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Officer Sheffield had been employed at the Museum for almost a year now. As one of the night watchmen, his duty was to patrol his designated area and protect it against any would-be thieves or vandals. In all his months of guarding the Museum, nothing of any note had happened.

The part of the Museum that Sheffield and his partner, Officer Bloom, were assigned was one of its basement storage rooms. As it was storage, which only guards and curators ever saw, no one had bothered to make it pretty like the public areas of the Museum. The walls were plain gray stone, as were the floors. One might think that this would be offset by the artifacts in storage – wondrous things from faraway lands and times beyond recall. However, this particular room was, in fact, very nearly empty. Between the things moved into the New Wing for display and the traveling exhibit that had been sent out two months previous, Storage Room 6-2-7-21 had been pretty well cleaned out. All that remained were a few unpacked crates and larger artifacts, and a strange, twinkly, star-shaped object. Although they had little to guard, Sheffield and Bloom nonetheless carried out their duty with the steadfast and unwavering loyalty of men who were being paid by the hour to stand about doing nothing in particular all night long.

…Which was what Sheffield was doing on this particular night. To be more precise, he was watching the star-thing. He had been specifically ordered to monitor it carefully. Why, he didn't know. He didn't even know what it was. When he had gotten his current assignment, he had asked the curator's assistant about it, but the man never really explained it to him. All Sheffield had gotten out of his response was that the thing was called a "starite." Sheffield had a sneaking suspicion that the curator's assistant didn't actually know what it was, and that probably the curator herself didn't know any better than he did. But it was pretty, and as far as Sheffield was concerned, that was all that mattered. After all, if the curator and her staff didn't need to know what it was, certainly the night watchman didn't either.

And it wasn't like he had to understand what it was to keep anybody from stealing it.

It was around one in the morning, and Sheffield had grown bored. He had done his rounds twice already, and for the past half hour had been idly watching this "starite" thing. The security officer looked down at his watch. Guess I oughta be doin' the rounds again about now, he thought. Without really looking up, Sheffield turned around –

- and walked straight into a vending machine. "Ow!" he hissed while rubbing his face where it had collided with the machine's hard metal side. "The hell'd that come from?" he growled. He gave it a proper look this time. It was a perfectly normal vending machine, full of snacks and sodas and the like. Sheffield cocked his head. Was this always here? he wondered. I don't remember ever seein' this before. And I'd've noticed a vending machine! He considered yelling up to Bloom (who was on the top floor of the room) to ask about it, but then thought better of it. A good guard notices everything, and for him to miss seeing something that size, new or old, meant that he wasn't a good guard. Bloom had seniority, and was therefore obligated to report any problems with the new guard. And while Bloom may have been Sheffield's partner, he wasn't really Sheffield's friend, not yet anyway. Sheffield couldn't assume that Bloom would cover for him. He would have to work this out himself.

Sheffield racked his memory. Well it certainly wasn't somethin' new when I got here this evening. I definitely woulda noticed that. …Which means… it's been here all this time, an' I never noticed. He scowled. What the hell kinda guard don't see a damn vending machine, 'spesh'ly when 'e's been standin' around hungry night after night. Must be somethin' wrong with me. Sheffield growled in frustration, but then he frowned and his brow creased with worry. Mebbe I need ta see a doctor…?

Sheffield shook his head violently, like a horse dislodging flies. "No, there is nuthin' wrong with me," he said to himself firmly (but under his breath so that Bloom wouldn't hear). That thing had not been there before. He didn't need to see any damn doctors, 'cause he had not missed something this glaringly obvious.

A conclusion rolled down the dim and dusty corridors of Sheffield's mind.

"So it appeared outta thin air." Sheffield looked at the machine emotionlessly for a long moment, then: "Well that can't be right."

Something fishy was going on, and Officer Sheffield was being paid better than minimum wage to figure it out. He straightened his shoulders and prepared to examine his adopted oddity, when suddenly a pair of handcuffs materialized in front of him. In midair.

Sheffield stumbled backwards a few steps, wide-eyed with fear. He was a man experienced with handcuffs of all types in all sorts of situations, and he knew absolutely for certain that they do not levitate.

He backed up several more steps. "What the hell is going on here?!" he cried, no longer caring if Bloom heard him. The vending machine was weird, but levitating handcuffs appearing out of literally nowhere scared him so much he very nearly peed himself.

When they started floating towards him, he did pee himself. He screamed in terror and turned and ran. Or tried to. Before he had gone but a few steps, the handcuffs had snapped themselves around one of his wrists. Out of his mind with terror, he screamed bloody murder as they then dragged him back towards the vending machine. They dragged him faster and faster towards it, and just when he was about to collide-

-darkness. Sheffield found himself in an enclosed space with the handcuffs, which now sedately attached him to the inside of this strange, dark prison. Too scared to move, his eyes darted round wildly, searching for some light, any light by which to see. Slowly, they adjusted to the darkness, and he saw some light coming in from around a rectangular slot in the bottom of the wall in front of him.

Tentatively, Sheffield reached forward with his unconstrained arm until he could feel the wall with his fingertips. He slid them down the cold, smooth surface until he felt the edge of the slot. Carefully, he pushed the flap he found forward. More light flooded in, and he was able to see a little better. Wire shelves were arrayed above and below him (one of which he was sitting on), and the dimly outlined shapes of bags and cans sat on top of them. Suddenly, Sheffield realized where he was: "I'm inside the goddamned vending machine!!" he screamed. He roared wordlessly in rage and frustration, slamming his weight back and forth and side to side. His snack-dispensing prison shook and rattled, but Sheffield remained trapped and very quickly stopped his violent movements for fear of toppling it over. He sat still and breathed heavily for several minutes, trying to compose himself.

By and by it occurred to Sheffield that no one would notice that he was missing for several hours yet, and it would be some time after that until he was freed. His rage cooled, the guard resigned himself to waiting. He heaved a great sigh and said, "Well, this sucks." He reached up to grab a bag of chips to munch on during the long wait ahead.


Author's Note: A quick thanks to my betas and friends kanboku91 and Chanah Emiliania who keep me from being repetitive and ungrammatical and who generally speaking give marvelous advice. ^.^

Also, an additional thanks to kanboku91 for being the friend whose tactics inspired the fic in the first place. ;D