CHAPTER 1: Staging Area

I wake up on a cold slab of a table. It's metal with blood on it. I think it's my blood; after all, I am on the table. There are three lights on in the room, one above me and one on each side of me. The light overhead is the brightest and the longest, hanging directly over the table. On the walls beside me are computer monitors with vital statistics.

My shirt is missing; it looks like I just had surgery from the bandages around my ribs. There is a freshly stitched up gash on my head. Each time I take a breath there is a sharp pain in my ribs.

I'm shirtless and a little fuzzy on what I am doing here. A voice calls out, "Brett! Are you up? Get me out of here man?"

When I look to my right, I see a man in a white lab coat inside of a tall cage made of chain link fence with a locked door. It looked like a kennel and looked cramped in there.

The man inside has blood on him and there is a bluish light above him. He's short and gangly with brown eyes and straight black hair. His hairline is receding and there is blood under his fingernails. On his finger is a wedding band. He rattles the cage something fierce, and says, "Get me out of here before they come back!"

After I prop myself up, that is when I notice just how cold the metal table really is. Either I haven't been lying there long or I've been dead. There is no heat on the metal table where I was.

On the other side of the room is another chain link cage and a body slumped over on the floor in a seated position. The doc starts rattling his cage, "Brett! Are you one of them yet?"

As I feel the stitches on my forehead, I ask him, "One of who?" Then I shake my head and ask, "Who are you?" With that said, I notice a shirt on a metal countertop next to me.

The doc replies, "Come on, don't play this game. You know who I am; I'm still the same guy you told to stay away from your sister two years ago when I met her."

I carefully put on the green shirt and tell him, "That doesn't make me feel good about why I should let you out." I must have had a reason for wanting him to stay away from my sister, especially with that wedding band on his finger.

When I hop off the table he reaches down into his beltline. He tells me, "You should let me out, because I have this."

The doc then whips out a pistol and I tell him, "Easy there fella, stop waving your manstick around. You're not gonna shoot me are you?"

He is insulted at the thought, "I'm a medical doctor, its my purpose in life to help people!"

I notice that there is a hole in the green shirt at my left ribcage along with a lot of red blood stained into the shirt. The shirt is light and the sleeves are short.

Once the shirt is on me, I point to the other cage and ask him, "How long have you and sleeping beauty over there been in the cages?"

The body remained slumped head down lurched forward with his ass flat on the ground. The doc tells me, "Days, but who knows how long its been. They've been starving us and it looks like Melissa didn't make it."

I could barely tell it was a woman. She has thick black hair and her face is pointed down. I ask the doc, "Who's they?"

"If I knew who they were, I wouldn't call them they. They're the ones that knocked me out and left me in here with this," says the doc as he waves his gun around.

As the doc looks down to Melissa slumped over, he, "I bet UAC management will really miss her. She was one of the lead software designers for the portal project."

I had to ask, "What portal project?" In my head it rang a bell and gave me a vision of red light engulfing me with swirls of orange luminescence consuming me. Was that a flashback or my imagination taking over?

With a sigh, he informed me, "It's why we're all here Brett. The UAC needed to test its portal project through space and the shortest distance through space is the lab here on Phobos to the base on Deimos." He then rambles and shakes his head, "Why they couldn't just send it from a space station to Earth I will never know."

The doc then asks me, "Are you gonna let me out of here?"

"Unless you know where the key is," I tell him, before I add, "You're not going anywhere."

He points with the gun and gets wily eyed at my hip. He says, "Look in your pocket."

Sure enough, when I reach in my pocket there is a bunch of keys. There were so many keys that one of them probably opened the padlock. Holding it in my hand, I tilt my head and ask him, "Now why would I have the key?"

He yelled out while pointing the gun at me, "They put it on you! Now give it here so I can get out!"

When I reach to give him the key, a voice comes over the PA. It's a woman's voice, she sternly says, "Do not give him the key Parks." Now I know that I have a last name at least.

The doc tries his best with his fingers to snatch the key through the chain link fence, but it's useless. I look up and see a tiny red light on a camera that is pointing at us. The camera lens focuses on me and I ask, "Yeah? Why shouldn't I?"

There was no answer, so I take a step toward the camera and it follows me. I ask it louder, "Who are you?"

Then the doc yells, "Come on Brett, give me the key! We've worked together here for four years! I married your sister Charlene a year ago on Earth. We got married in Corpus Christie, your home town so your parents wouldn't have to travel."

In my head, I wonder, do I even have a sister? Is he married to someone else and just lying? Am I even from Texas? Why is it the only thing that I can remember is that damned portal? Did I go through it and that's why I can't remember anything?

The doctor broke into my thoughts when he tells me, "I've got the gun and trust me pal, when we get out of this little room, we're gonna need it!"

I take a moment to sit down in the corner below the camera. Sitting in the dark gives me a moment of privacy to think. Even with the doc yelling and screaming for me to help him, I feel like it's the only private place. At some point, I take a look over to slumpy in the second cage. Then I ask the doc, "What happened to her?"

The doc answers, "Same thing that's gonna happen to me if you don't let me out. I'm gonna either starve or blow my brains out like she did!" He was right; there were chunks of brain on the wall behind her and a gun on the floor of her cage. Funny how when I see it, I am reminded that my favorite color is red.

When I stand again and take a step to the doc's cage with the key, the voice sounds again. She tells me, "Don't do it Parks, he's in there for our safety."

I turn back to the camera and ask, "Yeah? Am I in here for your safety too?"

Without warning, the camera shatters and I look behind me to see the doc with the gun in his hand and a smoking barrel. He informs me, "Now they can't see us."

I tell him, "But they can still hear us."

"Not without pressing the intercom button," he explains. He then adds, "You're in here probably because you can't be trusted either."

I ask, "Then why didn't they cage me up too?"

He tells me, "Because there are only two storage cages. Go try the door and see if you can exit out of here."

There were two doors in the room. One was smaller and it was a storage closet. The doc had a point, because when I tried the door it was locked. The panel to open the door was red, indicating that it was locked. He starts coughing up blood and I ask him, "Are you okay?"

He tries to tell me while coughing, "Its internal bleeding, they had to rough me up pretty good before they put me in here."

I ask him, "And they still gave you a gun?"

"I was unconscious when they threw me in here," said the doc before he waved the gun around, "This gun is to shoot myself, when I get lonely." Blood dripped down from his mouth and he tried to wipe it off, but it just smeared. He gets angry and rattles his cage with a shout, "Now let me out!" He coughs some more, before shifting his weight against the wall behind him.

He composes himself to stand with his own power and tries to calmly tell me, "They shot you and dumped you in here. I am the one that plugged the holes and put stitches in you. They then repaid me by sticking us in cages to starve. That is the kind of people we are dealing with."

Pacing the room back and forth I thought about it. Over and over again, until I asked him, "Where did you say we are?"

He answers, "Phobos Lab, but I've come to know it as the eye of the shit storm." He coughs up more blood and wipes it from his mouth before he adds, "Maybe even my grave."

"Where's the intercom," I ask him, and he points over to the other wall. Next to the other cage was a button, nice and close to the fence.

The doc tells me, "Over there. You'll be lucky if you can get an answer."

I take a step to the intercom and find the switch on the wall. There is a little speaker to talk into, I call out, "Hello? Is somebody out there?" There is only a haze of static when I depress the button. With the press of the button, "You were just talking. Who's out there?"

From behind me, the doc laughs while sigh, "Nothing."

With my finger on the button and my arm next to the second cage, a light in the cage flickers once. Maybe it was mores code, but there was only one blink. Another flicker with my wrist next to the metal of the cage and the body slumped inside.

I ask again, "Who's out there?" Then I depress the button and listen again in silence. My hand slams on the button and I yell into the speaker, "Why are we in here?" There was nothing but the sound of silence.

With my back to the button, the dead woman to my side, and the doc in front of me, I let out a deep breath. The doc looks up above him to the light fixture. His face turns a bright white. He then crouches down a little in his cage while he continues to look above him.

There is a sound that we can both hear above him. A scratching sound, so I approach him. He puts his finger over his mouth toward me to signal quiet. We both listen to the sound more and he whispers to me through the fencing, "You gotta get me outta here. I've heard that sound a lot. I think they're gonna come through the light."

In my mind, I thought about why they would lock him in a cage with a gun, only to come through the ceiling after him. Perhaps he locked the door to the room and locked himself in the cage.

I whisper, "Relax, it's probably a rat."

"There aren't any of the filthy creatures on Phobos," he whispers back as he points the gun at the ceiling.

Then we hear something slam into the light fixture above him. It is a startling, jarring sound that made us both flinch. He tells me again, "You've gotta let me outta here!"

Another jarring slam pops one of the screws out of the light fixture. The corner hangs down a mere inch, before a dark clawed hand slips its way through. The doc is spun into a panic and starts rattling his cage, screaming, "Don't let the rats get me Brett!"

I fumble with the keys and drop them to the floor as a slim arm slips through the open corner of the fixture. The arm was humanoid, but it didn't belong to any of God's creatures. The clawed hand swipes at the doc as he fires off a few shots into the creature's arm.

It bleeds just like the rest of us, but ignored whatever if any pain that it felt. The arm continued to extend further, but the doc was safe on his back on the floor with the gun pointed to the air. He started to kick the door of the cage wildly to get out.