Kate had found the boy’s presence to be interesting – intriguing even. Initial briefings at the training sessions had indicated that all personnel would gather in the bunker by 15:00 hours at the latest on the designated day. They would not know who they’d be stationed with until the sirens alerted and the bunker doors closed. At that point, all designated staff were to make their way to the Holding Area on Level 1 – and wait – for half an hour. At this stage, there would be a mixture of mission critical staff and the few civilians who were in the bunker, or had made their way down to it, at the time the alarms sounded.
Civilians were not to be given any explanation of what was happening during transmogrification. Once clearance was given to exit the Holding Area, bunker staff were to make themselves known to civilians and accompany them immediately to the MedLab. There they were to be processed for stasis and BioFiltration. There would probably be concern, anxiety and some resistance, but it was important that all civilians were contained. Bunker staff must change into the uniforms provided in the dormitory areas and immediately head to their stations. Different uniforms to mark different roles within the bunker. Standard security checks must be made.
Bunker personnel should await further instructions, but in the meantime, they should familiarize themselves with other personnel, and the bunker facility. Everything would be as per training simulations.
Full mission clarity would be communicated at 20.00 hours on Day 2. Everything, so far, had been exactly according to training and instructions. Excluding that strange twenty-four-hour technical hitch with lighting and some small timing issues during transmogrification, the timescale seemed to have been largely as described. With the exception of this boy. And his family. Kate had expected a few bunker staff from the cottage to be processed for BioFiltration and stasis. That couldn’t be avoided without raising any concerns elsewhere. But nobody else was supposed to be in the bunker when the sirens went off. Certainly not full families. It should have been authorized bunker personnel only – and a handful of regular staff from the cottage. This boy had full clearance to Red and Green Zones. He had unlimited access to the bunker.
He was listed on the biometrics database. That was uniquely matched to each individual; you couldn’t cheat it or pretend that you were somebody else. There was something unusual about this boy; something that she knew that she’d need to watch. Somehow he was deeply connected with what was about to happen, but she didn’t know how. She had no power or ability to block him in any way, because he’d got full clearance to be here. No, it wasn’t a coincidence or freak event that led to this boy being in the bunker when the darkness fell. Somebody wanted him there.
One thing I know for sure is that this man, whatever he is doing, is heading towards the blast doors that bridge the bunker and the outside world. And the other thing I know for certain is that my mum is outside those doors somewhere. All of a sudden what lies on Levels 3 and 4 doesn’t seem quite so important. This man must be going to try and find Mum. So why isn’t he with a security team?
When I was retrieved from the long corridor, three people in biohazard suits came out to get me. They were armed too. I’m not sure what resistance they thought I was going to put up, they could have got me to do anything they wanted to at that moment in time. No need to wave a ray gun at me – just lead me to a plate of food. And I’m intrigued by these glowing lights in their necks. They may be something as simple as a monitoring device – or some way of establishing status, rank or bunker access rights. Knowing how and why these bunker people are different may help me to navigate this place better. I’m definitely going to mention it to Kate later.
Still hiding in the shadows, I follow him up the long corridor, until he reaches the blast doors. The darkness outside doesn’t penetrate here of course. The lack of light that I had to tolerate in this area earlier was simply the blackness of an underground tunnel with no lighting and no windows. If he’s going to open that door, I’m not quite sure what to expect. Kate said that whatever is out there is not hazardous. And it doesn’t seem to do anything to me; who knows why that is? Maybe eating too many burgers does give you superpowers after all? But then anybody between the ages of thirteen and eighteen would be safe from this thing. I very much doubt that the world is about to be saved by burger-eating kids.
I decide to move a little further back, just in case. I’m excited though, a chance to move beyond the doors means that I could be reunited with Mum. She’ll probably have to go in one of those pod things, but if I can see that Mum is okay, that’s one less thing to worry about. The biggest thing as far as I’m concerned.
The man seems to know what he’s doing at the blast doors. These people may not know exactly what’s going on, and it may be true that they have never operated within this bunker before. What is very obvious though, is that these people have been trained well. They know the layout and the kit very well. Looking at the complexity of the panel that he’s just opened, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
He presses some buttons at the console to the side of the blast doors. I feel embarrassed for a moment as that’s pretty well where I must have taken a pee while I was all alone in the corridor. Nice one, Dan! You take a pee right next to the hidden panel which might have helped your mum find safety inside the bunker. And I hope that nobody was monitoring these cameras at the time, with any luck they were all in the Holding Area while I was answering the call of nature all over what is basically the front door handle.
I stop dwelling on my shame when I see what happens as the man presses the configuration of buttons. What I can only describe as a fluorescent curtain of shimmering green light covers the entire area of the blast doors. It’s pretty amazing, actually, I’m stunned at the beauty of what I’m seeing.
The man presses a few more buttons, makes some gestures across another screen, then places his hand on what is quite obviously an identification panel. More biometrics, probably.
The effect of a positive identification is instant. The huge, iron blast doors begin to creak into life. They are starting to move slowly. He’s opening the doors to the area where I last saw Mum. The doors are heavy and very slow to move. I can see nothing beyond them. As a small crack appears between the doors, there is just complete blackness outside. The fluorescent curtain, which the man has activated in front of the doors, appears to act as a barrier between what is inside the bunker and what is outside.
That’s all very well, but he seems to be getting ready to step outside. Why would he do that if he’ll be caught by whatever it is the darkness does to us? He’s not even wearing one of those biohazard suits for protection. Maybe that’s what the blue device in his neck does; perhaps it protects him from the darkness? My heart is racing now as the tension builds towards me finally being reunited with Mum. As the gap in the bunker doors begins to widen before me, an alert sounds out on the bunker’s announcement system. It’s Kate’s voice and she sounds very serious. More serious than I’ve heard her before. ‘Dan, I need to see you in the Control Room immediately,’ she says. ‘We’ve found your mum. It’s not good news I’m afraid.’
It’s in moments of extreme stress that we find out who we really are. In the comfort of an office or a classroom, we’re very happy to discuss what we may – or may not – do in certain hypothetical situations. But until you face that fear, that crisis, that emergency situation, you never know exactly what you’ll do. Heroes and cowards are defined in a split second. The mission objective for Zero-97/4 and Zero-98/4 was to enter the facility under the cover of darkness and to retrieve a set of files, which were securely stored there.
They were to be completely unaware of location, so they believed that they were being transported there via military aircraft, but entirely unaware of their final destination. At the beginning and the end of the mission they were placed into an artificially induced sleep, to sustain the deception. Routine security, she understood, and probably why she had to sign that E-Notice document. If they were conscious of the journey duration, they may have been able to guess location, or at the very least, in which continent they were based.
Her nineteen-year-old self was extremely excited by this prospect. Two years spent working in shops, a sudden and compelling ambition to join the Army to get some excitement, and barely out of basic training, she had been selected for this mission. Less than a year ago she’d been adjusting wrinkled dresses on clothes hangers and refunding customers who’d been kidding themselves by buying a size too small. Now she was getting a bit of excitement at last, this is why she’d joined the Army. Once sleep had been artificially induced, the mission began. The man and woman didn’t know where they were. As if woken suddenly from sleep, they found themselves outside the base which formed part of their mission briefing. They did not stop to question or hesitate, they recognized what this was and they knew what to do.
They switched on their Stealth-Shields, hi-tech body armour which would enable them to avoid detection. They had five minutes to cut through the wire, stay out of sight, find the office, retrieve the documents. Adrenalin rushed through their bodies as if somebody had just switched on a gushing tap. He took out some cutters, she held the wire with something that flashed when the two things make contact. This was a deadly, electrified fence and the tool she was using rendered it powerless as he created a hole large enough for them both to scramble through.
There were no searchlights in this camp, although it was lit, surveillance was via body heat. A rat scuttled across the courtyard and a blue laser appeared from nowhere and annihilated the creature before it even had time to register what had happened. The man and the woman knew that this was what they must face, their Stealth-Shields would keep them safe from this hazard. All was exactly as it had been outlined in training.
But this simulation was not being run to see how they reacted when faced with a series of predictable events. It was being run to see how they coped in the face of enormous stress, in exceptional circumstances and in situations which they couldn’t possibly imagine. The simulation departed from the training. In an instant, the Stealth-Shields deactivated, as if there had been a sudden, massive equipment failure.
The blue lasers started to flash immediately on sensing the body heat, and he escaped by a millimetre as he ducked in behind her through the door of the main office block. As they entered the building, the whole area disorientated, as if somebody had just picked up the entire block of buildings and spun it round. They could hear alert sirens sounding outside, and the approaching footsteps of armed guards. This was not how it was in the briefing. Security was supposed to be automated. Predictable. Beatable.
In an instant they were in panic, confused and dazed by what was going on. Bullets started to fly down the corridor, their adrenalin levels were soaring. They barely knew each other, but they had to become each other’s most trusted companion to survive this. She longed momentarily for the safe life that she had left behind. They communicated in single words and hurried gestures. They were trapped and surrounded, with no chance of success in this mission.
The layout was nothing like it was in the briefing; what had happened here? This was all skewed, everything was in the wrong location here and their protective gear wasn’t working. Everything that they knew about this mission had suddenly become scrambled. This was where they would surely die.
They entered the room, pushed a filing cabinet across the door and turned around to look for cover. They were confronted with a bank of screens on which were live feeds of family members. Her mum, playing bingo. His girlfriend, talking to somebody in their corner shop. Her dad, sitting in the car outside the bingo hall, waiting to pick her up. His mum and dad, viewed through their open curtains, watching TV in their lounge. His brother, playing squash with a friend. Instantly familiar scenes, the people they loved most in their lives and a very clear and sudden threat. Each of the people had a targeting graphic projected onto their head.
A quick assessment of the scene indicated that these were live feeds of family members and they appeared to have some form of weaponry aimed at them. A sixth screen that had been blank suddenly lit up. It was a live feed of themselves standing where they were right now. They were under immense pressure, bullets were being fired outside the door, armed guards beginning to hammer outside on the fortified windows and their loved ones seemed to be in imminent danger. They were completely disorientated, under very real threat and their environment had just turned on a knife edge in a matter of seconds. It is in times of massive stress that character is defined. A voice boomed from the speaker. They recognized what was being said, but the voice sounded unearthly, like nothing they had ever heard before.
‘You must chose,’ it demanded. ‘If you are not dead in ten seconds, they will die.’ As if to confirm the seriousness of this threat, a laser flashed from a gun that had been concealed in the ceiling, hitting the ground that separated them. Guns were sounding outside, a countdown clock timed the remaining seconds on the screen, the violent sounds of hammering on the windows surrounded them and there on the five screens were the people that they most loved, targeted by a force unknown, but very real.
‘You must chose,’ demanded the voice once again. ‘If you are not dead in five seconds, they will die.’ The man and the woman looked at each other and in an instant, without speaking, they knew what they must do. The lasers powered up, they had to choose now, the timer was at three seconds. They raised their guns and simultaneously they shot.
Her bullet hit him in the head. His bullet hit her in the stomach. As they fell to the ground, the laser shot into the spaces that they had occupied a fraction of a second earlier. The targets were removed from the figures on the other five screens, which then closed down.
The targets pictured on the screens went about their lives totally unaware that they were moments away from a sudden and violent death. The first window was broken and the filing cabinet pushed aside as armed guards flooded into the room. The decision had been made.
The two intruders lay in pools of their own blood.
They had just became Doctor Pierce’s 0.01 percent.