Blackout (Blackout #1)


by Robison Wells

ONE

“READY?” ALEC ASKED, LOOKING IN the rearview mirror at Dan, whose eyes were closed in a kind of nervous meditation.

“I’m good,” Laura answered.

Alec ignored her. He wasn’t concerned about Laura. She had the easy job.

“Dan? Ready?” he asked again. “It’s time.”

Dan didn’t meet Alec’s eyes, but opened the car door and stepped into the visitor parking lot of the Glen Canyon Dam. Their beat-up Chevy Bronco was one of only three vehicles there—the other two were desert-camouflaged Humvees.

Alec smiled. Soon there would be at least fifty thousand dead. Probably more. Lake Powell, the enormous reservoir just upriver from the Grand Canyon, got three million visitors per year, and even though it was September now—not peak season—there had to still be at least fifty thousand people on the lake.

Add to that anyone in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. All of the water from Lake Powell would scour the Grand Canyon and then pour into Lake Mead, overtopping the Hoover Dam and taking it out, too, in a violent flood. Alec wished he had better numbers to estimate the deaths. He wished he’d be there to watch it all happen.

Oh well. It would be in the news soon enough. And it would take hours for the water to get to Lake Mead, so there would be reporters waiting. He could watch the Hoover Dam topple from safety, five hundred miles away.

Besides, deaths weren’t the numbers he was supposed to be most concerned about. Glen Canyon Dam produced 4.5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year, and Hoover generated another four. In one day he’d knock out enough power to light up Las Vegas for half a year.

He stepped to the back of the Bronco and clapped Dan on the shoulder. “For your mother and mine.”

Dan nodded without making eye contact.

“Yeah.”

They walked toward the visitor center in silence, Alec feeling a serene calm. This would be the biggest attack yet. Not just the biggest of theirs, but the biggest all across America. And rightly so—he was supposed to be setting the example.

A speedboat shot across the lake in the distance, leaving a trail of white foam in its wake.

“Their country is falling apart and they go on vacation,” Laura said, sounding amused.

“They have to relieve stress,” Alec answered sarcastically. “They probably think being in the wilderness is safe.”

If anything, the lake had more people on it than usual for this time of year, a fact he’d discovered yesterday when he’d tried to rent a small craft to scope out the dam. All he’d been able to get was an old houseboat, and he’d had to navigate through a bustling marina to where he could get a good view. From there, Alec made all his notes—security patrols, escape routes—and developed a quick plan. Laura had lain out in a bikini and taken in as much sun as she could before the cool September breezes forced her to pull her T-shirt back on. And Dan had just sat for hours, eyes transfixed on the mass of concrete.

They reached the visitor center. The glass doors were locked, but that had been expected.

Laura knocked, hard enough that Alec worried the doors might shatter. She was showing off. Idiot.

He took a breath and tried to clear his mind. It was time for his part of the plan. He’d rehearsed the conversation a hundred times in his head—trying to think of every possible variation, every surprise. He was ready.

A moment later a soldier appeared, dressed in the full combat fatigues of the National Guard, a rifle slung across his chest. Without opening the door, he gestured for them to go away.

Alec shook his head and held up a clipboard. “We have an appointment.”

The soldier watched them for a few seconds, and then waved them off again.

“We have an appointment,” Alec shouted again, through the glass. “We’re from the University of Utah.”

The guard sized them up. If he was worried, he didn’t show it; he just seemed annoyed. All three were shorter than him. Alec was the oldest at nineteen, and skinny. Laura looked more like a ditzy cheerleader than a terrorist. Only Dan had any muscle, but he was short—maybe five foot six.

Alec was already working on the man’s mind. Implanting memories was an imprecise science, but Alec was confident: the glass was thick, but not dense or leaded or bulletproof; the man was only about four feet away; Alec was fully prepared.

It would take a few moments.

The soldier opened the door about three inches. The handles inside were actually chained, and it was all Alec could do not to laugh. The whole front of the visitor center was glass, and they expected a chain to stop a break-in?

The guard spoke through the gap. “Can’t you read the sign? Dam’s closed until further notice.”

Laura spoke. “We have an appointment.”

“An appointment? For a bunch of kids?”

“Grad students,” Alec said. “U of U. We’re here to get the weekly samples.” He held up a length of cotton rope and a handful of plastic tubes.

“There’s no one here to have an appointment with,” the soldier said, flustered. Alec could see the false memories beginning to take hold. “We’re . . . the dam . . . it’s on lockdown.”

Alec held up the clipboard again. “I showed you our security clearance. We were here last week, remember?”

The soldier’s brow furrowed. “Well . . .”

“We know it’s a hassle,” Alec said, “but if I don’t get this data my thesis is gonna be shot.”

The guard readjusted his rifle on his shoulder, uncomfortable and confused.

Alec tapped the clipboard a final time. “It’s signed by your commanding officer,” he said, prodding the memory that was slowly infecting the soldier’s mind.

The soldier, looking completely flustered, nodded, and undid the padlock on the chain. “Just . . . just be quick, okay?” He turned his back to the group and led them into the visitor center, illuminated only by the large windows. The place had probably been closed to tourists since the United States went on high alert, three weeks before, and the building had a feeling of abandonment to it, as if the workers had left in the middle of what they were doing. A half-eaten sandwich sat on the information desk, the lettuce now brown and limp, the bread shriveled and stale. A scattering of papers lay on the floor in front of the cash register.

The guard led them to an elevator. He was walking more quickly now, with gained confidence as the memories solidified and began to fit more naturally into his mind.

He opened the door for them, smiling cheerfully at Laura and nodding to Alec and Dan. In a moment they were several stories down and walking out onto the top of the dam. A breeze blew Laura’s hair across her face as she turned and said, “Five minutes. Promise.”

Alec stayed beside the soldier, gently feeding a second set of memories into the man.

“Aren’t you going with them?”

Alec shook his head. “I don’t like heights.”

Fifty yards away, Laura leaned over the edge of the dam and looked down at the lake thirty feet below. On tiptoe, she began to unwind the rope and lower it. There wasn’t any point to this, other than to make it look like they were doing something somewhat scientific. She was the distraction and the getaway plan. Dan would do the real work.

The soldier’s radio crackled to life. The voice on the other end sounded alarmed.