He knew what lay beyond the fence. Last summer he had worked as a laborer on the building site. At that time, he had not known it was destined to be a military base. The builders, a Copenhagen firm, had told everyone it was to be a new coastguard station. They might have had trouble recruiting staff if they had told the truth--Harald for one would not knowingly have worked for the Nazis. Then, when the buildings were up and the fence had been completed, all the Danes had been sent away, and Germans had been brought in to install the equipment. But Harald knew the layout. The disused navigation school had been refurbished, and two new buildings put up either side of it. All the buildings were set back from the beach, so he could cross the base without going near them. In addition, much of the ground at this end of the site was covered with low bushes that would help conceal him. He would just have to keep an eye out for patrolling guards.
He found his way to the copse, climbed the fence, eased himself gingerly over the barbed wire at the top, and jumped down the other side, landing softly on the wet dunes. He looked around, peering through the gloom, seeing only the vague shapes of trees. The buildings were out of sight, but he could hear distant music and an occasional shout of laughter. It was Saturday night: perhaps the soldiers were having a few beers while their officers dined at Axel Flemming's hotel.
He headed across the base, moving as fast as he dared in the shifting moonlight, staying close to bushes when he could, orienting himself by the waves on his right and the faint music to the left. He passed a tall structure and recognized it, in the dimness, as a searchlight tower. The whole area could be lit up in an emergency, but otherwise the base was blacked out.
A sudden burst of sound to his left startled him, and he crouched down, his heart beating faster. He looked over toward the buildings. A door stood open, spilling light. As he watched, a soldier came out and ran across the compound; then another door opened in a different building, and the soldier ran in.
Harald's heartbeat eased.
He passed through a stand of conifers and went down into a dip. As he came to the bottom of the declivity, he saw a structure of some kind looming up in the murk. He could not make it out clearly, but he did not recall anything being built in this location. Coming closer, he saw a curved concrete wall about as high as his head. Above the wall something moved, and he heard a low hum, like an electric motor.
This must have been erected by the Germans after the local workers had been laid off. He wondered why he had never seen the structure from outside the fence, then realized that the trees and the dip in the ground would hide it from most viewpoints, except perhaps the beach--which was out of bounds where it passed the base.
When he looked up and tried to make out the details, rain drove into his face, stinging his eyes. But he was too curious to pass by. The moon shone bright for a moment. Squinting, he looked again. Above the circular wall he made out a grid of metal or wire like an oversize mattress, twelve feet on a side. The whole contraption was rotating like a merry-go-round, completing a revolution every few seconds.
Harald was fascinated. It was a machine of a kind he had never seen before, and the engineer in him was spellbound. What did it do? Why did it revolve? The sound told him little--that was just the motor that turned the thing. He felt sure it was not a gun, at least not the conventional kind, for there was no barrel. His best guess was that it was something to do with radio.
Nearby, someone coughed.
Harald reacted instinctively. He jumped, got his arms over the edge of the wall, and hauled himself up. He lay for a second on the narrow top, feeling dangerously conspicuous, then eased himself down on the inside. He worried that his feet might encounter moving machinery, but he felt almost sure there would be a walkway around the mechanism to allow engineers to service it, and after a tense moment he touched a concrete floor. The hum was louder, and he could smell engine oil. On his tongue was the peculiar taste of static electricity.
Reprinted from Hornet's Flight by Ken Follett by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Ken Follett. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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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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