31 minutes | Aug 24, 2020

Three Million CE - Episode 1

“Punch me as hard as you can, bruh!” A shirtless, flaxen-haired Heady Armstrong pounded his fists into his well-defined abdominal muscles and laughed. His friend, also laughing, stepped back until he was out of the frame. “Here I come dude, you sure?” the unseen friend called out. “I’m ready! Do it bruh!” Heady’s friend barreled into view and raced across the screen. Heady visibly braced himself. The still-charging friend swung his arm back, and then thrust it forward. Swinging fist connected with Heady’s groin. Heady yelped and keeled forward. The camera started shaking as its operator burst into laughter. “Officer Jefferies?” Sarah looked up from the phone hidden beneath the monitoring control panel that doubled as her desk. She was startled to see Officer Thompson standing in the small security office. Sarah wondered why he hadn’t used the intercom, like a normal person. Probably to annoy her. Sarah pushed a loose strand of jet black hair behind her left ear, surreptitiously grabbing the wireless earbud she was hiding there. Damn it, how long had he been standing there? “Officer Jefferies, the highway outpost has radioed that they saw a suspicious vehicle. It might be heading toward the compound. Keep a close eye on the perimeter, OK?” Officer Thompson spoke slowly and enunciated his words, as though he were suspicious of Sarah’s grasp of basic language concepts. Sarah loathed him. “I heard the report too,” Sarah lied. “I’m not stupid y’know. You don’t need to tell me how to do my job.” Officer Thompson nodded. “Yes, sure. Just making sure you got the message.” His eyes darted down toward Sarah’s control panel. Sarah saw his gaze shift and slid her chair forward, shoving the phone in her hands further out of view. “Right,” said Sarah curtly and forced a disingenuous grin. “Message received. Thanks.” Officer Thompson frowned and peered closer at the array of display screens splayed across Sarah’s control panel. His eyes lingered on the one that was off. “Did you fix camera nine yet?” he asked. “Not yet,” said Sarah. She hated Thompson so much. Why did he have to be so irritating? His stupid freckled face infuriated her. His dumb red hair made her blood boil. “It’s only been broke two days. Plus that section’s covered by the motion sensors so it’s not like we need the camera. I’ll get to it later.” “Make sure you do, Jefferies,” said Officer Thompson. “Before your shift is out, OK?” Sarah hated the way Officer Thompson called her “Jefferies.” Everyone called her that, but the way he said it seemed to drip with contempt and superiority. Like he thought he was better than her because he outranked her. Officer Thompson held his arms crossed out in front of him, forming the standard Nikola’s Children salute. “The Children be praised,” he said, then turned and left the security office. Sarah listened to his footsteps recede down the hall and out of earshot. “Dickweed,” Sarah muttered under her breath. “Children be praised,” she said in a mocking tone and put her earbud back in her ear. She returned her attention to her phone and the video that Officer Thompson had interrupted. An old one she’d already seen countless times, but one of her favorites. “Are you sure this is the way?” Doyle Tingler asked. They had turned off the main highway onto an unnamed dirt road close to an hour ago and had seen nothing but darkness and trees in the moonlight outside the car windows. “Yeah,” replied Heady Armstrong. “My boys scouted the coordinates you sent me a few days ago. The compound was right where you said.” “Ah,” said Doyle. “Can I assume that by ‘your boys’ you are referring to those half-witted imbeciles who star along side you in your idiotic videos?” “Yeah,” said Heady Armstrong. “And they’re not idiotic videos, I have almost ten million subscribers.” “Mmm,” said Doyle. “That’s where you’re wrong. You see, the majority of people who watch YouTube are, by definition, idiots, and the idiocy of a given YouTube channel is directly proportional to the number of idiots who subscribe to it.” Doyle enjoyed ribbing Heady about his YouTube channel. Heady and his friends started it six years earlier in college and it had exploded in popularity since. But it catered to an audience which Doyle considered to be lower than the lowest common denominator; the channel spotlighted a plethora of disgusting bodily functions, stupid pranks, terrible music videos, and horrendously unfunny (and typically offensive) “comedy” skits. Doyle was certain that the channel’s popularity was due entirely to the fact that Heady and his friends found reasons to take their shirts off in every video. Doyle’s objections to the YouTube channel were entirely based on its intellectual merits (or lack thereof) and certainly had nothing to do with, as Heady sometimes postulated during his less forgiving moods, jealousy over the idea that nobody wanted to see Doyle with his shirt off. Sure, he was a little heavier than Heady and his friends, a little less muscly, and his hair was a bit wispier and thinner on top, but he wasn’t all that bad. And at any rate, he was already spoken for. Or at least had been, and hopefully would be again soon, if the night’s plans were ultimately successful. “Uh huh,” said Heady. “If I’m such an idiot then why did you even ask for my help?” “I didn’t say you were an idiot, Heady. Only your videos. And the millions of idiots who idolize you.” “Those millions of idiots paid for my house,” said Heady. “And this car, plus a few others.” “Don’t rub it in,” Doyle said, and sighed. “Look, I’m grateful to you for agreeing to help. Someone needs to expose these assholes for who they really are, and I can’t think of anyone more suited to it than you.” “Because of my millions of idiots?” Heady shot back. “Well, yeah,” said Doyle. “Do you really think this will work?” asked Heady. “I mean, I know this vid’s gonna be bangin’, but do you really think it’ll make a difference?” “I really think so, Heady,” said Doyle. “I mean, despite appearances I believe you’re actually capable of great things. You’re so much better than that drivel you put out. I mean, what you did for me–that was the darkest period of my life and you… without you I…” “Don’t sweat it, bud,” said Heady. “Kirsten was–is my friend, too. You helped me through it as much as I helped you.” Doyle did his best to stifle the sudden wellspring of emotion he found himself swimming in. Heady was exaggerating, he knew. Heady liked Kirsten well enough, but not like Doyle did. Doyle hadn’t told Heady, but he proposed to Kirsten about a week before she disappeared. She hadn’t said yes right away, but she hadn’t said no either. She would have said yes, Doyle was certain, if only that fucking cult hadn’t… Doyle snapped out of his thoughts when his eye caught a glint in the distance. “Shh, slow down,” he told Heady, staring keenly through the windshield at the dirt path that stretched before them. “And kill the headlights, I think I see something.” Heady relaxed the accelerator and cut the lights. The sound of the gravel crunching under the car’s tires slowed as the two men squinted into the darkness. There was some kind of light in the distance, too far away to make out any details. Heady pulled off the road and maneuvered the car behind some trees before coming to a stop. “We gotta walk from here,” he said. “The guys found a spot where the wall crumbled away a little. They said we should be able to get in there. They took out a nearby security camera with a rock before they left.” Doyle unfastened his seatbelt and opened the car door. “You don’t think they’d have repaired the camera by now? Or the wall?” “Hopefully not,” said Heady. The two men shut the car doors and started walking along the tree line next to the road, toward the light in the distance. “Keep an eye out for a red cloth tied around one of these tree branches,” said Heady, motioning to the dark tangle of trees that lined the road. “That’s where we cut into the woods and make our way to the wall.” The men walked in silence for a while, trading nervous glances down the road in both directions, scanning for any sign of motion or approaching headlights. “I’m not going to make those videos for ever, you know,” Heady said, breaking the silence. Doyle glanced at his friend’s face, pallid in the moonlight and brushed by the jagged shadows of the treetops. “I mean, that’s why I’m collabing with you on this in the first place. I want this video to really help people. The first ever footage from inside the Nikola’s Children compound, together with all the dirt you’ve dug up on them over the past year, that’s gonna blow these mother fuckers wide open, right?” “I hope so,” said Doyle. “People haven’t cared about Nikola’s Children for a while though. I’ve offered my research to every investigative journalist who’ll give me the time of day but none of them were interested. They said there’s no story in it. It’s just another boring cult to them.” “That’s because they’re so good at keeping a low profile,” said Heady. “We’re going to end that, man. We’re gonna get people interested again. If even half the stuff you dug up on them is true, people are gonna flip their shit.” “Maybe,” said Doyle. “But honestly I just want some kind of sign that Kirsten’s OK. That they haven’t… done anything too her.” “I’m sure she’s OK,” said Heady. “She’s just confused. They brainwashed her or something. Like all those other scientists who joined. I’m sure of it.” Doyle stopped and put his hand on Heady’s shoulder. “Shh,” he said. “What is it?” Doyle pointed. Wound around a branch of one of the trees, a thin scrap of red cloth flapped lightly in the soft moonlit breeze. Heady reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He started a video recording and handed the device to Doyle. “Showtime,” he said. Doyle held the phone up and pointed the camera at Heady. “Yo yo yo what’s up Heady Nation?” Heady cried using the exaggerated dude-bro accent he reserved for his videos. “Heady Armstrong comin’ atch’a and you are never gonna guess where from, bruh!” Doyle lowered his head and sighed. Everyone told him he was always too pessimistic–that nothing could ever go as badly as he expected it to. Tonight he hoped they were right. “Officer Jefferies, report please.” Sarah watched and giggled as Heady Armstrong attempted to eat twelve sticks of butter as fast as he could. “Officer Jefferies! Report!” Sarah jerked her head toward the speaker on her console, then paused the video and put her phone down. It was the voice of Commander Chin, head of security. “Uh, yes?” said Sarah, holding the intercom button. “The motion detectors around section nine have been lighting up like a Christmas tree for the last minute and a half. What have you been doing? What does the camera show?” Sarah looked at the array of displays on her control panel, and directed her gaze to the one numbered nine. The one that was off. “Uh, nothing?” she said hesitantly. It wasn’t exactly a lie. There was a short pause before the speaker crackled back to life. “Officer Thompson has informed me that the camera in section nine is not operational. Is that accurate?” Sarah scowled. Damn that Officer Thompson. “Well, I mean the camera itself is not quite in a state that I would exactly describe as fully operational. Yes.” She glanced sideways at her phone sitting on the console. It had locked itself and was displaying her “Heady Nation” wallpaper. “Officer Jefferies, please do your job and find out what’s going on in section nine. Use one of the drones.” “Right, sending a drone,” said Sarah. She looked longingly at her phone again as its screen turned off. It looked like she would have to wait to finish her video. She already knew how it ended–she had seen it dozens of times. Heady makes it through ten sticks before vomiting gooey butter sludge all over himself. But he was so cute while doing it, and took his shirt off after; she just had to watch it again. Sarah wheeled her chair closer to the touch screen near the right edge of her control panel. She navigated through the menus and ordered a drone to section nine, then routed the video feed to the section nine monitor. The screen blinked to life and showed her the drone’s feed as it lifted off from its perch in the drone bay. A few seconds later the screen went dark as the drone flew up through a ventilator shaft toward the surface. Sarah grabbed her phone and was about to continue watching her video when the intercom crackled again. “Officer Jefferies, report.” Sarah groaned. It would take the drone thirty seconds to reach section nine from the drone bay. She could have made it through two more sticks of butter in that time. “Right, yeah,” she said into the intercom. “Drone launched. I’ll let you know what I see when it gets to section nine.” Sarah fumed while she resumed her video. She pictured Officer Thompson sitting all smug behind Commander Chin at the other end of the intercom. What a dickweed. She hated him. He didn’t even like Heady Armstrong. He actually made fun of her for watching Heady’s videos. She watched as Heady bit into a fresh stick of butter on her phone, then glanced back up at the drone’s video feed. Heady Armstrong stared back at her. Sarah looked at the familiar face staring up from her control panel, then back down at her phone. Her eyes grew wide; her jaw dropped. She felt her face go flush, and started hearing her pulse throbbing in her ears. She blinked and looked at the drone’s feed again. It was him! She looked back down at her phone, on which Heady was now vomiting yellow slime down the front of his shirt. She dropped the phone on the ground and stood up, felt faint as the blood rushed from her head. A million questions raced through her mind. Is this happening? Why was Heady Armstrong here? How did he get inside the compound? “Officer Jefferies, report,” came Commander Chin’s exasperated voice over the intercom. Sarah sat back down and slammed her fist on the intercom. “I…! He…! It’s…!” she stammered, then hesitated. She released the intercom and took two slow and deliberate breaths. It wouldn’t do at all to panic right now. She needed to think rationally about what was happening. A loose plan formed in her mind. She needed to control herself if she was going to do what she knew in her heart she must do. “Officer Jefferies?” “Um… All clear, Commander,” said Sarah. She watched as the drone tracked Heady running somewhere up on the surface. There was another guy with him; some fat bald guy who Sarah didn’t recognize from any of Heady’s videos. “Please confirm, did you say all clear?” Commander Chin asked. “Confirmed,” said Sarah. “Drone shows some wildlife near section nine exterior, looked like a deer. It must have gotten too close to the wall and tripped the sensors.” There was a long pause. Sarah did her best to control her breathing and collect her thoughts. Heady and the other guy had stopped running from the drone. They were crouching down next to each other–it looked like they were trying to hide between some bushes and the compound’s inner wall, but they were easily visible to the drone’s camera. Sarah pressed the intercom button again. “Um, I’m going to recall the drone and head up to the surface to fix that busted security cam right now,” she said. “Should have done it days ago, don’t want another false alarm, y’know?” She turned to her console’s touch screen, recalled the drone, grabbed her phone off the floor, and was already sprinting down the hallway outside her office when Commander Chin’s unheard reply came over the intercom. “Very good Officer Jefferies. Officer Thompson will meet you out there to assist. The Children be praised.” “I don’t hear it anymore. Is it still there?” whispered Doyle. Heady peaked his head up over the bush. All he could see above them was the giant concrete ceiling that covered the entire Nikola’s Children compound. “I think it’s gone,” said Heady. Doyle sighed with relief. “Do you think it spotted us?” asked Heady? “Are you serious?” said Doyle. “A drone the size of a Jeep pops out of nowhere as soon as we enter the compound and hovers directly over us for several minutes before disappearing, and you’re wondering if it spotted us?” “Well, what should we do?” asked Heady. “Let’s just get out of here,” said Doyle. “Look at this place, it’s empty. It must be a decoy or something.” Doyle gestured around them. They stood at the edge of an enormous grassy field encased in concrete. The wall behind them reached twenty feet up to the ceiling and stretched out for what looked like a mile in either direction. The entire compound was evenly lit by light panels in the ceiling so, despite its size, the two men could see clear across to the concrete wall at the other end. Aside from occasional bushes and disparately spaced concrete pillars, there didn’t appear to be anything else inside. There was no sign of the drone or where it came from or went to. “We can’t leave!” said Heady. “That drone didn’t vanish into thin air. And didn’t you notice how cool it is? I think this whole building is air conditioned. And the lights–why would they light it up if there was nothing here?” “Who knows,” said Doyle. “All I know is that whatever this place is, they know we’re here now. Our plan to sneak in undetected is officially a failure.” “All that money,” said Heady. “You found receipts for millions worth of supplies and equipment; and Kirsten and all the other scientists who fell off the face of the Earth; they didn’t spend all that money or go to all that trouble to build an empty concrete box in the middle of nowhere. There’s gotta be something here, we just haven’t found it yet. We can’t leave, we’ve got to keep looking.” “You’re right,” said Doyle, looking past Heady. “We can’t leave.” He pointed. Heady turned around and saw a red haired man wearing what looked like some kind of dark blue military uniform in the distance. The man was crouching near the crumbled section of wall–the only way in or out of the compound. “Run,” whispered Doyle, and the two men sprinted toward the nearest concrete pillar, about two hundred feet in from the wall. Neither of them looked back as they ran. Heady reached the pillar first and crouched low. Doyle arrived a few seconds later, dropping to his knees and panting heavily. “Do you think he saw us?” asked Heady. “I wish you’d stop asking that,” said Doyle. He peeked around the corner back toward the wall. The uniformed man was still standing where he had been, near the damaged section of concrete. “I don’t think so, he’s not coming this way.” “Maybe he’s waiting for backup,” suggested Heady. “Give me your phone.” “Why?” asked Doyle. He reached into his pocket and pulled his phone out, then placed it in Heady’s outstretched hand. Heady handed his own phone back to Doyle. “Stay hidden. You film with mine so they can’t confiscate the footage we already got if they take me away, I’ll film with yours.” “Wait, what do you mean take you away? What are you going to…” Before Doyle could stop him, Heady stood, put his hands up in the air, and stepped out from behind the concrete pillar. Sarah leered at Officer Thompson from behind her own concrete pillar. How did that jackass get here before her? She shifted her gaze over to the pillar where Heady and Baldy had run after they spotted Officer Thompson. Officer Thompson hadn’t noticed them. Too busy being an idiot, she guessed. She thought about what her next move should be. She had to get Officer Thompson out of there, but how? She could go tell him to buzz off, that she could replace the camera herself, but then Heady and Fatso would see her too and she might not be able to approach them without scaring Heady off. Using her radio was out of the question, the rest of the security team would hear anything she said, plus what would she tell him? Sarah was out of options and running out of time. She made up her mind, and stepped out from behind the pillar. “Officer Thom…” Someone yelled out at the same time, startling her. She shut up and dove back behind the pillar. That was Heady! What the hell was he doing? “Don’t shoot! I surrender!” she heard Heady shout. Sarah watched Heady wide-eyed as he started walking towards Officer Thompson. She saw Officer Thompson pull out his concussion pistol and point it at Heady. She felt a rage rise inside her. Nobody points a fucking concussion pistol at Heady Armstrong and gets away with it. As she watched Officer Thompson, he reached for the radio trigger on his shoulder. Sarah gasped and reflexively reached for her own. She mashed the trigger and held her breath, hoping that if she jammed the frequency, Officer Thompson wouldn’t be able to report what was happening. She watched Officer Thompson fumble with his radio, getting visibly frustrated. Sarah smiled, still holding her breath to keep her broadcast silent.Heady was much closer to Officer Thompson now, still inching toward him with his hands up. Officer Thompson gave up on his radio and put both hands on the concussion pistol he had leveled at Heady. “Don’t come any closer,” shouted Officer Thompson. Sarah released her radio trigger and lifted her own concussion pistol from the holster on her thigh. This was perfect. She would knock Thompson out, then approach Heady as the hero who had rescued him. He was sure to accept her! Maybe he’d even put her in one of his videos! Maybe he’d even… “Officer Thompson? Officer Jefferies? Report!” The voice of Commander Chin came from her radio with a burst of static. No time, thought Sarah. She took aim at Officer Thompson as he reached for his radio again. She fired. Doyle came running up behind Heady, who was staring dumbfounded at the red-haired man laying crumpled on the ground. “What the hell did you do?” asked Doyle. “Nothing, he just collapsed,” said Heady. “What? Like he had a heart attack?” “No,” said a woman’s voice. “Like he was hit by an incapacitating concussion blast from one of these.” Heady and Doyle both spun around to see a tiny-framed and young looking girl with short black hair. She was wearing the same military uniform as the red-haired man, and holding the same odd looking pistol in her hand. Heady and Doyle both took a step back and raised their hands in front of them defensively. The girl put her pistol into a holster on her thigh, then retrieved another device from her belt. It looked like a telescoping baton, which she extended to its full length of about three feet with a loud series of clacks. “Wha… What are you going to do with that?” asked Doyle. He took another step back and tripped on the unconscious man’s foot, landing in a sitting position on the ground. The woman approached with a wide grin on her face, holding the baton in one hand and slapping it against the other. Heady was frozen with a mixture of fear and confusion as he watched her advance. Sarah grabbed Heady’s arm, then spun him around so he was standing next to her. She attached a cell phone to the end of her selfie-stick and held it out in front of their faces. “Hi Heady,” said Sarah, then snapped a photo. “We’ve got to get out of here before the others get suspicious. Help me shove that ginger bastard through the hole in the wall and follow me.” “What…? Who… Who are you?” asked Heady. “Oh me?” said Sarah. “Just your biggest fan.”
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