Kick the Bucket

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Chapter Twelve

Building Three

Fourth Floor

Conference Room 2 / Vault Four Control Room

Audio log: 1993.10.7 / 2104 through 2123 hours

Excerpt duration: 19 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 ….............. NAVY (MARSCO)

*Transcriber’s note: on 1993.10.7 /2050 hours, Building Three acknowledges primary shortwave ... @92c8sa-93kj42-sdf4&4-I7^#%@ encrypted message.

Second shortwave message 64#295- 9*gt5ty-%#7y3^ acknowledged at 1993.10.7 /2054 hours containing decryption key.

Primary message decoded and used within five minute functional window on 1993.10.7 /2056 hours.

Main server records opening of security safe #43-CJP containing FAIL SAFE JERICHO located in Colonel James P. Forrest’s office, and arming of failsafe remote at 1993.10.7 /2057 hours. Colonel James P. Forrest returns to, Conference Room 2 / Vault Four Control Room, at 1993.10.7 /2109 hours.

Colonel James P. Forrest: SHUT THOSE DAMNED ALARMS OFF!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: I’m trying, sir! It’s going to take a little longer! I didn’t know we had so ... all done! Ah ... that what I think it is?

Colonel James P. Forrest: I’m pretty sure it doesn’t open my garage door.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: It’s blinking.

Colonel James P. Forrest: I know. What’s with the noise? And what’s the DE doing?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: No idea, sir. It walked into the vault room and took a good look at vault number four. After it turned around and touched vault six, I lost all telemetry. All vaults on this console are coming up empty. He ... sorry ... the DE hasn’t moved since.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Who’s manning the backup console?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: It’s on automatic. It’s just us and the LDDS for the duration.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Call Patterson. He’s qualified on that system. Get him on a console.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: On it, “Sergeant Patterson! Check in!”

< Console Mounted Electronic Speaker Activates >

Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson: Patterson here, sir!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: I need you on a backup console. I’m unlocking the one in room Echo Four.

Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson: On my way!

< Console Mounted Electronic Speaker Deactivates >

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Colonel? Would you mind answering a question?

Colonel James P. Forrest: Go right ahead, Lopez.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: It’s about failsafe Jericho. Who dreamt up that little gem of military wisdom?

Colonel James P. Forrest: It is kind of goofy, isn’t it? But you know how the Pentagon works; they’ll fight tooth and nail to keep a base that hasn’t been relevant since the Revolutionary War open. Failsafe Jericho is a holdover from before the first true vaults were built and basically useless during a Chaotic emergence anyway.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: How so, sir?

Colonel James P. Forrest: The war college has been doing quote theoretical alien invasion unquote war-games since the UFO scares in the 40′s. Taking the specs we gave them, they calculated about ninety-three percent likelihood that Building Three’s structural integrity would fail in less than eight minutes. No commanding officer would live long enough to go through all the mumbo-jumbo required to unlock this thing.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Why did you bother then, sir?

Colonel James P. Forrest: Because AFGSC will take my inability to follow Jericho protocol as proof we’ve been compromised, and give us a one hundred million degree tan.

< Console Mounted Electronic Speaker Activates >

Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson: My console’s up and running, Lieutenant Lopez!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Read off your board, sergeant.

Master Sergeant Vincent Patterson: Everything is red. The vaults are undamaged and operating within specs, but the pressure pads under the DE buckets are reading zero. They’re also not showing up on any of the cameras, and the photo-sensors are reporting no measurable aura shine.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Hold one. Do I have your permission to inspect the vaults, sir?

Colonel James P. Forrest: Permission granted.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Secure your console, and meet me ... just you ... outside the North vault room door, sergeant. Bring your BFG. Out!

< Console Mounted Electronic Speaker Deactivates >

Colonel James P. Forrest: A W27* won’t help if there’s a DE inside any of those vaults.

*Transcriber’s note: commonly used abbreviation for EPDW27 /Experimental Point Defense Weapon number 27

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: I know, sir. It’s for me.


After saluting his commanding officer, Lieutenant Lopez departs. As the door closes behind him, the PA system activates. Every room, corridor, and elevator within Building Three echoes with the same series of musical chimes. And Colonel Forrest leaves the room at a near run..

Down the hall is a console with a private link to the security server. It’s repeating twenty-six seconds of identical audio recorded simultaneously within conference room two, and vault four in an endless loop; as it has since Colonel Forrest last exited his office.

“ ... It was eventually captured on a farm belonging to some guy named ... Decker? Heckler? Lecher? ... Wait, I remember now. The guy’s name was John Becker, and it killed him and every member of his family ... Wow! That’s new! ... What’s up? ... I’ve never seen one do that before!”

The chimes, a sound clip borrowed from a very popular science fiction movie series, has never been heard before except to confirm its proper operation, and unlikely to be ever heard otherwise.

In earnest use for the first time since Colonel Forrest assumed command, it alerts him that a small computer laptop, hidden within a locked drawer of his desk, and isolated from all but a tiny number of exclusive outside sources, has powered up. It immediately begins to decrypt a video-only file sent by Lieutenant Donnell.

Its job done, a single line of green text strobes slowly in intensity: Enter password to continue.

It barely has time to flicker six times before Colonel Forrest returns to his office, carefully enters his half of a one-time-use-only encryption key, and takes his seat. The green text vanishes and the screen lights up to full brilliance.

From yellowed newspaper clippings, to fingerprint-smudged xeroxed police files of missing person reports, a seemingly endless assortment of school year-books, marriage certificates, driver’s licenses, and military records ... most derived from a variety of supposedly-secure state government computer servers ... reveal the minutia of many lives cut short.

All share a common theme.

In no particular order, the smiling faces of more than thirty men, women, children, and senior citizens momentarily fill the screen only to be quickly replaced by another; each having been declared deceased or missing by Pennsylvania authorities roughly two decades ago.

Only one, a poorly-focused photograph of a grim-faced young man wearing a torn and blood-stained army uniform, matches the name playing repeatedly on the console behind him.


< [Recompiling simulacra database / complete / engage]>

Becker awakens standing with his hand pressed against a metal door.

There’s no normal gradual struggle to escape the Sandman’s grasp, or even the adrenaline-driven explosive awakening Nature commands if a sleeper is threatened when most vulnerable.

Every memory, from the moment since awakening inside the metal room behind him, to commanding his hand to reach out and touch this door, remains intact, pristine, and open for full examination; but not a second more. The exact moment his palm made contact with cold metal is nonexistent.

Becker’s hand is just ... there.

So too are voices behind him, and, apparently they’ve been there for a considerable amount of time.

“Okay, Sergeant. We’ve done all four. Let’s cross over to the other side of the catwalk.”

“What’s gonna take us real close to that thing. Where do you want me to stand?”

“Cover me from a position about half-way to the south door. As before, I’ll cycle the hatch and peek inside. If nothing happens, we go onto the next. Just don’t get in my way if I say run.

“You won’t have to tell me twice, Lieutenant. But what about the barber pole over there?

We’ll leave that vault to the last. If something goes wrong, well ... you know what to do. We’ve been at this for about fifteen minutes and it hasn’t moved a muscle, so let’s hope it stays that way. In any case, I didn’t see it break any Olympic records during its tour of the vault level. With any luck, it’s just as much a slowpoke as all the rest.

Becker’s confusion reaches new heights. In the truest meaning of the word, he asks, ‘What in HELL is going on here?!’

Having never visited the place himself, he can’t fault Pastor Gabriel’s less-than-accurate depictions of the inferno, or the supposed fate of sinners cast into it. And, still unable to recall any action in life that might justify his presence here upon death, or even how and when that transition into the afterlife happened; he stills accepts without question the Divine ruling that consigned him to the bowls of Hades.

But this is the last straw!

Imps, demons, devils and pits filled with boiling oil and howling souls he could understand, but when did Satan’s minions join the army and start issuing military ranks!?

Feeling something else is seriously amiss, a nagging feeling he’d forgotten something important draws his full attention away from this question. Becker concentrates on actions covering his recent past. Instead of the disjointed imagery and emotional subtext memory normally provides, his mind’s eye moves backwards at a precipitous speed and abruptly stops.

As if watching a movie from the point of view of the camera, he sees his hand release a tiny sleeping rodent onto the floor. And, after a brief moment of darkness, watches the mouse pounce upon and consume a grape almost half its size with great gusto.

His relief is cut short by a sudden thought, ‘Did they hurt him?!’

Fearing the worst ... the embodiment of ultimate evil lives here after all ... his concern for the rodent’s well-being propels him into motion, and his arm drops to his side.

“LIEUTENANT!! IT’S MOVING!!”

“GO GO GO, GET OUT OF ... here?”

“SIR!! WHAT DO WE DO?!!?′

“I don’t ... don’t know. I really don’t.”

Their confusion is excusable. Not since the first case describing an encounter with a DE was reported so many decades ago, has one ever ignored a human being in its presence ... or any other lifeform for that matter. When compared to the physical properties of matter, water is more likely to flow uphill than a DE is not to kill.

Becker, increasing the gap between them with each step, keeps walking towards the northern door.

Only a few feet away, it slide open. A demon, in the guise of a middle-age man with salt-and-pepper short-cropped hair, and clothed in a freshly donned army officer’s white parade-ground dress uniform, is standing there. The officer, holding the mouse in his open left hand as it contentedly grooms a juice-soaked right leg and tail shouts, “STAND DOWN, BECKER!!”

To everyone’s surprise, and no less so than to Colonel Forrest himself, Becker stops.

“YOU FORGET SOMETHING, SOLDIER?!”

Becker comes to a rock-solid ramrod-still attention and salutes. He remains inhumanly unmoving until the officer replies with his own and demands, “EXPLAIN YOURSELF?!

A look of apologetic remorse flashes over Becker’s face. Lifting his right arm, he opens his lips and points a finger at the emptiness within. Colonel Forrest ignores the stomach-turning image as if it were a daily occurrence.

< [Simulacra database unable to comply with request]>

< [Simulacra database contains no data relevant to inquiry]>

< [Directing inquiries to operating system / irreparable faults found / engage]>

Without any overt sign of having taken control, something other than John Becker looks through his eyes and asks, “What do you want to know?”

His throat suddenly drier than all the sand in Death Valley, Colonel Forrest struggles to form a reply to the echoing question put forth by every PA loudspeaker in the vault room. After a few false starts, he manages to croak out, “Who ... who ... who are you?”

“I am an emissary.”

Having participated in several field interrogations of captured enemy soldiers, Colonel Forrest isn’t unfamiliar with being on the receiving end of one-sentence-at-a-time responses from a reluctant source, “What’s an ... emissary?”

“I am an emissary.”

Thinking, ‘Okay, here we go! It’s going be Firebase Vera all over again!’, he puts aside his time in Vietnam and changes the question slightly, ’And what does an emissary do?”

The answer is swift and not all that helpful, “An emissary encourages sentient lifeforms by realigning divergent planetary ecosystems.”

Rolling his eyes, Colonel Forrest muses sarcastically, ‘That’s just freakin’ great! Interstellar tree-hugging do-gooders that also like to eat people!′ His next question mirrors that thought, “You do know that ‘emissaries’ have been killing us, right?”

Sounding deeply offended, the entity raises the pitch of Becker’s voice, “Attempting to ... unable to access ... - unable to access required ... memory subsystems,” and goes silent.

Far in the distance, standing within the door frame at the other end of the corridor, Lieutenant Lopez cups his hands around his mouth and yells, “YOU BROKE IT, SIR!!”

“VERY FUNNY, LOPEZ!!

Colonel Forrest is no techie. Brute force is his preferred tool to repair anything more complex than a toaster; and holds a well-earned reputation for dealing with any unauthorized security-threatening device brought inside Building Three with a hammer. A very large and heavy hammer.

Regrettably, what he’d enjoy most couldn’t be more clearly ill advised.

Colonel Forrest is often present while new troops are undergoing training to perform their duties, and to evaluate their progress. A vital part of their instruction involves a short film illustrating the importance of avoiding direct physical contact with a DE.

After numerous repeat viewings of an unnamed scientist’s last seven excruciatingly-long minutes of existence, and hearing a small auditorium echo with the sound of several vomit-bags being filled to capacity, his reluctance to repeat that unfortunate incident on a more personal level is abundantly justified, “ANY BRIGHT IDEAS, LIEUTENANT??”

“NONE THAT INVOLVES ME KICKING IT INTO A VAULT, COLONEL!!”

After a short pause while he wonders if Lopez knows him too well, he yells back, “IT SPEAKS ENGLISH!! ANY GUESSES HOW??”

“YOU’LL HAVE TO ASK, DONNELL. BUT IT SOUNDS LIKE AN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO ME, SIR. IT COULD’VE BEEN INTERCEPTING OUR RADIO TRAFFIC ALL THE WAY BACK TO MARCONI.”

As if he needed another reason to mistrust technology, now he had to add interplanetary goo-monster eavesdroppers to the list. Feeling more frustrated by the second, Colonel Forrest shouts an order, “ENOUGH OF THIS!! I’M GETTING A SORE THROAT!! GET DOWN HERE AND BRING PATTERSON WITH YOU!!

And receives an obviously reluctant compliant reply, “ON OUR WAY ... SIR!!”

Feeling something wet, Colonel Forrest looks down at his left hand. The forgotten mouse is asleep. As if to reward the human holding him so gently, it’d voided much of the grape it has so recently greedily consumed.

Mumbling, “That makes sense. Everything else has turned to crap today!” Colonel Forrest carefully drops the slumbering mouse into an empty shirt pocket, and wipes his soiled palm upon his pants.

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