Jabari gazed down from the balcony of his mountaintop lab into the Valley of Death, so named because of the infestation of mutated zoysia grass that had choked out all the other vegetation in its path. Experts assumed the invader had hitched a ride on a supply ship carrying refugees from the Hektor agri-colony. The President had attempted to stop the migration to Earth, but the courts determined it was inhumane to keep the residents adrift in space for an indefinite time. Jabari had been assigned the task of stopping the intrusive growth before it choked the life out of Earth.
"Is it working this time?"
Jabari responded to his sister Cara's question without turning around. "I'm afraid not. In fact, it appears to be spreading faster." After a deep breath he faced her, concern and confusion on his face. He shook his head and walked to his glass topped desk. "All of the lab results were positive. The spraying should have stifled the continuing encroachment."
"You'll figure it out," Cara said.
"I better, or else. . ." He put his elbows on the desk and rested his forehead in his hands. "People are losing faith in my ability to do the job."
Cara moved closer and gave her brother a hug. "It's okay. Everyone is scared and frustrated and has a need to take their frustrations out on someone." She stepped back, holding his hands. "Hey, you knew what you were facing when you accepted the job. You love a challenge." She smiled and hugged him again.
"You're right," Jabari replied. He pointed toward the folder in her hand. "Have you walked through the plant yet today?"
Cara, besides being Jabari's sister, was the Chief Operating Officer for the company and a damn fine one as far as Jabari was concerned. She walked the plant at least one day a week on a random schedule she only shared with her brother to see how things were going. Sometimes Jabari accompanied her.
"I just finished." She opened the notebook. "Security broke up a fight between two low level lab assistants and found a small packet of drugs on one. The fight was a disagreement over the price of the dope, according to another employee. I had security escort both gentleman out of the building and told them we'd send them their personal things in a few days." Cara looked at Jabari. "I hate letting people go, but this work is too important."
"The stress is getting to everyone. Still, you did the right thing. We can't allow rampant drug use. We all need clear minds." He reached for a pack of cigarettes perched on one corner of his desk. Cara frowned.
"I know. I know. I said I'd quit," Jabari said. "I'm working on it." Instead of retrieving a cigarette, he pushed the pack away. "Anything else?"
"No. How about you? Something is bothering you that you're not sharing. I can tell."
Jabari moved to a chair next to the fireplace and pointed Cara to another.
"I have this feeling I can't shake that someone else is controlling things here. I have no proof, nor any idea who or why. It's just a thought that keeps niggling at me." He stared at his sister. "Am I going crazy?"
"No. No." Cara shifted in her chair and leaned back. "You're under so much pressure, I wouldn't be surprised if you told me you were seeing ghosts." Cara laughed. "Or aliens even." She laughed again.
"It's funny you should mention aliens. That thought has crossed my mind. In fact, I think you may be right."
"O come on, Jabari. You know there's no such thing."
"There aren't?" Jabari leaned forward in his chair with his elbows on his knees, his hands crossed between his legs. "You didn't think I'd notice, but you changed a few months ago, Sis, or whoever you are. At first, I thought it was like you said--stress--but ever since our first successful attempt at slowing the intruder, things changed. You disappear for long periods. Business lunches, you say. But with whom?" Jabari paused, waiting for Cara to reply. When she didn't, he continued.
"Then there were certain looks that seemed odd to me. Looks of confusion about things you knew as well as I. One day you came into my office and your sweater was buttoned crooked. You would never make a mistake like that. You always double and triple checked your appearance before going anywhere. Still, I couldn't be certain until I followed you to one of your 'lunches.'" Jabari sat up. "Was it plain water you put into the crop duster's tanks?"
Cara shifted in her chair and put both feet on the floor. Her eyes appeared to glow.
"I don't know if I can kill the alien who has taken you over," Jabari continued, "or if you'll survive, but I have to try."
With that, Cara launched herself and grabbed Jabari's neck, her long fingernails piercing the skin. Jabari grabbed her wrists but was unable to dislodge them. He felt blood oozing down his neck. The alien's thumbs pressed on Jabari's windpipe causing Jabari to gasp for air. In desperation, Jabari let go of Cara's left wrist and jammed a finger into the attacker's eye. Cara emitted a low, hollow roar and fell to the floor. Jabari sensed another movement in the room and thought he saw a cloud-like figure escape through the glass as he reached down for his sister.
Cara opened her eyes, a muddled look on her face. She tried to speak, but Jabari placed a finger on her lips. "You rest," he said. "I'll explain everything later. In the meantime, I need to schedule an additional spraying and then figure out how to prepare for another alien attack."