Census, the third book in the Harvest Trilogy. Now LIVE on Amazon.com.
Chapter 6 Excerpt:
“Are you Danny Edwards?”
“Yeah, so?” He stood defiantly, shoulders squared, chin up.
Otis relaxed his stance and tried offering a smile. “Son, I’m actually looking for you.” He saw the kid begin to speak, but held up his hands in a gesture indicating he should hold on. “Now wait a minute. I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I’m not here to harass you, son. I need your help.” He turned to point at Jack and Nina in the truck. “We need your help. Do you think you could spare us a moment of your time?”
Danny peered around him at the couple inside the truck. “Who are they?”
“That’s Jack Callaghan and his wife, Nina. They live in Marion. Now, they’ve called me in to help them with some rather strange goings on, and from what I can tell so far, it has something to do with happened here in Schertz about a month ago. Possibly, it goes further back even than that. I just want to ask you a few questions, because as far as I can tell, you’re the only witness I can find.”
Danny stared at him. It was clear he was thinking hard, considering what Otis said. Finally, “If you’re FBI, how is it you don’t know those answers already?”
“That’s a good question. I looked it up, and, Danny, it’s all classified far beyond my pay grade. My division covers financial fraud. I was actually looking into the retirement checks your granddad has received since he out-processed in ’63. A request to stop came in almost immediately after the Schertz underground gas explosions, but I have found no record of his death, no report of him missing, and here you are, mowing his grass. Is he around? Can I speak to you both?”
Danny’s face fell. The defiant look in his brown eyes turned haunted. “No. He’s not around.” He took a deep breath. “There’s no way he could’ve survived.”
Jack heard this and got out of the truck walking up onto the grass. He held out his hand. “Hey, Danny. I’m Jack.”
Danny hesitated, and then shook his hand. Jack didn’t let go, but held the boy’s hand in a firm, comforting grip. He reached out and touched his shoulder. “I’m sorry to hear about your grandfather. We didn’t know.”
A tear clung to the corner of Danny’s eye. “No one knows. Not the whole truth, anyway. I can’t even tell my mom…” The tear slipped loose of its mooring and ran down his cheek.
Otis came forward with Nina. “Is there somewhere we can talk? There’s quite a few people going missing, and I have a gut feeling you might hold an answer or two that can help.”
Danny looked around, eyes shifting up and down the street. “I don’t think I can. They told me I couldn’t ever—“
“Who told you?” Roger pressed.
“Guys like you, and some military.”
“Did they threaten you, son?”
Danny shook his head. “Not me directly. They said if I ever spoke of it, any of it, bad things would happen to my mom and stepdad. My friends, too.”
“Danny, I’m not going to let anything happen to you. Or your mom and stepdad. I promise you that. Whatever you tell me, I will keep with me. I won’t drag your name into it, but if you have any helpful information, you could help save lives.”
Danny glanced up and down the street again. Otis’s heart broke for the boy who was no more than eighteen. “No one knows I’m here except for my supervisor and these two.”
Danny bit his lip, then nodded. “You can come inside. I’ve been taking care of grandpa’s house. I sleep here sometimes, but I think once mom is convinced grandpa is really gone and not coming back, she’ll sell it.”
Danny led them inside the small house. Everything was just as Trent Wilkins left it that fateful day, except that Danny’s mom had come through on a weekly basis to dust and vacuum. He pointed to the couch. Jack, Nina, and Roger all took a seat on the worn plaid upholstery. Danny sat in the dark blue recliner, his grandfather’s spot.
“So what do you wanna know?” Danny looked at Otis.
“What happened to your granddad? What happened here in Schertz that day because I’ve checked around, and there’s no way there was any underground gas pocket explosions?”
Danny mulled it over. He’d experienced trauma beyond what any kid should go through. Things, creatures straight out of a child’s nightmares had attacked, and in the attack, he’d lost his beloved grandfather. He rubbed his hands over his face, then got up, went to the kitchen, and reached inside pulling out a box of Jimmy Dean breakfast biscuits. He came back into the living room with it. All three visitors exchanged confused looks until Danny reached inside and pulled out a ziplock baggie. Inside the plastic bag was a small, square shape wrapped in an old red bandana. He unraveled it. Inside the cloth was a cell phone.
He began to speak. “There were explosions, but they weren’t from gas pockets. They were from alien ships attacking us.”
Jack’s mouth fell open. Nina uttered a sound that could only be described as shock, and Roger Otis sat forward listening. “Go on, son.”
“We were attacked. It happened over several days, and the military cut us off from power, from satellites, and they surrounded the town. No one could get in or out. My grandpa knew why, and he was the only one who knew how to stop them. Colonel Rhames and the Army National Guard helped. Grandpa told them how to stop the creatures. And when it was over, they were nice at first. The Colonel was nice to me, anyway. But the people he took me to after, they’re the ones who told me I couldn’t say anything, not to anyone, and if I did, they implied that accidents could happen to my family...to my friends.”
“What were they really hiding, Danny?” Roger waited.
“It all has to do with the shots,” he said.
“The vaccinations, the ones they give here to everyone each year. They told us they were flu shots with vitamin boosters. We all get them, have gotten them since we were kids. But now they’re spreading from town to town in Texas. I saw on the news that Entrophic Pharmaceutical is now mass producing Celluloss. That’s what they call it.”
Jack spoke. “I don’t get it. What’s Celluloss?” He looked at Nina, both remembering the flu shots from the day before.
“The guy who invented it can explain it better than I can.” Danny plugged the phone into the wall, turned it on, and found the recording he and his grandfather made of the original tape. In a moment, the voice of the deceased Dr. Andre Troyevsky came across the speaker.
“Sergeant Wilkins, I hope you never have cause to listen to this recording, but if you do, if that time comes, it’s because they’ve returned. They’ve come back for their own. Sergeant…Trent. I’m sorry about all of this. I’m sorry for what the military put your through. It wasn’t your fault that you got caught up in the middle of this mess. However, you’re probably going to be the only hope mankind has if they come back. Those involved won’t help, won’t be able to help. They’ll be targets. That includes me. If they come back, if they are there with you now, I’m probably already dead. If that’s the case, I need you to know two very important things. One, they aren’t friendly. One thing we learned is that they came here initially on a scouting mission, to seek us out and discover our weaknesses. Instead, they crashed. Instead, we did to them what they intended to do to us. The others, its ‘people’ if you will, won’t be happy about this. What we did to that creature, the one still left alive, was beyond inhumane. It was torture. But what we discovered was invaluable. Their DNA contains cures to more human illnesses than I can convey in this recording. The mapping of it is like nothing I’ve ever witnessed nor will witness again. We’d hoped to use it to help people, cure heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. That day when the military bombed the bunker, I thought we’d lost it all, but then I found out later that Colonel Reed instructed the bomb specialist to grab the research before he set the explosives and came back out. He smuggled them under his hazmat suit, can you believe it? Those documents were handed off to your superior, Sgt. Haus, who kept them until the FBI went back to D.C. From there, Reed and I continued to run experiments. Some of the results were disastrous. We found out that only children could handle the serum we manufactured. Since their bodies are still in a state of flux, still growing and changing, the alien DNA can integrate into their systems, subtly changing it, building antibodies that fight off diseases, keeping metabolism within healthy norms. But that wasn’t the case for the adults. The adult specimens couldn’t handle it at all. By adulthood, the human body has already gone through all major physiological changes, and the process of obligatory asymmetric replication of somatic cells slows down. The alien DNA attacked these cells escalating the aging process, and bringing about death much sooner than they otherwise would experience. It also tore down their immune systems allowing all manner of bacteria and viruses that would usually not be harmful to a body to become as dangerous as being exposed to massive amounts of radiation and disease all at once. Their deaths were horrific, painful to watch. Knowing this, and finding no way around it, we developed a serum that can only be administered to children. Once they have it, they can receive it for life. But not adults. If they weren’t exposed as children, giving them the serum is the equivalent of a death sentence.” The voice on the tape paused before continuing.
“Reed is running with this. He says we’ll be rich, but I just don’t know at what cost. There is still a side-effect even in children administered this serum. It completely alters their own DNA at the deepest cellular level. They become…alien. If these creatures return, they’ll recognize their own, but I don’t know how they’ll react to the hybrids we’ve created. The next thing I need to tell you about, Trent, is their weaknesses. They do have them. So listen carefully, because this might just save your life, and the lives of those you love. But be warned, I have no idea how this will affect those who’ve been changed by the serum.”
The rest of the recording explained how to defeat the alien creatures. Danny hit the STOP button.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” Jack asked out loud to no one in particular.
Otis took a deep breath. “This is far worse than I thought.”
Nina looked at Danny. “This is incredible, but it still doesn’t answer how so many keep going missing? Did the military get them all, these aliens?”
Danny shook his head, appearing tired and older than his years. “I think so. We haven’t had any sightings since. But it does sort of explain it. I mean, if it’s affecting some people in a way that’s altering their DNA, then maybe something is happening to them. I’m not going to take those shots anymore. I was sort of hoping that would mean whatever is in my system might go away.”
“That’s possible, Danny. I hope so.” Otis steepled his fingers and pressed them to his forehead. He sat that way for a moment, head bent low, thinking. “What happened to Wilkins, Danny?”
The haunted look returned to the teen’s eyes. “One of the creatures got him. It took him onto its ship over by the old Starlite Theater off FM 78. I watched it happen. There was fire everywhere, and it took grandpa through the flames. Next thing I saw was the blue orb coming out of the blaze, and two Apache Helicopters firing at it. It exploded.” He stopped, tears falling freely from his eyes as he tried to wipe them away. “My grandpa was on board.”