He awoke on a plane as it was landing. The sudden bump fallowed by a slow desperate squeal as the tires made contact with the frozen tarmac of the run way. The drink he had been slowly sipping since his first flight earlier that afternoon sloshed in its plastic cup but didn't quite spill, Nathan thanked god for small favors. The plane was a small two engine job that served only to ferry passengers from the Minneapolis international airport to acton's one terminal domestic. It had been seeing more action in the passed four days since the news broke then it had since the mid 80's. The pilot had been taking small doses of his sons ADD medication to cope with the sleep deprivation.
"This is your Captain speaking uh....we have just arrived in Acton, the temperature outside is -34 degrees so bundle up....the time is four o clock in the afternoon uh.......thank you for choosing....the only plane available.....have a nice stay."
Nathan looked around to see if anyone else found this announcement as funny as he did. The plane counted him and only four others, who looked to be reporters and photographers as its passengers. They smiled politely at him as he made eye contact, there tired eyes, half grown beards and in one woman's case Adam ant Esq running mascara speaking verses to the current of there emotion and mental conditions. Simply and plainly "who the fuck saw this coming?"
Half and hour later Nathan stumbled bleary eyed into the lobby of a hotel. The clerk at the front desk made eye contact with him and gave him a slow sympathetic nod. He had well groomed hair, deep crows feat and a posture that seemed to proclaim him both the mother and the father of the hotel. The last warmth and comfort in a world that seemed to be growing stranger, more hostile and more alien by the second.
As Nathan hobbled to stand infront of him, placing his bag down between them with a proud grunt the clerk stood to attention.
"I'm very sorry sir, we are all booked up." The clerk proclaimed shortly, his words dripping with apology and ready for an onslaught of abuse.
"I have a room booked. My name is Doctor Nathan Andrews."
The clerks eyes lit up in recognition, he had been waiting. He thrust is dry hairless hand forward.
"So pleased to meet you sir, every ones been waiting. I am under strict instructions to show you to your room at once, and once having done so, have you call this number." Nathan took his hand and shook it with two even pumps.
"who is it?"
"who is what sir?"
"who's the number?"
"I'm sorry sir?"
"well....when I call this number, who will pick up on the other end?"
"well.... someone in charge I assume...that's who gave it to me."
Nathan stopped for a second, considering the answer.
"who is in charge around here anyway? I mean... i was sent by the world health organization, but as far as i know i am the only representative from that organization here, I was just hoping that someone could tell me who i was answering to? Did the person tell you who they were with? FBI? CIA? FICAA?"
The clerk looked puzzled to the brink of tears, Nathan realized then that what the had just asked was the question of the moment, and now he had assured this poor man that he was in fact just as clueless as everyone else.
"Never mind, we will have everything sorted out shortly." Nathan quipped before the clerk had a chance to answer or for that matter break into hearty Sobs of confusion. He smiled and nodded.
"Thank god sir, its been a bit of a madhouse around here...Let me show you to your room."
A few hours later Nathan woke from a short nap. The room was nice enough, small but not cramped, a well stocked mini bar, a chair, cable television and a bed. The walls were a inoffensive light brown to match the pillow case and the blankets. His telephone rang twice before he bothered to roll over and pick it up.
"hello...?" He mumbled into the receiver.
"Doctor Andrews? Doctor Nathan Andrews?"
"Good to speak to you sir, we are sending a car around to the hotel to pick you up, it should be there momentarily."
The voice on the other end of the line paused for a moment. The sound of a cigarette being dragged upon burned slowly through the wire.
"how do you mean?"
"who is sending the car for me? You said 'WE' are sending a car for you. Who is 'we'?"
"Me...and everyone else in this room sir."
"Everyone in the room?"
"let me check........Yes sir. Everyone in the room is sending One car to pick you up. Is that all-right?"
"yeah....just out of curiosity...how many people are in that room?"
"around thirty five"
"thirty five people are sending one car to pick me up?"
"we really don't have time for this sir, by the time we finish this conversation the car will already be there"
"okay, I will be waiting."
"word to the wise, don't wait outside. Its cold. Really cold." The phone clicked and the line went dead. Nathan collected his brief case and drank the contents of a small bottle of whiskey he had procured from the minibar.
A few moments later Nathan found himself in matte black crown Victoria being driven silently through the town. Snow crunched under the tires and frost crept up dark tinted windows like the fingers of beggars scratching desperately for spare change. The driver of the car wore a dark blue suit and mid priced leather shoes, He wore dark sunglasses despite the overcast and remained silent and still, his hands and feat controlling the car more out of a basic urge rather then actual effort. The town passed slowly as Nathan rested his head on the window pain, the cold from outside stinging his sweat drenched head.
"I wish you boys had given me a chance to shower before picking me up, i must stink like shit."
The driver showed no signs of response. His hands moving deftly across the wheel as they made a gradual turn into a parking lot.
"Actually sir you smell quite pleasant. Here we are."
The car slowed to a gradual stop in front of what looked to be a hockey rink. The driver exited, ran around the car briskly and opened Nathan's door. They walked through large double doors into the building. Nathan was immediately struck with a sense of awe as he gazed into what appeared to be a black suit and sunglasses convention. A few lab coats dotted the room as well as a few blue suited policemen, but for the most part the crowed looked like it belonged in a conspiosy theorists wettest of dreams. Nathan looked to his driver, who stood almost indistinguishable from the rest of the suits.
"there are more then thirty five people here."
"Good counting sir. There are a few hundred. The room that you were called from was the inner core. That's where I would like to take you now, if you don't mind. "
"What is the inner core?"
"Its where everything is really happening sir"
Nathan looked around the room for a second, first a few suits in heated argument and then at a few lab coats discussing something to do with numbers and symbols that one of them had just written on a dry erase board.
" If everything is really happening in the "inner core" then who are all these guys?"
"I'm not so sure sir. I assume they are here to provide cover, or comfort. It doesn't hurt to have a bunch of people who look like they know what they are doing and what's going on in a situation like this.... Or so we assume, to be quite frank this is the first situation like this we have ever had to deal with."
Nathan took another look around, attempting to process the idea that all of these official looking people were not in-fact actually working on anything. He wondered briefly if they would eventually tire of pretending to work and just break into a game of beach volley ball.
"If you would fallow me sir"
Nathan fallowed his driver down a confusing series of hallways and doors, a few tents that appeared to be connected to the building only with ram-shackled pieces of particle board and back into the main room and then through another larger, mettle door. He walked into the inner core to smell of old cigarette smoke and stale coffee.
"Welcome to the inner core sir."
Nathan looked around. No lab coats, no suits, just tired looking people and ashtrays.
"what now?" Nathan asked apprehensively, grabbing a spare cigarette from a pack that sat unguarded on a table near by.
"I'll go find Ted and you must be debriefed."
Nathan sat down in a chair and smoked his cigarette, letting his eyes slowly make the rounds of room. The sweat stains and the piles and piles of old Chinese food. The coffee cups and doughnut boxes. Groups of men and women puzzling of graphs and documents. A sudden tap on his shoulder grabbed his attention.
"Nathan Andrews?" Asked a balding man of forty. His sleeves rolled up and his tie undone and dangling precariously from his neck. Nathan recognized his voice from the phone call.
"Yes sir...and you are"
"its not important, but you can call me ted if you like."
"is that your name?"
"uh....yeah, sure, so what do you know?"
"nothing yet...I just got here."
Ted began to walk, and Nathan fallowed close behind, making sure not to lose sight of the back of Ted's head.
"well we've brought you here to run some quick medical exams on a cretin subject. We simply want to know if this person is in generally good health. Do you think you can do that mister Andrews?"
Nathan looked down at Ted's smiling face, dripping with sweat and excitement.
"Yeah no problem. But whats happening here? I mean....what person? why all the.....everything?"
Ted's smile grew.
"well sir, I'll tell yeah. This government is ready for just about anything. Plane crashes, terrorist attacks, bird flu, killer bees shit....even thermo nuclear war...but something happened that we just couldn't see coming."
Ted stopped walking and turned around to face Nathan face to face.
"are you hungry at all?"
"What? Listen, I'm a bit confused, I would realy appreciate knowing just what the fuck is going on here"
Ted removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes smiling.
"I'm trying to explain the best i can. Are you hungry?"
"yeah, I'm fucking starving. Cut the shit and tell me what's happening."
"alright...uh.... how long have you been a smoker mister Andrews?"
Nathan looked down at his left hand. The cigarette burning slowly, sending a cascade of smoke up his sleeve.
"You're a doctor, so I thought it was a bit strange that you picked up that cigarette just then."
Nathan looked down in surprise at the cigarette. He was not smoker, he hadn't had one since he was thirteen. But grabbing one and lighting had seemed the most natural thing in the world. He looked around the room briefly, noticing that everyone without exception was smoking, lighting one off the other in feverish consumption. Smoking while eating, smoking while speaking, some with two cigarettes at once.
"What the fuck is this?" demanded Nathan as he threw his cigarette to the hardwood floor.
Ted smiled and laughed in self congratulation. He looked around the room like a proud father watching his kids.
"Check this guy out...." he said nodding to the far corner of the room. Through the haze of blue smoke Nathan made out the shape of a man eating. Eating and crying. Two different types of fried noodles being shoveled into his mouth, a fork in each hand. His sobs slow and desperate, muffled through the Chinese as he looked around the room ashamed.
"been eating like that since he came in....smoking too. All of us. I quit a couple of years ago but as soon as i walked into this room i found myself sucking them back like i was sixteen again. Didn't even notice i was doing it till my second pack."
"Either you tell me what's going on here or I'm fucking leaving this freak show."
Ted took a step back and rubbed his head, attempting to put the words together. He began to speak, but stopped himself before the words had a chance to escape his unshaven face. Instead he simply turned around and motioned calmly for Nathan to fallow.
Nathan fallowed a few steps behind Ted, through a small pair of doors on the other side of the inner core, through a plastic corridor and eventually through a pair of large mettle doors. Ted turned as they walked through the doors a past a pair of heavily armed guards wearing what looked to be tinfoil wigs under thick beekeeper masks.
"They insist that wearing those things help, but I've seen them sneaking cigarettes when they think no else is around, speaking of which...."
Ted reached into his pocket and grabbed a pack, passing one to Nathan and taking one for himself.
"Its just easier to walk in here with one, at first it can be a bit..... jarring."
He lit them both up and made a gesture to fallow. Nathan prepared himself for anything. His mind listed of probable reasons- chemical weapons, mind control, hypnosis, mass histaria.
"this, is a man we call Dave" Proclaimed theatrically as he pointed to a conference table. On the table sat an sleeping man strapped to a wooden office chair. He wore a button up Hawaiian shirt and khaki Bermuda shorts, his legs white and nobly, his longish hair moved around his head of its own volition as if he were caught in a slowly intensifying wind tunnel.
Nathan quickly took a drag as the word burned through his scull and down his back. His hair standing up on end. He felt raped, invaded. His mind reeled back against the Alien intrusion and collapsed defeated when it found nothing to lash out against.
"what the fuck?! TED?!"
Ted stood next to him laughing and smoking.
"Really something huh? First time it happened to me I almost collapsed....but it gets easier. When your this close to him it sounds like he's yelling at you, but the further you get away the more like a suggestion it becomes. In that big room in the front, everyone thinks that picking up smoking and main lining chow main was there own god damn idea...."
Nathan smiled uncomfortably at the idea. He stared at Dave. Letting his mind wander around the possibility's of what was happening here.
"how long has he been sleeping for?"
"since we found him. He tried to wake up a couple of times but we decided that might not be a great idea. If he can get everyone in the tri-state area on a pack a day habit while counting sugar plums who knows what he could do with his wits about him."
"where did you find him?"
"middle of a fucking cornfield. Haven't been able to figure out why just yet....its....not out main priority."
"well let me put it this way.... I'm thinking of a number."
Ted held his hand by his head and dawned a look of manic concentration.
37 37 37 37 37!!!!
Nathan looked around the room.. '"thirty seven?"
Ted smiled like a kid at Christmas.
"pretty cool huh?"
"cool....how long has that been going on?"
"off and on since we brought him in. But more so in the last couple of days. Its getting weird, nobody can really claim ownership of any ideas anymore. Five different guys claim it was there idea to call you."
"yeah.... so, I'm hear to check this guy out? make sure he's...healthy, right?"
"yeah pretty much, its mostly just paper work for the next week."
"what do you mean?"
"well he is do for execution on wens-day and we need to prove he was healthy before we stick the spike in him. I think its sort of bureaucratic....or some one thinks that anyway...."