My mind is numb, and for that moment I’m frozen in a sort of trance. I’m standing looking down on the dead body of someone that I love, her chest and stomach riddled with bullets, her blood now in a vast pool decorating the pavement around her lifeless body. The blood looks jet black in the light from the van’s full beams. I’m brought out of my trance by the shout from the driver inside the cab. The voice sounds muffled because my ears are still ringing from being so close to all the gunshots, but I can make out every word.
‘Get down on your face and spread your arms and legs wide…NOW!’
I ease down to the ground and do as I’ve been told. I want to kill the bastard in the van. I want to tear this person’s heart out with my bare hands and shove it down their throat. I know if I try to take this bastard now I’d receive the same treatment as Jane. I’d be dead before I get within two strides of the van. My best bet is to play along, fight down the rage inside of me and bide my time. Whoever this is I’ll stand a better chance at short range. My time will come.
My face is sideways on pressing down hard onto the sidewalk, my arms and legs spread-eagled. I’m looking at the back of Jane’s head as she lies there dead beside me on the sidewalk. I hear the van door slam shut. Moments later I feel the barrel of the semi automatic pushing into the side of my neck and a knee pressing into the small of my back. The gun barrel is scraped in small circles and it hurts. I grind my teeth. This bastard is going to suffer when I get the upper hand. Suddenly I feel a sharp pain, as if the barrel has caught the edge of a splinter stuck under my skin. I flinch. The barrel is pushed against my skin again and it hurts like hell.
Suddenly the weight is off my back. I feel the gun barrel ease off my neck as my assailant stands. I play safe and lie still. A hand appears in front of my face. The finger tips are feeling the end of the barrel as if searching for something.
‘Got you, you bastard!’ says my captor.
The hand is now in front of my eyes. In between the finger and thumb is a tiny needle like object about a half inch long and appears to be made of glass. My captor places it on the sidewalk near my face a fraction of a second before the butt of the semi automatic crashes down onto it, smashing it to smithereens.
Now’s my chance. I swing onto my side and grab the gun near the hand-grip with both my hands. At the same time I swing my legs hard in an arc towards the feet of the bastard holding the gun, but I miss. In a neat, easy move worthy of a professional gymnast, Jane’s killer hops over my legs, at the same time pulling up hard on the gun and snatching it effortlessly out of my grip. The move spins me flat onto my back and I’m lying there on the sidewalk looking up at my captor.
‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!’
I can’t believe what I hear, and I can’t believe what I’m looking at. Standing over me with the semi automatic now pointing in the air is the last person on Earth I expect to see. The person that has just pumped a magazine full of slugs into the chest of Jane Krieff is someone I know very well indeed, my ex partner, Jane Krieff.
‘That Dreek back there stuck a tracker into your neck,’ she says, ‘…must have done it when you were rolling around like mud wrestlers.’
I’m in shock and lost for words, ‘…what the…hell’s?’
‘Get up,’ she says, ‘They won’t be far behind. We need to keep moving.’
‘For Chrissakes!’ she barks impatiently, ‘You’re supposed to be a detective, work it out. In the meantime get off your butt. We have to get out of here.’
But I can’t move. My mind is in a spin. I watched as it happened. I was stood next to Jane when she was sprayed with gunfire. I watched her fall to the floor dead. Her body is lying on the ground next to me. What the hell’s going on? The woman standing over me looks down at me as if I’m a half wit.
‘Look,’ she finally says, stepping forward and dragging the body on the floor over onto it’s back on the sidewalk, ‘Look at the face. What do you see?’
I slowly sit up so I can play my part in this macabre little test. I lean over and look at the body. It’s Jane’s face…but not! Even as I watch I see the features shifting, making minute, hardly detectable movements as death takes all the control away from the body’s facial muscles. The features are so similar to Jane’s but with each second that passes less so. Jane looks at the confused expression on my face and puts me out of my misery.
‘Still wrestling with it, Mr. big shot detective? She’s a Torp,’ she says, ‘They picked someone almost identical to me, and then must have given her exactly the same background camouflage they gave me before I was sent down here. You know Torps can change their facial features when they assume a false persona. Well, that only applies when they’re alive. When they’re dead they revert to who they really are.’
‘What the fuck?’ I say as I watch the corpse’s features twist into a completely different face. She still looks like Jane but by now not enough that I could confuse the two of them.
‘She was with that little team back there, the Dreeks that tried to abduct you. She was in charge, running the whole show.’
She gives me that look again, as if I’m a complete dunce.
‘When I jumped from the train they were waiting. They must have been tracking you since you overpowered those two that tried to take you. It was a slow train that ran virtually alongside the highway so it was easy for them to be just a click behind us all the way. They saw me jump and stumble down the embankment. By the time I’d picked myself up and cleared my head there were a couple of Dreeks waiting for me by the road. As soon as I hit the sidewalk they were on me and hustled me into that van. She was there barking out orders. Thank heavens you stayed on the truck a little too long for them to grab you too. I was kicking up an almighty fuss so she left the two Dreeks to hog tie me while she ran after you. Her plan was to get you off guard, strolling along the sidewalk talking while the goons drove by and put a Hi-V bolt into your back. I took care of the Dreeks as soon as she was out of the way, stole their van and the rest you know.’
‘Jeez, she’s the complete double of you,’ I say, staring at the dead Torp on the ground, ‘…had me completely fooled.’
‘Call yourself a detective,’ says Jane in mock exasperation, ‘She’s two inches shorter than me, dumb ass!’
We know we can’t go far before we have to ditch the panel van. It’s probably got a whole bunch of trackers squirreled away inside it somewhere. We drive in silence for about ten minutes before she says, ‘That’s perfect.’
She pulls the van into a lay-by behind a huge truck, a Peterbilt 351 hauling logs. It’s the perfect getaway vehicle. No cop in his right mind would pull over a huge rig like this when there are thousands of more sensible vehicles to check. Across the road from the lay-by is a truck stop with rooms to rent. She figures the driver will be bedded down there for the night. Assuming he’s up and looking for his rig after breakfast, then that’ll give us a good couple of hours to put us some distance along the freeway before he starts hollering for the cops.
This time I do the driving while Jane does the talking. For a big rig it’s a dream to drive. I stick to speeds at least two miles per hour below the speed limit as we roll along heading back inland.
‘You’ll be wondering why I turned up when I did,’ she says. I say nothing. It’s obvious I am, ‘I was with those bozos in the Chinooks. I was sat next to the pilot. He had a thermal imager on his console and I was glued to it as we came in to land. The pilot was so caught up in making sure he didn’t hit the power lines he never saw what I saw, a big guy in a suit running away from the target site. I guessed it was you. So, when we touched down and they all piled out to surround the bar, I took off in the other direction. That’s thinking, detective. You ought to try it sometime.’
‘Why were you coming to get me?’
‘I wasn’t, they were. There’s a warrant out for your arrest. I bullied my way onto the trip to make sure they played fair.’
This isn’t good news. Her implication is that the arrest warrant is of the ‘dead or alive’ variety, and she was there to prevent the dead aspect.
‘What am I supposed to have done?’
‘Killed some folks,’ she says.
‘Oh. How many this time?’
‘About eighteen thousand and change,’ she says.
I swing the rig out to overtake an underpowered pick up truck overloaded with people driving too slow up the inclining road, wetbacks on their way to a hard day of being exploited. By rights their vehicle should have been stopped by the highway patrol by now, but the cops round here turn a blind eye. The wetbacks are probably on their way to fix up some Senator’s home or manicure some Police Commissioner’s lawn.
I make a sort of snorting noise that’s supposed to convey to her that it’s too stupid a charge even to warrant a considered response.
‘This is serious, Jake,’ she says.
‘Oh, I believe so,’ I say, ‘They don’t send up Chinooks full of soldiers to get someone on a dead or alive for parking fines. But it’s too ridiculous to take that seriously. Come on…eighteen thousand people. I think I’d have noticed something in the papers.’
‘It didn’t happen on Earth.’
Now I start to take it very seriously.
‘At one o’clock this morning I was summoned to an emergency meeting at the UN headquarters. There was a man there, to be more precise, a Torp. His name was Abel…’
‘Whoa! Hold on lady, let’s roll back a little,’ I say, cutting across her story, ‘What the hell’s going on? What are Dreeks and Torps doing back down here? More importantly, how the hell did they do it? I thought all the portals except Melville were destroyed.’
She goes quiet for a few moments then says, ‘Jake, I’ve never pushed the Jek thing. If you want to bury him then that’s your choice. But there are a lot of things rushing up towards you that you might not be able to sidestep as Jake Redwood.’
‘Go on,’ I say again, dreading what’s coming next.
‘Let’s start with simple physics. Einstein’s theory of special relativity is nonsense, and I believe you know that too. You know we can accelerate data packages well past the speed of light by sling-shotting them around the rims of black holes. I know you…Jek knows this, but a light year to us is the equivalent of a minute on Earth. I’ve been in constant contact with Noone since he left to present the case for the human species to The Powers. It may take years before this case comes before its court. In the meantime Grow has brought its own case. Grow owns thousands of planets and it is big enough to have its own laws, legal system and law enforcement. Abel is Grow’s top lawyer and a very powerful man.’
‘So what’s such a big shot lawyer doing chasing after li’l old me?’
‘Jake,’ she says, her eyes darkening, ‘You’re in deep trouble.’
This is not good news. I’d hoped that the Revelation spores would have killed that piece of shit. She tells me more of the bad news story.
‘Grow’s headquarters are on a planet where the atmosphere can become hostile to life from time to time. There are huge cities with massive buildings and a large population, all contained in domes inside which the atmosphere can be controlled. Each building within the domes can be hermetically sealed just in case the outer skin of the dome gets ruptured. When Krillik arrived through the portal his first action was to order the building to be sealed off. Within minutes of his materialization he was stricken with the disease and was at death’s door for about a week, but he survived. There were about two hundred thousand people in the building before it was sealed off to contain the spores. The death rate was just under ten percent. The building has had to be abandoned, sealed off forever.’
‘It’s what they deserved,’ I say, ‘besides, Krillik was walking around with a vial full of the stuff. If he decided to go home and take that hellish thing with him then Krillik’s to blame for the whole sorry mess.’
‘Not so simple,’ she says, ‘Krillik’s position is that he was doing the job he was given. He’d found out about the deadly spores through Harvey Keen, acquired them, and taken them for safe keeping to prevent mankind from destroying itself and contaminating Grow’s investment. Krillik claims it was your action that released the spores, and it was a deliberate attempt to spread the disease, with a massive potential loss of life at Grow’s HQ and beyond.’
‘My word against his,’ I say.
‘Again, not so simple. Krillik had a seed reader on him and it recorded everything in your last encounter. The sound track is missing, presumed damaged as a result of Krillik’s attack by the spores. Remember seed readers are part organic, but the video clearly shows you activating Krillik’s portal device and cracking the vial just before he was deconstructed.’
‘Very convenient,’ I say, ‘The sound track would clearly show that it was Krillik’s intention to release the spores on Earth and wipe out the human race.’
‘Nevertheless,’ she says, ‘It’s Grow’s position that Jek was an employee of Krillik’s and therefore under contract to Grow at the time. Jek not only broke the terms of his contract but put in jeopardy a ten thousand year old project right at the point of harvest. Jek’s deliberate act of sabotage has cost Grow an immeasurable amount in terms of property and lives. Grow wants your ass, Jake, and it ain’t messing around. It’s given Earth’s leaders an ultimatum. Either hand you over to them alive so you can stand trial, or hand over your dead body. I have every reason to believe they’re only interested in the latter. The ‘handing over alive’ option is just window dressing for when Noone’s case goes to court in front of The Powers.’
‘Who the fuck’s Jek?’ I say, but I’m fooling neither of us.
‘I’ve seen the video,’ she says, ‘By answering the phone call back there in the bar you confirmed to Grow that you, Jake Redwood, recognize and respond to the name Jek.’
‘Why did she do it?’ I ask. Jane knows what I mean, why did the Torp try to abduct me when there were forces already en route to take me in.
‘I’m not sure,’ she says, ‘I’ve been thinking about that. There’s no guarantee to Grow that the forces of law and order on Earth will allow you to be extradited. If you’re not handed over then Grow will have to engage in some sort of punitive action. Remember, Grow at this point still consider all human life on Earth to be its property. It would argue to The Powers that it would be justified in mounting some sort of attack. Nevertheless, any conflict with Earth could be expensive to them, one way or another. It would be far better to squirrel you away off the planet than get embroiled in a potentially long and drawn out battle with the human race.’
We hit a steep incline and I rattle down through the gears, the engine screaming as it hunkers down to its task.
‘Or, they actually want a war. Let’s say Grow catches you and keeps you hidden. It then presses its demands for Earth’s leaders to hand you over knowing they couldn’t even if they wanted to, simply because they don’t know where you are. Refusing to hand you over would be as good as a declaration of war against Grow in their courts, probably in the courts of The Powers too at this point in time ’
‘Because Grow figures if Noone gets up in court in front of The Powers he’ll win. Grow will lose everything. But right now, before the case is heard, the human species is the intellectual property of Grow. It can do whatever it likes with the people down here as long as there’s no unnecessary suffering.’
‘A war without suffering, that’ll be unique. How do you think Grow could spin the PR on that?’ I say, almost chuckling at the thought. A war is many things but never pain free.
‘You’d have started it by sending Krillik back with the spores exposed. Grow would be legitimately trying to bring you to book to answer for your crimes. If the powers that be on Earth refuse to hand you over they’d be complicit in the crimes. Grow would be perfectly within its rights to attack.’
It all sounds perfectly reasonable when she puts it to me now but in truth it’s crazy. Take a step back and it’s all complete and utter madness. Krillik was on the point of exterminating all human life on Earth, and he’s suddenly the good guy. I think about this for a while before I respond.
‘I don’t know what kind of space transport Grow has but to put together an army big enough to take on the combined military might of the planet, it would have to be mammoth. What’s more, I thought they were against anything that would devalue their investment. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but wars cause a lot of damage, especially to buildings.’
She gives me that sideways look that lets me know she thinks I’m a dumb ass, then says, ‘You’re supposed to be a detective. Think it through. What have they got now that they didn’t have a couple of years ago?’
When she lays it out like a toddler’s Janet and John book it’s so obvious, a very nasty biochemical weapon, the Revelation spore.
‘But won’t they have at least two insurmountable problems?’
‘Like we’ve got a vaccine now.’
I’m pretty pleased with my point but she laughs out loud. When she stops she turns to me and says, ‘Do you think it’ll be the same spore? Do you think they won’t have modified it and adapted it for their purposes? That spore is a Godsend to them. There are hundred of worlds out there where humanlike animals are being cultivated. Grow now has the ability to wipe these planets clean in a matter of weeks rather than years. All they need is a legal reason to use it. The company’s value will be going through the roof. I’ll bet Earth is their test case. If they get away with it here, wipe out humanity with The Power’s turning a blind eye, then the obliteration of humanlike species on other planets and other projects they have on their books won’t be far behind.’
‘They might have the weapon, yes, but what about the delivery system? They’d never get a craft down. We’d intensify our scanning of the skies above us. Anything that remotely resembles a UFO would be blown to smithereens.’
‘How did you ever become a detective?’ she says. I think she’s genuinely shocked at how naïve my last statement was. I think it through a little more, and like before it’s obvious.
‘They’re already down, aren’t they?’ I say.
‘Of course they are. How did you think that little bunch of funsters back there got to you? We never got all the portals. We just think we did. All they need is one, and there must be at least one still operating down here.’
‘…and of course all they have to do is send a package of code for the spores to that portal. They’d materialize right here in the open air. Give it three weeks and we’re finished.’
‘Yes, but only if they can manufacture a legitimate excuse to attack. They have half the reason right now, your act of aggression towards Grow. Should Earth’s leaders refuse to give you up then it’s game over.’
‘Why do you think I bullied my way onto the Chinook? There are three camps back at the UN. One refuses point blank to give you up. You’re a hero, a human, and on principle will be given every protection Earth can provide. The second camp argues you should be brought to face justice on Earth. If a court down here finds you guilty of any crime you will face justice at the hands of mankind.’
‘They just want you gone, dead or alive, in the hope that once Grow gets you, one way or another, they’ll simply go away. They’re the most stupid. I was on the Chinook to make sure one of the grunts wasn’t secretly given the order to blow you away on site. It would be officially reported as a terrible tragedy, of course, but you’d have been resisting arrest, or had put lives in danger, or some other bullshit. Anyway, thanks to your call from my doppelganger you were a click ahead of them.’
‘Run and keep on running…and hope something turns up.’
Out of the corner of my eye I see something totally unexpected and not in the plan. A highway patrol car, a beat up old Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, well past its sell by date, is sliding alongside me and the driver’s eyeing me up.
‘We got company,’ I say to Jane.
There’s a hint of dawn in the sky, but it’s still dark on the highway, so the cop switches on his hand held searchlight and shines it up into my face. I blink to shake off the momentary dazzle but keep focused on the road ahead. The cop car sticks beside me in the outside lane matching my speed for about half a mile then slides ahead, pulling into my lane and staying about five hundred yards ahead.
‘What do we do?’ I say to Jane.
‘Wait it out. He’ll probably go away.’
‘Yeah. He’s in the car on his own. If he’s looking for us he knows he shouldn’t approach us alone. He could have called for back up,’ she says.
‘I don’t think so,’ I say. It’s my turn to be smart, ‘Okay Junior Detective Krieff, here’s your chance. Tell me why he hasn’t.’
‘Obvious,’ she says after a couple of seconds thought, ‘Because he’s in front of us. If he was calling for help he’d want to be behind, so if we pulled off, or started crazy maneuvers in this monster he’d be able to track us at a safe distance.’
‘Right,’ I say, ‘So, what’s he up to, d’you think?’
She doesn’t have time to answer before we both find out. The patrol car starts flashing the bright red ‘STOP’ sign on its roof, and the cop’s arm is through the open window of the car waving us to pull over. I flick on the hazard lights and roll down through the gears as I pull the truck onto the hard shoulder, bringing it to a halt about fifty yards behind the patrol car. We sit in silence and wait but it’s an age before the cop opens his door.
‘Can you do something?’ I say to Jane, ‘I don’t want to shoot a fellow cop unless I have to.’
The cop’s a big guy, older than usual, once all muscle but now all paunch. We watch him in the beams of our headlights as he folds his body out of the patrol car, straightens up and starts swaying his bulk back along the hard shoulder towards us. He’s about thirty yards from the rig when I recognize him. It’s my old friend Sheriff Jude Stenton from Polk.
‘Good grief. I thought that old buzzard retired a couple of years ago.’
The Sheriff and I go back a long way. He was always one of the good guys, and I know the option to kill the man is now gone.
‘You know him?’ says Jane.
‘You do too,’ I say, ‘Remember when we first met in the basement of the Sheriff’s office in Polk, Tommy in the cage?’
‘Shit, it’s him,’ says Jane, the light of recognition in her face, ‘What the fuck do we do now?’
We look through the window down at the Sheriff approaching. He stops about twenty yards from our rig. I notice he’s wearing a gun on his right side. He reaches around his huge gut with his left arm, unclips the holster and takes out the gun, using his index finger and thumb. The gun is dangling loosely in his fingers by the end of the butt as he pulls it round and holds it straight out towards us.
‘Figured it would be you two,’ he hollers, ‘Now don’t go shooting at me Red, and Miss Krieff, I’ve read a lot about what you can do with people’s minds. So, don’t go planting any of those visions inside my head. I’m on your side. Leave the keys inside, climb on down and let’s talk.’
Jane and I look at each other with that ‘seems like a good enough idea’ expression on our faces. I switch off the ignition leaving the keys where they are, open the cab door and slide down, slamming the cab door shut. Jane slides down on her side. We both hold our hands wide so the Sheriff can see we’re not holding any weapons as we walk towards him.
‘Hi Sheriff,’ I say, ‘long time no see.’
‘Red…Miss Krieff,’ he says nodding at us both in turn, ‘I’m gonna put my gun away now. Is that okay?’
‘Sure,’ I say, ‘Then what?’
‘I suggest we all get back in my car and go for a drive.’
‘Don’t you have to call this in?’ I say.
‘Nope,’ he says, ‘I’m no longer a real cop, Red. I’m retired. On nights I can’t sleep I help out a little. They let me drive up and down the freeway in this old banger. People think twice about speeding when they see me, that’s all. The regular guys’ll be along soon and see the rig parked up there. They’ll call it in. It’ll look like you ditched it and did a runner, or took off in something more sensible.’
‘Good to see you, Jude,’ I say, and reach out my hand for him to shake. He takes it, responding warmly.
‘I’ve been following what’s been happening on the radio,’ he says, ‘I don’t know how you two do it, but you’re both in a world of shit again, pardon my language Miss.’
‘What’s the word out there?’ asks Jane.
‘Oh, vague, like you’d expect. Spin and bullshit aside, you’re the two most wanted people in the world once again. Jump in the car. Let’s get outta here. We can talk on the way.’
‘…on the way to where?’ I say.
‘Somewhere that’s quiet where you two can hole up for a while.’
I climb in the front next to the Sheriff, Jane take’s the back. The Sheriff slips the car in gear and slides it off the hard shoulder into the steady stream of traffic heading west. The old guy’s got the heater going full blast and it doesn’t take long before I’m faced with the choice of either fainting or cracking open the window. When I slide the window down Jane says, ‘Thanks.’
‘Sorry,’ says the Sheriff, ‘I’m used to traveling on my own and my old bones get cold.’
He turns the heater down to something approaching sensible as he flicks his indicator on and moves towards an exit slip road. We leave the freeway and head across country, driving in silence as dawn breaks on what will be a beautiful day.
‘I got a part time job,’ he says eventually, ‘Security. Four days a week at a container storage warehouse. They don’t need anybody there, really, but need someone around for insurance purposes. They’re supposed to have a guard on site twenty four seven, but there’s only me and this other old timer and we only work days. I do the shift Tuesday through Friday. Place’ll be deserted when we get there. You two’ll have time to take stock, plan what you’re gonna do next. There’s a restroom where you can both freshen up while I fix us some breakfast.’
We drive through the countryside in silence. After about ten minutes the Sheriff says, ‘We’re here.’
He pulls the patrol car off the main road onto a tarmac strip leading towards a building the size of an aircraft hangar standing on the edge of a disused airfield. There’s no security fence or any other barriers restricting access and he drives straight up to the two huge sliding doors at the front of the building. He draws to a halt in front of the warehouse doors and kills the engine.
He turns towards me and says, ‘This is it, Red. The place is huge, packed full of storage containers, junk that nobody wants anymore but can’t bear to throw away, so they pay $10 a week per container to get it from under their feet. Madness. It’s like a little town in there, street names and all. You could hide up in there for months. I’ll show you where the staff quarters are. They’re all kitted up just like someone’s home, TVs, beds, bathroom, kitchen, the whole ball of wax.’
We all climb out of the Crown Victoria and we each stretch to get the stiffness out of our bones. A morning breeze has picked up, refreshing and pleasant, taking the early morning heat out of the sun. I squint into the cloudless sky. It’s going to be a great day out in the American countryside but we’ll miss it all hiding from the law inside this monster sized building. The law? Who is that exactly, the authorities on Earth or the thugs sent by Grow?
The Sheriff pulls out a bunch of keys from his pocket and walks towards the personnel door built into the right hand main sliding door to the warehouse. Security here isn’t exactly state of the art. The only thing keeping out anyone interested in boosting whatever is inside is the four inch six pin cylinder padlock holding the personnel door shut. There are no security cameras, IR alarms or anything, every indication the Sheriff is telling the truth. The place is full of worthless junk.
While the Sheriff unlocks the door Jane comes over and stands beside me. She puts her hand on my shoulder, looks me in the face and says, ‘You need to clean up. Your face looks a mess.’
I’d forgotten that my lip and nose were bloodied earlier when the Dreek’s head clashed with mine. My clothes are mud caked, blood spattered and sweaty. Whatever junk is stored inside I hope to hell that there’s old clothes my size I can boost.
‘Come on in,’ says the Sheriff as he pulls the stiff old personnel door towards him. It creaks open and he disappears inside.
Jane and I look at each other. Going inside is a risk. We have no idea what will be the other side of that door. So far we’ve gone along with what we’ve been told unquestioningly, but it isn’t wise when you’re on the run to trust anyone. We look at the small door built into the giant run down old building and suddenly it looks foreboding. But I’ve known Sheriff Jude Stenton since I joined the SOS as a detective. I’ve spent many nights at his home with him and his wife, Martha, as their guest at their dinner table. The Sheriff and the Chief were my mentors in my early years in the force. I recall when I was last on the run and the Sheriff tipped me the wink that the FBI were triangulating my phone and tracking me. I decide to take the risk and nod to Jane who understands exactly what I mean.
‘You first,’ she says, and it isn’t politeness.
The door is only wide enough for one person to enter at a time. If I go first and there’s some kind of trap then she’s the better between the two of us to save the other. Her ability to plant visions beats the crap out of muscle and a gun. I duck my head and go through the door, holding it open for Jane to follow after she’s seen inside and feels confident it’s safe.
As a stark contrast to the bright sunshine outside, inside the warehouse it’s gloomily lit by low energy lighting high in the vaulted ceiling. It takes a few moments for our eyes to adjust. We’re inside a vast, cavernous building that seems even larger on the inside than it does from outside. It’s a rolled steel joist structure clad with metal sheeting, concrete floor, all painted grey. There is a perimeter path around the walls about ten yards wide, otherwise the whole internal space is a mass of metal storage containers stacked on top of each other, thousands, possibly tens of thousands of them, all in neat rows and stacked six high. Metal gantries and ramps strong enough and wide enough to take a small fork lift truck run from the floor to the sixth level so the containers on each level can be accessed. Opposite the entrance door we’ve just come through is a wider spaced passage that runs the whole length of the warehouse. Someone has painted the words ‘Main Street’ on the concrete floor at the start of it.
‘Some place,’ I say to Jane as I step towards the main street passage, ‘You could get lost in here.’
Just as I step forward Jane catches the end of my sleeve and pulls me back. I can see she’s concerned about something.
‘I don’t like it,’ she says.
She’s right. He’s nowhere to be seen, gone, vanished.
‘Sheriff?’ I say, expecting him to be somewhere nearby, but there’s no answer.
‘Sheriff!’ a little louder.
This time I holler, ‘Hey Sheriff Stenton!’
My words echo off into the distance rattling through the roof girders and up and down the corridors of containers, but again without an answer.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ says Jane.
We turn and step towards the door but don’t leave. We can’t. Someone has padlocked the door from the outside. I peer through the cracks in the door slats. There’s no point in shooting off the lock and busting down the door. Someone has parked the patrol car tight against the door. This escape route is well and truly closed.
At the same time we both realize we’re trapped inside, we hear a noise, faint, far away somewhere in the building. It’s a familiar noise to us both but one neither of us has heard for a long time now, the terrifying noise, half howl, half piercing scream, of a hungry Zyg. As the scream echoes to oblivion we hear another scream, this time much closer, then another, and another. Jane and I look at each other. I can see the terror in her eyes. We’re locked in this vast warehouse, and there are God knows how many hungry Zygs on the loose and looking for a kill!