Abducted: Chapter Three

Chapter Three follows. Chapters One and Two are available in the social well.

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Chapter Three

They returned to the apartment, and as John unlocked the door and stepped inside, he felt the familiar sense of gloom. The place was such a dump. Everything so poorly made it reminded him of a cheap motel, the kind migrants stayed in at low, weekly rates.

Thin, beige carpeting covered the uneven floor. A dark brown sofa with small, thin cushions faced an entertainment center made of pressboard, its cheap finish peeling. A bland construction of formica made up the dining room table while the small kitchen had an electric stove that popped right out of the twentieth century. Along with the rest of the workers at the base, John had access to all the streaming services and enough movies to keep him in a near comatose state for months. He’d wasted far too many evenings watching silly dramas on the small screen.

And to think he’d signed up for the money.

What he hadn’t taken into account was the high cost of food (cheap junk) and other goods he’d had to purchase from time to time. And then there was the gloom. Despite the high ceilings in the food court, pool and other areas, and the deceptive blue sky, it still felt indoors. The air had a filtered smell, making John long to breathe fresh air. As a farm boy he’d taken the outdoors for granted. Farming was in his blood, yet he fled it for academia, earning a doctorate degree in agriculture before landing a position as instructor at the state university. And while he liked teaching, his research in hydroponics had drawn the attention of a strange individual who offered him a position on an underground base with a whopping salary enabling John an early retirement. How could he resist?

After signing a confidentiality agreement, John learned that aliens, working with Darpa and in cooperation with the government had built a series of huge underground bunkers linked by underground trains from Washington all the way to Denver, Colorado and beyond. The money they offered was fantastic, the promised position challenging and interesting. John was to develop the prototype of a hydroponics system that would provide fresh fruit and vegetables for people working not only at the Missouri base where he was located, but across the underground country. At first, he loved the job, enjoying the challenges and satisfaction of developing the program and watching things grow. He derived great satisfaction from harvesting the beautiful produce which ended up at the base store.

But with each passing day, the walls closed in. And there were little things he found unsettling. The cameras, for one, everywhere, always on, forever watching. Plus, he had the feeling his computer was monitored, that someone, somewhere recorded everything he wrote. And then there were all the strange rules, some of which made no sense, such as the rule that everyone had to eat whatever awful meals they bought at the food court in the food court. Plus, all employees were required to eat at least one overpriced fast food meal each day. At the end of each work week, John — along with everyone else at the base — received a report stating the times he arrived late, when he made it to the hydroponics center on time, and the number and duration of the breaks he took. Not to mention how often he ate at the food court. The cameras observed everything.

And there were the people who struggled with a life lived underground. Nobody was allowed a vacation. And there was no contact with the outside world. No access to the internet. John hadn’t seen a news broadcast in over a year. And the longer they were trapped underground, the stranger and more demented people around him became.

John glanced once more at the air vents in the dining room before pulling out a chair and sitting at the table. Banowski went into their shared bedroom and carried out a case. He set it in front of John, keeping his back to the traitorous vent, much as John had done earlier. He pulled out a small, black metal box and switched it on.

“Jammer,” he whispered. “Not a strong one, but we can talk a bit, as long as we keep it low.”

John glanced at him in disgust. “Why would you do such a dangerous thing?”

“Maybe I don’t care if I die. You ever thought about that?”

“No, because that’s crazy. You won’t last long here.”

He sighed. “I told you about my daughter.”

“Yes, and I’m sorry.”

“I haven’t shown you this.” Banowski pulled out a camera and switched it on before searching the stored photos and holding it before John’s face. “See that?”

John glanced at the image on the viewfinder. A girl who looked to be around twelve years of age sat on a stump and smiled at something off camera. He frowned and squinted harder. “What’s that gray thing?”

Banowski smiled. “You have good eyes.” He leaned closer, speaking so quietly John had to lean closer to hear. “That’s a Gray,” Banowski whispered.

“Is it?”

He nodded. “You ever seen one here?”

“No. And for that I’m thankful.” John glanced again at the viewfinder. “How do you know it’s a Gray?”

Banowski put the camera back in the case and whispered once more. “I’m a member of E.R.M.”

“What’s E.R.M.?”

“Earth Resistance Movement.”

“You are insane.” John rose to fix himself another glass of tomato juice with cayenne pepper. He tried to limit himself to one a day, but these were extenuating circumstances.

Banowski scowled as John carried his glass back to the dining room table, sat down and took a sip. “We know all about you.”

John choked on his juice. “What do you know?”

“We know you made Eagle Scout. Active in your church until you gave it up. You were captain of the football team, both in high school and college. You’re an all-American hero. Made dean’s honor roll all seven years of college. Master’s degree, and then doctorate. You’re a smart guy.” Banowski leaned in once again. “You want to see earth conquered?”

John cleared his throat. “What makes you think it will be?”

“I mentioned the abductions earlier. The aliens took my daughter, and she never returned. But sometimes they let people come back. People who get abducted over and over again. And every once in a while—” Again Banowski whispered so low, John had to draw near to hear. “—the aliens share their plans with them.”

“What plans, Mr. Banowski?”

“Plans to enslave the human race, Mr. Becker. And once they’ve done that, nothing will stop them from ruling the world.”

*. *. *

Banowski snored like a freight train.

Weary, John rose, dressing in the dark before making his way to the living room and setting the window to a sunny day. He slipped out of the apartment and took two escalators down to the lowest level, then crossed to the end of the corridor and opened the glass-paned door marked with the stenciled words Hydroponics Department: Authorized Personnel Only.

The beautiful Calista Evans stood at the far counter making coffee.

She turned at the sound of the door, and he smiled. Calista — Ms. Evans —was the one bright spot to this dreary job. As always, her dark curly hair was pulled into a loose ponytail to keep it from covering those walnut eyes he could drown in. Her unblemished mahogany skin reminded him of silken cocoa.

She made a point of glancing at her watch. “Early today.”

He gave a deep sigh. “How did a beautiful girl like you wind up in a place like this?”

“Bigger pay than I’ve ever seen before in my life.” She arched an eyebrow. “You?”

“Her name is Ms. Evans, and I can’t get her out of my head. Plus, I love spending my time in dark holes. In my previous life, I was an earthworm.”

She gave him a reproving look. “You believe in that reincarnation junk?”

“I’ll believe anything you want.”

She rolled her eyes, trying and failing to hide a smile as she turned back to the coffee pot. “You checked the asparagus lately?” She pressed a button on the machine, and it made gurgling noises.

“No. Why?”

“There’s something growing on it that don’t look good.”

“You mean other than a big, juicy spear?”

She crooked a finger at him, leading the way. He followed her to back of the large room where the asparagus ferns grew. He turned over a leaf and spotted flecks of mildew, then gave out a low whistle. “Nope. Not good at all.”

“What do you recommend?”

“Growing it in soil the way normal people do?”

“Can’t argue with you there.” She sighed. “I miss working in the dirt.”

“My granny can grow asparagus like nobody’s business. She’s got this huge patch out on our place back home. I bet she puts away eighty pints every year.”

“Well, we don’t have soil, Mr. Becker. Nothing here but concrete. And you’re the expert in hydroponics.”

“Sadly, that is true,” he muttered as he studied the leaves. “It’s not widespread yet. So we remove the infected leaves and then spray the plants, starting with the least poisonous option. Neem oil, then…”

The ground vibrated. On the table before them, the leaves shook in their dancing pots. The lights flickered. Supplies on a far wall rattled off the shelf, tumbling to the floor.

Then it stopped, as quickly as it started.

Calista drew near, clutching his arm, and for John, despite the rumble of the earth the day grew brighter.

“I hate this place,” she breathed.

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