Anchors No More #3: The Onset of RealityFeb 3, 2014
They stood motionless as they were told, due as much to the shocking uncertainty of the moment as to the explicit command that they do so. They were still catching their breath, regaining their composure from what had just happened minutes before and none of it was making sense. Two pairs of footsteps descended the staircase and Gary reached behind him in the gloom, finding Holly’s hand and squeezing it tight. Her skin was damp and cold, he pulled her forward, closer to him.
He did not have time to look at her for the voices had become bodies which had become firmly rooted in the space just before them, dark shiny helmets hiding faces and black matte semi-automatic rifles pointing at the two scientists. Overwhelmed by the tension of the moment, Gary couldn’t stop the stumbling “Hi,” that toppled over his lips.
“Put your hands slowly into the air. Anything suspicious and we will put you down immediately. Do you understand?”
Holly, in her daze, hesitated, went to take a step, wanting to explain, “I… I’m Doctor H…” was all she got out. The guards tightened their grips and their aims. “Now,” one of them coldly interjected as he stepped forward raising his rifle barrel to the field of pink flesh above Holly’s eyes. She froze, chanced a glance at Gary who gave her an all-but-imperceptible nod yes, yes, just do it. Mechanically, they raised their hands slowly and did not make another sound.
When they were satisfied, one of the guards slightly lowered his rifle, “What’s in the bags?”
Gary thought a moment before realizing he was talking about the backpacks they had slung over their shoulders. Without moving, he said, “Just clothes, shoes, a few tools, some food. Nothing else, I swear.” He couldn’t read the guard’s expression behind the tinted visor but he could assume it was non-impressed. Gary tried to smile, “We’re not dangerous, we didn’t do anything.”
The guard was unmoved by the assurance. Keeping his rifle at the ready, he stepped towards them, “This area is restricted under provisions in the U.S. Homeland Security Act and you are trespassing under federal law. What are you doing here?” He motioned to Holly with the tip of his weapon. “You!” he commanded.
Holly drew a blank, her head swimming. It was what, five minutes ago that she had been in this very basement, merely three hundred seconds since it had been adequately lit, filled with machinery and immaculately clean. It had been like this dark and dusty version in form only: the stairs and the single pillar beside them, the nook in the back corner. And then she pressed the button.
She gathered her thoughts and said, “I’m Doctor Holly Marshal and this is Doctor Gary Neff. We work here, we work in this lab. We’re employees of ARLIS R&D, laser optics department. We work here.”
Neither guard moved, they stood silently for a minute, guns poised, attention explicitly drawn. Finally the nearest guard said, “Repeat your name.”
Holly swallowed hard, her stomach turning with warm nausea, “I’m Holly Marshal. This is Gary Neff. We’re scientists here.”
The guard shifted his grip on his rifle, raised it at Holly’s skull and held it there a moment. She tensed, eyes wide, heart pounding. And then tentatively, methodically, the guard relaxed his position, bringing the rifle down in measured increments, softening his stance. He took another minute of consideration before lifting the visor, exposing his hard brown eyes and perspiring brow. His stare did not waver, “Doctor Holly Marshal, Identification Number 336 – 14 – P5?” She nodded her head hesitantly but did not speak. Something in his eyes changed, not much, but enough. A glint of recognition flashed in them and Holly’s lip quivered. Her own sapphire eyes filled with tears and she spoke weakly, “We’re scared. Something happened and we…” She couldn’t finish, gasping back a sob, her body shivering. Gary moved towards her, to comfort her, and the second guard swung his rifle in unison with the motion. Gary stopped and raised his hands again slowly, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he breathlessly said, looking at the first guard for support.
The lead guard put his hand up, “Easy,” he said, “hold position.” His partner complied, keeping his weapon sharp but refraining from pulling the trigger. From the caved mouth of his helmet, the guard studied Holly and Gary, mentally noting their oily wetsuits, the gelatinous puddles on the floor, the two strange wet sacks draped through the puddles. The recognition brightened from a glint to a glow, “I don’t believe it,” he muttered, his head cocking in thought. He looked from Holly to Gary, from Gary to Holly. He readjusted his grip on the gun but otherwise remained steady.
Holly pulled herself together, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye and attempting to slide an air of authority into her voice, “Is Spencer Watkins here? If you can just call him I’m sure we can get this figured out.” The guard neither moved nor responded, only continued his steely observations. Holly clasped her hands together like a Victorian orphan girl begging for pence, “Please,” she whimpered, “please.” The guard finally answered, though it was not the proposition she or Gary was hoping for. He raised the rifle slowly, his recognition becoming cold disbelief, the understanding in his eyes that Holly had perhaps only imagined grew into alarm-tinted stone. His voice, however, remained unemotional and firm, “Under the ARLIS Treason Act of 2022, I am placing you both under arrest. Drop your bags and take two steps forward.”
Gary started to speak, to protest against the command, hoping for some sort of reprieve from the pessimistic direction their reality was taking them in but Holly stopped him, shaking her head, just do it, she thought, just get it over with. Gary looked at her, then to the guard who stared at him with cold, threatening eyes. Without a word, they did as they were told, understanding the time for options had run out.
© David Edward Wagner 2014. All Rights Reserved.