Kick the Bucket

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Chapter Ten

Building Three

Fourth Floor Conference Room

Audio log: 1993.10.7 / 1847 through 1849 hours

Excerpt duration: 2 minutes

Eyes only.

Duplication or removal of this transcription from archive strictly prohibited.

Participants:

[1] Colonel James P. Forrest …................................................ ARMY

[2] Lieutenant Oscar Lopez ….................................................. ARMY

[3]Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson / Alpha Team................. NAVY (MARSCO)

[4] Sergeant George Samuel / Beta Team.................................. AIR FORCE (AFSOC) **

* MARSOC - Marine Corps Special Operations Command

**AFSOC - Air Force Special Operations Command

Colonel James P. Forrest: THAT SON-OF-A-BITCH SALUTED ME!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: The hatch is cycling!

Colonel James P. Forrest: LOCK IT OUT!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: I --- I can’t!! The last safety upgrade turned it into a independent system. Maintenance personnel have to cut the hydraulics outside the hatch to disable it.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Damn it! Turn the vault’s vents on full blast; I don’t want our guys blinded by fog. Give me that microphone: Alpha and Beta teams button up and go hot! Weapons free! India Alpha is not an option. It’s up to you. Take down anything ... and I mean anything ... that comes through that hatch! I don’t care if it looks like your mother! The DE is a shape shifter!

Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson / Alpha Team: / Sergeant George Samuel / Beta Team: Affirmative! Helmets and rebreathers on! Switching to comm. channel three!*

*Transcriber’s note: Timestamp on recorded radio exchanges out of sync with master clock by thirteen seconds. Archived copy corrected and footnoted. Inquiry about error sent to IT.

Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson: Are you in position, Beta?

Sergeant George Samuel: Shields up and ready to go. How about you?

Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson: You have to ask?

Sergeant George Samuel: What’s the plan?

Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson: Vault four is closest to us. We go first. After that it’s all yours. Don’t open up until we’re behind our blast door. We’ll keep double-teaming it until ... whatever ... or the Colonel hits the all-clear. You copy?

Sergeant George Samuel: Copy. What’s our fall back?

Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson: There ain’t one until we run out of ammo. All elevators are on lock down. Take the stairs to the maintenance level. After we regroup in corridor Delta One, we’ll restock at the armory and await new orders. Good luck!

Sergeant George Samuel: Sounds like a plan. Let’s do this thing!

Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson: ON THREE MEN!! ONE!! TWO!! THREE!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: The other buildings are offering to send backup. What do I tell them?

Colonel James P. Forrest: It’s way beyond that point, Lieutenant. Ice Age protocols are a bust. It’s walking out of a vault colder than anything we can achieve inside Building Three, and Damocles is completely out of our hands. If that DE goes after them, it’s all over. Send’ em our thanks. We’ll call if they’re needed.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: So what do we do?

Colonel James P. Forrest: What we always do. Stay alive and capture it by any means possible.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: How are we supposed to do that? Nitrogen isn’t stopping it.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Whatever this DE is, it didn’t even try melting its way out. Let’s just hope it’s vulnerable to our weapons, or unable to escape confinement on its own.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: You think that’s likely, Colonel?

Colonel James P. Forrest: No.


With a lifetime of Hellish imagery drummed into his brain from earliest youth, Becker steps through the hatch to find ... a factory? No lava. No pools of flame filled with souls howling in agony. Not even a single sinner repenting their actions in life as winged, tailed, cloven-hoofed, and cherry-red scale-skinned demons whips the flesh off their bones for all eternity. Surprised by the unanticipated surreal normality of his surroundings, he stands unmoving until a loud whoosh and thud behind him attracts his attention.

A hatch with the number four painted in black on its shiny white surface has closed.

Both sides of the suspended metal catwalk on which he stands is lined with room-size cubes. The nearest one, the same one he just exited, is no different in appearance than any other, and painted the same brilliant white as is everything else in sight.

Suspended in midair within an empty two or three story tall space, each cube is hung from arm-thick braided steel cables, and connected to pipes rising from a floor far below. Except for numbered metal hatches leading to this catwalk, their outer surfaces are totally hidden beneath thick cocoon-like blankets of insulation.

Blinding light is coming from every direction.

Unwavering and absolutely colorless, it bathes every surface. Metal light fixtures the size of steamer trunks banishes even the slightest possibility of a shadow anywhere. Becker has seen immense commercial poultry farms where lights burn all night with sunlight brilliance to maximize production, and profit, but this degree of illumination was far beyond excessive for any purpose he can imagine.

< [Heat sources detected / movement detected / presence of lifeforms confirmed]>

Standing just beyond the midpoint between two identical white metal doors, he holds onto both guardrails and cautiously moves towards the nearest one. Focused on maintaining his footing on an unfamiliar surface hanging over a brightly lit void, he pays no attention to what the omnipresent voice is saying. Still around twenty feet away, he’s taken by surprise when the door slides open, and a rolling thunder of overlapping explosions and smoke engulfs him.

Looking over crossed arms covering his face, he finds six oddly-clothed demons filling the open doorway; three kneeling, and three standing behind them. Each is wearing something Becker can only describe as a dull-black diving suit with a large gray bucket completely enclosing the wearer’s head.

And poking out from behind the metal shield each one is holding, a large bazooka-like shotgun is belching fire and eardrum-splitting noise repeatedly in his direction.

Feeling nothing, Becker lowers arms he’d raised in an instinctive protective gesture. His vision now completely unencumbered, he’s amazed to see a stream of thousands upon thousands of metal slivers the size of toothpicks, and the occasional thumb-size lump of lead, fly towards ... and through ... his body.

With each separate explosion merging into a seamless whole, he observes in wonder as the white paint covering the catwalk upon which he stands vanishes a little more. In mere moments it’s totally gone. There’s nothing surrounding him but deeply scored shiny metal.

An eye-blink after the last volley, a gloved hand slides the door shut ... and a renewed onslaught begins from the once pristine, but now deeply scratched and dented, white door far behind him. The second attack is just as painless and perplexing as the first, and fails to become any clearer after the literally infernal creatures shooting at him switch back and forth two more times.

< [Heat sources receding / collect? / assimilate? / integrate? / Command]>

Becker ignores the question.

Reeling in perfectly understandable shock, he looks down in panic. As a former front line combat soldier, he’d often seen combatants sustain massive injuries and fall over dead seconds later never knowing they’d been shot. Expecting to find his body awash in blood and torn flesh, he’s surprised to find ... nothing. No blood. No holes. Not even a single tear in his clothing from an open shirt-neck down to neatly tied boot laces.

Refusing to believe his eyes, he fails to notice that all the noise hasn’t affected his hearing, or caused him to cough even once from the clouds of acrid gunpowder smoke filling the air. His only goal is an instinctive need to fully open his leather jacket and survey the damage. He can’t. His shaking fingers can neither grasp the zipper’s slipper, nor slide underneath his shirt collar to open it by force.

There isn’t the smallest gap anywhere.

His probing fingertips can feel every part of his body beneath leather, wool, and denim, but nothing he’s wearing will detach from it in the slightest, or allow any wrinkle or fold in the aforementioned materials to be altered to any degree. His clothing was acting more like a layer of glued-on stiff rubber than anything else.

A short list of interlocking thoughts quickly crosses his mind:

‘This should make going to the bathroom interesting.’

And a moment later, ‘Do I still need to go to the bathroom anymore? I’m dead in Hell after all.’

And a moment after that, ‘Do they even have toilets down here? I haven’t seen a sign yet.’

Putting these mysteries aside with several others to be answered at a later date, he resumes moving towards the now heavily-battered white door. Finding it unlocked, he slides it open. He discovers a perfectly normal corridor; or, more precisely, a perfectly normal and totally vacant corridor.

It exactly matches the vast majority of government buildings he’d ever visited to pay his taxes, or get his driver’s license renewed: every wall in sight is baby-puke pea-soup green, and obviously painted by the cheapest, and least skilled, contractor they could hire.

‘That makes perfect sense,’ Becker chuckles silently. ‘Where else but Hades would government bureaucrats go when they die?’

Expecting his stay to last literally forever, he’s in no particular hurry to go anywhere. He slowly strides down the center of the corridor checking every door knob he sees. The vast majority are locked.

Not wanting to add destruction of private property to the unknown list of sins that’d confined him here until time itself runs out, he avoids the temptation to kick them open. Instead, he enters and examines two offices that were abandoned in such haste that their entrances were left wide open.

After a quick look inside each, his opinion in regards to anyone who... labors ... here couldn’t be more negative. ‘Does any real work ever done around here?! Or do they spend all their time watching daytime soap operas and sports?’

Weird looking silent black-screened television sets dominate every metal desktop.

There isn’t room left on any of them for even the smallest Selectric electric typewriter, or a teetering stack of urgent long-overdue finish-now-or-you’re-fired paperwork. Glad his taxpaying days are behind him; Becker shakes his head in disgust and continues his search for answers without bothering to enter another room.

It’s a long, long corridor.

As stated before, he doesn’t really mind in the least.

The word eternity has a vastly different meaning when it’s staring you in the face.

And even if that eternity by definition will never end, the seemingly infinite corridor eventually does.

With no other option than a ninety degree turn to the right, Becker starts down another corridor no different than the first. The same nausea-inducing green paint, the same dozen or so widely spaced plain wooden doors with indecipherable signs glued onto the walls besides them, bargain basement linoleum floor tiles, the plainest of plain florescent light fixtures overhead ... and totally, completely, one-hundred percent uninhabited.

Keeping a steady, but slow, forward pace, he begins to wonder again when his eternal punishment might start. Pastor Gabriel never told Becker the child he’d wander around an office building if he died with a sin-stained soul. Or, at any point long after, that he’d earn this particular fate if he failed judgment and was sentenced to forevermore stand on the wrong side of the Pearly Gates.

Despite fully acknowledging how dire his situation was, he’s bored. Already missing the short-lived excitement of Halloween-costumed demons shooting fake guns at him, he has to admit ... ‘Now that was scary!’ And more in-line with what he expected to experience in the pit.

Reduced to the childish act of counting doors to relieve the tedium, he continues his trek towards yet another right turn far in the distance. One door! Two doors! Three doors. Four doors! DING! DING! Oh, that one’s an elevator door. AN ELEVATOR DOOR!!

Assuming it’s nothing more than a large broom closet at first glance, he’s caught completely by surprise when a small floor-counting glowing dial above a pair of olive-drab bi-fold metal doors chimes twice. Hoping to experience yet another boredom-relieving harmless barrage, he steps backwards as far as the corridor’s width will allow, and spreads his arms wide.

The doors slide open and stay that way.

There’s no one inside.

Even the annoying Hawaiian elevator-music so popular these days is absent. Now that’s torture!

It’s completely empty ... huh? Becker focuses his attention downwards. The tiny brown ball of crushed paper he’d assumed to be trash is breathing. The elevator’s only passenger is a sleeping mouse.

Outraged by the most transparent of traps, Becker opens his mouth for the first time to loudly express his ire. ‘Who do they think I was?! A monster?! I was a farmer! I served my Maker’s plan, and my animals served theirs. No once did I inflict pain unnecessarily! If you think I’m going to harm this creature of God, you can go to ... to ... HERE!!’

< [Lifeform detected / collect? / assimilate? / integrate? / Command] >

Becker, as before, ignores the only partially comprehensible stream of gibberish.

He has another problem demanding immediate attention.

He wants to scream.

He has no mouth.

Not one word he’d ever uttered since awakening had escaped the confines of his mind.

Shaking fingertips trace along his facial features. Nothing seems out of place.

He commands his tongue to explore his teeth and press upon the inner walls of his checks. Even the gaps where his wisdom teeth once stood are thoroughly examined. His senses report nothing out of the ordinary. But, no matter how often or how forcefully he tries, he can’t get his fingers to do the same.

Just behind his open lips there’s a barrier leading to ... what?

< [Calibration of simulation sensory subsystems in progress / synchronizing incomplete]>

Unable to process ... unable to cope ... he instinctively searches for a touch-stone back to a reality he can comprehend. Looking down he finds it. A mouse. Knelling he touches it...

< [Collect? / assimilate? / integrate? / Command]>

For only the second time, Becker intentionally communicates directly to the voice echoing inside his head, ‘LEAVE IT BE!!’

There is no response.

Gently, barely ruffling its deep-brown fur, he reaches into the open elevator and carefully slides a couple fingers on his right hand beneath the unresponsive rodent. His moment of panic quickly abating, Becker climbs back onto his feet and holds the sleeping mouse close to his chest.

Almost mesmerized by the warmth and ... life ... he feels coming from its miniature body, he whispers questions only he can hear, ‘Why are you here? What ... could you have possibly done to deserve this?’

He knows an answer will never be forthcoming. He felt compelled to ask anyway.

Standing still only long enough to send the elevator on its way with the press of a button, he continues his momentarily interrupted stroll. Cupping the mouse carefully between his palms, he feels its heartbeat and smiles.

He’s no longer alone.

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