Species -- An Excerpt

Yvonne Navarro was asked to write this novelization by Bantam Books. Not just a quick knock-off, the author put as much effort into this book as she does with everything. The result: Most people have responded that they "liked the book better than movie."

Thanks, everyone!



The Mohave Desert, California

"She knows."

Xavier Fitch jerked at the unexpected sound of Kyle Jacobson's voice, but the lab assistant didn't care. "Don't be absurd," Dr. Fitch snapped. "She's sleeping." He bent his head back to his work and Kyle heard him mutter, more personal ranting about all the effort and wasted time, endless hours of research and reams of paper that had gone into this project. Kyle knew he was the only lab assistant Fitch thought might have a passably useful brain, and now he felt foolish, sniveling like a guilty five-year-old caught with his hand on the gearshift knob of the car. He didn't care about that either.

"It doesn't matter," Kyle said softly. "She's not stupid." He ran his fingers through his too-long sandy hair and rubbed them together when they came out oily. His hair needed washing, but he hadn't slept in thirty-six hours or been home since last Thursday-- five days. He'd seen his wife a whopping three times since the final phase of the project had begun two weeks ago.

Fitch lifted his pen from the surface of form he was filling out and Kyle could hear the noise his teeth made as they ground together from his position at the window ten feet away. The older man looked as if he were trying to restrain himself, then he gave in to the urge to slam the pen against the desktop. Kyle jumped and glanced back at him, then turned back to the control booth's window and stared out. After two years, the lab still resembled more of a warehouse than a scientific center, and no other vantage point in the cavernous room supported that viewpoint as strongly as from this sealed observation booth. Twelve feet below was the transparent "cage" that had been completed only two weeks ago; clad in a hospital gown-- at least it was one of the newer flower-patterned ones-- its occupant sprawled innocently across the width of a white-sheeted cot. Kyle was still stunned at how quickly she'd grown, but the baby fine blonde hair and guileless blue eyes undeniably belonged to a child; he estimated her age at twelve. She could've been an average teenager if it weren't for the dozen or so wires running from the surface of her skin to machines and monitors parked around the interior of the glass enclosure. Other things were scattered around the girl's cot, too, children's picture books and a few soft toys, all examined and discarded almost immediately except for one miniature pink teddy bear. That one was tucked securely within the crook of one elbow as she slept.

"I think I have enough on my mind without listening to this crap."

Fitch's voice was cold and came from just behind Kyle's left shoulder. The younger man couldn't help flinching at the sound; sometimes Fitch moved too quietly, reminding him of a mean alley cat waiting for a rat to make the move that would turn out to be fatal. The man always seemed to have an unexpected move waiting in the wings. Techs and assistants scurried around the enclosure below them like highway personnel at the site of a horrible car wreck, eyes gleaming with a frightening sort of kill-the-cat curiosity that Kyle found far too morbid. This whole thing bothered Kyle more than it should have... the decoded message and instructions, the girl in the reinforced glass enclosure below, the decision to terminate the project.

Especially that.

"Go down and help them set it up."

Horrified, Kyle gaped at Fitch. *"Me?" As if she'd heard, the eyes of the girl below suddenly blinked open and looked up, seeking the observation booth and him automatically. Their gazes locked for a fraction of a second and Kyle yanked his away. "But she trusts me!" he protested. "I can't--"

"You can and you will," interrupted Fitch. "This project is over and those are your instructions."

Kyle opened his mouth, then shut it again. Punishment? Probably; his work here went a lot farther back than two years, and if he blew it now by refusing direct instructions-- insubordination-- his future would fade to nothing but a gray void. Fitch might think his work was decent-- barely-- but the wrong response could turn Kyle into just another member of the Fitch Lab Assistant Alumni. He gave a curt nod and headed down to the first level; what he did here today might haunt him for awhile, but he wouldn't spend the rest of his life working for Fitch and time would eventually dull the memory.

Sometimes the other workers down here reminded him of androids, robots in sheaths of human flesh doing Fitch's bidding without question or emotion, mobile computers hardly capable of making an independent decision without additional input. In fact, the only thing that seemed alive down here right now was the girl, whom Fitch had code-named Sil for some unknown reason. For all Kyle knew about the older man, the letters could have represented anything from his mother's initials to an obscure acronym, the meaning of which was known only to Dr. Fitch. In the lab area around Sil's enclosure, the other workers moved with the practiced efficiency of those who had terminated projects before and knew exactly what was expected of them. The main monitors were being shut down by a dark-haired tech whose brilliant white lab coat made his sallow skin look worse under the harsh fluorescent lighting; one by one, the machines inside the glass enclosure went dark as their power sources were disconnected. Kyle could see Sil sitting docilely on her cot, following the shut-down of the monitors with little turns of her head as the power down made a circle around her confined area. No one that Kyle could see would look Sil in the eye and from his spot coming out of the elevator, Kyle saw her staring fixedly up at the control booth. When he followed her line of sight, he realized she and Fitch were in a staring match, a visual battle for dominance.

"Hey, Jacobson!" Kyle turned and saw one of the labor supervisors directing his men as they connected the feed lines from four slender tanks to closed valves at the bottom right corner of Sil's glass cage. The heavyset man said something into a radio clipped to his left shoulder, then listened and nodded. "Dr. Fitch says he sent you down here to man the valves. We're just about ready."

Kyle nodded grimly but said nothing. It figured; he'd dared to show a little compassion, and so Fitch would make him do the ultimate dirty work. By the time he reached the enclosure Sil was standing again and watching the activities outside her window with narrow-eyed interest. The tanks were in place and the supervisor was doing a final check; clearly visible in stenciled letters running up the sides of all four tanks were the words Hydrogen Cyanide. Kyle reminded himself that it didn't matter, Sil couldn't read, but when she saw him she tapped urgently on the window and tried to get his attention. He forced himself to calmly meet her gaze, but couldn't hold the connection. Was it fear he saw reflected in those clear blue eyes?

Now the lab area was nearly empty. The supervisor and his workers had made tracks as soon as the last valve was tightened, the sick-looking medical tech had pulled the last of his power plugs and gotten the hell out. Only a few guards, Kyle and two or three more technicians stuck it out... and Fitch, of course, lording high above them all within his own disconnected world inside the control booth.

Reluctantly, Kyle looked up. Fitch was waiting, his nose practically pressed against the glass, yet the expression on his face wasn't one of eagerness, as Kyle expected. Although his post was a full story above Sil's cage, there was an odd, bittersweet shine in the doctor's eyes that made Kyle wonder for a moment if the older man was crying. Kyle's speculation was shattered by Fitch's curt nod, and the low-pitched murmurs around the room stuttered to nothing as the lab assistant swallowed with difficulty, then quickly-- *one *two *three *four-- opened the valves on the canisters. Thick white gas swirled into Sil's enclosure, rolling over her panicked face. Kyle thought he saw the girl swipe at it, but he couldn't be sure; ten more seconds and the glass cage looked absurdly like a huge aquarium filled with clouds.

The deed was done. The technicians and guards around the room began moving again, although no one said anything. Fitch's orders were to leave the cyanide in the enclosure for at least a quarter hour before siphoning it off, and Kyle had already decided that by then he would be halfway home. The lab assistant turned and headed for the stairs, reasoning that his had by far been the worst task; as far as he was concerned, someone else could handle the clean-up. Maybe he'd stop and pick up a six-pack of Bass Beer on the way; that *might help him get the girl's face out of his head when he fell into bed.

There was a sound like an explosion behind him, strangely * sharp, and Kyle spun with crazy images of car crashes in his head along with thoughts of dialing the emergency code on the intercom. He had time to register that there was a jagged-edged hole in the front panel of tempered glass that made up Sil's enclosure, then the rest of the panel disintegrated with a tremendous cracking noise. The fragments of safety glass held for no more than an intake of breath before they fell, like a hundred thousand diamonds spilling from nowhere. A millisecond of beauty as the lovely young girl inside stepped through the *faux jeweled waterfall, bare feet oblivious to the tiny pieces of glass layering the floor, then the guard closest to the destroyed enclosure went for his sidearm. Paralyzed five feet from the stairs, Kyle realized that Sil was holding her breath against the clouds of hydrogen cyanide vapor that were now boiling into the lab. The instincts of the guard headed toward her were not so swift, and he fell forward, dead, long before he could pull his pistol free of its holster.

The alarms went wild. Bells and sirens began blasting from the junctures of the ceilings and walls, garbled voices started screaming through the speakers. The girl was still holding her breath and Kyle tried to follow suit as the cyanide swept through the room. A fool's belated wish, Kyle thought haphazardly as the technicians closest to the glass cage staggered and collapsed; his balance went as dizziness raced across his eyesight and he began to gag. As he went to his knees, Kyle knew it was already too late for him and the rest of the room's occupants; Sil ran past as Kyle's vision began a black and yellow shimmer, not even sparing him a glance as he retched uselessly on all fours.

It took monumental effort, but Kyle found the strength to lift his head toward the ceiling. His last sight was Xavier Fitch's grim, white face, staring down from the observation booth.

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All text copyright © 1995-2004 by Yvonne Navarro. Don't be naughty-- no reprinting or use in any form whatsoever without prior written permission of the starving author. We mean it. We know lots of lawyers. And we ain't afraid to use them.