The Blue Diamond installation, despite being located in the remote hills out on the edges of tiny little Waxahachie, Texas, still had a clear lobby and entrance. Perhaps they occasionally received visitors of some importance. The gravel path leading up to a parking lot stopped at an atrium with panels of glass forming entire walls, letting the sun into the front lobby of the building.
“Cars in the parking lot,” Sergei noted on the short-wave. “People were here for when the event did happen.”
“From how that camera moved, they might still be here,” I replied, and he fell silent.
We pulled to a stop just outside the atrium, and I sized up the entrance for points of ambush. I didn’t see any movement or signs of life from inside, but the place felt occupied, that strange little prickling on the back of my neck telling me that my strike team wasn’t alone here. I left the truck idling as I slowly climbed out, lifting my weapon into my hands.
No one appeared to greet us at the front doors. I reached out hesitantly with my left hand, my right still supporting the M4A1, and found it unlocked.
Before I stepped inside, however, my eyes flicked up to the upper corner of the doorframe. There was another little black smoked glass bubble there, containing another camera. For an instant, I thought I saw sunlight glinting off a lens on the inside of that little bubble. Was the camera focusing on us? Was it moving, like the one at the gate?
No way to know. With the rest of my team fanning out behind me to cover my sides and rear, we entered the facility.
“Hey! Over here!”
God dammit, I nearly shot the man! I spun around, rifle flashing up to point at a short, rather stocky fellow, a scientist’s white lab coat hanging off his shoulders and down almost to his knees. He’d popped out from behind a corner, waving his hand over his head at us, although he froze as three assault rifles snapped up to aim at his nose.
“Whoa, it’s okay!” his mouth babbled, as the rest of his body locked up from the array of weaponry aimed at him. “I’m Charlie, I work here! You need to come quick, thank goodness you’re here!”
I exchanged a glance with Jaspers, standing beside me with his own rifle up. The words coming from this man’s – Charlie’s? – mouth didn’t seem to make much sense, not considering that we had to be the first people to show up at this facility in nearly a week.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, lowering the rifle – slightly. The others on my team did the same, although the low growl from Jaspers suggested that he still wanted to just shoot the man and be done with it.
With the gun barrels out of his face, Charlie started breathing again. “The others, they can explain it better,” he said, the words coming out of his mouth in a disorganized torrent. “Look, just come with me, they’re down in the control room. We saw you coming but I’m the only one who could get away from my post, and that’s probably a bad idea if I don’t get back. Maybe you can stop it, I don’t know, but come on!”
And then, not even waiting for a response from us, he turned and ducked away, back down the hallway from which he’d appeared. He paused near the end, looking back at us and rolling his eyes as if totally confused why we weren’t already following him.
“Something’s bloody going on,” Jaspers muttered.
Sergei shrugged his uninjured shoulder. “Billions of people are gone. When is something not going on?” He moved forward, smoothly loping after Charlie.
The stoic Russian had a point. The rest of us followed after him and Charlie, although Jaspers lagged back slightly. I heard him muttering to Henry how the whole thing was a bloody stupid mistake, we ought to burn the place to the ground and get out.
The retreating white coat of Charlie led us down several hallways before, putting on an additional burst of speed, I caught up with the scientist. “Hold up!” I called out, grabbing his shoulder with one hand. The little man moved surprisingly fast. “Where are we going!”
He glanced back at me as if I was the daft one. It looked like he’d been trying to grow a beard, but the hair hadn’t fully come in across his broad, round face, giving it a rather patchy look. In an unfortunate combination with the unbalanced facial hair, the dark hair on top of his head was already starting to thin and recede from above his eyebrows.
“The control room,” he said, as if this answer ought to be obvious to any dullard. “It’s just a little further ahead.”
He started to pull out of my grip, but I tightened my hand on his shoulder to keep him from slipping away. “Why?” I asked.
His eyes rolled, less out of annoyance than from what seemed to be barely controlled panic. “I don’t have time! They can explain it more. You can talk to Orville. He knows it best, at least after Nate.”
“Nate?” I repeated, the prickling sensation on the back of my neck growing stronger. “Hobbson?”
Charlie blinked nearsightedly up at me. “Yeah. Come on, Orville can tell you.” He made another effort to tug free, and this time I let him go.
We followed Charlie through another couple twists and turns leading deeper into the Blue Diamond facility, that prickling on the back of my neck refusing to go away. Nathaniel Hobbson, Sara’s father, had been the head of the project here, whatever it was. I didn’t know what was going on, but my instincts told me that we were in the right place.
Finally, Charlie reached a large set of reinforced double doors, which he unlocked by swiping a key card hanging from a lanyard around his neck. He ducked in, and I caught the heavy door before it swung shut. I glanced over my shoulder, waiting for the trailing couple members of my team to catch up.
“Feng,” I called on the radio.
“Yes.” We’d left her out with the trucks, to warn us if there was any ambush or attack from the rear. Her voice sounded a bit staticky, thanks to the multiple walls between us, but we could still hear her.
“We’re going into some sort of control room,” I told her. “At least one person is alive here, a man named Charlie, claims to be a scientist. The room’s sealed, so we may lose contact. Raise the alarm if we don’t respond in…” I checked my watch. “Half an hour.”
Protocol suggested that I leave someone outside, but I didn’t want to leave my team in the dark, no more than was necessary. Taking a deep breath and nodding to them, we stepped in through the door, into the control room.
My first impression was one of barely controlled, almost overwhelming chaos. Huge banks of computers lined all the walls, panels of buttons, keys, and switches everywhere, lights flashing in a chaotic lack of rhythm. Men shouted, called out babble to each other, rushed back and forth from panel to panel. I didn’t understand what was happening, but they all gave off the sensation of a power plant about to melt down, something about to go horribly, irreversibly wrong.
“I got them!” Charlie shouted out to a tall, almost skeletally gaunt man standing near the middle of the room as he came rushing inside.
The tall and thin man turned around, his hands clasped behind his back, fixing us with watery eyes of a blue so pale that they were almost white. He held himself almost like a ship’s captain – but I saw the strain barely held back in his stance, his expression. “Thank you, Charlie,” he said. “The left bank is in danger of a core dump overwhelming its surge protection.”
“On it.” Charlie dashed off to one of the control panels.
The tall man, who I presumed to be Orville, stared at us. “Gentlemen,” he said formally, although I heard the tiny hint of panic rolling about at the edge of his voice, barely battered back. “Welcome. Please tell me that you brought explosives.”
To be continued…