Gwen shut the big office doors behind her. The locking mechanizes clicked into place as she walked over to the yellow square at the center of the Cage. All critical zones of the facility had these pre-staging areas built into them for added security. They were designed so that nothing could get in, or out, unless it was tested by the system first. Gwen crossed her arms over her chest and waited for the scanning process to begin. Four highly calibrated blood thermistors emerged from the ceiling. They flashed their white lights as they scanned her DNA for any unusual contaminates. If she were found to be “contaminated” with any nightshade nucleotides the system would alarm, and the air would be sucked form the cage.
Gwen pushed the idea of suffocating to death out of her head. There was no need to place any doubt in the government issued system. These emergency protocols where made for nightshades and not for humans. Gwen was most defiantly not a nightshade…so she had nothing to fear. Her chest tightened with anxiety regardless of her own mental pep-talk. Gwen glanced through the thick polycarbonate glass at the two star general. The man took no chances when it came to his own life. He was highly paranoid and suspicious of every officer that walked around Camp Snowflake. It was a rare occasion that any lower ranking officers ever got to meet him in person. Their orders were usually given via the holographic network.
A high pitch noise sounded in Gwen’s ears at that moment. It always did this when she was being tested by the blood thermistors at the base. The small data disk on the back of her neck was getting hot with the transference of information. She resisted the urge to place her hand on the device while it was scanning her system. It had been this small device that had informed her of the early stages of breast cancer. She wasn’t entirely sure how something from her heck could tell her something important about her chest, but it did. The thing had saved her life and Gwen felt like she could trust it. After a second the roof lit up dark red and a robotic voice spoke over the loud speaker.
“Special Agent Gwyneth Garcia is clean and verifiably human.”
The cage door opened up and allowed her to enter the main area. Gwen stifled as the smell of death filled the air around the room. Her dark brown eyes looked upon the fresh corps of Asset 626 on the table. Gwen couldn’t help herself; she smiled habitually at the vanquished beast. Its rotting corps meant that there was one less bleacher to worry about in the world.
The extremely pale nightshade was resting on a stainless steel table in the center of the room. Bright white lights were bearing down on it from all angles in the ceiling. There wasn’t an inch of the body that couldn’t be seen. Even the bear backside was visible with the help of strategically placed mirrors.
The strange thick red blood had been drained from the creature, and the chest cavity had been pried opened for examination. Every time a nightshade died it awarded the federal government the opportunity to see how these things ticked. Gwen was informed on several occasions that the technology that sustained the base was a derivative of these examinations. She wasn’t sure how opening an interdimensional creature, and pulling out its organs for all to see, actually helped them advance as the human race. This was a question that Gwen really didn’t want to know. All the bloody bleachers got the same treatment when they died.
“I need you to stay right where you are Agent Garcia! Like a good soldier!” Said The General from the other side of the room, “We live in a virtual limbo here at Camp Snowflake. You can’t trust one bloody person around this place; and for good reasons. They’re all lying to you in some way or another. Some are big lies and others are small lies, but they’re all lying to you some way or another. You just have to ask the right questions.”
Gwen took her eyes off the dead nightshade in front of her and looked over to The General. The crazy old man was holding a very large, government issued, spikenard. He had the red hot cathodes pointed at her. The flashing green and blue lights on the scope indicated that the thing was charged and ready to fire. Even a very skilled nightshade would think twice before generating a portal to eat the man.
“Sir, I have already been tested by the blood thermistors in the cage. The military grade spikenard is not necessary for this debriefing on the events of the Grand Atrium,” said Gwen as she looked the General in the eyes. She extended a hand to the open door of the cage as evidence of her innocence. “The damn machine wouldn’t have let me in the room if I wasn’t a human. I would have died in the cage.”
“You and I both know that this technology is a bunch of bull crap, Agent Garcia!” Said the General as he indicated to the whole room around them. His shifty blue eyes looked like they could see things that weren’t there. Things that were watching the both of them. General Dilk was crazy out of his mind. “In light of all that has transpired in the last 24 hours I am not sure we can trust any of this technology. There are some strange things happening around the base. Some things that would cause the soldier’s here to panic if they knew what was really going on.” The General placed a hand on his stomach, “There is only one real test that I believe in, and it involvs the gut check. Does it feel right? Does it stink to high heavens?”
The General reached over with his free hand and picked up a book from off his desk. He held up the thing for Gwen to see. The front cover read: Bob Orton’s “Guide to Knowing If Your Friends and Family Are a Bunch of Night Shades in Disguise.”
The paperback book looked used and warn; as if the General had been reading it as devoutly as a Christian read her bible. Gwen couldn’t help herself. She rolled her eyes at this nonsense.
“You may think me crazy Agent Garcia but I have tested this man’s theories out and have found them very helpful… It’s as if he knows what the enemy is thinking on all levels. Like he has lived among them for thousands of years. Eaten with them… Like some kind of sexy Jane Goodall with her monkeys,” said the General with a smile. How he love himself some Jane Goodall; but that would have to come later. He dropped the book back onto his desk, “Bob Orton knows a thing or two about bleachers and the 5th dimension. The first thing he says is trust your gut! Your gut will be the first indicator that that something is wrong with the person… and do you know what my gut is saying about you Agent Garcia?”
Gwen let out a big sigh at the dramatic monolog coming from the old man. She tried to maintain her rigid posture and discipline, “and what might that be sir?”
“That you are a nightshade,”
“I am not a nightshade, Sir,” said Gwen.
“We will see about that” said the General. “Now, pick up the Citrine Stone we extracted from Asset 626.”
Gwen looked at the examining table again with the corps on it. A massive yellow crystal lay beside the body of Asset 626. Gwen knew instantly that it was the citrine stone. She had read all about these interdimensional organs in the training manuals. The bleachers used these thing to produce portals around their helpless victims. It was a way for them to shrink a person and easily devour them alive. The whole process from gaping mouth to gizzard only took a few seconds of time. Scientists had not yet figured out why the humans needed to be alive for the process.
In the end, all of us are just playthings to these creatures, thought Gwen. She remembered seeing a graphic depiction of what happens during nightshade digestion at her debriefing. The video was made to scare the new recruits, and give them second thoughts about helping the nightshades out of their cages. The human in the movie was broken down slowly and painfully by the nightshades lower gizzard. The doctor in the room said that the victim was alive for about 60% of the agonizing process. Gwen had to look down at her desk halfway through the training and control her breathing. All she could think about was how her own sister must have suffered during digestion. How she hated these creatures!
Gwen pulled away slightly from the table and clenched her fists. She didn’t want to hold the citrine stone in her hands for a whole number of reasons. The first one being her sister, and the second one being contamination and disease. Could these yellow crystals contaminate her own blood and turn her into one of them? This one looked like it might still have some bodily fluids on it. Gwen didn’t want to touch it, “Is this absolutely necessary sir.”
“Yes, Agent Garcia,” said the General firmly. He came to his feet and started walking around his desk. There was a slight limp in his walk, “For the situation we are about to discuss openly; it’s completely necessary that I know I can trust you. If you really are a human you will have nothing to fear from me, but if you are lying… that damn citrine stone is going to light up like the 4th of July. It will expose you for what you truly are.”
“I thought these theories of citrine-attunement were debunked by HQ years ago?” said Gwen. She really didn’t want to hold Asset 626’s citrine stone in her hands. She scanned the operating table for any latex gloves that might be lying around. “I know you don’t want to hear this either, but Prewitt Labs has also debunked all of Mr. Orton’s theories on nightshades. I think the blood thermistors are our best bet from here on out.”
“The hell they are! If you could see what I have seen the last 24 hours you would not be saying that,” said the General as he approached her cautiously. His hands were steady, for an old man. He was a soldier through and through, “I don’t trust anyone at this base. I don’t trust Prewitt Labs, and I don’t trust you. So, pick up the stone!”
Gwen reluctantly reached over to the table and picked up the stone with both hands. The thing was smooth and hard. It was also vibrating softly; as if the organ were energized by some internal source. The stone, however, didn’t light up at all. This was a good thing as Gwen didn’t want to be hit with a super-heated spikenard spike.
“It looks like I can trust you,” said the General. There was actual relief in his voice as he walked over to the wall and typed in a password. All the edges around the room flashed bright white. A robotic voice spoke up over the speakers.
“System has been disabled... Dark Mode On.”
“It wasn’t going to light up regardless of my touch,” said Gwen in protest. She was annoyed that the crazy old man was buying into redneck conspiracy theories. Only stupid, racist, hillbillies read Bob Orton’s book about Nightshades. She dropped the stone back onto the table and wiped her hands off on her tactical pants. It would take weeks before the smell would washed out, “Prewitt Labs debunked his theory years ago!”
“They lied to you, Agent Garcia. Prewitt Labs lied to everyone about their discovery of portal technology. They wanted to save their own hides and keep information from the public. We are at war with an enemy that has infiltrated every aspect of our lives.”
A dark green drawer opened up in the wall under the keypad. The General typed in another code and placed his hand on the scanner. It beeped and opened up slowly. “They used citrine stones formed outside of the nightshades to try and prove Bob Orton’s findings false. They never tested his theories with a real one from a nightshade. A real stone tells a different story about who is human and who is not,” said the General as he indicated to the corps of Asset 626. He dropped the heavy Spikenard into the drawer. He was looking for the little green orb he had dropped in there moments ago. “If you don’t believe me, then touch the stone to the dead nightshade on the table and see what happens.”
Gwen looked at the General and then at the corps on the table. Defiantly she reached over and pushed the yellow stone into the shoulder of Asset 626. She flinched as a big spark jumped from the stone and into her hand. Her legs felt suddenly weak as the yellow organ lit up like a halogen lightbulb. It felt like a flash-bang had gone off right in front of her face. Gwen jumped and fell over backwards. She landed on her back with a thud and winced in pain. She was sure the stupid General was getting a good laugh at her now. Gwen gripped her chest and pushed the bandage against her rib cage to try and relieve the throbbing. It felt like it was on fire. Gwen opened her eyes and gritted her teeth.
“Damn you!” yelled Gwen.
She squinted at the big oval shaped portal in front of her. Somehow the dead stone had produced a portal. Gwen could see the nightshade resting on the table through the cosmic rip in reality. Her heart sank deep into her chest as it dawned on her what had happened. The bright citrine stone was now lying next to her. The thing had grown to the size of a minivan. Gwen pushed herself up quickly and tried to calm the panic surging through her veins. She had been shrunk to the size of a walnut. The shadow of Asset 626’s giant frame could be seen beyond the glow of the yellow light. The creature might have been dead; but from this height it was more than intimidating. As if it could open its big red eyes at any moment and see her.
“This had better not be permanent,” said Gwen as she reached habitually for her service weapon. The portal she had fallen through must have scaled her down drastically. She hated being this vulnerable to her enemies. Being this small made her an easy target to be devoured. Gwen wasn’t going to take any chances. She rushed back over to the portal and jumped through it like an action hero. She collided with the operating table and pushed it violently across the room. The wheels squeaked loudly on the industrial carpet as the stainless steel table slammed into the far wall. The corps shifted and nocked the citrine stone onto the ground. The room grew darker as the light from the organ went out.
“You still think Bob Orton is lying to me?” said the General from the other side of the room. The man had seated himself in a comfortable, dark leather chair. He had a magnifying glass in one hand and a green marble in his other. He was examining the smooth surface of the rock.
Gwen just stared at him. She was completely perplexed and a little dizzy at what had just happened to her. She reached down and picked her service weapon up off the floor.
“Come over here and have a seat, Agent Garcia,” said the General as he pointed to another chair across from him with the magnifying glass. He continued speaking to her as if nothing strange had just happened. “Technology is getting so needlessly complicated now-a-days. It reminds me of my ex-wife. So needlessly complicated, but at the same time simple. That woman loved the hell out of regency romance novels. She would jump from one book to another like it was going out of style. I could never understand why she loved them so much, but it doesn’t mean I can’t try.”
Gwen’s heart was still pounding in her chest as she eased herself into the chair across from the General. She just wanted this day to end, “I haven’t filled out an incident report on Asset 626 yet. Why am I really here, sir?”
“You’re here because I think I can trust you.” said the General. “I have read your record. I have seen you in action, and I know you hate these things. I saw how you handled that nightshade in the Grand Atrium. You didn’t need to unleash your full battery pack on him… but you did!”
“It was a mistake Sir,” said Gwen, “A miscalculation on my part.”
“No it wasn’t. Don’t lie to me,” said the General. He wasn’t buy all this stoicism coming from the agent. He knew deep down inside what motivated the woman. He had read all of Dennis’s colorful mission reports about her behavior with the Asset’s. The unneeded violence and aggression towards the nightshade race permeated each record. The General decided to quote verbatim from a paragraph in her record. Maybe that would strike a nerve with her, “What was a mistake was letting these bloody things into our society; and then letting fruitcakes like Dennis decide to make laws for them. They deserve everything they get!”
Gwen suppressed her surprise. It wasn’t a mystery to the men and woman of Camp Snowflake that Gwen held strong opinions of the nightshades. She knew the General was quoting her. “Sir, does this conversation have a purpose?”
“Damn right it has a purpose,” said the General. He crossed one leg over the other and held out the green Onex Stone. It sparked slightly in the light of the room. From underneath the surface it looked like there was a universe inside, “you ever see one of these before?”
“In my training back at HQ,” said Gwen.
“They collect these things like trophies,” said the General, “It is rumored by the scientific community that each human has different tastes based on their life experiences. It is that strange taste that drives the obsession to consume living things. So that they can capture every last second of life to increase the potency of the transition from nightshade to human. It’s like cocaine for these 5th dimensional creatures; they have to mimic the host perfectly. My ex-wife had a big jar full of them on our kitchen table. They would sparkle like crazy and cast weird shadows on the walls when the morning light would hit them. I didn’t know what the hell they were…”
Gwen was appalled, “Your wife was one of these things?”
“Yep, she had been a nightshade in disguise,” said the General. His rough voice got quieter as he reflected on the situation. “It had happened many years ago. When I found out who she really was, all hell broke loose in our relationship. She kept telling me that we could make it work. That we could still be in love with one another regardless of the switch that had transpired. That she could mark me as her property in the new nightshade society and that we would be safe together. She wanted the illusion of us being together so badly.” The General scoffed at the next thought. “I actually think she fell in love with me!”
“Disturbing,” said Gwen, a chill ran down her spin.
“What was really disturbing to me, Agent Garcia,” said the General as he leaned forward and looked at the green Onex Stone in his hands. “Is that I couldn’t tell when the switch had taken place between nightshade and human. There was no real indicator that she had changed except for the green stones she was collecting on the kitchen table. She had my sweet Jane Goodall nailed down perfectly. From the way she smelled like milkweed. To how she laughed at my shortcomings. There wasn’t a hair out of place… It’s left me questioning everything, every sense.”
“Trust me,” said Gwen sharply to the General. Her throat was getting tighter with emotion, “I know how you feel. My sister was murdered by one of these things. I walked in on her trying to eat her boyfriend alive. The man was trying to crawl out of her mouth. He was struggling for breath when she spit him out and told me she could explain.”
Gwen wanted to vomit at the sight of it, “The week before that incident had felt so normal to me. She would come in and we would talk about everything going on in our lives. She kept obsessing over what Torren thought about her. Whether he really liked her or was just playing around like boys do in high school. She finally told me she had a way to really know what he was thinking. I laughed it off as her just being stupid,” Gwen grew silent. She couldn’t believe she had told the General any of this information. She hated being so open with people about her past, “but what does this have to do with the debriefing on Asset 626?”
“It has everything to do with Asset 626!” said the General. He was studying Gwen carefully now. Her posture had become more rigid, “There is something strange going on around our facility and I want to get to the bottom of it quickly. The technology we are using is malfunctioning in odd ways. I am getting reports from different sectors that officers are passing out while on duty; some of them are guarding the Assets like 626.”
Gwen was alarmed by this, “What do you mean passing out? Are they sick?”
“None of them have used the excuse of sickness. They describe it as being awake and alert one minute, and then down and out the next,” said the General and he pointed to his head. “Like their mind had just been shut off like a lightbulb. Some officers have reported seeing things that were not there; like dead relatives walking around the base. In the video footage I watched moments ago with the security board. I saw Agent Redfield open Assets 626’s cell without provocation or authorization. The idiot look like he was under some kind of trance.”
“Do we know what is causing this phenomenon?” asked Gwen.
“I have a few theories,” Said the General as he tapped the data disk on his neck, “But nothing I can really prove at the moment. If you ask me... I think it’s all leading up to this day my ex-wife talked about many years ago. The day when the nightshade society officially inherits the earth… but they’er waiting for something to happen. Something I can’t quite put my finger on. I have been guessing at it for years now.”
Gwen shivered at the thought of a nightshade society. The humans would be nothing to them but a food source, “I have noticed that there are no female nightshades here at Camp Snowflake. Are we keeping them separate so that they cannot breed with each other? What precautions are we taking to prevent a nightshade uprising?”
The General laughed at the question. He could already tell he had picked the right person for the job he wanted to do, “You’re a smart woman, Agent Garcia. These facilities have only been gathering in the male nightshades. We have not captured a single female on all our mission runs since the Dead Man Act was signed into law. Sure, we have captured some females in the past but it wasn’t because of the evaluations. It was because we found them in our own ranks; messing with things around the facility. They have been dispatched, to put it lightly.”
“No one finds it odd that all we have are males?” asked Gwen annoyed. Her paranoia was getting the better of her now. She felt like they were being watched. “There are probably hundreds of females out there ready to build this new nightshade society. There are probably some here on the base acting like soldiers.”
Gwen’s thoughts returned to receptionist in the lobby.
“Oh there are way more females than males in the nightshade race. That has already been proven by Bob Orton,” said the General. “The scientist back at HQ have observed that the females are the dominate sex in their social structures. They are the hunters and governors. While the males are treated like prizes to be won by the females. If there are any plans to overthrow our world it will be with the female species. They seemed well organized and well informed... as if they are all connected in some strange cosmic way.”
“Let’s interrogate the females and see how it all comes together!” said Gwen. She shifted forward in her seat, “I am not afraid of these bloody bleachers. You have seen what I did to Asset 626. Let me interrogate these captured females and I’ll get the truth from them!”
The General smiled at this determination. Maybe the human race did have a chance of survival at the end of this debacle, “Prior to Asset 626’s escape, he kept talking about the need to be with a female nightshade that had claim upon his heart. I am guessing it was his mate…but I am not so sure how he made the connection. Her name was Hera. The girl of his waking dreams! Heck, all the damn nightshades start talking about their dreams once they get here. It might be a side effect of their captivity. We are still looking into what is causing the madness. Do you know if the new guy you brought in is talking about seeing nightshades?”
Gwen paused for a moment and thought about the albino man sitting in cell 70. It seemed to her that Greg disliked nightshades just as much as she did… but all this was just a façade. Gwen would not be fooled by his innocent demeanor and stupid turn-a-phrase. Her own sister had fooled her and she wasn’t going to fall into that trap again, “Greg never brought up having dreams of female nightshades on the way in.”
“Has he transformed yet?” asked the General.
Gwen shook her head at this, “Not yet, but he will eventually. They always do. They all seem to have the False Persons Syndrome at the start.”
“Good,” said The General. He was rubbing his chin now, “This will give us an opportunity to see what is going on inside the enemies head. If the male nightshade still thinks he’s human it might reveal more about the current situation.”
“How are we going to do that?” asked Gwen.
“By actually getting inside his head before he transitions into his true form.” said The General as he poked the green orb. He pulled out a small yellow crystal. His thumb could felt the vibrations coming from it. “I bet a lot of the mystery around what is happening in this facility will be revealed if we can just get inside one nightshade’s head and see what is going on. Would you be willing to go inside the mind of a nightshade Gwen and find out things about them?”
“Yeah but how?” said Gwen.
“I am not going to say it here,” said the General as he looked around the room spuriously. Nothing could be trusted. “Can you meet in Dr. Howard’s office in 0600 hrs? I’ll inform her you are coming and you can start the process there.”
“I can do that” said Gwen as she came to her feet. She was bubbling with excitement.
“All of this must be kept top secret, Agent Garcia. I don’t want anyone finding out about what we are doing here,” said the General. “We are supposed to be running a re-education camp here, after all. These nightshades need their American citizenship.”
Gwen saluted and was going to leave when the general stopped her.
“Take this with you before you go,” Said the General as he handed the small citrine stone to her. “It might come in handy to tell who is a nightshade in disguise and how is not.”
Gwen examined the little rock. The thing was vibrating slightly in the palm of her hand. From here on out this was the only test that she was going to trust. The redneck Bob Orton really did know what was going on in their world. Gwen would have to purchase a book and read into it further. How did he know so much about nightshades?