The Ranch (Part 10 Conclusion)
Updated: Aug 31
Sherman had to guess it had been hours since they had taken him hostage. Early on, Sherman had considered they were taking him off into the desert to execute him, but why put a bag on his head? Why bother moving him to a different location at all? Sherman was left in the dark, with only the cramps forming in his shoulders from the restraints as company.
The vehicle began to slow and he could feel it veering off to the side of the road. The vehicle rattled and shook. The familiar smell of dust from the desert seeped in through his hood. A sudden coolness gripped the windows. He could feel the vehicle was cast into long shadows that had greatly reduced the heat. Sherman tried desperately to listen for any indicators, but he could hear nothing that indicated where he was. The vehicle then came to a steady halt.
Sherman listened as the vehicle doors opened and closed around him. He heard the man next to him leave, and he was acutely aware he was alone for a moment. He felt before he heard, his door swing open. Heat washed over him, but it was not an intense heat, but a mild warmth that came from a shaded mid-day location. Gloved hands yanked him out of his seat and he could now feel he was standing in a vast open area.
Even in the shade, as his hood was yanked from the top of his head, his eyes burned. He stood in a vast canyon. The walls of the canyon ran a great length up with vibrant red and browns that signified the age of the formation. A convoy of four black identical SUVs were lined in the canyon. At the front and end were tan armored military vehicles. The SUV ahead had a hooded man removed from the back seat, and the soldiers removed the hood from Don’s head as well.
“I’m going to cut you free. Don’t do anything stupid.” The soldier behind him announced. With a sharp snap, Sherman’s hands were free. He immediately rubbed the skin around his wrists where the rough plastic had held him captive. “Follow us.”
Four of the soldiers from the convoy joined Sherman with Don and escorted them forward down the canyon. The canyon quickly started to narrow and came together at a point ahead. At the base of the point was a squat concrete bunker like structure. The small group of men came together at the door of the bunker. A black camera overhead watched the men with a cold eye. One of their escorting soldiers looked directly at the camera, causing a heavy bang to ring out from the door. With the door open, two of the soldiers escorted Don and Sherman into the building.
The walkway was short, metallic, and sterile. The walkway opened up to a larger bay, where a tram awaited. A long suspension monorail headed into a dark tunnel that had been burrowed into the stone. The armed men loaded both Don and Sherman into the large silver tram. The doors slid shut upon their entry.
“Sit.” Commanded one of the soldiers. Both Don and Sherman obeyed. The tram started forward with a gentle rock. Both Don and Sherman shared a glance at each other—their eyes fused with mystery and fear. The tram headed into the dark tunnel and for a moment, the four men were flying through a dark void in which only the small overhead lights of the tram gave relief. The tram began to curve, and the tunnel sped by small long lights there were spaced out along the walls. The tram came out to a bright open space, another bay. Triple the size of the one they had loaded in from. The bay allowed loading from both sides. Escalators lined both sides, and vending machines accompanied cold empty seats. Men in slacks and lab coats went about their business, completely uninterested in the tram. Their tram continued, not stopping, passing into the next segment of the tunnel.
This tunnel was more industrial. Concrete tops and floors. They were some five feet from the bottom. They passed by more lights. They passed a blue steel industrial door that provided access to some electrical box, but the scene was brief and quickly gone. They flew by a string of large ventilation shafts, the spewing air could be heard hissing as they went by. Another room on the opposite side came into view, protected by thick blue tinted glass. They just caught the view of two men on an elevator as the doors closed, and a third was at yet another vending machine making his pick of a beverage.
A chime dinged above them. A female automated voice greeted them. “Good Morning, and welcome the Aurora Complex transit system. This automated train is provided for the security and convenience of the Aurora Complex research personnel.” They passed a junction, and another rail could be seen going off in a different direction. Red and green indication lights gave notice of some instruction that could only be guessed at by Don and Sherman. “The time is 9:47 am.” The voice continued as they came around another bend. A large rectangular room faced them. A security guard and operator sat inside watching as their tram passed them. “Top side temperature is 98 degrees with a high estimated at 106 degrees.”
The tram crossed into an even more massive room. They were now hundreds of feet from the ground. Level to them was a metal corrugated catwalk that led to a sterile and cold looking office door. Large windows faced them with views into offices. Some of the offices were occupied, some empty, some dark. Despite the advanced setting, the offices themselves were unremarkable, cork boards, desks, computers, phones, they were the working spaces like any other. Far below was yet another tram system. Several cars were moving, at a slower rate than theirs below. Unlike their own tram, the ones below carried supplies, tarps lashed across large barrels and boxes, moved the contents to their unknown destinations. “The Aurora Complex is maintained at a pleasant 68 degrees at all times.”
Their tram moved into a narrower corridor. Lit now with harsh fiery yellow lights. A series of large mysterious pipes could be seen above them as they continued. The life source of the mysterious beast they now journeyed to the belly of. They passed another open room, protected only by rails, just plain blue seats in a small lobby like setting with another set of elevators, and this image too went flying by. They then saw a section that was opened to a larger room beyond, a very mechanical and busy room. Men in overalls with sweat and grease stains worked on forklifts, massive boxes were raised and lowered. Their tram went by without notice by the busy bodies as they passed into another tight segment of tunnel. “This train is inbound from, External Access Point C, to Sector M, Medical Bay.”
They passed another cutout, where large generators were being monitored by more overall dressed men in hardhats. The image was a blur as they passed around another curve. “If your intended destination is a high security beyond Sector M, you will need to return to the central transit hub, in area 3 to board a high security train.” They emerged into a gray room of solid concrete, lined with yellow safety rails. Workers and technicians monitored as a large crane overhead lifted what looked to be a rocket up and onto another larger tram at the far end of the room. A large white tank sat in one corner. The black flame on the side indicated the dangers of its contents. Their last image of the large rocket was of a solid blast door with the letter ‘A’ on one door and ‘3’ on the other. “If you have not yet submitted your identity to the retinal clearance system, you must report to Aurora’s Personnel for processing at Sector M, Medical Bay before you will be permitted into any high security sectors.”
They came around another bend. Natural bright sunlight poured in. A large viewing window gave sight of the vast red desert on the outside. “No smoking, eating, or drinking, is permitted on the Aurora Complex transit system.” Their track dipped slightly as they were plunged back into darkness. Ahead, they could see more bright natural light, and dirt ahead. They emerged in a short cutout. Again they were surrounded by the high walls of a massive red rock. Shrubs waved at them from a soft breeze that had been trapped in the cut out as their tram took them into yet another concrete tunnel. The concrete quickly gave way to more red rock and clay. Sharp jettisons of rock and minerals flashed by. To Sherman, it was like riding through a mining tunnel. They would pass by occasional cutouts of industrial machines, tanks, pipes, and walkways, the only proof they were not in fact in a mine. “Do not attempt to open the tram’s doors. Keep all body parts inside until the tram has come to a complete stop.”
Their mine ride took them out to another open space. They were suspended high off the ground again. Below a large area had been cleared out where two UH-61 helicopters sat idle on their landing area. The thumping of another helicopter beat the air into submission above them as it passed over the large concealed area. As their tram headed into another mine like tunnel, Sherman caught the glimpse of a large radar dish at the top of the nearest cliff. “In the event of an emergency, passengers are to remain seated until further instruction. Please remain away from electrified rails, and proceed to an emergency station.”
Their travels took them back into another segment that was concrete. They came to a large T intersection. Their tram paused, and with heavy clicks, lights kicked on to the left, and the tram began to shift, heading down the left corridor. Ahead, Don and Sherman could see the tunnel ended in a large circular structure. A large vented fan was spinning, facing them. A bay off to the right stood by with a clean cut olive skinned man. “Now arriving at, Sector M, Medical Bay.”
As the tram came to a stop, the man stepped up to the open door. “Gentlemen, I’ll take our guests from here.” He clean cut man addressed their guards.
“Mr. Hernandez?” Don threw out as he spiked up.
“Yes, yes, I’ll explain soon. Please, follow me.” Mr. Hernandez gestured for them to accompany him onto the platform, which they did. The tram’s door shut and soon departed with their armed escorts. Well, execution isn’t on the table, so far.
“What on God’s green Earth is going on?” Don demanded.
“Please follow me, it’ll be easier to explain to all of you at once.” Sherman and Don followed him down a short walkway to another industrial blue steel door. Beyond the door was a waiting lobby with a familiar looking face sitting in the only occupied seat.
“Colm!” Don announced. “You’re alive!”
“Yes, no thanks to this psychopath and his goons!” Colm Knapp growled at the sight of Mr. Hernandez.
“Please have a seat.” Mr. Hernandez stated ignoring Colm’s agitation. With all three men seated now before the Hispanic man, he put his hands into his pockets under the dusty sport coat he wore. With a click of his tongue he started. “I need to first start that I am not Robert Hernandez. I am a Special Operator with the CIA’s Special Operation Division. If you need a name for me, you can call me Agent Smith.”
“You lying piece of shit!” Colm chided.
“Please, let me continue.” Agent Smith cleared his throat. “We had been monitoring the occurrences at the ranch for some time. The experiments here are a direct result of those occurrences.”
Colm, ever on his seat for a fight, asked first. “And what experiments are those?”
“I’m not at liberty to say.”
“People died!” Don injected.
“I am fully aware of that, and unfortunately, it’s not over yet. Mr. Knapp here is aware of what has been happening over the last 24 hours, so I’ll let him fill in the blanks. You three will wait here. A doctor will be coming by to inspect you soon.”
“Wait, Mr. Hern—Agent Smith.” Sherman called out. “What about my family?”
“I have a team trying to retrieve them today. With any luck, they will be joining you later today.” Without further, Agent Smith left the three to their own gossip.
“Can you believe that lying rat?” Colm announced.
“What happened?” Don inquired.
“I was still testing the plants we found back in my lab when they raided me. They took everything, all my computers, all my documents. They then destroyed everything else before forcing me here. What about you?”
Don looked away, attempting to deflect, but the truth had to come out. “Our team, they were killed.” Don saw the buildup on Colm. “Not by them! We were out there, and suddenly, power went out. Not just in the trailer, to everything. Even our phones went out. Something started to attack our security, and in a panic, our team tried to flee. These creatures, like massive centipedes, attacked them.” Don started to trip over his own tongue. “I-we…”
“They’re all dead.” Sherman finished.
“Jesus.” Colm buried his face in his palms. He wiped away some feeling as he brought his face back up. “You’re not the only ones experiencing this. As I was working in the lab, I was listening to the radio. They had said there were reports of some outbreak happening, and rolling power outages that the government was trying to coverup. Not longer after the power went out at my lab. I thought it was local, and as I was trying to figure out what happened, then the raid happened. From what I’ve gathered, a large portion of the Western United States is without power right now.”
“My God, what have these men done?”
“Mr. Green?” A fourth voice announced from the far end of the room. There, framed by an open door, was a very average-looking physician holding a clipboard to his chest. Sherman stood, the eyes of his two scientist compatriots just looked up at him, more curious about what his fate would be than concern. Sherman approached the thin man. As Sherman closed the distance, something seemed familiar about the man. The man held the door open for him to cross into the medical exam room, and on the name tag Sherman read the name R. Dolak.
Doctor Dolak shut the door behind them as they were now in a plain looking medical room.
“Please, just have a seat on the bed there. I’ll start the physical with a reflex test.” As Dr. Dolak took a seat before Sherman, he looked up, spying what must have been a peculiar look on Sherman’s face. “Is everything alright, Mr. Green?”
“You look familiar, and your name sounds familiar too.”
Doctor Dolak leaned back away from Sherman and relaxed in the stool. “I was all over the news a little over a year ago.”
“That’s it, Ryan Dolak, right?”
“I’m glad someone remembers me.” Ryan gave a cheeky smile.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Funny story, probably not too different from yours.”
“You have a ranch get attacked by giant bugs, too?”
“No, not that extravagant. I was working in the Pacific after that tsunami decimated several islands. A boy came suffering from an animal attack, tragically he died. I discovered the boy had died of a specific toxin introduced to his bloodstream. Well, the government came in, seized everything, made me sign an NDA. I thought I could fight it. I went public when they tried to hold me accountable.”
“I thought you were in the news about a bird.”
“Oh, yeah, the facts are a bit misconstrued by the media. That is what attacked the boy, some feathered lizard. In the heat of the legal battle, I was provided an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
“And that was?”
“The same offer you’re about to get. I don’t know what caused it, but I know I’d rather be here than whatever they planned to do with me if I didn’t cooperate.” Ryan Dolak put on his latex gloves. “Let’s get this physical started.”
Thank you so much for going on this journey with me. If you're wondering where this leads to, please look into the novel that is tied into this story, A Fold to Extinction. There will be a future series that expands on this story line, so please continue to check back on my website or join me on Twitter for updates!