Cool air ghosted over Martin’s burning face, carried rotten notes of mold, corrosion, and deeper decay of some animal matter. “Welcome home,” he said.
At that moment, a gray form rose from the distant tree-line. Martin froze.
He ought to be down in the quiet dark—not standing here paralyzed with dread. Jesus Christ . . . even now . . . they’re trying to control it. Control a dead country.
The drone acquired him, turned, and zipped through the gray with hypnotic precision. It knew more about Martin than his parents, ex-girlfriend, credit report, FBI background check, internet trackers, and résumé—useless dead things all.
Would it kill him?
Martin’s (now imprisoned) friend who’d worked for SW-11—a special-access black project—had admitted the new UAVs bore kinetic energy penetrators. Martin swallowed hard—a hypersonic tungsten pellet could violate concrete like a bullet through cake.
The drone paused, buzzed like a three-foot wasp. Now or never.
Martin’s drumming heart took him down into the earth and its secrets.
Stopping on the landing, he turned for a final look at organic light. Stenciled red on the concrete steps was a fitting epitaph (or epithet!): BE SECURITY WISE
In another life, Martin would have laughed. “Fuck you,” he said, hoping the drone’s acoustic sensors scraped from the air what probably was his last utterance.
The close atmosphere, surprisingly dry, both comforted and stank. Martin surged with relief . . . and turned toward the blast door between him and infinite blackness. . . .
A scattered testimony of cigarette butts, tan and mummified, adorned decades of leaf dust, pebbles, and what looked like a Coke can excreting a length of cloth terminating in flaky char—as if used as a torch, or some failed incendiary weapon.
Martin wondered how many rats, dead and alive, he might encounter. Decided he didn’t care. Certainly living things had entered here, and died. Their rot seasoned the infinitesimal current haunting the space. “Let there be light,” and Martin plucked a Streamlight Stinger from his pack. He had five, enough Xenon illumination for 150 hours. Impossible to recharge down here, but with no pathological fear of the dark (quite the opposite), he doubted they’d see much use beyond that necessary for navigation. This trek, after all, was not one of exterior exploration. . . .
Inside, grit rasping under his boots, Martin was surprised to find another stairwell.
What the hell. These Nike-site guys liked their double-protection, I guess. Can’t blame ’em.
He had thought his first glimpse of darkness was powerful. He was wrong. The noisome void waiting before him softly inhaled . . . exhaled . . . inhaled . . . Martin’s pulse thudded in his ears. He raised the Stinger, its beam lancing blackness.
He jumped back—and sighed.
Jesus Christ. Stupid goddamned logo they had.
Considering its dating back to the late 1950s, the cement floor was uncracked and amazingly clean. Probably they’d done a hyper-efficient job of sealing the place—had to. The roads above might be pitted, fragmenting hazards, but God forbid this fortress of security be tainted.
Unearthly silence watched, and Martin stepped down the corridor. There came arousing urgency . . . shocking and rude. He tried to ignore it, but his quickening breath tapped deeper chaos.
After a minute or so, the corridor opened out into a vast chamber. Martin’s ears popped; he swallowed to clear them, cast the beam to his left. The launch ramp and elevator stood locked and rusted like victims of eternal obsessive psychosis. Abruptly Martin feared they might move—even hallucinated jaw-clenching shrieks of arthritic metal. He must move on.
The light caught something farther down, perhaps twenty feet away. Martin raised it higher. A side corridor . . .
“Goddamn . . .”
Martin altered the Stinger into its “flood” mode, and gazed into the narrow passage. Here the casual bullying of time had not been so forgiving, and part of the faux ceiling had collapsed.
Something dead must lay nearby, because its reek saturated the air like disembodied rage. Martin paused, and splashed light into the black nowhere of one office.
“Hello, Marty,” said Doctor Wagner seated behind a rusted beige desk.
Martin cried out—bashed his temple against the door jamb. Terror blasted into him. How could—?
The old psychiatrist grinned, gray eyes merciless and cold.
Dizzy with fright, Martin could see the man’s impossible stillness, the priceless Armani suit. He could see green fungus rimmed the manicured fingernails. He could even recall herr Wagner had been murdered five months ago.