STRATAGEM Chapter 35
STRATAGEM by Joshua Graham
HER ENTIRE BODY WENT COLD. Sabine had never seen anyone take their own life before. Her breath grew short, her pulse raced, and she lost all sensation.
A silent cry floated out of her mouth.
Derek and Mom gasped.
Sabine just kept staring at the screen in disbelief. The image was long gone, but the fear in Connor’s eyes, the schizophrenic struggle for control, the blood…all left an indelible impression in her mind.
A singular tear burned a line down her face.
That was when it hit her.
The uncontrollable sobs, the hyperventilation, the trembling.
“Oh my God, Connor!” She held her head in her hands, grasping her hair. For the entire time since Athena’s return, the idea that something alien had come back with them haunted her. But it wasn’t until she witnessed it kill Connor that the reality of it all became tangible.
Amid all torrent of emotions and questions, she finally felt it: pain from the tragic loss of someone she cared for—someone who cared for her.
Mom held Sabine close as she rocked back and forth, weeping.
“I’m sorry,” Sabine said, burying her face into Mom’s embrace.
“No,” Sabine said. “I just can’t—” She didn’t notice until now that Derek had come to put his hand on her shoulder.
She sniffed and blinked away more tears. “We’d always been friends, maybe more.”
All right, pull yourself together.
The tears would have to wait.
Right now, there was so much more at stake. Connor had died trying to convey this message, so it must be as critical as it sounded. With that and all that had happened to Derek in New York, the alien infiltration must have begun.
“Extraterrestrial, sentient microbes…” Sabine took the Kleenex Mom offered and wiped her eyes. “It’s worse than we thought.”
“Have you had any blackouts or lapses…like Blake?” Derek said.
“Not that I remember.”
Mom stood and stepped back. “Connor said you’re resistant.”
“I must be too,” Derek said. “I was surrounded by infected people the whole morning but nothing took me over—or Paige.”
“But Blake,” Mom said and turned around to look for him.
“Yeah,” Sabine said. “He’s been exposed but Connor didn’t say he was resist—”
“Wait, where is he?” Derek said.
The sound of stumbling feet interrupted them.
Sabine turned her head.
Standing before them with trembling hands, Blake held out a knife that he’d gotten out of a block in the kitchen.
“You’ve gotta be kidding!” Derek said.
“What are you doing, Blake?” Sabine said. “Put that down!”
His complexion the color of concrete, Blake narrowed his gaze. Red capillaries webbed the white of his eyes and his pupils were black and dilated.
“Put it down, Blake!” Mom shouted.
He stared past them and blinked.
His knife-wielding hand trembled.
In the same manner in which Connor struggled, Blake reached up with his left hand and grabbed his right wrist. Jaw clenched and hand trembling, he slowly turned the blade around and pressed its point into his neck.
Joshua Graham is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, winner of the International Book Award and Forward National Literature Award. His thrillers include DARKROOM, LATENT IMAGE and BEYOND JUSTICE, and TERMINUS. Graham's works have been characterized as thought-provoking page-turners.
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