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					PART I



         Chapter 1

         The spaceship Sojourner glided through the blackness of space, at times

the periodic flash of a light the only thing picking it out from shadow.

Past the inner planets, through the outer planets, toward a new object just

now visible after an unknown time.     Astrophysicists, having just recently

seen for the first time the object through several telescopes, immediately

began planning a trip.     Larger than a moon, but smaller than one of the

massive Jovian planets that are typical.     And certainly larger than the

Pluto, that once was considered a planet.      It was just there as though Pluto

had grown in the time that it is unable to be seen from any means visible to

earth.     A previous mission was all but scrapped, and reworked to include a

swing around [##new planet name##] and take photos before returning to earth.

         Oblivious to the mission, the spaceship flew on.   Single white light

blipping every thirty seconds, while a smaller red light flashes every ten.

         Jupiter's gigantic red eye watched as Sojourner passed silently in its

night.     The spacecraft skipped Saturn completely in its trip, and would skip

the rest until reaching the new planet, swinging by Saturn on its return

voyage before eventually soaring past earth in its twenty-five year voyage

one last time before the systems die and it eventually soars beyond the edge

of our solar system.      All the while, taking photographs of the moons,

planets, and kuiper belt objects

         The   Sojourner, having traveled for eight months and three hundred

million miles thus far with no deviations or problems along the path that the

astrophysics at NASA had planned for it.      A fraction of the roughly seven

billion mile trip it was planned to make before leaving our solar system.
        Along the trip so far, the sojourner had snapped picture after picture,

hundreds of thousands of images, sending them back to earth when their

positions lined up correctly.    As the earth turned so that NASA was able to

receive transmissions from Sojourner, the spaceship sent a stream of data, a

lifeline of images that told the tale of how well the machine was performing

and of where it had been.    During this brief time each day, NASA would also

send course corrections, run diagnostics, and any other changes that might be

necessary.    It was during the daily stream transfer, high definition images

of Jupiter, this time taken from the northern pole looking downward, when the

feed went dead.

        Had Sojourner been able to realize such things, it would have easily

seen the large object directly in its path.    Large, metal, and egg shaped,

oval but flatter on the bottom than an egg usually is, flat enough to hold it

upright should it land on that side.     Dwarfed by the object directly in its

path, almost as though those who sent it knew of its mission, Sojourner and

the egg shaped pod slammed into one another with a combined speed in excess

of ninety thousand kilometers an hour.    The hardened base of the pod suffered

no damage, while the Sojourners life had been cut short.     The impact left

little recognizable of the small earthen craft.    So hard was the impact and

at such a velocity, that little or no debris was produced.    The spaceship

Sojourner born XX earth years previous, died on impact and became a molded

piece of metal, plastic, fiberglass, and ceramic that would burn off during

entry into the earth's atmosphere as the pod plummeted toward Sojourner's

home.

        At eighty thousand feet the pod broke apart, separating into the main

pod and four separate smaller escape pods.    As the main sequence crashed

downward, ultimately landing in north America.

        After a continued then thousand feet descent, stubby wings popped free

on four sides of the escape pods.    A small engine, ignited in the base and
minor adjustments made from the small wings guided them to their eventual

resting places.
      Chapter 2

      The reentry was uneventful, the pod got very hot, and cooled by the

time it impacted with the earth.     For the most part it went unnoticed save

for military radar that tracked the tiny blip from entry into the earth's

atmosphere to its approximant landing in Clackamas county.     Five miles out of

Oregon City, near the edge of a field where at one time, years ago, a farmer

tended crops of corn, now turned to tall grass.

      The pod screamed to earth like the shell from a World War II Howitzer.

It slammed into the field shortly after noon shaking the earth, the epicenter

that could be felt a mile in any direction.     The few small animals within a

hundred yards first froze in alert positions then skittered away from the

impact.     That the large metal object did not remold itself into a lump of

metal or end up deep in the dirt is a testament to the level of engineering

and whatever mechanism was used to slow its descent.     the pod did not create

a long trough as it plowed into the ground, leaving a runway-like path of

destruction in its wake.     The pod's impact created a small crater about a

half a foot into the earth, it sat at a seventy-five degree angle to one

side, top pointed toward the sun as though it would give praise to the giver

of light.

      The military had already dispatched several M1042 HMMWVs loaded with

troops and trucks with enough equipment to keep the general public at bay

once they found out.    And it was a certainty that they would find out.

Somehow they always did.    Usually it was the press that found out first, then

proceeded to broadcast it to the general public who for some reason needed to

search out the scene and stand around looking.     When in most cases little

activity could be seen.

      The HMMWV, High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle or Hummer in

civilian sector is the military version of the sport utility vehicle.      After
drinking a case of Mt. Dew.     It will get a soldier anywhere through any

terrain.    And as long at the driver keeps his head straight, with little

problem it can be extracted from anything that bogs it down.

        "Sergeant Irving," barked lieutenant Meyers to a soldier passing by.

The man came to attention in front of the superior officer.      "I want you to

take Barker, Laugherty, and Sigler take two HMMWVs and place block off this

road about a mile in each direction.     Let's keep this from becoming a media

circus."

        "Yes sir," the sergeant snapped a quick salute and ran off looking for

the three that were to accompany him.

        After the militaries arrival, Blackhawk circling at a distance, the

first news alert team arrived.    Keeping at a discreet distance without being

told, the local channel 8 van arrived, small team of reporter, tech, and

cameraman climbed out and began setting up the equipment.     The aerial rose to

the sky like a mechanical erection awaiting consummation.

        "Shit," Meyers said under his breath.   Trudging through the tall grass,

he walked toward the news van.    Seeing a mass of camouflage walking toward

her, the reporter tapped the cameraman on the shoulder and motioned him to

follow her, a list of questions spilling from her lips as she walked.

        Meyers held up a hand, palm outstretched and said, "I'm going to need

you to move this vehicle, we are going to cordon this area off."

        Chris ignored him, and directly went to the questions.   "Do you have

any ideas about what this is?    Is it made by terrorists?"

        "I am not going to do this right now," Meyers said.   "Now, you can move

your equipment yourselves, or my men will move you and leave your equipment."

        "You can't keep us from reporting the news," one of the camera men

said.
        "That I can't.   I can however, keep it from happening within a half a

mile radius of the object in question.     Now I'll give you ten minutes to move

this and then I am sending my men to escort you from this area."

        The camera man swung this camera toward the collection of military

vehicles where men were putting on HAZMAT suits.     Some still carried, M-16

assault rifles, while others carried radiation detecting equipment, swinging

it back and forth in an arc.

        "Meyers, what is the hazard?" the reporter had also noticed the

soldiers.    "Why are they putting on the HAZMAT suits?"

        "Is that something that you really want to find out this close to the

object in question?      Now I can't guarantee this, I have yet to get final

confirmation from the base, but I will plan to hold some sort of press

conference at 0930 hours.     That's in an hour and a half . . . pending

approval.    Now your ten minutes have started one minute ago.   You best get

this all packed up and move it."

        Without another word, he turned on his heel and walked away.    Ignoring

the questions she spoke after him.      when he got near the line of parked

HMMWVs he called to a private and set him with instructions to ensure the

news team made it on their way within eight minutes.

        Eight minutes later, the private, along with a group of three other

soldiers, approached the news team.     M-16s either slung over their shoulders,

or held at the ready, though not pointing directly at any one person.        From a

distance, Meyers leaned against a HMMWV, arms crossed and watched.      Ready to

call more soldiers into action should the news team offer much resistance.

        "Ok, times up.   I am going to have to ask you to leave," he said.

Adding quickly when he saw the newscaster open her mouth in protest, "I know

you have rights as a reporter.      We need you to move for safety reasons.    To

be honest, and off the record, we have no idea what this is or where it came

from.    Lt. Meyers is attempting to get a press conference lined up.      But we
need to figure out how safe it is before anything else.       Now I believe you

can take this down the road, just past the soldiers and be far enough away."

        "Private . . . Jackson? . . . Pvt. Jackson can I ask one question, just

a quick question?" the young news caster asked, waiting a moment before

plodding on, "How do you know it is not ours?"

        "Lt. Meyers told me.     And that is all I need to know.    He says it, I

don't ask questions about it.       Now time to be moving along."   He stepped

three steps backward, in line with his comrades, now all of them holding

their guns at the ready.       One hand at the trigger, the other clasping the

hand guard.    Safety switch flicked to off.

        The newscaster took a step forward, her lips pursed, ready to ask

another question.     However when she looked at Pvt. Jackson in the eyes, the

far off look, as though he were being dressed down by a drill sergeant or he

was staring at a single dot on the horizon, told her all that she needed to

know.    There would be no more questions answered by Pvt. Jackson or anyone

else in the platoon at this time.

        As the climbed into the van, she turned around and looked at him one

last time.    Once again, a question on her lips.     "Which direction should we

go?"

        Without looking away from that tiny dot on the horizon, his voice

lifeless, Pvt. Jackson said, "It does not matter, just follow the road until

you pass a soldiers parked with a HMMWV.       Feel free to stop somewhere on the

other side of them.     They have been ordered to not speak of what is

transpiring here."     With that, he closed his mouth, and no other questions

from the reporter would elicit a response from him.
      Chapter 3

      The baby was crying again.    One of the babies that is.     Jeremy sat

content to watch the bright colors flash by on the television.       Sesame Street

was on, a skit where several monsters extolled the virtues of a good

chocolate chip cookie, led by Cookie Monster.     While Jennifer, almost as

though scared by any monster that could love a cookie that much, shoved a

hand into her mouth and began to cry around the balled up fist.

      "Oh sweetie," Elizabeth said pulling up a chair beside her daughter.

Both children were in their highchairs, waiting breakfast.       Taking the little

red spoon, she dipped it into the baby jar of peas.     Scooping a glob of the

olive drab green paste, she held it out to entice Jenifer.       The child just

looked at it a moment, briefly opened her mouth, then as the spoon neared,

she snapped her mouth closed and turned her had away, before resuming her

crying.

      Elizabeth reached over and took Jennifer's hand in hers.       A thing coat

of slobber covered her fingers, and Elizabeth made a face.       Sticking out her

tongue and squinting her eyes.     She looked like the old Mr. Yuck sticker,

minus the green.   Her daughters wails ceased, and after a surprised moment,

she began to laugh.   In that moment, Elizabeth saw the tiny white cap poking

through the front of her daughters gums.     The tiniest corner of a tooth that

signaled rough times ahead.

      Leaning closer to get a better look, she stuck a finger in her

daughters still open mouth and ran it along the white enamel.

      "When we go out, I'll get some stuff to make it better," she said,

knowing the child would understand the words or the sympathy.       Saying it more

for to comfort herself.

      Having graduated university with a Bachelors in psychology and she knew

that she was just placating herself.     Her daughter responded to the soft tone
in her voice.     however the comfort she felt as a mother was equally important

to her.     Whether she directly thought about it or not.

        As she dunked the spoon back into the jar of baby food, and spooned out

a glob, holding it out to Jeremy, images of Sesame Street flicked off the

screen, replaced by an announcement from the news.     A serious voice said, "We

interrupt the program already in progress, to bring you this special

announcement."     At first, Elizabeth paid little attention to it since over

the last few years, several commercials used that tactic to grab viewers

attention.     Once she recognized the channels news team, she started paying

attention.

        "At approximately 7:30 this morning," the newscaster said in a barely

contained voice.     "An object of unknown origin fell from the sky to land in a

field just east of Oregon City.     The military was first on the screen,

barricading off the road and restricting access to the object."        The desk

anchor, a perky blond in her late twenties, was visibly shaken.        Her words

passing her lips in stunted bursts as she struggled to read the teleprompter.

"A press conference is scheduled to begin at any time, we will switch to that

when it happens.     In the mean time, we are receiving video from the

helicopter."

        After a moment of the reporter staring at the camera before a tech in

the booth flipped the correct switch, the image changed to a downward looking

view of the object as the chopper circled it from a great distance.

        The audio finally clicked over and the location reporter was cut in mid

word.     "-ee the military are not letting us get closer than this to the . . .

the . . . well truly Angela, I can't say what it is.        If pressed, I would

compare it to a mechanical egg, with a flatter bottom.        I assume to keep it

upright.     It is at about a forty-five degree angle."

        The camera switched from pointing directly at the news caster, to the

object she talked about.     Several people in HAZMAT suits stood a discreet
distance from it, some held equipment, others stood taking photographs.

Stationed farther away a ring of soldiers patrolled a set perimeter, each

wore a field protective mask and carried a M-16 clasped in their hands.

      After the camera panned around taking in all the landscape had to

offer, the collection of HMMWVs, larger transport vehicles, several large

canvas tents had been erected, and lastly more troops than was rightly needed

for the situation.     The camera panned to follow the road, coming to a stop on

the HMMWV stationed at a ways from the collection of equipment.

      After a moment the news caster riding in the helicopter said, " As you

can see, the military is not taking any chances here, back to you Angela."

      "Moments ago News Channel 12 received an anonymous call indicating that

several telescopes have been tracking the object over the last few days and

even went on to say that NASA watched it enter the earth's atmosphere.      The

caller even hinted that the object impacted with the Sojourner, a deep space

craft sent to investigate the strange appearance of a new planet at the edge

of our solar system.     We will have more on that in a special update later in

the hou--."

      Elizabeth clicked the television off, and in the ensuing silence it

seemed as though the world had stopped.     For a brief instant, even the

children were quiet.     Each of the children sat in their highchairs, Elizabeth

at the table, opened jars of fruit in front of her, looking at one another,

eyes flicking back and forth.     In the distance, the small whine of a siren

creased the air.     A moment later, a wet belch slipped from Jennifer's mouth,

her tiny lips spread across her face in surprise at the pressure relief that

she would not understand for a few years still.

      She picked up her phone to call Geoff, sudden filled with the desire to

tell him about what was transpiring.     After punching the numbers, her thumb

hovered over the send button a moment, trying to decide if it would be better
to just send a text message.    At the last moment, she pushed the End button.

Opting for a quick text message instead.

      She was interrupted halfway through, a grunt from Jeremy called for her

attention.   The children's revelry was interrupted first by a tense look on

Jeremy's pink face, followed by the same look on Jennifer's.

      "I know twins are supposed to have a connection, but this also?"

Elizabeth asked them.    The tense look stayed that way, and while they

finished what they had started, she completed the text she had begun writing

before Jeremy's grunt interrupeted her.

      After pressing the send button, she dropped the phone on the table top,

looked at the children, and asked, "So which one gets to go first?"       The two

children just looked at her, a droplet of drool hung perilously from

Jennifer's bottom lip a moment before slowly separating and plopping onto the

tray of her highchair.

      "Well, you called it," she said to Jennifer.    "Sorry J my little man,

she drooled first." Looking closer at his dry bottom lip she added, "It looks

as though you aren't in that much of a hurry."
        Chapter 4

        Geoff almost left his cell phone on plugged in at his desk when he

headed off to the break room to fill the now dry coffee mug.       Moments after

he grabbed the three year old phone, it buzzed to life, startling him, he

almost dropped it from his hand.

        "That would not be good," he said.     The phone was certainly on its last

legs.    Tiny bubbles spread across the display, tension damage from Geoff

squeezing the phone in anger after poking the End button.        And after three

years the battery would hold a charge for less than a day, forcing him to

remember to plug it in every day as he went to bed.

        If it hit the ground once again, who knew if it would continue to work.

Geoff knew he had dragged the life of this phone out long enough and he

should just go to the store and renew his contract, new phone included.       He

just had poor luck with cell phones.       He had spent an inordinate amount of

time researching his last phone, the one before this phone.       It lasted three

months before having to be replaced.

        As he walked into the break room, looking down at the message displayed

on his phone.       Walking through the door, he almost slammed into someone that

had stopped just past the door frame.

        "Excuse me Bill," he said, pushing past, not really looking up from the

phones small display.       The message from Elizabeth said in plain black

letters: Check out the news.       Something big is happening.

        His hand stopped inches from the coffee pot, as he realized just how

many people were standing in front of the television in the other room.       He

quickly filled his mug and poured a few sugar packets into the liquid so

black it looked like used motor oil and grabbed a few extra packets to fine

tune the taste.
         An empty seat beckoned to him from across the room.   He stopped at the

vending machines and dropped two quarters and a dime into the machine and

received a bag of Famous Amos cookies.      As he slid into the seat, a girl at

the table looked away from the television over to him.      She offered him a

weak smile and a shake of the head when he held out the now open bag of

cookies before returning her attention to the television.

         Geoff dropped the remaining packets onto the table and took a sip of

the coffee before systematically tearing open sugar packets and dumping them

into the mug.     "Mmmm, sweet as a maidens heart," he said.

         The view on the television was once again from the helicopter, looking

down on the large metal object.

         "The military is keeping us from getting too close," he said.   "As you

can see, the crowd of onlookers is beginning to grow."     The camera panned

around to point directly at a group of people held at bay by military in gas

masks.     "As you can see, the military are wearing protective respirators,"

the reporter said.     After a moment, the camera returned to pointing at the

center of attention.

         "You can tell from the soldiers walking around the immense size.    I

would estimate it to be thirty feet tall at least, probably a little more."

         After watching for a while, Geoff leaned over toward the girl and

whispered, "Hey Kari," after a moment the girl tore her gaze away from the

television as though it were held by magnates.

         "Yeah," she said.   Fear dripped from her eyes like tears.   He wanted to

hold out his hand to her, comfort her in that one     small way, but knew this

was the wrong time and place for such a show of affection.

         "Where is this happening?"

         "I'm not sure exactly, somewhere a little ways away from Oregon City."
         He had been about to reply when her words caught in his mind.     Oregon

City was not ten miles away.     "You--you mean just over the river Oregon

city?"     His shock as apparent as the look of fear in her eyes.

         "Yeah," she said as she turned her gaze back to the television.

         Something dawned on him then, "I have to go visit a customer today that

is just over there."

         She looked back at him, "When are you supposed to be there?"

         "Not until this afternoon, but I could swing by there and check it

out."

         "Don't," she said the look of fear returning, giving her blue eyes a

sparkly quality.     "What if something happens.   They are saying it is from

space.     Even the scientists they have been talking to, don't know anything

about it."

         "Come on Kari, you really believe that?   Most likely it is something of

ours, and the military just hasn't fessed up to it yet.      I mean really, if

that thing came through the atmosphere, it would not look that good still.           I

mean have you seen those space shuttles?     That thing has to sit on the runway

for a long time before anyone can get close to it.      that's how hot it is.

And we are supposed to believe this came down here, and landed in a field and

did not set all that grass on fire?     I'm calling bullshit on this one."      He

looked around the room meeting the eyes off all those present since his

speech called the attention of everyone present.

         In the ensuing silence, the reporter said, "We just got a message that

Major Brach of the Air Force will hold a press conference in thirty minutes

time."

         "And at that time, they will own up to it," Geoff said.    "I imagine if

it was really that serious, it would be the president instead of some Major."
       He looked around at everyone staring at him.     It even seemed that the

reporters were looking in his direction.     The television was silent, the

reporter staring at the camera, not saying anything.

       After a moment, people seemed to notice the silence, and one by one

eyes flicked back toward the television.     Finally, the newscaster began

talking again, and the only eyes on Geoff belonged to Stephanie.

       "You really believe that?" Kari asked.

       "How could you not believe it."    There is so many things going on the

government covers up and civilians never find out about.      I mean, every time

they begin showing the newest jet, or other piece of hardware, you know there

has to be something better already in use.      They aren't going to give away

the best, or knowledge of it."

       She just looked at him, her eyes wide.    The slightest glint of fear

adding a little excitement to them.      She had grown up believing in the

government, believing that everything the government does is for the best of

the citizens.     She had been born into an all American family.   The thought of

the government keeping something from the people that supported it shocked

her, unsettled her almost more than the thought of that object dropping from

the sky being a gift from an alien civilization.

       "Anyway," he said, leaning forward and lowering his voice.     He motioned

her to lean closer to him.     "I have an appointment with a customer in Oregon

City today.     I am going to go early, and stop there," he pointed toward the

television, "and have a look in person."

       As the words left his mouth, he could tell it was the wrong thing to

say.   Her eyes widened in horror at the thought, the expressed desire, of

being near that thing.

       Geoff had always been a daredevil.    Cliff diving, jumping from a plane,

anything that got his heart moving faster, and he would not only do it once,

but ask to do it again.     The "extreme" phase of advertising spoke to him.
Once he had gotten his degree and started work, he begun to feel old in a way

that he was not ready for.         Like a hippie selling the Mini-bus and getting a

Mercedes.     It was the little things that he did now that kept him feeling

young.

         "Oh Geoff don't, oh god don’t," her hand slid out and unconsciously

grabbed his, pleading with its own gesture.         He looked around without moving

his head, hoping no one else saw her gesture, but everyone that he could see

had already returned their attention to the television.        Understanding his

fear, she slid her hand back toward her mug of coffee and nonchalantly took a

sip.     "What good can come of that?" she asked.

         "I have to see it," he said.

         "Are you going to tell Elizabeth?" she asked.

         "What?   Are you crazy?    Her response would be ten times worse than

yours.     Everyone would hear it from here."

         "Maybe I should tell her, maybe that will keep you from going," she

said.     The worried look from when he sat down had never really left her eyes,

it had lessened as he reassured her and those around them.        Now, with the

revelation of what he planned to do, the look returned.         A wide eyed frantic

look filled them, a tiny gleam brimmed the bottom where a tear was forming in

each. "This can't be a good thing. We don't know what it is, even if it is

from the government, it could radiate something fierce.        Do you want cancer?"

her voice raised with the stress of each word, she spoke the question with

such ferocity their coworkers at neighboring tables began to look around at

her.

         "Ok, Ok, just chill out a little.     Take it down a notch or two. Holy

shit.     Don't turn this into a scene."      He looked around to ensure everyone

else had looked back at the television.        "Remember, we still have to work

here after this is all though."
         "I know that," she said in a tight whisper.   "This just scares me, you

know?     I believe you.   The government is fucked up, and not above keeping

shit from us, it's probably better that they do.       There are things that the

only way we ever really want to know about, is when the news makes a big deal

and scares the civies."     She looked around now, saw a few people return their

gaze from out of the corner of their eyes to the television again.       "Just

don't do anything stupid and get killed.      I don't want to have to tell

Elizabeth how you went off your already fucked rocker and over the deep end."

         "It's not like I could get that close, I mean look at those guys with

guns, do you think they'll just let me saunter over to it and place my hands

all over their little toy?"

         "Oh yeah, you want to talk about the soldiers?   How about the ones

covered in HAZMAT suits?"     her voice had begun to get tense again.    Geoff

looked over and noticed a tear finally broach the lower lid of one of her

eyes.     "I wouldn't think they would go through all that trouble."

         "If they wanted the cover-up bad enough they would."

         Tired of the argument, she pushed back from the table and stormed from

the room, leaving her coffee mug and the wrapper from her candy bar for

someone else to take care of.

         The room was silent except for the droning of the reporter, now

switched back to the studio and away from the field where the pod crashed to

earth.     The reporters had moved on to   different stories.   Car bombings in

the middle east, bank robberies closer to home, the newest economic and

health scares, however periodic reports from the field continued to fill the

empty spaces.

         Geoff continued to watch for a few more minutes, his skepticism growing

until he decided he should call Elizabeth.      Rising to his feet, he gathered

up all the garbage and headed toward his desk and the phone that waited.
      Chapter 5

      All was not well at the landing site.     Lt. Meyers was at his wits end

with civilians.    They either pushed the fence over, encroaching on an

established safe zone, or just walked around snapping photographs with their

cell phones like tourists on vacation.

      "How much longer until that fence is erected, private Jackson?" his

voice boomed across the field even though Jackson stood at attention directly

in front of him.

      "Sir, we are having trouble with civilian intervention.     They keep

knocking it down and pushing past it as we move down the line."     Once again,

he focused on the point along the horizon.

      "Jackson, take enough men to secure the fence at each joint and hold it

until it is completed.     I will get more soldiers out here.   Hell son, I will

get the whole army if that is what it takes."     He turned to head back to the

temporary tent that had been setup.     He had calls to make.



      "Damn, these HAZMAT suits suck," Cleaver said, not really talking to

anyone.   His comment was directed to the other soldier in a HAZMAT suit that

walked beside him.     the suits muffled sound to a degree so making

conversation barely possible.

      "What's that beave?"

      "Stop calling me that," Nathaniel Cleaver hated his nickname, which

made it a surefire guarantee that everyone that could get away with it, would

call him that.     Fortunately, he had the upper hand in this situation.   "Don't

make me pull rank on you."

      "You are one grade above me, that's not much rank to pull, Beave."
      "You are and E-1 and I am an E-3, last time I counted that is two."

Nathaniel tried to hide the smug tone in his voice, thanking the lord for

once that the Level-A suits did that little for him.

      They had lost count of the number of times they had walked around the

pod as it was now being labeled.      Keeping a discreet distance of

approximately twenty yards from it at all times, their M-16s clutched in

hands and at the ready at all times.

      "How much longer you think we got?"      Nathaniel asked, more just to talk

and change the subject than really feeling the desire to know how long until

they were done.

      "Don-no.     Don't care.   I just walk and protect."

      "And harass," Nathaniel added.

      "Yep, and harass.     That particular skill is one thing the good Lord put

me on this planet for . . . to harass," his companion who would not live out

the day replied.

      Twenty yards away, a mere sixty feet, just under a quarter of the

length of a football field, the pod came to life.      An internal thump started

the machine vibrating and humming.      As of yet, no external change could be

seen, however inside the machine prepared to disseminate, with far reaching

fingers, a poison that would change several lives.

      The two soldiers, Nate a.k.a. the Beave and his unknown companion took

no notice of the machine coming to life.      The HAZMAT suits compressors

creating clean oxygen worked at a low level that still drowned out the sounds

of creation from the pod.
      Chapter 6

          "Please don't do this Geoff." Kari pleaded, her eyes wide and

glistening again with the hint of tears to come.     "You don't know what could

happen, hell or what is really happening."

      "Don't worry sweetie," he reached out and held her by the shoulders,

his voice a whisper to avoid listeners from other cubicles from overhearing.

"I am not going to get that close, just close enough to maybe snap a few

pictures, and you've seen my camera."     He pointed to the leather camera bag

that hung from a hook.     His Cannon EOS-1Ds Mark III with 400mm telephoto lens

was the envy of several of the office photographers.      "With that, I won't

even have to get close.     Think about some of the photographs I have taken.

The mountain lion.     The crocodile.   Need I mention the carrion birds?" That

last photograph still one of his favorites, not only for the content, but

also the for the clarity of the birds feathers, the detail in each of the

feathers.     If one looked close enough, even the rachis could be seen on

several and, wishful thinking or not, he thought he could even make out each

strand that made up the barb on a few of the feathers.

      "If I could get a few good pictures, I will be happy.     That's all . . .

and I kind of just want to see it ya know?"     In truth he did not really have

any desire to take any photos.     Lately using his camera had not been as much

of an interest, he just kept up the charade since he had piled such a large

amount of money into the hobby.     "You saw the news feed, there are already a

lot of people there.     And I am sure more are coming all the time.   I will

just be one more."

      "Yeah, one more to get in the way," she said, her voice sulky and

sullen.     "If something happens to you, I'm going to say I told you so."

      "Yeah, I know you will."
      Chapter 7

      Geoff had just left, and Kari's heart just broke a little.     She feared

she would never see him again, unfortunately for her, this fear was

unfounded.

      Turning to the only other person she was very close with, she reached

down and snatched the headset from its cradle.     With leaden arms she hoisted

the plastic piece and held it to her ear.     Her weak hands clasped at the

phone, barely able to hold on to it as she tapped out the seven numbers that

she knew by heart.   The process took less time than it should have.     There

should be a need to flip through her rolodex to find this number.      A few

moments later where she desperately hoped the phone would not be answered

slipped by almost as though she were asleep.

      Moment after moment, her heart clenched tighter with each beat.      Fear

for Geoff, anguish for the thought of losing him even though their on-again-

off-again fling amounted to little more than a few otherwise sleepless nights

of sex either in town or on the few occasions where the company had sent him

away on business in which she tagged along on business of her own that only

paid in sex.

      Her hand grew sweaty from clasping the receiver and she realized her

weak grasp had turned into a death grip.     She forced herself to relax her

hand, and hope that the phone on the other end was not answered.     It was too

late to hang up now, her number would be on the caller ID.     She had left a

stamp that she had been there.

      "Maybe she's not ho--."

      Her words were cut off midstream     with a click from the ear piece.     A

moment later a ragged female's voice said, "Hello?"
      Chapter 8

        The phone jangled a second burst followed by a second of silence

before the harsh bell rang again.    Why Geoff had decided on this phone, this

loud, irritating, antique rotary phone, she could never get used to.     Sure it

was a beautiful piece, ornate while not too overbearing.     Her grandparents

had one almost exactly like it.     The style was a little different, but for

the most part, it could be an twin of theirs.    She did not even mind the

rotary dial.     It was a little slow, but taken that you were not in a hurry to

dial anyone's number, there was a little nostalgia there that tugged at her

heart strings.

      The ringer was the only thing that she really could not handle.     Even

though there was a little dial on the bottom, the word volume imprinted in

the metal base, she could tell little difference when she ran her thumb along

it, tightening or loosening whatever it was attached to.     Whenever the twins

were sleeping and someone called the bell chimed so loud they would wake with

no possible way for them to return to sleep.    And half the time they were in

the room together, Jenny would most be startled by the phone which was an

implication that Jeremy should begin to cry also.     An obligation he eagerly

obliged to.

      Every time the phone rang was a new test of her acrobatic skills.

Within the first two seconds of a call, she hurdled over furniture, swam

through a litter of toys or piles of clothes waiting to be folded, or dodged

children or small animals to ease Jennifer's stress.

      This time was no exception.    Fortunately though, she only had to turn

to her left and snatch the phone from the cradle.    In later reflection it

would seem to her that she had already been in motion when the first resonant

rings broke the relative still of the dining room.    This thought would lead
her to the conclusion that she had begun to develop a seventh sense about the

phone.

         "Hello?" she said to a momentary silence.   she was about to repeat it

when the weak warbly voice from the other end responded.

         "Hi," the word was barely audible and she pressed the phone harder

against her ear, the back of the stud earring pressed into her flesh.

         "Hi, Kar . . . Kari?    Is that you, I can barely hear you." From the

floor at her feet Jeremy looked up at her, his infant forehead creased with

concern.     The tone in his mother's voice causing him concern.    "Speak up a

little, ok sweetie."

         "It's Geoff," she said, now Elizabeth's forehead was creased with

concern.     "He's going to go to that place.    That, that field where the thing

is."

         "Why would he do that."   the sharp spike in her voice caught Jennifer's

attention.     The child's mouth turned downward in a grimace that would look

comical under other circumstances.       A small whimper escaped her lips that

caught Elizabeth's attention.

         Looking down at her daughter and seeing Jennifer's unhappiness, she

said, "Aww sweetie, it's ok."      And sat down on the floor beside her taking

her hand for reassurance.       After a moment, the lines that creased the child's

forehead smoothes and her mouth became less and less contorted.      She began to

bang the plastic mallet she held in her other hand on the floor again.

         "No, Jenny was just getting a little worried look on her face.   I

didn't want her to start wailing.      Take a moment to gather your thoughts, you

were beginning to sound a little frantic again."      Elizabeth had flashed back

to their college days when Kari would become so overwhelmed with the demands

of school, she came very close to a breakdown of nuclear proportions.         "You

had me worried.     It can't be as bad as all that, can it?"
      "It could," she paused a moment, over the hiss from the phone Jennifer

could hear the sounds of Kari taking several deep breaths.     A pause.     And

finally Kari returned to the phone.   "Ok, Geoff has to make a trip to meet

with a customer.   He said their facility is somewhere over in that area and

he has left early so he can stop by that thing and check it out."

      "Why did he tell you, he must have known you would tell me?"

      "I don't know.   He was really excited, acting like a schoolboy.      I

tried to stop him, but of course he would not listen."

      "That does sound like him.   Did he say not to tell me?"

      "No."

      "That's his way of letting me know without actually telling me himself.

This way, I won't yell at him, not now at least." Elizabeth's eyes flicked

around the room, back and forth between her two children, not wanting to

think of the possibility that they could be fatherless this time tomorrow.

"In reality though, most likely nothing will come of it.     It's probably just

an old satellite or something."

      "I think those usually burn up when they reenter the atmosphere.       And

if it crashed to the ground, it seems like it would not survive very well.

From the news, it looks to be in one piece, as far as I can tell."

      "You are not helping me take this well, you know."     She had been

battling her fears fairly well, but the arguments Kari was making did little

to keep them at bay.   "I am going to have to call him.    I get a little tired

of these games sometimes.   If he wanted me to know, he should have just

called and told me."

      "We don't know that was part of some plan he had," Kari said, trying to

backpedal and not get him in too deep of water.   Trying to change the subject

she invited Elizabeth to lunch, "Do you want meet for lunch?"
      She was working up a full head of steam, getting ready to blow and that

derailed her.    "Yeah, lunch sounds good.   I'm not busy.   What time do you

want to meet?"

      "How does one work for you?"

      "It sounds good."
      Chapter 9

      Just when he expected the phone to ring, it didn't.     and it continued

to not ring the whole drive to the field just to the east of Oregon City.

The lack of noise from the small device disturbed him a little.     Moments

before he left the office, he had sent out the obligatory OOO email, out of

office.   Throwing in his cell number at the bottom, just in case anyone

needed him. he expected a call from Elizabeth.     And either Kari had not ran

and called her as soon as he left, or she was just pissed enough that he was

going to get the cold shoulder for a few days.

      Once he had hit Oregon City, he followed the stream of cars toward the

field, expecting to be turned back at any moment.     So far, as he drove

through the small town, he had seen a few HMMVVs parked here and there, a

guard or two standing around watching vehicles as they passed.     none of the

soldiers carried any weapons other than a holstered sidearm.     But, Geoff was

fairly sure there would be an M-16A2 for each soldier, one of which would be

fitted with M203 40mm grenade launcher.

      And yet no one stopped the loosely formed line of cars.     They came upon

no roadblocks.     He was not out far enough to have reached the one HMMVV that

the news had shown.

      "I wonder if there is a quicker way," he said glancing down at his

phone again.     At a stoplight, he picked it up and after hitting a few

buttons, the mini GPS application showed right his location.     Using the touch

screen to move the map around, he quickly found the landing site.     The news

service had updated the GPS map by adding an "Attraction" icon where the pod

had landed.

      "All the better to find you with," he said, "Along with everyone else."

At a stop light, he looked over the map again, not wanting to follow the turn
by turn directions the GPS gave him, tracing a path to get closer while

avoiding the pack he currently followed.

        the high and whiny blast from a car horn alerted him of the color of

the light.     Shooting his hand through the window, he fought the urge to flip

the guy off, instead he waved his hand while speeding off.

        During the drive, the sky overhead had turned from a light blue,

speckled with misty grey clouds to a chaotic cream soup of clouds ranging

from snow white, to the black of her mother's heart.        The black as envious as

her mother, spreading and growing smothering snow white in her greed to

abolish purity.     Periodic flashes of light lit the clouds from inside as

negative and positive ions clashed setting off a stream of electricity.

        "There's no other way to get there," he said. Once again talking to

himself.     "I guess I could go around and come back around from the other

side.     But that way probably has just as many people."

        Frustration clouded his thinking for a moment and on the verge of

turning around he glanced over at the GPS unit again.       It had just updated.

Pixels moved and revealed a small road that cut away from the main road at a

forty-five degree angle.

        "What's this?" he said.   He took a moment and hit the zoom in button

three times, bringing the little line closer and making it more visible.

Following the line, he traced it around to a neighborhood where the yards led

out into the large field where the pod landed.

        If I can sneak through someone's yard, maybe I can get close, he

thought.

        The GPS display showed the icon of his little car near the turnoff.

Just as he looked up he saw he had only a moment before he passed the street.

The tires of his Accord screamed in protest as he careened toward the side

street.     Followed by a cacophony of horns as he dodged traffic, nearly

missing an oncoming car.
      For a brief instant, he felt the passenger side tires slide through the

gravel and the car inch closer to the ditch on that side of the road.

Fighting the urge to yank the wheel in the opposite direction, he coaxed it

back onto the road and let out a breath he had not known he was holding in.

      The small six cylinder, screamed at him as he sped down the nearly

deserted road.   His eyes flicked back and forth between the GPS unit and the

road ahead trying to keep track of where he needed to turn off the road.
        chapter 10

        For the second time since Geoff left, Kari's phone rang.     She snatched

the headset off the base by the second ring.      She looked at the small

display, one word flashed twice before holding steady reception.       Kari's

heart sunk a little in her chest.      There was only one word that she had

wanted to see in that spot and that it was most defiantly not reception.

        "Hello?" she said.

        "Hi Kari, this is Joanne at the front desk," her voice came across the

receiver tinny.      "You have a visitor waiting for you."   Quieter and away from

the phone Kari could hear her say, "What was your name again sweetie?"         Then

back into the headset she said, "She says her name is Elizabeth Pittman,

should I send her back."

        "Yeah, she's been here before Joanne, she can find me.     I'm expecting

her."    Normally she would be irritated by a interruption like this, however

this being Joanne's second week Kari let it slide.

        The keys of her computer clicked with each letter she typed.     She

signed off at the end and went back, rereading for grammatical errors.          She

was surprised at how well the email was, considering how far away her mind

was.    Her mind had mentally followed Geoff progress for the last few hours,

trying to keep a mental picture of where he would be.

        Kari stuck her head out the cubicle looking into the corridor waiting

for Elizabeth to come around the corner, most likely lead by Jeremy and

Jennifer in the two seat stroller.

        Moments later, she could make out the distinctive squeak from the front

left wheel as the stroller rolled down the hall.      Jennifer was the first twin

to notice Kari.      Her eyes widened and her grin spread her lips, her hands

began slapping the tray on the stroller, knocking cheerios across the tray

and onto the floor.
        Kari walked over to the children and squatting down in front of the

stroller and taking each of their hands while making cooing baby noises.

After a moment she stood up and walked around to the back of the stroller and

gave Elizabeth a hug in greeting.

        "Are you ready to eat," she asked.    "If not, we can go in a little

bit."

        "We should probably go before too long.    Who knows how long the natives

will keep from becoming restless."

        From a cubicle a few feet away, a bass voice said, "I heard that.      Some

people might take offense to such a casual reference to natives and become

uncomfortable with the working conditions and go home for to de-stress."

        "Sorry Gerald," Elizabeth said as the large black man stepped from his

cubicle and gave her a hug also.

        "Hi Beth, haven't see you for a while.    How have you been?"   he

squatted down and looked the children in the eyes speaking soft words that

all but vibrated the cheerios from the tray.

        "We are good," she said looking down at her former boss.   "I'm not sure

I miss work though."

        "I understand that," he said.

        "We are on our way out for lunch," Kari said looking at Gerald.      "Want

to come?"

        "I'd love too," he said as he turned and stepped back into his cubicle.

"Unfortunately, I am swamped and must work." After a moment, he stepped out

from his cubicle again to give Elizabeth a hug again, this time he pressed a

fifty into her hand before turning away.

        She looked at the folded up money, and started to protest but was cut

short by the bass rumble from his desk.      "Don't pull that stuff on me, take

the money and enjoy lunch.    Or try to while not worrying too much about that

fool boyfriend of yours."
"My husband actually," Elizabeth started to protest.

"Either way, he is a pain in my ass."
        Chapter 11

        The GPS displayed that it was a straight shot east to the pod.      He

stopped the car where he saw a walkway that led between two houses to the

field behind the two properties.

        The horn chirped in agreement as he walked away and pressed the button

on the key fob.      The parking lights flicked on and off twice.

        Geoff Walked as though he owned the property that the path was on.       One

sure way to raise suspicion, was to act as though there was a reason to be

suspicious.    Walk forward like you own the place and there should be no

problems.

        The path lead out past the fenced in yards on either side and finally

stopped abruptly ending at a discreet edge followed by a thin trail of gravel

that lasted about six yards before growing thin and fading away to a bed of

lush green grass that led down a rolling hill onto a plain where in the

distance he could make out the pod.     The rest of the cavalcade that went

along with the pod called his attention more than the pod itself.     The

collection of military vehicles, olive green tents, and large groups of

people called vastly more attention than the pod itself did.

        He stood at the top of the hill.    For a time looking down on the chaos

that lie before him and the path he needed to take to get there without

bumping into the military.     he estimated the distance to be about half a mile

to the closest soldier walking the perimeter clad in a neon orange HAZMAT

suit.

        As he got farther down the hill, the grass began to grow taller.

Reaching a height of about three and a half feet.     he crouched low to try and

keep hidden, though he recognized it to be a futile effort unless he wanted

to get on hands and knees to keep below the grass level.
         "I'd rather not get grass stains on my knees," he said pushing his

glasses farter up on his nose.     "Especially if I am going to go back to work

later."

         He crept down the hill, taking one careful step after another.

Watching out for anything that might trip him.       he tried to avoid any sudden

movements.     Anything that would call attention to himself.

         A small stand of trees marked the hill.    It was not very large, about

eight to ten medium sized trees clumped close enough to give him a little

cover.     He made his way, crouched as low as he reasonably could, to the

trees.     Once hidden in the darkness, he stood and stretched his legs and

back.     Looking the rest of the way to his objective, he saw a few more stands

of trees that had previously gone unnoticed.       Going from one of these to the

next would lead him around to the opposite side of the pod, with military and

civilians on the other side.

         He saw no movements from the military that would suggest they had seen

him.     they kept their patrols around the pod and no one broke away from the

group in his direction.     He waited and watched, wondering on how time seemed

to slow and how minutes can magically turn into hours while waiting.

         He moved through the trees in preparation of another dash to the next

stand, keeping an eye on the patrols around the pod.       Timing his movements,

even among the trees, to lessen the likelihood anyone took notice of him.

         the grass at the opposite end of the stand seemed taller to him.     he

would be hidden better than previously, and even though the strain on his

back and knees would not be lessened, at least his cover would be increased.

         "Had I thought ahead enough today, I would have brought something else

to wear."     He took a quick glance at his watch, still three hours until he

met with the customer.     "Perfect," he said.

         He looked over to the patrol that had just passed his location in

relation to the pod.     Soon their backs would be toward him.    He squatted down
in preparation of the next dash.   He counted to thirty.   He counted to thirty

again before moving with steady steps to the next stand of trees.
      Chapter 12

      "Hey, you see dat, or am I still high?"

      "What's that Davie?"

      "First of all Ashley.        You got yo finger on dat trigger again boy?"      He

turned his head sideways a little, not that he could see much with it turned.

The mask of the HAZMAT suit blocked everything in your peripheral vision.

"Lt. Meyers gave me permission to bust that shit off next time I see you do

it.   He even gave me a pro-mo-tion to ensure I had the correct power over

your sorry ass.     Just think little man, I can punish you."

      As Davie spoke, Ashley slid his finger off the metal flange that

constantly called out to him and rested it on the trigger guard.         Ashley knew

he wasn't supposed to walk around with his finger actually on the trigger,

but he just could not help it.        the trigger called out to him and it

comforted him to rest his finger there.

      "No Davie, no I-I don't--I don't do that no more." His gaze darted to

where the man walking next to him, hoping he had not seen anything.          "You

wouldn't really do that?     Would you?"     a leaded ball began to form in this

pit of his stomach for fear of what Davie might or might not have seen.             And

he did not want to come right out and ask, that would almost be an admission

of guilt.

      "So answer me then.     Did you see movement in that stand of trees?"

      "Nuh-uh.     no Davie sir.     I didn't see nothing.   I mean anything."

Ashley had been proud of himself lately.        He had actively been trying to

improve the way he talked.     Liking how people looked at him differently.

"Over there?"     He pointed to one of the stands that pockmarked the hillside.

      "No, not there.     Over th--" he stopped, hearing the disturbance well

before he saw the cause.
         Chapter 13

         Just as he put his right foot out to take a crouching step forward the

sounds of yelling, giggling and general merriment called his attention to his

right.     A group of three teenage males broke from a stand of trees to his

right, walking in a semi crouch toward the pod, putting little effort into

hiding their movements.     Geoff could hear the sound of their drunken laughter

and he quickly stepped back into the midst of the trees, crouching lower so

he could just barely see the unfolding action before him.

         They moved forward in some semblance of a crouch.   the leader, tall

with long wavy blond hair, took a few steps forward on unsteady feet, not

crouching at all, wobbling and off balance, his chest thrust forward as

though to challenge the guards, before one of his compañeros grabbed his arm

and motioned him to crouch.     At first he did not get what they were motioning

him to do, but with quick realization, and possibly a quite word, he dropped

down face contorted in laughter that Geoff could almost hear.      The

carelessness of their laughter might as well have hung a neon sign over their

heads or launched a salvo of fireworks over the field. Within moments the

guards heard the noise, turned and pointed their guns directly at the teens.

They began yelling.     From where he watched, Geoff could barely hear the

muffled commands, let alone understand what was being said.      The intent was

clear though.     the guards were angry and wanted the teens on the ground.

         The patrol walked toward the teens their M-16s pointed directly at the

males who in turn had their hands pointed directly at the sky.     Slowly, one

by one, they lay prostrate on the ground, until only the blond stood.        The

guards advanced on the belligerent teen, who continued to stand, index finger

pointing directly at the guards.     His actions, stupid as though they may be,

were funny in pantomime.
      At the last moment he remembered the digital camera he brought.       He had

decided not to bring the large Cannon, not wanting to take a chance of

damaging the expensive piece of equipment.     Bringing instead, the smaller,

lighter, digital.     He snapped off several photographs of the altercation in

process before turning the camera toward the pod and the crowds that were

standing around wanting to get a look at it.

      Geoff fought a game of tug-o-war with his eyes, knowing he should be

moving and not staring at the situation that was in progress.       But using this

chance to make his next move.     In the end, he pulled his eyes away and began

to move toward the next stand of trees, this time keeping even lower to the

ground.   After a few short strides, a pain began brewing in his lower back.

Starting in his lower back and slowly edging toward the center.       Eventually

drawing a line somewhere among the middle vertebrae.

      He resisted all desires for self preservation, and kept his head down

well below the grass line.     Every now and then he would stop and listen.

Trying to pinpoint what sounds there were and from what direction they came.

Once he heard rustling from his left, where he judged the beginnings of the

stand of trees was.     He stopped and remained quiet for a time.   Listening to

anything that he could strain to hear.     Even going so far as to open his

mouth to lessen the sounds reverberating between his ears.

      The crack of a twig snapping called his attention.     He lowered himself

to the ground, refraining from any unnecessary movement.     He waited, craning

his head upward to catch a glimpse of anything over the tops of the grass.

Directly in front of him, he saw the silver foil top of a HAZMAT suit pass

directly in front of him not more than three yards away.     The muffled murmurs

of their conversation barely audible even in the silence on the hillside.

      He waited a moment and slowly lifted his head.     the two soldiers had

walked far enough away that their conversation had blended in with the gentle

breeze that moved the tall grass.     he scanned the hillside around him,
looking for any more soldiers before he moved.   He did not think they would

be able to move very quickly in those HAZMAT suits, he was not sure he wanted

to find out how dedicated to using the M-16s they were.

      The next stand of trees was about five yards down the hill and a little

ways to his left.   Scanning the hillside, he did not see any more of the

flashes of silver coming in his direction that would signify the soldiers.

      "Keep low, or balls out."   He began moving in the direction of the

stand of trees, moving in a crouch as though he were running toward the

helicopter.   "This talking to myself thing is starting to worry me," he said

knowing that if he ever made it out and away from here, none of his

acquaintances would really notice anything strange about him talking to

himself.

      He burst through the tree line like a receiver busting through a string

of linebackers and stood up, standing to work out the kink in his back that

had developed and started to grow, a tight bunch of cords tied in knots.

      A muffled buzzing from his pocket called his attention and he thrust

his hand deep into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone.   The tiny image

of Jennifer and Jeremy with the words "My baby" superimposed across the

display.   He pushed the Send button and pressed the phone to his ear.

      "Hello?" he whispered.
        Chapter 14

        "Why so quiet?" Elizabeth said, a mischievous grin turning the corners

of her mouth upward.     "You don't normally have to be so quiet at work."

        "I am in a meeting at the moment," he said even though he suspected she

knew about his field trip already.

        "Yeah," the sarcasm sludged through the phone like the blob escaping

the movie theater in the classic movie.      "You do know your meeting is being

televised by the news helicopters right?     And if I am privileged enough to

see your meeting, it is likely the military is privileged to it also."

        Without moving from the stand of trees, he looked upward toward the

hovering helicopter.     Still kept at bay by two olive green Blackhawks,

currently three Jetranger helicopters employed by the news stations moving

around the landing site not getting too close.      The nearest had a large

number eight painted on the side in white over a blue and yellow backdrop

with the call letters stenciled below.

        Geoff shot them the finger as he turned and pressed his back against

the rough bark of the pine.     "Can you actually see me?"

        "Yeah, they had a fairly decent close up of you, crawling around while

those soldiers passed you by.     They even made jokes about it.   Just so you

know, I am recording this to show our children when they grow up.     I already

have the disk labeled.     I called it, The last time we saw your father, catchy

title huh?"

        "Funny.   You know, if they do get me, you can sue the television

stations since they are the ones that alerted the military.     You could be

rich.    What am I saying, would be rich."   He looked around, keeping an eye

out for any soldiers.     Before too long, they would most likely take those

bulky HAZMAT suits off and be able to chase him if they so chose.
         "Yeah, then I will be able to find me a husband that is not insane."

She uttered an unsteady laugh that pulled briefly at his heart.        She started

to say something but before she could get too far, he cut her off.

         "So I take it Kari talked to you."

         "Kari who?    No it is just me and our two soon to be fatherless

children."

         "You know I had to Geoff," Kari said.

         "Tell her I said hi," he told Elizabeth.     "Listen, I just want to get a

little closer.        I want to get a few good pictures then I'll truck on out of

here.     Ok?"

         "Yeah." A dubious tone that slid off her tongue like molten lava over a

rock bed.        "Yeah, just don't get killed and if you get caught, I am not going

to come spring you.        You will sit there and rot until they judge you sane

enough to be let free."        Her voice grew tense anger twisting her words.     She

glanced over at the two children, hoping they had not recognized the tone her

voice.

         "Wow, you almost convinced me to leave and get away as fast as I can.

Thanks for the vote of confidence though."        With those words the line went

dead.

         She slowly pulled the phone away from her ear and just looked at it a

moment.     His name and the length of the call flashed a handful of times

before the display shut off.        she continued to stare at it for just over

thirty seconds before dropping in onto the table.        The clatter alerted the

two children to their mothers distress for a moment before they turned their

attention back to the bright colorful show on television.

         "He'll be ok," Kari said, putting her hand on top of Elizabeth's.        Even

if he does get caught, the whole thing is being televised live.        There's

proof.     They couldn't hide it."
      "I know.   He's taking a stupid chance, just to get close to that thing.

He's not eighteen anymore.     He's a father for God sakes.   Why won't he grow

up and act like it."

      "Maybe this is his second childhood."

      "what, trying to get himself killed.     He always does this, stupid

things like this.   I remember one time we went to this concert, I don't

remember who at the moment, but we walked all around the auditorium looking

for a way to slip backstage.     We missed the whole first act and the closest

we got was somewhere in the service area. And even that almost got us kicked

out of the show."

      "But nowhere back stage."

      "Not even close."   She wiped furiously at her eyes, not letting the

tears begin to form there.     "One day he will take this too far, and get into

some serious trouble.   Trouble that he won't be able to talk his way out of."

      She looked down at her hand as though noticing for the first time

Kari's hand gently rubbing hers.     "If I ever suggest we take a trip to D.C.,

you need to smack me straight.     He would be arrested trying to find the Oval

Office."
         Chapter 15

         They were back keeping patrol around the pod.     David had no feelings

either way about it.      Ashley even seemed to like the busy work.    Ashley was

fit for this sort of monotony.      His lot was bread for the sort of repetitive

mind numbing work.

         "Git yo damn finger off that damn trigger," David said without looking

over at Ashley.       He did not need to look anymore, he just knew it was there.

Ashley was slow that way.       David's left hand snaked out of its own accord and

smacked Ashley upside the back of his head.

         "Oww, Sorry Davie sir," Ashley said before pulling his finger from the

trigger and resting it on the guard yet again.        As before, and several times

before that, the finger slipped unconsciously back onto the trigger moments

later.     It was as though the finger held a mind of its own.

         "You keepin a eye out in those trees like I tolt you to," David said.

         "Yessir. But I aint seen nothing."

         "That's cuz you bout as dumb as a brick." David peered toward the trees

as well as he could from the corner of his eyes, trying to see without

staring.     "If I am seeing this correctly.     There is someone there.   It might

be the one HQ was talking about.      You remember dat?    What HQ was talking

about?"

         "Yeah, a little I guess.   Things don't stick in my mind well."     Was all

Ashley could say, all he wanted to say.        He did not want to anger Davie

again, never wanted to anger Davie, so he tended to keep his mouth shut.

         "It's cus you got all that crap in there."     He continued to move along

the same path they had beaten down each pass flattening the grass more and

more.     "All right now listen and remember this ok?     The next time we get on

the other side of this thing, I am going to take this damn suit off an--"
      "But davie that space stuff," Ashley started, pointing toward the pod.

"The space stuff."     Was all he could say, as if it was all the argument he

needed to give.

      "Don't you worry none about me and that space stuff," David said.     "I

can kick that space stuff's ass for a light workout.     As I was saying, I'm

gonna take this suit off and loop around those trees, sneak up behind whoever

is standing right there and take him down.     An don't you go looking up there

as you come around and alert dat guy."

      "I'll try my best."

      "Don't try, just forget what I am gonna do.     You keep walking and dohn

worry bout me none."

      They had just entered the shadow of the pod when David started to strip

off the suit.     They were far enough away from the crowd that he did not think

most were paying attention to them anyway and after a moment the loose silver

suit lie on the ground in a pile of foil fabric.

      "Ok Ash, now you just keep walking just as normal.     Just keep on as if

I was there with you.     Got dat?" David took Ashley’s head in his hands and

stared deeply into his face through the thick plastic of the face guard.

"remember, don't look up there.     Just keep walking as though I am with you.

You do anything that pisses me off, I WILL KNOW AND YOU WILL BE PUNISHED."

He pushed Ashley away in the direction they had been walking previously.

"Now get on soldier."

      As Ashley walked away, David heard a muffled, "Yes sir."
      Chapter 16

      "Ok, what to do, what to do," Geoff said.    He had not moved from the

stand of trees, staying in one place at the moment to watch the movements of

the military in the event they came for him.     through the thin canopy above,

he kept eye on the movements of the helicopters, knowing they were watching

him also.

      After moving back away from the edge of the small stand of trees, he

stood more in the open, not worrying about keeping a hidden profile as much

until he actually saw the silver balloon clad figures and then he would stand

mostly behind a tree, just peaking out his head from behind the woods.

      Looking at his watch, thinking it about time the two soldiers came back

around the opposite side of the pod.    However, no one emerged.    And after a

minute or so, just when he was beginning to get worried, not that he relied

on them for anything, it was just the monotony of the patrol, the

militaristic repetitiveness of it that gave him a sort of assurance that

everything was normal.     A single soldier emerged from behind the pod.    He

walked with jerky hesitant steps, as though his self assurance was gone.

      "Where is your friend?"    Geoff squatted down, keeping an eye on the

single soldier while he began to search for the other solder anywhere other

than where he should be.    "Maybe it is time for me to move."     His talking to

himself became quieter, his left knee popped like a snapped twig as he

squatted down.     Instinct made him move to the opposite side of the tree as he

looked for a different place to hide.

      His eye caught movement from the other side of the pod as he looked to

his right.   Out across the field, the tall grass swayed in the light breeze.

All except one patch that moved in a decidedly different manner.       It did not

sway lightly as the other grass did.    And it was not just a single patch, it

was an area about the size of a person that inched toward him.
      "That is not so subtle.   I take this guy is not a S.E.A.L. material."

He turned and took a few slow steps in the opposite direction, eyes

continually scanning the landscape, not just the stand of trees, for a place

to hide and watch this clown emerge expecting to take Geoff into custody.

"This is something I definitely won't tell either Elizabeth or Kari."

      As he neared the periphery of the shadow he looked over at the soldier

that continued to wear the HAZMAT suit.   He was not being very subtle about

his search for either Geoff or the other soldier.   Geoff could only guess who

he was looking for, however he suspected it was not him.   judging by the

soldiers jerky movements and lack of subtlety in his search, he guessed this

man to be the subordinate, and not a very smart one at that.

      Geoff ducked down as he left the confines of the stand of trees.        Once

again working his way through the grass toward another such stand.     He was

about halfway to the next stand of trees when he stepped forward while

looking around to keep track on his quarry, his foot caught on a stick and he

stumbled forward.   He caught himself at the last moment before thudding to

the ground and snapping the stick, calling attention to himself.

      "Shit," he said, his words barely a breath over his lips.     Looking

around him, he realized tall grass surrounded him on all sides, other than

the trail he had just created getting to this place.   He wanted to pick up

the stick and throw it or snap it into two pieces, even went to far as to

snatch it from the ground and grab it with both hands a snarl twisting his

lips, his jaw a clenched grimace.   The rough bark of the branch bit into his

palms as he fought the anger that rose in him.   he gave the piece of wood one

last squeeze, picturing it crushing to splinters in his hands and forced

himself to set it down, making a mental note to come back after this pod

thing had been dealt with and ceremoniously destroying the stick.

      Geoff realized at that moment, not only was there no sounds from down

the hill, no whomp whomp whomp of helicopter blades, no burbling rumble from
diesel engines, no rustle of grass under his feet.    it was as though when he

tripped over the stick, he knocked his head and temporarily deafened himself.

        He risked a peak over the grass, hoping there was some other

explanation for the unnatural silence.    raising his head so just the top half

peeked over the tips of the wild grass, he saw the one soldier in the HAZMAT

suit repeatedly hitting the side of his head as though trying to bang a

malfunctioning headset to work.    At the last moment he noticed movement from

the corner of his right eye.    In one movement, he twisted in that direction,

his head leading the twist of his body and saw the other soldier sprinting in

his direction, M-16 clasped between his two hands.

        Without looking away from the charging soldier, he reached down and

started feeling around for something to defend himself.    His hand clasped on

the first sizeable solid item it came across.    His hand came up with the

stick that had nearly tripped him and some voice in the back of his head

thanked the lord that he had not thrown the piece of wood.    it appeared the

soldier was not even going to slow, but continue to charge and body check him

as a hockey player would.

        Geoff set one foot back behind him to steady himself, and swung for the

bleachers, as his grandfather would have said.    The swing was timed

perfectly, the leading edge spiking home on the soldiers jaw, twisting his

head.    A gash from the ragged end of the stick, slashed a three inch cut

along the David's jaw.    A spray of blood briefly tinted the air crimson

before splattering the ground in red droplets.    The piece of wood broke into

three large fragments, and several splinters that landed among the crimson,

making a tableau of gore and nature that would be at home in any gallery.

        He twisted, knocked off balance by the attack and his jaw leading the

way, the soldier's feet tangled together and he fell to the ground, dropping

his rifle in the process.    He landed without making a sound, the M-16 slammed

into a rather large boulder and Geoff's brain interpreted it as though making
a sound, even though no sound vibrations ever occurred.        The sound that he

would expect it to make.

         his titanic swing for the bleachers attack on the soldier threatened to

twist him off his feet, but he took a single step backwards to steady

himself, dropping the stick piece still clutched in his hand in the process.

         The soldier lie two steps away from him, writhing on the ground

apparently in pain, though Geoff did not have any audible clue of how he

fared.     Sound still escaped him, and he took the two steps to the soldier,

grabbed him by the front of his camouflage shirt and pulled him into a

sitting position.

         He thought he was yelling into the soldiers face, what he said was,

"Can you hear me!"     he wanted to shake the man, but feared collateral damage

from getting slammed with the stick.       Even he could not hear himself.   There

was a void where sound should have been.        Like watching old 8mm reel to reel

film.     The main difference being there was not even the sound of the world

around him as he watched.

         Turning from the soldier, he looked around him, trying to find the

other man.     "Where is the other guy," Geoff said, the words made no impact to

the world around him, "He has to be around here somewhere."       He expected to

be blindsided by the other soldier, but could not see him anywhere.       Not even

a trace of his fleeing.     "He wouldn't run around the pod if he was trying to

escape."     It did not occur to him at that moment, that the other soldier

might be fleeing to get some help, that just maybe he has lost his hearing

also.     That maybe it was not him that

         HE SHOULD NOT THINK EVERYONE IS DEAF.    HE SHOULD THINK HE LOST HIS

HEARING.     AND THERE NEEDS TO BE SOME INDICATION OF JUST HOW CLOSE HE IS TO

THE POD.

         "Oh god," he said, shaking his head.    He pictured hitting the side of

his head like some cartoon character trying to regain his hearing.       "Why
can't I hear?"   he stuck his index finger in his ear and wiggled it around as

though that action would magically get his hearing to return.

      Out of the corner of his eye, for the second time, the soldier caught

his attention.   The guy started to move around a little, and Geoff was

distantly relieved knowing the guy was not dead, or incapacitated so much

that he was down for the count permanently.

      The air grew denser and in an instant it was a lot harder to breath.

Not impossible, not as though he were underwater, but as though he were

trying to breathe through several layers of thick fabric.   Within moments,

the world around him began to fade, blackness clouding his vision.     A

lightness fogged his head, and without warning, his legs buckled and he fell

to one knee, propped up with his left hand.   Through that hand he felt strong

vibrations through the earth accented by thumping and thudding of heavy

machinery.   As though several pieces of equipment were hard at work just a

few feet underground.

      Almost without him realizing it, even though it should have stood out

in the silence, a high pitched whine slowly inserted itself into his

consciousness.   He realized he was actually hearing something once the sound

began to warble and pulse in time with the heavy machinery.

      Once again, movement caught his attention.   Not from the downed

soldier, or his companion emerging from wherever he had taken flight to.      But

the pod was doing something.    Previously it had been canted at a forty-three

degree angle.    Now as though it was tired of sitting like that, three legs

unfolded one from each of the pods main three sides, two of which pressed

against the ground within moments, the third extending almost all the way

without finding ground then retracting a quarter of the way while the other

two worked the machine upright. Geoff could envision the whine of hydraulics

straining under the pressure.
        After a time it pointed more or less with the point aimed directly

towards the sky.    It had crashed to the ground on the edge of a hill, so to

get the hydraulics had to hold it unevenly to keep it pointed toward upwards.

To Geoff it looked like the unopened blossom of a rose plant, a mechanical

teardrop moments before splashing to the ground.

        With a burst and roar that sent his heart stuttering even faster than

previous he was able to hear again.     A cacophony of mechanical clangs,

screeches and grinding tore through his head as though a naval ship had

slammed into an office building.     The volume pounded into his eardrums, and

he feared for an instant, his eardrums would burst.     He pressed his palms

against the sides of his head, covering his ears.     Muting the sound.

        "Shit," he said.   His voice barely carried over the noise of the

machine.    By now he noticed the sound had a rhythm, a vein of chunks and

thuds kept reoccurring and noticed for the first time heavy vibrations

through the soles of his feet.     pounding shook the ground in time with the

sounds from the pod.

        He also noticed just audible over the roar, the sound of the soldier's

pain, and he felt bad again for hitting him with the stick.     He looked down,

realizing the extent of the man's injuries and felt a pang of regret for

coming here today. It did not seem at that moment, important that the soldier

was rushing him, presumably with the intent of incapacitating and hauling him

away, most likely to where he had taken the jokers.

        The vibrations had grown in intensity to an almost painful extent.

Feet numb, he took several shaky steps forward, fighting the rising feeling

he would fall at any moment, tripping over unsteady legs.     As he stumbled

forward, towards the pod, no doubt the source of the shaky ground, he could

picture he looked as though he were acting in an old Star Trek episode where

the enterprise had just been struck by a fusillade from a Klingon Bird of

Prey.    As the ship reeled from the attack, everyone on the bridge was thrown
around, on the verge of losing their footing, clinging to one piece of

equipment or another.       A smile spread across his face as the image floated

through his head in spite of the gravity of the situation and he tried not to

wobble around like a drunkard.



        Chapter 17

        "Don't . . . no . . . what are you doing?" Elizabeth yelled at the

television, catching herself at the last moment, assuring Jen and Jer that

everything was alright.       "Don't cry sweeties," she said, rubbing first the

side of one down soft face, then the other, "Mom is just yelling at dad for

being stupid."       The looking at Kari, she added, "They better get used to

that, huh?"

        "Yeah, however, not likely that much longer as long as he keeps acting

like this."

        They watched the television, rapt attention, as though in the last act

of a suspense film.      The antagonist is slowly searching through the house,

large knife clutched in hand. The viewers, clutching with no less strength

than death will put on the life that flows through our veins, the hand of the

person next to them, be it a prospective suitor, spouse, or just a friend.

Every action, reaction, and choice Geoff made critiqued no less critically

than by every armchair quarterback during the height of football season.

        "Don't joke like that."     the serious words belied the grin that crossed

her face.     "This isn't really funny.    He is going to get himself killed if he

doesn't try to get away."

        Jennifer's whimper did not even call enough attention to Elizabeth to

snap her attention away from the television.       She slowly reached down and

picked up the child at her feet and sat her on her lap.

        "It's alright sweetie," she said as she kissed the top of the toddlers

head.
        On the television, Geoff had just stepped past the prostrate soldier

toward the pod.     The image shot from the FLIR camera mounted on the nose of

the news helicopter, panned and swiveled around, zoomed in to as close as the

mechanics allowed, while still keeping pointed at the intruder.      For a moment

the both the pod and Geoff were included in the frame.     for in instant

movement from the pod was clearly visible.     Several flaps lined along top

were opening, the hinged part at the lower end of the machine.

        So intent on each of Geoff movements, Elizabeth had not noticed any

change in the pod.     Kari on the other hand had seen everything.

        "Look, look, look," she said in rapid succession pointing at the pod.

"Look its changing."

        Reluctantly, Elizabeth drug her eyes away from Geoff, fearing in the

back of her head that she would not see him again, and turned her eyes to the

spacecraft.     For a moment she could not understand why Kari had been so

excited.    "What . . ." the word slipped from her mouth a moment before she

realized the change and a moment later, ". . . happened."

        "The thing."   The words tasted bland in Kari's mouth, sitting on her

tongue like a piece of boiled chicken.      She wanted to spit even though it

would do no good.      "It ope . . ." her words trailed off, falling on deaf

ears.

        Moments before the camera swung around, losing the pod from the screen,

a thin smoke had begun wafting from where the flaps had just opened.        Great

sickly green gouts wafting on the wind, with barely any time to gather before

the wind took and moved it away.     Then the camera jittered and it was gone

from the frame, the cameraman apparently had not noticed since the camera

continued to focus on the altercation and had slipped away from the pod and

not returned.

        "Oh come on," Kari said.   Her trying to keep her voice from gaining too

much volume, but the stress was there.      Fortunately the twins could not yet
discern the tension in a person's voice.      More than once, Elizabeth and Geoff

held heated fights that no one would ever have guessed was a fight.        At best

it would seem like a married couple teasing each other.        The anger and

negative words were there, however spoken in gentle tones as though

discussing a Van Gogh in the Louvre.

      Neither had really paid much attention to the running commentary from

the studio, mostly since they had little good to say about Elizabeth's

husband.   now, a comment caught her attention.     "did you hear that," she

Elizabeth asked.     "Did you catch that?"

      "What?     I hadn't really been paying attention."

      "I think they said something about what that thing was doing."

      They stopped talking and began to listen to the newscasters discussion

in the studio.     ". . . I do not know what Greg is doing.     He's does not seem

to be paying attention to what the pod is doing."

      "I think he must have money down on the fight."       This joke was not too

far from the truth.     Not that many of the audience would know who controlled

the camera, but Greg's gambling addiction was well discussed around the

office.    So when Stephanie made joke, she was expression disgust toward the

cameraman she had just broken off a long running relationship with.        after

losing several thousand dollars she had loaned him to work on his nineteen

sixty nine Firebird project car on an escape trip to the casino located on

Native American soil along the Oregon coast.      An insider that knew the story

would have noticed the nervous laughter from the co-anchor who did not want

to get in the middle of that situation.

      "Yeah," the other news caster said, his voice had a little bit of a

distracted tone to it.     "Uh, yeah.   Hey Greg, Greg?    Hello Greg."

      The other news caster picked up on this mild taunting and added her

unhappy, post break up two cents worth, "Earth to Greg.        End that call with

your bookie and get back to the news."
      The male news caster began to feel nervous again, "Hey Greg, this is

Dick back at the studio, can you hear me?"     to no response from the

helicopter and the man controlling the camera.

      "Yoo-hoo Greg!" the words became a little more stressed.       "Are you

there Greg?   Have you fallen asleep?    Like in bed."

      "Whoa Stephanie.     We might want to tone it down a little." Dick said to

her, his tone became weary as he tried to keep this line of taunting from

escalating even farther.     If his voice could sound like he was looking toward

his producers to pull the plug on the show for the time being, the tone in

his voice would be saying it at that moment.

      "I'm here," broke in a new voice.      "Did you say that on television?"

      "Yes," her tone had taken on that of a petulant child.       "I said it."

      "You bitc--."

      "Hey Greg, are you looking at what the pod is doing at the moment?          We

were just able to see some smoke coming out, but then the camera followed

that guy down there."

      "No I did not notice that . . . one moment."       With jerky movements, the

camera panned back toward the pod.      By this time, quite a bit of smoke filled

the area, and what had once been a thin smog, barely visible to the naked

eye, had thickened in the few moments the camera was away to a thick pea

green soup that obscured everything between it stood between.

      "Geoff must not see it," Kari said as a little Geoff appeared on the

edge of the screen, apparently having tripped over some obstruction in the

grass and not lay sprawled on the ground.      After a moment he worked his way

back toward one of the stands of trees.     The two women could not tell if he

knew that is where his direction was aimed toward, they could only sit hoping

he was at least trying to escape the scene however both feared that not to be

the case.
       Chapter 18

       To those viewers watching the news that day, the cloud that poured from

the pod was thick, obscuring almost the whole pod from view.    The vaporous

color and consistency of pea soup with a smell of sewage and the swamp,

decayed flesh, and the ward of a hospital that interred the deceased victims

of the Black Plague.   As seen from the news copter, the cloud was thick

enough to obscure all but the brightest rays from the sun, the thickness of

the cloud resembled something that could never be seen in real life, only in

a cartoon.   The reality of the matter was almost totally different.   The

optics of the video camera were coated with an anti-glare agent that bent

light in such a way that never intended by the lens manufacturers.     Though it

never had any effect on the video quality, there were certain unearthly

things that it revealed.   Take this cloud for example.   On camera it appeared

thick and murky, almost a wall of vapor, while no one on the scene could see

it at all.   At best it would appear as heat waves flowing from the top of the

pod.   A distortion in the air making everything seen through it to appear

warbly.   So even though the cloud obscured almost the entirety of the sun's

rays on camera, it cast no shadow.   Geoff or anyone else at the site would

cry foul if told the truth as seen on film.

       Chunks of broken sticks bit into Geoff's palms and knees as he made a

mad dash away from the soldiers, crawling frantically on all fours.     Unless

he lifted his head and looked around, he could not be sure where they were.

the noise from the pod had reached such an ear splitting volume drowning out

all sounds of his movement.   Occasionally the snap of a twig under hand or

knee was barely audible, even the sounds of the labored breathing in his head

had been all but washed away by the screeching of mechanics and the rusty

mechanisms that labored away inside the metal shell.

       Chancing a look around, he slowly raised his head, once again just

above the level of the grass, and swiveled his head as far as it would turn
in either direction.     A brief mental thought of what the news chopper and

ultimately those viewing the news would think about his ground-hogging the

grass.     He could not see anyone around.   Even the civilians had retreated to

a presumably safer distance, opting for safety over the novelty of being on

the scene. They were still visible, just at a farther distance from where

they had been previously.

         "You rethinking your wise choice to come out and gawk at the new

novelty?" he asked even though the words were barely audible to him, let

alone anyone that might be around.

         I wonder if there is any other soldiers around, he thought.   I'm sure

that one still is.     He cautiously stood up, continuing to look around for

signs of someone coming toward him, and took two steps toward where he had

knocked down the soldier that had attacked him only to find an empty spot,

grass flattened out where his body had landed, and a few drops of blood

fanned across the grass.

         With a final thump and what sounded like a person screaming in agony,

the cacophony from the pod stopped, as though some mechanism inside ground to

a halt with a slow dying screech.     The silence was so complete, the rumor of

his breath the only sound as he stepped forward.

         The crowd had scrambled in the opposite direction when the pod had

begun making noise.     He could see the encampment in the distance, most of the

soldiers still milled about; some stood watching the pod, a select few talked

on portable radios.     Very few civilians could be seen near the line the

soldiers had drawn.     Squinting, he could just barely make out that one had a

large apparatus on his shoulder; Geoff assumed it was a video camera.

         He returned his attention to the pod and took a few hesitant steps

toward it.     The skin gave off a sheen that didn’t seem right to him.     It

glowed in such a way that was not right and after a few moments of staring at

it, he realized what bothered him about it.      It was as though light slid off
it like water will slide off smooth metal.   The pod was between him and the

sun, so the side he was staring at should have been in shadow yet even when

clouds drifted in front of the sun, the pod stayed the same.   No shadow

appeared when the sun came out; the skin stayed the same tone regardless.

Where there should have been shadow, it was just as bright as though it was

in direct sunlight.

      The thrumming stopped after a moment though it took time for his feet

to acknowledge the fact.   Just looking at the machine, it called to him and

the desire to reach over and touch it.   his left hand slid from his side,

grasping toward the machine.   Each inch it crept closer, the head given off

form the machine intensified, and his hand felt as though more and more

pressure was pushing downward on it.

      His arm had snaked outward eighteen inches before the pressure finally

became unbearable and he came to realizing he had been in a fog.    His mind

had drifted away from him.

      With a creek and screeching that began low and fluctuated intensely,

three flaps along the top point opened as a humming began again.    This time

it felt different, sounded different and an electric crackling raised the

hair on his forearms.   A buzzing ache pulsed at the back of his head while a

small patch of garbled color low in his field of view, growing in intensity

every moment signaled the onset of a migraine.

      He grew lightheaded, and as he looked up toward the tip of the pod

where the flaps had opened, he lost his balance and took an unsteady step

backwards.   The heel of his foot fetched up against a fallen log, and world

swimming around him, he collapsed back onto his butt.

      As he looked up at the pod, it seemed to grow in intensity.   Even

though he had not been that close, it now loomed over him like one of the

fallen towers.   A monstrous mechanical construction taken on a life of its
own.   The logical part of his mind screamed it could not, while it loomed

ever taller in his field of view.

       After a moment of staring at the machine he tried to get to his feet,

staring at the pod, watching for some new development.     Even though he

expected something to happen, seeing the smoke begin to billow from the newly

formed openings was a shock and his feet slipped out from under him.     He

collapsed backward, eyes agape at the pale green smoke.    Caught by the light

breeze, the smoke flapped back and forth like a flag caught in the wind.      It

did not dissipate, but hung around the opening, tethered like a weak soul

moments before dying.

       In focusing on the openings at the top, and the strange vapor that it

emitted, Geoff failed to notice the opening along the bottom of the pod.

Small slits, approximately two inches tall and two feet in length that ran

along the base with five inches of gap between each slit, had opened along

with the large flaps at the top.     Out of these slits, a fine watery mist

wafted.   It was this mist that would cause the worst of the disaster, and

even though there were only a few people near enough to get the full effect,

the collateral damage from those few infections would be enough.



       Chapter 19

       After watching the civilian attack David with a stick, gashing his

cheek and knocking him to hell and back, Ashley dove to the nearest tall

stand of grass, landing on a large stone that sliced neatly through his

HAZMAT suit, leaving the left side tattered ribbons, and scraping a long gash

up his side.

       “Oh no, Davies gonna be mad ta me,” Ashley said, his voice quavered on

the verge of tears.     “He’s gonna hit me again.”

       Ashley wasn’t a smart man, he had not even graduated high school.      Had

it not been for David, his long time school buddy, he would never have gotten
into the military. Ashley did not know what David did to get him into the

military, was not even positive he was ineligible to be there in the first

place.     He just knew that the first time him and Davie went into the

recruiters office, the soldier behind the desk had told him, he could not

join the Army and as broken hearted as he was, Davie seemed ten times worse.

He left that office, cussing and cursing the day that soldier had been born.

And he let everyone know about it.     it had not been until they arrived back

at Ashley’s house, and Davie thought about it some that he had gotten an

idea.

         “Just stay here,” Davie told Ashley and left in a hurry, snatching

Ashley’s keys from the table.

         “But Davie,” Ashley yelled out the front door, “You aint sposed to

drive.     You lost your license Davie.”

         “You just stay here, I won’t be gone long. Just have a beer and watch

some Flintstones.”

         And sure enough, Davie had returned not one hour later with the proper

paperwork to sign Ashley up.     Ever since then, they had been on assignment

together.     When other people they had known had been assigned all over the

place, they had always been on assignment together.      It was as though, Davie

had been placed in charge of Ashley.       They went to the same boot camp, they

were both assigned to the same base after.       In the deep recesses of Ashley’s

mind, the subconscious where the gears turned and the magician setup his

magic, he had a feeling Davie had made some deal to keep Ash by his side

through their military career.     Keep him close to keep an eye on him.

         He looked around, searching for Davie, the fear of being alone a hard

lump in his stomach.     “D-Davie . . . ?” he began to rise from the ground,

stopped a moment, considering, then rose to his feet, hunkered over in a

slight crouch.     “D . . .” the word hung in his mouth, even that being

difficult to release.     “Don’t panic, don’t panic, what did Davie say about
panicking?”    he could not remember anything at the moment, he just knew there

was no one around.    Had he looked past the pod he would have seen what was

left of the civilians and the soldiers.

      He wanted to yell Davies’s name, but could not.        Fear and anxiety

clenched his throat tighter than Fort Knox.        For the first time in his brief

military career, he was alone.        Davie was gone, just up and vanished, not

even any other soldiers were around to give him orders.        His feet lead the

way, one unsteady step after another, randomly turning right to left, left to

right, random directions.     The only conscious decision he made was when he

realized his proximity to the pod was a whole lot closer than he desired, and

he beat a frantic retreat, tripping twice.        The second time he tripped, his

knee landed on a stony outcropping.        Sparks of fire shot in each direction

and before he caught it, a scream escaped his lips.        Trying to get to his

feet, his knee collapsed, and he fell to the ground again.        This time

narrowly missing the rock.

      “Oh shit,” he groaned looking down at the knee of his pants, at the

three inch tear and the blood that flowed from the cut in his knee.        “Oh no,

please don’t be broken.     Oh no.”     for once his fear of being alone with no

one to tell him what to do swarmed him.        All his energy drained from him, a

ice cold flood and he slumped forward, head inches from the ground as tears

formed along the bottom of his caramel brown eyes.

      Distantly he heard a rustling noise, as though someone walking through

the grass.    So collapsed with fear, he did not realize the sound until it the

sound was right upon him.     He felt the need to look up, wanted to look up,

but feared what would be waiting for him.        He closed his eyes, clenched them

as tight as they would go, squeezing the tears out onto the grass.

      Dread filled him.     A dread with the knowledge that the person was dead.

He did not know where this thought came from, but in an instant, he was

filled with a certainty that Davie was dead and had come to take Ashley into
the afterlife with him.     he started shaking his head back and forth in

negation.     “Don’t take me, don’t take me, oh please don’t take me.”   Visions

of a handful of zombie movies coursed through his head, each one more

violently painful than the last.     “Lord help me . . . protect me,” the words

were barely audible, would have been even without the humming from the pod.

      “Well, at least you ain’t dead, good lord knows I expected you would

be,” Davie said. “Get up off yo lazy ass, and do something for fucks sake.”

      “D--Davie?    Davie is that you?" Ashley said, his head swiveling around

and twisting in the same motion.     He clambered to his feet, arms outstretched

reaching for a hug that would almost certainly bring the flood of tears that

he had been fighting.     For the moment he had forgotten about his wounded

knee, for the moment that is until he took a step forward, leading with the

bad leg and the leg nearly collapsed under the weight.      with the collapsed

leg, he lunged forward, a surprised Davie caught him in an awkward hold

before pushing him aside in revulsion as though he had just picked up a slug

moments before realizing just what he had in his hand.

      "Guh--get away.     What are you gay?   I know, don't ask don't tell.   But

I thought I knew you a little better en'dat."      With one shove, Ashley was on

the ground yet again.     His scream of pain shattered the calm.

      Moments later, the pod came to life, eventually the flaps opened along

the top edge.    By that time, Davie had returned to berating Ashley.    "Come on

stupid.     Let's get the fuck away from this thing, it sounds like it's about

to explode.     My head's feels about to split."

      They turned their backs on the machine and in doing so, were not privy

to the plumes of vapor spouting from the newly opened vents along the top and

bottom.     The same watery mist that Geoff failed to notice also, and in doing

so, breathing deeply, ingested the molecules that will tear them apart from

the inside.
      Chapter 20

      Oh God, Elizabeth thought as she watched the vapor cloud plume from the

pod. Why doesn't he do something.     "Get away from it," she said, the words

soft, so as to not upset the children.     The camera mounted on the nose of the

helicopter jostled a little and for a brief moment, Geoff, the two soldiers

on the other side of the pod, and the pod itself were taken off screen.         She

had just opened her mouth to command the cameraman to fix the problem when

the camera twisted and returned to the subject.

      "You should call him again," Kari said, eyes wide her left hand had

taken up residence in front of her mouth, covering it but not obscuring the

words that came out, her other hand held firmly onto Beth's hand.      "Maybe he

was just ignoring it before."

      "No, it went straight to voicemail," her words were tight and had an

edge to them as though she spoke to an uncomprehending child.       She dimly

noticed the look Kari gave her.     After calling Geoff's phone twice already,

Elizabeth had given up on contacting him directly.     "Either his phone is off,

or the service is out in that area.     That thing must be interfering with the

signal."     She did not know how possible that was, but if her explanation was

enough to keep Kari from urging her to call yet again, then so be it.

      They watched as Geoff, struggled to his feet and made a shaky retreat

toward the nearest stand of trees.     The camera mounted on the front of the

helicopter followed his movements toward the grove.     It did not appear as

though the cloud had gotten near enough for him to breath it, but who knew

what else there might have been coming from that thing.     They held their

breath, as an apparent gust of wind pushed the cloud in a different

direction.     Moments later, it began to break up and dissipate.   Soon the

large cloud had all but vanished, the only evidence it ever was, a slow

steady stream that continued to waft from the top of the pod.
      Sadly, their fears about the pod and the vapor would not only be

confirmed, but would have a horribly negative impact on their lives and the

lives of those around them.




      Chapter 21

      The first few moments when the vapor drifted up from the vents along

the top of the pod struck Geoff with a wave of momentary terror.   He stared,

unable to move as though is feet had been frozen in blocks of ice.   He just

stared at the sickly greenish vapor as it wafted out from the top of the pod.

Finally the steady hiss from the open vents broke his paralysis and he took a

step forward on legs that threatened to fold at any moment.   Each step felt

as though he were in the middle of an earthquake, and before his foot could

come down again, the world would move away from him.

      After a handful of steps, his legs felt like they were going to

continue to support him,



      Geoff had never felt this bad, as he struggled toward the stand of

trees, two noticeable things happened.   First, a few heavy drops of rain

splattered the top of his head.   In moments fat rivulets of rain trickled

down the back of his shirt.   The rain felt like icy spikes being drug down

his spine.   The second, a dim fog covered his vision as his head began to

feel blurry and heavy.




PART II




      Interlude: Stage One
         The ingested (inhaled) spore begins its journey.   Starting in the nose

and working its way downward into to the lungs.     Leaving tracks and particles

from the first layer along the way.     The off cast particles burrow in and

begin to deaden the flesh, spreading slowly at first but with ever increasing

rapidity; drying and hardening the flesh of the throat and lungs as it goes.

The tracks create scoring marks that enable the dried lung to split during

the final stages.

         A few hearty fragments of the spores actually make it into the blood

system through the lungs, the rest circulate through the lungs searching for

entrance into the blood system.     Shedding another layer, the spore absorbs

the white blood cells lessening the body’s ability to fight the infection

that will ultimately kill it and increasing the dead cells while still

carrying away the debris.     The spores crumble into millions of bits that mix

with the blood adding its own form of blood cells that necrotize the

remaining white cells and absorb into the dead whites creating a pus like

substance that eats away at the artery lining, drying and cracking the

already brittle arteries.     The spore particles also absorb a percentage of

the Serum Globulin doing irreparable damage to the body’s immune system.

Hindering its ability to stave off the infecting invader even further.

         At the core of the spore particle resides the catalyst that begins a

chain reaction back along the path the spore has taken to arrive at that

point.     Retreating its course back through arteries like a spawning salmon,

liters of blood, through the previously necrotized flesh into the lungs and

upward to the sinus’ where it began the trip that will ultimately kill the

host.     Along the trip it triggers the final step in its destructive life, the

flipping of the switch that triples the progress of the damage it started.

Once in the sinus’ the particles bond together with the ever increasing
buildup of phlegm until the body is unable to properly breath through the

nose causing an increase of the spread of particles from the mouth into the

air in effect turning each infected host into bellows to spread the disease.

        As each of the organs receives the infection from the tainted blood,

mutation and ultimate destruction begins.      The liver, last point in the cycle

to attempt scrubbing the blood clean, starts off filtering the bad from the

good.     This is short lived and as time progresses the blood becomes more and

more dirty, the liver is eventually so overloaded in its job, there is little

to do but let tainted cells pass through.      Once that happens the liver begins

to physically break down, letting through large coagulated globs of dirty

white cells and tainted red cells, increasing the rate of infection

throughout the rest of the system.

        Once the infection reaches the kidneys the digestive tract is

compromised

        The spores have a life of their own.   In their way they are sentient

beings.     The ones that infect Jackson/Meyers are more aggressive, which is

why they are more aggressive zombies.




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        Marasmus - wasting away

				
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