Sitting in the large van, I buckled my seatbelt and exchanged a look with my husband Eddie. I had a strange feeling that the phone call we'd both received at work from the elementary school our kids attended had been nothing but a hoax. Now only questions remained. Were our boys okay? And where were they taking us? I glanced around the full van at the other blank-faced passengers. I guess they didn't know where we were headed either.
The van stopped at a remote-looking plane hangar.
"Now wait a minute," I said to the driver as he tried to help me out. "Where are we? And where are we going?"
He stared at me blankly and didn't respond.
I reluctantly got out of the van. Eddie stood by my side and slipped his hand in mine. I squeezed his hand back. Everything would be okay as long as we were together. We'd figure things out and get back to our kids. I felt positive about things until the large helicopter landed.
"No," I whispered to Eddie. "We can't get on that thing."
Scary looking men emerged from the helicopter carrying equally scary looking machine guns.
"Play along, Jo," he whispered back. "We're no match for them. Right now anyway." He squeezed my hand tightly.
I knew he was right. I'd never met anyone as brilliant as Eddie. He was a highly successful chemical engineer, renowned in the non-renewable energy sector. Of course, I was no slouch either with my research into sources of renewable energy. I always said we complimented each other perfectly. Right now, I needed that reassurance more than ever. They may have guns, but they were no match for Eddie's superior intelligence. I smiled smugly to myself. Let the games begin.
We docilely followed the others onto the helicopter. It was noisy and the machine-gun men handed us bulky headsets to wear. I shuddered inwardly as I accepted the potentially germ-ridden assessory, realizing the device was a necessary evil to protect my hearing. Beside me Eddie smirked. I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at him. I may be a germaphobe, but he was claustrophobic and we were sitting in an iron box. We'd see who had the last laugh.
What was I thinking? There was nothing funny about this situation. Panic seized me. I had to get off this thing, but it was too late. The helicopter was airborne.
I closed my eyes tightly and went to my happy place. I'm on a beach. I'm on a beach. I repeated to myself. Worry would do me no good at this point. I must've fell asleep somewhere along the way. The bumpy landing nudged me awake or maybe it was Eddie.
I looked at him, communicating silently the way only spouses can. Where are we? He shook his head slightly. He didn't know. Then he winked and I felt infinitely better. He didn't know... Yet.
They ushered us off the helicopter, roughly plucked the headsets from our heads, and herded us toward a large grey metal building. I looked around at my new surroundings. The outside had been very deceiving. It had appeared to be a large warehouse, but inside it was like a house. The front door entered into a spacious foyer with a cozy living room to the right and a circular staircase spiraling from the middle of the room. We were propelled forward into a single file line and handed a piece of paper with a number on it. Mine said 12. I glanced at Eddie's. His said 12 too.
A petite lady in a grey suit with her brown hair drawn into a tight bun silently pointed to the stairs. Tightly clutching our pieces of paper, we continued up the stairs. On the second floor, both sides of the wall were lined with numbered doors. We found the door marked '12' and went inside. It looked like a small hotel room with a double bed covered in a mustard yellow comforter. Two grey uniforms were folded neatly on the bed.
I opened my mouth to speak, but Eddie silenced me by placing his finger over his mouth. He systematically surveyed the room, examining the vents and electrical outlets.
"Just in case they bugged the room," he said quietly. "I don't see any cameras or listening devices though."
"What do you think they want from us?"
"I'm not sure. This whole thing has been carefully planned and executed. Whoever we're dealing with is cunning and connected. We'll have to proceed very carefully until we know more."
"Okay. What should we do now?'
"I suggest we both get some sleep. It's late and we need our rest."
I crawled under the covers and Eddie cradled me in his arms until I fell into an uneasy sleep.
A-ar. A-ar. A sharp horn jolted me from my sleep and I sat upright in the bed. Eddie was already awake, sitting at the small desk. He was dressed in the grey uniform and his hair was wet from the shower.
"I guess it's morning?" I joked weakly.
"Get ready and we'll go see what they have for breakfast."
I had a record fast shower and donned the grey uniform. Grey was so not my color, but it suited my mood perfectly this morning. I nibbled on my bottom lip. Were my boys okay? Out of necessity, I pushed all worry from my mind. My sister would've been called by the school as our emergency contact. She would've notified the police. I was sure they were out looking for us right now. I had to hope anyway.
"I guess so." I felt reluctant to leave the small room when I had no idea what we would face on the other side.
A bell rang and the room door swung open.
"Here goes nothing," I told Eddie as we walked out into the hall.
The hall was filled with wary-looking grey uniform-clad people. We eyed each other suspiciously. The line started to move down the stairs and toward the smell of food. My stomach grumbled. I had no idea of the hour, but it must be past my normal breakfast time.
We followed the others down the stairs and to the right into a cavernous cafeteria. Whatever this place was it was certainly built to accommodate a lot of inhabitants. The cafeteria had steaming food housed under glass shields and long tables with benches. I walked into the line for food and picked up a tray. Dour-faced servers dropped small portions of runny eggs and crispy bacon onto my plate. I poured myself a glass of orange juice and a coffee at the end of the line. Eddie and I found a spot to sit at the end of one of the long tables. We ate our breakfast quickly, not attempting conversation with our table-mates. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea. The main sounds in the room were the scratching of utensils on the plates.
A man with a grey cap and identical grey uniform walked up to the front of the room. Speaking clearly into a microphone, he said in a British lilt, "I hope you found your accommodations acceptable. When you finish your breakfast, please bring your trays to the front." He gestured to a large bin. "Then make your way toward the great hall. You will find your room number on the list by the door."
"What are we doing here?" a man called from the back of the room.
"I realize you must have many questions." The man smiled secretively and stepped away from the microphone.
I glanced at Eddie. 'What was that?' I mouthed to him.
He raised his eyebrows at me in response.
I don't know about Eddie and everyone else, but I had enough of this jerking around. I wasn't satisfied to be led around by a leash and expected to obey without question. I started to stand up, but Eddie put his hand on my shoulder to stop me.
Nodding toward the side of the room where several men with guns stood watching, he said quietly, "Not now, Jo."
I balled my hands into fists at my side. "Then when, Eddie?"
"We need to figure out what's going on first. Come, on, Jo, let's check out what list we're on."
This is nuts. Plain nuts. I followed Eddie out of the room, but inside I was shaking my hand in disbelief. Only one brave soul had dared question why we were here. If everyone else was in the same boat as us... then the party responsible was guilty of several hundred charges of kidnapping.
"Be patient, Jo," Eddie whispered in my ear as he pointed to our room number on the list. "We're assigned to R&D."
"R&D for what?"
"Sector 3, follow me," a woman in a grey uniform said in a clipped, no nonsense voice.
"Are we Sector 3?" I asked.
The lady spun around and glared at me.
I guess so, I thought. This place was certainly anti-questions and anti-information.
Following the woman, we ended up in a large lab at the far end of the building. A small man with beady eyes passed us crisp white lab coats and protective eyewear as we walked in. From years of working in a lab, I absentmindedly walked to the end of the black counter and stopped in front of an elaborate glassware and apparatus set-up. It appeared an experiment was already in progress. As we had been given no direction, I was hesitate to touch anything. I assumed we were here to work, but work on what?
A young man stopped at the station next to mine. "Hi, I'm Ben."
"Jo," I offered.
"Do you know what's going on?"
"Nope. Not a clue."
"Yeah, me either. One minute I was working in the lab and the next I had a phone call saying my parents had been in an accident and I had to go to the hospital right away."
"Same here. Except the call was from my kids' school. Strange. What kind of lab do you work in?"
"No. Gene mapping."
"Yes, it's a very fascinating field."
"Not that, Ben, why they have targeted us."
"I imagine everyone in this room is a scientist. What is your field of study?"
"See. You're a scientist."
"But that still doesn't explain what we're doing here."
"Actually it does."
Jo jumped at the sound of the behind her. "Oh, Eddie, you startled me. Ben, this is my husband, Eddie. Eddie, Ben."
"Did you figure it out, Eddie? What they want with us?"
"They want us to solve a problem."
"What problem? Who are they?" I asked.
"An ancient alien race," Eddie explained.
"How do you know all this?" Ben asked skeptically.
A large hand clamped down on Eddie's shoulder. "I need you to come with me."
"No thanks, I'm a bit occupied at the moment," Eddie said crypically.
"It wasn't a request."
Another guard joined the first and I watched in horror as they dragged Eddie away.
I squeezed my eyes tightly closed.
"What just happened?" Ben asked.
"What do you think? Eddie figured something out and now he's in big trouble."
"Do you think it's really aliens?"
"Shh! Do you want them to take you too?"
"How did he know? Do you think he's right?" Ben whispered.
"Eddie is smart. I'm sure he figured it out. And we've got to figure it out too. That's the only way to find him."
"Look, Jo, you seem like a nice lady and all, but the people who have us, alien or not, they mean business. I'm not into risking my neck for people I've just met. No offense."
"No offense taken. I won't be here much longer anyway. Once I find Eddie, he'll figure out how to get us out of here."
"Now, wait a minute. If you figure a way out, I'm in."
I sent him a scathing look. "You're in from the beginning or out, mister."
"I'm in." A petite brunette stood beside me. "I'm Dana."
I stared at her hard. "Can we trust you?" I asked. I hated to be suspicious, but I was worried about Eddie and my instincts were off.
"Yes." Dana nodded frantically. "I have to get out of here. I'll do anything."
"For now, we better play along and get back to work or whatever it is they want us to do. We can meet tonight. Room 12."
Dana and Ben nodded their agreement and returned to their work stations. I continued to study the distillation set-up on my counter. Somehow I would figure things out. Just like a scientific experiment, I would use logic to find Eddie and get us home...