There’s a certain exhilaration people feel when they walk off the job knowing that, in the next room over, sits a man whose sole purpose in life (for the next 28 days) is to find you and drag you screaming, or kicking, or both, to the Velkladdeur—the second most mysterious man on the planet. The most mysterious man on the planet is so mysterious nobody knows anything about him, hence does not appear (as far as I know) in this book.
Once outside, Maurice felt able to breathe comfortably.
Two women and a little boy walked past. He followed them.
Another person stepped in line. Then another. Soon, a small crowd of people were making their way towards a complex of dome-shaped buildings a mile away…the Hives. Maurice felt compelled to investigate. The closer the buildings, the greater the sense of evil grew on him.
The air seemed heavier, thicker. And, “are my eyes getting blurry?” He wondered.
The crowd walked by a gravel parking lot. “Now is my chance. I’ll act like I’m going to my car, then duck out of site until everybody is gone.”
Maurice scrambled three feet down a dusty path and surveyed the lot.
“Let’s see now. What kind of a car would Mr. Perez, ex-lab technician at Z-Tech drive? The white Mustang? Nope. Too flashy. The black Ford SUV? It would be easy to hide under, but too hot in the April sun. And in this corner we have a green Jeep. Ahh, just right.”
Maurice walked to a dirty Wrangler and peered inside. “Whoever drives this thing must have stock in McDonalds and Marlboro.” The floor was littered with cigarette butts and Big Mac wrappers. It was an older model Jeep, one that required you to punch in a numeric password to open. Unlike the newer versions that only required one to pass your arm over a dash-mounted scanner. The scanner detected the microchip in your arm or ID bracelet, and presto. . .the door unlocked itself. In the decade since Government Motors began building cars with the scanners, automobile thefts dropped to virtually zero. Still, some people refused to purchase new cars and relied on pre-2015 models.
“Ow! Let me go!” shouted a voice. Maurice heard scuffling at the end of the parking lot. Two men wearing identical clothing; black pants, black shirt, and black shoes, were arresting somebody. The Sweep Patrol.
In a matter of seconds, the Sweep Patrollers subdued the man, scanned him, and subjected him to a breath test on their portable GC-MS systems that monitored volatile organic compounds, or VOC’s, that were considered markers for various disease. They also told you what food you ate, how much, and where you purchased it.
A crowd gathered around the scene like a pack of hyenas. And like hyenas, they laughed and stared at the prisoner.
Maurice threw himself to the ground and rolled under the Jeep. He didn’t hear or see the man in black watching him. So when a face appeared some time after the mass of people had passed by, he thought for certain he was caught.
Maurice wanted to crawl away and die. He rolled to his side and saw the face of a tall, thin, grey-haired man with a beak of a nose staring at him. It was Jakob Warder.
“I thought you would be here. He kicked Maurice’s foot. “You awake or not?” He smiled and continued, “sleeping your life away?”
He crawled from under the jeep and looked at Jakob like he had never seen him before.
“Come on. We’ve got to get away from this place,” said Jakob. “Are you ready to for an adventure?”
“Believe me. I’m more than ready.” Maurice crawled from under the jeep and shook his hand. A prickly sensation ran up his arm.
Jakob said, “You wouldn’t believe the trouble I went through to get here. Thankfully, I caught you before you went to the Hives.”
“Yeah,” he pointed to the dome-shaped buildings. “Sure you are all right?”
“A little light-headed. Why don’t you go on ahead without me. I’ll catch up in a bit.”
”You might find that more difficult than you think.” He looked to the Sweep Patrollers-now placing their hand-cuffed prisoner into a dark sedan. “Come on now. My ride is by the Hives. We’ll take it.”
They joined the parade of people walking to the Hives. The dusty path was nearly a mile from the parking lot to the first of the Hive buildings. With each step, Maurice found the presence of evil growing stronger. A half-mile away and his breathing increased notably. His head hurt and his palms became sweaty. He looked to his traveler friend, whistling away as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
“Who is this guy?” thought Maurice. “And why is he going toward the Hives?”
“Where am I going?” said Jakob. “You’ll see.”
Maurice’s nerves, stressed all morning, nearly burst at this last comment. They continued in silence.
The first building loomed directly in front of them. People were entering the glass doors that encircled the building at ground level. Nobody was leaving-just entering like a gigantic mouth. Swallowing people. Devouring people. His head throbbed.
“Look here, Mr. Warder. I hate to break the news to you, but I’m feeling a little sick. How about I catch up with you tomorrow?”
“Can you promise you have a tomorrow? What do you think you’ll find when you get back to 331 Newport Street?”
“Maurice stopped and looked at Jakob. “How do you know where I live?” The moment the words came out of his mouth, he realized his mistake.
“I know about you than you think,” said Jakob. “Perhaps even more than you know about yourself,” and in a barely audible voice added, “Mr. Blue.”
They arrived at the front of the building and walked around it. Maurice felt like walking through jelly. He felt compelled to run into the nearest glass door and scream, “Let me in!”
“Don’t do it,” said Jakob in a calm but stern voice. “Keep walking. Look straight ahead. The Hives have a hypnotic music that draws people.”
They came to a short grassy hill with steps leading down to a paved lot with half a dozen white vehicles stenciled with the letters TGC on their sides. In addition to a few motorcycles. “Trans-Genic Center. That’s what the letters stand for. You wanted to know.”
This was indeed what Maurice wanted to know. He said nothing. They stopped by a TGC-stenciled BMW motorcycle.
Jakob undid a clasp on the bike and produced two helmets. He pressed a switch inside them and gave one to Maurice. “This trip might be a little rough. Put this in your ear.” He gave him an earpiece with a transparent wire attached to it. “You’ll have to twist it a little to get it in there.”
Maurice inserted it into his hear with the end of the wire in front of his mouth. “It feels like a pencil eraser stuck in my ear.”
“You’ll get used to it. Won’t even know it’s there after awhile.”
Jakob pressed a switch on his watch and talked. Maurice heard his voice, loud and clear, and faintly metallic, in his ear. “Works by infrared. Useful when you don’t want people listening in on random radio-linked voices.” Maurice got the idea.
Jakob and Maurice jumped on the BMW and headed to the front of the first Hive. They made a sharp right and drove leisurely past four more identical Hive buildings on the same road. Maurice found that the evil presence seemed muted with the helmet. Soon, they passed the fifth Hive.
The road continued on past some abandoned warehouses. Then it led through a massive junkyard of scrapped cars, office machines, and old airplanes. The road became worse and pockmarked with holes. At times, great sections of the road were completely eroded. Jakob carefully threaded his way down the eroded banks and up the other sides. After a time, the junk disappeared until all he saw was a desolate wasteland. No trees, plants, and no farms. Simply an enormous wasteland of rocks and sand.
“We’re going to my place near Canaan Valley,” said Jakob suddenly.
“A little dusty, isn’t it? Why so much dust?”
“Can’t see much. Dust covers hidden cameras, and is hard on equipment. Makes it easy to hide from prying eyes. Useful when you want to be hidden and sometimes you just need peace and quiet.”
“You can hide for only so long before the satellites find you.”
“Not if you’re underground.”
“You live in a hole in the ground. . .like a hobbit?”
“Err, not quite.”
Maurice heard a throaty, thumping sound-like a helicopter. Ahead of them, and to their left, another road joined theirs. A cloud of dust was moving along it caused by a large boxy vehicle with large squares sticking out the sides. Jakob gunned the BMW’s engine hoping to arrive at the intersection before the other car. They arrived the same time, but as the road widened at this point, the two vehicles didn’t collide.
The boxy car, now only a few feet from them and parallel, had an open cockpit and looked to be made of yellow concrete. The two side squares were fairly curved, and swept back. The driver, wearing a helmet and goggles, didn’t look at them. The noise was deafening.
“What is it?” asked Maurice.
Maurice looked at the large, lumbering, sand-colored square upon wheels. Black smoke belched from its rear. It smelled like sulfur. The two wings moved slightly and extended outward. At once Jakob shot forward ahead of the Rhino.
They’re hydrogen powered,” came Jakob’s tinny voice over the sound. “Those two wings are boosters. You don’t want to be behind a Rhino when those things fire up. It’s like being stuck behind a jet engine-and very loud.” Maurice wondered if anything could get louder. “They also fire rockets from the wings.”
Jakob increased his speed and soon the Rhino was merely another lumbering dust cloud.
“Friend of yours?”
“Hardly. Rhino operators are not overly friendly. They’re rough people. I call the drivers Ruff and Gruff. Those guys only shave about three times a month and you can never understand what they’re saying. Russell and Buck drive them for a living in between chess matches.
“I’m confused,” said Maurice.
“I’ll explain later.”