by Paul Harman
This is the intro to a story which I am currently writing, would appreciate any feedback.
|A plain white van wove it’s way through the darkened countryside. Blackness was all around, the headlights from the van chasing shadows in the hedgerows. The driver, a man in his late thirties, swung the van around each corner, glancing at the sat-nav on the dash whenever he could. The clock read 1:26 AM. Double bubble for a call out at this hour. But he had that sinking feeling that he was lost. He looked at the glowing map and tried to see where he had come from, tried to remember what he had been told about his destination. A few moments too many with eyes off the road, a corner came out of nowhere. He stamped on the brakes as the back end of the van slid out and careered into the siding, the scraping sound of rock on metal jarring and atonal. He cursed as the adrenalin pumped through his veins. The van came to a stop and he caught his breath. He thought about checking the side of the van, but no, it could wait until morning,. He could probably blame some kids. Thoughts buzzed through his mind like angry wasps. He carefully pulled away.
A few minutes later he crested a hill and saw a light in the distance. Further on and the lane opened up to the left. The headlights illuminated a sign, it read Spherical Labs in a plain black type, above a logo featuring a half circle with three prongs underneath. He pulled up to a gate and pressed the buzzer. After a few moments a grim looking face appeared in the video display.
“You from the power company?” the gravelly voice asked.
“Yeah, we got a call to take a look at the supply here.”
“Ok, pull up to the main building. Wait for me there. Do not exit your vehicle.”
“Sure thing, pal”
The gate opened with a well oiled smoothness. He rumbled slowly down the gravel road. The wildness of the rural fields quickly gave way to manicured lawns and trim hedgerows. He saw the source of the lights, a dark building illuminated from below by dim spots on the floor. He drove along the side of the building, it’s featureless exterior gave nothing away except the suggestion of secrets within. It looked to be two stories high. His boss had said it was a government building. It looked like it.
He passed to the front of the building. A car park with two other cars faced away from the building, toward the fields and trees. He pulled alongside one of the other cars. Ahead of him was a large lake with some sort of modern art rising from the water, something like a metal rainbow. He reached into the back of the van to grab his toolkit, as turned back around he jumped in fright at the face at the window. The guard. He tried to calm his nerves and opened the door.
“This way, please. The power has been down for an hour, we’re running on the generator but we can’t stay like that for long. We have a huge investment in this building. You guys must have screwed something up.”
“Us? I doubt it. How come your running the lights if your on the generator?” he rolled his eyes at the guard.
“They’re solar powered.” The guard sneered. “Through here.” The guard led the way up some steps to the entrance hall. Great glass panels rose up for the full two stories. The glass must have been darkened as the inner room was difficult to make out. The guard slid a keycard through a lock and a smaller door clicked open as a tiny light flicked from red to green. He opened the door and walked in.
Inside, the room was barely illuminated. “Emergency lighting only, ” the guard said. “you’ll need a card. Over here, name please.” The guard walked over to a desk and grabbed something from a shelf underneath. “Stand on that spot please.” A second later a camera flashed overhead. The guard put the blank keycard into a machine and a second later it popped back. He held out the card.
“What is it you guys’ actually do here?”
“Nothing you would be interested in, so don’t ask. You just fix the power, OK?”
“OK. So…which way to the mains room?”
The guard walked back around the desk. “Over this way.” He led the way across the room. A wide metal staircase ran up one wall to a large mezzanine floor. In the gloom some desks were visible with the requisite office greenery. They walked past a set of glass doors which seemed to go nowhere. To the side a panel with a hand print icon glowed faintly blue.
“Lift ain’t working.” The guard nodded at the doors. He walked over to the far wall and pressed a hidden panel. A door sprang open revealing a staircase leading downward.
“I gotta stay up here. Take the next 2 flights down and you’ll find the electrical room. The door is unlocked. Any problems you can shout at me down this. ” The guard handed a walkie talkie and turned on his heel.
“Thank you, too”
The guard stopped and turned around. He stared back for a few seconds before bursting into a toothy grin. “Sure, thank you,” he looked at the name card, “Gabriel.”
Gabriel looked back to the open door and the darkness beyond. He clipped the walkie talkie to his belt and fished around in his toolbox for a flashlight. He started forward, clicking the lamp on. The doorway opened onto a stairwell, bare brick was exposed and a sign on the wall demonstrated the emergency exit procedures. He flashed the light upward and saw nothing, the staircase didn’t go up any further. Downwards it led into darkness. He descended.
As he reached the next floor down he felt the temperature begin to rise. Another door sat just where the last one had been. There was a distinct hum of electricity inside, the dull pulsating throb was unmistakeable. He resisted the urge to open it, instead pulled at his shirt collar to get the air moving. There were probably cameras all about anyway. He listened to the hum and tried to imagine what secrets were held inside. The building was a long way outside of town, he had never visited before. His company, providing specialist electrical engineering services, had recently won the contract. A bead of sweat appeared on his brow as the walkie-talkie clicked quietly on his belt, bringing him out of his daydream. He took the next flight of stairs down and as he arrived at the bottom level the heat eased off slightly. Along a short corridor, a door stood open, inside he could see the dim lights of the mains room.
Inside he saw familiar instruments and the butterflies in his chest eased off slightly. He glanced at the wall and saw a digital display. He prodded a few buttons and read off the status. The system had just shut itself down. Probably a power spike. A simple reset outside and he would be off. The thought of a late beer back in town got him to business. He opened his toolbox and took out a screwdriver to remove an access panel. Nothing major. As he got to work, the walkie-talkie clicked again. This time though, a voice.
“Are you absolutely sure that this is real?” A male voice clearly audible. Another voice in the background, he could not hear it clearly, a woman possibly. “This cannot be allowed to get out”, the male voice spoke, “Not after last time. We cannot afford another mistake like that. Too much attention.” After another pause, the male voice again. “We’ve planned for this. The network can be put into effect right as soon as the power is back on.” Gabriel felt guilty for listening in. “No, the cover story was accepted, the police stopped asking questions. The inspector they sent was persistent but they have nothing.” The other voice muffled in the background again. The male voice said “Yes, Silvan is taking care of him. He’s…wait, what was that? Your on the wrong damn channel!” Gabriel almost dropped his driver. He turned back to the control board and got to work.
Gabriel finished up with the control system. He checked the readout and the status showed it was awaiting reset. All he needed to do now was flip a switch upstairs. Easy. He collected his things and made his way back up to the entrance hall.
Back in the entrance hall, the guard was sat behind the desk.
“You almost done? You’re already failed the service level agreement we pay you through the nose for.”
“Sure, I’m nearly done. Looking forward to getting my overtime cheque already.” Gabriel tried to force a grin but he just wanted to get out of there. “Where is the failsafe?”
“Right here.” The guard said. He flipped open a panel on a side wall. Gabriel looked for a moment and flipped a switch. After a few seconds the ceiling lights began to brighten and the walls lit up with tiny lights near the floor. Very expensive looking artwork appeared on the walls as their own lights powered up. Behind him the lift lights came on revealing a the lift compartment and a secure looking control panel. Gabriel exhaled and handed the ID card back. He started toward the door.
“Nice van you got there.” The guard grinned. Gabriel did not reply.
Back in has van, he was grateful to close the door and hear the noisy revving of the engine. He put his toolbox in the back and breathed a sigh of relief as the van’s central locking mechanism clicked into place. He pulled off, glad to be away from that place. The guard’s toothy grin had irritated him. He forced the thought from his mind and concentrated on the overtime and nice cold beer waiting for him.
Back in the now illuminated building a man in a suit stood on the mezzanine, watching the van pull away. He turned over the plastic ID card in his hand, looking at the face and name. The van reached the outer gate and disappeared around the corner. The building had become quiet again, the hum of the servers below was felt more than heard. The man turned away and spoke into his radio.
“Silvan, find me the address of Mr Matthias, please.”
Silvan was sat at his desk. Sat upon it was a laptop, on the screen a red flashing dot was overlaid on a view of a map. Silvan smiled and watched the dot wind it’s way home.