Part I: “Live or Die”
“Live or die, Motherf---er!”
The shout woke me up, my cell door opened and a burly black man rushed into my room carrying a riot club. Before I could comprehend the question, he had bashed me on the head, sending me out of my bed and on the floor. I looked up and saw a white guy in the door, holding a stun rod in case I got rowdy. Before I could consider that option further, the black man smashed the stick down on my arm and repeated the question.
“I have a choice?” I said, rolling over to try to stand up. It was answering a question with a question, but I wasn’t in Leavenworth Prison for my health. As far as I knew I was being executed at the end of the week. My answer was the man bringing the club back up, but I was ready, dodging to let the blow glance off me. “What the hell?”
“Live or die?” the white guy said, who seemed to be enjoying himself a little too much. I heard a shout from the cell across the way, but then my focus went back to the black guy. He was winding up again.
“Live, dammit!” I shouted, crossing my arms into a V to try to catch the club. Looking back, it probably wouldn’t have worked. It’s a good thing he didn’t follow through.
“Great!” said the white guy. “You’re Lester Thompson, right?” he asked, as I stood up to face him.
“Yeah?” I said, hearing the prisoner across the hall shout ‘Live!’. “What’s going--”
A black bag was suddenly over my head, and before I could splutter out a protest...“That’s great!” he said.
Then I felt the stun rod and even the darkness went dark.
“Who wants to know?”
He held both his hands up, empty. “Bob does.”
“Robert Reynolds,” he said. “Across the hall.”
“Not anymore,” I said, standing up. I did a quick count: eight guys in a small cage. This could be trouble. “You heard my name?”
“Right before they knocked me out.”
“What’s going on?”
“Hell if I know.”
I looked around for somebody who looked like he knew what was going on and spotted an Asian guy leaning on a corner wall. “Hey, you!”
“Masanori,” he said.
“What? What’s going on?”
He shrugged, thin-shouldered but muscled. “Don’ understanh,” he said, in what I decided was a Japanese accent.
“Don’t understand English, or don’t understand what’s going on?”
“I’m guessing both,” this, accompanied with a bark of a laugh, from a wiry suntanned guy with a European accent. “Armand,” he said, pointing at himself. “I heard your name, Les.”
I looked past him and at the massive Russian leaning against the wall. The man sneered back. “Who’s he?” Everybody was giving him plenty of space.
“Vladimir,” said Armand. “Be friendly.” The man snarled. “He has to get to know you,” shrugged Armand, turning back.
“So,” started Robert. “What’s going--”
Before he could finish the question, a section of one wall slid across to reveal a screen. It flicked on and a clerkish man appeared, sitting at a desk. A UN blue flag with an X above the logo was stretched across the wall behind him. He folded his hands. “You are here because you are cheap. If you die, no loss. If you live, good for you. Eat.”
I realized I was hungry. Another section of the wall opened to reveal eight bowls of soupy porridge. I discovered I was that hungry. The clerk waited, fingers tapping the desk in inpatience, while each man picked up a bowl and stopped complaining long enough to start eating.
“If you survive, you will get better food. More freedom around the base. Entertainment. If you continue to survive: Well,” the man paused, steepling his fingers. “In that unlikely event, a new life will be arranged for you. At the end of this.”
I finished my gruel and tossed the bowl on the ground. “And what is this!” I shouted.
“I’m sure you’re asking, ‘what is this?’,” the clerk went on. “This,” he nodded toward the flag “is XCOM, and for what we do, you are all Rookies. Welcome to Fort Nowhere, gentlemen. Sleep well.” The feed cut off, replaced on the screen by the line
EARTH THANKS YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE
As the wall panel slid back across, it covered everything but EARTH.
And then even that was gone.
Next Friday -- I-2 “UFO-2”
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