Continued from Chapter 35, here.
I moved back from the huge mushroom, the size of a small house, that sat pulsing in the middle of the scrub-brush and dusty hills around it like an alien artifact.
“Let’s blow it up,” I declared, turning to look over at Jaspers, standing a few feet away. “If this thing was once a person, it’s too far gone, now. It’s not going to just transform back into a human.”
Jaspers nodded. “Well, it isn’t bloody reacting to our presence, at least,” he admitted. “We can get a few mines placed around it, some Claymores, make sure that when they all blow, we tear it to bloody shreds.”
When I touched the thing, it felt like a sponge, almost. Its surface had given way beneath my finger, squishing in as if I’d touched the soft, fleshy thigh of a sleeping, obese humanoid. The surface of the mushroom looked white, very slightly translucent, with pink veins pulsing beneath the surface. It didn’t seem especially durable.
I’d seen what Claymores could do to enemy combatants. This object likely wouldn’t fare much better; probably worse, if it was this soft all the way through, without any sort of real skeleton.
We headed back up the hill, Henry moving down towards us as we retreated. Whistling tunelessly under his breath, he quickly got the Claymores that he’d brought from Fort Hood set up, positioned in several spots around the mushroom and daisy-chained together to provide the maximal amount of destruction.
We all retreated back up to the top of the hill, standing next to the trucks and looking down at the big mushroom. This all seemed rather anticlimactic, I thought privately to myself, but I knew better than to voice that particular consideration aloud.
“Ready,” Henry said, his fingers hovering over a box of detonator switches.
“Ready, sir,” Jaspers echoed, standing behind the Bushmaster that he’d propped up on its tripod. I doubted that we’d need the big 25mm bullets, not after Henry’s explosives went off, but I wasn’t going to stand between the burly Brit and the biggest gun he’d managed to pick up so far.
I tapped the comm in my ear. “Feng?”
“Ready,” came her soft whisper.
Here we go.
“Jaspers, hold fire until the explosives go off,” I said. “We don’t know how this thing will react, and we might need to mop up any pieces that go flying off.” Without waiting for an answer, I turned to Henry. “Count it down.”
Henry glanced at the others – Jaspers, myself, and Sergei, all standing nearby. “In ten, nine, eight,” he began, positioning his fingers over the switches. “Seven, six, five, four.”
As soon as he flipped those switches, I knew, electrical pulses would shoot down to the antipersonnel bouncing mines that he’d positioned on the hill, starting them dropping towards the mushroom. In the ear-ringing aftermath of that first round of explosions, he’d trigger the Claymores, relying on their closer proximity to finish drilling through any pockets of weakness opened up by the first salvo. The combination of the two types of explosives ought to leave nothing behind larger than a piece of gravel.
“Three, two.” His fingers dropped to the switches. “One.”
Whatever word he spoke after that was gone, hidden by the popping as the mines at the top of the hill leapt away from their casings. We watched them bounce in random paths down towards the mushroom.
The first mine impacted with the side of the mushroom, and I remembered at the last second to open my mouth, helping to equalize the pressure inside my nose and throat. The mine erupted with a roar, sending up a huge spray of dust and dirt. The other mines went off less than a second later, impacting the mushroom on all sides.
Henry said something, but I couldn’t make it out over the ringing in my ears. I saw his fingers move, however, to the second set of switches. An instant afterward, another set of booms echoed up from the valley as the Claymores exploded, throwing tens of thousands of steel ball bearings forward in a deadly spray to shred everything for yards in front of them.
I worked my jaw to pop my ringing ears. The combination of different explosions had thrown up huge plumes of dust, obscuring my view of the mushroom. Beside me, Jaspers also waited, leaning forward over the grips of the Bushmaster as if he could peer through the dust by moving his head a few inches closer.
Distantly, rather tinnily, I heard Feng’s voice in my ear. “Still alive! Still alive!”
I blinked, my body tensing. Jaspers read my body language and brought the barrel of the Bushmaster up. I took a step back towards the truck, straining to see through the dust as it slowly dissipated, falling back out of the air.
There was still a shape down there, in amid the swirling clouds of dirt. It didn’t look the same, however, as the rounded profile of the mushroom that I remembered.
It looked… spiky?
Another thought followed on the heels of this first one, so closely that the two almost merged together into one.
Was it growing?
“Incoming!” Sergei suddenly shouted, his voice laced with surprise and concern. He lunged forward, knocking me aside.
A loud crash assaulted my already-battered ears an instant later, and I felt a shock wave rush through the air from behind me.
I staggered several steps forward from Sergei’s impact, but managed to stay on my feet. I turned around and glanced back over my shoulder, confused about what had just happened. Had the truck been damaged, somehow? Did one of the munitions somehow bounce back towards our position?
No. A massive white pillar, looking vaguely like a huge coiled rope, as thick around as a Volkswagen Beetle, stood amid a sea of metal wreckage. The wreckage of the truck, I realized with another blink of my eyes. What had just happened?
My eyes tracked up, following the pillar upward, looking for its terminus. There wasn’t one. It rose up into the sky and then, in a huge arc, curved down to disappear into the still-settling cloud of dust that marked the initial position of the mushroom.
But now, the monster stood above the cloud.
From that round mushroom seed had burst forth a huge mass of spikes, climbing up high into the sky. I stared up at it, blinking my eyes as I tried to fight for some sort of visual perspective. It looked too big to be real, as if some artist had used a white marker to scrawl across the sky of a postcard. It rose up, up, amid the clouds.
I tried to think, to untangle at least one of the dozen thoughts intertwining and competing inside my head. How high were those clouds? A mile? Two miles? More?
Like a huge, spiky plant, an explosive outgrowth of white grass, the thing rose up – and those long spikes continued to lengthen, curving around to plunge back down to earth. I looked up, and saw more of them falling towards us.
I had been right to have doubts about things being so easy.
We hadn’t killed this thing.
We only woke it up.
To be continued…
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