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Hunt for jade dragon, p.1
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       Hunt for Jade Dragon, p.1

           Richard Paul Evans
 
Hunt for Jade Dragon


  To my Allyson, You are a joy and a blessing in my life.

  The ES Faraday

  Port of Callao Harbor, Peru

  “This is a cattle ship,” Hatch shouted, throwing his half-full glass of Scotch against the wall. “Do you hear me? I’m living on a stinking cattle ship!”

  “Yes, sir,” his servant said, scrambling to clean up the mess. Even though she was accustomed to Hatch’s volcanic temper, his outbursts still frightened her.

  After the Electroclan sank the Ampere—the Elgen’s luxury superyacht—Hatch and the remaining Elgen onboard had taken up residence on the Faraday, the Elgen troop ship and the largest boat of the Elgen fleet. “Vey and his terrorist friends will pay for this,” Hatch grumbled. He reached for his glass before remembering he’d just thrown it. “Hurry and clean up that mess,” he said to his servant, who was still on her knees collecting shards of glass in the palm of her hand. “Then get me another drink.”

  “Yes, sir,” she replied.

  Someone rapped lightly on the door.

  “Who is it?” Hatch said.

  “It’s Captain Welch, sir. I have a report.” Captain Welch was the head of the Elite Global Guard and one of the few Elgen allowed to speak directly to the admiral.

  “What are you waiting for, EGG?” Hatch said.

  Welch saluted as he entered the room, forcing himself not to look at the woman kneeling on the ground. “Excuse the interruption, Admiral. But we’ve captured the Chinese girl. Jade Dragon.”

  “Where is she?”

  “She’s in the custody of the Lung Li. They’ve smuggled her out of China. They’re now in Taipei on their way to the Starxource plant.”

  “Have they gotten her to talk?”

  “No, sir.”

  “Why not?”

  “There’s a problem.”

  Hatch’s eyes flashed. “I don’t want problems, EGG. I want results. Make her talk. Threaten her. Threaten her family. Threaten her dog if you have to.”

  “Sir, I’m afraid it will take more than threats.”

  “Then torture her!”

  “We don’t think she’ll understand torture.”

  Hatch pounded his fist on his desk. “What is there to understand about torture? Quit talking in circles, Welch.”

  “The girl is deaf and mute. And she’s autistic. It’s unlikely that she’ll make the correlation between the pain we inflict and the information we’re trying to get from her. Torture may have a deterring effect.”

  The servant set another glass of scotch in front of Hatch, which calmed him. He took a drink, then said, “This genius we’ve captured is a deaf, mute, autistic child?”

  “Yes, sir. She’s an autistic savant.”

  He nodded slowly. “A savant. How did we not know this?”

  “We knew little about her except the brilliance of her work, sir.”

  Hatch pondered the predicament, then said, “Get her to our scientists on the Volta. They’ll know what to do with her.”

  “Shall we fly her there?”

  “No, the Volta is already at sea. Have them change course to Taiwan. And find an expert on autism. I want someone who knows how to make the girl talk, so to speak.”

  “Shall we leave her in the custody of the Lung Li?”

  He shook his head. “Not just the Lung Li. I want my Eagles to personally guard her.”

  “Your Eagles?”

  “My Glows,” he said. “Quentin will be in charge.”

  “Where are the youths, sir?”

  “They’re in Beverly Hills. I want them in Taiwan by the day after tomorrow, except for Torstyn and Tara. I’m going to need their services in Switzerland.”

  “Yes, sir. Anything else, sir?”

  “While you’re waiting for the Volta to arrive, I want you to spread the word around the plant that we have the girl.”

  “That seems unwise, sir. Word may leak to the resistance.”

  “I’m counting on it,” Hatch said.

  “I don’t understand.”

  “If they know we have the girl, they’ll send that snake, Michael Vey, to rescue her.”

  Welch’s forehead furrowed. “You want Vey in Taiwan?”

  “More than you can imagine.” Hatch leaned forward over his glass. “You know how to kill a snake, don’t you? Decapitation. You cut off its head and the body dies. We’ve underestimated Vey. He’s been at the head of every Elgen conflict. Without Vey, there is no resistance.” Hatch drained the glass, then his voice fell to a low, guttural tone, almost as if he were talking to himself. “I’ve had enough of this boy and his Electroclan. It’s time we cut off some heads.”

  My best friend, Ostin Liss, told me that there is an ancient Chinese curse that says:

  MAY YOU LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES

  My name is Michael Vey, and I’m definitely living in interesting times. Just a year ago that wasn’t true. In fact, my life was about as exciting as one of Ostin’s clogging recitals. I was just an average, no-name freshman at Meridian High School in Meridian, Idaho—a small town where the only thing above average is the cow-to-human ratio. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of Meridian, Idaho. Neither has anyone else.

  I lived with my mother, who worked as a checker at the grocery store, in a tiny apartment with eggshell-white walls and green shag carpet. I walked to school every day; avoided bullies, the principal, most types of math, and organized sports; and played video games with my best (and only) friend, Ostin, six out of seven days of the week. And I watched Shark Week twice a year. That pretty much summed up my life.

  I suppose the only thing vaguely interesting about me was my Tourette’s syndrome, which isn’t really that interesting because I don’t do any of the fascinating things that some people with Tourette’s do, like shout out swear words in public or make animal noises. I mostly just blink or gulp a lot. I know, boring.

  Actually, what I just said about Tourette’s being the only interesting thing about me isn’t really true. There’s something about me that has always been very interesting—I’m just not allowed to tell anyone. I’m electric.

  Which is what’s led to my new and very interesting life. For those keeping score, in the last year I’ve done the following:

  • Made friends with a group of kids with electric powers like mine.

  • Been locked up in a cell and tortured.

  • Shut down a private school.

  • Scored a really hot girlfriend. (Still can’t believe that one.)

  • Flown to Peru and rescued my mother.

  • Been tied up and almost fed to rats.

  • Blown up a major power plant.

  • Made Peru’s list of most wanted criminals.

  • Been chased through the jungle by helicopters with flamethrowers.

  • Lived with the Amacarra tribe in the Amazon jungle.

  • Attacked the Peruvian army and rescued my friends before they could be executed for terrorism.

  • Blew up the Ampere, a billion-dollar superyacht, before the Elgen could take over and enslave the entire island nation of Tuvalu (which, like Meridian, Idaho, you’ve also never heard of).

  Now we’re preparing to fly to Taiwan to rescue a nine-year-old Chinese girl from the Taiwanese army and a group of Elgen superninjas called the Lung Li.

  I have a feeling things are about to get a whole lot more interesting.

  “Michael, wake up. You’re dreaming.” I opened my eyes to see my girlfriend, Taylor, leaning over me. “It’s okay, you’re just dreaming.”

  I rubbed my eyes, then slowly sat up. “Where are we?”

  “Still in the van.”

  I took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. The right side of my mouth was ticking like crazy. “I had ano
ther nightmare.”

  “I know. I saw it.”

  “You saw my nightmare?”

  Taylor nodded. “It was terrifying. This time I was in it.”

  Ever since we blew up the Ampere I’d been having recurring nightmares of the explosion and the boat sinking. I could see people trapped inside the boat, screaming as they tried to get out before they drowned. But lately they had been people I knew, like my mother or Ostin. This time it was Taylor.

  “It was awful,” I said.

  Taylor wrapped her arms around me. “I wish I knew how to take them away. I tried.”

  “Maybe that’s why you were in it,” I said.

  We had left Peru before sunrise and flown for about six hours, finally landing on a dirt runway in the middle of nowhere. As we got off the plane we were met by two men wearing suits and dark sunglasses who said little other than to tell us to board their van. Now we had been traveling on the same dirt road for more than an hour, an unending landscape of meadow grass, cacti, and cypress and Joshua trees occasionally broken up by barbwire fences. I squinted against the late-afternoon sun as I looked out the window. “Any idea where we are?”

  “No. Just more of the same,” Taylor said. “I feel like we’re in one of those cartoons where the same background keeps going by.”

  “Look, cows,” Abigail said, pointing ahead of us. “Hundreds of them.”

  Everyone looked out to see a large herd scattered across the landscape.

  “Actually they’re Brangus cattle,” Ostin said. “They’re a cross between the Indian Brahman and the Scottish Angus breeds originating from hybrid research conducted in Jeanerette, Louisiana, in 1932.”

  “What did he say they were?” Jack asked.

  “Cows,” Abigail said.

  “When are we going to get there?” McKenna asked.

  “Where is there?” Tessa said. “Why do they have to be so secretive about everything? It’s not like we’re Elgen.”

  “Please don’t say that,” the man in the front passenger seat of the van said. It was the first time he’d spoken since we’d started driving.

  “Say what . . . Elgen?” Tessa said, deliberately using the word.

  “You never know who is listening,” the man said.

  Tessa groaned. “If someone was listening to us they would have already died of boredom.”

  “It’s better we don’t know where we are,” I said, “in case we’re captured and they torture us for information.”

  “You’ve got a way with words, Vey,” Tessa said. “I feel so much better now.” She asked the driver, “Are we there yet?”

  “Yes, ma’am,” the driver said without turning back. “This is the Timepiece Ranch.”

  “We’re going to a ranch?” Taylor asked.

  “Yes, ma’am,” the driver said.

  “A ranch makes sense,” I said. “They’d have privacy. Room to do things. You could detonate a bomb out here and no one would know.”

  “Right,” Tessa said. “They can’t hear a bomb, but they can hear me whisper ‘Elgen’?”

  “She’s got a point,” Ostin said.

  “Maybe they’ll have horses we can ride,” Taylor said to me. “Do you like horses?”

  “I’ve never ridden one,” I said.

  She smiled. “It’s fun. I’ll teach you.”

  “Why are we going to a ranch?” Tessa asked. “Why aren’t we flying to China to rescue the girl?”

  “We’re not going to China,” Ostin said. “We’re going to Taiwan.”

  “Same thing,” Tessa said.

  “Yeah, right,” Ostin said, shaking his head. “That’s like saying Cuba and the United States are the same country. Taiwan is a multiparty democratic state. China is a communist state. The Chinese government claims Taiwan as its twenty-third province, while the Taiwanese constitutionally claim sovereignty over all of China.”

  “Thanks for the geography lesson,” Tessa said.

  “Did you know the entire country of Taiwan could fit in the land mass of Massachusetts, yet, at one time, had more than twenty-five different languages?”

  “How do you know so much?” McKenna asked.

  “I’m a fact sponge,” Ostin said.

  Tessa slid down in her seat. “Someone just kill me.”

  * * *

  Fifteen minutes later Tessa said to the driver, “I thought you said we were already there.”

  “We are,” the driver said. “It’s a fifty-thousand-acre ranch.”

  “Holy cow,” Ostin said.

  “He means holy Brangus,” Abigail said.

  Jack laughed. It was good to hear him laugh. Ever since Wade’s death he rarely laughed anymore.

  Five minutes later the van slowed to a halt at a steel-and-barbwire gate next to a wooden shed. There was a tall, muscular man standing in front of the gate. He wore a cowboy hat, boots, and a leather vest.

  “A cowboy,” Abigail said. “I love cowboys. They’re hot.” She turned to Jack. “You should get one of those hats. You’d look cute in it.”

  “I’m not going for cute,” Jack said.

  “Michael,” Ian said, leaning over the back of my seat. “See that guy? The guard.”

  “Yeah.”

  “He looks like a cowboy, but he’s all teched-up with a radio and remotes and he’s wearing a bulletproof vest. That wooden shed behind him is actually a steel-reinforced concrete bunker with a fifty-millimeter machine gun and an antitank gun. And there are landmines all along the road and fence line. I’m guessing they’re remote controlled. He’s got everyone fooled.”

  “Except you,” Taylor said.

  Ian smiled. “Except me.”

  “I’m glad you’re on our side,” I said.

  Our driver got out of the van. He spoke to the guard for a moment, and then he got back in and the gate opened. The dirt road we had been riding on changed to asphalt as we drove forward about another hundred yards past a large communications tower where the road split. We took the right fork and our path wound down into a long, narrow valley before ending at a large compound.

  There were three large buildings built around a central structure, which was several stories high. The roofs of the structures were covered with solar panels and wind turbines. There were similar turbines on the ridge of the opposite hill.

  Behind the main building were several aluminum-sided garages, a helipad with a helicopter, and three corrugated-steel grain silos, all of which were taller than the one I had practiced climbing on in Peru. There was also a long rectangular structure that looked like one of the commercial chicken coops near Meridian.

  “What’s in the chicken-coop-looking building?” I asked. “Weapons?”

  “Chickens,” Ian said.

  “It’s really a chicken coop?”

  “They’ve got to eat, right? And there’s really wheat in those silos.”

  “What’s in the garages?” Taylor asked. “Potatoes?”

  “No, those are weapons. There’s a tank in one, and an attack helicopter in the other.”

  “Looks like they’re preparing for war,” I said.

  “Looks like they’re prepared for war,” Ian said. “There’s a huge underground bunker behind the main house, and the buildings don’t look like anything I’ve seen before. The outer walls are all lined with some kind of metal mesh. It looks like chicken wire.”

  “Maybe they used to be chicken coops too,” Taylor said.

  “Faraday cages,” Ostin said.

  “What?” I said.

  “Faraday cages,” Ostin repeated. “They block external static and electric fields by evenly channeling electricity through the cage and diffusing—”

  “Explain in English,” Taylor said.

  “Sorry,” Ostin said. “The metal mesh protects the building’s wiring from electromagnetic pulses.”

  “Why would there be an electromagnetic pulse out here?” Taylor asked.

  “It’s what the Elgen are working on,” I said. “EMP weaponry. Once t
hey perfect it they’ll be able to shut down the power of entire cities.”

  “Not here,” Ostin said. “If there’s a major EMP blast, this place will still function. Of course, they must have their own fuel tanks and electric generators.”

  “The fuel tanks are underground next to the silos,” Ian said. “The third garage has two large generators.” He turned to Ostin. “How did you know that?”

  “It wouldn’t do any good to wrap the house in mesh to protect the home’s wiring if the source of their electricity is destroyed. Common sense.”

  “We should all be so common,” Ian mumbled.

  The man in the passenger seat lifted a handset and said, “Egret four descending.”

  “Egret four clear,” a voice returned.

  After another quarter mile, the slope leveled off and the van pulled up to the front of the central structure, a tall ranch-style building with a long, wood-planked porch. The driveway was lined with rusted, antique farm equipment and pale yellow and purple wildflowers. There were a couple dozen chickens pecking around the yard.

  “This is the real deal,” McKenna said. “Wish I had some cowboy boots.”

  “Pink ones,” Abigail said.

  After we had come to a stop our driver said, “Please, stay in your seats for just a moment.”

  The building’s front door opened and a tall, muscularly built, sandy-haired man walked out, flanked by two other men and a woman. Something about the tall man and the woman seemed familiar.

  “Who’s that dude?” Zeus asked.

  “Maybe he’s the voice,” Taylor answered.

  “Maybe,” I said.

  The man in the passenger seat got out and opened the van’s sliding door. “Everyone out, please.”

  “Let’s go,” I said.

  As soon as we were all out of the van the man slid the door shut again and the driver pulled away without him.

  The sandy-haired man looked us over. “Welcome to Timepiece Ranch. We’re happy to see you in one piece.”

  “You mean alive?” Zeus said.

  The man’s mouth rose in a half smile. “Yes. We’re especially glad to see you alive.”

  “Not all of us,” Jack said.

  The man’s smile fell. For a moment he just looked at Jack; then he started walking toward him. I noticed the muscles in Jack’s neck tense. “You must be Jack,” the man said.

 
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