Chapter 2: DESTRUCTION
"Dad!" Adam woke up from the nightmare, shouting for his father. Then he remembered how things were and let his head fall back against the pillow. No sense in wasting his breath.
"Day nine on my own," he muttered.
Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he padded through the darkened apartment to Dad's room, unable to resist checking. Maybe he came back in the night, Adam thought. Maybe this time
The door stood wide open. The bed was empty and unmade. A brown leather briefcase lay where he'd kicked it the night before.
Nothing had changed. Dad still wasn't back.
Adam went back to his bedroom to work out his next move. It would probably involve playing his Xbox. He hadn't done much else since Dad had disappeared. He checked the clock. It was five a.m. He must have dozed off around one-thirty, still in his jeans and T-shirt. The High Scores league table filled the wide screen, his name alone listed again and again.
Adam knew his mates back home in Scotland would be jealous of the life he'd been livinghis own place, own space, a cookie jar full of cash, an endless supply of delivery food, no nags or hassles or Time for beds...But right now, he was sick of freedom.
You've got some serious sucking up to me to do when you get back, Dad.
Yawning, Adam crossed to the window. The stars were fading as the first peeps of sun warmed up New Mexico, slowly lifting the mountains' shadows. Then he caught a sudden movement some way off, like a ripple on the airas if something had just flitted across the sky at impossible speed. He stared hard into the brightening orange of daybreak, but didn't see the movement again.
"Great," Adam murmured. "Now I'm losing it."
He'd started talking to himself a lot since Dad had gone. He'd spent the days gaming, cycling around the lonely industrial park and bugging his friends back in Edinburgh on Instant Messenger. At least they hadn't totally forgotten him. And he'd gone to bed each night listening out for his father, hoping to catch the turn of the key and the front door squeaking open. But the night remained stubbornly silent, loaded with uneasy dreams.
Yesterday, for want of something better to do, he'd tried hanging out around Dad's workplace here in the industrial park. But the team who'd used to joke around with him as their resident "test case" weren't so friendly now. It turned out that their unit had been broken into a couple of days ago, with tons of gear nicked. And just the next day, Adam's dad had told them he wouldn't be coming back to work in the near future.
"Inventors don't care about anyone," railed one of Dad's old team. "They live in a world of their own."
At least he bothered to tell you, Adam had thought, instead of leaving you to work it out for yourselves. He could be dead for all I know.
Adam flung himself back onto his bed and switched the TV over to News 24 for some company. The Scottish anchorman was on in the mornings, which made Adam feel a little less homesick. Clearly not much had been happening in the world, as all the talk was of a film star couple breaking up and some rubbish about a giant monster spotted in a state park in southern Utah. Nothing exactly serious.
But what if something serious had happened to his dad?
Mr. Adlar had started off calling and mailing as he usually did when he was working away. Then, three days in, a single text message marked the end of all that: Can't get away. Friends of mine will look in on you soon. Love, Dad.
Adam had been disappointed but not too worried; this wasn't the first time Dad had become too caught up in his work to talk, feeling himself close to a big breakthrough. It was a pain, but if it led to a contract with these Ponil people back in Edinburgh...
He'd nursed the hopeful thought through days four and five, though Dad's occasional texts had given little encouragement.
And then Dad's promised friend had turned up some guy with the stiff, solid bearing of a soldier or security man and the name Frankie Bateman. He was a large, powerfully built guy, formidable looking despite the beer gut hanging over his waistband. "I'm from Fort Ponil. Your dad asked me to look in on you." Bateman's thick mustache bristled above the confident smile, and his all-American voice was as deep as the dimple on his chin. "You know, see how you're doing."
"When's Dad coming home?" Adam had asked.
"Real soon." Bateman kept smiling.
"Can't I come and visit?"
"We're actually getting you security clearance right now. Shouldn't take much longer."
"Security clearance?" Adam frowned. "Sounds like the military."
"Nothing like that, really." Bateman pushed his way inside. "Meantime, your dad asked me to pick up some stuff for him...."
The big man spent ages in Mr. Adlar's room, but came out with nothing but a few clothes and a sour look. Then he brought in a stack of groceries from the car, and even unpacked it while Adam watched TV. "Don't eat it all at once, y'hear?" Bateman held up Adam's Nokia. "Oh, and nice cell phone by the way... I've got my eye on one like this."
"Yeah, it's all right," said Adam, though in truth it was nothing special. Bateman had put down the phone and left, promising to check in again in a couple of days.
That had been three days ago. "Chances are, big Frankie's coming today," Adam announced out loud. "And if he does, I'll make him take me to Fort Ponil, security clearance or not. He can drop me in the street if he wants, but I'm going...."
His words sounded stupidly small in the big apartment.
Suddenly, a tremor rattled the pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Weird, Adam thought. Even the biggest trucks turning into the industrial park didn't normally shake the place like that.
He crossed to the cupboard to get out a bowl for cereal, and noticed his mobile phone on the counter.
One new message, it said, and the words jolted through Adam like fifty thousand volts. He grabbed the phone, saw his dad's number, saw the text had been sent almost an hour ago. A mixture of relief and anger washed through him. "Nothing at all for ages, then you can't even be bothered to call and"
Just as he was about to access the message, the TV switched off. Adam frowned. His digital clock had blinked off too. Maybe the tremor had taken out the local power supply. "Freakin' fabulous," Adam muttered. "That's really going to make things dull around here...."
Then, as if laughing in his face, the tremor came again, much harder this time. It nearly knocked Adam off his feet. Was it an earthquake? Still holding the phone, he crossed quickly to the big picture window to check the street outside for damage. The apartment was two stories up, so if the building was about to collapse...
But as he approached the tinted glass, Adam heard a harsh squeal of brakes. A large, dark car had lurched to a stop outside the entrance to the complex, the same Cadillac that had taken his dad what seemed like a lifetime ago. Five men in suits scrambled out of the car like their butts were on fire.
One of them was Frankie Bateman. He wasn't smiling now.
Bit early, isn't it? thought Adam, his heart quickening as he watched Bateman gesture to the other men as though snapping out orders. And why bring so many friends? Uneasy now, he looked back at his phone, called up Dad's message
Suddenly the whole building lurched and he was thrown so hard against the window he cracked the pane. He dropped the phone. In a daze, he saw the men outside were pulling guns from their jackets and staring around wildly. They started firing into the air.
Adam caught a glimpse of something dark and hazy, a fleeting shadow on reality. Then, impossibly, with a crushing boom of metal, the big black car collapsed in on itself, as if something huge and invisible had slammed on the roof with colossal force. The men in suits fired into the air, looking terrified. Another snatch of shadow movement and the crushed car went flying, rolling over and over in a suicide spin. It smashed into the entrance to the industrial park, buckling the metal gates, the crash of the impact drowning out the gunfire.
Adam stared down at the sudden carnage, fixed to the spot with fright, trying to make sense of what was happening. What do those men think they're they shooting at?
That same moment, the window shattered over him and the wall spat plaster at his face. Shards of glass fell from Adam's body and crunched under his sneakers as he snatched up the phone and bolted, terrified, to the other side of the apartment. Whether they mean to or not, he thought, they're shooting at me! He made to dial 911but hitting the floorboards must've jogged the phone's battery. It had switched itself off. "Come on," he muttered, stabbing at the on button. With the window gone, everything was suddenly so much louder, like the world had turned up its volume control.
Even so, nothing prepared Adam for the roar. It was like an express train thundering past. A wild, unearthly howl that sent vibrations hurtling through his bones. Total panic took hold. Get out. You've got to get away. But the madness down below was all happening outside the front doors; he'd never get out that way...
Then Adam remembered the fire escape at the back of the building, an iron zigzag of steps and railings leading down to the ground. He stuffed the phone into his pocket, ran into his dad's bedroom. It felt like his heart was crawling up his throat. Where was the key to the balcony doors? He fell upon the bedside table, yanked open the drawer and emptied it on the bed just as the balcony exploded inward with a boom that nearly burst his eardrums. He threw himself down behind the bed as brick-shrapnel, glass and wood splinters slashed through the room. Moaning with fear, he yanked the blanket over his head like a shield to deflect the worst of the debris. This whole place is being demolished, he realized. And me with it, if I don't get out. NOW.
The deadly rain subsided and Adam got back to his feet, shaking and staring. The whole rear wall had been wrenched away, the debris scattered across the street. The fire escape was a twisted relic left dangling like a broken paper chain. What earthquake had the power to do this?
Then, as the pale morning sun stared in at Adam like a startled eye, a chill jumped through him. That same smoky haze he'd spied before was rippling dead ahead, as if the air itself were flexing its muscles. Scraping, scrabbling sounds soon followed, the sound of something hard and heavy-duty gouging out the brickwork downstairs. The gunfire had stopped. Had the men run away or were they
Suddenly, with a splintering crash, the bedroom floor started to give way beneath Adam's feet as more of the story below was bashed away. Dad's large pine dresser scraped across the sloping floorboards and went into free fall, thundering onto the asphalt twenty-two yards below. Adam ran for the door but too late. The floor tilted sharply and he lost his balance, tumbling headlong with the furniture toward the gaping hole in the wall and the sheer drop beyond.