Sergeant Kent hated patrolling the base at night. He couldn't really call it a base actually. More like a box discarded in the middle of a New Mexican desert. Nothing around for miles. He didn't mind being assigned here, though. His wife Sue Ann liked the small nearby town they were staying. Good for raising kids, picket fences and barbecues on the backyards, he supposed. Besides, he liked the fact he'd no longer had to dodge bullets among sand dunes and fighting with the throttle of his copter surrounded by enemy fire. No, he didn't mind being relocated to this small auxiliary base. Life was simple. A subsidiary station between NORAD and Peterson, doesn't even register on the map, Kent was content doing his routine drives around the parameters, check off his list on the dusty clipboard and call it a day.
That is, until a few weeks ago.
It was during the midnight shift, the dead man slot as they called it, when Kent got the call. About twenty prisoners were being transported from Colorado Springs to here. Colorado Springs? Only thing Kent knew was out there was that mountain base NORAD. Where the hell did twenty prisoners come from? Sure as hell not from NORAD. Got everyone talking, everyone uneasy, and suddenly Kent was patting his hip holster to make sure his gun was still there.
They came in droves. Caravans of trucks, cloaked in heavy tarp, thundering down the dusty highway at around three in the morning. Kent'd never seen anything like it. He tipped his helmet back and watched in amazement as a four-star general lumbered out of the first truck and showed his papers, officially authorizing him to take over the base for the next month or so.
Men and woman, garbed in blue prisoner jumpsuits, and linked together by the ankle chains, went by them. A silent procession of scowls and anger led by soldiers just as silent, into Kent's nice boring base. There they stayed, locked up in the sub-levels below. And the days that followed were filled with even more generals, men in fancy business suits, weird midnight visits, and more personnel coming into the base than Kent had ever seen.
And Kent got stuck with night shifts for three straight weeks.
Walking down the hallways, Kent was wistfully missing the long drives in his jeep around the perimeter, sand and the red plateaus his only companions. But all the cars were used to shuffle the big wigs back and forth and patrol had been tightened to involve only the base. Even the rickety black Toyota sedan was gone from its quiet corner on the far side of the lot tonight. Figures.
Kent nodded to the guard at the corridor as he entered the underground level. A quick jaunty wave to the new cameras above his head—look Sue Ann, he's on TV, and he turned the corner to the outer gate, the cameras humming as they tracked him to the corner and stopped. The sergeant slowed as he reached the cellblock where they were holed up. He swiped his ID card through on the first gate and the door swung easily. Too easily. He frowned as he pushed the gate and watch it bounce off his fingertips. Kent glanced up at the second camera between the first gate and the next. It whirred serenely, not perturbed by his findings. Kent crossed over to the next gate and gave it a hard yank at the handle. Still locked.
"Useless piece of shit," Kent muttered as he twisted around and ran his thumb on the locking mechanism of the first one. Felt alright. Hm. Better tell Pender about it as soon as rounds on this level were done. New locks were out of sync again. Everything was all screwy since the new guys came in and beefed up security for their guests.
The sergeant made sure the gates shut behind him, giving the handle an experimental tug before he slipped his access card back in his front pocket. Turning around, he spied the familiar buzz cut head of Ford up ahead, the burly guard in his desert fatigues walking slowly around the corner to the next hallway of cells. Kent frowned. Weird. Didn't Ford already go home? He could have sworn he saw Ford whistling goodbye to him as he hotfoot it to the gates for a ride. Damn. Must have pulled the poor guy for another shift. The four stars have been doing that a lot lately.
Glad at the prospect of some company for the boring duty though, Kent gave the soldier a wave, but Ford didn't reply. Probably too far away to see him. The sergeant shrugged and resigned himself to checking the cells on his hall alone before he turned in.
Lieutenant Lewis had once told Kent he'd delivered the meals to the eastern corridor of cells. In the last compartment, the one all the way in the back, he had caught a glimpse of a man doing pushups on his bunk through the barred window. Sleeves rolled up, graying blonde hair cut close to his skull, someone had spied the tattoo of the Marines on his bicep. Shit. One of theirs? No way, Kent had told him. Lewis had to skip visiting those bars after duty, he'd advised him. The flyboy from North Carolina, Wilkins, told him confidentially that none of them ever spoke when they deliver their meals or to the new guards always coming in to stand vigil at the corridors.
It was like they were waiting.
Kent brushed aside that thought. Waiting? Sure, for their day on trial. He swirled his baton close to his hip. The sergeant turned the corner into the next hallway, nodding as he mentally checked off the doors. Door three, big guy with the crew cut. Never ate the carrots from the meals he gets. Pretty African American female in door seven. Hated when people didn't knock first. Door nine and eleven were coming up. Those two were weird. Short guy in nine, a very angry looking woman in eleven. Always either doing chin-ups by holding on to the cracks above the door or tapping the walls, the bedboards, the floor. They always stopped when he got there, not that Kent minded the noise. And every time they got pulled for interrogation, all the other prisoners would silently stare out their tiny windows at them as they walked by.
Strange lot, Kent mused. Never gave him any trouble though. He shrugged as he turned left to check on the next set of cell doors and—
Nine and eleven were opened a crack.
"Ah crap!" Kent swore under his breath, reaching for his gun as he gingerly gave the doors a push before he stuck his head in the rooms. One look at the body bent at an odd angle under nine's bed was all he needed to sum up what had happened. Damn, where was that new alarm they set up here? He ran towards the end of the corridor, aiming for the metal box at its wall, checking for Ford as well. Why didn't the guy say anything? Surely Ford saw the doors as he went by. Kent's head swiveled sharply left and right to find his comrade. That's when he heard sounds of something heavy dropping to the floor along the next corridor.
Muffled bursts of sound could be heard around the corner. When Kent peered down the next hall, he tensed when he saw Ford standing in front of one cell, its door swung open. Kent was about to call out to the guy when he saw to his astonishment, Ford calmly raised a strange looking gun and pointed it into one of the cells firing at the prisoner within. An angry protest abruptly got cut off. There were two other men dressed in black jumpsuits, their zippers pulled down to reveal some sort of disk glimmering under their collar. They didn't seem to care that Kent was there. Calmly, these men he never saw before, mimicked Ford, flashes of fire exploding out of their guns as well towards two other opening cells. Kent yanked out his gun, barking out "Drop it!" at the three men. He could hear outraged shouting from the other rooms. The prisoners swearing at the three men, a few had their fists wrapped around the door handles on their side, red angry faces pressed to the tiny windows. Doors rattled under their rage, but the three men chose to ignore them. "Hold it right there!" Kent hollered again. "Ford! Drop your gun! I mean it, man!"
More sounds of something heavy dropping as the men in black ignored him and proceeded down the line. Shit. Kent suspected he knew what the sounds were. His hands shook. Who were these people? How the hell did they get past the guards at the surface? What the hell was Ford doing? "Drop your—"
Kent threw himself on the ground before his mind caught up with the image of the men spinning around with their weapons aimed towards him now. The odd whine of something had him scurrying for the adjacent hallway. What looked like lightning bolts struck the spot where his head was and a black scorched spot replaced the rough texture of the concrete wall and the newly installed camera above him.
Shit, shit, shit! What the hell was going on?
"Hey, I need someone down here!" Kent hollered, a flash of déjà vu came over him, a battlefield from years before, and his anger rose. Damn it, he wasn't about to die in some box out in the desert! He stuck his gun into the corridor and fired once more before he saw a small canister tumbled head over heels across his view and into the corridor opposite the cells. Smoke spewed out without warning, filling the hallways with its fog. Kent coughed, shouting as he heard footsteps behind him. Help. Help was finally arriving. He waved at his comrades to hurry, whipping around as he heard footsteps running away. The men garbed in black were nothing more than shadows now. Kent heard more cell doors opening after several high pitched whines. More shouting from the prisoners some abruptly cut off.
"I said drop your weapons, asshole!" Kent hollered, firing his gun at any shadow he could make out in the haze. Then he saw a flash of blue. Shit! Kent dove for the floor again, hands over his head as the wall above him exploded, raining concrete and paint chips over him. He raised his head, his eyes watering, firing his gun at their general direction before they used whatever the hell they had again. He heard a grunt and finally dared to look around the corner again. Kent saw Ford, stagger a step back. He could barely see the man in the smoke. "Ford, what the hell do you think you're doing?"
Another shot went over his head so fast, Kent only heard sparks. Sparks? He could hear the camera give one last wail and die above his head.
"Two were missing!" another voice out of the mist hollered.
"We'll track them later!"
Kent's gaze darted back to the two cells he'd discovered seconds before. He snapped back towards the corridor.
"Back away!" Kent shouted, his hands struggling to keep the gun still. His eyes blurred. Freaking smoke. "I said back off!" Gritting his teeth, Kent fired off two shots and heard a body fall.
"He's dead," someone called out from inside the haze already dissipating. "Leave him." Kent peered around the corner and saw the two men zipping up their black suits, hands over the disks he saw before, crouched over their fallen comrade. Shit, it was Ford. He got Ford. Kent could see the blonde buzzcut on a slack head and the blood surrounding it like a red halo. Kent swallowed his regret and aimed his gun at the men as one of them reached down and something weird happened.
Ford…rippled. Shit, he rippled, like he was underwater or something. Kent nearly dropped his gun as he watched Ford turned into a larger man, someone he'd never saw before. What the! What the hell? No way. No way! Kent blinked. Wasn't possible. He must have been mistaken before. No wait, he could have sworn he saw—He steadied his weapon.
"We're clear!" one of the men shouted, waving something in his fist before another shot from Kent had him spinning back to avoid the gunfire. Something dropped from their grasps and a rough voice swore. Before the black outfitted man could pick it up, they must have heard the pounding footsteps because the three remaining men got up, fired off shots that had Kent scrambling back deeper into the hallway for cover. When he dared to look up again, they were gone.
Swallowing hard, he crept closer to the open cell doors, waving away the smoke with one hand, and approached the body on the ground. He could have sworn-
Kent whipped out his gun again, chest heaving.
"What happened?" Footsteps rushed past him, reinforcements already checking the cells. Kent couldn't even tell who asked him for a report, too many soldiers scrambling into the hallways to pinpoint a single voice.
The alarm now wailed a few moments too late. Everything exploded into chaos.
Kent wiped a shaky hand across his forehead. He looked under his boot and frowned at the shattered remains of what looked like a small disc. Before he could pick it up, however, one of the newly arrived soldiers reared back from one of the many open cell doors. "Oh Christ-" One guy stumbled away, crashing into Kent. As the sergeant straightened, he saw the remaining prisoners peering out of the cell windows, all looking right at him accusingly.
What the hell was going on?