episode one / chapter six…
It had just clicked past nine, or twenty-one hundred hours, officially. Katie silently chastised herself for allowing the non-military time to populate her thoughts first. It was one of those habits she couldn’t break, even with nearly thirteen months of reserves time served.
“Twenty-one hundred, twenty-one hundred, twenty-one hundred…”
She tried to force her brain to accept the importance of this, and the priority it should hold over civilian time. Something held it at bay, unfortunately. It was the same with saluting. At least a couple times a month, no matter how many hundreds or thousands of times she had routinely made the gesture before, she would simply forget. A procession of officers would march by her, and she would gape at them blankly, lost in a fog. It was like that month working at the movie theater, where minors would simply file by her into the R rated slasher flick while she stared right through them.
The theater owner could only fire her, though. Her superiors in the Air Force had plenty of time-consuming punishments to apply for her occasional space-outs. Furious at herself, Katie would scrub whatever object they pointed her at for hours and hours and hours. Ultimately, the self-anger would subside, and she would again begin daydreaming. Bent over a toilet stall, toothbrush in hand, she would remain utterly still in thought, and looking like the world’s oddest designed and most questionably placed statue.
Katie closed her eyes and rubbed both temples in a circular pattern, hoping to release some sort of focus chemical from wherever it was locked away. She blinked wide, and scanned the hallway quickly to make sure no one had been watching her odd movements. It was quiet.
She stood duty guarding one of the empty hangars at Point Barrow, a pointless task given to those whose regard equaled that distinction. Nobody bothered going near any of the trio of sturdy but old metal buildings on the base’s south side, as they were long ago relieved of aircraft. Now they stood silent, except for the footsteps of the occasional reserve soldier, sent to walk the perimeter in lieu of actual work.
Her stiff combat boots squeaked with each step up the metal staircase. Thirty-eight times she counted, to the second level. This excursion to the upper floor wasn’t part of her assignment, but Katie included the route anyway. Guarding the outside was boring and cold. She needed some kind of warmth and change of perspective to keep her mind occupied. Otherwise, there would be more fog, and more scrubbing.
The stairs emerged onto a short balcony, which fed to narrow walkways that ringed the inside of the tall building. Katie had made this perimeter sweep a half dozen times already. She alternated clockwise and counter-clockwise on each trip around the upper reaches, and now stood poised to make pass number seven, following the same pattern.
She paused on the balcony before doing so and looked up through the clear glass ceiling to the blue sky beyond. It was evening, but only in name. This was the end of week six of the midnight sun. The sky hadn’t been dark since May 10th, and even then barely so. It would be at least a month more before the sun tucked back below the horizon again.
This had been Katie’s first experience with perpetual light. The difficulty of sleep amid constant sunshine not only made her continually tired, but messed with her mind as well. Occasionally, she would feel dizzy. Other times, the entire landscape would have sort of a glossy sheen over it. It felt like always having a head rush from standing too fast. Despite the disorientation, however, she sort of loved the feeling. It reminded her of college.
The sounds of the massive metal hangar door opening echoed through the chamber, rousing Katie from her thoughts. She panicked slightly, not sure what to make of the unexpected cacophony of pings, creaks, and booms. Nobody was supposed to be here except her. Actually, she wasn’t supposed to be here either. She had been ordered to watch the outside, not the inside. Her mind raced to the point of decision, and it seemed there were two immediate options.
She could rush down the stairs and confront whoever it was about whether or not they had orders for whatever exactly they were doing. This potential confrontation could lead to further scolding about being away from her post, leading to more unpleasantness imposed from a superior.
Or, she could stay out of sight and not risk getting involved, and hereby allowing whoever it was to do whatever they wanted. This failure to do her job also had the prospective to return her to toothbrush duty.
If it would end poorly either way, then avoiding conflict seemed like the better gambit. Katie squatted in a dark corner of the second floor overhang, settling on the path of least resistance. That description sounded more adult, she decided, than the reality of what she was really doing. Choosing to hide.
“Bring it all in here! The whole truck! It will fit, come on. Slow, slow, that’s it.”
The man barking orders stood in the middle of the hangar, motioning to someone in front of him. Katie could see this, but little else. The entrance was below her, which meant anything else coming into the building would not be visible to her until it pulled forward enough. She watched the unfamiliar man gesticulate, and then saw the nose of a large flatbed truck entering the scene.
The vehicle crawled slowly, sharing the massive space with its guide up ahead. It rolled carefully towards the back of the facility, finally fully contained within the building. A dozen soldiers appeared as well. They split up on either side of the vehicle, watching on, guns drawn. Katie held her breath.
“Here, right here. Stop. STOP!”
The massive truck braked firmly, bringing a short piercing squeak from its hard rubber tires briefly sliding along the slick concrete floor.
“There, right there is good enough. Leave the tarp on!”
Three soldiers backed away from the truck, heeding the command from the man in charge. A large black plastic tarp, tented in the middle, remained covering whatever was being transported.
“Now you men get out of here. Wait, what’s your name?”
“Private Griggs, sir.”
“Alright Griggs, take these men and establish a perimeter around this building, including the ambulance outside. Except for the Major, nobody gets in or out until we hear otherwise. Got it?”
“Yes sir. Let’s go men.”
The soldiers jogged back out of view, through the open front door of the building. Katie looked out across the floor, feeling ill, but as focused as she’d ever been.