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,
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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."
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
"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
"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
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
"This is nothing!" the pilot shouted, over the whirr of the blades.
"This is almost winter! Can't be more than a hundred and
"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
"I have to take a piss," said Growly, releasing his seat
"Dave . . ." said the man with the briefcase, in a warning
"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,
"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.
Looking back, I saw Growly zip up his trousers and climb back into
the helicopter. The pilot pulled the door shut and lifted off,
waving to me as he rose into the air. I waved back, then ducked
away from the swirl of spitting sand. The helicopter circled once
and headed west. The sound faded.
The desert was silent except for the hum of the electrical power
lines a few hundred yards away. The wind ruffled my shirt, flapped
my trouser legs. I turned in a slow circle, wondering what to do
now. And thinking about the words of the PR guy: They said, we
don't get out of the helicopter, remember?
"Hey! Hey, you!"
I looked back. A door had cracked open in the white power block. A
man's head stuck out. He shouted, "Are you Jack Forman?"
"Yes," I said.
"Well, what the hell you waiting for, an engraved invitation? Get
inside, for Chrissake."
And he slammed the door shut again.
That was my welcome to the Xymos Fabrication Facility. Lugging my
bags, I trudged down the dirt path toward the door.
Things never turn out the way you expect.
Excerpted from PREY © Copyright 2002 by Michael Crichton.
Reprinted with permission by Avon Books, an imprint of
HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.