Greg’s skin felt like it was going to catch fire from the heat of the sun. His back beaded with sweat as he squinted at the bright white building in front of him. The place looked familiar. To Greg it felt like someone had randomly built a massive post office in the middle of nowhere. He studied the narrow windows and barbed wire fencing around the government structure. Armed guards could be seen standing on tall towers throughout the compound. Their big aviator sunglasses followed the company as they made their way to the entrance. There was absolutely nothing about this place that spoke the words “education’.
“I find it a little odd that there would be barbed wire fencing at a re-education center,” said Greg nervously. The wind was pelting him in the face with sand now. He turned his head as he continued. “Are you sure we got the right place?”
Gwen pulled him forward. She seemed completely unfazed by the new climate they had entered. “The guards and fencing are here for your protection. There are a lot of people that don’t agree with what the government is doing for the nightshades.”
“I don’t feel safe here Gwen! I remember you guys promised safety to me back in the van. Where is Dennis? He’ll back me up on this one.” Greg looked around at the company. He spotted the nerdy looking councilor walking a few steps behind him. Greg spoke up over the wind. “I don’t feel safe here Dennis! Do you guys offer online courses in re-education?”
Dennis shook his head. He was fumbling with a small container of cherry flavored lip balm. The councilor couldn’t tell if Greg was being facetious. “All nightshades need to be centralized for re-education. It’s all in the Dead Man Act of 2025, article II. The United States can’t offer you citizenship if you decide to run. Being at home provides more of a flight risk for interdimensional body-snatching persons to be victimized by their communities. This hostile behavior promotes fear and distrust. Camp Snowflake was designed to make the re-education process quick and painless. You’ll be out in no time soon!”
Greg doubted Dennis’s words. There was something about this place that was screaming at Greg “25 years to life”. It felt like he had been convicted of a crime without ever going to trial. He spoke up openly so that everyone could hear him. “So what’s the recidivism rate of nightshades? I guessing that re-education is only needed once?”
The company didn’t answer him as they walked through a tall fence just outside the entryway. Greg watched as Gwen waved her government issued ID at the guard sitting in the booth. The man opened the steel doors and let the company pass through without any questions; he seemed to know the routine very well. They stopped in the small entranced and waited for the big door to close behind them. The room went dark for a second and then lit up. Greg flinched at the bright lights and stepped backwards. A robotic voice spoke up over the loud speaker.
“Which department and Location please.”
“Nightshade Processing,” said Gwen. She adjusted the watch on her arm to read 37. “At Camp Snowflake.”
“Affirmative,” said the Robotic voice.
Greg nearly fell over as the company descended into the earth. It almost felt like they were free falling into nothing. Greg’s stomach rose up in his chest and his eyes began to water profusely. He had never been a fan of the carnival rides growing up in Maine; they had always made him feel sick. Greg reached out and grabbed Gwen’s muscular arm as they started to slow down. After a second the elevator stopped and opened up with a soft ding.
“Level 37, Nightshade Processing” said The Robotic voice.
“Common,” said Gwen as they moved out of the elevator and onto the open cement corridor; the whole place smelled sterile. About 50 feet in front of them could be seen a polycarbonate railing with a ledge that dropped into complete darkness. “The elevator ride is over now Greg, you can stop squeezing my bicep!”
Greg let go of Gwen’s arm. He was so nervous now that he hadn’t realized what he was doing to the officer. Blood rushed to his white cheeks, “Sorry about that officer Garcia. I was merely impressed with how strong you are.”
Gwen rolled her eyes at the flattery. She ignored Greg as she indicated to the whole facility with her free hand. She seemed bored as she spoke about its intricacies, “All this you see here is called the Grand Atrium. It is a stratified composite of all the nightshade camps around the United States. Thanks to the portal technology that Prewitt Lab’s developed years ago, we are able to link and stack all the camps into one great whole. We are currently in the space between spaces... Number 37 on a very short list.”
Dennis giggled at Gwen’s choice of words.
Greg looked at Dennis, “What are you laughing at?”
“I am laughing at what Gwen said,” said Dennis. He had read Officer Garcia’s file. He knew she was a big Sci-fi nerd, “The space between spaces!”
Greg chuckled too now; although he didn’t know why.
Gwen shot both of them a glance that would have caused a phase shift in any known solid. Her glare gave way to un-amusement as she continued, “The current cement platform we occupy is called Camp Snowflake. It was ironically named because of its desert location in the Great Western Basin of the United States.”
“We are technically under the salt flats of Buffalo Utah,” said Dennis as he pointed to the cement ceiling. “I say technically because the portals that sustain this continuum make it all complicated. We are under the earth, and at the same time, not under the earth at all.”
“This is all classified,” said Gwen.
Dennis nodded his head and turned to Greg, “Consider yourself lucky my friend. Most people only dream of seeing a subterranean base created by the government to accommodate interdimensional body-snatching persons like yourself.”
Greg didn’t feel privileged at all to know any of this stuff. As a mater-of-fact, they seemed to be telling him all this as if he were never going to leave Camp Snowflake.
Greg was going to ask about the gaping pit in the middle of the Grand Atrium when the overhead lights suddenly dimmed down low. An odd hew of red suddenly painted the atmosphere as emergency lights dropped down in front of every entrance. A siren went off and a robotic voice was heard on the loud speaker.
“NIGHTSHADE WARNING! NIGHTSHADE WARNING! NIGHTSHADE WARNING!”
Officers started rushing into the Grand Atrium with tactical gear on. Their voices spoke quickly as they surrounded one of the massive vents in the ceiling. Gwen and Dennis grabbed Greg by the arm and pushed him to the far wall. They crouched down behind some chairs and watched the commotion from a safe distance. Greg observed as Gwen turned her attention to her watch. The female agent activated the strange thing with a system of taps. A man with short silver hair appeared on the little screen in front of them. His voice was raspy and authoritative.
“This is General Thomas Dilk! Identity confirmation word ‘Robespierre’ to all who are listening to this live feed. I am issuing this warning to let you know that one of our best students has broken out from his cell and is on the loose in the Grand Atrium. He was last seen in corridor 17 resisting arrest. He is considered active. I repeat he is considered active!”
“Active?” said Dennis nervously. “How did he get active?”
“Shut up!” barked Gwen with excitement. She had already pulled out her side arm and was checking the magazine. It was time to shoot some bleacher butt, “The General is talking!”
Greg’s heart was pounding rapidly in his chest as he watched Gwen chamber a round. He had never felt so scared in his entire life. There was no way this was all happening right now. Here he was at the bottom of a government run base with an actual monster on the loose. Everything was locked down and he was sure there was no way of getting out. Greg leaned over and whispered to Dennis. He was trying to control his breathing, “I don’t feel safe here anymore Dennis!”
Dennis turned and looked at Greg. “Neither do I!”
Greg could see the actual fear in the agent’s eyes as he said this.
“Would the both of you shut up!” said Gwen.
The general continued his debriefing. “It is assumed the filthy creature has already eaten three guards and is making his way to the Grand Atrium via the ventilation system. Take him alive if at all possible! He is a valuable asset to the United States Government.”
Greg felt like he was going to throw up. He didn’t want to die this way.
One of the officers under the vent was booted upward by the team. Greg watched as the man unlatched the steel guard and dropped back down toward the company quickly. The opening in the ceiling peered down on them like a dead fish eye. It was lifeless and cold.
One of the officers spoke, “Asset 626. Come out and comply and nothing will happen to you. I repeat. Come out and comply and nothing will happen to you.”
The air went silent. The only sound coming from the vent was a soft clicking noise. It sounded like the turning of a fan. Gwen watched the company closely. Their formation and adherence to protocol was flawless. She knew the dangers of dealing with these bloody bleachers very well. She knew that if you slipped up; it would mean the death of your whole company. Gwen had seen all the training videos were things had gotten bad. Camp Van Winkle in the north had been locked down and over run in a matter of hours. They wound up deep sixing the whole base altogether; labeling it a complete loss.
“What’s that guy doing?” asked Greg quietly as he pointed to an officer scooting away from the rest of the group. The man was holding his gun upward toward the ceiling but retreating at the same time. With everyone’s attention on the ceiling he was moving almost undetected. When he got far enough away from the group he changed his stance and started walking away. He acted like he was on patrol now; checking the edge of the platform for nightshades.
“He’s breaking formation,” said Gwen under her breath. She stood up slowly and rushed to the center of the platform without drawing attention to herself. Her boots treaded lightly on the cement. She held her gun on the retreating officer and steadied her footing. Gwen read the white lettering on the back of the officers Kevlar vest.
“You going somewhere important lieutenant Redfield?” Asked Gwen as loudly as possible. She wanted the whole Atrium to know she was confronting this man, “Or should I just bypass all the formalities and call you Asset 626?”
The retreating officer stopped in his tracks and turned his head. He seemed to be sniffing the air like a dog. He smirked under his face shield when he caught her scent on the air, “Is that my favorite officer I smell? Have you come to take me back to my holding cell to shove more gruel down my throat and teach me how important I am for the future?”
“Get on your knees Asset 626 and nothing will happen to you,” said Gwen. She wanted nothing more than to shoot the creature in the back of the head and be done with it. She refrained from doing so. The government needed him alive. “We only want the best for you here at Camp Snowflake. It would be foolish for you to leave now so close to graduation.”
The tactical team that had been guarding the vent came up from behind. They slowly began to encircle officer Redfield on the platform.
“Nothing will happen to me? Nothing will happen to me?” said Officer Redfield sarcastically. He started chuckling like a madman, “You all turned me into this pale, red eyed, monster! How am I going to trust you?” He pulled off his helmet and sniffed the air again. The scent of human was strong and inviting, “I have never even thought about eat human flesh before I came here; but look at me now. I guess desperate situations call for desperate actions. You all forced me into accepting the life of a nightshade” He turned to face Gwen with his hands held out wide. He had no intention of shooting anyone, “I can’t help myself now…I find it quite invigorating! Humans are so rich with emotion, complexity, and pain. It’s getting harder to believe I was once a human.”
Asset 626 stared at his human form.
“You were suffering from False Persons Syndrome Asset 626. This is why we took your name away from you; because it never belonged to you. Our training has taught you to accept what we know you to be, and these are the first steps to recovery. You cannot change anything about your nature, if you don’t recognize the problem,” said Gwen as sympathetically as she could muster. She was reciting the protocol verbatim; Dennis would have been so proud of her. She indicated to the ground with a nodded of her head, “Now get on your knees and I believe we can look past all this escape nonsense.”
Asset 626 ignored her request; he wasn’t quite done with the conversation. There was so much more to talk about that lay hidden under the surface. So much more he had learned from being inside the head of the enemy that needed to be said. Asset 626 knew he was much too important for them to just dispatch. “Fun fact I learned about nightshade’s today Gwen. They can access all the memories of the host they consume! Did you know that Officer Dan Campbell was the name of the man I consumed alive? This is his human form!”
“This is irrelevant!” said Gwen. She knew that all officers had to sign a stay of life form before working for one of these bases. It was why they paid them all so much. She tried to relax her trigger finger. “And if you are ever going to reintegrate back into American Society with a human name that belongs to you, you need to learn to drop these habits.”
Habits? Thought Asset 626, these desires inside of him now feel like more than Habits.
“Forget the new human name for a moment Gwen and try to see what I am talking about. I know your secrets now… and I think you already know why this exposition is relevant,” said Asset 626. He continued with his story. “Good old Dan Campbell had a wife and two kids? He also played the piano and collected stamps. His favorite color was yellow and he love…”
“Enough!” Yelled Gwen at the description of the man’s life. Thoughts of her own sister coming out of the ‘nightshade’ closet rushed to her mind like a brick to the skull. She was getting fed up with the creature. “Get down on your knees or we will use force!”
“I think I have a pretty good idea about what happens at graduation!” Yelled Asset 626. His disposition changed rapidly from calm and collected to anger. “You humans joke about it in the eating quarters. Re-education is just the cover up for something bigger! And it has nothing to do with the reintegration back into American Society!” He looked at all the officer around him. They were the monsters in this base, not the nightshades. “You think nightshade are sick. You should all look at yourselves in the mirror.”
A single steel dart shot out from one of the officers and struck Asset 626 in the neck.
The nightshade screamed with surprise as he pulled the thing from his skin and activated his citrine stone in his chest. Two massive water pipes launched into the tactical teams from open portals above. Their heavy steal surfaces plowed into the officers like a runaway freight train. Bones broke as humans were thrown down the corridor like ragdolls. Cold water rushed out of the portals and drenched the Grand Atrium. There was nothing but chaos and confusion. People were trying to crawl away from the danger and found themselves suddenly tumbling out into open space; hitting walls and ceilings. Desperate gunfire rang out as more portals opened up under the retreating officers. Asset 626 directed their falling bodies into the pit. They called out in terror as they fell into open space and vanished from sight.
Gwen took aim and fired at the nightshade in front of her. A giant portal opened up before the bullets could hit the creature in the chest and end the conflict. Asset 626 deflected the ammunition to other places in the Grad Atrium. Human voice called out in pain as hot steel tor into flesh. Gwen could hear their voice over the radio!
“I’ve been hit…repeat…I’ve been hit. Officers down send reinforcements.”
Gwen dropped the magazine in her gun and reached for her belt. The portal dropped away at that moment. Asset 626 rushed forward and booted her in the chest. Gwen cried out and tumbled backwards onto the pavement. She dropped her gun as she flipped over and landed on her stomach. Asset 626 gripped his plated vest and ripped it off. He chucked the armor into the pit next to the platform. With every portal he made, he could feel himself transforming back into the nightshade. His body was rejecting that strange stone in his mind.
Gwen struggled for breath as she rolled over and gritted her teeth. It felt like one of her lungs had collapsed from the blow. She searched for her service weapon and couldn’t find it. Panic was welling up inside of her. If they didn’t get control of the situation soon, Camp Snowflake would wind up like Van Winkle.
“I wonder what you have in that beautiful head of yours Agent Garcia. I wonder what secrets you have been keeping from me this whole time. I wander what you were thinking when you brought me here, and what the end goal was,” said Asset 626 as his dark blue shirt stretched outward from the transformation; buttons exploded in all directions. His muscles grew more lean and firm. He licked his lips and took in her scent. He could almost taste all the memories dancing around her. Asset 626’s skin was growing paler by the second. The strange and symmetrical blotchy patterns where returning. “What secrets could you tell me about Project Supernova…and what are you doing with all the bodies?”
There was no time left. In a few seconds she would be digesting alive in the pit of a nightshades stomach if she didn’t act now. Gwen reach for her watch and activated the panic mode. She pushed herself to a seated position as a high frequency noise filled the air around them. Asset 626 staggered backwards at the strange sound. His eardrums pulsed with pain! It felt like someone had opened a can of bees in his head.
“What is that?!” Screamed Asset 626. He gripped his skull and shook his head; it felt like marbles were dropping onto his eardrums. His human ears had taken the shape of the nightshades. His hair went white and his eyes blood red. His frame shot upward and became larger; the human clothes ripped and tor from his skin. His human body had completely collapsed. He could feel himself getting weaker from the drugs in his system. The dart that had struck him in the neck was making it harder to use his powers.
Gwen gripped her brass knuckles and rushed upward. She smacked the bleacher in the gut as hard a she could and delivered 50,000 volts of electricity. Asset 626 spit out his marbles as he dropped to his knees in pain. Gwen sidestepped the thing and spun around to his back. She dialed up the voltage on her wrist watch. This critical strike would deliver everything she had in her battery pack on her belt. Sparks shot out in all directions as she slammed the nightshade into the pavement with all the force of a lightning bolt. The brass knuckles split apart and clattered to the floor of the Atrium. Their energy had been used up on the blow. An alarm was sounding at her belt.
Gwen smiled devilishly at the smoking body of the nightshade. She spit out the blood in her mouth and continued to wheeze through one nostril. She didn’t care if she had killed the thing or not. This was the reason she took the job in the first place. She wanted the bloody creatures to pay for all the hurt they had caused her family. After a minute she turned her attention back to the Grand Atrium. It had filled with reinforcement that had witness the whole thing happen.
Gwen could see Greg among the onlookers. She smiled her bloody smile. She wanted this to be a warning to him as well. “Welcome to Camp Snowflake Mr. Cardoon.”