OCTOBER 5TH, 11:21 AM
Lang looked up and around at the rectangular silver passageway they were walking through. The passageway’s dimensions were maybe about fifteen feet long, eight feet wide, and nine feet high or so. But how different - the passageway seemed to be made of a series of expanding nested boxes. Each box was composed of thin, though solid, serrated metal that began larger in size, at the entrance, and became slightly smaller in size by the passageway’s end.
Sure. Observe all the bizarre details.
But it wasn’t really working so well. That terrible, dark place yet cluttered Lang’s thoughts, pushing its ugly presence to the forefront of his mind.
But, no. He must be strong for Evan. Ignore it, now!
He targeted his eyes and attention on Major Eiken. The major continued to lead the way up ahead through the passageway, with Evan following closely behind him.
He noticed something else. Major Eiken’s footsteps clanged on the floor, while Evan’s steps, and Lang’s own steps too, could barely be heard.
At the passageway’s end, there was a softly lit oblong room that was quite modern-appearing and composed of curved, tan walls. Several security force men, or DFRs, as Major Eiken referred to them, stood within the room.
Lang looked down at Major C’est, walking next to him. “Is that the maglev train up ahead?”
“Yes,” she said, her pretty brown eyes flashing only a moment into his sight, and then she stared straight ahead again.
She would probably be even more attractive if her brunette hair wasn’t pulled back so tightly in a bun. But her shorter stance, maybe five feet, four inches, sure gave some comfort; walking near her side, that emasculated feeling since the horrible decrease in his and Evan’s height was hardly noticeable. And more than any other distraction so far her attractiveness helped to erase some of that frightening, dark memory.
“This steel tunnel helps protect us from the near vacuum conditions surrounding the train,” she continued. “Only one point six pounds per square inch of air pressure.”
Lang thought a moment. “Oh, so there’s less air friction when the train’s moving?”
“What is normal air pressure again?”
“Fourteen point seven pounds per square inch.”
“Oh, I see. Quite the difference.”
Major Eiken was now in the train and heading to the right, with Evan yet trailing him.
“So…where is this underground base that we’re heading to?” Lang asked.
She frowned slightly. “I apologize, but that is classified information. But, as Major Eiken mentioned already, we have the necessary equipment to help you there. And our base offers us a safe environment, with safety for both you and the general public who could possibly be affected by your…your situation.”
“But I thought we weren’t a threat? Dr. Bohanek and the other HAZMAT people even took off their suits by the time you guys arrived. Remember?”
“Of course. But we still do not know what we are dealing with here. And don’t forget, you--”
“Yes, I know.” Here we go again. Well, so much for trying to forget about it. Didn’t they realize how traumatic it had been, and how he was really getting tired of hearing about it, or discussing it? “Because I observed a possible alien spacecraft, this could be alien-related.”
“Correct. Or EBE-related, an acronym for extraterrestrial biological entity, as we like to refer to them.”
Heavy shoes clanging on the metal floor sounded from behind Lang. He turned back. Good Lord - the Air Force must really be concerned, with all the DFRs following behind him and Major C’est.
Lang stared forward and looked up and around at the entrance to the train. The silver metal edge of the passageway was deeply embedded into the outer sides of the train’s entrance doorway. “How’s this train supposed to move? This metal hallway, or tunnel, appears attached to it.”
“Only appears that way. It’s hermetically sealed by a certain polymer within the train’s sides.”
He followed her inside the train. The train’s floor had a black, corrugated surface that was very clean and refined. Maybe they didn’t use this train much or were just obsessive about keeping it clean.
“Air tight, that is,” she answered. “Once we are all seated, the train’s door will slide shut and the entrance seal will be released. The tunnel itself will then contract into the demarcation zone.”
Lang wanted to ask but kept quiet. He instead watched Evan following Major Eiken down the train’s aisle. He couldn’t help but smile, if only for a second; it was nice how the major had tried to cheer up Evan earlier, by referring to the material surrounding Evan as some sort of super-hero force shield. Since then, Evan had been behaving somewhat happier and seemed to have developed a friendly bond with the major.
But the structure of this train’s interior – how different and interesting! Lang looked around, and then turned back, the DFRs blocking some of his view, but not all. He noticed the interior was sectioned off into four, large rounded tan compartments, nearly spherical in shape, but a tad oval, and most likely comprised of thick fiberglass. Each one had a diameter of about eight feet. Near their tops, by the ceiling, they had wide tan fiberglass bands, circling around their perimeters. The compartments themselves actually looked like large, enclosed amusement park pods, for some fast, crazy ride. And each one had a regular-sized entrance doorway. Lang pushed his encased hand against the one on his left and felt it move slightly, easily, like it was connected to a rotating swing from the ceiling. “What are these? Private moving train rooms?”
Up ahead, Major Eiken led Evan into one of them on the right side. The compartment swayed a bit once they entered it.
“They are referred to as gimbal rooms,” Major C’est said, leading the way down to where Evan had just entered. “They are designed to keep passengers comfortable within their normal horizontal plane when traveling around curved or elevated passages.”
“Why? What…what happens?”
“These trains can reach speeds of four to five thousand miles per hour.”
It was hard to believe. “Four to five thousand miles per hour?”
“Yes. The rooms help to maintain near normal g-forces when acceleration occurs, due to curved tracks, deceleration, or increased speeds, particularly along sloped portions of the track.”
Lang followed Major C’est into the gimbal room Evan had entered. Quickly he noticed the motion it produced from his own steps and Major C’est’s steps. It became a little shaky, but he was able to balance himself steady. And it was nice to know the encasing material was obviously allowing his and Evan’s weight to be present most of the time now.
The gimbal room resembled a small window-less RV camper, with rounded interior edges and just two sets of soft, comfortable-looking captain’s chairs that faced each other on the left and right sides as they walked in. Evan was already sitting on the right, in a chair closest to the train’s outside wall.
“Try to sit down right away, Lang,” Major Eiken said, standing near the seat across from Evan. “You’ll feel less of the motion effects.”
Lang did, sitting in the seat to Evan’s left. “I know what you mean. I feel like I’m getting on an amusement park ride.”
Major Eiken let out a short laugh. “Ah, good analogy. I suppose you could compare it to that.”
“Dad!” Evan said excitedly. His face had color, his eyes even slightly cheerful. A portion of that heavy weight lifted from Lang’s mind, and heart. “This maglev train has a linear motor based upon magnets, and it has no wheels! And it can speed up to four or five thousand miles per hour!”
“Yes. I know. I’ve heard.” Lang couldn’t help but give a brief smile again.
“But we won’t be traveling that fast.” Major Eiken sat in his seat. “We will only reach about five hundred miles an hour.”
“Why not faster?” Lang asked.
Major C’est sat across from Lang, to Major Eiken’s right.
“Safety precautions?” Lang asked. “What could go wrong?” He eased back into the chair, attempting to relax. Like on that ambulance van and the jet, the air cushion surrounding his body supplied an even softer seat than the train’s own comfortable chair.
“We don’t want to take any risks, given that we are transporting two civilians, you and Evan,” Major Eiken said. “The train’s tunnel is basically a vacuum tunnel. Though we have safety measures in place, such as a repressurization system to quickly bring air pressure back to normal if an accident occurs, we don’t want to take any chances. The tunnel’s vacuum and the extreme speed of the train are the two main reasons this form of transportation was never considered feasible for the general public.”
“Oh, of course. I can certainly understand that.”
Motion on Lang’s left peripheral vision compelled him to turn in that direction. Four DFRs were piling into the other gimbal compartment across the aisle.
“DFRs will become rather common place, once we get to the base,” Major Eiken said. “You will often see them flanking doorways.”
“Oh, okay.” Obviously the military was being very cautious and protective. But why? And another thought arose. “But the DFRs near the upper entrance, when we first came here, had different uniforms. Like Marines, maybe?”
“Very observant, Lang. DFR actually stands for Defense Force Regiment and encompasses many other military branch forces and even certain government contract services. Many are Air Force security. “
“Really? Oh, okay.”
Yup. There had to be some very special things going on at these bases. And it was interesting that the major would actually reveal anything about their defense forces, what with all the denials due to classified information.
But then again, maybe Major Eiken was trying to make a point – don’t mess with us, or else.
A quick swoosh sound came from the train’s entrance and then the train began moving, producing a very smooth, barely audible humming noise.
“Was that the door shutting?” Evan asked. “And so now we’re moving?”
Major Eiken smiled and nodded. “Yes, to both questions.”
“It will be slow at first,” Major C’est said, “but then we will quickly gain speed.”
“Wow. Cool,” Evan said. “Is there a window I can look out?”
“There is, sort of, but the tunnel is dimly lit,” Major Eiken said. “You won’t be able to see very much.”
“Well, I’d still like to see, if I can. I just want to watch how fast we’re going.”
Major Eiken smiled again. “Sure.” He reached into the right pocket of his crisply pressed dark blue Air Force suit and brought out a small item with a lighted LCD screen. He pointed it toward the tan, plastic wall between himself and Evan. A special cell phone? Or a remote? Whatever it was, once he pressed an icon on the screen, a rectangular section of the tan wall began to change color, almost like it was dissolving away one particle at a time.
“What is that?” Evan had surprise and a little fear in his voice.
Lang was surprised by it too. “Yeah, that is strange.”
“No need to be alarmed,” Major Eiken said. “It is merely a computer screen with the exact same color and extended, flat surface as the walls in here. And once I turn on the outside camera, the image appears on the screen.”
Evan stared at it eagerly. “Oh, wow. Cool.”
“Through the eyes of a young man,” Major Eiken said. “Nice to have someone appreciate what we have.”
More weight lifted from Lang’s heart and he smiled again. “He’s a good kid, most of the time.” An idea entered his thoughts. He brought his right hand in from the arm sleeve and took out his cell phone. “Would it be okay if I take a photo of that computer screen?”
“No, we can’t allow that, unfortunately,” Major Eiken said.
“But Dad. What are you doing? You had a black screen, remember?”
“Yeah, true.” Lang instead searched for the photo he took of the encased Suburban. But after searching both the phone’s internal memory card and the SD card, the photo was nowhere to be found. “That’s strange. The photo I took of the encased Suburban is missing.”
“Wow, Dad. I wonder why?”
Major Eiken’s attention heightened. “Lang. Explain that further, please.”
“Just that I took a photo of the other Suburban, after it got encased, with both our human copies sitting in it. The Suburban didn’t even show up in the camera, at all, but I took the photo anyway. But now, I can’t find that photo anywhere on my phone.”
“Well, not to worry. I’ll advise the general once we arrive at the base. We’ll figure this out.”
“Yeah. Okay,” Lang said. “Very bizarre, though.”
Lang looked at the mock window again, studying its image carefully. The image displayed the tunnel’s inside wall - gray, rounded, a similar curvature as the oval interior of the gimbal room. Low power ceiling lights flickered narrow white lines along the wall with increasing rapidity. But watching more carefully, Lang soon realized the lights really weren’t flickering at all; it was an illusion caused by the train racing faster and faster past stationary light beams. Yet he really didn’t feel much force pushing him back into the seat.
But what Major Eiken said - a computer screen, the same color and extended surface as the wall - somehow didn’t ring true. A rectangular section of the wall just seemed to have morphed into the train’s exterior video feed. Lang felt that uneasy whirling sensation in his stomach again like when Ron first told them about their doubles in that copy Suburban. And why did that seem like days ago? It was only earlier this morning. “So…what are the walls in here made of? Or the walls of the tunnel?”
“Unfortunately, a lot of what you ask is classified information,” Major Eiken said.
Lang’s unease grew. “More classified information?”
“Yes, my apologies. But I will tell you that the tunnel is primarily concrete with a high density ceramic surface, to contain the lower pressure of the vacuum.”
“So, our tax dollars at work. A secretive underground train that travels incredibly fast. And now we’re witnessing all of this. So, when we’re cured of our affliction, and remember all of this, then--”
“Come on, Dad. They’ll just make us forget, you know, like in MIB.”
Both the majors chuckled briefly.
“No. It’s far more simpler than that,” Major Eiken said. “We won’t have to do anything. If you tell anyone, then A, most likely they will never believe you, and B, we will deny everything. Consider this all in the best interests of the country.”
“Sure.” Lang frowned on just one side of his mouth. “I get it.”
But then Major Eiken’s dark-skinned face became stern, devoid of emotion. Hiding things, obviously.
Lang’s stomach whirled around even more, producing a weird inner discomfort.
The maglev train was traveling even faster, its humming elevating to a higher and higher pitch. The light streaks along the wall were becoming a white blur that barely flickered and an occasional red or blue light beam swept by so fast it was unreal. “So, why didn’t we just get on this train in Fargo, after riding in your military ambulance? This has to be faster than the Lear jet.”
“Yeah, but Dad,” Evan said, unable to take his mesmerized gaze away from the tunnel’s view, “then I never would have had my very first plane ride. It was fun flying from Fargo to Bismarck.”
“Yes, true,” Lang said.
Major Eiken cracked a smile, finally. “Glad you liked it, Evan.” He stared at Lang. “Only some cities have access to this service.” His expression then changed, to a calmer, more pleasant demeanor. “Lang. Does everything outside your enclosure still appear slower?”
Lang looked out at the tunnel again through the camera window. “It has, up to this point. But not if you look out there.”
“That sure is true,” Evan said.
“But what is your time?” Major Eiken asked.
His cell phone yet in his hand, Lang lifted it up closer and looked at its display time. “I have 11:38 am.” He held out his left wrist. “And my watch has the same.”
The train’s lightning-fast humming was finally beginning to become steady, like a soprano singer caught on one high, long note.
“I have 11:40 am.” Evan was looking at his PSP. “But my time is like two minutes fast. I set it that way.”
Major Eiken eyed his own watch. “I have 11:30 am, in regular time. Major C’est, what about you?”
She checked her watch. “I have 11:34, but I have it set about four minutes fast.”
“You always do seem to do that,” Major Eiken said, smiling at her.
All this time talk reminded Lang of his usual, daily life, before all these bizarre events happened. He glanced at both majors before settling on Major Eiken. “Again, please make certain you get in touch with my workplace. I seldom miss work and that cell phone call from our secretary, Katherine, well…and Evan’s school work.”
Major C’est lifted a cell phone out of her right side pocket, reminiscent to Major Eiken’s removal of that unknown device moments earlier from his right side pocket. Maybe that’s their pocket for electronic gadgets? Who knew? Didn’t matter. And though they wore the exact same sharp, flawless uniform blues, with their colorful badges and ribbons, underlying white collar shirt, and dark ties, Major C’est sure looked a lot nicer in them with her slim, shapely physique. She looked at her cell phone. “Confirm for me, please. You work at Brinwell Communications and Research, with an address at--”
Blinding yellow-tinted light suddenly flashed all around them. Lang’s eyes stung and he squeezed them shut. “Ahh! Not again!”
“Dad! Did it really happen again?”
Lang opened his eyes. Between the light spots in his sight, he could see both majors standing and grasping fiberglass loops that hung from the ceiling, loops he hadn’t noticed until now. “I’m not sure, Evan.”
“Stand down, Airmen,” Major C’est said, looking out the gimbal room’s doorway. Two DFRs held their guns ready, maybe M4 carbines, though Lang wasn’t sure; whatever they were, they were some type of big, dark assault rifle.
“Ma’am, what was that bright light?” the taller DFR questioned. His worried eyes stared with intensity at Lang.
But Major C’est’s motion, and her speech, and the DFRs’ motion and speech – all of it was slightly slower.
“It’s all right.” Major Eiken drew closer to the men. “We can handle this.”
Lang observed everyone and everything very carefully until terrible dread streamed through his every cell; they had again become shorter in comparison.
“Dad.” Evan leaned closer, though not close enough for that horrible repulsion to kick in. “We got shorter again. And things seem a little slower.”
“I know. What color light flash did you see?”
Evan shrugged. “I think like yellowish? Yellowish-green maybe?”
“Yeah. Me too. I think.”
“We saw blue-green light.” Major C’est had obviously overheard their words. She leaned away from the others. “You must think…we’re talking and moving slower, because you…sound faster, to me.”
Lang swallowed and stared up at her. “But why did we both see different color light flashes?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “But the sooner we get to the base, the better.”