Sunday, April 26, 2015

Interlude 10: Special Delivery

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Be Aware: This file was recovered from the archives aboard the derelict USS Aurora. It has been translated from an obsolete file format and language. Unfortunately, due to the deteriorated state of the original medium, not all of the file could be recovered.

Be Aware: The entirety of this file is MaxConInfo, security phrase CRYSTAL TOWER. No part of this file may be disclosed to any person not cleared for MaxConInfo, security phrase CRYSTAL TOWER, without the permission of the HIEROPHANT InfoCon Committee.

XXXX was important XXXX to XXXX in person. I XXXX hadn't found another job after being fired from the magazine, so I couldn't even plead the excuse of having to work. So I drove out to Nevada and met the physicist again – the second and last time we met in person – this time in the parking lot of a highway rest stop, next to a McDonald's.

Explication: Nevada was a sub-state political entity in the United States of America. McDonald's was a guild or association of restaurants, noted for cost and speed of service.

He looked bad. He looked sick – he must have lost twenty pounds, maybe more, and he hadn't been heavy to begin with. And the way he walked – slowly, hesitantly, like he had to concentrate to do it. But I guess he cared enough about this to do it anyway, and that put some guilt into me for feeling sorry for myself, so I abandoned the rant I'd planned to unload on him and just took the box without asking questions.

It was maybe two by one by one feet, had “Smirnoff Ice” printed on the side, and was taped shut. It was pretty light, not more then a couple of pounds. “Don't let this out of your sight. Drive – don't fly – to Fredrick, Maryland. There's a storage unit right outside of town,” he said, handing me a key and a slip of paper with an address. “Leave it in there, then throw the key away. E-mail me once it's in place.”

Explication: The meaning of “Smirnoff Ice” is not known; contextual analysis suggests it was a beverage or foodstuff of some kind. Fredrick, Maryland was a town in the Eastern Coastal Zone of the North American Technate.

I spent the next few days on the road, listening to books on tape and watching the country pass. I didn't let it out of my sight, just like he'd said. I ate in my car or in my hotel room, slept with the box sitting on the ground next to the bed. It felt kind of silly, but I knew there was a good reason for anything the physicist said, even if I didn't know what it was.

That first night, in a motel 6 in Colorado, I tried shaking it. I heard nothing but a faint rustle of packing peanuts.

Explication: Motel 6 was a guild or association of inns. Colorado was a sub-state political entity in the United States of America.

It took me three days to get to Frederick. I didn't have any trouble finding the storage unit. And then I did a bad thing.

I'm not sure why I did it. Maybe it was because I was pissed about losing my job because I'd taken too many “vacations” running errands. Maybe it was because I'd drawn the connection between Fredrick and Fort Detrick. Maybe I was just curious. I don't know.

I opened the box.

At first I only saw packing peanuts, and for a crazy instant I thought I'd been sent on a cross-country road trip to deliver an empty cardboard box. But it wasn't empty. At the bottom was half a dozen plastic jars, the kind they have in high school science laboratories, with bits of something biological floating in formaldehyde, and a stack of papers paper-clipped together.

The papers were photocopies, of something that had been typed on a typewriter a long time ago. The first page was dated 1928. The title was “Final Report on Innsmouth Operation.” I didn't read the rest. I was too busy looking at the photograph that had been stapled to the back.

It showed... It wasn't a human being. The creature had the rough shape of a man, but squat, and with legs that reminded me of a frog, and a short, stubby tail. Its skin had the pale, diseased look of a rotting dolphin, and its eyes bulged out of its head. And in place of ears it had what were recognizably gills.

And it was dead, with two bullet holes in its chest, and a pair of men in Marine uniforms standing next to it, rifles at XXXX

XXXX looked at that picture for a long time. Then I stuffed the papers and the jars back in the box, taped it back up, locked the storage unit, XXXX key into a trash can, and drove home as fast XXXX could.


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