Gwen placed her hands in her vest pockets and played with the container of gum she had brought with her. She opened the small plastic lid with her thumb and closed it slowly. She did this over and over… relishing the feel of the click made during the transition from open to close. Her thoughts were bouncing around her head like a ping pong ball. She was trying desperately to make connections between Bob Orton’s theories on the nightshade race and her own personal experience out in the field. There was a lot to piece together. Bob Orton had made it feel like the bleachers were pulling all the strings in their society.
“We think we are in control…” said Gwen as she pulled the plastic container from her pocket and dropped a few squares of gum into her mouth. She chewed the pieces slowly and let the taste of coffee and caffeine soak into her taste buds. She could feel herself stiffen up and become more alert with every chew, “But this is all an illusion of control. We are just going through the motions before all hell breaks loose…It’s not a question of if, but when.”
Gwen shifted her gaze from the floor and studied all the military personal entering the broad elevator. She had made it a point to look as inconspicuous as possible. She didn’t want any nightshades following her to the research and development department. When she had entered the elevator she had gone straight to the back left corner and waited. Gwen hadn’t dialed in her wrist watch. She didn’t want to tell the central processing unit where she was going…eventually someone would stop at the desired floor and she would walk off. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but at least it would help throw the system off.
Gwen stole a glance at all the people standing around the compartment. They all seemed like they were in their own world. No one seemed to take notice of her. No one seemed to care that she was staring at them. The green lights from their data disks flashed on and off rapidly with information. It seemed like everyone was networked together by Prewitt Labs. Gwen was sure this wasn’t a coincidence. After the Dead Man Act of 2025, the government insisted that they all begin wearing these things for safety reasons. If Prewitt Labs was the headquarters of the nightshade base, then all of them would be susceptible to their influence.
Gwen lifted a hand and placed her fingers over the device on her own neck. The thing was warm and smooth to the touch. She felt a sudden surge of regret well up inside of her. How she wished she had known all this information before installing the thing into her spinal cord. With this bloody device on the back of her neck did it even matter that she was trying to trick the elevator system? The bleachers probably knew exactly where she was at any given time. They probably heard the conversation she had had with General Dilk.
“I have to find a way to disable this thing without killing myself,” Said Gwen as she picked at it with one of her finger nails. It was completely imbedded in the flesh.
The elevator slowed down and the doors opened up again. The robotic voice announced over the loud speaker that they had reached the R&D department. Gwen stopped picking at the data disk and pushed past everyone in the elevator. She exited with a couple of service engineers in white shirts and ties. There was no use in hiding from the government system. So long as she had one of these devices on her neck she would never really be able to hide.
Gwen lifted up her watch and summoned a small rambler from the docking station in the east corridor. The big white ball rolled out of its position from the charging pit and stopped right in front of her. Gwen sat in the passenger seat and scrolled to the atrium directory on her watch. She found Dr. Howards office located at the other end of the tubular map. The woman was in the Electro Lab a quarter mile away. She practically lived at the edge of nowhere.
Gwen set the destination with the tap of her finger and pushed down on the center dome of the big white orb. The rambler sprang to life and rushed down the hallway at a speed that defied its own inertia. Gwen didn’t usually take ramblers to get to place in the lower Atrium. She had always thought that the only people who used the ramblers were lazy scientists… but this was an emergency. She was already running late for her appointment with Dr. Howard.
The doctor is just going to have to wait, thought Gwen as she studied all the sub-departments that flew by. Most of the research that was done at camp snowflake involved the nightshade’s activities in The Garden of Eden. There were some research scientist that studied the bloody bleachers from a far distance. Never leaving the sanctuary of their glorified offices. There were also others scientists that actually entered The Garden of Eden and interacted with the bleachers on a daily basis. In Gwen’s mind, these guys were the idiots.
The whole goal of Camp Snowflake was to get to know the creatures that had infested their society and teach them their ways of living. Nightshades, if given enough time, would begin to love the things that all Americans loved. They would come to except The Constitution and Bill of Rights as the supreme law of the land. They would start wearing blue-jeans, singing country music from Kenny Chesney, eating apple pie with vanilla ice-cream, and yelling at the T.V. when baseball was on. This was all based on the silly idea that they could be taught not to eat humans.
Gwen wanted to laugh at this stupid notion. You might as well try and teach a Bengal Tiger to give up meat and start eating salads. This is how dumb everyone was in their society. We are actively teaching people that they have to be sensitive to the needs of an invading interdimensional force bent on human extinction. We would much rather be painfully digested in a stomach for hours than acknowledge the problem.
The only thing keeping the nightshades from eating every last one of them was the suppression formula invented by Prewitt Labs. All the eggheads in the R&D Department had mixed it into the rain. If the bleachers ever got the chance to use their innate ability to bend time and space, this whole place would turn into another Van Winkle.
It would be a feeding ground!
Gwen paused as this terrible picture came to life in her imagination. She pictured herself struggling for breath at the bottom of a nightshades stomach. She could see herself crawling over her coworkers as they all perished together like sardines. Gwen shivered and pushed out the thought. This is not how it would end.
The suppression formula itself had been developed by Prewitt Labs and given to the government. Bob Orton was convinced that everything coming out of that place was tainted. It was designed to mislead and control the human population. Could the formula really be trusted to stop the bleachers from making portals? Had it ever failed?
The formula seemed to work on the nightshades in The Garden of Eden here at Camp Snowflake… and Greg Cardoon hadn’t created a portal during extraction period. Gwen’s thoughts turned to the weird man in the argyle sweater. Something wasn’t quite adding up. In the book review, Bob Orton had said that the nightshade population had lost all its males to a mass extinction… yet Camp Snowflake had several of them. Why would he make this assertion?
“What am I missing?” asked Gwen. “Did Bob Orton get this wrong?”
Greg had been so convinced he wasn’t a nightshade back in the van. Every last male nightshade they had brought in to the facility had been convinced that they were not nightshades in disguise… yet they had all changed into them. Both couldn’t be true at the same time. There couldn’t be a massive male extension in the nightshade race and at the same time be male nightshades in their society walking around. It looked like Bob had gotten that one wrong… or maybe the nightshades wanted the humans to think that…
“What am I missing?” said Gwen as she held on to the thick plastic seat. The rambler lurched down another hallway and sped up again. Her watch began to vibrate harmoniously. Gwen looked to see who was calling. She reluctantly stared at the image of Dennis on the little round screen. The idiot seemed to call her at the most inconvenient times. She coupled the speaker to her data disk and answered the call.
“This had better be good, Dennis.”
Gwen could see the end of the hallway fast approaching. She would be at her destination soon, “I am busy with something important right now… can this wait until later?”
“Sorry to bother you so early in the morning Agent Garcia, but I do have some news you might be interested in,” said Dennis cheerfully. It looked like he was marching through a jungle landscape, “But before I get to the good news I just want to take the time and apologize for violating your space back in the van yesterday. As a strong, independent woman, I know that you probably deal with a lot of chauvinism in this male dominant workplace. The last thing you need is someone mansplaining to you about the rules and regulations set forth in the Dead Man Act of 2025… not to mention bringing up your sister. It was unprofessional on my part. I want you to know that I am an ally to your feminism and…”
Gwen cut him off right then and there. She was sick of all the mindless platitudes falling out of his mouth. She could clearly see that none of it meant anything to the both of them. It was a flowery way of say my balls fell off while in college and now I have to dance around woman’s issues in the workplace. “Just shut-up Dennis and tell me the good news.”
Dennis looked taken aback by the interjection and tone of Gwen’s voice. He tried to compose himself again; not knowing quite what to say. “Maybe we can discuss this apology when you’re not in a hurry… maybe over lunch in the Grand Atrium?”
Gwen shook her head, “No, I don’t see that happening.”
Dennis stared at her for a minute, “Okay…”
The rambler stopped at the end of the hallway and Gwen dismounted.
“Does this conversation have a point, Dennis?” asked Gwen as she turned and smacked the dome on top of the rambler. The things went flying back down the hallway, “Or is this just like all the other times you have written me up for poor conduct with the Assets during extraction? I believe the pattern goes like this…you pretend to be my friend to gather information on my tragic back story; and then drop it into one of your stupid CAPA reports to try and explain my strange behavior to the board.” Gwen tried to put on a deep voice as she mocked Dennis further, “Gwen is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress and Acute Panic Disorder. This can be attributed to the loss of her sister and the unresolved issues she has with the Assets… strongly suggest reassignment from the field…” Gwen’s voice went back to normal, “If I didn’t know any better, it would seems like you were trying to get me moved.”
“I can see I have upset you,” said Dennis. “This wasn’t my intention.”
“I am hanging up now,” said Gwen.
“Wait, wait, wait,” said Dennis franticly.
Gwen stared at the idiot and raise her eyebrows impatiently. Her finger was one tap away from ending the conversation. Hanging up on Dennis would feel so good. Gwen refrained.
“I do have news that you might want to hear about,” said Dennis cheerfully. He was trying to change the tone of the conversation now, “You will be happy to know that our dear friend Mr. Greg Cardoon (otherwise known as Asset 666) has officially shed the human skin of his oppression and is well on his way to accepting his truth as a male member of the nightshade race.”
“What the hell does that mean Dennis,” Said Gwen. She was getting a headache from all the flowery platitudes spilling out of this guy, “Just say it like a normal human being… are you trying to tell me you processed Greg and gave him an Asset number?”
“No, it’s more than that,” said Dennis. He was breathing hard and getting excited, “Greg changed into a big beautiful nightshade last night.”
“Why couldn’t you just say it like that the first time,” said Gwen with frustration, “Why does it have to be this long drawn out process with you… stop complicating things.”
Dennis ignored her disdain for his language. He was way too excited for words, “He is magnificent to look upon Agent Garcia. He is nothing like I have ever seen before... When you get the chance you have got to see the pictures I sent over to you. He is bigger than any of the nightshades captured to date; and he is still growing in size. The research department can’t make sense of the transformation. They are getting a high energy signal from Asset 666 that are off the charts. It seemed to be well over 500MHz and growing. He has all the combined features of his male counter parts and more. He looks like something from Greek Mythology.”
“What?” said Gwen, “What happened to him?”
“I am not sure what happened to him.” Said Dennis. The social worker was sitting on a log now looking through the trees at the herd of nightshades in the blue sector, “Usually their transition is slow and well documented by the central hub. We couldn’t see the exact time Asset 666 changed because the cameras and sensors in the terrarium went out. It was the strangest thing I had ever witnessed. We were observing him in The Garden of Eden when everything went down without explanation. I had to rush down here and get a better look for myself. I was prevented from entering through cell 70 because the rain had started falling. Luckily our portal suppression system is still working, but still bizarre that it would go out.”
“What happened with Greg before the cameras and sensors cut out?” asked Gwen. “What was Greg doing at the time?”
“He was just sitting on a log in a clearing in the red sector.” Said Dennis with a smile, “It looked like he was settling into his new habitation when suddenly the cameras went out. The other researchers have been complaining that the system is very glitchy.”
“And that’s when you saw the Transformation?” asked Gwen
“Nope I didn’t witness any of it,” said Dennis disappointedly, “Asset 666 had already changed when I finally got there…But boy is he something to look at. He is definitely a male nightshade, but he isn’t like all the rest of the males…He’s got wings Agent Garcia, and massive black horns that curl into spikes. He looked intimidating!”
Gwen tried to imagine it in her head. She couldn’t draw the connection between the image that Dennis was describing and the albino man they had captured. If anything, Greg would have made a terrible nightshade, “You sent pictures over to me?”
“Yes,” said Dennis. He was dabbing his face with a white cloth. It was getting humid in the blue sector of the terrarium, “Have a look and tell me what you think. I believe this discovery is going to change the whole social dynamics of The Garden of Eden. I know the researchers up in the office are having a field day with this one. It’s almost poetic.”
Gwen tapped on her watch and ended the conversation. There was a sinking feeling growing deep down inside her chest. It was the feeling of dread… as if something terrible was about to happen that she just couldn’t explain. If Greg’s transformation was this unexpected and unprecedented; it would capture the attention of Prewitt Labs. When Gwen got the time, she would have to look at the pictures Dennis sent over to her. There was no way this was all just randomly happening now. There had to be a deeper meaning to it.
Gwen turned and felt a crunch under her boot. She lifted her foot and stared at the broken door console on the floor outside Dr. Howard’s lab. The thing looked like it had been removed from the wall by a well-placed crowbar. Gwen picked the thing up and turned it over in her hands slowly. The black sheet metal around the edge of the device had been bent over and ripped into two pieces. Gwen read the small plastic name plate on the motherboard.
-Prewitt Technologies Inc.-
The damaged electrical panel had at one point been a part of the security system for Dr. Howard’s Lab. Every section of Camp Snowflake had one of these units built into its open corridors. They were there to keep the military personal safe in the event of a hostile takeover by the Nightshade Race. Their credibility was becoming more suspect with every bit of evidence that had come to light. It was apparent that the good doctor wasn’t a believer in the government controlled system.
Gwen dropped the damaged control unit and kicked it to the side. She looked over to the replacement unit mounted in the wall next to the double doors. It looked like it was made of a high density tungsten carbide; the same metal the military used on their bunker busters missiles. Gwen didn’t know a whole lot about machining, but she did know enough about the alloy to give her pause. The thing would have been impossible to shape and place in the wall without help.
“How did Dr. Howard mount this thing?” Said Gwen, “It would have weighed a ton… and what the heck is all this?”
The double doors to the research lab had been completely welded shut. The whole damn perimeter of the door had been filled in with molten metal and polished smooth. Strips of thick blocks were crossed over the surface of the stainless steel doors. It looked like nobody was getting in… or out for that matter. Gwen pounded her fist against the door and yelled.
“Hello! Is anyone in there?!”
Her voice echoed down the empty corridor and caused the automatic lights to turn on again. It looked like the Electro Lab had been abandoned. There wasn’t another person in sight. There was something haunting about the whole scene that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Gwen tried to control her imagination as she placed her ear against the cold hard steel. She quieted her breathing and waited for a second. She couldn’t hear a damn thing beyond the threshold. Maybe General Dilk had gotten it all wrong.
A buzzing sound resounded through the empty corridor like a whirlwind. Gwen Jump backwards at the noise and reached for her service weapon. The charge on her battery pack made a high pitched squeal as it slowly reach capacitance.
“Hello?! Who is it?!” said a voice from the wall.
Gwen turned back to the tungsten carbide panel. A long cylinder was emerging from the center of the heavy block. It had a speaker and an articulating camera mounted in its dynamic surface. A green light came on to indicate that the camera was being used by the operator. Gwen positioned herself in front of it and waved awkwardly.
“Hello,” said Gwen, “I was told to meet here by General Dilk at 0600 hrs. You are supposed to debrief me on the details of my mission.”
“You’re beautiful,” said Dr. Howard. The sound of typing on a keyboard was heard over the loud speaker, “Thomas, The-Train-Engine, Dilk didn’t say anything about your beauty… This might change everything. My algorithms postulate that you are in the 75th percentile. This may have an effect on the captured host. I shall have to document it.”
“Excuse me?” said Gwen.
“Did he give you a stone?” said the Doctor.
Gwen ignored the last comment, “Is this really Dr. Howard?”
“Are you really Agent Garcia?” Asked Dr. Howard with the same tone of voice. The sound of welding filled the receiver. She was obviously working on something while she talked, “It seems we now live in a world where you can’t take things at face value.”
“How do I get in to see her?” asked Gwen.
“With the Citrine Stone of course.” Said Dr. Howard. “Press it against the cylinder.”
Gwen walked over to the speaker and examined the structure sticking out of the wall. She wasn’t sure what the doctor was talking about. “Where do I place the stone again?”
“On the top of the cylinder,” Said Dr. Howard.
A projector in the hallway fired up and narrowed in on the top of the cylinder. A green dot appeared were Gwen was to place the stone she had received from the General. Gwen opened up her hand and placed the tactical glove over the green dot. She press the thing into the metal and felt a surge of electrons fill her arm.
Gwen cursed and pulled the glove away. She was going to yell at the doctor when the floor suddenly dropped away and she was sucked into a portal.