Ben is sitting on a fairly comfortable chair. Its sturdy metal frame is softened by structured cushions, strung together with boring gray fabric. The vibrations of the bullet train rumble beneath him. He wears a pair of old slacks and a long-sleeve flannel shirt. As the train emerges from the tunnel, its mechanical deceleration tugging on his gut, Benny turns to look at the scenery passing by–endless fields with sparce trees. A flutter of anticipation bubbles up, such that he hasn’t felt in years. Is he really going to see the creature again? Although the thing wrecked his life, he feels strangely attached to it.
During the trip, the hours seem to extend, laying themselves out in great lengths along the tracks. But as the destination finally approaches, the old man feels suddenly nervous. Fidgeting, he wishes briefly that the ride was not over. It also occurs to him to hop off and jump right back on the next one going home. But, looking at the desert landscape beyond the station’s wide windows, Ben remembers that he is very, very far from home. After waiting to retrieve his luggage from the rear compartment, he walks to the QuikDrivr cars, loading his luggage into one and greeting the driver. Once settled in, he figets with his pocket to pull out a large wallet, and removes the invitation, stuffed alongside his train ticket.
He gives the driver the address, reading off the invitation. The drive is not a long one, winding through the desert, the landscape mostly flat with mountains distant on the horizon. A promising sunset is creeping across the Western sky, painting a thin red haze across the horizon. They can see the facility a mile out, an ugly tan block surrounded by holo-fences.
“S’reused,” the driver says.
“Pardon?” Benny asks, clearing his throat nervously.
“Used to be NASA or sommin.”
“Huh.” Benny diverts his eyes. He breathes a sigh of relief as the silence continues and the car finally approaches the building.
“Name and Business.”
“I’m here with uh… what’s your name?”
“Benny… Benjamin Taggart,” he replies gruffly.
“We need to see his face.”
Benny leans forward, peering at the security screen from around the passenger seat.
“Step out of the car, please, and bring your face up to the monitor,” the man on the screen says.
The rear door opens, Benny eases out of his seat, kicking his legs a bit, stiff from travel. He puts his face up to the monitor. The man on the other side looks at him for a moment. There is a flash of light.
“Alright, Mr. Taggart. Thank you. You are both cleared to enter.”
The broad streams of light barring their way retract slowly into the sides of the gate. The grounds, aside from a few prickly pears, are barren and composed of sand.
“Well, friend, this is where I leave you.” And before Benny can reply, the car pulls away, leaving him standing there with his luggage and his uncertainty.
The doors, which tower over Benny, open mechanically.
A face appears on the other side.
“Sir. Are you coming in?” It is the security man from the camera.
“Oh… aye. Sorry. I wasn’t sure if I should let me-self in!” The man raises an eyebrow as all 6 feet and 5 inches of Benny shuffles through with three suitcases: one rolling, one carried, and a smaller duffle bag under his arm.
Inside is a painfully bare room with a security desk–behind which sits a man who is reclining comfortably–another door, and a couple of uncomfortable-looking plastic chairs.
“You can put your things down,” the man beind the desk says. He leans forward, retrieving something out of sight, and plops a clip board loaded with a small stack of paper onto the desk’s surface.
“Here bud, fill this out. Sanders will be here in just a few.”
Just as he is finishing his paperwork, Benny looks up to see a young woman enter the room. She is dressed professionally, modern yet modest, with short brunette hair swept to one side.
“Hello Mr. Taggart,”–He stands to greet her–“My name is Jessick Sanders. We spoke on the phone.”
“Yes… uh… yes ma’am.”
“I’m so glad you are here! But ah… Before I bore you with all my thanks, why don’t I show you to your room?” she says with a smile, glancing at his weary face and his excessive luggage.
On through the other door, around a corner and down a corridor, Benny’s shoes click on cement floors, and his eyes adjust painfully to the white plaster walls and flourescent lights.
“They weren’t really going for ambiance when they built this place,” she says with a wink.
“Do yeh work here?”
“Oh… no. I’m a journalist. I’m here to make a film about you and… the creature.”
“So it is here?” His heart skips a beat.
“Yes, sir, and you will see it first thing in the morning. We don’t mean to make you wait but… you know there is a procedure for everything around here.”
He says nothing, but the most miniscule scowl settles into his face as they turn another corner, pass several plain doors, and finally stop at one.
His room is simple but comfortable with a bed, a desk, and a monitor screen.
“We have a little cafeteria set up,” she says. “You can eat with the rest of us. There is also a snack room and a bar, and I have finagled a little food fund for you.” He looks at her awkwardly.
“Oh uh… thanks. Thank you. Sorry, I’m… very far from my comfort zone here.” He manages a nervous laugh.
“I know. I told you I wouldn’t bore you with thanks, but … really… it means a lot to me–and the team–that you are willing to come out here. Um… we can discuss all the specifics in the morning, but I want to make sure you’re ok with being on camera.” She has the grace to look a little sheepish.
He frowns, then nods.
“Yes, eh… I remember we discussed tha’ and all. I understand… Bu’ do I really need to be on camera in my room?”
“Oh!” Her eyebrows shoot up under her bangs.
“No, sir, that is a touch screen.” She scoots past him and points at the icons.
“See, that one calls the front desk. This is a map of the facility–the areas you have access too, anyway–handy if you need food or the restroom. This one orders food, but you won’t need it tonight. I’ve already done that. They should bring it to you soon. Actually I can stay and make sure it gets here.”
There is an awkward silence. Benny is staring at the floor.
“Well, I’ll go ahead and leave you alone. But I’ll check on the food. Um… please call if you need anything. Oh–” she pulls a card from her pocket.
“Here is my number, and you have a cell phone there.” There is plastic black square roughly the size of a dime on the side table. With another awkward good-bye, Jessick leaves. The silence in the room is suddenly very noticeable. It feels bare and cold and foreign.
Benny sighs and doesn’t budge until his food arrives a few minutes later.