episode one / chapter ten…
The six men in fatigues watched their captive in awe. He had slid off the wobbly metal stool where he had been seated, and stood tall. Stretching his frame lengthwise, his angular head now easily rose a foot and a half above the tallest guard, with hands pushed up even higher. Next, his arms came down and went out to either side, showing a width at the shoulder similar to that of two standard humans combined. The group of soldiers continued staring, more impressed than concerned with the being’s unusual movements.
Erke didn’t want to appear to the men like he intended to attack or escape. Scaring them into lifting their weapons was decidedly last on his list of hopeful outcomes. He wanted to keep things appearing normal, per se, prior to performing the planned diversion.
So, he casually, slowly, and with great exaggeration, moved around like his muscles were sore and needed some flexing. He twisted his frame, leaning one way and then the other, taking excessive pains to not seem threatening. The ridiculous movements reminded him of those exercises his bosses forced all their underlings to take part in. As if Erke, and not his desk-bound honcho, was the one in need of moving around.
He gave himself one more pyramid push, as that annoying training rep had called it, and moved back to the stool. Erke straddled the small, damaged seat and arched up onto his toes. Without looking up at the woman on the balcony, whom he hoped was paying attention, he started counting silently to himself. At the number five, he brought himself down as hard as gravity would allow on the stool below.
The sound of metal breaking apart shattered the air. Bent pieces bounced on the shiny hard floor, sending a concert of pings spilling across the ground. Attention of everyone in the vicinity drew to the piercing collapse of the seat, and the loud thud of the falling alien that immediately followed. Whatever noise that had been generated from the catwalk above melded seamlessly and completely.
The frozen slabs that were Katie’s feet stumbled and slapped at the hard ground. She grimaced with each awkward step, trying to navigate the cold, rocky terrain around the rim of the base towards the small tent that was her temporary quarters. Taking this route doubled her time, but more than halved the likelihood that someone would spot her. While a soldier walking through the base wouldn’t necessarily bring out suspicion on its own, one without shoes on probably would.
She held her breath and passed by the backside of the latrine before then slipping through the half-dozen jeeps that amounted to the motor pool. Katie wasn’t running, exactly. That would seem obvious. She just moved briskly, like there was somewhere she needed to be. In fact, as she sped nearer to her goal, that became the all encompassing realization. She did need to be somewhere. Katie had no idea where that was, only that it definitely wasn’t on this base.
Around a pair of empty metal barrels and past a squat pile of debris that sort of resembled her commanding officer, she found the entrance flap to her quarters. She ducked inside, joining a cot and a heater in the spare surroundings.
The lonely tent had been given to her due to a lack of functional barracks, as well as the fact that Katie was the only woman on this detail. Rather than have her mix in with the men, creating more potential for unwanted behavior than already existed in this uneventful cold, the officers placed her here. One enlisted man pointed at this thin canvas home said she was lucky that she got her own place. He laughed when he walked away.
Katie reached under the thin, wooden bed and extracted a small blue travel bag. From it, she pulled a pair of bright white Nike’s. They were her jogging shoes, used only twice since her time in Barrow began.
She slid the footwear on quickly, trying to ignore the bolts of pain surging from the soles of her feet. A small brown purse was yanked from the bag and slung over her left shoulder before she raced back through the flap to the outside again. The carrier contained her ID and some money, though she had no idea how much. Her Air Force paycheck went straight into the bank, and a part-time off-hours job cleaning up a local television station’s studio provided only a pittance of spending money.
Katie walked fast, and parsed her options just as quickly.
Taking a jeep would require having signed orders. No way a guard would let her drive off the base in a military vehicle without them.
Walking off the base was an option during the day, but not at this time of night. Even though the sun still hovered in the sky with the clock nearly at midnight, the guards wouldn’t let her pass on foot. It took forty minutes to walk to town. Camp curfew came within an hour, and they knew there was nowhere you could get to and still make it back in time. One option remained.
Katie headed to the gearhead pit. An unused area near the side gate had been taken over by a handful of enlisted men who liked nothing more than to work on old motorcycles throughout the length of their downtime. In all honesty, it was a more useful hobby than the drinking and whoring that otherwise filled the off-duty schedule of most of the company, Katie included. She knew, though, that there was likely to be one or two in working order, with keys left in the ignition.
The pit sat quiet. A rusted old Yamaha dirt bike sat leaning against a coil of metal fence. Katie spotted it, remembering riding a similar one with an old boyfriend whose name currently escaped her. She threw her leg over the saddle and kicked at the starter.
It sputtered to life, coughing and belching thick sounds into the peaceful night air. For the past hour, she had done everything possible to avoid making even the smallest bit of noise. Now, in order to cross the last line of escape, she had to be louder than anyone for a quarter mile.
She pushed off and bounced out through an empty, icy field towards the small box of a guardhouse. A tall, pale man with a helmet and white sash hung out of the booth, hearing her approach. He held up his hand, and she acquiesced.
“Evening Corporal. Pretty late to head out for a nip.”
Katie’s panicky brief retort was met with only a stone face. She needed to attempt a little friendliness.
“With this light, it’s hard to tell. Ha ha. I, um, am meeting some friends.”
“Yep. And I’m a fast drinker. Er, driver.”
The man chuckled.
“Right, driver. You better be. Don’t get stuck on the outside, we close at oh-one hundred hours.”
One o’clock, she thought.
The guard lifted the red and white striped metal gate that always made Katie think of candy canes.
The man saluted good bye. Katie revved the throttle, looked behind her at the quiet base, and sped away with nary a gesture in return.
The men were caught off guard, each shocked from the short lived decibel bomb caused by the now fallen alien. They looked over the carnage. Broken metal chunks littered the ground. Two of the men laughed, three looked concerned, and one spoke up.
“Are you ok?”
Erke looked at that man, then to a spot just above and beyond him, where a brown door had closed gently and firmly. He looked back at the soldier, who stood pensively. Erke thought about what he wanted to say, and finally spoke to himself as much as those around him.
“Hopefully, I’ll survive.”