Project Contact, chapter 5

Temporarily halting the assailant’s first attack brought a double-edged respite to the men and women inside the compound, one Howard knew could be their doom if they just hunkered down there. The quick reaction and bravery of that local cop had given them a few extra minutes, and he wasn’t going to squander them. He shouted to remind everybody of his previous order and herded the frightened workers and the beleaguered policemen toward the main elevator.

Howard knew they were outnumbered and most likely outgunned too. On his side, he had Oliver, the desk guard, who carried a gun he probably had never used before, and a few cops (those carried rifles, so at least he had that.) Monica, the underground lab guard, was down below and he needed her there to make sure the scientists were all right —and, for more personal reasons, out of harm’s way. On the enemy side, they were facing against a military-grade truck and a convoy of men armed with semiautomatic weapons. He was sure he had seen three pick-up trucks, but there could have been more. He assumed that, at the very least, they would have to stand against a dozen men, perhaps even twenty.

The hall to the elevator could become a good chokepoint to hold them off, at least when all the scientists and workers were already down at the lab. There were still ten of them waiting for their turn, and Howard couldn’t help but scowl when he saw that Wickerman and Svoboda were among them. The terror in everybody’s faces, however, soothed his expression.

“The firsts are already en route,” Howard said, rather than asked. “How long have they been there?”

“A—a minute, I believe,” Wickerman answered.

A mile below the surface, it was a long ride down to the lab. It would take perhaps three more minutes to reach its destination, and four to get up there, or more.

“We have to hold them for ten minutes,” he said, mostly to himself, then he pointed at the cops and talked to them in a hacked medley of English and Dutch. “Pick all the tables, chairs, toilets, whatever you find in the labs here off the hall, and make a barricade.”

Immediately afterward, he began to check the camera feeds all around and inside the compound. There were, as he had suspected, perhaps ten or more men outside. Their previous ramming tactic seemed to have damaged their truck, at least for another attempt, and now they were reeling out pulling cables from it and attaching them to the police truck. Howard smiled, for that would take them some time.

However, the security chief had become so focused on those images that he had not noticed that one of the local cops, one he had not seen before, wasn’t dragging or pushing anything, unlike his comrades. He didn’t notice either his murderous glare aimed at Wickerman, and only when the cop rose his assault rifle did he realize that something was amiss.

The cop’s gaze bored on Wickerman. “Die, demon enabler!” He shouted.

Two shots rang, but not from his rifle. The cop fell to his knee, shot through the hip and the flank. He then fired, but luckily the burst when wide over the scientists’ heads. They shouted in panic and hurdled themselves like fleeing animals against the closed doors of the elevator.

Howard pulled out his gun and shoot quickly; one, two, up to three shots. More gunshots joined. The traitorous cop fell on his back but he lifted his rifle and fired off blindly and wildly, mostly at the ceilings and walls. Howard, and someone else, kept firing off. On the edge of his vision, he noticed Oliver was the source of the other gunshots. They fully discharged their pistols on the man, and only then did the cop, with at least eight gunshot wounds, finally stop. Not taking any chances, Howard reloaded his pistol and approached the body, then kicked the rifle away. The wounded man was unresponsive, but he felt his pulse anyway; still alive, but probably not for too long.

“Amazing reflexes, Oliver, and I mean it,” Constantin Howard said. “Keep the rifle and check the body for ammo and whatever might be useful.”

Oliver looked ashed and still gripped the pistol like was ready to shoot someone, but he acknowledged the order and did as told.

“That was one of the local cops!” Svoboda shouted.

“Yes…” the chief of security whispered.

He looked at the other policemen. Two of them were in the middle of the hall, still clung to the coach they were pushing. They looked even more bewildered and confused than everybody else, and Howards thought they had the faces of men who thought they were going to be torn apart by a mob.

He held up his left hand but kept his gun ready to be used again if necessary. “Everybody stay calm.”

He was going to interrogate them when the entire building shuddered and the ground trembled like they had been hit by an earthquake. Many of the lights went off and dust fell from the ceiling. His first instinct was to think about the entrance, but the shock, clearly an explosion had been too strong, massive even, and… it had clearly come from below. He felt his heart thud, painfully, and he felt sick, almost ready to throw up.

Everybody had understood the implications of that explosion and they were all looking at the elevator gate. Slowly, not wanting to know what he already knew had happened, he checked the subterranean cameras. All were off-line. The elevator’s camera was static. He tried to get Monica on the phone, but she didn’t answer. He stared at the useless screen, and the only thought that ran through his mind was how much he had put off asking her out a second time. Others attempted to get to their friends and coworkers below, but nobody answered.

Many of those present held to each other, cried, or whimpered. Jonah Wickerman didn’t, he stood still in deadly silence, his head craned down and staring right to his feet as if he could see, through the mile of earth, his entire life’s work burn.



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