With the vibration of the helicopter, I must have dozed off for a few minutes. I awoke and yawned, hearing voices in my headphones. They were all men speaking:
"Well, what exactly is the problem?" A growling voice.
"Apparently, the plant released some material into the environment. It was an accident. Now, several dead animals have been found out in the desert. In the vicinity of the plant." A reasonable, organized voice.
"Who found them?" Growly.
"Couple of nosy environmentalists. They ignored the keep-out signs, snooped around the plant. They've complained to the company and are demanding to inspect the plant."
"Which we can't allow."
"How do we handle this?" said a timid voice.
"I say we minimize the amount of contamination released, and give data that show no untoward consequence is possible." Organized voice.
"Hell, I wouldn't play it that way," said growling voice. "We're better off flatly denying it. Nothing was released. I mean, what's the evidence anything was released?"
"Well, the dead animals. A coyote, some desert rats. Maybe a few birds."
"Hell, animals die in nature all the time. I mean, remember the business about those slashed cows? It was supposed to be aliens from UFOs that were slashing the cows. Finally turned out the cows were dying of natural causes, and it was decomposing gas in the carcasses that split them open. Remember that?"
Timid voice: "I'm not sure we can just deny -- "
"Fuck yes, deny."
"Aren't there pictures? I think the environmentalists took pictures."
"Well, who cares? What will the pictures show, a dead coyote? Nobody is going to get worked up about a dead coyote. Trust me. Pilot? Pilot, where the fuck are we?"
I opened my eyes. I was sitting in the front of the helicopter, alongside the pilot. The helicopter was flying east, into the glare of low morning sun. Beneath my feet I saw mostly flat terrain, with low clumps of cactus, juniper, and the occasional scraggly Joshua tree.
The pilot was flying alongside the power -- line towers that marched in single file across the desert, a steel army with outstretched arms. The towers cast long shadows in the morning light.
A heavyset man leaned forward from the backseat. He was wearing a suit and tie. "Pilot? Are we there yet?"
"We just crossed the Nevada line. Another ten minutes."
The heavyset man grunted and sat back. I'd met him when we took off, but I couldn't remember his name now. I glanced back at the three men, all in suits and ties, who were traveling with me. They were all PR consultants hired by Xymos. I could match their appearance to their voices. A slender, nervous man, twisting his hands. Then a middle -- aged man with a briefcase on his lap. And the heavyset man, older and growly, obviously in charge.
"Why the hell did they put it in Nevada, anyway?"
"Fewer regulations, easier inspections. These days California is sticky about new industry. There was going to be a year's delay just for environmental-impact statements. And a far more difficult permitting process. So they came here."
Growly looked out the window at the desert. "What a shithole," he said. "I don't give a fuck what goes on out here, it's not a problem." He turned to me. "What do you do?"
"I'm a computer programmer."
"You covered by an NDA?" He meant, did I have a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent me from discussing what I had just heard.
"Yes," I said.
"You coming out to work at the plant?"
"To consult," I said. "Yes."
"Consulting's the way to go," he said, nodding as if I were an ally. "No responsibility. No liability. Just give your opinion, and watch them not take it."
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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