V 10 - Death Tide, page 1
The helicopter swooped low, then banked over the Pacific Ocean, its shadow a dark blotch sliding over the improbable blue of the Catalina waters. In its passenger seat, Dr. Juliet Parrish frowned, reached into her purse for a couple of Maalox, and chewed reflectively.
From this height, the indigo swaths marking the seaweed beds below appeared unchanged. Julie narrowed her eyes against the brilliant sparkle of the early afternoon sun as she peered down at them, hoping fervently that the kelp would look as healthy under a microscope.
“The camp’s down there.” A buzzing voice sounded in her headphones and she turned to look at the pilot, Mac, a friendly, gum-chewing redhead as he pointed to a tiny deserted cove on the leeward side of the island. “Y’can make out the cook shed and tents even though they’ve been camouflaged—if you know where to look. See the shadows near the ironwood trees?” Almost deserted, Juliet mentally corrected as she made out five tents and a battered little plywood hut huddled around the charred remnants of a campfire. As the Science Frontiers chopper nosed toward the sand, its blades slicing the hundred-plus summer air, a blond young man in swim trunks came out of one of the tents and waved, then disappeared back inside.
“That’s Andrew Halpem, Doc,” Mac commented, circling down for a landing on the flat stretch of sand. “No, wait till I shut her down,” he cautioned as the young scientist began unbuckling her seat harness. “This baby kicks up a lotta dust.”
Julie sat back against the seat, looking out at the sun-bright beach.
“Andrew Halpem,” she murmured. “I’ve heard of him. Nathan Bates hired him right out of school.”
“Yeah,” Mac said, busy with switches. “He’s like you, Doc. Young and smart. But there’s a big difference. He never lets you forget it.”
“Is he a biochemist too?”
“Nope. A botanist. And he thinks he’s the greatest gift to women since unrationed panty hose. Has a real thing for blondes. You’d better watch yourself.”
Juliet nodded absently as she slid out of the chopper, glad when the dying whupa-whupa of its blades stopped and the wave sounds became audible again. She stood for a moment looking up the cove, shading her eyes against the glare, which was strong even through her prescription sunglasses, feeling the heat settle over her body like a muffling blanket. Turning, she scanned the horizon for the faint smudge of the Los Angeles smog, but the heat had burned the sky clear of everything except pale blueness. Even the giant Visitor Mother Ship hovering a mile or so over the city looked dwarfed, insignificant.
Julie took a deep breath, feeling some of the tension that was her constant companion these days ebb away like the tide at her feet. Far out to sea a silver arc marked a dolphin’s passage, and she smiled at its beauty. Despite the heat, the sea air was fresh against her face, a marked difference from her laboratory at Science Frontiers.
She pushed a hand through her shoulder-length hair, trying to remember the last time that she’d gone to the beach with nothing more than a good time and a tan in mind. It had been at least two years ago, before the Visitors arrived. An eternity ago—an eternity of experience, if not years.
Tvo years ago Juliet Parrish had been a fourth-year medical student at UCLA, eagerly pursuing her sideline interest in research biochemistry. “What were you doing when the Visitors arrived?” was still a standard social question, much the way “Where were you the day John Kennedy was shot?” had been over twenty years earlier.
Julie vividly remembered her own day. She had just completed tests on a small white mouse she’d kiddingly dubbed Algernon, verifying that a formula she had helped develop might speed the healing process in injuries. She had still been glowing in the warmth of rare praise from her mentor, Dr. Rudolph Metz, when Dr. Benjamin Taylor had rushed in to turn on the lab’s TV set, and Dan Rather’s face had filled the screen, telling them that giant UFOs—UFOs— had been sighted all over the world. Then the picture was there, confirming the newsman’s impossible words—a huge silver vessel, saucer shaped like in those old fifties movies, hovering over San Francisco, dwarfing the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge—and Rather was saying that identical craft, estimated at five miles or more in diameter, had appeared over fifty or more major cities, among them Paris, New York, Geneva, Rome, Buenos Aires, Tokyo—and Los Angeles.
The Visitors had looked reassuringly human, although their voices had a strange resonance about them, as though electronically multitracked. John, their supreme commander, had promised to share their vast scientific knowledge with humanity in exchange for assistance in manufacturing a chemical they said was desperately needed to save their dying planet. Julie’s excitement (she had wanted to ask them about their DNA and physiology, for starters) had turned to disappointment and frustration as the weeks passed and the promised scientific seminars had been repeatedly postponed with vague and disquieting excuses.
Then Ruth Barnes, their lab assistant, didn’t come in to work one morning. Other disappearances in the scientific community were followed by the nightmarish escalation of events. Accusations arose, along with trumped-up charges that scientists were forming a conspiracy against the Visitors and were withholding important discoveries from the public, and a shocked and angry outcry against the scientific community grew. When Dr. Metz was arrested, Julie had left her increasingly distant stockbroker lover, Denny, to go underground and lead a handful of people determined to fight the growing and insidious threat of the Visitors.
The threat became hideous reality when they discovered the real reasons behind the Visitors’ journey to Earth—the aliens were stealing Earth’s water for transport back to their barren home world circling Sirius. Pure, liquid water, it seemed, was a rare quantity in this portion of the Milky Way. By taking over the Earth, the aliens were fulfilling a master plan to strip the planet of its water and food resources. Beneath their outwardly human masks, the Visitors were reptilian, requiring iive or freshly killed meat. Including human meat.
Julie turned away from the whoosh-boom of the beach and began slogging toward the camp. Sweat gathered in her armpits, made her cotton blouse cling lovingly to her midsection. She was fleetingly glad that she’d worn a skirt instead of slacks. Hot sand cascaded over her sandals, gritting between her unstockinged toes, until she was tempted to go barefoot, but the heat radiating off the beach argued against it. Even with her polarized sunglasses, the glare was making her dizzy. Her thoughts wandered again to the past.
From the beginning of the resistance efforts to unseat the Visitors’ ever-tightening grip on the city, Juliet had emerged as the group’s leader. She still didn’t know how it had happened—-always, it seemed, decisions had had to be made, and she’d been the only one willing or able to make them. Their tiny cadre had grown into a trained fighting unit, and Julie, a medical student who’d never even touched a weapon, had before long found herself knowing as much about the care and use of guns—including the Visitor laserguns—as she knew about anatomy.
Leadership—she’d hated it, every minute. The sleepless nights of worry, people looking to her for answers she didn’t have, planning raids where people died, plotting ways to destroy life instead of preserving it. For a long time she’d been too preoccupied coping with the crushing responsibility, the problems of simple survival to worry much about herself or the emptiness inside her when she remembered Benny. Ben Taylor had died in her arms, and Julie herself bore a livid seam across her hip that still pained her in damp weather. And they were just the first scars. . . .
The only good thing to come out of those early days of the Visitor occupation was Michael Donovan. The former freelance cameraman had been the first to discover the true nat
When she had first met Donovan, she had been annoyed at herself for finding him attractive. His green eyes and handsome Irish features notwithstanding, he’d been a reckless, driven loner, cynical and hard-shelled, who made no secret of the fact that he was more interested in getting his son, Sean, back from the clutches of the Visitors than with actively helping the resistance. At first Juliet had wrestled with herself over recruiting him—his obsession over his son’s imprisonment in the Mother Ship made him a security risk.
As the months wore on, though, Mike had come to serve a larger cause than himself—and he and Julie had learned to care for each other. Thanks to a hideous, artificially-induced Visitor/human pregnancy the Visitor leader, Diana, had implanted in a teenage girl, Robin Maxwell, Juliet and her research team had discovered a bacteria deadly to the reptilian Visitors. V-Day had come with the release of thousands of balloons into the atmosphere, spreading the red dust of the bacteria and sending the Visitors back into space, minus thousand of casualties and their hold on Earth.
Life had gone back to normal again following the Visitors’ defeat. Julie had been able to complete a Ph.D. in biochemistry at UCLA and join the staff of Science Frontiers, a prestigious research laboratory headed by the wealthy and powerful Nathan Bates.
And then Nature played a cruel trick. The red bacteria, which had settled harmlessly into the ecosystem of Earth, turned out to require a dormant period of coolness in order to reproduce. A year after the Visitors left, it had vanished from all regions below the frost belt. The hated saucer shapes of the Visitor Mother Ships, thought to be banished forever from the skies of Earth, had reappeared over Los Angeles and other cities in the warmer climates. They had been hiding behind the moon, trying to find an antidote against the red toxin, waiting. . . .
Nathan Bates, founder of Science Frontiers and Julie’s boss, had bargained with Diana, the leader of the aliens, to keep Los Angeles a free zone where both Visitors and humans could mingle. The situation reminded Juliet of the Casablanca depicted in her favorite Bogart film. The majority of the world’s tropic and subtropic zones weren’t so lucky; there, the aliens held complete sway.
Julie’s ongoing work consisted of mutating the red dust bacteria, trying to coax a strain into adapting to hot climates. This Catalina variant had showed the most promise to date, flourishing in the bladder kelp surrounding the island in the month since they had introduced it. If this form of bacteria could also be genetically altered to be happy in a land-based environment as well . . .
This could be it, she thought, frowning a little as she felt another twinge in her stomach. Or it could turn into an ecological disaster on a huge scale. Footsteps sounded behind her.
“You okay?” Mac asked as he peered down at her, his homely, craggy face full of concern.
“Yeah, fine,” she said. Actually, she’d been queasy and subject to nausea for the last couple of days. She wasn’t sure whether it was a stress reaction, or possibly some allergy to the substances she was working with. Occupational hazard in my line of work, she thought.
“Well, I’m due back to take Mr. Bates to the ranch for the long Fourth of July weekend,” the pilot said. “Just have them send a message on the radiophone when you want to be picked up, okay?”
“Sure,” Julie said, giving him a cheerful wave, but she couldn’t help feeling a little abandoned as she watched the chopper beat its way into the air again.
“Hi!” Juliet jumped to find that the blond young man she had seen from the air was behind her, grinning pleasantly. She looked up into his tanned, regular features and smiled back.
Something about Halpem’s lithe, well-muscled body and easy grin reminded her of Mike Donovan. Julie found herself eyeing him appreciatively and thought wryly it had been much too long since she and Mike had had any time to themselves— nearly two weeks since their last encounter. And making it on the couch in the deserted underground headquarters beneath the Club Creole definitely didn’t qualify as the most romantic and relaxing of interludes. When would they ever get any real time alone again?
Shading her eyes against the sun with one hand, she looked up at him. “Hi, I’m Juliet Parrish. You must be Dr. Halpem.”
“You’re our resident seaweed expert,” he said, extending his hand.
‘Yeah,” she replied. “I’m trying. Actually, I’ve contacted the group in Hawaii to see if we can’t get a real marine biologist up here. We need one.”
He held up a dripping stalk of ropy kelp. “We’re having a special today. Three bunches for a dollar.”
“About the only thing in California now that isn't rationed.” “Yeah, well, I knew you’d want the most up-to-date specimens. Come on in, Julie.” He led the way into the largest of the tents. After the brightness outside, the darkness seemed close and almost total. Blinking, Julie took her regular glasses out of her bag and after a minute could make out the hulking outlines of microscopes, lab tables, tubs, and incubators. The air inside the tent smelled of sweat, agar, and the ever-present fishy reek of the kelp.
Three people rose from camp stools as she approached. “Drs. Amelia Anderson, Juan Perez, and Bill Kendall,” Halpem indicated each in turn. “This is Dr. Juliet Parrish.” After murmured greetings, Perez, a short, stocky Hispanic, pointed to a pan steaming on a kerosene stove. “You miss lunch, Dr. Parrish? Join us, please.”
‘ ‘Speciaiite du maison,” said Halpem, grinning as he reached for a paper plate. “Pork and beans with fresh sea trout, which I caught this morning.”
Julie’s stomach lurched as the fried fish assaulted her nostrils. “Uh ... no, thanks. Maybe later.”
Sitting with her back againt the brick wall of the alley, Maggie Blodgett watched Chris Faber carefully manufacture a bomb and tried to ignore the stink of the garbage spilling out of the ancient green dumpster beside them. The big man whistled softly between his teeth as he spliced two tiny wires together, then looped them around a screw. For the umpteenth time, she marveled at how such large hands could do such delicate work. “How long did it take you to leam that?” she asked.
“When you’re working with Ham Tyler, nothing takes long to leam.” Chris shifted his gum from one side of his mouth to the other. Shading his eyes, he shifted his position to peer cautiously around the dumpster at the ancient Ford Fairlane they’d towed over that morning to block the mouth of the alley. “With him, you either catch on fast or you’re dead.”
She nodded in agreement. Since the Visitors had landed, that was a pretty fair summary all around. Maggie herself had learned a lot after joining the resistance two years ago—how to shoot an M-16 or a lasergun with equal skill, how to infiltrate Visitor enclaves, how to obtain vital information using whatever means proved necessary. Blodgett frowned, remembering the weeks when she’d deliberately set herself to attract the infamous Daniel Bernstein, the human turncoat who had become the leader of the Visitor Friends group, sleeping with him to glean the facts that had helped lead to the aliens’ initial defeat.
She’d also learned about the anguish of loss. First Sam, her pilot husband, had been killed when the Visitors declared martial law, crushing the few military groups that had dared fight back, then she’d lost Brad McIntyre, an ex-cop and fellow resistance fighter who had become her lover. They’d made plans one night to marry, daring to hope there would be a tomorrow, then he had died two hours later in an explosion the resistance had set in a hydroelectric plant. He had covered their escape as he lay trapped, his leg shattered. Maggie’s throat tightened, remembering the way Chris had scooped her up and dragged her away, shrieking and struggling.
“So where are you from?”
“Huh?” Maggie blinked as Chris’s voice broke into the silence of her memories. “Oh. Encino. And you?”
“Yeah.” Maggie glanced nervously at the reading on her own laser pistol. All of the Visitor technology—their guns, their ships, their communications devices—was powered by the palm-sized energy cells that apparently contained atomic batteries. No one was sure precisely how they worked, because the few attempts to open the small metallic cases had proved disastrous for the curious—as well as anyone within a one-block radius. The power in each small cassette was enough to drive their captured skyfighters for over a year. But now they had only a handful of the packs left—hence this broad-daylight raid on the expected Visitor supply vehicle.
Chris had evidently observed her anxious frown. “Scared?”
“Good. I don’t trust a partner who isn’t a little scared. Makes me think he or she knows something I don’t. Want some gum?”
“It’s Juicyfruit.” Reaching into the pocket of his everpresent camouflage jacket, Chris pulled out a crumpled yellow packet and handed her a stick.
“God, I haven’t had this in years.” She chewed gratefully, glad for something to do with her tongue besides constantly running it along the dryness of her mouth and lips. “How’d you get hold of this?”
He grinned. “I never reveal my sources.”
Maggie indicated the power reading on her laser pistol. “Mine’s in even worse shape than yours. Think I ought to chance stopping them with this?” She tapped the .38 Police Special tucked into the waistband of her jeans. Specially modified to use the Teflon-coated shells that were their best projectile ammo against the Visitor armor, the .38 nevertheless lacked the power to kill or disable except at point-blank range.
Chris shook his head. “Uh-uh. There ought to be at least a coupla jolts left, and you’re a good enough shot that you won’t need more.”