“We Are In Control, How Copy?” is a darkly humorous tale of an other-worldly attack on an Air Force base during the height of the cold war.
Chapter One: The Dull Sword
I woke up because my bunk was shaking. I figured Morrison was responsible, back from a binge and disruptive as ever. We all drank, but his consumption was being studied by top men.
I groped for the lamp, bracing myself for tonight’s drunken get-up. Probably the Morrison standard: boxers and helmet accompanied by a sloppy grin and the disgusting bottle of Jaeger he kept in the crappy Government Issue fridge we shared. Above all, I was hoping for clothes.
I found the light, snapped it on, and grimaced at my barracks room. Morrison’s unmade bunk sat in the opposite corner, proving to me what failed inspections were all about.
A heavy boom nudged the building and sent me to the floor. I found myself face to face with a wrinkled issue of Hustler that Morrison had retired by way of flinging it under my bunk; a coupon for something called Lengthenz conspicuous in its absence.
Stars bounced through my skull as sounds bled into the void: Base sirens, machinery colliding… screams. I pulled myself up, spotted my pile of sweats in a chair and wrestled them on in a palsied dance. I didn’t know what was going on, but all the noise meant one thing: I would probably have to do a bunch of stuff that I didn’t want to do.
I opened my door and squeezed into what was left of the hallway, the emergency lights revealing cracks in the walls and stalactites of insulation and sheet-rock from the ceiling. I moved toward the end of the hall and burst through the door, blinking at the damage of the newly redecorated dormitory complex parking lot.
It was a vision filled with burning wreckage and hurt people huddling near emergency vehicles. A devastated base headquarters smoldered in the distance, a medical team extracting bodies from its splintered shell. The main street next to the complex was lousy with armored vehicles from the Ground Defense Squadron, their emergency lamps turning the grounds into a tired rave.
The sky flickered with lightning about a mile to the east, just about where the flight line would be. Without segue, a wide-eyed troop with an ill-fitting helmet was barking in my face.
“Get out of harm’s way, Airman!” he yelled, hooking my arm in his.
I was focused instead on what was left of my Honda, which had obviously been flattened by whatever caused all of this.
The guy was yelling and tugging at my arm again. “…Let’s go, Airman,” he bellowed, “get over to the NDA!” He punctuated his request with a solid shove that threatened my balance. I lost my temper and swung at him.
Duclos and Chapman, guys I had known since Tech School, interrupted my assault. They wrestled me off the panicking guard as I shouted obscenities into the smoke filled night.
“Hey!” yelled Chapman over the commotion, “Cool it! Let’s get over to the trucks!” Chapman pointed to the line of armored vehicles and green ambulances. People hustled about loading injured onto transports and tending to those that couldn’t be moved.
I noticed what looked like bags of laundry about a hundred feet away. I took a few reluctant steps toward the lights.
“My car,” I began. “It… it looks…”
“Yeah, it got stepped on, man!” finished Duclos.
“Yeah, it’s trashed,” I agreed, turning back toward the parking lot. “But what the hell happened?” I still didn’t get it. The patches of smoldering wreckage and pulverized asphalt that weaved away toward the flight line revealed nothing to me. Duclos tried again.
“No dude, I mean it was stepped on,” he offered. I checked his face for signs of his famous bullshiting. Nothing. I slowed to a stop, looking to Chapman.
“What?” I mouthed, just under the siren’s dull wail. Chapman nodded alertly to confirm Duclos’ statement, and then said five words that changed everything, forever.
“It was a giant robot,” he said.
I just stood there, studying him. The red and blue lights turned Chapman’s face into a hideous creep show, his words waltzing around whatever reason I had left. I tried to imagine a robot tromping thru here, deciding which cars to step on. Unreal.
In the distance, the base sirens wound down to a low roar. The guys shuffled me towards first aid again. I tried but failed to ask the next obvious question.
“It’s at the flight line,” Duclos said, reading my mind. “They said it was smashing the bombers!” Another flash pulsed from the east as if to prove his point.
“I heard there’s another one over by the old hospital,” Chapman added. “It hasn’t moved, though. It’s down on one knee for some reason.”
We reached the vehicle line, where a nurse waved us over. Medical and Admin always got the pretty ones. She threw a flashlight beam in my eyes and let loose with the questions while examining the bump on my head. “Are you nauseous?” she asked, “Any vomiting?” She moved to my arms. “No,” I replied. “-er, negative.”
Duclos and Chapman climbed into the nearest troop transport, joining other guys that looked no worse for wear. Another truck was already pulling away, laden instead with the injured and worse. As it passed, I could see what all of the bags of ‘laundry’ actually were.
I recognized the bags from previous extended training exercises. We would practice two man lifting drills, carrying the ‘bodies’ of the fallen to a cordoned off area, take one of two dog tags from them, then place them in long vinyl bags with wide plastic zippers and write the last name and social on the bag with a permanent marker.
There were usually ten to twelve of them in a row, doing their best to lay still. Some of the guys got impatient with playing dead; others found the opportunity to catch a rare nap. There was, however, a comedian in every group. Without fail, a guy would do his best Senior Wences impression, or strike up a pretend conversation with the next guy’s mother that inevitably led to an outrageous sexual encounter: “Mrs. Torres, please, control yourself! Your son is in the next bag! Oh, all right…”
I had wondered what a row of those bags would actually be like. Now, there must have been dozens of them lying there in the grass. They didn’t make a sound. Not one of them moved.
“Hey, troop, you still with us?” the nurse reeled me back in with a tap on the shoulder.
“Yes, sir- ma’am,” I gulped. “Sorry.”
“Forget it,” she snapped. The assistant finished looking me over and turned to the emergency vehicle, giving a thumbs-up to the nurse.
“Ok, you’re good,” she said. “Hop on that transport and they’ll take you in for brief and armory. Get moving.” She then turned towards the driver. “One more!” she shouted.
Duclos and Chapman motioned me over and helped me on the transport. As a fresh blast grew from the flight line, we began to pull away from the area. With distance came perspective.
A wide swath of carnage cut through the parking lot, into the eastern arm of the barracks, past the admin buildings and through the commercial area. The outrageous notion of walking tanks was at once believable largely because I could make out the footprints. They were the size of Chrysler Cordobas.
Plus, and there is no other way to say this, I wanted it to be true. I had to see it. From the cartoons I was pummeled with as a youth to the comics and movies that wasted my time in later years, I needed to believe that our wildest imaginations came from something.
I put my head in my hands and tried to banish fatigue. It was too loud to talk on the transport, anyway.
As we pulled up to Security HQ, two guys from the defense squadron met us at the back of the transport and yelled at us to get off and follow them into the bunker area. Most of the Security division offices were underground and considered the safest place on the base. We all filed in to the main foyer and were checked in one by one through the secondary doors leading downstairs.
Below ground, the armory commons was packed with what seemed like half the base population in various states of dress. Some of the wives had children with them. Others were either deep in shock or inconsolable. Uniformed medical staff made their rounds, doing the best they could.
One of the base Chaplains, wearing full battle dress, sat at the end of a lunch table sipping coffee and solemnly nodding at a mixed group of chattering soldiers and support personnel. One of them, a Kentucky-fried gate guard that I recognized from late nights of feigning sobriety at the gate, seemed to have his fair share of questions.
“Well, Major lemmie ask you this,” he drawled, “let’s say that whatever is drivin’ them big, huge robots ain’t from here, like they’s from Mars and what not. Like… do they believe in God? If they’re killin’ people, then do they go to hell, or…?” He trailed off with a shrug, his eyes not leaving the Chaplain’s. Some of the others nodded and gave hints of recognition. They were decent questions after all, rugged trim or no. Before the Chaplain could answer, a tired female in a tattered pink robe attempted to figure it out.
“Well, even if they are aliens, honey,” she began, “The good Lord must have put them here for some reason.” Kentucky nodded slowly as she continued. “Even if terrorists have some stuff we don’t know about, and they just decided to attack us tonight. I heard my husband on the phone with his first-shirt, and he was sayin’ that there’s some of those things at Nellis and Ellsworth!”
“Is that true?” someone from nearby broke in. Another, right next to her, “When did he hear that?” People within earshot began paying closer attention.
“He was on the phone right before those explosions started happening,” she explained. “His first sergeant was calling to tell him to get back to Command because other bases were reporting… you know, those machines.”
“Robots!” Kentucky added, “Big, huge-ass robots is what they are. Terrorists don’t have none of that stuff, man! They don’t have flyin’ robots that blow stuff up.” Someone from behind Kentucky wasn’t buying that.
“Oh, what, they’re flying now?” he asked.
“Hell, yeah,” he sputtered. “We was coming back in on the posting truck when one of them landed next to the old hospital!” The people surrounding Kentucky and his group started buzzing as they processed what he said. “We were just down the road, and the radio went out, and then like these orange lights came on and then all this noise, and then it just sort of landed funny on one leg.”
A pretty blond flight nurse spoke up. “I saw that,” she began. Everyone nearby stopped and looked at her as if they were filming one of those old EF Hutton commercials. The sudden attention threw her.
“Um, we saw it-” she motioned to several other females sitting behind her, “-from our dorm. There was thunder and lightning, and it just came out of the sky. We thought it was a test or something. When it got past the water tower, it just kind of hung there for a few seconds, and then dropped. It landed super hard, sort of on bended knee, and it just stayed there giving off these loud noises like high pitched squeals and um, sped up music. Like when a CD is scratched or something.”
“Yup,” Kentucky blurted, “Yup that’s right! It was loud, too. I bet something was wrong with it.”
“I think I heard all that noise,” Chapman offered quietly, leaning in to Duclos and me. “Did you hear that earlier?”
“I didn’t hear anything until the barracks came down,” I replied.
“Dude, medical chicks are hotter than security chicks,” said Duclos. Everyone around us started to buzz again, chattering away about what was heard or seen, a little more animated than before. Just when the din threatened to get annoying, an armed Defense Squadron lieutenant entered the commons area and got our attention.
“Listen up! Hey!” He yelled, the noise dipping instantly. “Everybody from the 9th Missile Security Group and the 34th Safety and Defense detachment line up outside the commons in the armory! We’re arming up and mobilizing in ten!!” People began to shuffle and talk again, some of them heading for the exit after the lieutenant.
“That’s us, kids,” Duclos confirmed. “Time to see what’s up!”
As the small crowd ahead of us started to move, I looked back over to the Chaplain and his group, their heads bowed in prayer. Kentucky was praying fervently, hands outstretched and clasping the shoulders of those next to him. Some were nodding slightly, others saying their own silent prayer or repeating back what Kentucky was saying.
All eyes except for the Chaplain’s were shut in heavy concentration. He stared straight into a faded patch on the table, the coffee in his right hand bitter and forgotten.
He had the faraway look of a man that was watching the last of his house burn down, the heaving structure finally yielding to greedy orange flame.
End of Chapter One
(c)2009 B. Edward Smith and InCtrl Press
Edited by Jomar D. Isip
Click here to read Chapter Two: The Fire Teams
This is the first serialized science fiction story from InCtrl Press. Each chapter of this and other stories will be published weekly, and the full story will ultimately be available for sale as part of a collection via the e-reader of your choice. Read, comment and enjoy!