She had left the comfort of pavement several miles ago. Apparently, driving there was not a frequent enough occurrence that the road needed to be paved. Her Subaru dipped to one side as a wave of mud splashed out of the rut she was struggling to remain in. It wasn't a totally unfamiliar feeling for Sandra McCovey, since she had spent a number of her earlier years taking landscapes and studying Ansel Adams.
The windshield wipers fought against the cold rain that continued to pour down. It was winter. Sandra had always hated winter. This year winter seemed even worse than normal. Not that she could do anything about it, or convince the nagging voice in the back of her head that she couldn't do anything about it either.
She rounded a turn and got a glimpse of her destination. The Facility filled the valley. A small airport complete with a paved road answered her question of how folks and supplies are normally transported here. There appeared to be a small farm and a lake. The place was looked reasonably self-sufficient.
The hard pack road eventually lead down to one end of the runway. She was stopped beside a large inspection facility.
"May I be of assistance, ma'am?" The officer asked with the vague hint of menace, implying that asking for directions that lead out of where she currently was would be a very good idea. Sandra was undeterred. She fished out her letters and documents.
"Yes, I'm here to visit two of your inma-", she corrected herself remembering the Guideline Directive document, "-residents." The official continued to glare at her before taking a step back. His hand rested on his revolver.
"I need to ask you to step away from your vehicle, ma'am. I'll need to verify those papers and inspect your vehicle. We're required to do so for security, ma'am."
Sandra agreed and quickly exited her car. The official asked and then frisked her before directing her to the visitor waiting facility. Each request was followed by the statement "We're required to do so for security, ma'am."
Sandra tried the door for the room. At first she thought it was locked, since the door didn't open right away. However a second push freed it enough to open.
She turned on the light and wished it had been locked instead.
The room was featureless and windowless, save for a simple folding chair, a few very outdated copies of Highlights Children's Magazine and a non-functioning coffee maker.
"We'll contact you when your inspection is completed, ma'am. We're required to do so for security."
Sandra stepped into the room and listened to the echo of the door close. It was followed by the folding chair collapsing into a pile of scrap metal. Sandra leaned against the closed door, closed her eyes and let out a long, frustrated sigh.
She had no idea how long she waited in the room, other than it was two attempts to do something with the coffee pot, several perusals of why little Billy is happier now that he knows the Lord loves him, and careful re-editing of the crossword puzzles to make the next person wonder what the original person was thinking.
She woke with a start when the guard snapped the door open, "Ms. McCovey? We're done inspecting your car."
"You had to do that for security?"
"Never mind." Sandra said as she headed out to her car. Amazingly, it wasn't in separate piles, in fact it looked
"Did you wash it?" She asked the guard.
"No ma'am, we simply performed a thorough search, although we took the liberty of topping off your fluids to make up for your wait. Please continue on the blue line, and observe the posted speed limits. We don't want to have any incidents. Thank you for your patience, ma'am."
The Subaru was amazingly clean. Sandra had left most of her equipment and belongings back in the hotel, as per the instructions she had received. Her papers were carefully sorted and placed into a folder on her passenger seat.
Sandra smiled. "Uhm, I hate to ask. But is there a restaurant downtown? I'd like to get a quick bite."
The guard looked confused. "Ma'am?"
"Anything would do, but I'd prefer a diner over some fast food joint."
"No, ma'am. There's no restaurant. The cafeteria will be serving lunch starting at eleven. You'll need to talk with one of the associates about getting an escort. Any other questions, Ma'am?"
Sandra felt confused, but smiled anyway and started the car. She pulled out and followed the clearly painted blue line. It looked recently painted, even though the road didn't look like it was heavily trafficked. Unless they had reset the clock, she had only spent an hour and a half there, provided it was the same day.
The guard.. associate.. seemed nice enough, but there was something creepy about the whole deal. She felt even creepier when the road led up to a large visitor parking lot. A large, completely empty, visitor's parking lot.
She pulled into a space close to what she guessed was the main gate. The rain had turned to sleet and she tried to cover her head with her jacket. She paused as she got to the lobby area and shook the ice off. She checked to make sure she had everything still in the folder, then headed into the main door.
The inside of the visitor's receiving lobby was as stark white and clean as a surgical ward. It even had the same disturbing medicine smell. She walked to a heavily fortified grate and pressed the painted button, a few layers of the white latex peeled back from the action of someone actually pressing the button. Sandra tried to brush off the paint from her fingertips.
"May I be of assistance ma'am?" the vaguely feminine voice stated. Sandra wasn't quite sure because she struggled against the urge to order a burger and fries from the apparent drive through she was standing in front of. She looked around for a face to match to the voice.
"Uh yes? Hello?"
"Yes, May I help you." The voice stated again with growing annoyance.
Sandra held up the folder as she slowly turned looking for a camera. "My name is Sandra McCovey? I'm here to visit my sisters? Tiffany and Alexis?"
There was a clang and creak as a drawer slid out from beneath the grate. "Please place your documentation in the drawer. Please also be advised that your actions are currently being tracked remotely. Any attempt or illegal action will be dealt with harshly." Sandra stopped turning becoming increasingly nervous. As her shaking hand placed the folder into the drawer, her over active imagination let her feel the heat from the laser point that was focused on her back.
She yelped and jumped as the drawer clanged shut. A few grains of sand fell from her hand. She clenched her fist and held it to her chest as her mind screamed at her for slipping up.
Again, far too long passed without any way for her to know. Just her luck that she could never wear watches.
"Ms. McCovey?" The voice barked.
"Yes!" Sandra replied.
"Please enter the first door and place all personal items into storage. A lock is provided if you choose to use it. We request that you leave any jackets, purses, bags, staffs, shoes, containers or other items in the container as all such items will be confiscated before entering the Facility. Please understand that this is required for security reasons."
"Will I be going outside again?"
"No ma'am. Not until you wish to depart."
The door was more like an airlock and it cycled open with a heavy sigh. Inside was a small room with a single locker and a bench. On the opposite side was a similar door, fastened securely.
Sandra tentatively entered the cubicle and pushed the door closed. It cycled through it's closure. That's when she realized that there was no handle on either door. Instead of panicking at being sealed off in an obviously air-tight room, she had quite another reaction. She started to giggle. Because after the door had finished and her ears had adjusted to the silence, she heard the faint strains of the Muzak version of "Raindrops are Falling on my Head".
The absurdity of it tore the laughter out of Sandra. After several moments she finally composed herself, wiped away the tears and began to remove her personal items. She placed everything in the locker, closed the door and removed the key. Unbidden, the inner door began to cycle.
It opened into a room much like the one she had just left, far too white, and far too clean. The room was bisected by a glass window with a comfortable looking table and small desk on her side, and a similar looking arrangement on the opposite side.
"Welcome Ms. McCovey. Your sisters are being escorted to the resident's side. If you wish, the drawer has an assortment of analgesics if your feeling any discomfort. Water is provided at the drinking fountain to your left. If you wish to provide any items or papers to our residents, we ask that you request a transfer box and we'll be glad to handle the rest. Do you have any questions?"
"Uhm, no. Thank you."
"If you do, please don't hesitate to ask. We do remind you that your conversations may be recorded, but will only be released if there are any illegal actions performed. Please understand that this is required "
"... for security reasons." Sandra completed the sentence.
"Ah, your sisters are here. Thank you for coming, it does mean a great deal to our residents, and please enjoy your visit."
Sandra felt more than heard the opposite door cycle open. Then she saw her sisters enter. They were dressed in matching denim trousers and bright orange polo shirts. She heard them cry out her name and run up to the window. Their voices seemed further away and Sandra realized that it was being piped in.
"Guys, those are definitely not your colors." Sandra teased, fighting back her own tears.
The sisters smiled before Alexis broke down first. She sobbed uncontrollably, barely able to even repeat "I'm sorry." Tiffany tried to be stronger, but failed, she too began sobbing and dropped down next to her sister.
Sandra leaned against the glass, unable to console her sisters. She slid down and into the chair. She let them cry. It was all she could do.
Chris sat staring at the monitor reading and studying the words in detail. The table was filled with maps and diagrams, charts and documents. He only took occasional breaks from his studies for things like sleep and occasional light meals.
With a loud clatter, Becky Sue dropped the steak dinner on top of Chris' work. "Look, dang-ya. If'n y'all are planning to do anything about gettin' yerself less beat up, yer gonna have t' git something inside you other than book learnin'", she commanded with as much ol' school ma'rm she could. Chris looked up into her firey eyes and decided not to broach the topic. Instead he picked up his fork and ate a slice of the beef and rice.
"I told Zrng to give you some 'taters rather than that rice, but he said it'd be better for ya. Sorry though, I couldn't get the broccoli off of yer plate either."
Chris smiled. As he ate, he suddenly realized how hungry he had become.
Becky Sue picked up a page from the table. "The Facility? What's got you so fired up about this place anyway?"
Chris washed down his mouthful. "Call it a side project I've taken on. I've been doing research about that place."
"Research? It's a pokey, ain't it?"
"Hardly. It's a self sufficient community centered around rapid reassimilation of those sentenced to go there. If you believe it's own press, they've got an unheard of record for rehabilitating folks."
"Sounds like they do a right fine job of it."
Chris swallowed again, "That's the thing. It's almost too good a job. Only supervillains and rogues go there. Everyone from jaywalkers to worst of the worst."
"How long do they stay?"
"That's the other part, they stay until they're released. There's no minimum or maximum time." Chris paused to shovel some more food in. "In fact, most of the staff are actually old inmates, or residents, as they call them."
"Wait a minute, they got bad guys watchin' over bad guys?" Becky Sue started to catch on.
"Yep. Granted, they swear that everyone is rehabilitated and reformed, and frankly it's not like Walmart's gonna hire someone who just tried to take over the world. They're doing a fine job of that as is, thankyouverymuch." Chris emphasized his point by jabbing at the meat.
"So they've got this here sweet deal where they git to make the rules, hang on to folks as long as they see fit, do what they like and answer t' nobody?"
"They do answer to a few organizations, but mostly those organizations are afraid to challenge them."
Chris stopped eating for a minute. "That's the biggest problem. The Facility was created because the normal prison system simply couldn't handle the sorts of bad guys that can take out city blocks with a stray finger. Years ago, there were a bunch of really bad, casualty heavy, prison riots. Folks are scared that if the Facility were ever shut down, all those folks would be dumped right back into the system and the carnage would pick up right were it left off. It's a Catch-22."
"A what? Oh, thanks JB."
They sat in silence for a few minutes.
"So what're y'all gonna do?"
Chris sighed as he sat back in the chair. "Honestly, I have no idea."
The dark cloud that had been hanging over Chris reappeared. He really did have no idea what he could do to solve a problem like that. He needed more information, more than just the documents he had on hand. He needed insider knowledge about the place.
Chris laughed at his own bravado. Months ago he had told Edward Meyer, the now ex Ferrite Chef, that he had planted a tracking device in his arm. It was a total fabrication meant to ensure that Meyer wasn't going to be a problem. So far as he knew, it worked.
Of course, now he actually would have loved to been able to track him down.
Chris' eyes never left the nothing he was staring at. "I need to ask your boyfriend for some help."
Becky Sue blinked, not quite certain if Chris was talking to her. She glanced toward the blank wall Chris was fixated on before replying. "Me? You mean JB?"
"Unless Zrng's been spending his time with someone special."
Chris earned a pointed glare from the kitchen.
"And what do you do day in and day out anyway, Zrng?"
Zrng didn't reply.
"What do you need him to do?" Becky Sue asked.
"I need him to see if he can track down someone. He was once known as Edward Meyer."
"The Ferrite Chef?" JB/Becky Sue exclaimed.
"Yeah, him, but I don't think that he'll be calling himself that."
"So how the heck am I supposed to find him?"
"JB? You're a geek. Start geeking."
In the mean time, Chris started putting together an alternate plan, just in case he needed it.
Sandra pulled into a parking spot and stepped out into the streets of Boise. She got out and the car chirped twice as the locks sealed. The snow crunched under her boots as she unlocked the back door and jogged headed up the stairs.
"Oh. Hey Sandy" Becky Sue greeted her.
Sandra smiled and replied, "Hi, just got something quick to say to Chris."
Chris looked up from the pile of papers.
"YOU MISERABLE SONOFABITCH!" Sandra screamed as a flurry of sharp edged rocks shot from her hands. Chris managed to get halfway out of the chair before the first thudded into him. Above the clatter and crunch of the barrage, Sandra screamed words of hatred at the man responsible for putting her sisters in living hell.
"Sandra! SANDRA!" Becky Sue grabbed her arms and lifted them up. Unfortunately this just meant that the rocks had that much more opportunity to build up momentum. Chris simply covered himself from the worst of the blows. His armor still hung in the closet.
"SANDRA!" Becky Sue commanded as she stared into her eyes. "He knows."
Sandra stopped. She hadn't been able to cry with her sisters. Someone needed to be strong. She made up for that now. She collapsed against Becky Sue sobbing.
Zrng raced over to the pile of river rock that had suddenly covered Chris. Red patches that were starting to turn blue covered his back and arms. Several dark stains in his clothes marked the spots where the edges had caught. He was still breathing "Chris, is anything broken?"
Chris looked at Zrng and smiled. "I can tell you're not a human."
"You can?" Zrng asked not catching the joke.
"Yes, you didn't ask if I was OK."
Chris pushed away some of the stones and began to put some weight on his legs. "I don't think anything is broken, not in half at least."
"Do you want me to ask Sandra to leave?"
"No. I deserved that. Heh, I'm actually surprised it took her this long. Look, Zrng, I'll be ok." Chris forced himself to stand to prove it, and to see if his equilibrium was still intact. He took a few deep breaths and felt the pain shoot from his ribs, he pressed his hand against them, bruised, but not broken. "I'm going to go change and dress some of these. Go see if Sandra or Becky Sue wants some tea or something. Sandra needs someone right now." Chris stepped over the mini-quarry and headed toward the bath, stopping to pick up the various medical supplies he had been stockpiling for such a situation.
Chris handed Zrng a box of tissues and pointed toward Sandra. "Go. I'll yell if I need anything."
"That or thud against the floor."
"That too. I'll try to remember to scream first. Go. She needs that."
Zrng turned and headed to the couch where Becky Sue and Sandra were. Chris closed the door and decided to put plan B into action regardless.
What is Plan B?
Is this pretty much
it for Sandra and Chris?
Isn't this supposed
to be a comedy?
Tune in next time for:
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