Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
Thomas’ cube shook as the colleague next to him smacked their desk three times in rapid succession. Wheeling out into the narrow walkway that sometimes felt like it stretched for miles, he leaned over to survey the situation.
“James, what’d that desk ever do to you?”
A sharp glance was his only response. Thomas couldn’t help but laugh, reveling the schadenfreude of the situation.
“Crashed on you, didn’t it.”
“Didn’t reboot first thing this morning, did you?”
“Bet you’ll remember tomorrow, won’t you.”
“Don’t you have someone else to be bothering?”
The phone in Thomas’ front pocket buzzed. “Seems like I do,” he said as he wheeled back into his cube.
Looking at his phone, he saw a text message from an unknown number. The preview of the message started with “Requesting McFeely’s Delivery Service…”
It was a running joke between himself and Gus. They had been friends since college, and somehow Thomas had agreed to be Gus’ personal courier for all manner of contraband as he managed to pick up work that kept him sequestered in one way or another. While they referred to it as contraband, Thomas was never worried about actually being busted for smuggling ice cream, chips, and booze.
Opening up the Messages app, he started thumb typing,
Hey there. Was wondering if you were needing anything. Been a while. How's bunker life?
There was a long pause before the three dots indicating typing started their dance. He had been out to the base in the middle of the desert a couple of times, and was always amazed that Gus was able to contact him at all. Once he had tried to explain the hoops he had to jump through to get a message out, but all Thomas ever heard were the sounds of Charlie Brown’s teacher.
Dude, it's nuts. Not sure how much longer I'll gonna be on this one. Bring the regular stuff, but toss in an extra pint. Rgr. When? ASAP Tomorrow then. Same bat time? Same bat channel? Yep See ya then Thx!
Thomas returned his phone to his pocket, and stared at the dozen new emails that had just piled into his Inbox. “You can wait,” he said, locking his screen. Standing, he paused, and pulled a sticky note from a nearby stack. In all caps he wrote: “REBOOT ME!”. Before he left, he stuck it in the center of James’ monitor screen.
As his car flew down the deserted stretch of road, Thomas turned up the volume on the music. He recalled hearing stories about how people who drove through Kansas would get hypnotized the endless rows of corn. Eventually their mind would wander, and without even realizing it they would find themselves surrounded by a field of corn after having run off the road. He’d never given the stories much credence until he’d had to drive through the desert.
“At least they had corn,” he said aloud. “Here, we just have dust, and then some more dust. Oh hello, there’s some sand. How do you do, dirt. Oh look, more dust.”
He turned up the volume one more notch, giving the two soft sided coolers nestled together like dragon eggs from the Bizarro World in the passenger seat a quick glance. The air conditioning was on full blast, and he’d diverted the center vents to point at the cargo. Even though they were stuffed with ice packs, the heat of the desert wasn’t to be trifled with.
The worst part about these deliveries was the return trip. At least there was a little bit of excitement on the way in. Once there, the reality that these places were just as dull and boring as his cubicle always made itself apparent. At least the music helped to keep him awake.
Almost on queue, Alice Cooper’s throaty growl of Public Animal Number Niiiiiiine cut off, replaced with the drone like hum of tires rubbing against the blistering asphalt. Glancing at his phone, Thomas saw the last bar of signal on his phone blink out of existence.
“On the upside, that means we’re almost there,” he said aloud.
The barrier at the front gate was open, but Thomas still slowed down to a crawl before passing through. He always entertained the notion of blasting through the entrance like some scene from Mad Max, but figured the one time he did that some large military vehicle would appear right out of the dust. Then he might have an actual problem explaining why he had stormed into a supposedly secured facility armed with ice cream and bourbon.
Pulling up to the little house like structure, he honked his horn, two short blasts, and turned the air conditioning down a few clicks. He knew the horn honking was pointless, but he liked to do it anyway. The engine could tolerate idling in the heat with the air running for only a short while.
Glancing at his watch, Thomas frowned. He had been a little late, which was his usual, but Gus usually popped out like a jack-in-the-box just moments after he showed up. Checking the engine temperature gauge, Thomas decided to give him another five minutes before cutting off the engine.
Ten minutes later the green painted metal door opened, and Gus waved at him to come in. There was an anxiousness to the gesture that Thomas thought was a little out of character. After cutting the engine off, Thomas hefted the coolers into his lap by their straps. With a deep breath, he threw open the car door, feeling the oppressive desert heat envelope him. Sweat bloomed across his brow as he pushed the car door closed with his foot, and hurried across the short stretch of sandy dirt.
Once inside, Thomas sat the coolers down, and wiped his face with a handkerchief that he had stowed in his back pocket. “Whew, man, it is brutal out there.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it,” Gus said.
Pointing at the coolers, Thomas said, smiling, “Speedy delivery!”
There was a long pause as Gus nodded, staring down at them. Normally Gus has some kind of witty reply, or at least a terrible joke. Thomas could see that he was nervous or upset about something.
“Hey, everything alright?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah … sorry, just. You know,” Gus replied, waving his arm to indicate everything while trying to force a smile.
Gus nodded, and said, “Yeah. Don’t mind me. It’s always great to see you. Reminds me that the real world still exists out there, you know.”
“The real boring world, you mean.”
Gus laughed, but Thomas thought it sounded a little hollow.
“Thanks again, really. I know you want to get back. That drive is endless.”
“I got an early start, so I’m good to hang out for a little bit. Maybe sample some of that ice cream? Don’t want to get you fired, of course.”
Gus laughed again, this time with more of the jovial tone that Thomas expected.
“Screw it. Yeah, come on down. You might even get to meet one of the brainiacs if she’s still digging through the trash piles in the control room.”
“Yes, Thomas, women have brains too, in case you were unaware,” Gus said with a smirk.
“I didn’t mean …”
Gus hefted one of the coolers over his shoulder, and crossed the small room to the open elevator cage. Thomas followed. As he passed a small table, he pointed at a small amber colored terminal.
“Still can’t get over that you have to use stuff like that.”
“Oh, that’s not the half of it. I’m pretty sure if you flipped that over look up my works, ye mighty, and despair would be etched on the bottom.”
Seeing Thomas’ confused look, Gus pulled the cage closed, and pressed a green button. With a lurch the elevator cage began to descend.
“Books, Thomas. They’re called books,” Gus said.
Thomas rolled his eyes. He was glad the shadows had seemed to lift from his friend, but was also thinking about how he really wanted to get back on the road before it got dark.