“I am not sure how I know,” Sergei said into the short-wave radio, “but I am thinking that we are now very close.”
“I know how he knows,” Jaspers muttered from my passenger seat, not bothering to pick up the mike for this reply. “Because it’s bloody creepy as hell. That’s how he knows. Cold Russian bastard probably loves this.”
I didn’t say anything, but my mental sentiment echoed Jaspers’ spoken thoughts. We were nearing the address on Nathaniel Hobbson’s business card. It seemed to be a rather remote location, as we’d left the town behind, instead heading out into the Texas foothills. But one new feature had appeared, dotting the tops of the hills around us.
“The hell are they?” Jaspers grunted as we drove past yet another, turning his head and squinting out through the heat haze that already hung in the air, despite it not yet even being midday.
“They look like aerials,” I said. “Maybe they’re intended to pick up some sort of signal?”
“What, you Yanks can’t just put a satellite dish on your roofs like the rest of us?” The joke fell flat, but Jaspers didn’t seem to notice. He just gazed out the window, up at the looming structure.
It really did look like an old-fashioned television aerial, the kind of big pointy thing that might have been mounted on a house back in the fifties. Struts of bare metal stuck out in a crazy combination of directions, as if a schizophrenic artist attempted to create a real life version of an asterisk. I guessed that it stood nearly thirty feet tall on its cement base. Similar aerials, no two exactly the same, dotted the tops of other low hills across the horizon.
Of course, the headquarters of Blue Diamond Engineering Solutions turned out to be surrounded by these aerials on the hills seen in all directions. The facility turned out to be a sprawling series of three or four buildings, all connected together by closed-in passages. The place had the same low, blocky poured-cement appearance that gave most bomb shelters and 1980s-style buildings their oppressive, looming, lurking sense of grouchiness.
“Damn,” Jaspers grunted, and I knew why he spoke.
Rising up from the middle of the cluster of buildings, taller than any others in the surrounding countryside, a huge radio tower stretched out dozens of metal spikes in all directions. It dwarfed the other aerials, and there couldn’t be a bigger, neon-flashing-light sign to tell us that this was the epicenter of whatever unexplained science was happening.
Our two trucks drove as far as we could proceed, before our path was blocked by a tall chain-link fence, the gate rolled across the roadway. We’d left Corinne and Sara a few miles back, despite Sara’s protests that she’d visited her dad at work before, that she should be allowed to come.
“No,” I told her firmly. “And there’s no arguing about it. This is an unsafe place, and we can’t have you come.”
“But I want to!” she cried out defiantly, her voice suggesting that she was on the verge of breaking into a full-out wail.
I flicked my eyes over to Corinne, who shrugged helplessly. It seemed, I sighed, that the Swede’s mothering instincts didn’t extend to defusing a potentially explosive situation like this. “Give her something,” she mouthed over Sara’s head at me.
I sighed, but acquiesced. “Okay, how about this – we’ll check it out, and then radio back if it’s safe or not,” I finally suggested. “Once we tell you that it’s safe, Corinne can drive you up to come check it out.” I strongly suspected that we’d find nothing of interest at the site, but I also figured that we could wait as long as necessary before radioing back. We’d be careful not to call Sara until we were certain things were all settled.
Sara pouted for a minute longer, but finally nodded her head in agreement. “Okay. Once it’s safe, I get to come up and see my dad.”
That last sentence made me exchange another glance with Corinne. “Sara, you know that your dad…” I paused, trying to find the right words. “He might not be there, okay?” Probably wussing out on just telling her the unvarnished truth, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it.
It didn’t seem to give her any pause. “He’s not dead,” she stated, as confidently as if she was telling me that the sky was blue. “He’s alive. I felt him tell me in my head.”
There wasn’t much more that I could say to that. We left Sara and Corinne, along with the third truck, down at the base of the long road that led up into the hills and towards the Blue Diamond installation.
Now, faced with the gate blocking our path, we climbed out of our trucks. I figured that, given as how the thing likely had no power, it wouldn’t be too hard to just disengage it and pull it aside. If we ran into a lock… well, we’d brought along a pair of heavy duty bolt cutters, tossed into the bed of the truck and ready to shear through a padlock or two.
But as I stepped down out of the truck onto the gravel of the road, I heard a small sound on the edge of my hearing. It was electronic, a faint whine almost too high-pitched for my ears to catch.
“What?” Jaspers asked as I paused, turning slowly around and scanning the fence.
I didn’t answer, but I spotted the source of the noise. Mounted up on one of the poles, about a foot below the top, was a small security camera. This was an expensive one, too, not one of the cheaper models sold for nervous mothers in residential communities. Black smoked plastic enclosed the camera and almost totally blocked my view of it, but the sun happened to be positioned just behind it, just in the right spot for me to see the electronics inside the ball.
The camera’s lens looked down at me. That could be ordinary – perhaps it always faced down at the road – but as I looked up at it, I caught the faintest little hint of movement from inside.
“Someone’s watching,” I said, eyeing the camera.
Jaspers flinched slightly, hunching his shoulders as he turned to flick his eyes up at the lens. If that thing was top of the line, it probably had high enough resolution to catch his glance – but what, were they not going to notice the two trucks that had arrived at the gate? We’d already announced our presence.
“So what should we do…” Jaspers began, but the sentence died halfway out his lips.
The gate rumbled into mechanized life, slowly drawing back along grooves in the road. A second or two later, the gravel road up to the Blue Diamond installation stood open to us.
“That’s not bloody ominous at all,” he finished his comment, directing his glare back and forth between the open gate and the camera on top of the poll.
“It is – but it also tells us something,” I pointed out.
“It tells us that there’s someone inside the installation,” I said. “The gate didn’t open from a sensor. Someone looked out and saw us, and he or she decided to invite us in.”
“Doesn’t bloody bother to tell us why, though,” Jaspers grumbled.
“No.” And I couldn’t even hazard a guess. We’d just have to wait until we arrived at the facility and see what we found inside.
We drove in through the gate and towards the group of buildings.
To be continued…