CHAPTER 8

‘Shut up, you fool!’

Millinov’s mouth snapped shut and he almost dropped the phone.

‘I, I…’ He swallowed. ‘I just need to know what to do, Mr. President.’ Millinov glanced anxiously back at the video screen.

Once again one of the gray-looking blobs lumped at its center, its darker yolk-like core splitting into two in some sort of strange alien mitosis. Already the dozen or so that had dropped from the capsule had multiplied to five times their original number.

He had tried venting chlorine gas into the chamber. After it had cleared, the blobs still inched across every surface of the sealed room and Anatoly and Yelena were no more dead than before; instead, he discovered them vigorously piling alien blobs up against the chamber door.

‘Describe exactly what is happening… and slowly.’

Millinov licked his lips. Fear was making his stomach roil, and he suspected he would need to use the bathroom soon. He cleared the phlegm from his throat.

‘I think… I think they are using the creatures to dissolve the blast doors.’ While he watched, telltale wisps of smoke curled up from the inner door’s brushed steel surface, which was now only visible in patches between the quivering mucous blobs.

‘And your lab assistants — they are in thrall to these creatures?’ The president’s voice was icily calm.

‘I believe so. The things are inside them. The doors. . they won’t last much longer. And they’re multiplying; there are so many more of them now. What should I do?’

The president smacked his lips as though he had just been sipping something. ‘Multiplying? Hmm, how long before they break through?’

‘I don’t know — how could I know? How could —?’

‘GUESS!’ The Little Wolf’s shout made Millinov cringe. He took a deep breath, tried to place one thought in front of the other: the steel was dissolving, but slowly. They would soon burn through the inner door, and that still left the outer.

‘I think. . an hour, maybe two.’

‘Good, good. Stay where you are; call me — no one else — if the situation changes.’ Volkov paused. ‘Your bravery is noted, Dr. Millinov, and I will personally see you are rewarded for your work. Ensure that all personnel stay within the building. I’m sending help.’

‘Thank you, thank you,’ the scientist murmured, mopping his forehead with a sweat-soaked handkerchief.

‘Courage, Dr. Millinov. A team will be with you within the hour.’

He hung up. Millinov sighed with relief. The Little Wolf… is tough, but he is a good man, he thought as he sat down, oblivious to the nightmare unfolding on the video screen beside him. He smiled almost dreamily, ignoring the strange, bee-like humming coming from the chamber.

* * *

Volkov studied the ceiling-high map on his wall. The capsule and the technology it contained were now compromised. The things would break free soon, and probably overrun the entire facility. He thought briefly of the laboratory’s personnel, the population of the surrounding town. He had already made his decision: the disk was the real treasure. Its recovery was paramount. Unlimited power, and no more dependence on fossil fuels or nucleonics — it would reshape the nation. Russia would be the greatest superpower the world had ever known. .

He turned away from the map. The laboratory was contaminated… diseased, and on the verge of infecting the rest of the country. There was only one real way to deal with a seeping sore…

He picked up the phone and called his most trusted general. ‘Time to cauterize the wound.’

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