With a crackle, the pilot's voice broke in over the headsets. "Xymos Molecular Manufacturing is dead ahead," he said. "You can just see it now."
Twenty miles in front of us, I saw an isolated cluster of low buildings silhouetted on the horizon. The PR people in the back all leaned forward.
"Is that it?" said Growly. "That's all it is?"
"It's bigger than it looks from here," the pilot said.
As the helicopter came closer, I could see that the buildings were interlocked, featureless concrete blocks, all whitewashed. The PR people were so pleased they almost burst into applause. "Hey, it's beautiful!"
"Looks like a fucking hospital."
"It'll photograph great."
I said, "Why will it photograph great?"
"Because it has no projections," the man with the briefcase said. "No antennas, no spikes, no things poking up. People are afraid of spikes and antennas. There are studies. But a building that's plain and square like this, and white -- perfect color choice, associations to virginal, hospital, cure, pure -- a building like this, they don't care."
"Those environmentalists are fucked," said Growly, with satisfaction. "They do medical research here, right?"
"Not exactly . . ."
"They will when I get through, trust me. Medical research is the way to go on this."
The pilot pointed out the different buildings as he circled them. "That first concrete block, that's power. Walkway to that low building, that's the residences. Next door, fab support, labs, whatever. And then the square windowless three -- story one, that's the main fab building. They tell me it's a shell, it's got another building inside it. Then over to the right, that low flat shed, that's external storage and parking. Cars have to be under shade here, or the dashboards buckle. Get a first -- degree burn if you touch your steering wheel."
I said, "And they have residences?"
The pilot nodded. "Yeah. Have to. Nearest motel is a hundred and sixty -- one miles. Over near Reno."
"So how many people live in this facility?" Growly said.
"They can take twelve," the pilot said. "But they've generally got about five to eight. Doesn't take a lot to run the place. It's all automated, from what I hear."
"What else do you hear?"
"Not very damn much," the pilot said. "They're closed-mouthed about this place. I've never even been inside."
"Good," said Growly. "Let's make sure they keep it that way."
The pilot turned the stick in his hand. The helicopter banked, and started down.
I opened the plastic door in the bubble cockpit, and started to get out. It was like stepping into an oven. The blast of heat made me gasp.
"This is nothing!" the pilot shouted, over the whirr of the blades. "This is almost winter! Can't be more than a hundred and five!"
"Great," I said, inhaling hot air. I reached in the back for my overnight bag and my laptop. I'd stowed them under the seat of the timid man.
"I have to take a piss," said Growly, releasing his seat belt.
"Dave . . ." said the man with the briefcase, in a warning tone.
"Fuck, it's just for a minute."
"Dave -- " an embarrassed glance toward me, then lowering his voice: "They said, we don't get out of the helicopter, remember?"
"Aw hell. I can't wait another hour. Anyway, what's the difference?" He gestured toward the surrounding desert. "There's nothing the fuck out here for a million miles."
"But, Dave -- "
"You guys give me a pain. I'm going to pee, damn it." He hefted his bulk up, and moved toward the door.
I didn't hear the rest of their conversation because by then I had taken off my earphones. Growly was clambering out. I grabbed my bags, turned and moved away, crouched beneath the blades. They cast a flickering shadow on the pad. I came to the edge of the pad where the concrete ended abruptly in a dirt path that threaded among the clumps of cholla cactus toward the blocky white power building fifty yards away. There was no one to greet me -- in fact, no one in sight at all.
The foregoing is excerpted from Prey by Michael Crichton. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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