She rushed past the black car, failing not only to notice its familiarity but also the very obvious fact that something was not quite right. It had no registration plate. Had this been anything other than a desperate race to get back to her family, she might have glanced back.
Something out of place might have registered with her. Had she looked back, she would have seen that number plate change before her eyes. From being totally blank, to generating a random registration number. Something that the police would never be able to trace. Had she noticed what was going on, she might have wondered ‘What kind of car can do that?’
And if the device in her neck wasn’t doing its job quite so well, she might have realized that she’d been travelling in that very car only a few days earlier.
It seems on the surface that I’m talking to the most pleasant person on the Earth. She even uses my name regularly in her sentences. To build rapport. So why do I get an uneasy feeling whenever Kate speaks to me?
She appears to be helping me, giving me the information that I am asking for. I want this, I need to know these answers and this information. So why does it all seem to be bad news? Everything she says seems to be a block – a ‘No’ – yet the way that she says it sounds as if it is a positive thing.
I know what Dad meant about that guy in HR now. ‘A viper’. He must have felt the same thing when he left his job. I don’t feel that I am much further forward. What do I know? Mum is missing, but is probably okay. That’s about it.
They are looking for her. I can’t progress that, I’m in their hands on that one. Dad, Harriet and David are safe. I haven’t seen them with my own eyes, and even though I am unsure of Kate, I do believe her that they are okay at least. They might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The worst that could happen would be that they were restricted to a certain area. The Red Zone probably.
And what about me? How did I get lucky? And why am I on the ‘biometrics database’ or whatever she called it? I know I’ve joined a lot of random mailing lists but I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing too sinister about most of the gaming sites that I visit. I’m certain I didn’t get myself onto any biometrics database. I really must read the terms and conditions more carefully next time I register.
I decide to focus on the facts. Dad, Harriet and David are alive and fine. Mum is alive – and I hope she’s fine. I’m certainly feeling much better after my time in the MedLab – or whatever it was that Kate called it – and the burger and chips that I just ate seem to have enabled amazing recuperative powers.
‘Am I okay to take a look around?’ I ask Kate, ‘Get a feel for the place?’
‘No problem!’ Kate replies, pleased to get away from the tricky and troublesome topics, I suspect. She looks very relieved that I’m changing the subject.
‘Kate,’ I ask, remembering that there’s one more thing that I want to ask her right now, ‘how did this place change so much, from the old bunker that we saw? It seems incredible, it’s like it’s a different place.’
Happy to move on to other matters, Kate introduces me to yet another new word. Who needs home ed when you get to spend the day in a hi-tech, space-age military-style bunker? It’s doing wonders for my vocabulary.
‘Transmogrification,’ Kate declares.
This has the sound of something unpleasant that might happen to a cat.
‘Transformation using nanotechnology,’ Kate continues. ‘A technological based process that completely changes the interior of the building. It’s not technology that I’ve ever seen before, I think I’m probably as amazed as you are.’
‘How does it happen while we’re right in the middle of it?’ I wonder aloud.
‘When the sirens sounded, everybody inside the bunker went to the Holding Area. The bunker staff recruited for this mission had been briefed to do that, and our first role was to move any civilians who were in the vicinity into the Holding Area with us – pending formal clearance to leave and assume our duties.
‘We got to your dad and brother and sister just in time to secure them with us in the Holding Area.
‘The change process happened while the lights were out …’
She pauses as if considering whether to tell me something.
‘We’re still not quite sure why there was such a long delay with the lights coming back on.’
‘How come I got away with it, as I wasn’t inside the safe room with you?’ I ask, genuinely intrigued by this conversation now.
‘You got lucky,’ Kate replies. ‘The entrance is only a superficial transformation; if furniture, fixtures and fittings are involved I’m guessing it gets a bit messy!’
Whatever this was, it was pretty incredible. This place has been completely transformed. I know it’s the same building, the shape and layout is the same, but it’s as if the team from that home makeover show on TV have been let loose on the place after drinking way too much coffee.
‘How come you came to get me in those anti-virus suits too?’ I ask, squeezing out one last question.
‘We hadn’t had time to ascertain if the corridor was 100 percent free of any external contamination at that time, so protocols state that until we’ve completed that process, we have to use the suits … sorry if we frightened you!’ she adds in, remembering that she is talking to a youngster rather than an adult.
I ask Kate if it’s okay if I take a look around on my own. For someone who just spent twenty-four hours alone in the dark, I’m feeling quite plucky now. Burgers and sleep are amazing things, they can completely restore me.
‘Fine,’ she says, ‘you’re on surveillance wherever you go and your biometrics will only give you access where you have clearance.’
I’m not sure if this is useful information or a warning. As in ‘Don’t go anywhere you’re not supposed to.’
‘No problem,’ I say and I’m on my way, fuelled by a space-age burger.
I can remember most of the layout from my previous walk through, and even though it’s completely different in appearance, I can still find my way around as the corridor layout is exactly the same. Red Zone rooms are visibly marked as are Green Zone rooms. Even I can follow that. To get through any door you place your hand on a pad. Presumably it scans your hand in some way – something to do with your biometrics whatever it was – as I’m never blocked wherever I go.
The dormitories – Green Zone – no problem. The chapel – Green Zone – no problem. The broadcasting studio – Green Zone – no problem. Only it’s not a broadcasting studio any more. Now it’s a gym. I won’t be needing that right now – or anytime soon – so I make my exit swiftly.
As I walk through to the doors, I notice an area just along the corridor that I haven’t spotted before: Red Zone. Look, I’m sixteen years old, what do you expect? It was only a matter of time until I tried one of the hand pads on a Red Zone door. I know I’m on camera, I don’t try to hide it, because I expect to be denied access. No big deal.
When I put my hand on the pad, I’m half expecting that ‘Uh-uh’ sound that they use on that family quiz show when somebody messes up an answer. Maybe Mum’s right, too much time spent watching old clips on video websites. So there’s nobody more surprised than me when I place my hand on the pad and the door opens.
It’s dark inside at first, but the lights are wired to come on as soon as someone enters. It takes my eyes a short time to adjust, but as they do, they fall on three figures in what I can only describe as ‘pods’. They’re wired up to all sorts of electronic gadgetry, and they’re unaware of me.
At first, I think I’ve stumbled on some kind of sleeping area, but I saw the dormitories only a few minutes ago. They were Green Zone. This is Red Zone.
These three figures are not sleeping. They’re unconscious, restrained, they’re being kept that way by the gadgetry.
I recognize one of them: she was the lady who gave us our tickets when we came in – these must be the staff. Used to serving tourists. Caught up in something by accident. ‘Unauthorized personnel’ is what Kate would probably call them. Or ‘Unauthorized personnel, Dan’ more likely. Building more rapport.
One of the lights in the room flickers into life as I move further into the room. I don’t know why – or how – I got into this room, but I’m very pleased I did.
As the light adjusts to full brightness and my eyes acclimatize, I focus on another three figures held captive in these sinister pods. It’s Dad, David and Harriet.