We woke it up.
Still knocked down to the ground, I stared up at the huge monstrosity that rose in the place where the mushroom had once squatted. Continuing the plant metaphor, it reminded me of a massive bunch of crabgrass, stabbing up with blades from the ground.
But no crabgrass grew in pale white, or stretched miles into the air, up beyond the clouds.
“Shit,” Jaspers cursed, landing on the ground next to me. “Now what?”
I didn’t have words to answer. The tendrils, each the size of a skyscraper, shifted in the air. They weren’t slamming down into the ground any longer, at least; maybe they’d reacted to the attack, trying to take out the source of the explosions. If anything, they looked like they might be starting to slowly shrink down…
I didn’t want to think about where they might be going. But before I could even start to consider that scarily dark line of thought, I heard my earpiece, somehow still in my ear, crackle to life.
“What’s going on up there? What is that?”
Corinne. She was back a ways with Sara in the last truck, but there wasn’t any way that she’d miss the sight of the huge blades of white stabbing up into the air.
“The monster,” I answered, my voice hoarse and choked with dust thrown up from the explosions. “It’s… it’s not asleep any longer.”
I froze at that voice. That wasn’t Corinne. That was Sara. She sounded scared, more so than I’d heard in my life.
And far above me, the huge white pillars jerked, snapping out as if suddenly electrified.
I only had a single instant of realization. It still knew her, somehow. She was the key to all of this, in some way that I didn’t understand. And the monster heard her, was searching…
“Get out!” I screamed into the comm, adrenaline flooding my veins with liquid metal. I bounced to my feet like I was made of rubber, my legs flying underneath me like I was a damn cartoon character still struggling to get traction on the ground. “Go! Get out, go, get away, get going, go!”
The words blended together into a scream, but even that was drowned out by the roaring, snapping, groaning sound of a million trees breaking and falling in a distant forest. Above me, those huge white spikes, pillars as thick at their bases as an entire city block, began to shift.
They were coming down. I knew it, the same way that I instinctively knew which direction gravity tugged me. They were coming down, going for the one thing that still seemed somehow, magically, tied to the thing.
The others were on their feet, now, moving along with me. I heard Jaspers roar behind me, knew that he’d figured it out as well. The comms channel was open, and they’d all heard.
“Go! Go!” I saw the truck, now. Damn it. Corinne was closer than I thought; Sara must have pressured her to drive closer than the perimeter distance I’d set. I didn’t dare risk a look over my shoulder, but those creaking sounds grew louder. If they just kept quiet…
But Sara must have seen the huge spikes, high above her. Their whiteness almost blended in with the clouds, at first, but the sounds they made gave their presence away.
She screamed – and that was more of a trigger than any switch Henry might have possessed.
“No!” I had my sidearm in my hands, firing up at the dropping logs. What good would it do? I had a better chance of knocking down a city skyscraper shooting spitballs from a straw.
Behind me, I heard the “clack-clack BOOM” roar of the Bushmaster. I thought it had been knocked down by the destroying of the other truck, but someone must have got it up. Sergei? He’d been near it, as had Henry.
I risked a glance back over my shoulder. Sergei stood there, bracing himself as he fired the Bushmaster up into the sky in timed bursts. Henry stood nearby, feeding the ammunition.
It wouldn’t be enough – but above me, one of the pillars reaching down from the sky suddenly stuttered, shook like a wet seal climbing out of a pool. “The tips!” Sergei shouted in the comms, and I glanced back at where he stood, firing the heavy chain gun. “They’re sensitive at the-”
A pillar from God came dropping down, and Sergei’s voice cut off abruptly as he, Henry, the Bushmaster, all vanished beneath it. The shock wave hit me a second later, making me miss a step and stagger.
“No! Sergei, Henry!” Nothing. Just static.
I couldn’t think. Get to the girl. That was what I’d been doing, before… before. My feet faltered for a second, but then picked up the pace once again, pumping towards the last truck.
I wasn’t going to make it. Another one of the tendrils hovered above it, as if making sure that it had the right target before dropping down to annihilate everything below. Closer, I could see that its tip wasn’t a smooth blade, but had millions of tiny little fibers extending down, writhing like the long tentacles of a jellyfish.
A flat crack cut through the air, and the huge shape, the impossible biological superstructure above us, shook. Several dozen tendrils, severed at the base, came dropping down like snakes from the sky. Another crack followed on the heels of the first, so low that I felt it in my gut, and the tendril shook again as it took another hit.
Feng. She’d shifted around, bringing the sniper rifle to bear. She must have found a larger barrel or have special rounds, to be burrowing so deeply into the target.
The huge tendril jerked again, but this time a shiver seemed to run back towards the base. For an instant, Feng screamed, loud and piercing in my ears, and then it cut off. I felt another thump of a massive impact run through the ground, knocking me down.
No more sniper rifle cracks rang out.
I’d nearly made it to the truck. This close, I could finally hear the roar of the engine; Corinne was in the driver’s seat, her hands on the wheel but eyes staring straight ahead. Had she gone into shock? The huge mass above her had dropped lower, tendrils as thick as my forearm now bumping against the sides of the truck.
“Corinne!” She’d never frozen in battle before, not that we’d ever faced anything like this. I fired my sidearm up into the mass of writhing tendrils until it clicked empty, dropped it. It wasn’t worth reloading.
I reached the door, reached out to smack Corinne – and then froze.
The window was open. Half a dozen of the tendrils had found their way inside the truck.
One of them was touching Corinne’s head – no, not touching.
Merged. It fused with her skin, pulsing like a monstrous abomination of an umbilical cord.
My Rapid Response folder was in my hand, blade flashing out as I flicked the knife open. I swung it at the tendrils, even as my mind gibbered and screamed inside my skull. The knife cut through the cord attached to Corinne’s forehead and she flopped back, boneless, eyes staring blankly out from her head with no light or motion behind them.
I looked past her. Sara was there, in the backseat, frozen on the verge of screaming.
There wasn’t a way out. Already, dozens more tendrils dropped towards us. Jaspers was somewhere behind me. I didn’t know if he was alive or dead. It would be over in moments.
But at least she wouldn’t go alone.
I threw myself into the truck, even as the tendrils followed me in. I wrapped my arms around Sara, pulled her against me.
She let out a single sob, hugging me as I held her.
To be continued…?