Another excerpt from the first book in the “The Spaces Between” series, as mentioned in a previous post. As H.P. Lovecraft once wrote, “The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them…”
Ted was brought to a conference room that contained a large table made of a very dark, shiny wood. Mahogany, he figured. These old-power elites loved their mahogany. Around the wooden table sat what appeared to be, at first glance, wooden people. A few of them were military, and a few wore civilian clothes. One was not a man at all, but was a rather tall, gangly fellow with a head that was small in proportion to the rest of his largish body. His round little head, sitting atop a long, thin white stalk of a neck, reminded Ted of a light bulb, and Ted smiled when he couldn’t help but think I bet that guy is full of bright ideas. At the moment the thought entered his mind, the bulb head tilted slightly on its spindly frame, like a dog that has heard a strange noise. Great, thought Ted, and he can read my mind. Sorry about that, it’s just… haven’t seen one like you before. As he completed this thought, Bulb-Head went back to his original posture. Ted had a moment to notice how awkward an awkward silence was when it was book-ended by no sound at all. The awkward silence was eventually broken by the hiss of an oxygen tank. Ted followed the sound to see that one of the men was very old, frail, and shriveled, shrunken into his overstuffed leather chair behind the massive table that almost made him invisible. The fact that he sat next to the distracting figure of Bulb-Head completed the invisibility effect, and Ted felt guilty for not having noticed him before. The guy was old. Real old.
“Hello, sir,” Ted heard himself say. The shriveled shell wheezed back. The body seemed lifeless, but the green eyes above the oxygen mask were very alert, and almost twinkled with a keen contemplation of the nervous young man that stood before this rogue’s gallery of black op ne’er-do-wells. Before Ted could stop it, the thought Quit eyeballing me, buddy, look at the guy next to you with a light bulb for a head flashed across his mind, immediately followed by I am so sorry. Bulb-Head shifted in his comfy seat, and Ted got a distinct message that seemed to be broadcast to the group: Is there a purpose to this? Ted shrugged apologetically, and knew he was going to really have to work on controlling his thoughts if he was going to pursue a career that would regularly put him in such unique company.
“Alright, Mr. Tully, you obviously have our attention,” said a man in a brassy Air Force uniform sitting at the far end of the large table. Ted looked for a name tag, but there was none. He checked the stripes and saw that this fellow was a Chief Master Sergeant. No, wait. There was a little star in there. This guy was a Command Chief Master Sergeant. Top brass. The Command Chief continued: “Now would you mind telling us just what it is that brought you here with such an urgency as to feel it was acceptable to interrupt these proceedings?”
Ted was suddenly very conscious of two people sitting at the table wearing black suits with the Sigma insignia on the breasts. That was a Dulce insignia. Were the rumors true about underground magnetic trains connecting these bases? He was not sure he felt comfortable speaking in mixed company, but hell – who knew who was who in these places anyway? It was always going to be mixed company. He remembered Kite’s advice: Just jump in and swim. And as time was a pressing factor, he did just that.
“Well, Chief, I won’t mince words. I have come to collect a sample of alien DNA.”
For some reason, he had thought that all human eyes would have turned to Bulb-Head at this point, but none did. They all stayed fixed on him. Another awkward silence. Finally, the Command Chief upheld his end of the conversation.
“And what,” he said dryly, “makes you think we would have such an item here?”
Ted was dumbfounded. He looked around the room at all the eyes staring at him, especially those of Mr. Bulb-Head. The blatant disregard for truth among these top brass types frustrated him and underscored his urgency even further. He felt like he was dealing with one of those automated telephone response programs that are designed to deflect customer issues rather than deal with them. He felt his irritation rising. The flat hiss of the old geezer on the oxygen tank seemed to mock him.
“Oh, come on!” he finally blurted out at the blank faces staring at him, faces that were obviously feigning ignorance. “Come on!” he said again, waving a hand at Bulb-Head.
“Mr. Forveaux is not an alien,” the Command Chief said. “He has a unique condition from living deep underground for the past several years. The work we do…”
“The work you do involves aliens!” Ted snapped. “Extraterrestrials. With all due respect to Mr. Fornio—oh or whatever, you don’t just have your goon squad dart me out in the desert, and then wait for me to wake up so that they can deliberately walk me through a hangar filled with downed off-world spacecraft, stick me on an elevator that plummets to the center of the goddamned earth, and then bring me into a room with Captain Gas Tank and Bulb-Head there and then deny that you’re working with aliens. I mean come on!”
The panel members stared back, not so much as a wrinkle changing in their blank expressions. The wrinkliest of them, Gas Tank Guy, wheezed again like a sickly little Darth Vader. Ted looked at the shriveled little man. He was wearing a faded leather bomber jacket, wrapped around his shriveled little frame. The leather of the jacket looked dark against the pale, wrinkly leather of the man’s face. Ted noticed a patch on his chest that displayed the head of a Grey extraterrestrial. Ted could also make out a number: 509. Could this fossil have been with the 509th Bomb Group out of Roswell? His instincts told him this was enough of a lead with which to swim.
“Uh-huh, right there!” he pointed to the withered old troll’s jacket. “509th bomb group out of Roswell? Hey? The freakin’ alien pictured on that patch?” Ted extended his hand, wiggling his fingers at the Command Chief. “The DNA, please! Time is of the essence!”
The Command Chief stood up and began walking towards Ted, whose initial reaction was to take a step back.
“You have no idea what time is!” the Chief hissed, then composed himself. “The work we do here involves a great many and varied projects, some of which are not unrelated to psychological operations. You are in the media, are you not?”
“Who isn’t these days?” Ted retorted. “Any idiot with a web cam or a blog…”
“Yes, we live in an age of miraculous communication,” said the Chief sarcastically. “And you, Mr. Tully, are plugged in to a network of conspiracy theorists. What’s the name of your particular forum? ‘The Lone Nut?’”
“Yeah, that’s right,” said Ted. “So make with the Grey DNA and we can all get on with our… many and varied projects.”
The Chief gave him one of those smiles that actors portraying Nazis always used in the movies – a smile that is meant to be a condescending mimicry of pleasantness.
“Mr. Tully,” he sighed wearily. “I assure you we have no DNA of any Grey aliens…”
“Bullshit!” Ted stood his ground and reclaimed his step in the direction of the Chief. “You recovered bodies at Roswell, one of which was still alive. Wright-Paterson was closed down, and all records say everything was moved here to Nellis. And you aren’t the sort to just lose something so crucial to your research.”
“True,” the Chief agreed.
“So, you admit you have, or at least had, a live Grey alien housed in this labyrinth of yours?”
“Of course not,” the Chief fired back. “I am just agreeing that we are very meticulous about our work. And we pay very close attention to people on the outside who try to follow it.”
Ted was starting to feel there was a threat somewhere in the Chief’s dry tone when he felt something break from the collective attitude around the table — Bulb-Head. Bulb-Head had suddenly shifted his attention from Ted, somehow indicating the shriveled old fellow with the oxygen mask. Ted knew the Chief was the defensive guard he had to get past, and somehow Bulb-Head had implied that old green-eyes wasn’t just sucking in bottled oxygen. That guy was central to this meeting. That guy had the ball. Ted turned on him.
“Alright, Wheezy,” he said, hoping his cavalier tone carried the weight he needed it to, “You were at Roswell, and you’re still in this group, so you must know where it is.”
“Even if we had this DNA,” the Chief raised his voice, trying to draw Ted’s attention back to himself, “Why would we ever give it to someone who writes for an overzealous conspiracy rag?”
Ted felt his anger rising again. “Because if you don’t, the Geist Clan is going to wipe us all out as a failed experiment and you damn well know that, so why don’t you just give me what I need?” He pushed past the Chief and headed to the table, staring intently at the ancient oxygen junkie. The wrinkly little man didn’t budge, he just stared right back into Ted’s face with his sharp little green eyes like jagged bits of glass.
The Chief was getting irate. “We are far better prepared to handle any situation relating to the Geists here in our own network – the network that initiated these interactions – than you clowns are with your crackpot theories and doctored picture galleries,” he said. He then tried a more reasonable tone. “Why don’t you bring your source here, and we can work this out with the experts, rather than a delusional group of tabloid lunatics?”
Ted knew he was running out of time. If their intimidation game wasn’t going to work, at any moment some guards would be brought in to drag him out, drug him, and dump him in the desert. If he was lucky. If he was unlucky, well, he vaguely recalled that an officer at Roswell had once threatened that they would be picking someone’s bones out of the sand. He needed something explosive to get past this blockade. He had to hit them with some intimidation of his own. If he could get that little green-eyed troll to flinch… Ted jumped over the table, slamming his hands down hard on the flat wooden surface with such force that it stung his palms numb. “What did you do with that alien, you wrinkly old bag of skin?!” he shrieked, mere inches from the wrinkly old face. But old rawhide didn’t even blink. He just drew another shallow breath from his tank, his green eyes glaring through the narrow slits of his puffy old eyelids, and Ted was actually the one to look away. As his eyes shifted to the right, he saw that as up close as he was, he now had a clear view of the patch on the breast of the old man’s jacket.
“Oh, my God,” the words fell out of Ted’s mouth. Bulb-Head turned suddenly to look at the little shriveled man, who now seemed to shrivel up even more. Ted could feel a sort of anger coming from Bulb-Head — a feeling of disgust — and the old man’s beady little green eyes dimmed, and his wrinkled little head hung forward ever so slightly.
“Oh, my God,” Ted said again. “You sick old bastard!”
The patch itself really did depict a Grey alien. What struck home was the Latin phrase, now clearly visible below it: Gustatus Similis Pullus. English translation: Tastes like chicken. The little stenciled images of a knife and fork, now visible to Ted’s eyes, brought the horrible realization home.
“You ate it?”
The only sound in the room now was the hiss of the oxygen tank, until Bulb-Head stood up with a sudden fury. Ted turned to him, ready for the attack, but Bulb-Head – Forveaux, was it? – just looked at him, almost sadly, turned, and walked out of the room. Ted realized what had just happened, and he felt ashamed for what some of these beings must think of his own species.
“Well, that’s just great!” the Chief blurted out after Forveaux had vanished through the door. “Six years of negotiations with those bulb-headed bastards! Nice going, jackass!”
“Me?” Ted said indignantly and pointed at the Roswell fossil. “This old nanny-goat’s the one that munched up one of his people!”
“They’re not from the same tribe, you idiot! The 4-VOX are from another dim—” the Chief caught himself. “Just get the fuck off my base!”
Ted caught a quick glimpse of the little oxygen-sucking, alien-eating gnome out of the corner of his eye, those beady green eyes glinting with a sick kind of smug satisfaction. He wanted nothing more in this moment than to slap that smug glint, along with the emerald eyes themselves, right out of that withered old critter’s skull.
“I won’t,” Ted said coldly, locking eyes with that little breathing mummy of a man. “Like it or not, Chiefy, we are the only people the Geists are talking to. They won’t deal with you. You lot are the reason they would like to erase our species.”
The continued silence from the others, and the fact that no guards had come to drag, drug, and dump him, told him that he still had their attention, that they knew that what he was saying was, at least in part, very true. He turned his attention back to the Command Chief.
“For whatever reason, the Geists find my delusional group of tabloid lunatics amusing – much more amusing than your multi-trillion-dollar world of lies, labyrinths, and alien-eating lunatics.” He gestured to the old man in the oxygen mask, whose eyes shot jagged shards of green glass back at Ted. Ted ignored him, knowing old monsters like that hated being ignored more than anything. “You can’t even keep your light-bulb headed buddies on your side of the table anymore. Face it, Chief. Whatever your plans had been, they didn’t work. You’re losing whatever ground you held in your misled attempts at intergalactic mingling.”
“Interdimensional,” the Chief hissed in a tone that dripped with venom – a pure rage that can only truly be turned inward. For all of his pride and position, the Command Chief knew that his team had dropped the ball.
“Yeah, I know,” Ted said. “I was just using terminology that old fart can follow,” he added, waving dismissively at the relic from 1947. “He probably still thinks we’re dealing with little green men in rocket ships from Planet X.” Ted maintained a stony visage, but he took some guilty pleasure in mocking the old warmonger. He had a lot of respect for real soldiers, especially from that particular generation, but it was the greedy elite guard like this one that got so many of the good ones killed. It felt good to dismiss that old oxygen-sucking antique with such a belittling reference to his old bygone ways. He knew it pissed the old geezer off, and he hoped it would be the final nail in his coffin, the coffin of his Cold War power-hungry ideologies. He absolutely fucking hated people of that mentality.
“The bottom line, Chief,” Ted began again, this time with a much more civil tone, “is that your people have had access to that DNA key for over seven decades now and you haven’t managed to open the big doors with it. My group, on the other hand, we have access to the right locks – locks that you have managed to let slip through your fingers time and again.”
“And what makes you think that you’ll have better luck?” the Chief asked.
“Because there is a sequence that must be followed. One lock opens the next. If you make a misstep, use the wrong key in the sequence, the sequence rearranges itself and you’re back to square one.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” the Chief demanded. Ted knew his flimsy analogy was falling apart, but he also noticed a mild change in the Chief’s tone. His anger now seemed diluted with a genuine curiosity.
“The DNA,” Ted replied. “It’s not just the key. It’s part of the lock. It’s a piece of a puzzle, a code that contains the correct sequence.”
“And you have the other pieces?” one of the men at the table in civilian garb asked, a younger fellow, but no less impeccably attired. Ted turned to him, nodding appreciatively to his civil tone.
“We believe so, if by pieces you mean living, multiple-helix DNA.”
The younger fellow lit up. “We’ve tried isolating it in the lab, but it always breaks down,” he said. “How is this DNA contained?”
“In a living organism,” Ted replied. “A man.”
He noticed the shriveled octogenarian begin to lift his head again when another person at the table sprang to life.
“What man?” asked this new person, and Ted saw it was one of the people sporting the Dulce insignia. Ted shot a glance at the withered old mummy to see if he had something to say, but he just slumped back into his overstuffed chair. Sometimes the shift of power is so subtle, but still so devastating. Ted turned his attention back to the woman he assumed was from Dulce.
“A man who is with our group now, moving towards Dulce,” Ted answered, nodding at the Sigma on her lapel. He hoped she would give some sort of a tell, like move a hand to cover the Sigma, but she kept her eyes locked on his, and after a moment, turned to face her counterpart.
Now the other people at the table began to exchange glances. What Ted was offering was too good to pass up. The message encoded in these fractured strains of DNA was, after all, the Holy Grail in humanity’s struggle to finally seize control of its own destiny. The Chief’s eyes moved from the table to Ted again. His brick wall approach seemed to have crumbled around him.
“Does this man have a name?” he asked, trying to maintain control of the room.
Ted’s first instinct was to refuse to give the name, but he then asked himself where all this secrecy had gotten them. If they were going to make this work, they would have to work together. Jump in and swim, he thought, and said, “Aaron. Aaron Richards.”
The energy in the room shifted as the panel waited to see if the name rang any bells in the group. As they looked to each other for confirmation that no one seemed to be giving, there was a sudden pop and a loud hiss of escaping air. The withered old coot had removed his oxygen mask and was now sitting up, his hands shakily gripping the arms of his plush leather chair. The green eyes that moments ago had been shooting jagged shards of glass at Ted now seemed to be pleading.
“Aaron?” he wheezed. “You have Aaron?”