Shelby led us back through the main hall and to the glass doors and staircase that Havoc had pointed out before. When the doors opened, the noise was nearly overpowering. It reminded me of stepping onto a factory floor. There were booms and crashes and a general rumble that sounded like a combination of machines working, fans blowing, and water running.
Shouting over the cacophony, Shelby warned us, “Just stay on the foot path as we go past The Playground. Get ready to see some weird stuff.”
“We’ve already seen a lot of weird stuff so far,” I quipped.
“Get ready, Reid,” she reiterated.
As we walked down the stone path, we passed more odd creatures. One was not only covered with feathers, but she had a beak and wings. I say ‘she’ because her overall shape was far closer to that of a woman’s figure than a bird. Even her scaled legs and four-toed feet didn’t much take away from the fact that she looked as humanoid as she did bird. There were “people” with fur. Then, we saw creatures that looked nothing like anything else I’d seen. A cross between a snake and a millipede. There was a frog-like creature crawling on the stone ceiling of the cavern. Upon closer look, it was a group of at least a half dozen, but they were changing colors to blend in. Each one had to weigh at least 300-pounds. There was a lake in the cavern and there appeared to be platforms or floating stones sticking up out of the water. On two of these platforms were two figures facing each other, with giant balls of fire swirling around, as though they were sparring – fencing with weapons that were so completely alien to me that I couldn’t categorize them. As I watched them, I saw a great dark form ripple up out of the water. Its eyes were huge like basketballs and its teeth were like thousands of needles protruding from its bony mouth. I thought I saw an angler fish type lure, but couldn’t be sure before it disappeared back into the dark waters. Creatures flew, crawled, climbed, and they were all alien. I felt like a cave man on the Vegas Strip.
“…Reid!” I finally heard Shelby calling my name and realized that it was not the first time she’d called me just now. As I turned she said, “you weren’t ready. Anyway, we’re here. Don’t forget to listen. This is going to go pretty quick as most of the other students have had a head start on you and they need to go to The Playground for a while.”
I had been staring out onto the lake in The Playground and the bizarre wonders there to be seen, and I had completely missed the wall of glass behind me that was the classroom. We went into the classroom and found a table to sit down. There were other people in the classroom, and I recognized a few of them from the first room – the one with the projector and shuttered booths. But, they all looked different now. It was hard to identify what the difference was. Many of them were now wearing uniforms and sat a little straighter, as though they had boosted their confidence. I didn’t think that we’d been here more than a few hours, but these people looked like they’d been training for weeks. Just exactly how much time had passed? General Havoc came in with an assistant and they basically explained the same things over again from his original speech to us.
“Each of you has special, unique talents,” he said, “you’ve been selected because of these talents. Your training will help bring out these talents.” And then, he said some interesting things that he hadn’t said before, “almost all of you have talents that you don’t even know you have. But, we know you have those talents and we’re going to show them to you.”
Wait. That’s weird. I hadn’t even ever heard of this place before those guys brought us here after the bus broke down when we were on our way to… Where were we going? And, why were we going there? I remember the bus broke down. It was probably the radiator or something. And then, we rode with two guys, and then we were here… Anyway, that’s not the point. If they sought us out before we had even heard of them, then it stands to reason that they’d been watching us for a while. And, if they were watching us because of ‘special, unique talents’ then the recruiter meant to be there to pick us up when the bus broke down. And, how about that coincidence that the bus just happened to break down when it did. Was this whole thing a setup? Had they been stalking us and sabotaged the bus with the sole purpose of bringing us to this place? And then, as quickly as that, I could no longer remember why I was the least bit upset or angry with Deep Hawk.
During the orientation, many of the students displayed their budding new talents that they had learned since we all arrived at the facility. Some of their actions would have seemed downright magical, had I not just been witness to all the weirdness going on around me. As Shelby promised, the orientation was short. The most advanced students went to The Playground or their own labs that were tucked away in deep corners of the facility. Havoc took Naomi and me into a small room that was off of the metal hall with the demonic wood burning stove. The room had a bar-height table with bar stools around it. Two tiny men were waiting for us there. They couldn’t have been much over two feet tall each and weren’t perfectly miniaturized, with obvious signs of dwarfism.
Havoc addressed these two directly and said, “Boys, I’m feeling like a little chemistry tonight. Would you please bring my equipment?” The two diminutive men scuttled out of the room. Havoc turned to Naomi next, “How do you feel about electronics?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “I like them just fine I guess.”
“I’m talking about control systems primarily,” he clarified.
“Well,” she responded, “I’ve done a little programming. Nothing too intense, but you know.”
“No,” he further clarified, “integrated circuits. Oh well, it doesn’t much matter if you have had any experience with them. The skill set we want you to learn is completely different, but it’s just the best starting point that you might have from life outside of here. I’d like you to meet Claire,” he indicated behind him.
“Hi,” Claire said, and they shook hands, “if you would like, I could show you the lab. Right now it’s closed so you could warm up to it at your own pace.”
Naomi looked at me for an opinion. We’d made it a point not to get separated so far at Deep Hawk. “Go on,” I encouraged, “I’ll catch up to you tonight in a little while. So she went to the new lab with Claire.
General Havoc stood next to me and said, “You’re a good man!” and gave a coach-like slap to the butt. But, it felt like he stuck a sticker there.
“Oh no,” I uttered as the sticker feeling melted into gut-lifting nausea and dizziness, “What did.. what did you do?” was all I could get out in my disorientation.
“Oh, you alright there?” he steadied me by putting his arm under mine and deflected my question.
The two miniature men came back in with a couple of aluminum briefcases at that moment. He helped me to a barstool and took the cases from his little helpers. He opened the cases and inside were vials and chemicals, and measuring vessels and test tubes and all kinds of things. “As I was saying earlier,” he said as he began to mix chemicals, “we all have special talents. Some are common between us, and some are singularly unique. Not all of these talents are particularly useful,” he placed a glass in front of me with a blue steaming liquid in it, “but even some of those are fun. Drink up. It will help clear your head.” He continued to mix and stir and add liquids to a large clear glass bowl as he talked, “I’m sure that by now you’ve realized that you will see things here that you have never seen before.” He produced some straight sticks that were spiral striped red and white. Candy canes? But they weren’t canes, just sticks. He dipped them into the blue liquid in the bowl and stirred them slowly and the liquid flashed and turned orange. He slowly withdrew the candy canes which were now being orbited by dozens of tiny glowing sparks. He handed these to his two tiny helpers, “Those look about right, don’t they, guys?” then he added a couple more fluids until the bowl went from orange back to blue. As he did so, he continued to talk to me, “I’m sure that right now, your lovely wife is learning that she is capable of some things that she’s never even thought of. Don’t be shocked if she’s so engrossed in her work that you don’t even see her for the next few days.”
As if on cue, I heard Naomi’s voice, “Look what I made!” I turned and she presented me with a little box about the size of an Altoids tin. Inside it were what looked like little charcoal boxes and cylinders. Upon closer inspection, the objects inside had particular light deflection, as though they had consistent surface textures.
“Is that…” I asked, unsure of my perception.
“It’s a microcomputer,” she announced with proud excitement, “it’s an extremely powerful one. With the right software, it might even be self-aware.”
“Seriously?” I asked incredulously.
Claire nodded, “She shows a lot of promise.”
As Naomi looked into her little boxful of computer, her eyes sparkled with a glossy sheen that I’d never seen there before. She thoughtfully poked at its components with her finger, and I saw a blue spark run from her finger into the microcircuitry and dance over the components. She looked so happy.
“I love you,Naomi,” I told her.
She smiled at me, “I love you too, Reid!”
“Let’s get your project back to the lab for now,” said Claire.
My wife looked back at me and said, “I’ll catch up to you in our quarters later.”
When they had left, I asked General Havoc, “So, everyone has stuff going on and a direction to go, but I’m still in the dark here. What are you training me for?”
He sighed and said, “Walk with me, will you?” and he handed me one of his special candy canes.
I polished off my drink and hardly even remembered the slap on the butt and the subsequent unpleasantness. the sparks orbiting the candy cane had a very bright, sweet flavor. We were walking back up the white hall toward the front room with the dim mercury vapor lights. He was explaining to me again that we’re all different and have to work at our own paces. I was feeling warm and pleasant, and let him talk. He was hitting all the talking points that I’d heard him hit previously and I just didn’t care. When we got to the front room, it was even darker than I remembered. He sauntered over to the corner to the left of the stage and leaned against the shuttered window as he talked. As he talked, I stopped and looked up at him, and saw two of him. the one closest to me was talking and the one to his right was not. I looked closely at the second General Havoc and noticed what looked like a barrier of white fur between his legs. The one who was talking handed a candy cane to the other one who took it.
“He’s pretty good, isn’t he?” one Havoc addressed the other, who nodded in response. At that, the second Havoc seemed to melt down into another creature. It was standing upright, and was covered in fluffy white hair. Its face was nearly man-like but almost like an ape. the creature stood at less than five feet tall. At five foot six, it was pretty easy for me to gauge this creature’s height. At that point, the creature seemed to melt into the brick wall behind him, and then he was gone.
“What was that?” I asked.
“What was what?” Havoc responded.
“You know damned well what I’m talking about. What was that creature that mimicked you? Was that a Sasquatch?”
“Oh him,” Havoc chuckled, “Just another one of my helpers. He’s just a little Skunk Yeti.”
I had heard about the diminutive Skunk Ape myth from the southeast and I had heard of the Yeti of the Himalayas, but I had never heard of a cross between them. Then again, I had never paid too much attention to cryptids. Given the current circumstances, I wished that I had.