Having whetted your appetites over the last few weeks, I will now begin to put you out of your misery by a more regular posting of the installments. In part six, here you will find the summary so far and the link to the earlier installments.
Patrick Novel came to, stretched out on the back seat of a strange car. His daughter, Agnes stared at him from between the front seats. She looked serious but before he could say anything the bumping journey stopped. A woman he had not seen before peered between the seats. Her expression appeared to mimic Agnes. It felt, to Patrick, like they were studying him, as one might study a painting or a museum exhibit.
‘Where am I?’
The young girl and woman looked at each other. They said nothing but each, moving as if syncronised, opened their doors and stepped out. Patrick tried to sit up which was when he realised he was strapped down. ‘What the hell? Hey, you. Let me go. Agnes. Come here.’ He strained to try and see where they were, where his daughter was, all the while trying to process what had happened, and where his wife Wanda had gone. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he saw a tree but he couldn’t begin to understand what it meant.
He realised quickly his struggles were futile and he began to shake. What was going on? He was being abducted and his daughter seemed to have been drugged.
With his mind in turmoil, it took a moment to appreciate a face had appeared, looking at him through the car window. Then a second. ‘Hey. HEY. Let me out. Now!’
The base was on full scale alert. In less than thirty minutes all satellite and mobile communications had ceased. Landlines continued to function and from these it appeared clear that other nations, across the spectrum were experiencing similar problems.
Pensivity Mount, Prentis’ wife and fellow comms operative drove through the security. She also wasn’t allowed in when her pass failed to register. ‘What’s up sergeant?’ She asked the man on the gate.
‘No idea Miss. Seems there’s a flap.’
She shrugged. Great, just what you need on a Saturday when the parents were due for dinner. ‘Seems to be contagious.’
‘I popped into the village. Everyone was out and about. More than you’d expect for the summer sale.’
‘Must be the nice weather.’
Pensivity sucked her bottom lip. It was more than that as she recalled the way they all stared. Sure one or two usually gave her a look, given she was an outsider, but this. This was creepy and, given what she knew, very worrying.
She soon found she was sucked into the analysis of what had happened since she set off for work, forgetting the villagers until a break with Prentis and their boss, Gregor. They were exhausted, mostly because they knew there was absolutely nothing they could do. Into the stunned silence she mentioned what she had seen. Prentis looked annoyed which annoyed Pensivity in turn; she was rather fed up with his patronizing which had gotten worse recently. Gregor looked up sharply. ‘Tell me. Exactly.’
She knew Gregor was right to worry so she explained in detail. Prentis listened, too, this time; if Gregor was interested then so was he.
When Gregor finished grilling her, squeezing out the details he spun to the console next to him. While he called up something he spoke rapidly. ‘We intercepted this, a week ago, from Chinese State security – triple lock secure,’ Pensivity and Prentis exchanged a quick look: the highest level, ‘not that it made sense to them or us.’
In shot they saw a small market, clearly in rural China. As the film ran the people suddenly stopped and turned, as if listening. After a few moments they began to move again but each one moved slowly, head down. A lorry appeared and abruptly all the crowd stood and stared.
‘That’s it; that’s exactly it.’ Pensivity blinked and lent close; the quality of the image was poor. ‘Look, there, that one is limping and that one is missing some part of their arm.’ She glanced at Gregor. ‘Do you think this is it?’
Gregor nodded. ‘This is a village about 400 miles west of Guandong. It seems the whole population has suffered from one disability or another. No real explanation beyond the possibility of some radioactive release nearby – there have been indications of nuclear testing there in the past – or some sort of locally recurring pollution.’
He nodded. ‘Just like Normanton.’