Carmine Lake Motel
New Mexico
Present Day

Sheriff Chett Hewitt watched as Agent Carson stood behind Ibarra, the drone operator, eyes unflinching from the screens and barked “Twenty metres in, keep it steady, what have we got?”

“Visibility five metres, nothing on UV or IR” returned a technician from behind an array of flight-cased instrument panels.

“Ambient temp 16 degrees, 37 per cent humidity. Atmosphere breathable, slightly higher levels of nitrogen. Threshold alerts set” added another as she simultaneously opened new diagnostic windows on her screen.

“Carry on” replied Carson, cupping his elbow in his hand and stroking his lips.

It was clear to Chett that this was a well-oiled team. They were pre-empting one another, each one knowing what the other needed. But Chett could see from their expressions, they weren’t comfortable. From years of reading people in interview rooms, he could spot fear a mile off.

“Sir, velocity’s just gone off the scale,” Ibarra said.

“… and we’ve lost visual” exclaimed another.

“..aaaand we’re offline!” Ibarra slammed her hands on the control console “Damn it!”

“Shit!” said Carlson, turning away from the screens.

Chett looked up at the room the drone had entered only minutes ago, thoughts of Todd racing through his mind.

***

Chett had been on routine traffic patrol on Route 70 when dispatch had called through a 10-21 at the Carmine Lake motel out on ‘54. Loud noises, possibly gunshots, and screaming had been heard, then guests had noticed blood seeping under the door crack. Todd Craig, Chett’s deputy was closer, younger and smarter — Chett wasn’t afraid to admit this, with himself only 8 months from retirement somewhere in the Rockies where he could enjoy his autumn years in peace; so it was an obvious choice for Todd to respond first with Chett arriving soon after.

Chett pulled into the forecourt of the Carmine Lake motel half an hour after the dispatch call. Todd’s black and white was parked in the dusty forecourt along with what appeared to be some of the motel’s guests, and a couple of Hispanic housekeepers looking up at the Motel first floor balcony with concern.

“213, I’m on scene” Chett spoke into his radio.

No response from Todd.

“205 to dispatch, you heard from 213?” he called in.

A moment later dispatch replied, “That’s a negative, 205”.

Shit!

Chett got out the car as a short, stocky man with sweat-soaked pits approached. “Officer, I’m the duty manager here, I gave your colleague the key to room 36, he went in, but we haven’t seen him since,” he said with a thick southern drawl.

Immediately, Chett unholstered his Smith & Wesson M&P and proceeded to climb the concrete staircase to room 36. From the forecourt below he heard the stocky man shouting “You want to watch yourself, sir. That room’s got the God damn fires of hell or something inside it.”

That moment three large trucks and an APC pulled in and skidded to a halt in the forecourt. A roof-mounted loudspeaker hailed “STAND DOWN OFFICER”. These guys weren’t FBI, but they were government alright. Armed guards filed out and started pushing the now gathering crowd back, creating a perimeter, while a tall man with greying hair and a moustache who reminded Chett of Harvey Keitel stepped down from one of the trucks and strode across the forecourt towards Chett holding an ID badge out in front of him.

“Darrell Carson — Q.B.C — if you want to see your family again, I suggest you come away from that door.”

***

With the drone having seemingly disappeared into Room 36, Carson spoke into his earpiece.

“Escobar, you’re up!”

A moment later, four new armed men descended from the rear of the APC, dressed in — well, Chett couldn’t say. They looked like wetsuits but had a sturdy yet flexible looking, matte plating overlaid. Their faces were shrouded in what looked like breathing masks, with tri-lens visors attached. An array of chuck-kuks and high pitched whines like a camera flashes charging sounded as they locked and loaded their assault rifles, and quickly ascended the stairs.

They took up breach formation around room 36, then Escobar opened the door. Immediately a feeling of de-pressurisation filled the area, along with a nearly sub-audible rumble and a roar like cascading water. Chett felt dizzy and his ears hurt — like that time he’d flown to JFK— the sharp pains running right down into his neck and his hearing muffled.

The team filed in, pivoting in line with the weapons. The door close behind them. The pressure normalised. There was silence.

***

The team had remained in radio contact for five minutes before it was lost. That was two hours ago Brett realised looking at the clock on the motel’s matrix sign, cycling between that and the current temperature.

He was a thinker, he had to be in this job, but it always plagued him. He could never turn it off. What was he going to tell Tammy if Todd didn’t come back. He’d delivered bad news to next of kin countless times before and it was never easy, but it was even worse if it was one of his own — and with Todd’s first daughter coming up to four years old, and Tammy pregnant with a second, he felt like he’d failed in his responsibilities. Shit, Todd, don’t let me down, man

“Sir, we’ve got blips” exclaimed one of the technicians, discarding his coffee and attending to his workstation. The remaining guards posted outside room 36 stood to, weapons pointed at the door. There was a wap-wap-wap pulsing almost like the sound of chopper blades. The de-pressurisation feeling returned, then the rumble. Moments later, the door burst open and Escobar appeared dragging what looked like Todd beside him. Both Chett and Carlson ran up the stairs.

Jesus, Todd, no! Chett could barely believe what he saw in front of him. Both men were not only naked, but a had also seemed to have aged by at least 30 years. In two hours? Todd was barely conscious, moaning softly, blood weeping from two bloodied holes where his eyes had once been and covered in what looked like shallow lacerations.

“Escobar what the fuck happened?” Carlson said, trying to sound official, but with fear clearly creeping into his voice.

Escobar’s eyes darted around, his arms in spasms. The combat-hardened man now resembling more of a frightened, vulnerable child.

“S-ss-sir…. I think… we found God”.