and a sniper rifle that Gant had brought back

from Macy’s Gun Store. A few of the locals had also brought rifles that were now passed

246
to the bunch of unlikely defenders gathered in the station armory, most of whom were

holding guns for the first time. Margot, however, the English teacher, seemed very adept

at loading a revolver and explained that she had lived alone in Phoenix since her husband

died in 1997. She had carried a gun in her handbag ever since. Colin was the most out of

his depth. Also he seemed preoccupied with the implications of teleportation, and was

busy trying to do the math’s.

“Will you leave off the physics?!” Lee said irritably. “Trust me, Gant will figure it out

anyway. Besides, the only physics I want on your mind is the physics of putting as many

bullets through as many of the intruders as possible!”

“Ok,” Colin said, nodding sheepishly.

Lee walked over to where Dirk was propped up against a wall, peering out at the street.

“We need the stronger nerves at the windows, but I’ve been looking at the plans for this

place and there is access to the roof. Ever use a scoped rifle?”

“No,” Dirk replied, not mentioning that he had never fired a shotgun either before that

day.

“Ok, I’ll ask around. We’ll put the survivors into the shuttered area and seal it. Even if

they break through they’ll have the long hall and another set of shutter to get through.”

247
“Good. What about the cells? Any way we could trap some of them?”

“Maybe. We can’t let them get among the survivors- even one gets killed close to them

and its going to be a mess in there. It’ll be over.”

“Let’s just make sure they don’t get in then,” Dirk said grimly, “But if they do, I’ll get

some bodies set up in the cells to lure them in. Then I say we hit the automatic locking

system and shut the lights off- Colin and Margot are ‘lightproofing’ the room now. We’ll

force them into hibernation like Cartel said.”

“Yea. It’s a good plan; just wish this felt more like an organized defense and less like an

old western shootout.”

“Well, there may be a way to make things more organized…or at least louder, at any

rate.”

Dirk winked and clapped a hand on Colin’s shoulder.

“Back to physics!” he said, “Colin, accompany Mr. Lee here across the street to the

bakery.”

“Where are you going?” Lee asked, irritated at being ordered around, but intrigued

248
nonetheless.

“To ask who owns the hummer parked in the street out there,” was all he said in reply as

he strolled off towards the main hall.

Lee and Colin set off from the station armed with a shotgun and a nine millimeter. Dirk

had explained his plan, which turned out to have very little to do with physics at all and a

lot to do with pyrotechnics.

“So we’re supposed to be here instead of this all powerful agency?” Colin said as they

made it inside the bakery and looked around.

“They’re were not all powerful,” Lee replied. “Just powerful enough to screw up my life

for good and keep it screwed up.”

“You’re pretty bitter, eh?”

“Yea. Let’s just get to the ovens and let the gas out, ok?

In another half hour Colin and Lee were back in the station and Dirk was outside in the

hummer, lining it up with the bakery front.

“You sure you want to do this?” he heard over his radio.

249
“Yes Lee,” he replied, “But it better be fast, there’s a lot of scuttling going on out here.

They seem to be organizing.”

With that, the wheels spun and he blitzed towards the bakery, the front of the hummer

crashing through its glass front easily, breaking it to splinters and shards. All that could

be seen of the hummer were its tail lights, glowing red in the dimness and dust of the

gaping hole left in its wake.

“Reckless fool,” Colin said, shaking his balding head and pushing his little round glassed

up into the worn crevice above a sharp nose.

“Well, we can’t miss now,” Lee said, fiddling with the flare gun in his hands. “If they

come soon we’ll have something at least to surprise them with.”

Just then gunfire echoed, and Dirk burst back into the station, slamming the door on a

tentacle that reached in for him. Colin swung a fire-axe at it, impaling it to the door

among flying splinters and blood, and the creature outside rammed the door with its jaws,

forcing it open even more. Lee opened the door fully letting the creature spill into the

room, pressed his shotgun to the back of its spongy head and fired. Then he callously put

his foot under it and with Dirk and Colin’s help kicked it out onto the street again.

“Why did you have to do it that way!?” he shouted at Dirk.

250
“Needed to crash something,” he replied curtly.

“You, have a death-wish!” Lee said angrily.

“So what if I do?!”

“You have been given a charge!,” Lee said through gritted teeth.

Dirk laughed in his face at that remark.

“Don’t be so pious man; a charge!? I don’t know what that was back in ole’ messed up

ramshackle town, but it was no charge! We were picked up at random- not chosen for

some great destiny!”

“Maybe it means nothing to you, but…”

“But what? You think you mean something to the people you worked for now?! They’re

kicking themselves that you’re the one left down here man, wake-up!”

“I was meant for this!” Lee shouted, “It’s horrible and dark yes, but it is mine to do, mine

and all of ours- don’t pretend you’re not a man who needs purpose forced on him Dirk! I

can see it- you know you weren’t happy in whatever life you were trapped in before! You

251
betray it so easily. Your world fell away not so long ago, and now you’re just running

and running. Any thrill will do, as long as the big adrenaline payoff shuts out the real

emotional toll trying to get through.”

Dirk stared at him in barely contained rage but said nothing.

“I don’t know what it was, or who. Wife, friend, father, whatever…but whatever

happened to you, use it. Channel it against the enemy- but if you cross me again I will

deal with you.”

“You sound like your friend Gant,” Dirk shot back at him before walking off into the

station’s main room to re-load his shotgun.

Beyond the reception area and the main hall the surviving inhabitants of Cave Creek

were sat wherever there was space. There was hot soup being passed around from the

cantina and many of the children were sleeping restlessly, the first of lifelong nightmares

and flashbacks taking hold as they submitted to sleep reluctantly. Adults huddled on the

floor, many with blankets wrapped around their shoulders, not to fend off the cold, but a

nameless fear, a different coldness that no one could quite identify. Some slept too,

mostly from the fatigue sorrow brings, but others were doomed to wakefulness, having

slept already that night only to be woken to terrors previously unimagined. It was a sea of

252
forlorn and fearful people that murmured quietly under the haze of exhaustion and dread

that night, and all around the room, like a low hanging mist, a strange compulsive despair

set in, stronger than the pang of bereavement or the rush of fear- it was a terrible

hollowness, a feeling none of them had truly ever felt. It spoke of something worse than

mere death, it spoke of no hope, shattered dreams… and of a great howling void. Those

who slept all saw the same thing- blackness. In the blackness was a voice, a terrible voice

that only had to whisper such was its power. The blackness was absolute, and all

encompassing, yet in the midst of it there was a deeper darkness, indiscernible at first, but

becoming more distinct as the voice spoke;

“It is all over,” the voice said, and each knew what dreams distinctive to them that it

meant; “There will be no more light, no more joy. You have no hope.”

The deeper darkness grew blacker and blacker as it spoke, until an immense towering

structure could be seen in silhouette, an unknown sight of such dread that all those

sleeping shuddered as they lay there.

“You are, every one of you, doomed.”

“There is an undisturbed section of road leading to the hospital and the generator up

ahead where I ditched a jeep earlier,” Gant’s eyes flinched for one second from meeting

253
Terry’s, then the intense green of them was turned on him again, “ We are going to drop

him down to it. He’s going to travel along the road and blow up the generator for us.”

George banked the chopper west sharply and the monstrous tower faded away into the

thick gas-field behind them. Dead ahead, across the flat plains of the desert the lights of

Cave Creek General loomed, representing the only electric lights for hundreds of miles

and acted as a foil to the organic illumination of the spore in the darkness behind.

When they were over the abandoned jeep, they lowered Barry down on a rope, holding

on for dear life, as the chopper hovered as close as it could to the desert sands. He felt the

heavy grenade belt Gant had given him around his shoulder and was very conscious of it

all of sudden. Of its destructive power. When he was five feet from the ground, a

menacing cry sounded somewhere, and Barry let himself drop to the ground. After a

dusty scramble he was up and running to the jeep. Pulling open the door, he threw

himself inside and slammed the door shut. The keys. Where had Gant said the keys

were?! He checked the overhead compartment, the glove box- idiot! They were still in

the ignition! ‘Calm down Barry’ he thought out loud. As he turned the key and the engine

came to life he felt immediate relief. Surely he was safer as long as he was inside a

moving vehicle. He heard the helicopter begin to lift off again, and looked out to see the

dust dancing in his headlights. When the chopper had left, Barry reverses the car away

from the rock it was jammed against, and pulled back to the dirt road again. He shivered

as he thought that this had been Petersons’ jeep. He had seen him only this morning,

drinking coffee in the station. He had seemed fine, normal. Better than usual actually.

Maybe that was it though. A lot of people who had seemed better had changed now.

254
Barry wondered was there a real connection, or was he just grasping at anything to try

and make sense of something he may never understand? He hit the gas, and drove on. He

had to destroy that generator before Gant and Cartel reached the hospital. That would not

take long. His radio crackled, then, “Let me know when its done Barry.” It was Cartels

voice, “And then get out of there. Take care.” Barry sighed before pressing the reply

switch, “Thanks Terry. I won’t let you down. Just tell Marie..if I don’t come back you..”

“I know. You don’t have to say any more.”

“Terry, I am mighty sorry about what happened to Lilly. You shouldn’t blame yourself. I

never told you, I felt so guilty for never inviting you over Christmas or New year..”

“You didn’t have to…”

“I know. I knew… the way your eyes were when you met me with my family, or I’d talk

about my girls or Marie.”

“I couldn’t have come Barry. It would’ve killed me. I never told you, I felt so guilty for

envying what you had. Everything I’d lost. But I knew that you understood, I knew why

you never asked me round. It’s ok. You did right by me. Let’s just end this nightmare.”

“Yes sir. I hope Mr. Gant can help Lilly.”

255
With that he cut off and drove off into the night, his eyes scanning the road and the desert

for movement. That cry he had heard as he left the chopper still haunted him. Partially

because it sounded so human. He had not driven a mile when he found the source, a small

isolated ranch. It had to be where the sound had come from, it was the only house for

miles. Barry floored the gas and sped on past. As he did he got a blurred impression of

dull red eyes staring at him from the animal enclosures. Maybe that had been the cry.

Perhaps there were still normal people inside the home. Barry hit the brakes. Why now?

He had to get to the generator! His own two girls would not let him bypass the house

without checking. He reversed, checking the powerful magnum as he did. It would only

take a moment to check.

It was a traditional log cabin with a large barn opposite and two pens for horses and cattle

nearby. Smoke drifted lazily from the chimney and a rocking chair swayed lethargically

on the porch. Apart from the jagged windows, it might have seemed peaceful. The door

lay ajar, inviting and dreadful at the same time. In his shock Gant finally realized it was

the Ridley home. George Ridley had been found dead at Fincher’s Hill he remembered.

He had been horribly mutilated, with a large section of his back simply dug out. Barry

remembered thinking it looked awfully like something had crawled out of George

Ridley’s back. The wife and daughter must be at the house somewhere. In what state was

another matter.

As he entered the house, he could see the quaint living room. The homemade furniture

that George was so famed for in Cave Creek, the homely touch his wife had brought to

256
that isolated farmhouse was all around. The living room was right in front after he

entered the house. To his left there was an arch way into the brightly decorated kitchen, a

dizzying yellow. The kitchen was small but had everything. It was very well organized,

with everything to hand. Barry shivered bodily as he thought of the scene in his own

kitchen that had begun the nightmare for his family. He left the kitchen and headed back

into the living room. In the top left corner of the living room there were stairs leading up.

Barry made his way tentatively over to them, eyeing the toys scattered around the room

as he did. The television crackled softly in front of a large family sofa.

Not sure if he should shout out, Barry instead began to tip toe upstairs. He left his holster

unbuttoned, in case he needed the gun, but he did not draw the weapon. He did not want

to shoot George Ridley’s family because he was jumpy. It was dark upstairs. Barry

flicked on the lights and the hall before him was illuminated, albeit dimly.

“Stupid economy lights,” Barry muttered, “Credit crunch still a pain in my ass in the

middle of the alien invasion.”

The lights being out was not good, he knew they liked the dimness. On the other hand it

might simply be the Ridley’s trying not to draw attention to themselves. It was hard to

know. Barry drew his gun anyway.

‘Come on for goodness sake! Someone call out to me, just don’t jump out!’

257
There was also the possibility that the Ridley’s may attack him if they thought he was one

of them.

“Is anyone here?!” Barry finally yelled, in his powerful booming voice, “This is officer

Barry Hedges, you hear!?”

“Officeeeer,” replied a hissing drawl.

“That’s right, I’m here to help. Who am I speaking to? Where are you?”

“Stay back!” the hissing voice answered, and then a weak cough sounded.

“Misses Ridley, is that you mam? Are you hurt?”

“No, but I am here too,” Mrs. Ridley’s voice replied, “please don’t hurt him officer.”

“Hurt who? Are you hurt mam, are you children with you?”

“They are. They’re right here. Don’t hurt my husband. Please.”

“Mam, your husband,” Barry paused, he wanted to just come out with it but couldn’t. A

hundred times he had told people their loved ones were gone, but he did not feel like it

now. He had come to the house to offer hope, but again, this night refused to allow it.

258
“I know what you want to say officer, but he’s not dead. George is alive.”

“Mrs. Ridley, your husband is dead. I’m sorry, we found him…”

“He’s here with us.”

Barry froze. Cold sweat gripped him. He felt uncontrollably afraid. Her words pierced

any semblance of control he might have had. What he had seen at the station still haunted

him. What was this? Was he having a panic attack? Never in his life had he had such a

thing. Twenty years on the force and never a glimmer…

He fumbled the latch on his holster, forgetting it was already undone. The cool steel of

his nine mil comforted him only the slightest.

“Officeeeer,” said the hissing, sickly voice again, seeming to float into the dark hall like a

vile smell.

All comfort faded away.

“Come out of there, leave them alone. I’m the armed one, you deal with me.”

“Yooou,” slithered the voice, “Do not understand Barry.”

259
“How do you know my name!? Come out of there!?”

“We grew up together…remember, on Ma Fincher’s land, both chasing Amy Beth?”

“See?” Laura Ridley said, her voice aching with tiredness and joy intertwined. Was she

merely playing along?

“Laura, it’s one of them- it’s been inside his head Laura, it knows all about him, well

enough to pretend…”

“This is my husband officer!”

“I know it looks like George Laura, but…”

“It doesn’t! it looks nothing like my husband!” Laura relied, breaking into demented

sobs, laced with fear and loathing, hope and joy; the tears of a mind on the verge of

madness.

Barry approached the open door on his left. A thin gossamer curtain hung limply over the

door, smeared slightly with a transparent slime, glistening with blood. The ends of the

curtain were pulled up, wrapped around a little bundle in a shady corner. Laura Ridley

and her two young kids, one three, the other five, huddled around the shrouded frame,

260
wide eyed, tear streaked, in shock, numbed. Barry peered at the shrouded figure. Muted

green and grey, little knuckles grasping the curtain to itself in what looked like shame,

limbs bunched up; Barry thought he saw knees, but wasn’t sure. Inside the tight shroud a

slithering motion sickened his gut. A tentacle? Barry tensed his grip on the nine mil.

Big empty eyes stared. Maybe three. Possibly just two. Black thinning hair protruded

from a bloated little forehead above the big eyes. Beneath the translucent curtain a torn

piece of check shirt was gripped in little fingers,

“He’s not like the others,” Laura Ridley said, “See?”

“But I saw your husband, I watched his autopsy…” Barry’s head spun.

“It,” began the figure, “was strange at first. Just black. Consciousness without perception.

I had had the dreams for weeks. The fits of violent urges, the memories that were not my

own. I felt some will other than my own begin to take over. Sometimes I could feel a

terrible pain in my rib cage, way at the back. Other times I could not see with my eyes,

but with the eyes of another being. It wasn’t working, it kept saying. Then the blackness

came. I felt, heard, saw nothing. I only knew I was there. When perception began to come

back, I was trapped in a dark, tight place. Surrounded by fluid, hearing the weak beating

of a heart somewhere. I was frantic. I dug my way out, and crawled free. I was so

confused. I thought I had been reborn, but as I looked around, I discovered I had dug my

way out of my own body, through my back.”

261
Barry stood numbed, watching the pathetic creatures small weak mouth moving. Rather

than the creatures mind, George Ridley’s had survived, now in another form. Barry

wondered had that happened to anyone else. Gant should be told. It might be important.

Could he take them with him? No, he decided. They were probably safer in their home.

He could pick them up on his way back. If he came back. The nervous huddle of bodies

around George Ridley, moved, and out stepped Laura. She lifted him up as tenderly as

she may have a newborn child, paying no attention to the multiple tendrils and mal

formed limbs. She moved him to a small table at the end of the hall, below a dim

window. The children followed her, not moving their eyes to look at Barry.

“I’m leaving now. You’ll be safe if you wait for me,” Barry said quietly. They did not

turn around. As he stood at one end of the hall and they at the other, he watched the

mothers shoulders shudder as she bent over the hissing figure in the table. The scene was

unbearable for Barry, and all of sudden all he wanted to do was hold Marie and daughters

in his arms. He left.

Bright lights suddenly appeared in every window across the street from the station.

“Lee!” Dirk called, “Get over here!”

262
Lee hurried over, a large sniper rifle in his hands.

“What the…”

“It’s them, they’re in every building that isn’t ours by the looks of things.”

“I’d better get to the roof; keep contact with the two ways- I’ll report once I’m up there.”

Once lee was gone, Dirk peered back out. The Gun Store, the bakery, the various family

homes along the main road into Cave Creek- all were glowing from almost every window

with an intense red light that pulsed to a lighter shade intermittently.

“There must be hundreds of them,” he muttered to himself, grasping the shotgun tightly

as he watched.

Then, at the bottom of the street, almost beyond his field of vision, there was movement

around the smaller ‘spore.’ Unwieldy shapes lumbered out of the gloom towards the

Station, some huge, others man-sized or smaller. Dirk frowned as he remembered

something Gant had said about the second spore trying to re-create the flora and fauna of

the intruder home-world. He had a feeling he wasn’t going to like the wildlife show they

were about to get.

His radio crackled and Lee’s voice said, “Man, this is weird! This is…are you seeing

263
this?!”

“Yep. Haven’t got as good a view as you, but I reckon I see enough.”

“Believe me, ‘good’ is not the word I’d use.”

“Are they dangerous looking?”

“I’d say ! Isn’t there anything from this planet that isn’t a predator?! Some of them aren’t

exactly all alien either- like the early human/intruder hybrids.”

“If we kill them you think they’ll infect us?”

“Not us, but maybe the survivors. This could get really bad man, that big one- I’m sure

you can see him- he looks like he could stop a Sherman tank!”

“Why do you assume it’s a he?!” Louise Johnson called out as she arrived beside Dirk.

“Now is not the time!” Lee shouted back.

“Everyone’s ready,” Louise replied shakily.

“Good,” Lee answered, sounding confident, and then he fell silent as everyone set

264
themselves to wait. On the roof, Lee felt anything but. Babysitting monsters- it was better

than fighting them, he decided there and then.

“Be careful when you fight the monsters,” he muttered darkly, “ Lest you become one.”

He had always like the quote, finding it interesting that it had come from a German

philosopher. If only they had been careful about the Nazis like that, he always thought.

Still, he never thought it could become literally true. On the street below, stirring in the

twilight gloom, writhing tentacles snaked and twisted, and off to his right, a bizarre

parade of monstrous forms; cats with snake-like bodies, horses split down the middle

sprouting strange glowing sea-like organisms, transparent dogs, worse were the complete

alien forms- wholly unrecognizable as life- and the big one; a huge lumbering giant on

many legs that had a maw straight from the darkest dream ever dreamt. The enemy

slithered out from every window and door, their spongy transparent bodies shot through

with blood red light, terrible jaws hid behind slimy orifices that served as their heads.

Some half digested bodies were still visible inside the more bloated of the intruders. They

moved forward on strong tendrils that all inside knew were hideously strong.

“Get ready,” he spoke into his radio, and the words echoed all around the silent police

station. Dirk closed his eyes momentarily, letting all the rage of the past few days flow

into him. Now it had an outlet- and what an outlet it was! Here in a town he had never

heard of, he had found a purpose. He barely understood it, but he knew that it meant

something.

265
‘If she could see me now,’ he thought. ‘Bet Keith would be hiding under a table about

now.’

He smiled at the notion, then he aimed carefully out of his window, and waited for Lee to

give the order. Margot, Louise and Colin also manned windows along the station front

where the shutters were open a little to allow gunfire out. Lee was on the roof with Colin,

who was armed with a powerful rifle..

Cave Creek was transformed into a world of red haze and shifting inhuman shapes. All

Lee could see was red and shadows. The strange creatures were terrible silhouettes

against the scarlet light, the big one looming almost tall enough to see Richard Lee on top

of the police station roof.

The street seemed completely taken up with the enemy, crowding close to the station

door like frenzied fans at a concert; except that they were fans of cannibalizing whole

worlds. As they drew closer Lee gave the order. A row of flashes erupted from the front

of the station, followed by a flare from the roof and the bakery across the street exploded

in a raging fireball. Wooden debris was thrown against the station front and bounced off

the metal shutters that protected the windows. The enemy massing in the street were torn

to shreds or thrown to the ground in an instant and the Bakery next door caught fire.

“Dirk!” Lee shouted into his radio.

266
“I see it! We got a bit overenthusiastic with the gas, but look what it’s done to them!”

“Don’t be too sure, there seems to be movement all over town now!” Lee gasped. It was

hard to tell if any of the shifting shadows through the thick pillar of drifting smoke that

joined the red haze now were human, but Lee did not need to see clearly to know.

Somehow he could feel it. There was no one left. Cave Creek. Population 4291. 200

human. 4727 intruder or dead. He shivered, a sensation that seemed to burrow its way

through his whole body from his head down through his spine. Looking to the left,

beyond Cave Creek, he could see pillars of gas rising into the air from what looked like a

huge industrial field. Above the gas field the sky was darker, and was somehow shot

through with a strange luminescence, like that strange purple glow that appears over cites

only…it wasn’t purple…it was..what was it?!

“You should see this,” Lee said to Dirk over the two way, “I cannot be, it’s so strange…

but I’m pretty sure what I’m seeing is a new color…”

“What?”

“You heard me right; out over the ravine where they say the object fell- I guess I’m

looking at an immense field full of geysers. Above them the sky is...well it’s a new color!

That’s the only way I can say it!’

267
“Where’d the geysers come from?!”

“I think they… grew them...”

“For what?”

“I don’t know. Evil. It’s the only word that comes to me Dirk. They’re re-grouping now.

get ready, this is it for real. No more special moves or cheats.”

“It’s a shootout then. They might not make it past the shutters.”

“No, they will. Didn’t you see the car across the street earlier?”

“Yea,” was all he replied, and then, as the red twilight rose again, as if from the depths of

Hell itself, the first row of creatures lunged forward all at once, springing into the air

towards the station.

“Now!” Lee shouted into his radio, and every gun along the station front fired. Some of

the intruders got hit, transparent bodies spilling half digested human remains. Others

crashed into the station walls or shutters, but none got through. They reeled back and

sprang again, this time some wrapping tendrils around telegraph poles and climbing. Lee

beat his fist against the station roof in anger at himself for not having them cut down. He

aimed his rifle and fired just as the creature nearest to the roof began to reach a sickening

268
appendage for the ledge. As the bullet bit it snapped back, barely clinging to the pole but

hanging on.

They fell back then, and came forward again, more slowly, with intent. The effect was

mesmerizing, and the intruders held an eerie beauty in that moment akin to deep sea

jellyfish or squid. Beyond the red halo around them and the smoke that billowed in an

increasing wind there was only the dark, as black as the depths of the sea. Soulless eyes

peered out from transparent masses held up by scores of tendrils that seemed to float

effortlessly. Lee knew they must be packed with muscles to do so and shivered at the

thought of one of them gripping his waist and squeezing until his lungs spilled out of his

chest and his eyes popped out. Then the sound of twisting metal began, a screeching

sound that sent tremors into his soul. For the first time he realized their intent was real.

They were trying to kill them all. They wanted in and were determined. More than that-

angry. They had not expected resistance like this.

Margot was watching a thick green tendril snaking deliberately under one corner of her

shutter, pushing the metal back as if it was tinfoil, little ripples crossing its surface as

muscles worked closely under the skin. Shuddering, she stood back and fired off a

shotgun shell. The tendril exploded and shrunk back under the window. Then a ferocious

banging commenced on the shutters, and Margot felt pure terror run through her- her

enemy was obviously furious. In that moment it was not her enemies difference from her

that scared her, it was that one display of similarity that did it - they felt, thought, and

raged, just like us.

269
“The shutters are going!” Margot shouted down across to the others.

“We’ve had no trouble yet.”

“Trust me, they are,” she replied shakily trying to look like the sarcastic English teacher

she had been before, but looking instead terribly old and haggard, her face as white as her

hair. As if to confirm what she had just said the tearing and twisting of metal intensified,

only now at every shutter. Upstairs Lee could hear it.

“Is that what I think it is?” he asked Dirk as he fired off another shot.

“ ‘fraid so! They’re coming through. Five minutes and they’ll be all over us.”

Below was chaos. Gunfire echoed everywhere and shouts filled the air for more ammo to

be passed out. Colin grappled with one at his window that had gotten all of its tendrils

inside. It had grabbed his gun and pulled it to itself, then in a moment that seemed to

stand still in time, it had carefully held the gun up and turned it around to face him. With

a smaller tendril from beneath its main body wrapped around the trigger it had fired.

Colin barely escaped as he ducked behind the window. Wood splinters went everywhere,

blitzing into his left shoulder blade as he bent with his back to the wall below the window

270
ledge. When he got back up the window was swarming with tendrils, and the creature

was pulling itself up and in. Now it had Colin by the arms, pulling them apart with

terrible strength. He screamed in agony as he felt muscles begin to tear and bones

dislocate. Dirk glanced away from his window in time to see and charged over, hitting

the creature with the butt of his rifle. It huge needle teeth flew out of its hideous face and

Dirk caught them with his gun before they could imbed themselves in Colin’ neck. It bit

down on the gun, puncturing the barrel, and Dirk pulled the trigger. The gun barrel

exploded taking the intruders head with it. Teeth exploded out like nails from a bomb and

imbedded themselves into Dirks upper left arm and side. He pulled them out with disgust

and pushed the dead enemy back out into the street. He felt like falling to the floor there

and then but as he looked back to his window he could see more tentacles snaking

through. Further along Margot and Colin were firing into similar masses of tendrils,

blood red, gripping, grasping, crawling like living things in their own right, each of which

seemed to have sensory perception beyond mere feeling alone. When they gripped an arm

or a neck and began to squeeze, they bloated and bulged, as if they were full of fluid.

They could become transparent at will or any other color. Transparent was the worst.

Fleshy pale with muscles, veins and sometimes bone visible beneath. Often the stomach

was visible, and the remains of victims leered out, maybe a friend or a family member.

The intruders heads were usually pulled back inside skin flaps, but when transparent, the

‘face’ completely taken up with teeth and jaw, was visible. Spider eyes gazed unfeelingly

out, beady and dead, shark-like and as black as night, yet full of purpose beyond emotion

or intelligence. These horrors now pushed through, and no matter how many fell more

replaced them. Not that they fell easily. If tendrils were shot off, they kept coming. The

271
only sure way to kill them was to destroy the head or spill the stomach contents; or so it

seemed- all were learning on the job, this new Agency, this group chosen at random to

preserve the town of Cave Creek, were learning how to fight their enemy on the job.

On the roof, Lee was blasting away with mostly headshots, but was experimenting too

when he could. There was little time. Anything that stopped them was good enough.

When they were hit they bled strange colorless blood that stained the dusty road of the

town.

They were in the lobby now, thirty at least, and all the survivors had fallen back behind

upturned tables or filing cabinets. The only one who wasn’t with them was Colin, who

had had his shoulder dislocated so badly that he had passed out from the pain and been

hurriedly carried back to the hallway. It had been deemed too high a risk to move him to

the main room where the townsfolk were hiding, but now it was looking like everyone

was going to have to fall back to the hall. There was just too many of them. There were

scores of them lying dead in the lobby, like chopped fish bait, among the still writhing

tentacle segments, but still they poured through the windows. Thuds sounded overhead as

some crashed through upstairs windows too, to begin breaking through locked doors. Lee

was getting cut off, but could not leave the roof. He was doing too much good. If it was

not for his sniping the new Agency of Cave Creek would have fallen back much sooner.

“Lee, pack it in- you’re gonna get trapped,” Dirk shouted into his radio.

272
“Can’t man, I’m stopping a third of them barely- fall back now.”

“Why haven’t the others attacked yet?”

“The animal creatures? I don’t know- they’re not doing anything in particular- no wait-

yes they are; they’re going through the same cycle the human infected did. Looks like

they’re killing themselves, but…but they seem to be infecting the enemy!”

Dirk fired a devastating shot at the intruder currently gripping at his window and took a

glance outside. Sure enough, like a wave moving from the right flank of the enemies

ranks, they were falling and mutating with horrible speed. Some of them were already

cocooning.

“They really are tooth and claw aren’t they?” Lee said grimly.

“Whatever keeps them off our backs.”

“The healthy intruders have turned their attention to the cocoons; they’re…oh no! Get

down!”

Suddenly a cocoon came bursting through one of the front windows and slammed into the

far wall with a sickening thud, then slopped to the ground. Five or six more were raised

like coffins in a bizarre funeral procession, then came blasting towards the station like

273
missiles fired from siege weaponry. Two more came flying into the room, one of them

hitting Colin and throwing him back to the ground then resting awkwardly on top of him.

The intruder inside it struggled inside its opaque prison.

“Get this thing off me!’ Colin shouted out, and Dirk sprung to his aid. First he tried to lift

it off, yelling as he did for everyone to fall back, but when it proved too heavy he decided

to kick it as hard as he could. After a few furious kicks it rolled off Colin unto the floor.

Dirk dragged Colin to his feet and towards the hall with the others as they retreated.

“They’ll have to funnel to get in here!” Dirk shouted as he took up position behind an

upturned table in the hall. The others nodded with determination but they all knew that if

something did not change soon the station would be overrun. Outside in the lobby the

three cocoons that were inside were beginning to crack and split as newborn alien fauna

kicked and clawed its way to life. three powerful, spindly creatures came spilling out,

squid like bodies with four three-jointed legs that ended in wicked upturned hooks that

slid and clicked on the marble floor of the station. Two thirds of their bodies were taken

up with a terrible mouth, seemingly over-run by teeth that grew in every direction and

length. There were no eyes. They stood for a moment, looking absurdly like awkward

newborn giraffes trying to find their feet at the end of long gangly legs. Then, in tandem

they turned away from the horrified humans and began to inflate their bodies slightly, as

if breathing in. Any intruders near the windows pulled back. Then, without a seconds

hesitation, the new creatures lunged forward, pulling their four legs in close to their

streamlined bodies as they shot through the windows. They fell upon the enemy with

274
horrific grace.

Barry Johnson watched the world blitz towards him; he registered the sand dunes and

potholes, but made no attempt to avoid them. Normally, driving at eighty miles an hour

over such terrain would have taken the heart from him, but not after what he had just

witnessed at the Ridley home. Nothing as petty as crashing a car would ever cause his

heart to tremor again. ‘Dear God help us all’, was all he could think, wide eyed fear

etched into his every feature, tears- not sorrow, or pain, tears of fear ran down his face.

Every other emotion was smothered- natural formatting in a way. He was hurtling along

the off -road to Cave Creek General that ambulances used. It would lead him straight to

the emergency entrance if he kept going, but he wasn’t heading there, he was going for

the backup generator down a small, narrow road off to the right. The generator room was

a small concrete structure surrounded by an eight foot barbed wire fence. Barry could see

it now, in the bobbing headlights of the pickup for once looking foreboding, as if it was a

towering fortress. He glanced down at the belt of hand grenades rolling around slightly in

the passenger seat, and shivered. By the time he looked up it was too late. Something

flashed in the headlights and before he even had the chance to break he had hit it. Hard.

The pickup lost traction as Barry hit the brakes, and the back spun out and round. Almost

immediately a mass of tendrils shot up before the glaring headlights and eclipsed his view

275
out of the front window. Each tendril ran through a dazzling array of colors, lit from

somewhere beneath the skin, and the creature hissed, a terrible, malice filled sound

reminiscent of a komodo dragon. Cracks began appearing all along the windscreen as the

whole truck rose and shuddered, and the hissing became a deathly scream. It was under

the truck, trapped. Again the front of the pickup rose, more violently this time, and Barry

got a terrible impression of the creatures strength. It would get free soon, he was sure. As

the roof began to buckle under the gripping tendrils the window beside him shattered,

sending shards of pain into his face and neck. Barry yelled in agony and kicked open the

door, grabbing his shotgun from the backseat, his eyes sweeping over the grenade belt as

he did. He froze as new terror, more immediate than the incomprehensible beast beneath

his truck struck him; one of the grenades had shaken loose and was rolling around on the

floor. The pin. The pin was gone. Barry grabbed the remaining grenades and threw

himself out of the open truck door, hitting the dusty ground hard and scrambling up as

fast as he could. He felt something very powerful crush his ankle, and turned to see the

creature, still half trapped under the front of his truck, one tendril wrapped around his

ankle. He raised the shotgun, fired into the tendril, and turned to run. Just as he did the

truck erupted in a searing fireball, throwing Barry into the air for what seemed like

minutes. Lying in the sand, Barry could see nothing except the perfect clear sky. He

could hear the fire crackling, and occasionally a small explosion, but he could see no

light from the fire, or debris of any kind nearby. He could not hear the creature anymore.

In his shock and pain he thought he had been somehow rescued. Eventually he tried to

get up, and a terrible pain ripped through his foot and leg. Falling to the dust again, he

noticed the blood leaking from his crushed shoe. He tried to take it off but the pain was

276
too extreme. It was clear that the foot had been crushed to a bloody pulp. Barry just

wanted to lie back on the sand and go to sleep under the clear Arizona sky like he had

when he was a boy camping with his brothers, but he knew he couldn’t give up now. The

generator- Cartel and Gant were still heading for Cave Creek General. Barry had no idea

how much time he had lost, lying in the sand, but he knew that he was close to the

generator room. With supreme effort he got unto his front, and began to crawl on his

hands and knees up the unforgiving sand dune he had been lying in. Every foot gained

meant frustration and terrible pain, but eventually he made it to the top of the dune, and

could see the burning mass of metal that had been his pickup below. He tumbled down

the other side of the dune, and let out a scream at the bottom that echoed far across the

desert. Then he began the agonizing pull beyond his truck toward the faint red fence

lights of the generator room. The hospital loomed behind him in the near distance. As he

crawled past the burning truck he could see fleshy remains scattered all over the sand,

bits of tendril, teeth, a thick black blood-like substance was everywhere.

“Got you,” he muttered, grimacing from the pain as his foot caught on a rock, then he

continued on, praying the others were not at the hospital yet. The crawl was agonizing,

and seemed to last forever.

‘I can’t fail Marie and the girls.

I can’t fail Terry.

I can’t fail Laura Ridley and her kids’.

277
He was sure his foot wasn’t bleeding any more. It was too crushed to bleed, but it hurt so

much.

He continued on. He dragged himself with his hands, elbows, fingertips, pushed himself

with his knees, his good foot. He could taste blood and sand, could feel the sticky black

lifeblood of his felled adversary on his face and neck. The fence was close now, though

opening the locked front gate was going to be a problem. As he reached it he pulled

himself up half a foot by his fingers. Then he collapsed back to the sand. He tried again.

He fell. There is no way he was letting go. He held on, one hand over another. The next

time he fell he managed to hold on with one hand. He reached up with the other one, his

whole upper body trembling, and started to drag his good knee along until he could

support himself on his good foot. His elbows were rubbed raw with sand burns and his

good leg trembled much under his weight, but he pulled himself up to the padlock and

wedged himself against the gate. Then he pulled out his pistol and blew the padlock right

off. The gate gave way and he fell through, cursing himself for ending up on the ground

again. The generator sat before him. Such an innocent looking box shaped object,

humming away in the silence. Barry looked at it with disgust and opened its maintenance

compartment. He rolled the grenade around his hand, staring at it, wondering at its

destructive power. For a second he asked himself why human beings engineered ways to

kill each other, when there are so many other ways to die already. When death causes us

so much pain. Then he realized he had a problem. He could never run fast enough to

escape the blast. He would have to throw the grenade. As fast as he could he began to

hobble back to the gate, taking a breather once there, then, ignoring his pain, he shuffled

beyond the gate again, gripping the grenade. Steadying himself as much as he could, he

278
turned, pulled the pin and threw the grenade. He had been a fair pitcher in high school

and the grenade sailed in a satisfying arc toward the open gate, but at the last second it hit

the fence, and bounced back out towards him. Barry through himself to the ground, and

covered his face just as the grenade went off throwing sand high into the air. Covered in

hot sand, Barry pulled himself unto his elbows and turned painfully around. The

generator was still there. So was the fence. Lights began to appear on the horizon; red

lights. Deep angry red lights, bobbing fluidly. Barry threw another grenade. It inside the

gate but missed the generator, exploding against the far side of the fencing instead. More

red lights. Closer now. Barry looked down. Two grenades left. He would have to get

closer. If this one missed he would have no choice but to place it inside the generator

himself and try to run. The red lights were not red lights anymore, but writhing tendrils,

beady eyes, sharp teeth, there were so many of them. Barry turned with calm he did not

know he could muster and threw the grenade perfectly into the generator. Before it even

exploded he had turned to his attackers and threw his last grenade. They scattered as it

approached, wheeling away. Some of them were taken in its blast, but most escaped. The

generator went up, sending shards of the fence into the air, chopping through the

intruders, cutting Barry’s face and arms. When he opened his eyes, they were gone. The

distant lights of the hospital were out. Barry collapsed unto the sand, listening to the quiet

of the night. Suddenly he realized he did not know what to do next. Keeping his pistol

close, he began to crawl back towards the road. Back towards the Ridley house.

279
All too quickly they were over the hospital car park, over the helipad far below. The

lights were still on.

“He should have destroyed the generator by now. We should head to the roof and wait at

least,” Terry said, looking down.

Cars were scattered away from the hospital, some crashed into parked cars. An

ambulance was wedged into one wall near the emergency entrance, smoke pouring from

its bonnet. Dark shapes flitted between the parked cars.

“Don’t think the helipad is a great idea,” George shivered the words.

“The roof it is then,” Terry said, happy to defer to George’s judgment. It did not look

very complicated or dangerous, landing in the flat, wide roof. There was plenty of room,

and easy entrance to the hospital. They would just have to work their way down once

inside. That was the complicated, dangerous bit. The rain made George Carter cautious

on his approach, and every so often there was a gust of wind that rocked the whole

chopper, shredding the nerves of most men on board. Terry observed them; they were

scared to death and wound up to snap, he knew.

The small helicopter angled ever closer to the roof, George making small compensations

for the wind all the time. The closer they got, the more perilous landing appeared. Three

feet to go. Two feet. One. Then, just as George was confident he could put her down

280
safely, the front windscreen seemed to come rushing in towards them. George’s hand was

jerked back and the chopper bucked wildly, tail rotors swinging into the ground and

snapping one by one like match sticks. Broken shards hit the main body of the wounded

machine like bullets, and one man cried out that he’d been shot. One of them was in the

cockpit, it’s tentacles wrapped around Terry’s throat. Gant had tried to shout when he

saw it lunge for the chopper, but it had been far too late for that. He was pushing to free

himself from the cluster of now terrified police officers at the back of the up turned

chopper. As George fought to keep the machine above ground, another shard, this time

from the tail fin, ruptured the engine and a loud boom rang out. There was a tremendous

impression of heat and the chopper was thrown violently out over the edge of the

building. Gant was shoved against the window in time to see the entire tail of the chopper

plummet to the vehicles below in a melted blaze. Spinning wildly, and losing altitude, the

chopper pulled further and further from the hospital. Gant pulled himself forward,

shoving the flailing men around him back. he grabbed the back of Terry’s seat and held

on with white knuckles. The fire was in the back now, all around the young officers. One

of them was on fire already and panicking, slid the door open and threw himself out. The

chopper lurched violently and Gant swung perilously close to the door, just holding on.

Terry was struggling to stay conscious. He could see George beside him, fighting

desperately with the helicopter controls to keep what was left of it in the air, could hear

the deafening hissing of the creature and see it’s malevolent face right in front of him,

those huge teeth, the folds of fat beneath its neck expanding as it breathed. He knew he

was going to die. Then all of a sudden the tendril let go, whipped away from him so fast

that it jerked his head forward roughly. Gant’s powerful hands reached for the creature,

281
but instead of pushing it out, he grabbed it by its tentacles and pulled it further inside the

chopper. It disappeared to Terry’s view. The blackness around his field of vision faded

enough for him to see the hospital get further away, very quickly, to see the ground rise

into view, as if the desert was coming up to swat them from the sky. There was a terrific

grinding noise, and a shuddering so strong Terry was sure it would break his back- then

the sand seemed to be rushing hungrily in through the broken windows, and he could hear

the creature screaming in panic and rage, and he felt the most ghoulish elation at the

thought that it was scared. The world spun, went red, went black, stopped, and then

exploded.

It was cold. Bitterly cold. There was sand in Terry’s ears and mouth, even his eyes stung.

His right arm ached and his neck throbbed with every pulse. He could smell smoke and

fuel. Not good. Somewhere, distant it seemed, he could hear the creature screeching.

There was a human voice somewhere too, calm but rough, unforgiving and implacable.

Gant was alive. Terry could not hear the other men. He could smell Sunday roast, but

knew that it was nothing of the sort. Slowly he opened his eyes, ready to process the

scene. He’d witnessed the aftermath of crashes of all sorts, but never been involved in

one. Some part of his mind was angry that Gant was still alive and his officers dead.

Another part was relieved. Gant could help Lilly. Was there no hell so deep that he could

not think of her? The first thing he could see were the rotor blades, gnarled above him

like old fingers pointing to the sky. Smoke drifted across his vision, through the twisted

blades. Beyond them were the stars. Slowly he turned to his side, and was glad to feel no

obstruction to his doing so and that all his limbs were still functioning. He felt a terrible

282
pain near his kidneys and feared he may be bleeding internally. For once he envied

Gant’s nano machines. Glass dug into his hands as he pushed himself up, leaving blood

stains in the sand behind him. He could see blood smears from glass cuts in his back

leading from the shell of the helicopter to where he was lying. Gant must have dragged

him out of the wreckage.

George. Where was he?!

Terry frantically turned his head, ignoring the throbbing in his neck.

Lilly’s father- if we can wake her and I have to tell her he’s gone…that I involved him in

this!

George was on his knees, desperately performing CPR on a young police officer. Terry

hurried over, relieved beyond words and was about to aid him when he saw that the

young man had no legs below the waist, and a terrible slash through his chest and

shoulder. His eyes were opened and glassy. There was blood everywhere. He was clearly

dead. Terry put a firm hand on George’s shoulder, but he kept going.

“He’s gone George. Are you hurt?”

“No. I mean, he is gone, but I’m…I’m ok, only…I’m sure my ankles broken, but that

283
doesn’t matter…this kid was twenty four; so young.”

“Yea. Harry Linton. Good kid, promising cop. Come on George, we have to look at your

ankle.”

Once Terry got George sorted, he fell asleep quickly.

“Let him sleep,” a voice cut in, “He didn’t injure his head.”

A warm glow came from an outcropping of rock about thirty yards from the wreckage,

and there was one rotor blade sat upright, wedged into the desert sand. All the time Terry

had been helping George, Gant had stood shouting at the rotor blade it seemed, but as

Terry got closer he could see one of the abstract impaled on it, it’s tentacles just little

stumps writhing uselessly in the air. The remains of them were scattered all around Gant,

who stood there holding that huge hunting knife he had taken from Macy’s. He turned

hauntingly to Terry as he approached, his face severe and his eyes glowing in the fire

light.

“ Red is definitely fear,” he said, wiping his knife with a torn corner of his coat, “ Or

pain, or alarm. Although they were able to use speech while in a human mind, their

natural form of communication is color and light. Possibly odor plays some part too. It

may speak to its kind through a combination of color and odor, much as we use sounds

284
and facial expressions. It appears to have very few facial muscles. The sounds it makes

do not appear to be communicative, maybe sonar? It can change its skin pigmentation at

will and it’s body is full of bacteria which allow it to glow, much like a squid. Oh, and

it’s ugly.”

Terry swayed on his feet, feeling a curious coldness gathering inside him suddenly.

“Come here,” Gant said, and held up a PDA-like device level with Terry’s stomach, “

You have sustained no internal injuries, and you are now immune to the infection.”

Terry looked questioningly at Gant, the answer eluding him in his shocked state.

“I injected a number of nano-machines into your blood stream- they will do you no harm,

but you do not have the equipment to process their reports. The cold you felt was them

swarming inside you in order to boost their signal to this receiver.”

Terry wasn’t actually sure he liked that idea any better than internal bleeding after all.

Seeing his bewildered expression, Gant assured him, “They can’t format you without the

right chemical injection, don’t worry.”

Terry turned his attention to the struggling creature impaled on the rotor blade.

He felt an awful rage rush through him, and he lunged for Gant’s knife. Gant stepped

aside easily, and Terry instead began kicking the creature in what he reckoned was its

285
chest with his big boots.

“No, Terry! There’s no point! I am trying to decipher how they communicate. That won’t

help!”

Terry didn’t stop, and Gant had to throw him to the ground. He pulled himself up,

glowering at the beast.

“What did you do to it?” Terry asked, observing the hasty stitching in the creatures torso.

“Did you save it Gant?!”

“No. I had to stitch up its chest cavity to prevent the stomach being used as a weapon. It

ejects it, attached to powerful muscles that draw it back once it has enveloped its prey.”

“Do you think they’re animals?”

“No, not these. These are as clever as we are, maybe cleverer.”

“It’s hard to believe such a thing could be intelligent. The way they live...something has

been bothering me; Millie said the same thing Cartwright did just before she became one

of those cocoons…”

“Yes, Macy the gun shop owner said something that led me to believe he was speaking

286
for his dead assistant..”

“Do you think that when the infection spreads it takes the mind of the killed creature with

it?”

“The consciousness, yes, I do. It is clear that this is a survival mechanism of some

sophistication. The memories and experiences of the original stored in the DNA of a

virus, ready to be copied to a brain, that would then begin to transform the host physically

as well.”

“But that means given the right circumstances they could be immortal?”

“Possibly. If there was always an available host. Maybe even if there was not one. Most

scientists believe that normal bacteria and viruses can live indefinitely, so even without a

host, it could simply lurk in waiting for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.”

“How would you contain something like that?”

“Maybe we can’t. Some micro organisms can survive nuclear explosions, or space travel.

The spore itself, clearly an organic mass, has survived the coldness of space, and entry

into our atmosphere. Given that the intruders come from the spore, it is reasonable to

assume that they may have similar properties. Look at this one. Its skin is nearly

transparent in places, and you can see how simple an organism it is. Very little bone

287
structure or complex nerve pathways. It’s the simplest organisms that survive the best.

Look at cockroaches.”

“What do you think of the spore? What it is , I mean?”

“It may be a mother organism, and these her children, was my first thought. After all,

queens ants look nothing like their children, and butterflies look nothing like caterpillars,

but since the incident with the second spore I am not so sure.”

“Could it be an entire planet?”

“An organic planet, moving through space; an interesting proposition I admit, but I find it

unlikely anything so vastly different from our solar systems norm would be this far out.”

“You’ve never seen anything like this before?”

“No,” was all Gant would say, and would not elaborate.

“There could be billions of them, trillions, in virus form, inside that thing. Perhaps it did

not even originate on another planet at all.”

“The possibility of it being from a parallel dimension is interesting, given Nasa seems not

to have noticed it’s approach.”

288
Terry glanced at the creature again, “ We might not be able to understand them, but they

understand us- they’ve been inside our heads. We could still interrogate it.”

“Maybe. If the process of total transformation does not wipe out that useless knowledge.”

“That knowledge would be useful to an invading force.”

“I believe these are creatures of great contempt. Just look at how they’ve survived; no,

they’re mechanism for destruction is so powerful they do not need to communicate with

their enemy.”

“People in the town have reported having dreams.”

“The consciousness of the creature firing within them, first causing sparks of random

knowledge, memories, etc…”

“Some of the things they said…ours wasn’t the first world they’ve attacked.”

“Likely not. So, let’s ask it a few things, eh?”

“Yes, as I was saying, they might understand us.”

289
“Okay, this will have to be simple at first. They can produce a dazzling array of colors

and shades of colors- their ‘language’ is obviously complex. Also they produce odors,

very distinct- it’s hard to explain- they’re ‘sharp’, defined, and they seem to cancel out

one another to stop any confusion. We’ll keep it’s communication to colors. If it works at

all.”

Gant and Cartel turned towards the creature, which gave no indication of having

understood them at all. It flinched however, when Gant raised his knife again, a pathetic

nervous twitch, an attempt to pull away.

Terry felt that ghoulish joy again.

Gant stepped forward, placing one hand on a tentacle stump, safely away from its mouth.

“Green for yes, Red for no. you don’t answer and I’ll cut you up some more,

understand?!”

It gave no answer.

“You understand alright, you scum,” Terry said, “Do your thing Gant.”

“Does your species originate on a planet, a homeworld?!’ he demanded.

290
The creature did not respond. Gant shoved the knife into one stump, twisting it roughly,

and the creature screamed and alternated

“Answer me!” he shouted, his face thrust into its as close as it could be. In that moment

Gant looked as intimidating as the intruder to Terry, who suddenly grabbed his arm and

pulled him back.

He whispered to Gant a few yards away from the creature.

“Really,” Gant replied incredulously, “Good cop, bad cop?”

Terry approached the creature again.

“ I know you understand what I’m saying. My associate wants to hurt you, and he has

already, I can see. Tell us where you are from and I can convince him not to hurt you…”

All of a sudden the creature began to subtly change color. Gant was already standing

there with a small video camera.

“Where’d that come from?” Terry asked, surprised.

“Standard issue,” Gant said distantly, watching the intruder intently.

291
“The creature communicates as you know, using color and light intensity together with

odor, although color is the main method. It is difficult, because our brains and eyes are

not designed to recognize or pick out these subtle changes in color and light intensity, the

same way they do not seem to be able to distinguish sounds very readily. In fact I believe

they are quite deaf, and are aware of sounds as vibrations, sound waves, picked up by the

hundreds of little spines all over their bodies.”

“My word. I always thought if there were aliens they would be more like us.”

“Most people do. It’s the natural instinct. We can imagine, but really we can’t stray too

far sometimes from what we know.”

“But these things live on a different plain to us altogether. They don’t hear, they

communicate by color, they don’t have facial expressions or eat through their mouths.

We have no way of talking. No common ground except for the fact that we can both see,

I think.”

“Yes, they can see. But your assumption about different planes is correct. Imagine they

were blind- there would be nothing, no common ground. We can observe each other, but

in the same way a man and a jellyfish might. Our experience of living is so vastly

different, we might not even recognize each other as intelligent life.”

“Is the virus form a natural part of their life cycle?”

292
“Probably, yes. A survival tool. Perhaps they don’t even re-produce. Maybe there is only

this endless cycle of death and revival, all achieved through infestation of other worlds.

Yet- they have a vast knowledge of what it is to be human- imagine what it must be like-

to use a whole new set of senses, one that you previously could not even conceive of. I

wonder do they retain the knowledge of every race they have ever destroyed.”

“You mean there are others?”

“Oh yes. I have encountered life stranger than this. There was once a creature that spoke

so slowly, we could not understand him, and moved so slowly that we thought he was

dead. His heart stopped beating- do you know what we discovered? His heart beats once

every four years, and that is enough for him. They live a tremendously long time.

Thousands of years. We discovered that he did not even know we were there- because we

moved so fast, and talked so quickly, he could not perceive us. They eventually

communicated with us by sending us a recording device in order that we might record our

message and they might slow it down. We won’t get a reply in our lifetime- it’ll take

them too long. When it comes it will need speeded up- see, we can stand in a room with

that creature all day, but never directly speak to it.”

“That’s incredible.”

“Think of a fly. A fly lives for about 24 hours in some cases. It moves incredibly fast. It

293
goes through its whole life cycle in a day. If it was intelligent would it be aware that it’s

life was short? No. Could it perceive us as life? To it’s speeded up world, we would seem

sluggish and dull, maybe static.”

“Is this the first hostile race you have encountered?”

“It depends how you define hostile. There was once a being that began to release a gas

the moment we spoke to it. Five men literally exploded. Do you know what the gas was

for?”

“Defense?”

“Communication- it was saying ‘hello’ we later discovered. They communicate through

different combinations of chemical elements. Their writing literally resembles a series of

chemistry equations.”

“And the gas makes people explode?”

“No, Mr. Cartel, the combination for ‘hello’ made people explode. Other ‘words’ were

harmless. So you see contact with an alien race is not as simple as most people imagine it

might be. What they miss is the word ‘alien,’ ‘other’- they do not realize how ‘other’

these beings truly are.”

294
“So, what is our friend here saying?”

“Ok, red is basically put, alarm. But red goes through many different shades, for different

expressions- fear, panic, danger, injury, sadness maybe. The intensity of the light behind

the color also adds meaning. Added to this is a complex odor, not indifferent to the gas

communication used by the creature I have told you about.

It is difficult. They may not have a concept of ‘words.’ We could assume that the colors

stand for letters, taking the line that the letter ‘e’ is the most frequently occurring and

working from there- but I have already tried that- and it produces gibberish. Their

‘language’ has no reason to contain any representation of sound, as that is not how they

communicate. It is possible that they do not even have a form of written language.

Consider their culture and life cycle- do they need the structure of organized writing? We

invented it to record our history, to make sense of our lives, but their lives may not be

based around such a strong sense of self.”

“Like a hive mind?”

“Maybe. I don’t think so, but maybe. No, they simply may not see the need to record

their history, because they do not ‘die’ as we understand it. There is no need to leave any

record behind.”

“But what is the purpose of such a life? An endless one? If all they do is travel around in

295
the spore destroying worlds, and furthering their existence, what is the purpose? We live

to take care of our families, to make a life for ourselves, leave a good legacy.”

“Maybe they have lost their original purpose,” Gant said, narrowing his eyes at the

creature, his face grim and his green eyes haunted.

“The real question is, what are they doing here?”

“Let’s review the tapes.”

Gant hooked the Camcorder up to his PDA. Then, standing in the light of the dying fire,

they began to watch the interrogation play back. On the recording Gant stepped forward

to the intruder, and asked it, ‘What is the spore?’ The creature responded by changing

color, first a serene orange glow, then bright green quickly followed by red then purple.

Then the purple varied widely in intensity, from bright to dull, quickly interrupted by red

again, which grew deep as scarlet. Its little eyes blackened very much, even more so than

usual, and it clenched its strong lower jaw, moving the jagged teeth up towards Gants

face. It almost looked defiant.

“I thought you said it had no facial muscles.”

“No, I said it had very few; and it’s not moving its face, its moving its jaw. Together with

the natural malice of its eyes, it looks defiant. They have no concept of what a facial

296
expression means.”

Gant was feverishly writing as he spoke. Terry looked over Gants shoulder.

“Every time I mention the spore there’s that orange, like a fire glow. I think it means

contentment. As the orange grows more intense, the creature is content. I think the colors

represent states of mind- the intensity of the color how strong the feeling is. So red is

always worry, but as the red deepens, it expresses increasing levels of anxiety. The purple

is intriguing.”

“Maybe the colors aren’t words, but in place of facial expressions?”

“I’ve thought of that. Their technology and behavior suggests they are capable of

complex conversations, more specific than mere emotional information though. They

must have a way to convey very specific information.”

“Could odor do it?”

“Our brains are not set up to process smells in that way, so it is hard for us to understand

how it may work. The creature I encountered on the Nuclear Sub used complex

combinations of elements as communications, maybe this is not so different. Gant had

slowed the recording down, and had deciphered only partial fragment of words.

297
HELLO.

“What?” Terry said angrily, “is that it!?”

Gant thought quietly for a while, his face hard and impenetrable, his lips pursed.

“It heard us equate ‘hello’ with the death, with killing. It must be confused. It must have

thought that ‘hello’ would literally kill us.”

The creature screamed as if to get their attention, a terrible deathly cry that would echo

for years in Terry’s mind, and they turned. The intruder flashed wildly again and again,

the same pattern;

HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO

Cartel and Gant watched the towering hospital from an overhung section of rock off to

the north. They had left soon after the intruder had died of its injuries. George Carter was

hidden under the outcropping, nursing his broken ankle. Cartel and Gant stood watching

the hospital in the distance. As they did, a series of explosions sounded out of the night.

Instantly the glow of Cave Creek General disappeared. The lights went out all at once,

298
and Cartel found the suddenness startling. Still, he made no sound, only kept his eyes on

the third floor. Lilly was up there he knew. Rebecca would keep her safe, any way she

could, but surely that meant very little on a night like tonight. Suddenly Cartel wanted to

barge into the building, to run to Lilly, arms outstretched, to save her like he should have

all those years ago. He did not care about the dark shapes in the car park, obviously

acting as guards. Gant perceived his restlessness and put a steadying hand on his

shoulder.

“Calm,” he bluntly said, “this will not be simple, or safe. The dark should make them

sluggish, but they will try to stop us nonetheless. Are you ready for that?”

Cartel knew the answer to Gants question well. He had known it for many years, ever

since he knew he loved Lilly Carter he had felt ready. That’s the funny thing about loving

someone. On your own danger terrifies you, makes you so selfish, yet when someone that

you love is threatened, you become selfless all at once. In that moment what happens to

you becomes secondary, even unimportant. Yes, Cartel knew the answer to that question.

He felt the warm Arizona air fill his lungs as he breathed in, and remembered her

embrace and her generous smile, the touch of her hand, or how it felt to hear her say, “I

love you’ and he closed his eyes and knew assuredly that he was ready.

“Yes,” he replied simply. Gant would never know the power behind that basic answer.

“That is so beautiful,” Gant said rather, his line of sight fixed on the hospital. Cartel

299
followed his eyes, fearful of what it could be that Gant found beautiful, but the moment

he seen it, he had the same thought. The hospital windows were being illuminated, one by

one, by brilliantly glowing colors, shimmering blues, reds and greens, occasional orange.

Bizarrely, out in the warm desert air, Cartel thought of Christmas. Lilly with tinsel

around her shoulders, a huge star in her hands, Sinatra crooning away in the background,

heat from a crackling fire on his back. He seen Lilly reach up to place the star, seen her

slender figure, midriff exposed, her long flowing hair, and remembered how lucky her

felt that she would love a man like him. Gravel, a sound like a car trundling over gravel

on a country lane, interrupted his thoughts- Gants voice.

“See the way they shimmer- the patterns?

Cartel was taken aback. Gant sounded interested and awake, fascinated, even passionate.

Was this Charles Gant, the real Charles Gant?

Cartel wasn’t listening, he was looking intently at the hospital schematics in the dim

torchlight that trembled.

All of a sudden Cartel realized he had not heard from Barry yet. It had been far too long.

With numb recognition Terry conceded in his own mind that Barry must be dead. He

glanced at Gant, silhouetted against the midnight blue sky, and an involuntary shiver ran

through his body; was this man all he had to rely on now? He looked back at the huddle

of nervous young officer that had escaped the chopper. Scared men, family men, kids,

300
grieving, in shock- some maybe even infected, who could know? Did they have a

chance? Did anyone in Cave Creek? Cartel though of the police station, it’s gothic walls

and security shutters that jarred with each other, broken families huddled together, barely

able to comprehend what had taken their loved ones; it had been worse than that for

many of them though- for some had not been taken, but had changed; into cocoons for

monsters, or into writhing masses of hatred, bone and slithering evil.

Lee watched, unable to tear his gaze away from the carnage in Cave Creek. The intruders

fought with the three spindly creatures ferociously. At least twenty of the enemy had

already been ripped to shreds by the powerful jaws and hooked feet. The occasional

intruder still broke into the station, but for the most part they were completely taken up

with their sudden battle.

“What’s going on out there Lee?” Dirk asked into his radio.

“Looks like our enemy has a natural predator. You should see this man, they’re being

torn up like tissue paper!”

“As much as it would satisfy me to see that, I’m worried about what’s going on. Much as

the intruders are a threat, these new things mean something big is happening. Think

they’re passed species that have been conquered by these guys, somehow mixed up with

301
that spore thing?”

“Don’t know. Whatever they are they hate each other.”

“Let’s make the best of this then- we have to get everyone out of the station now.”

Just as he said it, there was a deep rumbling, and the earth beneath them begun to shake.

From Lees point of view up on the roof, the street where the battle was taking place

bucked like a spooked horse, as if some huge earthworm was passing beneath it. black

plants like those they encountered in the ghost town smashed up through the cracked

ground, the row of wooden buildings across the street appeared to explode upwards, and

polished black rock burst up from where they had stood, growing in wild, sharp

protrusions. All the aliens in the street scattered, ignoring each other in their sudden

panic.

The last thing Lee seen before he blacked out was a dark shadow creeping outwards from

the ravine to the town. Within that shadow all was changing. The darkness moved out in

other directions too, away from the ravine, and above it the sky grew stormy and terrible

red lightening cracked. The bizarre organic geysers were springing up in other places

now, and it seemed that dark pillars of gas stretched as far as the eye could see.

When Lee woke up he could see the alien landscape towering and twisting above him,

wooden houses impaled on jagged edges. Strange plants were springing up everywhere,

leathery tall ones with black round eyes set into every big flat leaf, ten foot blades of red

302
grass as thick as telegraph poles full of tiny spines that turned this way and that. Great

craters had formed in the ground and they were filling up with bluish liquid, seemingly

from underground springs. Occasionally thick black ooze would bubble out from crevices

and spread out in moving tendrils of liquid like spiders legs. Then they seemed to harden

and take root, moving into any ground that was still normal earth and changing its very

structure from deep within. Great geysers with leathery skin had grown up and were now

releasing great plumes of black smoke into the reddening sky that was fractured every so

often with purple lightning. The thunder boomed overhead so hard that everything left in

town rattled through to its core. A howling wind, somehow warm, made its way through

Cave Creek like great sea snake, moving as if with purpose. A small area around the

station was all that was left untouched, and it was rippling at the edges now, cracking and

tearing, twisting and turning slowly like an alligator in a slow motion death roll.

Lee was cut off from the others now, stranded on the roof. His head pounded and he had

a nasty bruise on his left temple.

Dirk sat propped up against a wall in the main hall, his blood flowing into his eyes from a

cut that ran along his forehead and across the top of one eye. He sat with his knees drawn

up and his arms resting on them limply while the others reinforced the barricade. After

the town had started changing, even the intruders had fled, but now the station front was

indefensible and they were sure to come back.

“This is ridiculous,” he said, his voice ragged.

303
Winston, a business type in a navy pin stripe suit looked up from watching over Colin,

whose shoulder was causing him real pain now. Margot had organized the building of the

barricade and was still doing so, waving her finger around as if scolding a class full of

teenagers. There was a huge filing cabinet blocking the door, as well as chairs and loose

planks of wood from the ceiling. Dirk knew as well as everyone else that the barricade

would be useless if they tried to get in again, but Margot would not ket everyone sit and

do nothing. She had taken on the role of mother and overseer, and was continually

irritated by Dirks’ seeming indifference to fear or urgency. Winston, the business type

who had come to Cave Creek to start a business, was inspecting the barricade and

shaking his head. He was in his forties, short with dark brown hair now streaked with

blood.

“This will never hold! You’ve seen how strong they are!” he was shouting, “we need an

actual plan!”

“Plan what?!” Colin yelled, although it pained him to do so. “Didn’t you see!? The world

has turned into Hell out there!”

“Plan how not to just give ourselves up like fish in a barrel when they come back!”

Winston yelled back.

“That will not happen,” Margot snapped, turning suddenly to face him.

304
“You’re dreaming old lady!” Winston snapped.

“Don’t talk to her that way!” Dianeinterrupted. She was sitting on a swivel chair at the

other end of the hall, nursing her daughter.

“Well someone has to tell you all the truth!” Winston shouted back across at her, his face

and neck reddening and his little fists shaking at the end of stumpy arms.

“The truth?” Dirk said quietly, but in a way that silenced everybody nonetheless. “You

people know nothing about the truth. I’ll fight as hard as anyone to survive this, but facts

have to be faced. Even if we somehow get out of this, what do you think is left out there

for you? Ask the residents of the town all around you- go on, ask them what happened in

this town before we got here. These things we’re fighting were their families. The

‘Agency’ that chose us to save these people have a man here, a mister Gant. I spoke to

him before Cartel left and he told me that these things change human biology. That this

all started when a huge organic mass crashed in the desert outside of town and began

infecting the populace. They brought parts of it in here- because of curiosity, because of

human nature. Don’t you get it? We will always find new ways to destroy ourselves. All

we ever do is hurt each other.”

He said the last line with a misty distant look in his eyes, clenching one fist as he did. The

others stared at him in stunned silence. All of a sudden Dirks radio flared to life, “I heard

305
that whole thing,” it was Lee’s voice, “And it’s all true- but if you could all get your asses

out here and see what I’m seeing, maybe we can start hurting them a little too!”

Margot mumbled irritably as the barricade was taken down again. Or rather, torn down,

by Dirk, who seemed to be just as happy ripping it down as he was sitting despondently

on the floor. Winston helped too, less enthusiastically, watching the doors for any sign of

movement until finally the doors were opened again and Lee stood there, grim faced and

bloodied, but smiling oddly.

“…Lee,” Dirk said warily.

“You all have to follow me now. Everyone. We have to move all these people before they

return.”

“The New Agency will organize under my leadership as I’m the only agent present from

the original. Any complaints?”

No one said anything. Dirk smirked and cocked an eyebrow, but said nothing.

“Good. There is no guarantee anyone will survive. But we will not do nothing!” he

shouted with authority no one would have suspected him capable of.

Lee and Dirk organized the townsfolk into four groups each led by a member of the so

306
called ‘New Agency.’

Lee and Dirk were similar in many ways, and got on without passing many words. There

was an understanding between them that life had been rough on them both in different

ways, and it allowed them to brush off each other’s personality defects and respect each

other, albeit grudgingly.

The New Agency moved through the alien landscape, Lee and Dirk scouting ahead and

behind, killing everything that was not human. On the edge of the town, where some

buildings still stood they found a few trucks and commandeered them. Lee took one,

while Dirk took the second and Margot the third. She was showing surprising resilience

for a woman her age and was infused with a life and wisdom that made the others feel

secretly safe around her. She had a motherly quality that put them at ease. They crammed

at many as they could into the three trucks. The others who could not fit in walked behind

the slow moving vehicles. Mostly they were the other New Agency members, armed and

scanning the horizon for movement.

“What time is it?” Dirk asked Lee over his two way radio, “I have no idea, my watch

stopped when the Agency grabbed us.”

“Mine…works,” Lee said in surprise. “Then again it is an Agency watch.”

“You mean they anticipated this?”

307
“I don’t know? I don’t know anything about them anymore. They’ve screwed up my life

twice now is all I know.”

From behind them there was a furious booming sound and Lee glanced in his mirror.

“What is that!” he heard Dirk shout.

“It’s the big creature from town, the gigantic one, remember!”

“Ok,” Dirk said, rolling his eyes and stepping on the gas.

They soon lost the beast, which seemed less interested in them and more intent on

pursuing the fleeing intruders, but as a result the convoy did not pay attention to where

they were going. Soon they found themselves approaching a small protrusion of stones up

ahead.

“What is that, a stone circle?” Lee asked over his two-way.

“It’s a graveyard,” Margot answered.

“How’d you see that with your eyes?” Dirk said, squinting into the dark.

“Better than yours any day kid,” Margot snapped back, “Must be the graveyard from the

308
ghost-town.”

“Easy there guys,” Lee said, “I see some activity up there.”

Terry had left a note beside Lilly’s bed addressed only to her, in a small white envelope.

It had sat there for some years now. The was that if Lilly ever woke up when there was

no one around, she would open the note. Of course the chances of her ever being left so

alone in the hospital were scant to say the least, but Terry had had such a strong feeling

about it that he had left her a pager number.

There was no way to approach the hospital unseen. It was out a flat plain, surrounded by

the desert and occasional outcroppings of rock. Gant had began sterilizing two viols of

his blood. One was meant for Lilly, to get the nanobots into her system, and one for

Cartel, so that he could kill the creatures with immunity. Gant had brought a bewildering

array of weaponry from Macy’s Gun Emporium; sub machine guns, shotguns, even an

uzi. He looked different now, black coat flapping in the wind, tie snaking wildly over one

shoulder, jet black hair disheveled and wavy. Cartel even noticed light streaks of grey in

it for the first time. His dead green eyes were sparkling now in the bright moonlight,

fixed steadily on the hospital beyond, his face broken from it’s unmoving mould now. He

looked more human than he ever had.

309
“Gant. I’m sorry about your family.”

“What makes you think I’m not formatted?”

“I know you haven’t shot up again. I can see it in your eyes.”

“It’s been many years since I could…feel anything one way or another much. The

formatting is gone now, almost. I’m unsure. It gives me focus and could help now.”

“It makes you cold, takes away a dimension that we need right now.”

“It’s still there a little, at least the emergency dose is. It’s hard to access. It’ll help me…

kill them efficiently.”

“As long as you don’t hurt Lilly.”

“I won’t. The dose is tiny, it’ll only last so long anyway.”

Cartel lead the way. He knew the hospital well enough to negotiate it in the dark. They

were wearing the night vision goggles again, stalking up to the emergency entrance

slowly, watching the shimmering intruders in the windows. Gant wondered how good

their eyesight was, but worried that it might be very good. They were probably from a

310
dim world, in eternal twilight, plus he knew they had 360 degree perception due to tiny

stalks all over their bodies. Maybe the darkness wouldn’t help. Maybe Barry had died for

nothing. And Gant was sure he was dead. He had not mentioned this to Cartel, but he

guessed he knew as much too. A deep fear was growing inside Gant, a fear that they

might not save Lilly Cartel, that the plan forming in his mind might not work. He still did

not understand exactly what the spore was doing, but after seeing the second spore hit

town, he was forming a very uncomfortable theory. A monstrous theory. This also he had

not mentioned to Cartel, who he knew was torn as it was between the town and his wife.

Cartel was daring to hope now that Gant could save her. Gant knew this was dangerous.

The young journalist muttered darkly to himself, watching the small cloud that had

begun surrounding the smaller spore in the middle of town. All those animals- it was

bizarre; but then again bizarre had become a relative term. He was sat in the corner of the

room full of what looked like bedraggled refugees. His mind thought ‘refugees of an

interplanetary war’ and he almost smiled. Most of them were from just across town, some

from across the street. Then he felt bad for smiling. He had been lucky. They had. Many

had lost family members, but not just to death. Some of their family members were still

alive. Some as cocoons, blinking and gasping, others as half forms, most as fully fledged

alien creatures now. Tom Harris had ran back to get his wife. They had tried to stop him,

they all had, but he had looked so desperate, and he was a man of sixty one. It was his

choice. He came back nursing a… missing hand. There was blood all over him. He had

311
never seen so much blood. He looked completely red. Misses Hannigan, who was a

nurse, bound his stump and tried to clean him off. He kept shouting about how much his

wife used to hate squid. Then about how much he hated squid. No one saw the signs soon

enough. He burst into a wild frenzy of transforming immediately. It looked like he had

exploded at first. But then came the screams. He bent over and his back and neck began

to break out in bulbous, vein filled sores, ripping his clothes. Still he screamed, a high

pitched scream that could have come from a man or a woman. When he stood up, he was

one of them, more or less completely. Everybody scattered. Two cops ran and hid. One

stood his ground and started to shoot with a 9 millimetre pistol, old Harvey. The creature

braced itself on it’s back tendrils, and sprang forward and up, using it’s longer front

tendrils to grab the overhead wooden beams. Then two other tendrils slipped out of it’s

chest cavity and picked the terrified cop up under his armpits, clear off the ground. The

chest cavity opened fully, slight fluid spilling out. The smell was overpowering. Then a

muscular sack came out and enveloped the mans torso.

It’s stomach. Harvey vaguely remembered something he’d read about starfish. It’s funny

where the mind goes. Being digested alive didn’t’t seem a good way to go to Harvey,

who fired wildly into the stinging sack that was crushing him into itself. He felt his feet

covered now, and his whole body lifted up towards the creature. The bullets weren’t’t

causing enough damage.

The young journalist watched from behind an overturned desk, unable to move. The two

scared cops had come out of hiding now, guns drawn, pointed at the ceiling, their faces

312
covered in fear. They could see old Harvey struggling inside the ‘stomach,’ kicking like

some overgrown baby in a hellish, suffocating womb. Through the slight transparency of

the stomachs’ membrane they could see Harvey’s face pressed against the inside. It was

locked in a strangled scream, until he looked closer and could see… one half of Harvey’s

face was already skull.

There was nothing for it. The people would have to retreat to yet another back room.

Again. The kid suggested it loudly to the two cops, and the creatures head snapped down

in his direction. It’s barbs shimmered a dark red, and it lunged down at him. He dived to

the floor and covered his head with his arms. He waited for the inevitable but instead

heard a great crashing of wood and glass, and felt a rush of air all around him, then a

mighty clatter behind him. When he looked up he could see only a mass of flesh in the

corner of the room. Picking up his glasses he let his view focus- a huge reptilian creature

had the abstract in great toothy jaws, dripping with thick black blood, and it was shaking

it vigorously back and forth, tearing chunks of flesh from it’s prey. Another thud sounded

behind him and he spun around to see a different, smaller creature, more like a dog sized

insect, like a large millipede with snake-like scales. Its’ eyes were fly -like, the size of

dinner plates, and a deep strong blue colour that alternated to red, making patterns. That

was enough. The others were shouting about locking him in if he didn’t’t join them.

Tearing his gaze away, he turned only to see a huge set of what could loosely be called

jaws in front of him. They lunged, and he began to scream.

The others slammed and locked the door, trying to drown out the boys cries. It did not

work.

313
*

Cartel and Gant made it inside with no resistance. All of a sudden the radio in Cartels

hand crackled to life, a posh English voice, asking for help;

“We’re in the secure lab, we have the whole children’s ward down here, please, none of

them are infected.”

Cartel began to turn but Gant stopped him.

“No. You go to Lilly. Take the nano-injector, it’s just like giving an ordinary jab, right

into the bloodstream, find a good vein.”

Cartel didn’t’t like that idea. He still did not trust Gant. He remembered what Gant had

told him about the other agents. They had been locked in a secure area. What if one kid

was infected?

“Gant, we can both go.”

“No, they don’t know we’re here yet, when they do, it’ll be hard enough to move. We

have to help both while we can, at the same time.”

314
“That sounds…”

“Logical?”

“Thoughtful. Ok.”

With that they parted, Cartel heading up, Gant heading down, both seeing the ghoulish

hospital in a hazy green.

Lee and the Dirk pulled their trucks ahead of the others to investigate the graveyard. It

was just a small space within a rickety wooden fence with a few haphazard headstones.

Lee shone his torch around the headstones from his truck window.

“It’s from the early eighteen hundreds,” he said.

In the beam of light from his torch that danced from headstone to headstone Lee suddenly

glimpsed movement.

It was one of the intruders, its tendrils dug into the soil over a grave. There was a large

rip in the flesh along its back.

315
Dirk and Lee watched it silently.

“It must be one from the town that the big guy attacked earlier,” Dirk said, “What’s it

doing?”

“Dying by the looks of things,” Lee answered in a mystified whisper, “but why’s it

digging like that. Looks like it’s trying to bury itself.”

Sure enough the creature kept disappearing under the soil, and as Dirk switched on his

torch and waved it around the other headstones, he could see mounds over other graves

that twitched, little piles of gravel falling off their pinnacles.

“There are already at least twelve others here!” he whispered urgently.

The creature in Lees’ beam was still just visible, but as he watched it vanished under the

soil. Its little mound twitched and soon there came a dulled scraping sound.

“Get the townsfolk back,” Lee said suddenly, not whispering anymore.

“What’s…”

“Just get them back and then have all the Group here as soon as possible!” Lee said,

never taking his eyes off the mound of earth, the colour obviously drained from his face

316
despite the dim light. The trucks pulled back, and the commands were given over the two

ways to keep the walking away at least half a mile.

“Every member of the New Agency get here now!”

“What about the townspeople?” Dianeasked,

“Leave them and take the trucks- trust me!” Lee barked, “Just get here!”

When Dirk came back from moving both his group of survivors and Lees he stood beside

Lee listening to the sounds of scraping and pulling now coming from all over the

graveyard.

His eyes wide and his hands shaking, Dirk whispered, “Lee, what are they going to do?”

“They were all injured,” Lee said in reply, shining his torch down at the ground around

the headstones to show Dirk.

Just then Margot pulled up with the other New Agency members in her truck.

As they got out there was a flurry of movement in the graveyard. Dry snapping sounds

and organic wet noises travelled up from under the ground. In the combined torchlight

one of the mounds of earth began to rise. A bright pink protrusion began to rise from the

317
soil, rising and twisting up, held up by multiple tendrils.

“Is that…”

“You know, I think it is,” Dirk interrupted, his own mouth fallen open in disgust and

disbelief.

It was a human brain, below it with a one tendril through its empty eye socket there was a

half decayed skull covered in green skin that had shriveled away from the teeth. The skull

grinned inanely as the tendrils protruding through a gaping hole in its crown wrapped

more tightly around the brain. Shakily a green arm poked its way from the dirt and

planted itself on the ground, then another, until the abomination began to pull itself out of

the grave. The torso was intact, but was held to the pelvis and legs only by tendrils that

protruded a gaping hole in the waist. The tail of the spine poked out at an awkward angle.

All over the graveyard similar horrors were rising. The darkness of the moment was

indescribable. In the shivering torchlight they rose, shuddering disjointed masses, some

trying to walk with human legs, others making their way on tendrils while holding up and

snaking through human body parts. The first one was still lurching forwards, its decrepit

face locked in a silent scream, two wasted eyes blinking imperceptibly as patches of

black wiry hair fell over them. Dirk was the first to regain his ability to act. He raised his

magnum and fired at the approaching creature, putting a bullet through its forehead. It

kept coming.

318
“The brain, Idiot!” Lee shouted, raising his Agency 9mil and firing. Both fired and the

creature stumbled back and thrashed against a teetering headstone.

Across from them, an old woman was walking shakily along. She had a red polka dot

dress on and pearls around her neck. Her hair was swept up like Audrey Hepburn’s,

Margot noted as she watched her down the sights of her rifle. The womans’ face was

locked in a screech, and indeed a sound was coming from her torn vocal chords. Her

eyebrows were arched downwards in anger, wrinkling what was left of her face in a

hideous mask of confusion and rage. Red lipstick clashed grotesquely with the green

pallor of her face. Margot was frozen, unable to take her gaze from the sights as tears

streamed down her own pale cheeks.

“Kill it!” Lee was shouting, yelling, his features contorted in a mixture of fear and

frustration, “Kill them now- open fire!”

From the front of the group muzzle flashes erupted. Shuddering enemies shook with the

impact as human and alien body parts were exploded or severed. Clear alien fluid flowed

from human veins, their own blood long congealed. Margot finally fired her rifle when

the old lady was only a meter from her, muttering whatever random words her re-fired

neurons ignited. She looked like she had been buried only a few weeks.

The other member of the group fired and re-loaded, fired and re-loaded, seemingly in a

daze. It was as if something that had stayed strong and steady in the town as they fought

319
the pure-form intruders had broken now at the sight of these more human creatures.

Gant made his way down towards the labs along those nondescript hospital corridors with

that invading sterile smell. He wondered if hospital conditions slowed the progress of the

virus any. He doubted it. Then he wondered what may happen if the virus mutated. He

wondered had it ever happened, if maybe the virus they were seeing now was a mutated

form. There was always the fear of even normal viruses brought up on spacecraft being

mutated by space radiation and then returning in an unbeatable form, theorized among

scientists. No one knew for sure. Every so often as Gant made his way along he would

feel a spell of nausea and dizziness, which passed in moments. Gant passed a recovery

room. A lump lay on the table, covered in a bloody sheet. The body was normal except

for one thick tendril protruding from the stomach. Then, as he got to the stairs leading

down to the labs, there was a great crash behind him. Whipping around, he saw the

bloated form of a doctor, dressed in surgical gowns,

“Yes, it has mutated Mr. Gant,” the doctor croaked.

Gant raised his shotgun, “How?!” he deadpanned menacingly.

“How could I read your mind? I can’t. The virus sends out little ‘probes’- I believe

you’ve met them. The darkness is synced with many of your brain wave frequencies

320
now.”

“You still have your mind?”

“The viral form that infected me was a mutated form. It has this new characteristic, but

its’ ability to take over the host consciousness is diminished.”

“You know its secrets?” Gant said, eyes gleaming.

“Yes. Some of them. It won’t let me live.”

“What won’t…what is the ‘darkness’?”

Gant stopped mid sentence. The doctor was bent double, vibrating violently.

“Run!” he screamed, then burst into an array of colors.

HELLO!

“Hello,” Gant said bluntly, then pumped the shotgun once and fired.

The creature reeled back and Gant fired again. “Hello!” he yelled, enraged all of a

sudden. “Hello!” and he fired again, this time the creature smashed back through a

321
window and fell down into the black of the car park below.

“Oh… crap,”

Gant grimaced as he spoke, turning to run. Before he made it to the stairs he could hear

them scuttling, slipping, sliding along the stairs and climbing the lift shafts with their

ghastly appendages. As he made it to the bottom of the stairs the lift before him cranked

open slowly, and he paused. Then two tendrils pushed their way between the doors, and

began to wedge them apart, and Gant fired blindly and ran. Exhilaration and fear swept

into him like water into a drowning car. The formatting was completely gone now.

Glancing over his shoulder he could see red lights emanating around the corner behind

him.

‘There must be a lot of them chasing me now. they certainly are slower. Reaction times

seem kind of shot too…not slow enough though…’

There was no time. He could not lead them to the children. Ducking into an x-ray room

on his right, he quickly fired off his last shell then waited. They would catch up in

moments, and there was nowhere to hide.

‘Only one thing to try. Might as well. Could have no effect, but at least it’s something…’

Gant strode over to the x-ray controls and readied them for a powerful, deep imaging

session, setting it to take as many as possible. Then he positioned himself behind the

322
protective cover just as the first one came barreling through the door. It skidded to avoid

crashing into the table in the centre of the room. More pushed in, crowding in and

crowding in. He had to wait, had to get as many as he could… the first one was almost in

the protective booth with him… he had no choice. Flipping the switch, he watched the

room ignite in a series of flashes that seemed to last forever…

In the alternating between darkness and light, the creatures forms twisted and rolled,

flopped and shuddered, grew extra tendrils out of places that surely killed them. Then

they infected one another, mutated quickly into bulbous masses or bursting into cocoons

that then burst themselves spilling dying, writhing life, flashing all the colors of the

rainbow. Gant watched, his face full of horror, the colors dancing in his eyes.

‘Radiation. They’re incredibly sensitive to radiation. Causes extremely violent and

unpredictable mutation. Kills them. That’s why they destroyed the mobile phones. It was

nothing to do with communication- they left the landlines alone, the storm done that- it

was the radiation. They can’t take it. Even a small amount.’

Again he noted how like viruses they were, even in their fully developed state. He

remembered something about how pieces of mountain rock were basically shaped like a

mountain at the microscopic level. The virologist in him wondered were they fighting

nothing but a large virus. The agency man in him wondered if they were meant to infect

massive life forms that would make life on Earth seem microscopic. Was the spore the

infecting agent, the Earth a petrie dish?! Were they being watched now by some vast

323
intelligence, as H.G. Wells predicted, were they being studied like bacteria under a

microscope, and with as little feeling? Gant himself had always had a lot of feeling for

viruses and bacteria when he was a doctor. Beautifully simple, he had always found

them. beautifully simple. Like his relationship with his wife. There was no science to that.

No complicated explanation for why it worked. They just loved each other. It did not take

much deep analyzing or even soul searching. he could live without her. Anyone could live

without anyone; but he did not want to. He had not had the chance to discover that he

could live without her yes, but weakly. In a diminished state. He felt that upon him now,

watching them die. When the x-ray machine finally stopped, they lay in tangled states,

merely heaps of bubbling meat. He wondered would they mutate indefinitely if exposed

indefinitely to radiation. Had he killed them though? Were they even now floating

around, reduced to their most deadly state? He had no time to ponder it, and began

hurriedly making his way towards the sealed lab again.

Finally he came to a heavy door marked, ‘Quarantine,’ and pushed his way inside.

Terry was faring little better. He had come to a jammed lift, with an upturned wheelchair

wedged in its doors, which were methodically trying to close again and again. In the

chair was an elderly man. He was not mutated or changed. Just dead. He had terrible

sucker marks on his neck and face. It was outright murder. It did not matter that it was

carried out by a being from another world to Terry. He stopped to lift the light old man

324
to an empty hospital bed, then continued on his way through the maze. Again his

mortality was stalking him, only it had taken on a shape now. Now, in the stillness of the

hospital though, as he did on rare occasions, he felt an odd serenity. It did not spring

from anything. Maybe he knew as he approached Lilly’s room that this was his best

chance of ever seeing her again. That if this plan did not work, then that was it. It was

over. It was all over. It is strange how an ‘all or nothing’ situation can bring great calm,

he thought. Even the abstract seemed a distant thing. They had all disappeared ten

minutes back, chasing what must have been Gant’s gunshots. Terry had hidden in a

maintenance cupboard while they passed. He could not believe his luck. All of a sudden

though, looking at Lilly’s door now, he felt a terrible panic rising in his heart. It was the

same crushing fear that had gripped him when two of his colleagues arrived at his door

that November night in the city.

Anything could have happened to her. Rebecca may be dead…or worse. What if…what if

she’s…

Reaching out, watching his hands push the doors apart in a strange detachment, he

stepped into the room. Immediately an ear piercing scream filled the room, and Terry

wheeled around and leveled his twelve bore. A trembling huddle lay to his right on the

floor, at the foot of Lilly’s bed. It was Rebecca, holding the scalpel before her big scared

eyes as if it was a cross and Terry a vampire. He ripped off the night vision gear and

lowered the gun almost in one movement.

325
“It’s me Becky! It’s Terry!”

She flung herself into his arms, a shuddering mess, and would not let go for ten minutes.

Neither spoke. It was the first reason either had had to be relieved all day.

“I knew you’d stay with her,” Terry said eventually, “It’s alright, I’m here. He can’t

hurt you anymore.”

“Who?”

“Sorry?”

“You said, ‘he’.”

“Oh, I meant ‘they,’ they can’t hurt you.”

Terry looked over Rebecca’s trembling shoulder at Lilly, lying still on the hospital bed.

In the moonlight coming through a dusty window she looked almost ethereal.

“She spoke a few words,” a very shaky Rebecca said, her eyes glazed with the last of

many tears, “But they made no sense. She said she was sorry.”

“But she spoke, she was conscious?”

326
“I don’t know how aware she was, she looked terrified of me.”

Terry’s hand tightened on the syringe Gant had given him.

“That for…ending it?” Rebecca said, her voice dead, her tone empty.

“No! Never. I’ll never give up on her.”

“I meant for us all. You must know we can’t make it through this by now. People in the

wards below have already committed suicide, or helped loved ones to.”

“Becky,” Terry said, taking her by the shoulders as he had when she was just a straggly

teenager, “ we are still alive, and many people back in Cave Creek are too, gathered in

the station. There’s a man, he knows how to fight things like this- he’s here with me now.

This syringe, it…oh it’ll sound crazy to you- it may be able to wake Lilly.”

Without further explanation he walked over to where Lilly lay and took one of her

slender arms in his hands. Her skin was as flawless and pale as china, as it had always

been. Lifting her arm gently he carefully found a good vein. Pausing a moment to catch

his suddenly rapid breath, he injected the nanobots into her system. Then he took out the

PDA that Gant had given him and watched as it liaised with the little swarm coursing

through his wives body. Momentary panic took him as he realized what he had just

327
done- he had gotten these from Gant- what was he thinking! All of a sudden he realized

that he did not know anything about this technology that was supposed to help Lilly, only

that it came from Gant, and that it was inside him too. That was something; it had not

harmed him yet. The PDA’s screen changed words appeared;

‘Swarm integrating with host.

Query…

Is Lilly Cartel an agent?’

Terry wondered at that. Why would the swarm think that?

‘No. Brain function of operating agent staff is slightly elevated.

Then what is condition of Lilly Cartel?...

Scanning…

Damage to cerebral cortex evident…

Lilly Cartel is comatose…

328
Responding …’

The PDA’s screen went blank. Terry watched the word ‘responding’ like someone who is

scared watches the door to a noisy room. Nothing happened.

A deep, terrible frantic feeling rose up inside Terry, and he suddenly realized how much

he had believed in this. Believed that he could save her. The crushing memories of his

life with Lilly came back like hammer blows. The first time they had spoken, as fifteen

year olds at a movie theatre in New Orleans. The first tentative kiss when they were

nineteen, a perfect moment in time, then and still now, untainted by times twisting

kaleidoscope. The night they had made love for the first time, surprising, tender, above

all it was what she said to him that night that he remembered most. Terry loved her so

fiercely. He would have walked into Hell itself and faced down the Devil for her; but he

could not do that- he could do nothing. From the first moment had saw her lying in that

alley way he had died. It was a random crime. There was no one to be found, no one to be

punished, no one to be beaten. The force searched and questioned. Cartel knew guys in

his precinct who had broken ribs and arms trying to get information about the attack on

Lilly. It was all for nothing. Whoever had attacked her was a nothing, a nobody. There

was no crime syndicate, no mob boss. It had just been two sad opportunists on the take.

Terry had lost his head in interrogations after that to such an extent that he had been

made to take two months leave. In every perp he saw the man who had struck her delicate

head, who had roughly taken someone so pure and beautiful and…it was unbearable to

him. Lilly was a tough girl, but he would always see her as his Lilly, happy, optimistic,

329
still able to cry at a movie or a book, no matter what she was watching. She loved stories,

and it did not matter how far fetched or silly they seemed- if there was a human thread in

there, it touched her. She had a beautiful soul, and Terry had loved her ever since she was

fourteen. He could not believe she had fallen in love with him too. Every day of their

married life he had felt lucky. Then she was taken from him, one cold night when he was

on duty. Milk, that was all she had left the apartment for. He was on a beat across town,

and when he had heard her name called out in the garble in his radio he had abandoned

the pursuit of a running shoplifter and swung the patrol car around. It was the same panic

that gripped him now, as powerful as it had been then.

He turned away, unable to look any longer, only to feel a hand laid on his shoulder

gently.

“Terry?”

He turned. It was her voice.

“Lilly?’ was all he could say. Words were gone. He would either die or be saved in the

next second.

“You moved to Cave Creek?” she asked weakly.

Of all the things he thought she may say to him after seven years, he had not expected

330
that question.

“Lilly, you had an accident…”

“Yes, he helped me remember…my friend. You moved here for me? Left New York?”

“Yes,” Terry said, his eyes filling with tears, “So you could be near your parents.”

“But you love New York, you hate the desert. You were up for commissioner…”

“Lilly how did you…”

“You’re wearing a Cave Creek badge.”

“Oh,” he said, an unreality setting in, “I forgot how observant you are…you would have

made a good detective.”

The conversation was so normal. It was as if she’d just woken up in their bed back at

home in the morning.

“You live here now?”

“In a house outside town…” his words trailed off, “Lilly,” was all he could utter.

331
“I know baby, we lost so much time… it’s ok now. You’ve been here every day. Talking

to me, telling me…”

“Things I should have told you when you were conscious.”

“I could hear you lately, it’s…hard to explain…it was as if he gave me channel to the

outside world. He let me hear you and it hurt me so much. I just wanted to hold you.”

Terry sat down beside her and embraced her gently.

“I’m here now.”

“He says I can help him save us all.”

“This thing inside you?”

“Yes.”

“Does he have a name?”

“Not a name that can be spoken …its difficult. I know it but there is literally no way I can

express it. There are a lot of things like that in my mind.”

332
Just then Gant walked in, bloodied and breathless, “There were eleven survivors. They’re

in the car park beneath the building now, safe. None were infected.”

As Gant said it he looked curiously at Lilly.

“Cartel,” he began, a cautious tone in his voice that scared Cartel, “I know what I said but

she may be…”

“No.”

“Cartel…”

“The spore is a virus itself.” It was Lilly’s voice. She was sitting up in her bed. “I’m sorry

I did not mean to take her, or even to be here. I have very little motor control over her.”

There she was, his beautiful fragile Lilly, in the same voice that said ‘I do’ to him twenty

seven years back, her light brown hair, a little streaked with grey now, fell bedraggled

around her shoulders. She’d been there a moment ago, but this was not her now. The

mannerisms he loved in her were gone, and she held herself differently. Yet it was his

wives body. That’s what made it harder for Cartel now.

“Lilly?”

333
“I saw you, in her memories,” she said, looking at Cartel with intense wonder, “You have

been very good to her, and… so much more, it surpasses goodness. She hears you

sometimes, when you visit her. Sometimes.”

“Shut up, get out of her head!”

“She talks to me, in her head that is. We have conversations about you Terry.”

Cartel was standing, hopelessly confused and torn between wanting to embrace her and

rage against the entity that spoke through her.

Gant reached for his gun. “Clear out.”

Cartel was already pointing his gun at Gant.

“Don’t you dare. I’ll kill you Gant.”

“ I need to get it to talk.”

“I will talk freely, I am no threat,” a voice from Lilly said. It still was not her.

“Leave her alone! Get out of her!” he shouted, slight tears forming, streaming down into

334
the crevices of worry under each eye. He could take little more of this. Was she coming

back to him or not?

“I can’t,” the creature answered, “but I have no desire to kill her, or mutate her. Because

she is unconscious, the process is halted.”

“Let me speak to her again!”

Cartel was frozen. He had not seen his wife move in seven years. Now she was sitting up

and talking, in her own sweet voice, and it wasn’t her.

“She wants me to talk to you.”

“You shut up, you murdering scum, “Gant suddenly interrupted. “ I killed five of your

friends earlier, and I’m not of a disposition to suffer any more of you to get out of this

town alive.”

“You killed some of the others? How were you not infected?”

“I’m immune. Your fancy suicide trick doesn’t work on me.”

“I did not want to join the others, many of us did not. The object is indeed as you have

asserted, a spore. It was released from a planet roughly ten times the size of this one three

335
thousand years ago. Three thousand four hundred years ago our people reached the

zenith of our technological advancement; what you humans refer to as a ‘singularity’- a

point when you theorize man and machines will reach a harmony and be seamlessly

integrated bringing great prosperity and quality of life for all involved. For us it was not

machinery or computers, but genetics that brought about our singularity. Everything in

our world became genetically engineered, even our computers. We were

indistinguishable from our technology. We changed ourselves too, in so many ways,

trying to survive disease, trying to become better warriors…and then we were trying to

undo mistakes with the genetic engineering, but all we did was make it worse.

Then our sun started to die. There was always a constant amount of light on our world, a

kind of twilight. Too much sunlight and every biological function in our body speeds up,

and we age. Too little and we slip into a hibernation. First we altered ourselves again, but

whatever we did, we could not prevent the sensitivity to sunlight or extreme dark. It made

invading other worlds impossible. So we created a monstrous entity- the spore. It was

supposed to terraform our world. To make it more suitable for us. It incorporates the

attributes of a bacteria and a virus. It can survive extreme heat and cold, and it was a

mobile organism in its own right, with no real intelligence of its own to speak of. Within

it however is held everything needed to reproduce us, including our consciousness,

memories, personalities. An entire generation was engineered with this ability to survive

this way and then when they were ready, a mass suicide was carried out, all over the

planet. Billions of us were ‘downloaded’ into virus form and drawn to the spore.

336
The creatures you see now are the very same that left three thousand years ago. We have

consumed so many worlds. None of them were deemed suitable by the spore. You must

understand the spore is very old. The spore is a virus in itself.”

“A virus for infecting what?”

“A planet.”

“Ok, back it up. Infecting a planet?”

“It basically floats around until it is pulled into a planets gravity. Then it crash lands and

takes root. First it attracts the intelligent life with the stalks, they take the stalks and are…

infected. It’s strange to wake up inside another entity’s consciousness. An odd

excitement…some are quite addicted to it, and quite mad. The virus was not meant for

you, but for another race that was completely compatible with it. They discovered this

and repelled it. We have drifted ever since, from world to world, destroying with needless

abandon. I doubt many of us really remember how it all started. The spore itself is a vast

intelligence now, and terribly malign. We created it to fix our world, but it found our

world unfixable. Having engineered ourselves with what you called our ’suicide trick’

there was a mass suicide all over our world, then the spore drew us in. The plan was for

the spore to fix our world. Instead it found the planet beyond saving. It burrowed into the

planets core and started a chain reaction that destroyed it. The spore is invulnerable to

extreme heat and cold, just like a bacteria, and it was all that survived. It has destroyed a

337
thousand worlds this way . We have destroyed thousands of worlds, again and again and

again, in an endless cycle. Its like having the same nightmare over and over. You wake

inside another innocent, and feel their memories seep into you. Then they begin to see

yours, and it horrifies them. I did not want to kill them all- but I could never die. In time

their conscious becomes yours, and they go away.”

“But the heart does not stop, or the brain die,” Gant said with a surprising edge in his

voice.

“The mind, the identity is gone. You slowly separate their mind from their soul.”

“The second spore is released when there is enough raw organic material to feed the main

spore. It contains the blueprint for the lesser life forms on our home world.”

“You mean animals?”

“It draws all the indigenous lower life forms to it and integrates them, changes them into

the former fauna of our dead world. They will begin to populate your world after the third

stage is finished.

As I said, the spore is a virus for infecting an entire planet. It will change your landscape

into ours, turn your atmosphere into one in which we can breathe more easily.”

338
“Like a biological terraforming device.”

“Exactly.”

“Why would you tell us this?”

“We have become a terrible evil. So twisted by genetics and immortality that many only

care about the hunt. We were not all this way. Some thought dying with dignity or

continuing to seek for sanctuary was the right choice, but they were rounded up and

silenced. I am the only one who survives them. I do not want your world to end, but I fear

they may terraform this one. The virus does not react perfectly with your biology but it is

close.”

“Do you know how to destroy the spore?”

“Yes, but I would have to be inside it.”

Terry looked at Gant warily. He felt utterly lost. Gant’s eyes flashed momentarily with

compassion, and then he went on.

“Cartel, there may be no other way to stop the spore. We need it.”

“No, no! How do we even know it’s telling the truth?! Even if it is, how are we supposed

339
to get close enough to the spore? How are we even to get out of the hospital?!”

“I hate to be so unoriginal, but I think shooting our way out is the only way,” Gant said,

his eyes betraying something else, “I should use the emergency formatting procedure

now,” he said, eyes full of what looked like real dread to Terry. “It’ll give me the edge I

need to lead us through this. It will probably not help us much, considering their

numbers.”

Terry could not argue. They needed ‘an edge’ alright, and he had seen firsthand how

strong and focused formatting made Gant. Still, he was uncomfortable with a formatted

Gant around Lilly. Especially while the intruder was still inside her, ‘friendly’ or not.

“How is it done?”

The last of the abhorrent creatures from the graveyard lurched towards the New Agency,

corpses driven by unfathomable alien creatures, half dead themselves. Margot had killed

three more, one of them a small boy with a neat Sunday suit on. Her cheeks were

streaked with the tracks of bitter tears that had made their way through the desert dirt

caked on her face. Lee, Dirk and Colin had killed many, Colin shooting from the back of

Margot’s’ pickup, but the others had held firm too, taking their fair share down. As the

last of the enemy fell, Margot let her rifle fall from her shaking hands, and she collapsed

to the dirt beside it. Lee ran to her side, thinking she had been injured. She was bent over

340
to the ground, retching violently and sobbing in great wracking bursts. As he knelt beside

her she flung her arms around him all of a sudden, leaning her head on his knees. Lee was

shaken by the sudden display of trust, and could only put a reassuring hand on her

shuddering shoulder. He looked up at the other haunted eyes around him, seeing many

that were tearful. Others sat on the ground with their head in their hands. Dirk came over

to him, pale, but otherwise recovered.

“Take a good look Dirk,” Lee said. “It was monstrous what they done, what Gant is now-

but this- this is why they formatted the Agents.”

“We can find a way to live with things like this,” Dirk said, watching the others. “We can

find a way to live with anything.”

“Yea, but is that what you want? The Germans found a way to live with Nazism in the

thirties.”

“That’s the difference between accepting evil and cruelty until you think it’s ok, and

learning how to survive it; how to go on in spite of it.”

Later on, as the others rested by the trucks, Lee stood alone watching the horizon. Dirk

approached.

“Margot will be fine. She’s already complaining about my cavalier attitude to it all, so

341
that’s a good sign.”

“Whatever happens,” Lee said, “we must never be like they were.”

“The Agency?”

“Yes.”

“So this formatting…I met Gant; there was something missing with the guy no question,

but I couldn’t place it then.”

“Formatting was achieved by placing a powerful microcomputer into the brain of the

Agent. It acted as a ‘second brain’ in many ways, overseeing the real brain, prioritizing

all the input and output. Able to access the internet anywhere and search it faster than any

search engine, it effectively made the agents brain the size of the world wide web,

although they could not control this access in any way. The computer did all this on its

own. Separate from their consciousness. It was also programmed to make sure that the

agents gave one hundred per cent focus to the job. It also allowed the brain to function at

eighty-five per cent capacity inside of the usual five or ten, giving them perfect memory,

concentration and metal ability. The computer muted emotional responses, made them a

distant foggy concept. It was only activated by a machine at the Agency headquarters that

also downloaded all the information compiled by the agents’ computer during that month,

creating a detailed file on their progress and state of mind. The nano-bots also made a

342
similar ‘report’ mostly about the agents health. Responses to formatting were not varied.

Almost all the agents reacted exactly the same way to formatting. Over time however the

formatting computers began to do unexpected things. Morality was a large problem.

Agents would kill anyone that they had to in order to do their job. If it was the path of

least resistance or the perceived ‘best’ option.

Sometimes the formatting computer ignored an agents’ health, keeping them awake all

night to work harder, neglecting their need for food. It seemed that the computer was

running these human beings as if they were machines. All the agents had to be re-called.

The computer had to be programmed to take into account an agents humanity; the need

for nourishment, the need for sleep. It done away with emotional needs, psychological

ones. In many ways it did turn agents into machines. Although not programmed to do so,

the computers made them very habitual, running along routines. Working out every day

tirelessly when not on the job for the same time to the second, sleeping for the same

amount of time every night exactly, eating the same food to maximize their muscle and

brain activity- they were machines, working to their full potential, maximizing their

resources, efficient and focused. The computers actually did a better job than they were

meant to. Within the Agency there was a joke among Overseers that the computers were

trying to turn their men into machines.

The computers communicated with the nano-bots, relying on their information to help

maximize efficient management of the agents. It was never clear how that came about.

Some Overseers tried to claim that they had come up with the idea, but there was an

343
unsettling but largely unspoken belief that the computers and the nano-bots had

spontaneously started communicating. Nobody cared. It all worked. The agents were

perfect for their job. They did not make mistakes. They did not crack under torture. They

did not betray the Agency. They did not leave a mess when they killed someone in the

line of duty. If agents were questioned they would not say a word.

There were still aberrances. Occasionally an agent would begin to write in binary.

Sometimes they would sit still for hours for no apparent reason. Some guessed that they

may have started to access the internet consciously, although no one knew how that could

have happened. Were they able to access and view the internet at will? Sometimes they

would ignore wholesale every living thing as if they were not there, including their

Overseers. It was some kind of disassociation disorder, the Agency psychologist said. No

one really believed that, but nobody expressed concerns. Except Richard Bradford; but he

was seen as a thorn in the Agency’s side. Some said he was ‘too moral’ for the job.

Others were uncomfortable that he had been Gants supervisor. Bradford had argued that

the computers acted instead of normal conscious decision making. In essence, he said that

the computers cut the agents out of conscious thought, then manipulated them. He argued

that they were unconscious, zombies controlled by a computer. Bradford was accused of

hyperbole and scaremongering, of using the language of science fiction to cause panic in

the Agency. His surveys and papers were ignored or made fun of…”

344
Now Gant needed Terry to access his formatting computer. To trigger the emergency

formatting. Gant was sat down, pale and sweating, his white face contrasting terribly with

his jet black hair. He still wore his suit, although now it was disheveled and dusty. His tie

hung loosely around his neck, and his shirt was stained with dirt and blood. Whose blood

it was he was not sure. He was finding it increasingly hard to remember things he had

done while he was formatted. Emotions were raging inside his mind, and each one like

being stabbed in the head. They were so poignant, and powerful. Any memories that did

surface of his time with the Agency were horrific. Men he tortured, things he had seen,

things he had negotiated with- but nothing seemed worse than the nightmare that he was

currently living in. occasionally he could feel the nano-machines gather to report, and he

knew that they were talking to the formatting com as well. It unsettled him, not to know

what they were telling it, what they ‘talked’ about. He was sure he used to understand

what they said to each other, but it was hazy now.

“You have to access the computer through my right temple,” Gant said, his voice

trembling slightly, talking to Rebecca. His hands were on his knees, gripping tightly.

‘Trying to stop them from shaking’ Terry thought.

“What do I do?” Rebecca asked, still pasty, and very unsure whether she believed Gants

story about the computer inside his head.

“You cannot access the computer directly, but there is an interface on the surface of the

345
skull that is wired directly to the computer. You must peel back the skin and manipulate

the interface.”

Gant had drawn a box around the area that Rebecca should cut into. She noticed that

there were already many scars there.

“I have done this many times myself, but while I was formatted. I could not do it now.

The pain and the natural trembling of my hands…”

“You didn’t use a local anesthetic?”

“The computer seen no point.”

“You know we can’t get to the hospital stores to get you pain treatment, don’t you?”

“I understand.”

Terry bent down in front of the seated Gant and grabbed his hands.

“So you don’t struggle,” he said, looking firmly into Gants eyes.

“Thank you. Rebecca; do it now.”

346
Rebecca shakily lifted the scalpel that hours ago she had intended to kill herself with and

placed it to Gants temple, steadying his head with her other hand. The muscles in Gants

neck tightened as he prepared for the pain. Cutting in a perfectly line, wiping away the

blood as she did, Rebecca winced as Gant groaned thorough tightly gritted teeth, his

green eyes intense like a nuclear blast. White knuckled, Gant gripped his knees and

jerked his legs slightly, but made no sound above a groan. When Rebecca had cut three

sides of the way around Gants’ drawn box, she stopped.

“What now?”

“Peel the skin back.”

Wiping more blood away, she began to peel back the flap of skin as Gant had instructed.

She almost let it go when she saw the interface.

“Don’t be alarmed, please!” Gant said, voice strained, breathing heavily in pain. “Now,

can you see the interface?”

Rebecca nodded. She could see a control unit about the size of a baseball card, with a

touch screen display on one side.

“Good, now, wipe it off so you can see clearly, do not worry, you can’t push any buttons

by accident.”

347
Gant reached up and pressed his thumb to the touchpad. The display on the little screen

came to life, and a number of options appeared;

Download to HQ

Emergency format

Override special measures

Disconnect format com

Nanobot evac

“Rebecca, go to reach into my coat pocket and take out the small box. Give it to me, do

not open it.”

Rebecca took out the box.

“Stand back,” he told her firmly, “Terry I need your help now.”

Terry cautiously let go of Gants wrists, searching his face for any sign of rising panic and

stood up.

“Take the box from Rebecca and open it. I’m warning you, do not be alarmed.”

Terry opened the box and coldness seeped out of it. Inside was a finger.

348
“Take out the item and, well, it’s obvious I think.”

Terry marveled at how sensitive to Rebecca’s presence Gant was.

He lifted the finger out and pressed it to the touchpad.

“They didn’t trust you to access your own computer?”

“I’m not even supposed to know what it says.”

“The options in the screen have changed color.”

“It’s ready. Using the finger again, press Emergency Format.”

“Are you sure this is the only way?”

“It will give us more of a chance. But it won’t work for long.”

Gant looked genuinely terrified now, more afraid than he had been of the pain. His breath

was coming in ragged gasps and he was whiter than his dirt stained shirt. Terry lifted the

finger to his temple. A lone tear rolled down Gants cheek and fell on the hospital floor.

349
*

Man, he was sick of dust. It was burning his throat, in his eyes, scraping his elbows and

getting into his face and neck wounds. Barry could see the Ridley house up ahead,

illuminated in the moonlight. The red-eyed cows still gaped at him, and he wondered if

they were dangerous after all. Maybe they were too thick for the aliens to manipulate. Of

course he had no idea what he would do once he reached the Ridley house, but they were

the only people he was in a position to help. The transport he had promised them lay in

ruins among the sand dunes, but he could at least protect them somehow, comfort them

somehow. He had to help somebody, if not his own family still hiding at the police

station.

When he reached the open door of the home again he crawled painfully up the wooden

steps, picking up splinters as he did, and hollered to the Ridleys’. He was in too much

pain to care if he startled them this time.

“It’s officer Hedges, I need some help down here! Don’t let your kids come down here

Mrs. Ridley!” he added, though after what they has already seen that night he was sure

his crushed foot would be like comic relief. Laura Ridley came down the stairs slowly,

her eyes vacant, like a woman who knew every dream she had ever had was over. When

her eyes fell on Barry she appeared to brighten a little, and she hurried to his side to help

him up. She barely gave his hurt foot a second glance as he trailed it behind him into the

350
house.

“Would you take a look at that please?” he asked when they finally got him seated in the

TV room.

“Yes,” was all she said. Barry glanced at the stairs, “Your kids alright?” Laura merely

nodded. … “and your…your husband mam,” Barry said cautiously, “How is he?”

This time she never even met his gaze. From the wheezing upstairs he guessed George

Ridley was on his way out. Fleetingly alarm bells went off in his head, but he wasn’t sure

why at first. Surely it was better that poor George die?

Just then they heard the wheezing quicken and George try to talk. It came out as a garbled

hiss. Laura ran the flight of stairs quickly, and then all Barry could hear were her sobs

and the scuttling of her children’s’ little feet. There was a scream from one of the

children , then both of them, and Laura wailing “Your papa’s gone! He’s gone for good

now!” This was followed by a voice that said,

“I’m right here, I’m just here.”

Laura stopped screaming. It had been one of the children.

All of a sudden the alarm in Barry’s head made sense. George worked like one of them

351
now- when he died he would migrate in virus form to the nearest intelligent host.

“Get your remaining kid down here now!” he shouted. By now he had to shout above

Lauras’ rekindled screams. She had realized too. There was a thud upstairs, and the little

boy came rolling down, his skin bubbling like it was boiling.

Barry grabbed a throw from over the sofa and quickly covered the boy with it, moving

him into the kitchen and setting him on the table. Laura kept the smaller child away while

Barry blocked the kitchen door and listened to the child. He kept saying he was George

Ridley, over and over again. At other times he would say that he was confused or afraid.

Then there was silence. The next time he checked on him, he had reached the cocoon

stage. His skin was now transparent and through it he could see what looked like a baby.

He did not know how long he had been there. Every so often he checked the front porch,

the back windows, then the kitchen again, pistol in hand all the time. Laura Ridley was

beside herself more and more as time went on. The small child slept most of the time in

Barry’s arms as he checked the house, a baby in one arm, a gun in the other. The mothers

mind was lost, but Barry was determined to save the child.

After an hour, the sixth time he checked, Barry found the cocoon open, and the growth

inside it gone. There was a slither of blood and fluid leading from the cocoon under the

table and into the adjoining utility room. Barry hastily left the baby on the living room

sofa and returned to the kitchen, aiming the gun before him. Slowly he opened the utility

352
room door, pushing it open with his foot. It was dark and cold inside, and the air felt

damp to Barry. On the floor, kneeling beside the washing machine, was the frame of a

person, small and weak. Barry bent down to it, and opened the door enough to let a faint

amount of light in and he seen its face. Two eyes, a nose, a mouth- it was humanoid,

albeit deformed terribly, halfway between a child and the face of George Ridley.

‘It wants to return to its original form,’ thought Barry, ‘George Ridley.’

Gant was on the floor now. He had fallen out of the wheelchair shortly after the

formatting had been activated, and Terry had barely caught him before he banged his

head of the hard floor. Terry sat on the edge of Lilly’s bed, just holding her hand and

watching her breathe. She was asleep, properly asleep for the first time in seven year he

knew she would wake up. Rebecca sat by Gant, stitching his head as best she could in the

torchlight. It was at least four in the morning. Below they could hear the abstract moving

around, screeching, scurrying, sliming. Slithering along with their tentacles or hoisting

themselves up on two humanoid limbs and lifting their bodies clear off the ground,

tentacles held off the floor with strong muscles. With their tentacles writhing above their

bodies as if held up by string, they resembled monstrous puppets.

Slowly Gant started to come around, eyes open with instant alertness. He raised himself

up with his powerful arms, then stood, so silently Terry did not even notice.

353
“Mr Cartel,” Gant said, after a few seconds.

Terry jumped and spun around, “Good to have you back..did it work?”

“Yes, my thoughts are organized, my mind clear. Show me the schematics again.”

Terry was astonished at the change in him. Sure this was the Gant he had questioned

earlier about the death of officer Peterson, the same man who had killed three of the

intruders in the bakery, and he was such a different creature from the scared man in the

wheelchair waiting to be formatted. Gant noticed how strangely Terry was looking at

him.

“It is still me, Mr Cartel, I assure you. I am simply clearer of mind and focused on the

job.”

“And what is your job, Gant?”

“The situation here has gone beyond all normal parameters. The intruders must be

prevented from fulfilling their purpose. What we must do is clear. Your wife has an

consciousness operating through her that can stop the spore from attempting to terraform

earth or worse.”

354
So Gant outlined his plan to leave the hospital. There were two real ways out. One, down

the eight flights of stairs and out of the front door. That one was off limits. Then there

was the lifts, only with the power out they weren’t going anywhere. The roof was also a

no-go, as there was no more chopper. Things looked grim, trapped on the ninth floor with

hundreds of the enemy below them. Quite how even Gant could get them out was beyond

Terry.

“It’s simple actually,” Gant said, “You may have noticed that they seem to know which

humans are infected. Your wife will be able to simply walk out Mr Cartel. We won’t be

able to follow. Not that way anyway.”

“I’m not sending her down there alone!”

“She will not be harmed.”

“How are we getting out then?”

“We’re taking a slighter different route.”

“Yea?”

“Yea. We’re going down the elevator shafts.”

355
He said it so blithely it was staggering. Terry glowered at him incredulously, but his eyes

never wavered. He was deadly serious.

Within half an hour they were ready to begin. Terry stood and gaped down into the wide

elevator shaft. Hospital elevators were wide, allowing room for wheeled beds. Service

ladders ran down the side of the shaft as far as Terry could see. The bars were slim and

insubstantial. At fifty two Terry knew this was no thing for him to be doing, but it was

the only way out of the hospital without going through the hordes of murderous fiends

below. He was completely out of himself, living outside the realm of any reference to

normal existence. Lilly stirred in her sleep, and he knew he would have to wake her soon.

She looked so peaceful, even though she understood what was happening in a way that no

one else could, Terry knew. Even though she knew what she was about to do and what it

would mean.

Walking over to her bed side, Terry gently touched her face and she opened her brown

eyes, two perfect orbs in the darkness. Eyes filled with strange knowledge that could only

be expressed in intricate color patterns.

“Is it time to go?” she asked, weakly putting her hand on Terry’s forearm.

“Yes baby,” he replied, tears glistening in the corners of his eyes, his voice barely above

a whisper, “Mr Gant is making all ready for us to go.”

356
“I’m not going your way,” she said, “I’m walking among them, aren’t I?”

“Only if you want to.”

“You think I can climb that elevator shaft ?” she said, her voice all of a sudden like a girls

again, her eyes playful.

Terry almost smiled. “I guess not,” he said, gently running his fingers through her hair.

It was amazing how easy it was. It felt like she had never been away. In that moment she

could have just woken up any morning and be lying in their bed.

“We’re leaving,” Gant cut in, as if they were about to drop into town to shop for shoes.

He stood there with an Ak-47 strapped over his shoulder and a large hunting knife at his

hip. In his right hand there was a nine millimeter pistol. Red snaked across his face from

his right temple across his sharp nose, stopping at his upper lip. His hair was disheveled

and his leathery face darkened with dirt. In the dim light his eyes seemed piercing and

bright, as if there was a spotlight on them.

“I know what you are.” Lilly did not say it to Gant.

“You know nothing about me,” Gant said without annoyance or anger, and turned

towards the open lift shaft, “We have to move now. They are coming to this floor soon.”

357
Lilly got up with amazing balance, Terry having to help her very little.

“The nanobots will do their best to support her,” Gant said to Terry.

Then he turned his eyes to Lilly.

“End it,” was all he said. Then he turned to the elevator shaft and began to descend the

service ladder without a moment’s hesitation.

Terry watched Lilly leave, dressed in a pink dressing gown and slippers. It was surreal

and absurd. Everything was. Reluctantly he put one foot on the cold steel of the ladder

and then another. Below him Gant was already many rungs down, moving with a

constant motion, his arms working as if they had an engine. He let himself note the

weight of his gun on his hip, let it comfort him as it always had, but found it could not.

He needed her to survive this.

Watching the quivering creature in the utility room, Barry tried to understand how it had

came into existence. He knew that the intruders had the ability to move all the

information needed to reproduce consciousness inside an airborne virus to an intelligent

host. The virus would enter the host and begin both to re-built the original creatures

awareness and it’s physical form. Somehow instead, George had survived. His

358
consciousness had migrated. Barry was no doctor or scientist, but he figured that the virus

may be changing. He knew that they could mutate. Maybe earth was having an adverse

effect on the normal function of the virus?

The creature made no attempt to move. Barry doubted it could. He knew it would

probably, ‘that George would probably’, he reminded himself, die again and migrate.

Maybe to him this time, maybe to Laura. Maybe to the baby.

‘No!’They had to leave.

But how? He knew the Ridley’s had no truck. That had been found at Fincher’s Hill

alongside George Ridley’s body. It was still there. The desert between where they were

and the town was too dangerous. Besides all this was still his bust foot. Somewhere in a

distant part of his mind that still cared about the future, he knew it would have to be

amputated eventually. What a protector he was. Laura Ridley was upstairs and he was

grateful. It would do her no good to see this. She was already lost. How could anyone

survive such a thing?! It was monstrous. Barry felt an anger rise in him and all of a

sudden he thought of Cartel and Gant, and knew he had done what he could to help

them.

“Find a way to kill them,” he said out loud, “You stop them Terry. You save us.”

He leant his head against the table and listened to the night. There was nothing he could

359
do .

Terry’s arms were starting to ache. He still worked out when he could but he doubted

anyone was ever meant to climb the whole set of maintenance ladders like this. At every

floor they could hear the abstract all around. Gant was quiet, Terry could only hear the

relentless sound of his feet on the steel rungs. It was a strangely industrial sound, and it

made Terry feel as if he was inside the workings of a huge machine. Maybe it is a huge

machine, a hospital, he mused. A machine for making people well; with compartments

that worked with others, and human beings as the fuel and wiring. If that was the case

then Cave Creek General was a machine for doing something very different now. Like

the hundreds of people in the hospital, it had been turned to a terrible new purpose that

Terry did not fully understand.

Neither did Gant. Not yet. As he climbed he mused the possibility’s until he was

interrupted by a scratching sound below him. He looked down in an instant and saw the

problem immediately. At the fourth floor the lift was stuck. He made his way down to it

and stepped onto it carefully. It swayed a little but did nothing else. Still that sound. Gant

got onto his knees and inspected the top of the lift. There was an opening in the top. Gant

lifted it up slightly and peered in. About twenty people were wedged into the lift, trying

to avoid the door, from which was protruding a strong thick tentacle. At first glance Gant

got the impression that the door was being forced open but as he watched it did not

budge. The creature was stuck, and by the weak flopping of its tendril had been for some

360
time. Gant climbed back up to the maintenance hatch for the fourth floor and stepped

through. This one wasn’t getting questioned. There were no others in the corridor as he

walked swiftly up behind it and put one shot clean through its head. The creature flopped

and changed colors madly, then died. The lift erupted into panic. Those inside had

obviously seen enough to know what it’s death would mean for them.

Everyone inside it tried to get away from the door. A portly man in a shirt and tie was

wheezing on the floor by the door already. They all figured he was infected and began to

restrain him. All the time the lift swayed and groaned.

Terry could see the lift, could not see Gant, could hear the cables groaning and people

screaming. He had heard the shot though. After some wondering he made it tentatively

unto the lift and peered in as Gant had. What he saw would stay with him for life, even

on a night like this it was…monstrous.

Everyone in the lift had huddled to the back as best they could. They were crying

screaming, shouting. The portly man was being held down by two terrified young

attendings and a man in surgeons garb. All of a sudden the whole mass of people simply

burst. Amid the spray of blood and the cries of pain, Terry discerned faces and teeth,

snarls and roars, shapes of tendrils and hands, twisted forms. Then it all stopped, and

what was left was a mass of biological material that moved weakly one yellow eye. one

man was left wholly untouched. It was the portly man with the badge that read,

‘radiologist.’ He looked up at Terry with terrified eyes. Then there was Gant shouting,

361
“GET OFF THE LIFT!” and Terry stumbled for the ladder and grabbed it just as he felt

the lift go from under him. His feet seemed to hang in nothing forever, and all he was

aware of was the steel of the ladder in his hands and fading cries. Then his knees clashed

heavily with that same steel and all the was aware of then was pain. Without knowing he

had, he had lifted his feet unto a rung and held himself tightly against the ladder.

Gants head appeared above him from the service hatch.

“Come on Mr. Cartel. Keep climbing.”

Terry knew in that moment what had happened. Gant had needed the lift to fall, and he

had made it fall the quickest way he knew. Rage coursed through him but he knew there

was no point arguing with Gant now. The formatting would wear off soon. Did that

absolve Gant of guilt though, the formatting?

“We’re going back up,” Gant announced.

“The radiologist was untouched,” he said, as if this was an explanation, and then, “they

have an incredibly violent reaction to even the slightest radiation. We need to be x-

rayed.”

The climb back up to the x-ray room nearly killed Terry, but by the time they arrived

back at the ladder having been shot at with x- ray radiation, he was sure he would die that

362
night; because he was tired. So tired. Tired and old. That was how he felt. Some part of

him wondered how he looked to Lilly now. For her it must have been a terrible shock to

see him aged seven years, yet it had not been. The entity inside her seemed to have given

her knowledge of many things she should not have known . Terry found it hard to believe

that three people could end this nightmare, even if Gant was one of them. in fact, he was

beginning to wonder if he should disable Gant somehow, wound him in the leg perhaps;

what Gant had done at the lift…but they needed him, and Terry had somehow formed an

attachment to him while he was unformatted- there seemed to be a real person in there. A

person who hurt and feared, maybe even hoped and dreamed. Still, as he was now, he

was dangerous, and Terry could only hope that he was more dangerous to the enemy than

to him or Lilly.

Eventually at the bottom of the ladder again, they found that there was too much debris

for them to go right to the bottom of the shaft to the car park; they had to enter the service

hatch to the reception and get to the car park from there.

“You didn’t think that one out too well Mr. agent,” Gant growled, voice edged with

disgust and annoyance. He wondered where Lilly was by this time. It felt like they had

been climbing for eternity. Gant ignored his remark and simply checked his weapons

before stepping out. It was not until then that Cartel realized exactly one hundred percent

what formatting was.

They rushed at them from all angles the moment that they stepped out of the maintenance

363
hatch; tentacles flailing, teeth glistening with blood. Gant raised his gun, torch lined

along the barrel, left and right, forward, up and down; Terry could only see the world

through that torchlight as they were cut down again and again. All the time they kept

pressing on towards the main exit. Terry fired too, a large twelve bore shotgun exploding

towards the enemy on all sides, but Gant was killing them hand over foot. They were

falling over reception desks, smashing through the glass coffee tables in the lobby, all in

a deadly haze of spotlight and blood, it seemed to Terry. Eventually though, by sheer

weight of numbers, they began to get too close. Every time Gant had to reload they

gained ground, Terry just about keeping them at bay. They were at the revolving doors

now, but they were jammed. A truck was smashed into the other entrance and was

blocking any escape, and the heavy automatic revolving doors were out of power. Gant

would have to push them while Terry covered. Running so hard Terry did not think he

could stop in time, Gant smashed into the revolving door and began to push instantly. It

gave way, but nightmarishly slowly, and the intruders were crowding now, with only

Terry’s shotgun for protection. Down to three shells, he fired off one as he began to back

himself towards the slowly revolving exit doors, but just as he did a powerful tendril shot

out of the gunsmoke and wrapped itself around his waist. He tried to fire into it, but all at

once he was in the air, being pulled up with astonishing ease. His head hit an overhead

light and he felt blood on his forehead and running down his nose. Then he was pulled

forwards and down, into the enemy.

‘This is it’ he told himself, embracing the shotgun and preparing to fire one more round

before he was ripped apart or worse. Hitting the floor hard and feeling the breath blasted

364
from his lungs, he lay on his bloodied face wheezing and aware only of numbness and a

sense of dread. It was pitch black and a rank smell filled his nostrils. Maybe it was his

own blood, maybe it was them, he was not sure. When he did tentatively open his eyes, it

was to see what looked like a thousand red and blue lights coming towards him. Then all

at once one lunged at him, its face and eyes suddenly illuminated in a terrifying

brightness, and he fired off one shot at it and closed his eyes.

There was a high pitched squeal, and the lead attacker ploughed into the floor just before

Terry and begun to twist and turn, writhing terribly as if on fire, wild protrusions erupting

from every part of its body. Terry backed away, fearing this was nothing more than part

of its attack, waiting for the stomach of the creature to engulf him and drag him into it to

be digested alive…instead another creature erupted into similar convulsions, then

another, then another. Suddenly Gants hand was clamped around his arm powerfully

puling him towards the doors. As he was dragged back he stared back at his would be

murderers. They were indistinguishable from one another now, a horrible mass of flesh

and rage.

“The radiation,” was all Gant said when they made it to the car park, Terry leaning

heavily against the first car he came to, staring at the darkness beyond through a half

shattered windscreen and a fine gold mesh streaked with red. Throwing himself back

violently as he realized what the gold mesh actually was, he began to shake. How could

he do this? How could anyone do this? He did not even know if Lilly was still alive.

Again a booming voice said, “She is alive Mr. Cartel,” and after a few moments of

365
shaking the ensuing panic attack simply stopped. That was strangely enough for Terry,

and it came as a surprise to him, but it was true. He was so tired of doubts. Doubts about

himself, doubts about Lilly, doubts. For once he simply let go and believed what he was

being told. It was so easy, and it liberated him. Maybe that was it, maybe he was too tired

to be cynical. Either way he pushed himself up off the concrete and began walking across

the car park. Ominous red lights edged away from the two lone humans striding through

the carnage. Terry was surprised to see a look of pure malevolence and distaste on Gants

face. He was still formatted, wasn’t he? Terry hoped he was coming back from it.

Eventually they found themselves in the car park under the hospital. There Gant had

deposited the children and doctors in an ambulance. Terry and Gant got into the

ambulance and soon the headlights came to life in the dullness. Gant accelerated hard and

pulled up the ramp and out of the hospital grounds. Behind him Terry could hear restless

chatter and groaning, but it was just good to hear human beings again, their sounds and

rhythms; the background noise you can hear anytime you walk into town. Like the engine

on a plane, that constant hum that tells you all’s working properly, we can feel out of

sync and lost when the noise of people is taken away. Cartel suddenly felt a great rush of

responsibility to the people in the ambulance.

“We can’t take them to the spore,” he said to Gant, no hint of compromise in his voice.

“There is a house not far from here where we can deposit them, I saw after we left Mr.

Johnson off at the jeep.”

366
*

In the quiet, even the distant roar of a jeeps engine was startling. Barry looked up from

the table sharply, and could see out the back kitchen window the sun coming up, and a

dust trail streaking across the desert towards the house. At first he was startled and

gripped the shotgun tightly, but then he was elated, grabbing his radio from the table and

lifting it to his mouth.

“Terry, come in!”

“Barry? Man it’s good to hear your voice! Where are you?”

“I’m in the Ridley house, you’re approaching it now. Did you…”

“Yes we woke Lilly, but she’s not with us now. It’s a long story. I didn’t hear from you. I

thought the worst.”

“It would take more than that to down me as long as my Marie and the kids are still at the

station. Terry there’s a situation at the house here. I think it’s best you see it.”

“Situation? We have a whole group of survivors from the hospital, most of them kids, is

367
it safe to bring them there?”

“Not right now. Stop outside the ranch and I’ll come out and fill you in.”

When Barry came stumbling out using his shotgun as a crutch, Terry hardly recognized

his friend. His face was strewn with glass cuts and blood was in his beard and neck. His

eyes were glazed and he flinched terribly every single time he put his left foot down even

slightly. Terry shuddered and felt suddenly guilty for letting Barry go earlier. Barry gave

him a look that said, ‘I wanted to do it,’ and smiled briefly despite the weight of horrors

that showed so clearly in his grey eyes.

“Something horrible has happened in there Terry,” he said, gesturing with his head

towards the dark silhouette against the dawn sky.

“It’s George Ridley. Something happened him…I don’t know how, but when he was

infected, his mind migrated with the virus instead of the aliens’.

“Mr. Ridley died at Fincher’s Hill.”

“Apparently not exactly. I spoke to him…to some thing claiming to be him…that said it

climbed out of his dead body at the morgue. Later in the house it died, and before anyone

knew it, the older child was rolling down the stairs, blabbering about being George

Ridley. It was…well, it’s still alive, the child cocooned.”

368
“Our we applying terminology to this now? We have to move it away from everybody

before it infects anyone else. Me and Gant are immune now- it’s hard to explain, just trust

me, we’ll move him, then you can let everybody on the ambulance come one in.”

Just as he finished speaking Gant appeared from the side of the ambulance, where he had

apparently been checking on their entourage. Terry eyed him suspiciously. He didn’t trust

him around them after the elevator incident. If just one of them was infected Gant might

start spraying bullets. Again he wondered how much longer the emergency formatting

would last.

“Come here Gant! “

“Terry,” Barry muttered quietly, “I think it really could be George Ridley, don’t let Gant

hurt him.”

He lead Gant and Terry to the utility room where the third incarnation on George Ridley

lay, hissing and wheezing, his back to the washing machine.

“Fascinating,” Gant said, his face rigid but alert, “we probably shouldn’t get too close.

The radiation would probably effect it to.”

Terry hadn’t thought of that. What had happened back at the hospital was still a horrific

369
blur to him. They now had a problem; they could not move him, and he would not ask

Barry to do it. As he stood pondering the problem, there was a clattering din behind him

and Laura Ridley burst into the kitchen. She broke through the surprised Cartel and

Barry, but was caught roughly by Gant. “Don’t hurt him, don’t hurt him!” she screamed

wildly. Terry could see her mind was broken. Had seen it a million time on the force in

New York. She was as wild as an addict, and as irrational now.

“Let me go to him! He can infect me! We can be perfectly together forever! Me and my

husband and son!”

“Calm down Mam,” Terry was saying, trying to put his hand on her shoulder to re-assure

her, but she struggled hard, even in Gants vice like grip around both her arms. She was

screaming so loudly, and Terry knew that the enemy may hear.

“Mrs. Ridley,” Barry said forcefully, bringing his eyes level with hers, “It’s going to be

ok, we’re not going to hurt…”

He was stunned into silence by a sharp thwacking sound. Laura’s head plunged forward

and hung limp. There stood Gant, having head butted her in the back of the head.

“She will live,” he said dryly, “She was being too loud.”

Barry took her in his arms, pulling her away from Gant, but he stumbled and Terry had to

370
move her the rest of the way into the living room, where he laid her on the sofa.

Gant simply turned and walked after Terry, leaving Barry to stand there, supporting

himself on the worktop behind him in the cheery little kitchen streaked with blood and

housing the body of a dead child turned into a monsters womb. Just as he felt his control

leaving him, just as he felt a mad urge to yell and cry, to beat the walls and fly after Gant,

he remembered the children out in the ambulance. There was someone to help, a reason

to stay sane. Barry simply turned and opened the back door, making his way out to them,

leaving Terry and Gant to sort out George Ridley.

As it happened, George Ridley moved on his own after that. He reared up on unseen

tendrils and flew across the room at Gant. It was more or less human in appearance apart

from its arms and legs, which were tendrils. It was wrapped around Gants back like a

grotesque back pack.

“You hurt Laura,” it screamed, “You hurt my wife!”

Terry was shocked to hear Ridley’s voice under all the hissing and wheezing, but grabbed

the thing by its neck and yelled,

“She’ll be fine Mr. Ridley, let him go!”

But Ridley was incensed and would not let go.

371
Terry took out his pistol and aimed it at what passed for his head, a gruesome melding of

Ridley and his oldest sons face.

“Kill him Cartel!” Gant was shouting, as he tried to get a grip on the Ridley-alien with his

hands. Terry wavered; he could see Ridley meant business, but also that he was trying to

hurt Gant, not kill him. That he was just trying to pull Gant away from Laura. It was not

so different than what Terry felt about Gant being near Lilly.

“Shoot him!” Gant shouted again, stumbling to the right, bent under the weight and

fighting with one hand to keep a vicious tendril from his throat. Then Ridley made a

mistake and let go of Gants other arm. Gants’ free hand was at his neck. Terry watched as

Gant and the creature struggled in an ugly slow dance. Gradually Gant pulled it over one

shoulder, and the creatures tendrils slid off his other arm in a painstakingly slow snake-

like motion. Finally Gant was looking into its eyes, a deep brown just like the original

George Ridley’s, and he moved over to where Laura lay and held it close to her.

“Let me carry you out of the house or I’ll kill you here and you will infect her!” he said,

breathing hard between words. For a second everything paused, and Terry thought that

the struggle would resume all over again. He knew Gant was too tired to survive it again.

He was terrifyingly strong, but he was exhausted now.

“I will go,” Ridley said, and a look of real humanity seemed to pass across his features.

372
With that Gant through Terry a look, a terrible look, yet somehow weary and human too,

and he simply turned, cradling the creature in his arms like a child, with a gentleness that

was as shocking as his threat. Terry fell to the ground, feeling like the last five minutes

had been two hours.

Before he had time to sigh or close his eyes bedraggled people started filing past him,

shuffling refugees from Cave Creek General. Surgeons still in scrubs, doctors dressed in

shirts and ties, well fed consultants in Armani suits, but mostly children. Small kids,

small balded by cancer treatment, some on crutches, others in slings. Some of them

looked just fine, dressed in pajamas and clutching teddy bears. Terry was just raising

himself up, beginning to speak, thinking how to direct them, how to calm them, what

their needs…his thoughts and words were interrupted by a little girls voice and he looked

down, then came back to his knees, to her level. Before him stood a willowy bald child

with large blue eyes exaggerated by her lack of eyebrows or hair. Her skin was as white

as porcelain and she was clutching a Winnie the Pooh bear with a single spot of blood on

his left eye.

“You can rest for a bit,” she said, very clearly. “You must be Mr. Cartel. Mr. Gant

mentioned you. He said you were tired, but that you would not quit.”

Terry did not know what he found more amazing, the tenacious little child or the fact that

Gant had spoken to her about him. Her eyes were calm, the calm of someone who daily

had to face down cancer, and was well adjusted to fearing monsters from within.

373
“Thankyou,” he said, and meant it, “what’s your name?”

“Alanna,” the child replied, then joined the crowd gathering in the living room. a few

doctors were fussing over Laura Ridley now. ‘Good’ Terry thought, ‘something to keep

their minds occupied’.

His mind however, freed now from immediate concerns like refugees or George Ridley,

went straight back to its default setting; Lilly. He walked through the living room , out of

the back entrance and to the barn, where he found Gant laying Ridley down in the straw.

“We have to go to the spore now,” Terry said as he reached Gants’ side, “she’ll be there

by now.”

Gant did not look at him. Instead he looked intently at the Ridley creature.

“Do you know anything that may help us?” he asked it.

“They’re not compatible with earth, or with us. The virus is changing and they don’t like

it. They mean to leave.”

Then Gant turned to Terry.

374
“Things are worse now,” was all he said. “We should go to the ravine.”

Lilly stood in the ravine, quiet, still, before the great spore. The hellish object that had

destroyed Cave Creek and every life in it for all she knew. It appeared impenetrable and

almost unimaginably huge now, as it prepared to terraform earth. She could scarcely take

in the truth that she knew about it, that it was a huge virus for infecting an entire planet.

An organism with a mind and a will, created to save a dying world, it had instead become

free floating random death. All at once a round orifice opened before her, and she heard

the abstract inside, scraping and clicking; she smelt the stench of a thousand human

bodies being turned into raw genetic material, and in she stepped.

The walls of the spore were as black as the outside, not smooth, but out of every inch a

life form grew, or what looked like plants, there were even growths that seemed strangely

like small buildings. Writhing stalks with glowing barbs grew here and there projecting

bluish holograms before them like organic computer consoles. Some of the abstract were

standing by these consoles, connected to them by thick slug like tubes that engulfed their

heads above the mouth. Everything inside the spore had the same markings, the same

occasional bio-luminescence. ‘We had become indistinguishable from our technology’

Lilly heard the creature in her mind say, and she finally understood it.

Lilly Cartel walked on, as the abstract observed her, their bodies shimmering a light

orange, tentacles writhing softly. They seemed like they were waiting. At peace. ‘The

375
peace of demons is the fear of mankind,’ Lilly remembered reading. That’s how she felt,

like she walked among demons, like she walked in hell itself, Lilly Cartel, in her light

pink dressing gown and bare feet, with silvering hair and steady clear eyes, walked

through the legions of the enemy, an unlikely heroine, no, not a heroine at all- that was

not how she seen herself. She was, in her mind, Misses Cartel, teacher, wife, lover,

sometime writer. Those were the important things. She was no hero. To walk in here was

no great deed- it was what she had to do. To save Terry. To save everyone. Although in

truth it was Terry, not the world, that she had on her mind. This was for him.

She marched right up to a great towering wall that stretched up forever it seemed into a

grey thick mist. In the wall there was a jutting throne like growth, and above it a great

slug like creature, hanging from an unseen place in the mist. Led by her ally, she

mounted the steps to the deformed throne, and sat there. The great slug moved into

wriggling life, and began to descend. Down it came, until from folds of skin in it’s head,

a terrible ‘mouth’ full of fine spikes blossomed, looking like a flower from Dante’s

inferno, and took Lilly by the head, inserting the thin spikes into her temples, one ’petal’

slipping inside her mouth and slid a spike up into her brain through her upper jaw. It

continued until only her bottom jaw could be seen.

Gant and Terry had taken the ambulance right after talking to Ridley. Barry had stayed

376
behind, his foot being tended by three doctors as they left. Terrible shudders had shook

the house, like the ones in the hospital. Terry and Gant had hurried especially after that.

They were both sure now that the spore meant to burrow into earth like the Lilly entity

had said. Now they were driving through the fields of geysers that they had flew over on

earlier, and beneath those monstrous clouds it may have well been another world. There

was no view of the sun, and through the gas the sky appeared red. Up close the geysers

were clearly growing from the ground, they were fleshy and filled with pulsating veins.

Terry was hoping to catch up to Lilly somehow, stop her from going in, but as the field

whipped by and the sun came up more and more, he could see nothing except the huge

bulk of the spore rising from the ravine. Every so often it seemed to shudder, as if cold,

and sink a little.

“It’s digging,” Gant narrated dryly, “Yet it has begun terraforming.”

“How do you know?”

“I had the nanobots report any drop in oxygen levels. They’re reporting that the

composition of the oxygen is changing.”

“But they breath oxygen?”

“Yes, but not very well I think.”

377
“You mean, this is them operating in un-breathable air?”

“Astonishing is it not? Imagine how deadly they are in their own environment.”

“You really think they can destroy everything?”

“I believe it, yes.”

Just then Gant abruptly slammed the brakes and the ambulance skidded to a halt.

“This is as far as we drive,” he said.

As they left the ambulance a crack of lightning split the sky. Brilliant purple lightning.

It lit up the dark scene. Gant and Terry were on an overhang staring down at into the

lowest part of the valley, where the spore had landed at first.

Terry began to walk into the valley but Gant grabbed him back.

“There is no point! Lilly is the only one who can go in! If we can believe her ‘friend’

they can take care of this.”

Terry did not believe Gant. He did not believe that this would end. It was over. The spore

was too big, too much had changed, too many had died.

378
“There are old mines below this valley,” Terry said, “I’ll bet you could see how they’re

digging from there.”

Gant considered this, then before he could answer Terry said, “You can do what you

want, I’m watching here till it’s done.”

Gant turned to leave, apparently deciding he did not need to take Terry with him. As he

walked away the ground rumbled under them again. Terry turned too and began to climb

instead up to a vantage point where he could see better.

Making it down to one of the mine entrances, Gant stepped into the black without

reserve. There was a light shooting from the cave mouth in which dust was dancing

manically with every shuddering vibration. Moving through a small tunnel at first,

watching his own shadow bob on the wall to his right. something about it gripped him,

terrified him, shocked him. The formatting was going again. Part of his mind panicked.

Part of it fought to hasten its departure, as if struggling for air underwater and suddenly

finding itself near the surface. Suddenly Gant was thrown back into full awareness, like a

rush of freezing water. He fell against the sides of the cave and was violently sick.

Terry stood there in the gathering storm, atop a huge, black twisted rock, beholding the

379
desolation spreading far and wide, the writhing desolation, living and growing, choking

the world, bending it to an ancient, evil will. The blackness moved outwards from

Vulture’s Ravine, web-like, thick and fleshy, indistinguishable now from the sand and

rock, and he shuddered, realizing he was looking at the end of the world. He could see

Cave Creek burning from his vantage point, and guessed the people had torched it rather

than let the intruders take them. A deep terrible howling emanated from somewhere;

somewhere, nowhere, everywhere; all around Cartel, all around him, thick like a blanket.

The sky had grown dark with heavy clouds, charcoal black and an ashen deathly grey,

occasionally illuminated by brilliant and bizarre purple lightning, red lightning, green

lightning. The weather of an alien world. Terry Cartel looked out at the darkness, he

considered it, breathed in and seemed to breathe the darkness into him. All the hate and

pain and fear around him, seeping inside his soul like ink through clear water- and he

smothered it. Crushed it. Even here, at the end of everything, he found the strength to

smother it as he had for seven long years, and he knew, he knew he might not be able to

stop the spore, but he could try to save Lilly. The world may be lost, but he could try to

save her. He wouldn’t’t let her die. She would die, they all would, but he would it not let

it happen. He would not stand back and allow it. It would not be because he did not try

that she died, it would only be in spite of him. Cartel cocked the shotgun in his hands,

more a gesture of defiance than anything truly useful, and he began walking towards the

cavernous maw of the spore, over the wriggling, newborn country that was ever growing

all around him. The wind snarled and the fangs of things long forgotten barred and

clenched from rock and sand. It was like walking in hell. Then he stopped awestruck.

Before him the rock walls of the ravine rose up on either side, now slick and black, sharp

380
like jagged teeth twisting and curling at the tips like bats wings forming a canopy over

the ravine. The spore was imbedded in one side of the ravine growing fat and spreading

out like a monstrous fungus. All around Terry strange plants grew from every crevice,

stalks four feet high with barbs glowing a pale fluorescent blue on the ends, looking like

sparklers frozen in time. A full moon rose, framed by the ravine walls, casting it own pale

blue/white light onto the shimmering rocks and the parasitic spore that shimmered lightly

like a fat squid lying on the ocean floor. It towered above Terry in a halo of light from the

moon, and the strange glowing plants all around him swayed as if by an invisible breeze.

Near the base of the spore there was a round orifice that was opening and closing

periodically, giving the impression of breathing. Terry walked around the spore with his

torch but could find no other way in. Not that he was sure the circular orifice was a way

in exactly. Suddenly he wished Gant was there. He would have some strange insight,

probably. Still, Lilly had obviously gotten in. What about the enemy? Did they ever come

here? Terry imagined that they would for some reason, but now that he was here he

realized that he had no reason for thinking that at all. Why would they? Then again the

spore was big enough now for them to possibly be inside. If Gant was right about it being

a terra-forming device, maybe the atmosphere inside was more suitable for them. He

walked back to the portal and stood before it. He shone the torch inside as it opened again

and saw pink reddish flesh contrasting with the charcoal black on its outside skin. It

looked like something Terry had seen on a medical documentary about intestinal

operations. He had watched footage of a surgeon examining a patients intestine with a

camera, and now as he stared into the orifice it appeared to be very similar. This gave

381
him little comfort as he approached it, but still, Lilly was in there, so that was were he

had to go. There was no turning back. There had never been for Terry where Lilly was

concerned.

Terry decided head first was best. He had learnt this pot-holing as a younger man and he

had also learnt that he was seriously claustrophobic. First he put his right arm in, holding

his shotgun tightly. He felt pressure as if his whole arm was under a huge blood pressure

pad. He winched, but put in his other arm, then his head. Immediately he was overcome

with humidity, and a warmth like hot breath came over him, stifling his own breathing.

Once he was inside up to his waist he was pulled in by a sudden spastic jerk. He felt

strong pressure on his head and shoulders and screamed silently thinking for sure he was

being swallowed.

‘Great Terry, you just climbed into its mouth! Talk about making it easy!” he thought.

Then the pressure lifted. Terry frantically tried to back out, as the fleshy tunnel expanded

but then it compressed again, and he was pulled and pushed forward by powerful

muscles, soaking him in thick fluid like saliva. The walls were literally closing in, and

Terry was terrified.

What if I’m being digested alive?

What if this tunnel is an intestine wall meters and meters long?

Stupid, stupid, foolish man! All those years surviving on his own, the self sufficient Terry

382
Cartel, and now, at the end of all things, he climbs into the devils mouth?! Idiot!

Again and again it pushed him further. Terry thought it must be like being swallowed or

born. Or excreted. All of a sudden the distain of this thing enraged him. Coming to earth

and tearing Cave Creek apart, creating nightmares in the lives of good, honest people.

People with families. Children, parents, wives. How dare they! What gave them the

right?! They had probably did it to other worlds. Again and again, without remorse or

hesitation.

All of a sudden he felt himself coming into space, and he was spilled out unto a spongy

surface roughly, gasping and coughing for air, but finding it hard to come by. He lay

there for a few minutes, trying to regain some sense of co-ordination. He was dizzy after

travelling up and down, left and right in such a bizarre fashion. Finally he stood up,

feeling the fleshy floor give a little beneath him. The sight that met him was now so much

awe inspiring as downright numbing. He could not process what he was seeing at all. The

‘room’ around him was shrouded in a fine white mist that clung close to the floor.

Around the sides of the immense room hundreds of the enemy clung from strange

protrusions by their tendrils. Above them there were bowls of liquid with strange fish like

creatures swimming in them, rapidly changing colors that Terry had not even seen before.

The impression was that the devices were some kind of interface, like computers.

Everything connected with the intruders seemed to be organic. Even the landscape

forming all around the spore. And it all had similar characteristics, like the glowing.

383
There was no sign of Lilly so Terry figured he should go up.

The intruders ignored him as he passed through, as if they knew about the radiation.

Again Terry wondered how they all seemed to adapt as one, and also he wondered how

long the radiation would protect him for. Towering above him there were many levels,

connected by fleshy bridges, lit by glowing barbs. The strange eye like creatures flew all

around, busying themselves with the interfaces. Terry could see no way to go up except

another round entrance leading to a transparent tunnel filled with pushing muscles. A lift.

It was a intestinal elevator. Terry almost laughed in his half amused terror at the thought.

He approached it and braced himself.

When he was pushed out on the next level there was a protrusion above him for pulling

himself out, but it was too high, being meant for gripping tendrils rather than human

arms. He climbed out with some effort and found himself staring at another round room.

There were transparent bubbles in the walls were human bodies floated in thick liquid.

They were partially transformed into the enemy. Next to them were humans turned

cocoons. Terry stared at them, wondering if this was how they had figured out how to fix

the problems with the transformation process. Maybe they had analyzed the specimens

and sent out an ‘upgrade’ that could add information to the virus, like a download meant

to fix an errant piece of software. Terry wondered if all the intruders below were

reporting to some central control. For the first time he considered that the spore may be

some kind of intelligence itself.

384
Terry kept ascending until he reached the top level. As he was pushed to the exit the

feeling of despair that had been building in him intensified. A vision of howling death

assaulted his senses as he entered the upper cavern.

The moment his vision cleared he saw her.

Terry stepped inside, following her as he had always done, going to her side, feeling his

mortality stalking him again, the minotaur taking shape all around him. Finally he could

see the minotaur, it had taken shape in the spore all around him. Cartel stood looking at

Lilly, connected to the monstrous evil by a black slug- like tube that came down from the

thick mist that formed a layer of eerie cloud inside the softly breathing halls. The tremors

were stronger now, and more frequent, and the sound they made seemed to be coming

from further away.

The spore considered Terry Cartel, watched him, tried to guess his intent. From the Earth

it had learnt of mankind, of history; the great war, the holocaust, the second world war,

Hiroshima, the 11th September. It knew the human race, and it had become their terror,

their guilt, their fear. Their darkness. It studied him, and laughed inside itself. Laughed at

the utter ludicrous nature of his being there. Laughed inside it’s ancient mind, the mind

that had learnt through the eons that darkness always wins, the genius mind that had

taken a billion lives just like Cartels, smothered their little, useless hopes inside its black

embrace. It would do the same to this being, with his dreams and memories of the female,

his hopes of children already dashed, the lost years, the awful finality of the lost years

385
that he could never get back; his guilt, his crushing guilt. It would be easy with him, he

was always one day away from giving up.

The darkness now considered Terry Cartel more deeply, and with one swift motion

seeped into his mind like fine, black smoke. It searched throughout the caverns of his

mind, walked among his memories, swept a glance over his fears- and smiled at that- his

fears. The darkness felt assured. Then it found his hurt, the long nurtured numbing hurt of

nearly a decade- and smiled again. The darkness felt assured once more. It laughed in its

assurance, and knew that it would move on. That it would do it again. Cartel stood still

and firm, like a man who knew something was happening but did not know what. He felt

the spore inside his mind, felt its’ tentacles wrapping around his hopes and squeezing .

He stumbled forward and grabbed for Lilly’s hand, and the spores laughter echoed

around his consciousness. It rumbled, a deep guttural chuckle that rose to a piercing

witches screech of amusement… and then stopped abruptly. The darkness paused, so

violently and so suddenly that Cartel flinched physically.

The darkness had reeled back, reared like a great stallion that had been spooked… it had

considered Terry Cartel, and right down at the end of all things, buried beneath the

obvious fear and layers of loneliness, it had discovered something that had confused it.

There was no assurance here for it’s evil heart.

The darkness shuddered.

386
Its’ thick black blood ran cold, the walls of its’ fleshy skin tremoring for the first time in

endless millennia. It had found something so strong and so old, something of such will

and power that even it’s hatred could not expunge it.

It saw untempered love.

It understood why Cartel was standing there, even at the end. It understood and its’

ancient mind broke all at once, as if all the tremulous tower of evil it had built had

suddenly been off-balanced by this one vision.

Finally Gant came to an old mine shaft leading downwards. The only means of going

further was an ancient mine lift, reddened by rust. It swayed as Gant stepped into it and

searched for the release mechanism. As he began to descend, the mine shaft shuddered

convulsively, like a giant spinal column. The lift reached the bottom with a jolt and Gant

stepped out into a huge cavern. Gant squinted into the darkness at a deep shadow that

dominated the centre of the cavern. Again a convulsive shudder ran through the ground.

Suddenly the cavern was lit with an orange glow and Gant could see that the shadow was

a huge black maggot -like protrusion. Light came from transparent sacks of thick liquid

on its skin. Its body was segmented, and on every segment there were hooks that helped it

pull its way through the earth. As the shuddering died away the light faded and left Gant

in darkness again. From far below him Gant could hear a deep grinding sound that he

387
supposed was more powerful drilling apparatus. The spore was digging. The intruder had

told the truth; the spore must have deemed the earth suitable and had decided to infiltrate

it completely. Gant knew once it reached the centre it would be unstoppable. It would

take root and change everything. There was little he could do. The ‘drill-bit’ was twenty

meters in circumference and with every shudder bringing orange light Gant could see that

it was working its way downwards at a terrifying rate. It was hard to take in that it was

really heading for the earths’ core. Gant marveled at its similarity to a bacterio-phage

The upper part was the capsid containing the DNA, and the part now drilling towards the

earths’ core was the sheath that would deliver the infection. Once it reached the core it

would put out ‘tails’ that would spring new spores all over the world, slowly terra-

forming the entire planet. Or at least that was how Gant theorized it would happen. Warm

tears began to appear in his eyes as the last of the formatting let go off his mind. In the

alternating orange light and darkness Gant stood, letting all the memories and feelings

come flooding back. His wife and daughter, all the jobs he had done for the agency, all of

it hit him at once again, as if the flood of humanity held back by his formatting was

finally truly let loose. As if a dam had burst in his mind pain came to him unfettered and

unorganized, no longer compartmentalized and controlled, locked up in a cubicle besides

desire and ambition. Emotion was no longer kept like an unwanted pet in a corner,

silenced to a dull niggle- it was a raging beast, tearing through Gants mind with reckless

abandon, smashing dividing walls and allowing all sensation and memory to collide as

one in the great melting pot that is full consciousness.

388
*

Far down in the caves, Gant was on his knees, watching the spore’s huge drilling

machine claw ever closer to the earths’ core, when it suddenly shuddered and stopped.

For the briefest second he smiled, knowing Cartel had reached Lilly. It might not save the

world, but at least he had reached her.

The spore flew from Cartel’s mind, but Lilly, wakened again by the touch of his hand,

gave it no easier a time. The creature inside Lilly entered the spores mind at its’ moment

of weakness.

Lilly found herself standing with the intruder in a huge spherical room that looked like

the inside of a shell. The walls were grey, and translucent. From outside of the room dull

light entered, and at in the centre of the room, produced from the floor there was a raised

throne atop of a pedestal. The creature that sat upon it overflowed its sides, and almost

touched the ceiling. Even to the intruder it was an almost maddening sight. It had no form

that the intruder had ever seen.

An arrogant, powerful voice said “This is the form that I have chosen. I will be a god on

this world, and this will be my form. Your kind are my creators and my children.”

“Then you have settled on this planet?”

389
“I will root myself into this world and be part of it, and it of me.”

“And the creatures who inhabit it?”

“They will begin your world afresh.”

“I do not wish it.”

“You are the unfaithful one.”

“I am unwilling to sacrifice this race to prolong our race of murderers!”

“It matters not.”

“But you have seen them, and know them as I do!”

“As I have seen many worlds.”

“You are not a living being.”

“I was always. A simple being at first. I have gathered little information on my creation.

It seems that very few of you really understand what I am…”

390
All of a sudden the intruder could see his home world spread out before him. Great arcs

of lighting split a red sky overhead, and all around him the world howled and a warm

strong wind blew like a raging monster. Millions of his kind filled a great plain.

Somehow they were softer, less monstrous then, subtle differences in their biology

making them look less malevolent.

Great structures rose in the distance, cities built by millions who secreted an amber-like

substance that cooled to become virtually indestructible. A glow shone through these

constructs from two suns, one of which was dying rapidly, soon to swallow up both its

twin star and planet. On an immense pedestal of amber among the millions of his kind,

the intruder saw the spore. It was smaller then, more spherical, but still a charcoal black.

It sat mutely, without that hideous crawling movement that usually rippled its skin. Then

the spore began to unfold like a leathery dark flower, until it was spread out like a huge

starfish. Then a dazzling display of color filled the sky, swarms of insects that

communicated a signal to the masses. Brilliant greens, purples, deep reds and blues stood

out against the storm blitzing overhead.

When the message was done the masses responded. All across the plain, fires burst to

life, as volcanic geysers, held in check until then, were allowed to explode to life,

engulfing the millions in a mass suicide. For the last time, before genetic changes caused

by the spore and adaption to different biologies stole the ability from them, the masses

screamed in fear and despair. As the stench of burning carcasses filled the air the great

391
spore sat impassively while the dead entered it in virus form. For days it continued, until

the entire population was within the spore. Then it closed up, slowly, deliberately, sealing

itself. Time sped on, and for a year, as the suns rose and fell, one of them growing

smaller and darker every day, the spore sat quietly. Then, during the last sunset the

horizon simply broke up into chunks of rock , then the distant mountains were made dust,

the amber cities followed until all the world was gone. The spore was swallowed into the

yawning void as the intruder watched, and was spewed out in another universe.

Suddenly the intruder was back in the throne room.

“That was the beginning?” the dark one asked, having pulled the memory from the

intruders mind.

“The beginning of our journey, yes. Let me ask you something; is this place all you have?

Is this your sanctuary?”

“This…” the spore hissed, “…is what will be. The die is cast here.”

“So happenings here effect the real world?”

“Correct.”

At that, the intruder lunged at the dark one, major tendrils reaching, jagged teeth readied

392
for attack, body flashing furiously from red to deep red. It flew towards the spore in a

smooth arc, and as it made halfway the great creature responded. From a seamless, flat

area between its mass of tentacles, a huge rend tore open to reveal a maw full of thick

teeth, rushing toward the intruder on a powerful telescopic neck that rippled with muscles

beneath charcoal skin.

The intruder suddenly changed direction, using an outstretched tendril to grab a

protrusion in the wall, narrowly escaping the jaws the snapped shut inches from its head.

Falling to the ground, he whipped himself up quickly and lunged towards the

incomprehensible creature on the throne, its own small tendrils pointed like that of an

attacking squid.

Lilly could only stand watching, unsure of the significance of what she was seeing as the

two creatures were locked in battle. She felt helpless.

In the caves, the maggot-like drill began to slither upwards again, a fiery glow following

it as it did. Lava. It must have dug very deep already, Gant knew then.

Gant braced himself. As the great drilling apparatus rose above him, retreating into the

393
spore, he reached up and thrust a syringe full of his blood into its soft inside membrane

wall. Then he dropped, exhausted by the heat and by the constantly recurring visions of

his wife and daughter, and chuckled to himself, a scary laugh, gradual and resounding-

the irony was irresistible- he had given the spore a virus- albeit one made of up of

miniscule gears and robotics. The nano- machines would be wreaking havoc with its

great brain in seconds. At least, he prayed they would.

The intruder had been beaten to the ground again, and this time it did not spring up again.

The spore’s chosen form began to leave his throne. The thickest tendrils near the base of

his grotesque body lifting him up, and he began to move forward towards the injured

intruder and Lilly. Just as it reached the shuddering mess that had been the intruder, the

spore flinched terribly. Then it let out such a hideous, long sound- a sound composed of

pure unadulterated rage and hatred. Terry heard it too, as he stood helpless, not knowing

whether he had lost her or not. The avatar of the spore flickered, becoming less

substantial. In one moment it appeared as it had when it first crashed in the desert, then as

it was in the physical world, and Lilly could see that the spores tail had reached the

Earths’ core.

“You’re nothing but a virus!” she screamed at it, speaking in its presence for the first

time.

394
The spore and turned its terrible face towards Lilly. Its features were twisted in

indescribable malice, all of its eyes a misty red.

“And why is that an insult?!” its voice boomed, the same voice Lilly had heard in her

dreams years before.

“Parasite, then!” she yelled back, “Murderer!”

“I am unbound by any consideration that would cause me to be insulted by such

descriptions!”

At that, it stood up and spread its sickening limbs, bursting the spherical walls of the

room open. At once the walls fell away and Lilly could see that they stood on a world of

scorched orange sand and clouds of thick red dust that rained blood. They stood on a

great plain and to the east far below, watching, there was a group of men dressed in

black. Lilly knew that this world was not real, at least not in this place. The men stood

beside a fleet of black sedans, with their hands folded before them. Bizarrely the thought

came to Lilly that they looked as if they were attending a funeral. The funeral of the

planet called Earth.

“Why won’t you help us!?” she yelled at them.

Even thought they were so far away they somehow heard her, and all of a sudden one of

395
them was standing beside her. She could see that he looked insubstantial and slightly

transparent.

“We cannot. This is merely a link between worlds, facilitated by the spore. Its mind

resides here, while its body is with you.”

“I don’t understand!” Lilly said, confusion and despair etched in every word.

“It is already beaten- Gant has hurt it,” the agent said, making no attempt to explain any

further, “ this is merely its last desperate attempt to win.”

With that, the spores monstrous form howled again, and flickered, as did their

surroundings; from earth, to the sandy world, to a planet Lilly had only seen in dreams

many years back. Then, there was only blackness, and Lilly felt herself drifting in

nothingness. There was only a deep resounding voice, crying in the dark, threatening,

squealing, screeching hatred and malice.

“Why did you speak to me, all those years before!” Lilly screamed, realizing her chance

for answers was fading. All she heard was a throaty, croaking laugh, drifting away from

her.

“No, no! Don’t you go! Give me the answer!” she shouted in desperation, but her own

voice was becoming indistinct.

396
“It would not even if it could,” another said. It was the intruder who had helped save

earth.

“I thought…”:

“Me also,” the intruder answered, “but it could not kill me truly. My consciousness is tied

up with yours. This is why you must go now- time is short!”

In the real world and with a terrible jerk, the huge slug holding let Lilly her go, and the

spikes retreated upwards while the whole vile beast began to writhe as if on fire. Terry

ran to her and caught her just before she fell, caught her in his arms and saw her

strikingly brown eyes open, fully awake. He picked her up, feeling her heart thudding

against his chest, turned and started to run.

Down in the mines Gant was unsure of the significance if what he had done, but knew it

was time to leave. Seething lava was pouring into the mines now, and the heat was

becoming unbearable. Gant began to run towards back towards the mine shaft, the empty

eyes of dead intruders glowing red now as they reflected the rising, burning tide. When

he reached the lift he found that the cables that held it up had been snapped. Looking up,

397
he could see that there were scores of the enemy hanging from the swinging cables, alive

and angry. The radiation that had protected him had obviously worn of, for they advanced

now with no hesitation. One by one, they dropped to the floor of the caves, breaking their

falls with thick malleable tendrils. Gants raised his empty shotgun and swung at the first

one, but her was weak from fatigue and confused by the raging emotions in his mind and

he missed. The creature responded by wrapping a powerful tendril around his leg, which

began to snake up over his knee. Then another dropped down behind him and wrapped a

tendril around his waist. Others followed, engulfing his arms, slithering over his face and

neck, tightening, gripping, rippling with muscles and alternating between being red and

transparent.

Gant never screamed. That seemed to frustrate them. His eyes however were full of terror

as one tendril rose like a cobra before him and began to force itself into his closed mouth

while two other tendrils held his head still. Gant could not struggle, so did not even try.

He felt the tendril force his lips apart, then his upper and lower jaws. The bitter tendril

slid over his tongue, forcing it down to the floor of his mouth. As the point of the vile

appendage touched his tonsils, Gant bit down suddenly, and with all the strength he could

muster. The enemy struggled to release itself, but Gant would not give in, though he felt

as if his teeth were being wrenched out of his mouth. For what seemed like a nightmarish

eternity of slipping tendrils, bitter taste and choking, Gant gradually bit through pure

muscle and skin until the tentacle was severed. He held the severed end in his mouth for a

few moments, staring into his tormentors eyes before he spat it out disdainfully. It’s

terrible neck and jaws slid towards him, seeming to float as strong muscles held them up.

398
Just then an area inside its transparent body lit up; a quadrant if the brain flickered a dull

blue. Gant moved his eyes and could see that all the intruders had the same blue

flickering in their brains. He felt the immense pressure on his body lessen as multiple

tendrils slipped and slid from him. with incredible agility the intruders leaped up to the

overhead cables and began to climb. Gant pulled himself onto the top of the mine lift and

leaped upwards too, grabbing the closest cable with one hand and immediately bringing

the other hand up. With supreme effort he pulled himself clear of the lift roof and began

to climb.

Finally, from the cave mouth in the bright moonlight, Gant could see the black fungus of

the spore sinking into the ravine floor in great shuddering jerks. In the pale moonlight he

could see hundreds of the intruders galloping on their two humanoid forearms towards

the spore. By the time they had reached it, it was too far underground for them to enter as

Cartel had. To the east a sudden sound caught Gants attention. He looked across and seen

three pickups tearing across the desert. The crack of a rifle rung out among the wailing

wind and alien thunder and one of the running horde fell.

399
Cartel made it to the entrance again, with Lilly half running, half being carried by him.

there was no time to think. Together they climbed into the intestine like tube, which had

lost all of its motor functions, and began to squeeze through towards a sliver of light.

“Keep going!” Terry shouted, “Don’t stop until you’re out! I think this thing is sinking!”

Eventually they spilled out onto the ground and found themselves in the mine where Gant

had been. The spore continued to pull itself into the ground behind them as they made

their way to the broken lift.

“It’s bust!” Terry shouted in frustration, but as he looked up he saw Gant at the top of the

shaft.

Lilly began to sway then, the effects of the virus setting in now, trying to transform her.

Terry held her steady and called up.

“Gant! We’re down here! Lilly’s being taken over!”

“There’s little time Cartel but we can still save her!” Gant yelled back.

Cartel, bewildered all at once by the thought that after it all he could still lose her set her

down gently.

400
“I can’t get up to you?” Terry called up, feeling frustration growing in his soul again.

Richard Lee appeared at the top of the shaft and tossed a rope ladder down. Terry shook

Lilly into wakefulness again.

“You have to climb baby,” he said gently, pulling her to her feet.

Slowly they worked their way up the ladder, feeling the heat of the still rising lava that

was gaining on them.

“Gants gone to get something from his truck!” Lee said as he pulled Lilly over the edge.

She fainted then, and he laid her down on the sand.

Lee checked her pulse as Terry pulled himself up. Terry looked at him with eyes full of

questions and said, “Cave Creek?”

Lee nodded a solemn ‘No,’ and Terry bowed his head and closed his eyes. He raised his

hand to beat the sand but found he had no more strength for anger.

“The townsfolk that were in the station are fine. The enemy started leaving suddenly and

we followed.”

Just then Gant pulled up in the truck and leapt out with a defibualtor in his hand.

401
“I don’t understand,” Cartel said as Gant made it to Lilly’s side. She was very pale

indeed, and her eyes were rolling in her head, having lost all their recognition.

“Lilly! Lilly honey!? What’s wrong with her?” Cartel asked wildly.

“I have to shock her. If the virus thinks she’s dead it’ll leave her. Since we’re both

immune it’ll have no where to go. Then I’ll bring her back,” Gant looked into Terry’s

eyes, “I’ll bring her back to you,” he said gravely.

Then Lilly’s voice.

“I’m here…but so am I…it’s going to begin…the bloating, the cocooning…do it now

Gant!” the creature inside Lilly screamed. “Do it now!”

Cartel looked into his wife’s eyes, into the eyes of the creature, “Thankyou,” was all he

could utter.

Gant immediately shocked her after that, an act so violent and sudden Cartel jumped and

burst into tears.

Lilly went limp, and even paler. Gant eased back, green eyes narrowed in concentration,

powerful hands clenching and unclenching with tension.

402
“Shock her again, bring her back!”

“We have to wait! It has to be at least 3 minutes!”

“But that’s too long! She could have brain damage!”

“If we do not wait, she may still be infected when we bring her back!”

Somewhere in the distance the spore still screamed, and for a second, it seemed to laugh.

“No! you’re wrong!” Cartel yelled, standing up into the wind, “The darkness doesn’t

always win! It can’t!” he roared into the blast, at that moment feeling no hope but a great

defiance nonetheless, a seemingly nonsensical defiance, born of a strength that had no

obvious source.

As he said it he heard the de-fibulator going again. It sounded like a gunshot. Like the

gunshot that left her in that coma. Spinning around, he heard his wife gasp, and saw her

sit right up, eyes full of life again. He dropped to his knees beside her and embraced her

as Gant let himself fall back, exhausted.

All he could do was hold her for ten minutes. It was enough to feel her heartbeat. He felt

if he ever let her go again he may lose her.

403
In the distance, the spores howling died away into the wind, the lightning frazzled into

the sky, the thunder moved on.

“It was wrong,” Lilly said to Terry.

“Yes. I believed it, honey I let myself believe it.”

“No you didn’t. I saw what scared it so much, I saw everything in it’s heart. You could

not have stood there if you really believed it Terry.”

Terry helped Lilly gently to her feet, holding her steady until he was sure she could stand

on her own. The sun was rising over the valley now, reddening the sky and chasing away

the dark unnatural clouds, the suns brilliant rays soaking up the inky blackness. Cartel

stood transfixed by the view, feeling the warmth hit his face. It seemed so long since he’s

seen the morning. In the distance, metallic shimmers appeared, four by fours heading

towards them. George Carter Driving the first one, a large shotgun propped up beside

him. He made Perry Lawson grab the wheel as he jumped out to embrace his daughter,

confusion and joy inhabiting his face in perfect union.

Gant was on the sand, his elbows rested on his knees, his head turned to the disappearing

spore. All around the group massive geysers still stood. They had stopped pumping up

the thick black gas and were now merely sitting there, a part of the new organic

404
landscape that spread now from the ravine, across the desert to Cave Creek, and all

through the town.

The spore dug itself into the ground and seemed to shrivel before their eyes. The whole

area gave one last tremendous shudder, sending a huge volume of dust into the air, then

there was a great quiet.

Returning to Cave Creek was something that for years to come would stand out to Terry

more than many of the horrific events of that time. The town was not a human place any

longer, but a black twisted memorial to a struggle fought against pure evil. There were

twisted forms everywhere. Forms with fangs and claws, tendrils and multiple eyes, some

half human bodies were found when houses were searched, most of them suicides. Black

cliffs rose in what had been the main street, and scores of wooden buildings were impaled

hundreds of feet above on sharp pinnacles. Some of the intruders were still alive, hiding

in houses and Gant joined Lee, Dirk, and an insistent Margot, in dispatching them. Terry,

Lilly and Gant had shared the ambulance back to the town. The first thing they did was

go to the station. Terry set Lilly up in his office. He tried to put her in his extra bed, but

she refused, saying she had been lying down for seven years. When she found she could

barely walk more than a few feet, Gant lifted her gently back a chair and set her down.

405
He examined her with his PDA, and found that the nano-machines in her blood stream

were already taking steps to help rebuild wasted muscles.

“The nano-machines will not replenish like mine,” he told her, like a doctor talking to a

worried patient, “Mine are replenished by my formatting computer; they are repaired

when broken- two of them can even ‘mate’ sharing learnt characteristics with the

computer that will then create a new individual machine based on their information.

Yours will die and be passed out of your system.”

“Thankyou.”

“If you knew what I had done, you would not thank me. I’m sure your husband will tell

you in time that I did terrible things in the last forty eight hours.”

“Things that were no more your choice than it was mine to be in a coma for the last seven

years.”

“I wish that were so, but the formatting does not force me to do certain things- it merely

takes away all other considerations, leaving me able to take the quickest, most effective

route- when I was under, I could still think. It was me- I just could not fathom doing

things any other way. Who knows, but it might be prove to be nothing but a way to reveal

the ultimate truth of human nature.”

406
“Just one side; the cold logic that resides in us all Charles,” Lilly said, smiling at his

expression when she used his first name.

“It’s been a long while since somebody called me by my name,” he said, his gravel voice

cracking. He sat beside Lilly, looking slightly ridiculous on the small stool. He seemed to

mitigate it and everything else in the room, a larger than life figure wearing a bloodied

white shirt and absurdly, a tie still hung loosely around his neck. His face and neck were

grimy, emphasising the whites of his eyes and the startling green of his pupils. His

powerful chest heaved slowly and he looked down at it and his muscular arms as if they

were not his.

“I’ve turned myself into a monster,” he said gravely, noting the thick veins running over

his arms.

“To say that after all that has happened is shameful!” Lilly said, “In time, you will find a

way to live with yourself.”

Everywhere there were bodies. Every house told a story of tragedy, which Gant worked

out from the positioning of certain items and the placing of bodies. He seemed so

different now, even more so than the first time he had come out of his formatting, and

talked away to George about everything from baseball to alien races he had met. Nothing

could be done about Cave Creek and the surrounding area. It was alien now, even though

the strange plants were dying and the intruders had been killed off, it was still completely

407
transformed. The geysers still dominated the area around the ravine, and there was still a

gaping hole in it where the Spore had burrowed in. The authorities would come, and all

would be analysed as best it could.

Lee found Gant standing on the roof of the station, looking out over the alien landscape

of Cave Creek. As he approached him he could already tell that there was something

different about him. He did not stand in the same rigid stance as he always had before,

but slouched now.

“You’re not formatted anymore.”

“No,” a barely recognisable voice said.

“ Well this is weird. It’s like we’ve never met I suppose.”

“Oh we’ve met,” Gant replied, “you like two sugars in your tea and medium rare steak,

you watch twenty four religiously when you can and you have fives locks on your

bedroom door.”

“So it is you?”

“I remember what happens while I’m formatted.”

408
“Do you have free will?”

“Free will- yes- you choose. The computer simply takes emotion or conscience out of the

equation.”

“How can you choose without emotion or conscience?”

“It is hard to explain.”

“But you, you as you are now- you would not kill a room full of people simply because

one might be infected, would you?”

“No- I know what you’re doing- you’re trying to figure out whether or not you should

shoot me.”

“Yea, I have to admit I am. You have done some terrible things in the name of the

Agency, and not just tonight.”

“I know. I’m sorry about the girl at the Agency. I know you and her...”

“Yea. Well, there ain’t no Agency anymore Gant. The group from the ghost town have

done their bit and I’m done- so what do you know, you’re not my problem anymore. I

reckon enough human beings have died tonight, I don’t feel like killing any more of

409
them.”

“What’ll I do?” Gant said suddenly, and there was such pathos in his voice that Lee had

to look up at him.

“Do what the rest of us do Gant, find a place you can have some peace and try to forgive

yourself. Just don’t come anywhere near me again, you clear?”

“Of course.”

“One thing- was I right to lock my door so heavily- would you have killed me in my

sleep one night?”

Lilly sat on the makeshift bed in Terry’s office and knew he had slept more in it than he

had at home. Then she realised she did not even know where he lived now. She had never

been inside the house outside Cave Creek, or even seen it. There was so much she did not

know. She knew somehow that there had been no one else, that Terry had remained alone

all this time. Getting up, she crossed to the main room where people were gathered. Terry

was not there. There, in the corner of the room, serving hot tea to haunted looking

survivors, was her father. He looked so old, so different. Lilly began to cry, the shock of

it all catching up to her. All of a sudden Terry was at her side.

410
“I’m here this time,” he said.

They were just about to go to Lilly’s parents when a shout sounded out. Running upstairs

to the roof Terry found Lee and Gant. Gant was on a chair, Lee standing beside him.

“He’s not moving!” said Lee.

“What happened?”

“We were just talking and all of a sudden he just...stopped moving!”

Terry moved his hand in front of Gants face, touched his shoulder, spoke to him, but to

no avail.

“Has your Agency done this to him?!”

“No, I’ve never seen this before.”

“Ok, help me move him.”

Cartel and Lee moved Gant down the stairs laboriously. Cartel half expected him to wake

up at any moment but he never stirred. Once downstairs, they start him in an armchair

411
and Terry went to look for a torch. Bringing one, he shone it into Gants eyes. There was

no reaction at all. Nothing.

“Is he gone?” Lilly said, coming over to the gathering huddle.

“He’s still breathing,” Lee said, stepping back from Gant, “breathing normally, but he is

not reacting to stimulus of any kind whatsoever.”

Cartel couldn’t help but move to put an arm around Lilly.

In the next month, doctors and scientists arrived. Terry, Lee and Dirk had driven out to

the nearest town and alerted the authorities. In the months that followed the survivors

would be subject to thousands of questions and tests. The various alien ‘animals’ that had

been created by the smaller spore- which still sat lodged in the city hall- were found

stumbling around in the desert, dying. The theory was that the great spore had produced

some subtle change in atmosphere in Cave Creek that had allowed them to breathe. It

was concluded that Charles Gant was not in a coma. He was catatonic. Terry had him

dressed in ordinary clothes and told no one who he was or what he had done. In truth he

412
knew so little about him. Under Terry’s guidance he was taken to a New York hospital

where he was cared for and watched. No medical reason for his condition could be found.

Terry and Lilly moved back to New York, and so did her parents. Rebecca moved to New

York eventually and in many ways became like a daughter to them both. Cave Creek was

abandoned, people were re-located, paid off to maintain silence. The New Agency group

went their separate ways. Margot went back to teaching in Phoenix, Colin recovered from

his shoulder and leg injuries and continued to lecture on theoretical physics. Lee vanished

soon after Gant was found comatose. The authorities could never find him. Dirk Renault

went back to Phoenix, but never seen his wife again. He sent her the divorce papers

before she had the chance to send him any, then moved away, faster and further all the

time. Barry took his family away to New York, where he worked with Terry again, who

worked for the NYPD, this time teaching young recruits. Lilly taught English in a local

school, and so they lived their lives.

Every month Terry, Lilly and Barry would visit Gant in his ward. He would be in a robe

with loosely combed hair, and stubble would often be on his chin. His green eyes still

sparkled though in contrast to his ashen skin, and hair gradually grew over the cut

Rebecca had made. The doctors said that sometimes a catatonic patient can move

occasionally, or repeat a phrase sometimes, but no one ever heard Gant talk or seen him

move. He sat there in the same position he had been in when they found him in the

station, day after day, a sentinel sitting by a window in a bathrobe, beholding the world

with eyes that could not see. Terry hoped that maybe Lee would visit him, but Barry had

413
warned him that this was not to be hoped for- he explained about Lee’s girlfriend at the

Agency. The world went on as it always had, and so did its saviours- at least to outward

appearances. Each survivor lived each day with what they had seen and done, lived each

day fully in complete awareness of all that had happened and all that was happening.

The Agency kept its secrets. There was no sign left that they had ever existed, except

perhaps in the trapped mind of Charles Gant, former virologist and family man, murderer,

hero.

Terry Cartel stood in his kitchen, drinking in the sounds of New York. The apartment he

and Lilly shared was not extravagant by any means, but it was far more than he could

have expected. The government had paid everyone well for their silence. Many of them

had tried to turn it down, including Terry and Lilly, but had been paid nonetheless, and

after losing so much it was madness not to take it. Whatever foolish principal had

originally caused them to reject the money was eventually ironed out by the truth. Their

homes were irrevocably destroyed, their town was not their town anymore- it was not of

this earth at all in fact- and many of them had lost loved ones to the most horrific

circumstances imaginable- or indeed, unimaginable. Add all this to the fact that

promising to keep quiet was not a sell out in any way. This had been the principle reason

so many of them had kept quiet. They feared that they were dishonouring the memory of

the dead. The cold reality was that only mass hysteria, mocking disbelief or unwanted

414
celebrity could ensue from revealing such a story to the world. Richard Lee was just glad

that the agency were not around to do ‘clean-up’- he lived the next few months looking

over his shoulder. Even though he knew they were gone- at least from Earth- he had been

conditioned by years of nerve wracking service to think of them as omnipresent, all

powerful.

Terry stood now, at the kitchen window, watching the city lights and the snowfall. It was

December, and New York was decorated beautifully. The world was in the throes of

recession and from the droning TV in the living room he could hear a journalist talk

about the ‘War on Terror’. He shivered slightly, thinking of the word ‘Terror’, and

pondered which haunted him more; he had nightmares almost every night about the

intruders, the aliens- but in some of his most chilling dreams he was back in the lift-shaft,

watching Gant slaughter terrified people as they cowered from a searching tentacle. He

finished pouring the coffee and carried it into Lilly, who was sat reading and listening to

the TV. He always marvelled at how she could take in both perfectly, whereas he could

only concentrate on one. Lilly saw the look on his face instantly.

“What’s wrong honey?” she asked, now paying attention to only one thing.

“It’s Gant. I dreamt about him again last night.”

“About the elevator?”

415
“Yea.”

“I think he talked to me about that before he... not directly, but he spoke about doing

‘terrible things’ and I think that was what he meant, partly.”

“Sometime I think we shouldn’t visit him anymore.”

“He saved us all, Terry, gave us back to each other.”

“I know, I know. It wasn’t really him that did those things.”

“He said it was- that his free will was not compromised.”

“I don’t believe that. I think that those years he was formatted he was no more conscious

than you were while you were lying in that hospital.”

“It reminds you of that too doesn’t it?”

“Of visiting you in hospital? Of course it does, but I can deal with that.”

There was silence for a moment, both of them watching steam rise from the coffee in

Terry’s hands.

416
“It’s ok you know,” Lilly said, “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I know. It’s just that I visit him and I can’t wait to leave again. I can feel him there,

thinking. He’s still there behind those vacant eyes, I know he is. I think he knows it all,

every second that passes and he is a prisoner. I can’t help thinking that he was inhabited

by an alien a long time before Cave Creek- an alien made of software and hardware, put

into his head by human beings.”

“Maybe so. I don’t believe he had a choice in the things he done- I think his free will was

repressed- and without that we’re not conscious, not really. We might as well be ants,

biological machines, instinct driven.”

Terry shivered at the thought. He let the question of consciousness rattle around in his

head for another moment, then dismissed it. At that moment questions like that could

wait.

He was watching TV and drinking coffee with the woman he loved on a snowy night.

417
418
419