Flagstaff, Arizona* July 2 2000 [A Flagstaff, but not OUR Flagstaff]
I'd saved up my vacation time and took it in a huge swath of two weeks. I was fixated on taking a car tour of the American south west, a place I'd never been.
It was hot. Blisteringly hot. The spit evaporated off of my lips as quickly as I moistened them. It was a long way from Atlanta, where I called home. There were salt rings decorating my shirt under my arm pits and around my neck. The windows were down in a futile hope for a little cross breeze. I was passing through Flagstaff on my way south west out of Denver. I was stopped at a traffic light next to one of those big 12 foot by 12 foot louvered air ducts you sometimes see on big buildings. The thing gave a "Chuff" and cold air momentarily bathed my pickup. Then alarms went off.
Armed soldiers came out of nowhere and immobilized the traffic. They were wearing gas masks. All I could think was, 'poor bastards--wearing those in this heat.'. I noticed my breathing was coming fast and shallow. Everything grayed out.
I woke up flat on my back. I couldn't see, I couldn't move. I was so tired. I went back to sleep.
I snapped awake without moving. Gently stretching, I tried to move, and found myself bound to a table or bed of some sort, hand and foot. Thirsty. I raised my head and looked around. The sheet covered only one leg and my groin. It looked like I was wearing some sort of form-fitting garment that was covered in dark green scales. I felt a shiver cover me and watched the scales over my chest flex. Christ! it was my skin! What the hell happened to me?
I have to admit, I panicked for a bit and threw a fit, but being tied down it didn't do a bit of good. Soon I calmed down and tried to learn from my environment. White ceiling tiles. Recessed lights. I was in some sort of ward, with others like me tied down to either side and what looked like across from me with a walkway down the middle. No windows. No equipment such as a heart monitor. I saw other rolling gurneys to either side of me and in a row across from me. We were being warehoused--but why?
I heard a nasty buzzing sound as the door at the end of the room released. Mag lock. Two big guys in red-stained surgical scrubs unlocked the wheels of the next bed closest to the door and wheeled it out. One of them used a mag stripe card pulled through a reader to open the door. They didn't treat whoever was on that bed very well. A nasty part of my snake brain said "autopsy". If they don't kill you before they dissect you it's called vivisection. Things got personal, fast.
I looked down at my arms. I'd seen the scales 'ripple' when I shivered. Could I make them stand up? Were the edges sharp enough? The cuffs were made of heavy leather, two inches wide. I'd have to somehow cut or wear them away before I had a hope in hell of escaping.
There was no question about it. I had to escape.
I flexed my muscles, braced, pulled, everything. Finally I did something right and the scales on my arms stood up. I sawed away at the cuffs with long, slow strokes as I watched the little piles of leather shavings grow. When the guards came back for another victim I laid doggo. I don't know how long it took, but I managed to work first one hand, then the other loose of the cuffs. With better leverage I tore apart the locks on my ankles.
I stood and stretched. I saw several pairs of eyes watching me. I quickly went down the line, freeing everyone. I tried to clear my throat and talk but everything came out in a whisper. "Get up, stretch. If you know any martial arts, do some katas. I'm taller, stronger and have longer arms. Get used to your bodies. We're going to need every weapon we have to keep from being dissected alive."
The door buzzed. I ran to hide behind one, and motioned the others to imitate me. The guards both made it through the doors before they noticed the empty beds. I took out the rear one with a kick to the back of the knee and a knee to the back of the skull. Broken neck. The other was taken out by what looked like a Capoeira strike and a heel stomp. I got the security card key free, opened the door and stuck my head out. Black rubber wheel marks leading right. I ran left. The group split up. They were after revenge. I only wanted to escape. Only four others followed me.
I found an elevator, but refused to use it. Instead I looked for the associated stair well. Gotta love building codes. The door opened easily, thank God with no alarms going off. Up or down, which way? I decided to go up. I figured on breaking out onto the roof and hiding near the HVAC chiller while getting the lay of the land. There was no telling where they'd taken us.
Fuck. The roof doghouse opened up on the roof of a four story building in the middle of what looked like a military base.
We needed information. We needed clothing. We needed disguises. We needed food and water. If my face looked like the other guys, there was no way I could pass for human. I led the others back down a floor and into a bathroom, where we all tanked up on water. I whispered to the others, "I think it's the weekend. This building's about empty. The top two floors appear to be nothing but offices. We can explore and look for maps, candy, food, whatever. The labs downstairs might have laundry service--let's go look for scrubs after we check out the top two floors. So far we haven't seen any guards or triggered alarms. Let's keep it that way."
I didn't know why someone else didn't try to take over, but nobody did. They left me in charge.
We didn't try to break into locked rooms. I was worried about alarms. Still, we made out pretty well, as we found a few stashes of ready-to-heat lunches, cookies, water bottles and such. I saw a parking lot on one side of the building with painted lines. Four vehicles were parked there. We found a lunch room on the second floor with microwave ovens and a refrigerator. There were several more heat'n eat and frozen dinners in the fridge. We shared it out. I was amazed at how hungry I'd been. The changes to my body seemed to allow me to go for extended periods without food or water, but I eventually had to pay the piper.
We did a skills inventory.
Me. Terry. machinist. ex-navy, out six years. Carl. Martial arts instructor and commercial truck driver. Joe. Carpenter and mason. Jackleg electrician and plumber. Linda. (LINDA? the bug or whatever didn't do her any favors!) professional cook. Took self defense courses from Carl. Thomas. Gang banger. Soldier. He was the shortest.
It was time to make some plans. The trouble was, we couldn't do much until we found out what happened to the other three that had split away downstairs.
Thomas wanted some weapons first. A bread knife didn't cut it. I agreed. "Let's look for a mechanical room. There's bound to be tools, and maybe keys. Next, we'll look for the street exits and any security. I don't doubt that we'll find something, given the nature of this place. With tools I can probably spring the door to an armory, or go through a wall. Next, I want to clear out the rest of the building, release any others like us and find the group that split off. NO surprises."
The guard's security station was empty. It was set up to check people into and out of the building through a bulletproof pair of doors and a short corridor. We were locked into the building--maybe.
There were three floors below ground. We'd been held on the L2. L3 held the support and mechanicals departments, including the laundry facilities. They had scrubs and sneakers, but no socks or underwear.
We were able to break into the service bay with a metal shop. I was surprised at how complete it was. It held a few nice toys, such as a oxy-acetylene rig with short tanks. Both gauges showed pressure. It would be messy, but I could make short work of any lock I was bound to find in a building like that. A bank vault? Not so much.
A neater solution sat on a metal shelf. It was an angle grinder. A partially empty box of cutoff wheels sat next to it. We were good to go.
Thomas laid his hands on a three foot crow bar and seemed quite happy. Carl found a couple mason's trowels. he sharpened them up on a grinder and gave one to Linda. I grabbed a two pound ball peen hammer and a half inch steel punch. I was out of hands, I found a hand truck and a milk crate. I used a rubber cord to fasten the crate to the hand truck, then loaded it with an extension cord, the angle grinder and cutoff saw blades. We HAD to get into that security office.
We found the other group. They got up close and personal with a couple of guards armed with MP5's. Both sides were down, including what appeared to be our Dr. Mengele wanna be. He'd got his come-uppance. His throat had been ripped out.
I got an idea. I picked up one of the guard's bodies and hung it up against the wall as I stood next to it. "Well, guys? You think the uniform will fit?"
"It might." "Maybe." "Looks okay to me." "Shoulders might be tight."
We stripped the bodies and ran the uniforms through the laundry. The shoulders were too tight, but splitting the seams worked. I had to cut out the backs of the shoes to get them to fit as well. That gave Carl and I decent costumes when covered by armored vests and helmets.
.... There is more of this story ...