Silence the Living: New Excerpt
Silence the Living by Brian Bandell is the second book in the Mute series featuring Monique “Moni” Williams.
The world hung in the balance because she wanted to live, because he couldn’t live without her.
Former Florida police officer Monique “Moni” Williams carries in her bloodstream the most deadly substance on the planet, an intelligent alien microorganism. The alien life forms seek to transform Earth into a habitat suitable for their resurrected aquatic species, which fled their destroyed planet. Her skin is the only barrier preventing the start of this disruptive process.
Moni is highly contagious. A drop of her blood, saliva or even a tear will overwhelm the defenses of any human or animal. They become alien-controlled slaves that undergo rapid mutation. Moni has prevented the aliens from conquering her mind, although their voices haunt her. She’s been robbed of her ability to speak, communicating through a newfound telepathy, planting ideas and thoughts in the minds of both friends and foes.
Moni’s only ally is her boyfriend, Aaron Hughes. Despite being chased by agents from the FBI and the military, Aaron refuses to leave her side as she flees to the barren desert of New Mexico.
A scientist, Aaron fights for a cure while the aliens strip away more of her humanity by the hour.
Moni hopes her exile in the desert will protect the Earth from her plague, but she soon finds herself under assault from the desert’s most dangerous inhabitants. The aliens are determined to spill Moni’s infected blood or take away the man she loves. Equally threatening, rival policewoman Nina Skillings pursues Moni across the country, seeking revenge for her friends the aliens killed in Florida.
Meanwhile, in Florida, a sadistic mutant lurks in the underground waterways, hunting people. Renegade environmental scientist Harry “Lagoon Watcher” Trainer believes it’s connected to the alien invasion and he’s determined to pursue it through the watery depths beneath the state’s limestone surface. In this dark maze of underwater caves, the air is far away, but terror is always near.
Moni must decide. Should she cling to her humanity? Or should she embrace the purple, acidic blood flowing through her veins? As Nina says:
“There are no judges out where we’re going. There’s survival, there’s death and there’s the one thing worse than death, and that’s what your girlfriend is.”
Aaron gripped the wheel with anxious hands as they sped down the interstate. Moni had been slumped down in her chair beneath the window line since a patrol car had shadowed them for few miles. It had trailed off without any trouble.
“You can sit up now. They’re gone.”
“What if they don’t leave next time? Even if they don’t see me, this car will eventually be reported as stolen, if it hasn’t already.”
“No worries. We lifted a Prius. They’ll never catch us in this hot rod.”
Moni shrugged. The owner of this car melted in an acid bath behind his lagoon-front home. She failed her duty to protect him and all the invasion victims of her home town. At least his car took her away from Florida so she’d never hurt them again. Instead, she’d just deliver this plague to another doorstep.
“You better learn to drive this hybrid like green lightening. If the police recognize me, I don’t want to think about what I’ll have to do. If they’re stronger willed than that waitress and I can’t manipulate their minds…” She sat up and checked the rearview mirror.
Reluctantly, Moni had shifted the driving burden to Aaron today. After her jaunt through Mississippi that morning, she knew it was safer this way. Every time she saw a body of water alongside the road, whether a lake or a canal, Moni had fought the urge to jerk the wheel and plow into it, surely killing Aaron in the process. Moni’s stomach had ached when she sped by the water as the horde inside her rioted. Her skin cried out for immersion in warm liquid…scalding liquid…the ecstasy of acid burning. Without it, she felt like a beached dolphin peeling in the sun.
“Okay, we’re in Louisiana now.” Aaron snuck a peek at the paper map on the dashboard. Going old-school became necessary after they ditched their phones to avoid being tracked. “We can stay on I-10 and go through New Orleans, or take I-12 on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain. After that, we can keep heading west or take I-55 north towards St. Louis.”
“Stay north of the lake and go west. Keep me away from the big cities, even if you have to exit the highway and take back country roads.”
“Texas bound, huh? What’s there?”
“West Texas and beyond. It’s what’s not there…people and water.”
“Doesn’t sound like the ideal vacation spot, but okay. Aren’t you worried about wild animals getting infected too?”
“They take orders from the most capable brain in a host body, so I’m the trump card. I can deal with infected animals if I’m aware of them. An infected person would be my equal.”
Moni detected Aaron thinking whether she’d left any infected animals or mutants behind on the Space Coast, or maybe even another infected human. He wondered if Moni had fled to avoid arrest without finishing the job. Her gut seized up so hard that she grimaced as if someone had driven a boot to her. Moni’s hunger rolled into rage.
Restraining herself, Moni realized she couldn’t blame Aaron for entertaining those thoughts. Given how she’d handled the murder investigation that preceded the invasion – putting the needs of the suspicious Mariella before solving the crimes – she shouldn’t be surprised that this crossed his mind. Moni stiffened her spine and took several measured breaths.
“I made sure there wasn’t any alien nanotech left in Florida. If there was a single infected creature, I would have felt it like a blinking dot on a radar map. And just in case you’re wondering, I destroyed all the alien eggs in the lagoon before they could develop. The only thing you have to worry about—is me.”
“Come on, Moni. I would never question that you—“
She stopped him cold with her eyes.
“Yeah, you could hear my thoughts. Sorry.”
“Believe me, I’d be easier if I didn’t. Sometimes you don’t want to know what people really think of you. You have no idea how many perverts are out there.”
“All guys have pervy thoughts when they see a hottie like you.”
She tried giggling, but not a sound came out of her disabled voice box. The effort only tightened her stomach more.
“You okay?” Aaron asked as she clenched her teeth in a groaning motion. She nodded, but even that hurt as the glands in her neck swelled. “Damn, you don’t look right. I should examine you.”
“Don’t touch me.” He shuddered at her response, so she rephrased it. She wished he could touch her, and she regretted not getting closer to him before they turned her into this. She placed her hand atop his palm, a safe level of contact based on her experience with the girl. “The last thing I want is to infect you.” She quickly withdrew it.
“Moni, your body’s changed and neither of us understands how. I mean, we’re driving away leaving everything behind, but running can’t solve a problem that lies inside you. Until I learn what those things have done to you, I can’t help you get rid of them.”
Her blood pressure climbed to a point that felt like having a mile of ocean atop her. Aaron wanted the visitors inside her dead. He would deny them their new habitat, the rebirth of their species. They demanded that Moni reach out and grab the wheel, then pull hard.
A thousand voices boomed in her head, “Lose this dead weight!”
She warned them to stop or they’d die along with her body. The pressure eased in her bloodstream, but not in her gut. Her stomach groaned like she hadn’t eaten in weeks. It wasn’t normal food she craved.
“There’s no curing me. Aaron, I’d give anything to be human again, to start over, me and you.”
This time she melted him with the desperation in her eyes. Aaron turned his gaze back to the road and kept it there. She felt his agony, finally meeting a woman he cared about so much, but out of all the people in the world, she’s the one who’s contaminated, off limits to all the living. He wanted to fix her for more reasons than one.
“You can’t stay like this forever. If I get you into a lab, I can learn at least how to keep you alive. I may not be the best marine biology student in my class, or whatever’s left of it, but I know illness when I see it. You’re not well, Moni.”
Looking into the vanity mirror, Moni gasped. She’d never been so pale. If not for her nose and cheekbones, she could have been mistaken for a full-blooded white woman, instead of half black and white. It wasn’t just a stomach ache. Her body lagged on weak and dehydrated, though she had breakfast and stopped for a snack at a gas station. Then she understood. She hadn’t fed them.
“Pull off at the next exit. Look for a secluded spot with cover in the woods.”
Fifteen minutes later, Aaron took an exit in a sparsely populated area and rounded a few turns until he found a road that led into the woods. Moni listened to Aaron’s thoughts to distract herself from the task at hand. He recognized a chestnut oak tree and the shortleaf pine trees. The heat practically made the ground smolder. With the hybrid gliding on under quiet battery power, they heard the birds chirping and a chorus of insects buzzing, and no sounds from civilization.
“Oh Moni, you know it’s not a good time for a make out session,” Aaron said with a bittersweet grin.
Staring at his lips, she wondered what it’d be like to lean in and kiss him and stroke his wavy blond hair. Could she do it without getting her infected saliva on him? As much as she longed for it, it wasn’t worth the risk.
Moni would rather daydream about forbidden kisses than think about what she was about to wrap her lips around.
Moni got out and grabbed the gas can from the trunk. They had filled it with two gallons in case the car’s tank ran dry in the middle of nowhere. Moni stepped through the underbrush into the woods. She didn’t ask Aaron to follow. He did anyway. She’d rather him not see this, but she couldn’t restrain their needs any longer.
Moni stopped when they were out of view of the road. She fell to a knee, her jeans getting smudged by leaves and dirt. The gas can felt so heavy. She took the cap off. Ugh, the fumes smelt horrible. Her head involuntarily jerked back.
I can’t do this. It’ll kill me.
Her stomach seized up like a sponge being twisted by two hands. The pressure behind her eyes swelled so much she feared her eyeballs might pop out of their sockets. They left her little choice.
“Moni, what are you—Oh crap!”
She poured gas down her mouth. It burned her throat so badly that she had to bite down hard on the nozzle to keep from spitting it out. Her stomach heaved, trying to expel the slick liquid, but it caught in her esophagus and her body refused to let it go. The fumes ran up her nose, setting her sinuses ablaze and shocking her lungs. The smell made her light headed. Her throat eased and the heavy fuel dropped into the bottom of her stomach. Instantly, a million tiny pinheads swarmed. The gasoline in her system attracted the alien nanotechnology inside her like sharks to bloody meat.
She remembered what Aaron and his professor had discovered, that the biological nanotech produced bacteria similar to thiobacillus, which thrived on iron, sulfur and carbon dioxide. These were the base elements that the aliens desired for their species. Gasoline had the latter two. Now they had their feast.
The gas can a quarter empty, Moni started gagging. She ripped the nozzle out of her mouth. Immediately, she regretted what she’d done. Her hunger pains were downright pleasant compared to the gut full of gasoline. It heated up like a coal pit as the bacteria-infused nanotech began cooking the gasoline to release the elements they craved. But what would be left over? Moni had seen people die from simply inhaling gas fumes. Had they really changed her body so much that she could survive this, or had she been the one lured into the woods to her death?
“You gotta puke it out! Put your fingers down your throat,” Aaron cried as he approached her. Moni didn’t realize that she’d fallen on her side until she saw him kneeling above her. He shook her, but she kept her hands clenched around her revolting belly. Aaron reached for her mouth with his fingers.
“Don’t. That’s what they want, to kill me and infect you so they can wipe out your mind.”
“I’m not going to stand here and watch you die.”
Before she could reply, she heard rustling in the bushes. A man in a camouflage hunting jacket sprang out and hoisted a rifle at them.
“What you drug addicts doing in my woods?”
Copyright © 2018 Brian Bandell.