A Night Out Leads To Some Unexpected Discoveries For Officer Valentine…
Autumn, Year 4
As Ryan stalked away from the coffee shop, he could feel his father’s eyes burning a hole in his jacket. He was really fed up with his father pushing him around and telling him what to do. Not for the first time, he wished he had his brother Elliott’s courage to stand up to William. It always seemed easier said than done for Ryan, probably because he was the eldest. Still, it would be nice one day to tell both his father and his commanding officer where to stick it.
To take his mind off his troubles, he tried out the bar close to his military base, in a funny town called Strangerville. There were always funny stories circulating about the town and lots of the men at the base swore there was something funny going on at some strange lab just outside the main town. Everyone swore the higher officers were involved but if they were, they’d never invited Ryan to participate.
Even so, when he arrived in the bar, the bartender gave him a strange and suspicious look.
Trying desperately to drown his sorrows, Ryan was keenly aware of the desperation in the conversations surrounding him. From the depressed looking man on one side, to the group of students on the other, everyone seemed on edge. Even the bartender was glancing nervously towards the door.
Deciding it was time to head home, Ryan downed the last of his drink and went to the bathroom. He got the shock of his life when he saw peculiar vines poking out of the bowl. They didn’t hurt when he touched them but they were definitely weird all the same. Ryan pulled them out of the toilet as quickly as he could. He needed to talk to somebody.
As he hurried out of the toilets, he ran straight into his friend, Andrea.
“Andrea, I-wait, what are you doing here?” he asked, stunned.
“Ryan! I thought it looked like you at the bar. Oh, Hollie and some of the girls dragged me out here on an attempt at a hen night,” she explained, shaking her head. “I’d have preferred a night at Creek Street but there you go.” She peered at him closely. “Are you okay? You look a bit funny.”
“Have you ever heard of plants growing in the plumbing?” Ryan asked. “Like, out of a toilet, for instance?”
Andrea widened her eyes. “No, I can’t say as I have, really. What makes you ask?”
“I just saw some back there.” Ryan jerked a thumb towards the toilets. “I pulled them out. They were pink and purple. I’ve never seen anything like them.”
“Strange.” Andrea looked thoughtful. “There are some pink and purple plants in the town. Maybe they match the description?” she suggested.
“Really? Maybe I’ll take a look.” Ryan nodded.
“Listen, Ryan? Keep me up to date, okay? There are some funny rumours about this town, so be careful.” Andrea squeezed Ryan’s hand. “Even for a tough guy in the military, I’ve heard it can get a little wild out here.”
Curious, Ryan stepped out of the noisy bar and into the cool air. As he strolled along the street, he spotted several trucks parked a little way along the road.
“Wait a minute,” he said to himself. “They shouldn’t be there.” They belonged on the base; what were they doing in the middle of town, late at night? There was nobody guarding them but Ryan kept his distance, all the same. He knew how things worked.
Sure enough, he spotted one of the strange plants in the town and took several photographs. Later, he’d send some to Andrea so she could have a look at them. The colours were definitely the same as the plants in the toilet. So just what was going on here?
Scanning the ground for hints and clues, Ryan came across a small kiosk, in the middle of nowhere.
“Can I help, sir?”
Ryan looked up to meet the gaze of the man behind the counter. He suppressed a groan when he realised it was Erwin Pries. He was infamous back at the base for peddling conspiracy theories about the military and the local scientists. “I don’t think so.” He replied, grimly.
“If you’re investigating the mystery, you’d better talk to me.” Erwin said, wisely. “I know all about it.”
“Really?” Ryan nodded and smiled. “Well, maybe another time then.”
Hastily, he stepped away and walked aimlessly across the desert.
He carried on walking, lost in thought, until he came to the road. As he glanced up, he saw something he’d never expected to see.
The lights in the sky were one thing; they hung directly over a large crater Ryan was aware of, in the middle of the desert. On the ground, were dozens more of the strange plants he’d photographed in town.
Ryan knew something was going on but he wasn’t about to admit it to Erwin.
As soon as he returned to his flat, he was straight on the internet, desperately hoping to find something that would tell him just what those lights had been.
Sadly, he pulled up nothing but conspiracy theories, many of them crazier than those proposed by Erwin himself. Ryan rubbed his face and, glancing at the time, decided to call it a night.
The next morning, Ryan tuned straight into the news, to see if there were any reports of strange lights in the sky over Strangerville. There was nothing; nothing at all to suggest anything out of the ordinary had occurred.
Ryan couldn’t let it rest. He got up and left the flat to get out into the fresh air. He knew what he’d seen the previous night hadn’t been normal; but why was nobody reporting it? It didn’t make sense.
Clutching a coffee, he made his way back to the flat to get ready for work.
He’d been restless all day and it hadn’t got any better once he was home again. He stared idly at the medals he’d acquired throughout his short career. They didn’t mean much to him; most were honorary anyway. He wished they represented years of experience and wisdom but they didn’t.
Finally, a text came through that caused him to shake himself and change out of his uniform.
“I think you’re overthinking this.” Hayley was sprawled across Ryan’s lap on his sofa later that evening. Ryan had explained everything to her and now they sat, pondering the information and trying to knit it together. “Why get involved? If the officers really are involved, it’s obvious they don’t want you in it. So let them get on with it.”
Ryan shook his head. “No, I can’t do that. What if it’s dangerous? It could hurt people, innocent people.”
“Would the military really do something like that?” Hayley asked in surprise.
“I wouldn’t like to say,” Ryan responded. He was gazing off into the distance with a pained expression.
“Come on.” Hayley stood up and pulled Ryan up with her. “Let’s go somewhere more interesting.”
The following morning, Ryan watched from the doorway as Hayley sleepily got up. He knew there and then that he needed to do something about this nonsense. The sooner, the better.
His first port of call was the library in Strangerville. He spent the entire day pouring through historical books on the town, trying desperately to find a reference to the lights.
Finally, as the evening began to draw in around the little town, he found a reference to the science lab; the one in the crater. Ryan frowned. He knew there was a lab in Strangerville, but he’d always assumed it was on the outskirts, like the base. He didn’t know there was anything in the crater.
Maybe now was the time to investigate further.
To his horror, the first thing he found after completing the long, winding journey down into the depths of the crater, was a much larger version of the peculiar plants in the main town. Inspired, he took a clipping from it to show Andrea later. She was a biology expert; she’d know what to do.
As an officer, Ryan had a card to give him access to restricted areas and decided it was worth a try. Surprisingly, the outer doors to the lab were unlocked, which made him highly suspicious. The lab was empty, not entirely unusual for the time of night but peculiar, given the top secrecy of the lab’s location.
He found one of the secure doors and flashed his card; the door started to open and he watched as what appeared to be pink dust particles fluttered through the door and made him cough.
There was something really weird going on.
Ryan ventured cautiously down the stairs and eventually found himself in the first lab. To his surprise, he saw several of the peculiar plants growing in containers. Were they simply being studied or was there something large at work here? Were they being grown in the lab? They certainly didn’t look normal. Maybe Andrea would know better.
Deciding it was best to drop the subject until Andrea had taken a look at the sample, Ryan bid a hasty retreat from the lab.
The next day saw Ryan making for the leisure centre for a tough workout. Something about that lab in the desert had bothered him but he still couldn’t put his finger on it. He didn’t want anyone to know he’d been investigating and instead, had a dinner date planned with Hayley that evening to take his mind off the strange situation. He decided he wanted nothing more to do with Strangerville.
“Why didn’t you tell me the other night?” Hayley’s eyes were full of concern as Ryan told her all about his dreadful coffee with his father.
“I forgot. With all that Strangerville stuff, I completely forgot to tell you.”
“I’m sorry.” Hayley paused. “I’ve been wondering something for a while and I wasn’t sure whether I should ask you or not but here goes; why don’t you cut off all contact with your father?”
Ryan looked stunned. “What?”
“Well, he’s never supported you, has he? He’s pushed you into the military, he pushed you to move to a new flat to accommodate your brother in the holidays. Now he’s nagging you to find a more ‘suitable’ girlfriend. Let’s be honest here, Ryan. You’re never going to be good enough for him, are you?”
Ryan didn’t know what to say to that.
The rest of the meal passed without further comment on Ryan’s family. The conversation flowed, although stilted, through a variety of other topics. Before long, the bill was paid and it was time to go.
Hayley reached out and hugged him. “Look, maybe I shouldn’t have said what I did about your Dad. I’m sorry.”
“No.” Ryan shook his head and tightened his hold. “You were right.”