OCTOBER 6TH, 1545 HOURS (1445 HOURS MOUNTAIN TIME)
Captain Indalo couldn’t help but notice the change on Colonel Steven’s face; he looked haggard. And was it really possible for more of his hair to have fallen off in just the past day? His bald spot definitely appeared larger. “Sir. You really believe having Lang close his eyes again in the dark will give us something?”
“Yes, quite possibly. Maybe the hull and its EBEs communicate with darkness and light, besides the manipulation of our environment. Either way, I’m hoping we can discuss some comforting topics with both of them, at first, so they’re more relaxed, their minds occupied. The website for Evan. Lang likes his job. And similar topics.”
“Yes, sir. Those sound good. And I can do this.” Yet doubts hastily seeped into Captain Indalo’s mind, but he didn’t have any better ideas right now. However, at least the other things were complete. A copy of the video of Evan splashing the water hadn’t been deleted by the hull. And they confirmed the hull doesn’t inflict physical pain, except for the Turrone’s eyes. But mental and emotional pain was running high. And the hull’s orange glow: 620 nanometers wavelength, close to the eye’s peak sensitivity of 555 nanometers. How clever. Tauring should be pleased. Now, if only father and son could finally be released from their disturbing trap, unharmed, and quickly. “I’ll do my very best, sir.”
“Thank you, Captain. I trust that you will.”
Once passing by the two DFRs and entering the examining room, Captain Indalo immediately saw Major Ko by the computer, attempting already what Colonel Stevens suggested, about keeping the Turrone’s morale up; he and Lang were guiding Evan with the online NASA and schooling web pages.
Colonel Stevens struck up some further comforting conversations, and then he explained what was to be done. Lang agreed to the necessary conditions, and so Colonel Stevens had Lang to lie on the couch. The lights remained on.
Captain Indalo knelt at the couch’s side, near Lang’s chest, while making certain the camcorder’s screen view captured a sufficient portion of the sofa.
“What-kind-of-examining-room,” Lang spoke in his fast speech rate, “has-a-sofa-in-it?”
“A shrink’s room, of course.” Captain Indalo laughed a moment at his own joke. Lang smiled. “No, it’s not a shrink’s room. As you know, the side of the room behind this sofa-couch is the main examining part. The couch is here for the after exam part, for discussions.”
“Captain,” Colonel Stevens said. “Are we set?”
“Yes, sir.” Captain Indalo gave Lang a questioning stare. “Are you ready to do this?”
It was rather obvious; Lang and Evan were becoming quite bored with listening to anyone in the real dimension. Lang stared politely, but his eyes and facial expressions conveyed a man waiting too long for a punch line, or for the conclusion to a story.
Colonel Stevens turned off the lights.
Lang glowed orange, as before, and stared, worried, into Captain Indalo’s eyes. And as planned, Colonel Stevens began talking with Evan again, centering the conversation on the NASA website. Evan glowed orange too, while he stood next to Colonel Stevens and Major Ko, near the doorway. Lang glanced at them now and then, his eyes concerned, his concentration seeming fixed on hearing what they may be telling Evan.
“Lang, I want you to close your eyes,” Captain Indalo said, reminding himself to speak faster. “But don’t worry. I’ll keep talking to you and staying right by you.”
He closed his eyes. After some seconds, Lang suddenly disappeared. Evan stopped answering Colonel Stevens’ questions and directed his attention on Lang instead, though Colonel Stevens and Major Ko kept attempting to draw Evan back to their conversation.
“Are you okay, Lang?”
“Well, nice.” Captain Indalo laughed a little, trying to keep things upbeat. He pressed on the camcorder’s light button and then targeted its beam all around the couch where Lang should by lying. His line-of-sight flickered back and forth between the small LCD screen and the couch, but as usual, Lang did not show up on the screen, and he was definitely not visible on the couch.
Evan could not be contained by the NASA conversation nor by the door; after about a minute, he rushed over and stood by his father, with Colonel Stevens and Major Ko following right after him.
Captain Indalo looked up, at Colonel Stevens. “Sir, Lang’s not on the camcorder. And as you can see, he’s not visible again.”
“Yes, we can see that. Try night vision, Captain.”
“Yes, sir.” Knees crackling and hurting a bit, Captain Indalo stood up. He pressed the night vision’s button on the camcorder and watched the screen. Colonel Stevens and Major Ko drew closer from behind him. With a slow, looping motion, Captain Indalo again directed the camcorder anywhere Lang should be. But again, nothing significant was happening.
He turned to Colonel Stevens. “Sir, should I stop?”
“Hold on.” Colonel Stevens sighed quietly. He didn’t speak for a few seconds, his mind obviously calculating something. “Lang. Are you still doing all right?”
“Yes,” Colonel Stevens said. “We can.”
“That appears quite definite. We’ll try to hurry this along. Captain. Try regular lighting again. And just stand here. You don’t need to kneel.”
“Yes, sir.” Captain Indalo switched the camcorder’s lights. He pointed the camcorder light beam at Lang’s position, while searching on the LCD screen. Nothing showed up. He looked away from the screen a moment, focusing on the couch, and noticed something about the light beam; its circle was diminishing in size. “Damn battery.” He turned off the light. He shook the camcorder a few times.
Colonel Stevens stepped closer. “What’s wrong?”
“Sir, I think the battery is going.” Captain Indalo pressed the input button until the battery gauge displayed on the LCD screen. But its icon showed a full battery. “That’s weird.”
“Please wait a moment, Lang,” Colonel Stevens said. “We’re almost done. Captain, what do you mean?”
He closely eyed Colonel Stevens. “You didn’t see the camcorder’s light get smaller?”
“No, I did not.” Even in the dim lighting, it was noticeable – Colonel Stevens had his brow creased in bewilderment. He turned to Major Ko. “Did you?”
“No, sir. Not at all.”
“I-didn’t,” Evan said. “Everything-looked-the-same-to-me.”
An unnerving sensation shot the hairs straight up on Captain Indalo’s back and legs. “Okay, you guys are freaking me out. Sir, can I show you?”
“Of course. Go ahead.”
Captain Indalo turned on the camcorder’s light beam again and targeted it at Lang’s location on the couch. Not only was the light beam’s circle even smaller than before, but it appeared to be within a tube-like tunnel, moving along the tunnel’s curves. “Huh? You see that?” He moved in closer to the couch, staring carefully.
“No, Captain,” Colonel Stevens said. “I don’t see anything but the same light beam as before.”
Major Ko and Evan confirmed that they couldn’t see it too.
Captain Indalo blinked a few times, sharpening his vision, but the moving image was the same. “You’re telling me you guys don’t see that light beam going down some sort of turning tunnel?”
“What-the?” Lang said. “There’s-a-turning-tunnel-inside-of-me?” He opened his eyes. The orange glow returned, highlighting the hull’s human-hugging form around Lang.
The tunnel image vanished.
Heart beating faster, breathing revving up, Captain Indalo turned to the colonel. “Sir. What did I just see?”
“Now don’t panic, Captain. I believe the hull is trying to communicate, but only with you.” He looked at Lang. “Are you still okay?”
“I don’t think it’s a tunnel, Lang,” Colonel Stevens said. “Not exactly. It’s probably a symbolic representation, that is only registering in Captain Indalo’s mind. Would you mind if we try it again? It might just be a start to getting you two out of there.”
Lang nodded very quickly. “Yes.Okay.If-you-think-it-will-help.”
“Well, we don’t know for certain, but it’s worth a shot. Close your eyes again, Lang.” Colonel Stevens glanced at Captain Indalo. “Give it another try.”
“Uhh , yes sir.” Something didn’t feel right about this, but orders had to be obeyed. Sudden tremors began rattling Captain Indalo’s body, but he did his best to disguise it, bracing his arms steady, preventing the tremors from traveling into his hands and directly to the camcorder. With Lang’s eyes closed, the orange glow disappeared, rather gradually, along with Lang himself. Captain Indalo pointed the light at Lang’s location. Immediately the light beam began snaking its way down a dark, twisting hole. “I see it again.”
“Describe what you see.”
“Yes, sir.” He moved a little closer and forced his eyes to gather every detail. “The tunnel seems to be controlling the light’s position, moving itself for the light. I don’t have to move it.” He focused on the tunnel’s walls. “Sir, very strange. It’s definitely constructed of some sort of dark brown, synthetic-like material, in sections.”
“Uhh, possibly.” Suddenly the tunnel stopped turning. “Wait a minute. No more moving. I just see a straight shot ahead…the tunnel’s straight now. There’s a small dot of light in the distance, and the tunnel’s moving me closer to it.” He stared carefully, the light coming closer into view and becoming larger and more distinct. “Wait. I see images. I’m approaching some sort of scene, I think.”
“Like a photo, or a moving image? Describe the scene.”
Captain Indalo squinted, sharpening his vision. “Hold on, sir. Still approaching.” He waited until he could see everything in the image. “Okay…there is motion. It’s like a video clip on a huge screen at the end of the tunnel. Except it’s 3D. And…I see Evan. He’s…he’s surrounded by alien-like creatures.”
“Where is he?” Colonel Stevens asked.
“Uhh…not sure. I don’t recognize the room, or place.”
“That-does-so-not-sound-good,” Lang said, worried. “Please-tell-me-this-cannot-be-real.”
Captain Indalo didn’t sense it as unreal, for some reason. But he needed to calm Lang. “It’s probably like Colonel Stevens said. Only symbolic, not actual.”
“Exactly,” Colonel Stevens said. “The hull probably communicates in short, moving image scenes, like video clips.”
“So-were-those-aliens-communicating-with-me?” Evan asked. “What-did-they-want?”
“Umm, I’m not sure. I didn’t hear you, or them, speaking.” The tunnel suddenly made a sharp turn to the right, away from the scene. “Huh? I must be in a gawdamn amusement park funhouse ride. I’m heading in another direction now. Going down the turning tunnel again.”
“Captain, was Evan still in the hull in that scene?”
He concentrated a moment, recalling the scene, and yet attempting to suppress the tremors, which were slightly worse. In his brief silence, he could hear Major Ko’s fingers pattering away on their research tablet to record notes. “Yes, sir. Evan was still in the hull.” The turning, twisting tunnel became straight again. “Sir. I see another scene, coming up fast.” He squinted, focusing the image better. “I see…I see General Tauring…and Evan. They’re talking, moving around. They seem upset.” And then the general charged at Evan. What the general did next couldn’t be spoken out loud. “Okay. That scene ended. Traveling sharply to the left now.”
“I think discussing something about your PSP.” There was no way he could tell Evan.
“Do these scenes depict certain behaviors, you think?” Colonel Stevens asked.
“Maybe, sir. I’m not sure.” The tunnel was directing him straight ahead toward another image. “Another one coming. This time…” He squinted again, to see clearer. “Why am I squinting? The hull is just manipulating my mind. I see…another doctor…a civilian doctor has joined our team. He…you know him, Colonel.”
“I do? Describe him. I know many.”
The tunnel veered to the right. “Brown hair. About your height. That’s all I could glimpse.”
“Could be any number of doctors fitting that description. Lang, are you still okay?”
“We should be done soon.”
The tunnel straightened again. “Sir. I see another scene. And the tunnel’s motion is speeding up.” He concentrated on the details. “I see…I see five people, with the hull around them, like Lang and Evan.”
“The others due to arrive?”
“I believe so, sir.” But he couldn’t describe more details. What he was seeing was much too disturbing. “I…it’s not very clear. But the tunnel just took a sharp turn to the left. I’m leaving the five people, and heading down the turning tunnel again.” Another scene was coming up quickly. “Sir, I see…Wow. I see…the Suburban, and some other vehicles. A car, a bus. A subway car, probably from the five others. Each vehicle is surrounded by the hull. And, wow. They’re being subjected to explosions…but, nothing, no explosion, not even a nuclear one, can do anything.”
“Nuclear? Are you certain?”
“That-is-rather-disturbing,” Lang suddenly interjected.
Evan stepped closer, watching exactly where the camcorder’s light was pointed.
“No, sir,” Captain Indalo said. “I don’t…I don’t know why I think that. I believe the thought was put in my head.”
“That could be. Is another scene approaching?”
“Yes. The tunnel just made a sharp right turn, and I do see another scene approaching. I see…people…” Captain Indalo blinked many times, clearing the discrepancy in the vision. But it wasn’t disappearing. “Oh my God, sir. I see myself, and you, Major Ko, General Tauring, and even that new doctor. We’re all in one of our large observations rooms and we’re pretty upset. We are…arguing, getting loud. It’s not a good situation.”
“What are we arguing about?”
“A disagreement, about information. And Major Ko keeps checking his watch.”
“That’s not unusual,” Major Ko said, chuckling. “I do that often.”
The tunnel turned left abruptly and headed straight towards another scene. “But you were worried, really worried…about something, though I’m not sure what.”
“That is interesting, Captain,” Colonel Stevens said. “You see another one?”
Captain Indalo squinted again, because it actually did help to see clearer, even though all of this had to be in his head. “Yes.” This approaching scene was unusual. The distant light wasn’t mostly white, like the others; this light had an ominous feel, maybe because it glowed a slight reddish brown. “Something’s different about this one coming up.”
“I don’t know…it’s…it’s darker.” Captain Indalo’s heart rate suddenly jumped up a few notches. And then dread pumped through him; the scene was right before his eyes. “I see myself again, and Colonel Stevens, the general, Major Ko, and Colonel Jennings and some of her team members. And I see a view that gives a convex-like mirror image of the entire compound, so I can see it all at once…it’s odd, different.” Without warning, the tunnel drew Captain Indalo closer in to his own face. Terror widened and highlighted his own eyes. And then a horrifying feeling pierced through his entire body as he watched an unspeakable scene unfold.
No. That can’t be!
Sweat immediately made its presence known across his chest, wetting his shirt, and weakening heat rushed up through his body. He dropped the camcorder, its fall to the rug below making a sickening low thud. His breaths became labored. “Colonel, I…I need to get out of this room. I can’t get enough air.”
Colonel Stevens began breathing harder too, and stared with concern. “Go ahead. I’ll meet you out there.”
Captain Indalo headed for the door.
“What-happened?” Evan asked. “Was-it-a-bad-communication-sign?”
Who cares what that kid needs! Captain Indalo whipped open the door and headed out. “I’m okay,” he told the DFRs, rushing past them. “Just need some air and space.”
They clicked the door closed behind him.
He walked over to the other side of the hallway. He turned and pressed his back against the wall. His throat felt so dry. He stared up at the ceiling, trying to calm his labored breathing.
He heard the door open. He looked at it and could see Colonel Stevens heading his way.
“Captain,” Colonel Stevens said, once he had past the puzzled DFRs and was about five feet away. “What exactly did you observe, to unravel you like this?”
Major Ko and Evan were standing near the doorway, peering out. But fortunately the DFRs promptly closed the door, keeping them inside the examining room.
“Yes! Close it!” Captain Indalo said. “They need to stay in there!”
Colonel Stevens stepped closer, until he blocked the DFRs from viewing Captain Indalo. “Tell me what happened.”
“Sir…those people, those…Lang and Evan…they’re evil.” He made sure to speak softly. “I know this must sound very harsh of me, but the whole thing I just witnessed, was…was...”
“You need to tell me exactly what you saw.”
“Yes, sir. My apologies. The last thing I saw…was you, me…” He struggled to speak as his breathing increased again. “The others, and this compound…and maybe…maybe beyond…exploding into millions of pieces. Sir…I saw…and felt…my own death.”
“Now calm down, Captain. Did you see any of the hull people explode?”
“No. I didn’t. I didn’t see them at all. Just everyone else.” He swallowed, disturbed by what he needed to say next. “Sir, I know this sounds horrible…but we need to get the Turrones…and those other hull people…the hell out of here, and as far away as possible. Put them on the Moon, Mars, in extra-solar space, I don’t know.” His rapid breathing began subsiding a bit.
“Now, you need to think straight. Just a short while ago you were concerned for their welfare.”
“Well, I’m not now. And another thing, sir. I didn’t want to say it in front of them. Those aliens around Evan…they were confined, but he wasn’t. He was like watching the confined ones, for some reason. And then…and then the other scene, I didn’t say it out loud, but General Tauring hit Evan with a night stick, and it did absolutely nothing to Evan.”
“Why would the general do that?”
“Exactly, sir. And when I saw the other hull people, I didn’t--”
Bright light flashed all around the hallway. The light’s source emanated from the examining room’s location. Captain Indalo looked beyond the colonel until he could see the door. The DFRs behaved alert, their M4s ready.
The examining room door flung open. Major Ko, eyes wide, had his hand grasped tightly to the doorknob. “Colonel! Another decrease event! But we can’t wake Lang. He’s sleeping too deeply!”