Read an Excerpt
Survival of the FITTESTThe Closest Enemy
By Michael Taylor
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Michael Taylor
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE RIDE
"Welcome to Pennsylvania" was the first thing Trevor saw when he opened his eyes. The sign passed by the window at a steady pace and vanished in the distance behind the vehicle he was in. Trevor sat up, groggy and unsure about where he was. He had an intense feeling of fear. His heart jumped. In his mind, he was still in a dream. He pinched his eyes closed. He wanted to wake up. Trevor believed he could wish away all that had happened. Then he heard the familiar voice, a motherly sound that had the ability to pull him back into reality.
"You're awake." Dr. Ellen Tarret looked into the backseat. "You must have been having quite a dream. You've been pretty restless for the past few minutes."
His panic halted as he turned his head toward the warm, kindly face. Trevor's eyes widened. A feeling of fear and relief gripped him all at once, and he stopped breathing for a moment.
She smiled. "You're okay. It was just a dream. Dr. Becker and I are here. You're safe."
Dr. John Becker looked into the rearview mirror. "As soon as we started moving, you fell asleep. You must have been awfully tired." His eyes returned to the road ahead. "Where we're headed, you'll have plenty of opportunity to catch up on all the sleep you need."
Dr. Tarret continued to smile as she reached back and took Trevor's hand. "I know all of this has been stressful on you. I don't know what I would do or how I would feel if I had to be separated from my twin. I hope you know how fortunate we are to have you with us."
Aiyana. Trevor's memory flashed back to the letter he had left with his sister. Read it when I'm gone. He wondered if she'd read it yet. Is she on her way? How close are they? He turned and looked out the back window. I hope they hurry.
"We only have about three hours or so, depending on the number of cars and trucks blocking the roads." Dr. Becker glanced back at Trevor a few times in the rearview mirror. The fear that coursed through Trevor was palpable. "Don't worry about them. They know what they're doing. I'm sure your sister is fine."
Trevor snapped himself back into reality and turned toward the doctors. "Yeah, I know you're right. It's just Yana's never been anywhere without me. She's my sister, and I protect her. Without Momma or Daddy, she's all alone out there."
"Will is with her. You know he'll take care of her," Dr. Becker answered.
Trevor stared forward for a few moments and leaned back in the seat. His head rolled to the left, and he stared out the window at the browning fields. Ask. Just ask the question. The urge to question was strong, but inside he fought with all he had to remain quiet. Dr. Tarret's sweet voice continued to ring in his ears as she prattled on about something he could have cared less about. He didn't pay attention.
"Would you just shut up?" he snapped. "You just keep going and going. I'm sick of hearing your voice." His eyes burned into Dr. Tarret. He fidgeted to the right as his tail slinked out from the base of his spine and coiled into the air behind him.
Dr. Tarret jerked back. The suddenness of Trevor's change frightened her.
"Trevor, calm down!" Dr. Becker slammed on the brakes. "Apologize!"
"No, I'm not going to apologize." He opened the back door and stepped out onto the road. His body fully mutated with his blades extended and his tail waving behind him. He turned to Dr. Becker when he heard him open his door. "You have to tell me more. I came with you. I left my sister. I want to know what's going on. Where are we going? What's in this place called Berwick? Why are we going there?" His head turned to Dr. Tarret, now at the back of the vehicle. "Well? Which one of you is going to start? Who's going to tell me something?"
Dr. Becker raised his hands in a sign to tell him to calm down. "Trevor, get back in the car. We'll explain everything to you."
"No. You're going to explain everything right here and right now. I'm not going any farther until I know what's going on."
"Trevor, you know we can do everything you can do." Dr. Becker's voice was cold and calculated as he spat the words. "It would be two against one. You'd lose."
"Really? You think you're stronger than me?" Trevor stepped toward Dr. Becker. "Let's see." His tail snapped in the air. An ear-piercing crack echoed. Trevor waited. He looked at Dr. Tarret and then turned back to Becker. "Maybe I should try that again."
His tail snapped two more times. The sound reverberated all around them. Trevor shook his head in disgust. He laughed sarcastically. "You're nothing like me." He smiled. "Neither of you. That sound should have changed you. It didn't."
He paced back and forth and stared into the distance. "The sound most likely caught the attention of some of the aliens out there." He sniffed the air. "Yeah, they're out there. Not too far away." He turned back to Dr. Becker. "Don't you smell them? No? I do."
"Trevor, please stop this," Dr. Tarret begged. "Don't do this. We'll tell you everything. Whatever you want to know, we'll tell you."
"I kind of figured you'd change your mind." He leered at Dr. Becker. "You feel the same way?"
Dr. Becker didn't answer. He ran his hands over his face and sighed. "What do you want to hear?" His gaze shifted slowly toward Trevor. "We're dying. The Theta DNA didn't have the same effect on us. It's killing us. Is that what you wanted to know?"
Trevor jerked back as if an unseen fist had hit him. "Then why are we going to this place in the middle of nowhere? What's there? Why would you want to go somewhere like that? It doesn't make sense."
"It will, Trevor," Dr. Tarret answered. "An underground facility is there. From what we know, it's been untouched. Everything we need." Her head shook back and forth. "No, I mean, everything you need to keep yourself and all the others alive is there. We need to show it to you. We need you to understand what you have to do. Only a handful know about the place. You are the only hope the Theta kids have. What you and the others have gone through is only the first part of a process that has to continue. Your bodies have to continue to change."
"How? What can I do? I'm not a scientist."
"You are," Dr. Tarret said softly. "You just don't know it right now."
"She's right, Trevor. You are more than what you realize. We saw that in you. That's why you're with us," Dr. Becker replied.
Trevor stared into the grey sky. "I don't understand."
Dr. Tarret answered, "You will. You just have to trust us."
The word "trust" slammed around inside his skull like a bullet ricocheting. "Fine. I'll go with you. But I swear, if you do anything that I think is a little off, I'll kill both of you." He looked back and forth at the two doctors when his eyes settled on something in the distance. He nodded in the direction. "We better get going. They're close."
Drs. Becker and Tarret spun around. They saw the figures that moved.
"Let's get out of here." Dr. Becker's voice trembled with fear.
* * *
An uncomfortable hour of silence ruled the atmosphere of the car as they continued north on Route 15 in Pennsylvania. When they passed by Gettysburg, Trevor thought the conversation would begin. He believed that Drs. Becker and Tarret would bring up some stupid metaphor about war. Instead, the quiet hung heavy in the air. Only one person in the vehicle spoke, Trevor, and that was him talking to himself.
Sixty thousand men died here in one day. He wasn't sure if he were correct. History was never one of his favorite classes. Then another thought crossed his mind. Millions died around the globe in one week. The idea of that sent a chill through his body.
"Okay, it's been forty-five minutes. I'm absolutely sick of this silence." Dr. Tarret turned inwards to be able to look at Dr. Becker and Trevor. "You had questions. What are they?"
Trevor's eyebrow nudged upward. "Well, here's a few. Where are the spaceships that brought the Quar? How come they don't attack the car? We've passed huge groups of Quar, but not one has come after us. Why is that?"
Tarret's gaze moved slowly toward Dr. Tarret. "Well, it's probably because ..." She hesitated and then went silent.
"It's probably because of you," Dr. Becker finished the statement. "Just like you can smell them, they can smell you. They're probably afraid."
The answer sounded good, but Trevor immediately picked up the flaw in it. "Afraid? But I'm just one. We've passed Quar in groups of at least twenty."
Dr. Becker rubbed his eyes. "Then I don't know. What answer do you want?"
Dr. Tarret laid her hand on Dr. Becker's thigh. "It was just a question, John. There's no need to get angry." She did her best to keep peace. "Trevor, what Dr. Becker is trying to say is that we don't know. We know a lot about the Quar, but we don't know everything. We've only seen Quar in captivity. We've never seen them moving around like we see them now."
"Then how did you create the computer program? Was that all a guess?"
Dr. Tarret answered calmly, "The program was created based on the information that was taken from the Quar who were in captivity. I guess the people involved in determining their language did their best, but I don't believe they could have understood everything they were told. I'm certain there were gaps in the facts." She smiled as Dr. Becker reached down and took her hand. "So, from the information the interrogators received, the program was created in such a way to simulate what might happen. Probably a lot of things were off. Does that make sense?"
Trevor nodded. "I guess so." He looked out the rear passenger side window. Seven Quar were alongside the road. He took note of how they raised their heads as the vehicle passed them.
"They can smell us. That's what they're doing when their heads go up like that." He noticed how Dr. Tarret stared out the window as if she were studying them. "Where we're going, will we be safe?"
"Yes," Dr. Becker answered. "We won't have to worry about the Quar where we're going. At least that's our hope."
"So you're not sure?" Trevor questioned.
Dr. Tarret lowered her head as she looked back at Trevor. "No, we're not sure. There's no way for us to be sure. All we know is that the people who were guarding the location are all dead, or they've gone into hiding somewhere. They might be inside the underground complex. And if that's the case, then things could go horribly wrong for us."
"Trevor," Dr. Becker began, "we just hope the people who were there left the facility or died somewhere outside. If the Quar found a way in, then everything we're working toward could be destroyed by the time we get there."
"And what if that's what happened?"
"Then we'll have to keep moving," Dr. Becker answered.
"Another facility isn't far from Berwick. It's about forty miles north, a city named Wilkes-Barre." Dr. Tarret raised her head. "That would be our last hope. There aren't any other facilities like these anywhere else in the country. If the worse were to happen, we'd have to do what we could with what we could find. We just hope that it's not like that."
Trevor nodded slowly. He leaned back in his seat and stared forward. He could sense the doctor's anxiety about where they were headed. Their unease stirred a distressed feeling inside him. His stomach knotted. His head spun. He only thought, I hope this Berwick is safe. It has to be safe. It was the only place he told his twin sister, Aiyana, to meet him.
Chapter TwoTHE ARRIVAL
They drove through Camp Hill, Harrisburg, Port Trevorton, Selinsgrove, Northumberland, Danville, and Bloomsburg, and finally the car rolled into Berwick, Pennsylvania, a small town—much smaller than what Trevor was used to. Trevor noticed there weren't many stores or places to hang out. The area seemed almost inhospitable to him. He wondered what the kids who had lived here did for fun. Pictures churned inside his mind as he imagined the final days before the end for the people who lived here. This was someone's home, and I'm sure they loved it here.
"Ellen, check the map. We've got to be close." Dr. Becker scanned the area. "I know the entrance was somewhere on Main Street."
Dr. Tarret unfolded the map. Her finger traced their way in and zeroed in on the spot where they needed to go. She glanced up and then back at the map. "It's right up here. It should be on our left."
She eyed the map closely. "Nothing. Just a picture of the building." She looked up. "Wait, it's here. It's across from a cemetery." Her eyes studied the houses and buildings. "There. Right there. That building." She pointed to a structure that sat next to a residential home. "Pull in. Pull in here."
When Dr. Becker brought the car to a stop, Dr. Tarret jumped out and hurried across the small parking lot. "This is it. This is the building."
"You're sure?" Dr. Becker asked.
"Yes, I'm sure of it. The picture showed a beer distributor next to it. That's what I wanted to check, and it's there. We're here. This is the place."
Trevor stepped out of the vehicle. He was cautious at first, and then he relaxed a bit. "A weird place for an underground facility. It's right next to a house. Didn't the people who lived there realize something was here?"
Dr. Becker turned his head away. He ignored Trevor. "Well, let's get inside. We have a lot of work to get done."
Trevor noted the way Dr. Becker ignored his comment. His mind flashed back to the car when he noticed how Dr. Tarret seemed to study the Quar alongside the road. Something was wrong, and he could feel it in the air. The two kept something from him.
"What if Quar are inside? Shouldn't we look around first?"
Again, Dr. Becker ignored him. "Let's go." He made his way down a driveway that ran the length of the building. He turned to his right and pushed on the doors. "We're going to need to break in."
Dr. Tarret said, "Don't look at me. I don't have anything to break open the door." She looked at Trevor and smiled. "You have something that could help." Her tone was encouraging.
Trevor understood what she was talking about, but much more than the idea of breaking into the building weighed on his mind. Dr. Tarret acted weird. Dr. Becker seemed to ignore me, and he seems to know more about this place than he's saying, Trevor said to himself.
He eyed Dr. Becker, who stared at him. The look frightened him. Trevor raised his head and inhaled deeply. Nothing was in the air. No scent of Quar. Why wouldn't they be here? They were everywhere else on the way here. He returned his look to Dr. Becker. "Something isn't right about all of this. What's going on?"
"What are you talking about?" Dr. Becker snapped. "Just open the damned door."
"Please," Dr. Tarret added in an attempt to soften Dr. Becker's tone. She faced Trevor. "Please open the door for us. We can't stay out here. Quar could be around. We could be in danger."
Trevor transformed. The blades and tail came out. He stood motionless. His head shook. "We're not in any danger here. No Quar are near here. I can't pick up their scent. We're alone here."
Dr. Becker spat, "Open the door. I don't want to ask you again."
At that moment, Trevor felt that pang of fear a child feels when a parent or teacher yells at him, but it passed as quickly as it came on. "No, I'm not doing anything until you two tell me more about what's going on. And if Quar are around here, then two of the three of us are in trouble, but one of us will be fine."
Dr. Becker glared at Dr. Tarret. "I'm getting tired of this now. This game is over."
"John, no. Not now, please," she pleaded.
Dr. Becker's head swung in almost slow motion toward Trevor. "Open the door." His voice was cold and bitter.
Trevor felt threatened by the man, but he wasn't going to let him control him anymore. "No, I'm not opening anything for you. If this is a game, you're playing it. And I'm the only one here who doesn't know what the hell is going on. You want in? You do it."
"I asked you now more than once, more than enough times, for you to open the door." Dr. Becker stepped toward Trevor. His eyes were locked with Trevor's. "Now open the door, or you might find that I can do more than you think." His hand flashed upward and gripped Trevor by his shirt. "Now, do what I tell you."
That was all Trevor needed. His tail whipped downward and coiled around Dr. Becker's leg. "Let me go." He waited. "I said, 'Let me go.'"
When Dr. Becker didn't release him, Trevor's tail pulled back, still wrapped tightly around Becker's leg, and hoisted him into the air. "Start talking, or I'm going to throw you into that wall," he said calmly as his head nodded.
"Trevor! Put him down!" Dr. Tarret rushed forward. "What are you doing?"
Suspended in the air, Dr. Becker hissed, "Shut up, Ellen. If this is what he wants."
"John, no. Not now." Her eyes begged Trevor to put the man down.
Trevor glared at Dr. Becker. "What I want?" His tone dripped with bitter sarcasm. "I'm not the one who's in trouble right now. So if you have something you want to do, just do it, but remember, I can take you out quicker than you can even imagine." Trevor continued to stare at the man. He squinted and rubbed his eyes. His head began to swim.
"What's the matter, Trevor? Feeling sick?" Trevor's tail loosened its grip around Dr. Becker's leg. Dr. Becker stretched his arms downward to catch himself if he dropped.
"What's happening?" Trevor knelt down and rubbed his eyes. "What did you do?" His voice was strained. "What are you doing to me?" His tail slackened completely and released Dr. Becker. Trevor did his best to look at the man, but the throbbing inside his skull was too much.
Excerpted from Survival of the FITTEST by Michael Taylor Copyright © 2012 by Michael Taylor. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.