Private Myra Jonson wasn’t going quietly.
Nobody was explaining anything, and the four dead-eyed goons currently man-handling her weren’t in uniform and hadn’t identified themselves. Whatever they’d said to the guard room sergeant seemed to be enough for him and the other MP on duty to stand aside, and the MPs had never even explained why they’d arrested her earlier that day.
But she couldn’t resist them for long and eventually, with ankles shackled and her wrists cuffed to a belt around her waist, she was forced to quickly hobble outside and then bundled into the back of an anonymous grey van, which sped off into the night.
“This is Captain Schwartz, she’s got a proposal to move the Unit 52 project forwards,” stated Major Clarke, and with that simple opening he brought the full glare and attention of the 4-star general to bear on the startlingly tall Captain Schwartz.
Without waiting, and without any signs of being over-awed, Schwartz began.
“Since the military took over the technology behind The Jump and established Unit 52, we’ve experienced failure after failure in moving forwards. The minerals there are unknown to science and may have significant military potential. However, we can’t move outside of our base camp. Since our early encounters, we can’t engage with the natives, and the land, the vegetation, the all pervading amorphous bio-polymer – well, The Gloop - is against us. It defies any analysis. It seems to co-exist with the natives, they wear it like a second skin. But despite considerable expenditure in moving military, scientific personnel and equipment Jump-side, we’re stuck at home there. The Gloop, above all else, defies us. It gets into weapons, tech, bogs our guys down. I believe the current project expenditure is now somewhere clear of twelve-billion dollars and...”
The general growled an interruption, “I’m not just ‘aware’ of Unit 52, Captain, I’m fully fucking conversant with it, its continued failure and the defense dollars fuelling that failure. Get to the point.”
Unruffled, Schwartz continued, “...and so I went back to the beginning. In the very early days of the project, a patrol trying to extend the perimeter of the camp came into contact with the natives. Corporal James Jiminez was reported as being seized, being almost suffocated in the Gloop and his colleagues received commendations for bravery in rescuing him.”
“It’s a lie, Sir. Nothing we have touches those natives or the Gloop. If they’d have wanted Jiminez, there’s nothing we’d have been able to do. Jiminez remains in a secure military facility, earth-side, where our top military psychologist recently described his mental condition to me as, I quote, ‘fucked’. Unless sedated, Jiminez displays a violently pathological desire to ‘Jump’ – the doctors there don’t know about Unit 52, they assume this is something to do with an airborne deployment. But it isn’t. He’d kill to go back. I managed to get the Doctors to ease off on his medication for a short while, to talk to Jiminez, and Christ it was tough to get any sense, but he said he wavered, he failed, made the wrong choice. I think that’s why his patrol got him back, I think I know why.”
“The truth is that his colleagues were covering for him. I spoke to the patrol leader and others. I’m convinced Jiminez abandoned the patrol and initially fought with those who tried to recover him.”
“I dug some more and that’s what forms the essence of my proposal. Unit 52 gives a lot of muscle to a lot of requests and I managed to find something very peculiar in Jiminez’s ... well, psychology I guess....”
The general listened and after Schwartz finished delivering a concise synopsis of her proposals aims, the psychological reasons why it would work, and what she needed, there were several minutes of silence.
“Captain Schwartz, Major Clarke, what you propose is absurd, speculative and unprofessional. I can’t and won’t authorise what you’re asking and if you continue, you’ll face court martial. It’s unethical and it’s illegal.”
The major paused, and then, “However, Unit 52 will remain top secret at all and every cost. Whatever actions are taken will remain top secret, at all and every cost. The project has to move forwards, at all and every cost. Do you understand?”
For several days Private Myra Jonson had been kept in, perplexingly to her, relative comfort even if it still amounted to a prison cell. She had no idea where she was, or why she was there, and nobody would answer any questions.
Then they shackled her up once more, and led her out and down a corridor, another corridor and now she was standing in a cramped and disorganised office in front of some major with insignia she didn’t recognise.
“Jonson, you’ve no choice in this, you either go through with it or you disappear. Do you understand?” stated Major Clarke.
Jonson didn’t, not really.
“Have you heard of Unit 52? No? It’s like Area 51, but one better, because it’s real. Tomorrow you’re going to make the Jump – you know what this is? No, no, not a parachute jump. The Jump. About three years ago a bunch of college researchers working at the outer limits of fusion technology discovered it. Some of the stuff they found on the other side – man, it’s got potential. They made all sorts of arguments about the purity of science and the potential for humankind, but it turns out those arguments don’t amount to shit compared to the sorts of arguments that men with guns and a military budget can make. We’re putting a lot of faith in you, there’s no way out of this, no way back, it’s better for you to accept and commit, there’s no choice...”
The next day, and with some difficulty as she was kept cuffed, they stuffed Jonson into a small metal pod. There were four bucket seats jammed in tight in a small circle. Three others sat in the remaining seats, squeezed shoulder to shoulder with each other.
The Major she recognised, and there was a strikingly tall woman, sitting with her knees almost rammed under her chin, and another soldier who appeared to have the role as her guard. They strapped her in, strapped themselves in. They didn’t say much, other than running through checks. As the lid of the pod came down, sealing them in darkness, apart from the weak glow of a small panel, the Major spoke out loud, “We’re good to go. Let’s get the bait on its way....” and then in an instant that lasted an eternity, the world dissolved.
Jonson was still dazed. She was sitting in the command tent, her wrists and ankles still cuffed. She’d been helped out of the pod by her guard, who seemed to recover from the Jump quickest, the other two seemed equally dazed.
She had been led to a field tent under a strange sky, with a low red sun. The area of the camp was clear of vegetation but through the gaps between the tents and stacks of military materiel she could see the place was surrounded by a dark, almost black-green vegetation, it’s dense and oily looking leaves glinting in the dim red light; creepers and tendrils seemed to be writhing over quivering branches.
She felt breathless, odd, her whole body tingling and on edge. Through the mind fog the Jump had caused, she was beginning to recognise the feeling, it wasn’t so alien. It was like... she shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts.
“Look at her,” Schwartz spoke quietly into Major Clarke’s ear, “she’s reacting, I fucking knew it. We need to get this done, get her out on a patrol, we can’t waste this...”
Clarke took a deep breath. He knew there was a good deal of speculation in the camp. No patrol had gone out for over a year but in the last few weeks everybody had been drilled for it. If he could move Unit 52 forwards his career could go stratospheric...
He nodded, and called out, “Get the techs in here, get the patrol ready – how long do you need, Schwartz? Two hours? Three? Ok. Tell the patrol to be ready to go in three.”
Jonson remained cuffed as they fitted her out. The local anaesthetic they’d used was wearing off and the small rows of stitches either side of her neck were starting to throb.
Schwartz slowly walked around Jonson, almost proprietorially. She’d gotten the idea from a documentary she’d seen, where some tree-hugger had fitted a radio collar to some rare animal or other. But the military had access to a lot more tech than a tree-hugger, so the collar and harness now fitted around Jonson’s neck and torso had cameras, microphones, sensors and all sorts. The two microchips they’d implanted would record Jonson’s biometric data, and would even transmit it if they could get close enough to her. Similarly, the straps bound around each wrist. Good, thought Schwartz, lots of redundancy.
Schwartz looked over to a group of officers grouped around several laptops, “Are we good?”
All good, Ma’am.”
Before they undid Jonson’s cuffs, Schwartz cupped her chin in one hand with her long fingers and muttered, “A twelve billion dollar fishing expedition, resting on one little worm...” she half-laughed, and turned to a group of six soldiers kitted out in dark black and green fatigues, “She’s all yours.”
It was all wrong, Jonson thought. She was no field craft expert, but they didn’t move like even a basic army patrol should. It’s like they wanted whoever was out there to know they were there, that they were moving around. Maybe it was deliberate, thought Jonson, maybe there was some unspoken pact and both sides wanted to avoid an accidental fire-fight...
Jonson was pushed out on point, with one soldier just behind her, a soldier either side, a few more behind them.
The further they moved into the humid lush vegetation, the more a feeling swelled through Jonson’s body. She felt hot, breathless, the weird red sun light, the oily dark vegetation, everything seemed to be having a ridiculously amplified sensuous effect on her. There seemed to be a blackly thick liquid substance around her feet, she had to consciously fight the urge to reach down and touch it, it reminded her of something else entirely. Even on the vegetation there were streaks of it, seemingly moving of their own will. Her body was trembling, and every time the solider behind her placed a hand on her to push her forwards, a thrill that was unmistakably erotic surged through her.
Suddenly an urgent whisper: “Contact.”
Jonson crouched down and then kept still. Trying to calm her breathing. At the corner of her eye she was sure she saw movement. She tried to resist sudden movements that would draw attention to herself. Then there was confusion, shouts – the vegetation seemed alive around her, shouts of the soldiers, a brief crackle of guns, and she panicked and ran, the shouts of the patrol diminishing around her.
Jonson ran, brushing through the vegetation, occasionally spots and splashes of the black liquid landing on her exposed face, trying to ignore the electric thrill that coursed through her each time it did so. She became aware of dark, shiny sinuously black figures running alongside her, she slowed, looked across in astonishment at what she was seeing, didn’t see a creeper and tripped, fell, was caught in out-reached arms.
The touch was almost electric. She gasped with half-conceived pleasure. Part of her was terrified, wanting to fight, to escape. But another part, an animal part, was filled with an overwhelming desire and wanted to acquiesce.
Silently, slick hands were pulling the clothes from her, ripping and pulling them from beneath the harness. She writhed in mounting, urgent pleasure, gasping as the collar, harness and wrist straps were pulled away. Soon she stood naked, almost physically quivering.
In front of her stood a humanoid figure, skin glossily black and perfect, glinting in the low red sunlight. It reached down and took Jonson’s unresisting hand, took a finger and placed it in its mouth, slowly pulling it out. Jonson groaned, her finger was covered in a slick black liquid. She rubbed her other fingers against it but it stayed in place, like a second skin.
Everything was poised.
There was a life Jonson knew, back there, and life she yearned for, right here. The figure in front of her tilted its head questioningly to one side, looking at her with empty black eyes.
And Jonson made her choice.
Her body thrilled as figures writhed around and over her: hands, fingers, tongues probed every part of her body, leaving behind the glistening black residue, layer upon layer, the pleasure building and building, until she was aware of nothing else.
But panic started to override the pleasure - whatever she had been coated with was sealing her in a cocoon, first her legs were pressed tight and unmoveable together, then her arms against her side, her hearing became dulled, and then fingers stroked her eyelids down and sealed them blind.
Just as she was about to succumb to one final shriek of pleasure, she felt lips pressed tight against hers, a tongue thrust eagerly in a deep, long kiss and as it withdrew Jonson’s mouth pulled tight and she struggled and struggled in the increasingly rigid cocoon, her heart pounding and pounding until she was utterly overcome.
A slight wind disturbed the cocoon hanging from a branch, a few feet off the floor.
Slowly, inside, consciousness something was stirring, the cocoon writhed slightly until there was a silent gasp of pleasure and it split and a humanoid figure, it’s skin shiny and perfectly black, dropped easily to the floor.
Its midnight-pool black eyes examined itself, its fingers ran over its glistening body, a continuous thrill of excitement running through it. It arched its back, lifted its head to the sky at the realisation that the pleasure running through it, the sensuous of it, would be constant, permanent, unrelenting.
Suddenly it stopped, turned its head first one way, and then the other, and then very slowly stepped back, without disturbing any of the vegetation, and disappeared amongst the black-green leaves.
Captain Schwartz moved cautiously forward with the recovery team.
Since Jonson had been taken all hell had broken loose.
The patrol had lost contact with Jonson and retreated back to base in panic. The Gloop pulling at them, stopping up weapons, fouling body cameras, infiltrating comms equipment. Back at base, as always, the Gloop they recovered out of the kit lay there, inert, resistant to any scientific enquiry.
Some brief chaotic footage from the cameras on Jonson had been transmitted back to camp before they’d cut out, all of which defied interpretation.
Similarly, the brief biometric data from the implanted chips was not credible, unless, as one reviewing physician had noted, Jonson had been suffering a permanent orgasm before the data cut out
Earth-side of the Jump, the brass had gone wild and a lot of shit had hit the fan. Damn! It had nearly worked, She was right, Schwartz was sure of it. They need another Jiminez, another Jonson.
It had taken a month to get permission for this patrol, despite the fact they’d got the signal data from Jonson’s collar, harness and microchips, location-bleeping and flat-lining away and unmoving on the same point of the monitor screen.
Schwartz had been convinced they’d find Jonson’s body. She wondered if Jonson had suffocated in the Gloop, what she would look like, coated in that viscous black liquid. She gulped, dismissing the image from her mind.
Schwartz signalled to the patrol to stop.
In front of her there was the collar, harness, the wrist straps, and, yes – she looked closely – the microchips, dried blood on them – lying in a patch of clear earth on the floor. The vegetation seemed to want nothing to do with them. She nudged them with her boot, also not wanting to touch it.
Already knowing that it would be fruitless, Schwartz carefully looked around, peering into the vegetation, the soldiers of the recovery team watching her, waiting for an order. There was no sign of Jonson, of a body. A few strips of the gloop hung from a nearby branch, seeming to very slowly writhe in a way that couldn’t be explained by any breeze in the still, dense air.
In a way, Schwartz was disappointed that Jonson’s coated body wasn’t there, that the reality was so distant from the guilty image she’d built up in her imagination, which was now overwhelming all rational thought.
Schwartz could feel her composure crumbling. She stood stock still, fighting her own thoughts, trying to regain a sense of reality.
Images and thoughts cascaded rapidly through her mind. The intelligence on Jiminez, then Jonson, the fetish profile images showing them dressed in latex, how it defined their athletic bodies, how Schwartz herself had lingered over those pictures after she’d had Jonson renditioned into the Unit 52 project; the brief tumult of images from the cameras during Jonson’s mission, her own inability to dismiss the thoughts, the possibilities, the desires from her own mind.
She tried to control her breathing, her heart pounding.
There were shouts, the patrol was falling back around her but the noise suddenly seemed faint, worlds away.
Around her the vegetation quivered, and the red sun glinted off the glossy skins of figures with liquid black eyes, peering inquisitively out at the lithe, agile and waiting figure of Captain Schwartz.