the ladder - secret hospital (part 1)

A web-only fiction series that will span multiple story lines and characters…tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

State Route 375 – the “Extraterrestrial Highway” for the tourists – in Nevada’s remote desert landscape. Winding dirt roads. Dust and beating sun. A seamless blue sky joining the endless reddish ground at a horizon that seems infinitely far. It was a long, pensive drive through the beautiful wasteland. Through it all, Dr. Harriman Seldon Poole rejected the kitschy UFO obsession of local tourist traps exploiting the region’s alien mystique but appreciated instead the more earthly alien qualities of the desert, especially in contrast to the legendary, contrived status of his destination.

After entering Nellis Air Force Range territory down in Tikaboo Valley, he traveled Groom Lake Road, taking note of the buses with workers from Alamo and other nearby towns, the desert camouflage Jeep Cherokees that formed part of the security patrol, and the numerous warning signs notable for their emphasis that the use of deadly force was authorized. After a good fifteen minutes, during which he keenly felt the extensive surveillance that came with visiting one of the country’s most secretive facilities, he passed by the row of orange posts that marked an official border and drove his sky-blue Prius to the barrier alongside the boxy white guard shack. An unobtrusively placed sign announced the entrance to AIR FORCE FLIGHT TEST CENTER (DETACHMENT 3).

“ID and destination,” said the severe young man in the tan-coloured uniform. Dr. Poole surrendered his military-issued, biometric-encoded identification card and waited patiently as the guard compared the photograph with the person. Mild olive skin; kindly, surprisingly patrician face for one so young; bright blue eyes; the sharply refined features and demeanour of a Pharaoh – the photograph didn’t do justice to the man, of course, but the guard had no interest in such things.

“Administration Building C, Logistics,” said Poole. The guard swiped the card through a hand-held fingerprinting device and handed the machine to the doctor. After placing his thumb on the small scanner plate and receiving the green light, Poole returned the device to the guard who verified the authorization and nodded curtly. The passenger door opened and another young man, just as serious as the first, took a seat with his M16 held carefully between his legs. Unfazed and with great dignity, Dr. Poole drove off, looking ahead of him to the dry white salt flat of Groom Lake with its airstrips and clusters of non-descript buildings. Next to him, his chaperone remained silent – more serious and attentive in his duties than any the Doctor had seen at other bases. Once away from the entrance station, Poole made sure to follow the precise directions given to him; deviation from his route into areas limited to the personnel involved in aircraft flight tests would earn him his chaperone’s disapproval.

The base was nothing special as far as bases went. Boxy buildings, hangars, utility structures covered in snaking pipes and HVAC equipment, barracks – the only useful description for these vital base elements came from their lack of descriptive features. But for all the carefully cultivated ordinariness of AFFTC (D3), the studied nonchalance, it glowed with the unmistakable aura of importance. Dr. Poole, a civilian through-and-through, was not entranced liked the scores of tourists hoping for a privileged glance at the base’s highly classified operations, whether the banal testing of experimental aircraft or the imaginary nonsense from which fanciful conspiracy theories were spun. He rather wished the patient he had come to see had been housed in a non-military hospital. These were, however, unprofessional and unproductive thoughts; he went where his medical duty dictated.

After a slow drive through the base, he finally reached the long blocky building marked Administration Building C. Chaperone still by his side, he swiped his card through the reader by the double-doors and entered into a bureaucratic realm as pretentiously ordinary as everything else on the base. A uniformed receptionist greeted him from behind a pile of paperwork and, on checking his identification, directed him through an open pit of identical metal desks, through a plain wooden door, into a corridor lined with numbered doors, and finally through the door marked 9 - Medical Procurement. Once inside the plain office with its gunmetal desk and Spartan chairs, the chaperone passed Dr. Poole on to yet another uniformed guard who checked his identification and fingerprints before performing a retina scan using a binocular-like device. Satisfied that Dr. Poole was, indeed, Dr. Poole, the guard buzzed him through an unmarked door, behind which was not a room but a utilitarian elevator that led to one of the base’s many underground facilities.

To be continued...

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