Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
“You have arrived at your destination,” Phillip’s phone cheerfully pronounced as his car barreled down the dusty road. Fishing around in his pockets, he removed a piece of paper, unfolded it one handed, and held it up against the top of the steering wheel. The hand drawn map and instructions were written in a flowing script, reminding him of the maps from Tolkien books he had poured over as a child.
Scanning the flat vista of red brown dust before him, he muttered aloud, “Won’t be finding any Misty Mountains out here, my dear Bilbo Baggins.” Glancing at his phone, perched in front of a vent blasting chilled air, he noted the “No Signal” indicator, and powered it off to save the battery. Martin had made it clear that past the point where his phone could navigate it was a dead zone.
Phillip wrestled with a strange feeling of anxiety. He felt like he was walking into his first job interview, even though he knew that was silly. It had been months since the initial meeting at Martin’s house, and they had only communicated a few times since then, with Martin insisting that everything be done in person. Martin’s shades of paranoia were disconcerting, but Phillip was no stranger to hubris fueled secrecy. Academic research was rife with it. Mix in some lucrative government funding, and he rationalized that Martin was probably doing better than he would be, given the same situation.
A concern that wasn’t as easy to brush aside was how easily he had himself slipped into that same overprotective attitude. A few days after the initial meeting, Beth, ever curious, had been trying to get him to divulge, well, anything. After pressing a couple times he had snapped back in anger. The look of disappointed shock on her face was still at the forefront of his mind. While he had immediately regretted lashing out, apologizing wasn’t his strong suit. After repeated ham fisted attempts to do so, things seemed to smooth things over, but he wasn’t sure the bridge had been fully mended.
Phillip was snapped back from his wandering thoughts as a short parade of canvas covered military supply trucks roared past him, shaking his car with their turbulence. That was the real danger of roads like this, he thought. It was too easy to lose focus against a backdrop that never changed. He absently wondered if that had something to do with his feelings of anxiety. Maybe he was just now realizing how comfortable he had become with the pedestrian nature of his own career up to that point. After taking another look at the hand drawn map pressed against his steering wheel, committing it to memory, he tossed it on the passenger seat, and craned his neck forward, scanning the heat distorted landscape for signs of a chain link fence that marked the edge of the location designated Area 54.
Martin felt like he was floating, but not like he was in a pool. He was in, nothing. Just floating. His awareness seemed to be stretched into a distended shape much larger than himself. All around were flickering points of lights, some with faint hazes of color brushed across and around them. Like a watercolor painting, he thought. A feeling of confusion flowed through him, as if he didn’t comprehend his own thought while simultaneously understanding it completely. He tried to focus, but the harder he tried the more his attention fractured into ambiguous shards of consciousness.
He couldn’t tell if he was rotating, or if the universe was turning around him. To his right, or what he imagined was his right, a reddish bloom erupted as a star formed, blasting out a mighty solar wind. The dusty translucent wave noiselessly roared through space towards him. A mental echo of himself tried to react, but he was frozen. When the wave reached him, the star scape blurred as he violently spun.
There was no sense of time, but when vision stabilized, he found himself surrounded by crystalline ice formations. Unable to form the words, What are words?, he somehow understood that he had gotten caught up into the tail of a comet. Adjusting his orientation, he could see a brilliant ball of rock and ice gently rotating as it careened through space while tons of material sloughed off every second, forming a trail millions of miles long. Looking past the head of the comet, there was a distant yellow star gradually expanding in size.
The sound of a nearby intercom buzzer jolted Martin. A severe sensation of vertigo overtook him, and he reached out just in time to brace himself against a wall before falling over. The base of his neck was burning like it was on fire. A random childhood memory of stumbling into a bee hive flashed through his mind as he struggled to resolve his surroundings. The intercom buzzed as he gingerly felt around to the back of his neck. The skin was unbroken, and applying pressure caused no discomfort. The burning sensation faded away to a faint, though persistent, tickle. The intercom buzzed again.
Irritated, Martin punched the button, and snapped, “What!”
A voice full of static against a background of sinusoidal coil whine replied, “Hey doc, there’s somebody at the outer gate. A doctor Hanson or Henson or Henderson, or something. This intercom system is worse than Hardee’s drive thru. He says you’re expecting him.”
The sensation of vertigo had also faded, and Martin straightened up. As he adjusted his glasses, and lab coat, he tried to relax and gather his composure. He was still in what would soon be his primary lab. Massive crates were strewn around the space, having been delivered just a short while before. His eyes settled on a large plain clock propped up against a far wall. That can’t be right, he thought. If the time was correct, he’d been in this room for hours. He had noted the time after he had signed the delivery manifest. It didn’t make any sense.
“You still there doc? Can you hear me?” The intercom clacked like a snare drum being struck repeatedly. “This equipment. I swear! I don’t understand how anyone expects me to keep all this ancient crap running, especially with those…”
Scowling, Martin replied, “Yes, Gus, I’m still here. The man at the outer gate is Doctor Philip Thompson. Buzz him through, and I’ll go topside to bring him in.”
“…oh, right. Okay. On it. Gus out!”
The intercom coughed a final burst of static as the connection closed. It was a persistent irritation that Gus’ presence was a condition of the same arrangement that provided Martin the latitude he required. It had simply not been a battle worth fighting, he often reminded himself, and the resources required to retrofit the facility were immense.
And while he would never admit it to Gus, Martin was somewhat thankful that someone other than himself was responsible for keeping “all the ancient crap running.” At the moment, that also meant Gus was functioning as a gatekeeper, being that he was the only one with full access to the computer system, such as it was. Martin didn’t intend for that situation to last much longer, however. But first he needed to get Phillip completely on board. There was so much to do, and so little time. After another quick visual survey of the scattered piles of crates, Martin made his way to the lift.