Monday, June 24, 2013

Illuminoimia - Ch3: Atrocity Training

In 1975 Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson published The Illuminatus! Trilogy. It remains a seminal work of conspiracy fiction. Today, The Omnivore continues a serial-fiction experiment: Illuminoimia. 

Everything You're Afraid Of Is True.

Back in the states, our blogger gets a follow-up message from an anonymous source. This time? It's an invitation to a "mass shooter response drill" that turns out to be far more disturbing than he could ever have anticipated.
Previously On Illuminoimia

The rivers are full of crocodile nasties
and He who made kittens put snakes in the grass.
He's a lover of life but a player of pawns ---
yes, the King on His sunset lies waiting for dawn

Ch 3: Atrocity Training
May 2013, North America
I didn’t do anything for two weeks. I drained my bank account. I sat in front of my computer. I played my elf. I jerked off. I went to bed. I couldn’t write anything and the news seemed to flow over my mind like air over a stone: I couldn’t really tell you anything that happened.
I wanted to write about Marty—but it was so surreal no one would believe me. It was sad. It was disturbing. I dreamed about it and it gave me nightmares. I imagined those people lined up for the black-suited firing squad in the giant hanger. I couldn’t imagine why ‘Marty’ would make up that story. I couldn’t fathom why he had a block of clay to give me dental impressions.
I couldn’t think of anything to say—or where to start. I was afraid to look at my stats: Not because I thought I’d have sixty thousand more hits—but because I hadn’t written anything in weeks. I was ashamed: I thought I’d have zero.
There is a point in unemployment when you start to face the real edge of the cliff. You get a check, yeah, but I used to make ninety-eight thousand a year. The unemployment check would not keep me in my apartment. I have a ton of furniture: I would have to pack it all and move it. I’d realized I’d better start but there was nothing—nothing--done. My clothes weren’t even folded.
My refrigerator held condiments, some expired milk—and little else. There was a tower of pizza boxes on the kitchen counter—next to stacks of unopened mail. I’d gotten a landline with my cable package but I’d never hooked up a phone to it. I had no idea if bill collectors were trying to call. I imagined they were: I’d made a tactical decision not to pay my credit cards. It was bad strategy—but it was the easy way out.
I was pretty sure I was somewhere around the state of depression—but I just felt numb and lost and ashamed.
So I didn’t write anything. And I knew that soon my cards were going to stop working and my landlord would come—and then I’d be out. And I would have to go to my parents … or live on the street. It sounds like a no-brainer: but I lay awake in the tiny dark hours of the night trying to decide which was worse.
I almost missed the letter. It was from Amazon Associates—their affiliate program. You make an account and advertise stuff on your blog and someone buys it you get a teeny-tiny cut. If you are a rock-god of blogging and thousands of moms hang on your recommendations of cookware or romance novels you can make bank. I had never gotten a click-through or a purchase even once.
So I didn’t know what a check from them looked like.
It was for $10,732.46. Someone—or several someone’s—had purchased Season 7 of The X-Files well over twenty thousand times. I hadn’t updated my account with an electronic payment option … so they had mailed me a check.
I stared at it—and stared at it—and then I ran back to my computer and, my hands shaking badly enough that I had to fumble with the mouse I brought up the blog. I logged in—it took me six tries.
I went to stats. Nothing special. Minimal traffic. I exhaled.
I checked to see where the traffic that was there was coming from. And there it was. I looked back at the screen. There were 12 hits: enough to get my attention. Not enough to raise my hit-count by much. I clicked the link-back—to see where it had come from.
The screen was flat text: black on white. No carnival colors.
NO STORY YET? HERE STORY: There was a link—and a number.
And a date. Tomorrow.
I clicked the link:
I looked over the site—it was professionally done. They provided actors for simulated disaster training. Mock accidents for EMT training, active shooter incidents for LEOs. Victims for natural disasters and so on. It looked like you showed up, got made up—they did movie wounds!—and then got your role and that was that. There was no way the job paid ten grand—but I had a check from Amazon …
And this guy—he knew my name.
I looked through their links: you needed to log in to see anything. I chewed my lower lip. Ten grand was a ton of money so I wasn’t exactly desperate right this moment—but that wasn’t the point, was it? I clicked the Create Account link.
It asked for an entry code. I blinked. Before they’d show you anything—let you see any of the site--you needed a special code. You had to be invited in. They didn’t even say how you got a code. I’d never seen anything like that: they clearly didn’t want regular volunteers off the Internet.
At the time I didn’t know who Professor Tim Tracer of the University of Florida was. I’d missed the online discussion around Crisis Actors and all it entailed. I was more into debunking the Republicans than the Bigfoot guys … So I took the number on the linked page … and I put it into the sign-up form.
It let me in.
At the time I was terribly naïve: I actually grinned. This was going to be fun.

The Next Day
I knew—as soon as I got there—that I did not belong. Not at all. Being a disaster actor might not require much stagecraft but it sure as hell seemed to require a level of physical fitness I wasn’t ready for.
It was a blisteringly hot day. Disaster Actors was holding the exercise—a “Pre-Drill” about ninety minutes away from my apartment. I’d driven to the Vehicle Assembly Area (their term for ‘parking lot’) and then walked to the ‘Staging Area’ (their term for a set of uncomfortable metal chairs on an almost smoldering blacktop parking lot of a closed-for-renovations Mexican restaurant).
I had printed their downloadable Entry Form (THIS MUST BE PROVIDED WITH CURRENT PHOTO IDENTIFICATION). It was covered with bar codes and a block of crypt-text which the severe looking woman scanned with a table scanner before having me fill out several forms including a three page Nondisclosure Agreement. When it was all filed she gave me my Id card in a plastic sleeve with a lanyard to hang around my neck.
I was asked to surrender my cell phone and any electronic devices—they had tags for them. It made me think of Marty’s Flight 93 Assassins and their imaginary black bags for phones. I didn’t give them mine.
“Left it in the car.”
The woman nodded. Apparently that was the right answer.
To the right was a small tent with the Wound Station inside: two EMTs who were doing the makeup. I could see them affixing wax bullet holes and painting blood flow down the torso of a man. From a distance it looked disturbingly real.
In the brutal, windless, heat, I felt as though I might vomit. The men around me—and a few women—looked tougher. Weathered. It hadn’t taken me long to figure out that Disaster Actors mean “ex-military.”
They also looked … rough. The man next to me kept scratching at his skinny, muscled arms. Periodically I heard him say “Three days ‘til VA. Three days ‘til VA,” as he rocked slightly. I edged another millimeter away from him and prayed for rain.
In another corner were the the “Bomb Damage” victims: four men in wheelchairs—their stumps attesting to real bomb damage they had seen in their former lives. They had plastic prostheses and plastic bags of red gooey butcher-intestine.
Looking at the packs, I felt the parking lot seem to rotate slightly and rock like a boat on a very gently swelling sea and felt sick.
“Drill Briefing Now,” barked The Commander—a big muscled man in a too-tight red collared shirt. He had a bullhorn and paced before our group with a kind of caged-tiger intensity.
“This is a SINGLE Assailant Active Shooter Drill,” he declared. “If you have a KILL CARD raise your hand.” A KILL CARD was an ID with a red rectangle on it. I didn’t have one.
“When the drill begins you will move AWAY from the shooter,” he said. “You will NOT leave the room you are in.  You will NOT take cover. When the whistle blows and your number is called you ARE A CASUALTY. YOU WILL FALL WHERE YOU STAND AND REMAIN THERE FOR THE REST OF THE DRILL. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“Yes sir!” The barking had some enthusiasm—but the heat seemed to sap it. He was still satisfied.
“IF you have a WOUND CARD, raise your hand!” That was a yellow rectangle.
Hands went up. Mine was green. “When your number is called and the Whistle Blows you are wounded,” he declared. You will drop where you stand and crawl to cover where you will lay until the drill terminates. Do you understand?”
The crowd affirmed they did.
“Three days ‘til VA,” said the man next to me. I risked a centimeter of movement. I was sweating profusely.
“If you have a SURVIVOR CARD, raise your hand!”
I put my hand up. So did Scratchy.
“When the drill begins you will move AWAY from the shooter. You will leave via the assigned exits one at a time. You will move quickly. You will move safely. You will TAKE COVER until the door is clear and THEN MOVE. You will NOT trample each other. Outside you will move to the Assembly Area and await further instructions.”
He looked at us.

“You will move like YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT. YOU WILL RUN LIKE YOU ARE RUNNING FROM DEATH. YOU WILL RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN,” he said--his voice was hard. There was zero degrees of humor in it. Whatever he said about safety, his voice said, that was some bullshit right there.

That was the only time, in the blasting heat, that I felt cold.
“Do you have any klonopin?” Scratchy asked me. The way he squinted at me, it looked like his eyes were too tight. I shook my head.
“You will NOT talk to any personnel outside the Drill team unless you have a designated ‘P’ for PRESS on your ID tag,” he said.
He paused. I wanted to go into the shade of the restaurant so badly I was ready to get up and go right there.
“Any questions?”
“Do you have any alprazolam? Or klonopin?” Scratchy asked. The Commander’s gaze fell on us and I froze. I didn’t want him looking at me—at the time I wasn’t sure why. “It’s three days ‘til my VA and I’m short,” Scratchy told him, apologetically.
The Commander looked at him—at us—hard. Then:
“Does anyone else need meds?” He asked. There was a moment of silence. “If you need meds move to the Wound Tent,” he declared. “The boys will fix you up.” A small line formed. I watched one of the white-gloved technicians prepare a needle. I felt sicker than ever—but I’d have to be dying before I went in that tent.
“The rest of you,” Boomed The Commander, “Form up. Enter the Drill Zone and take your positions as assigned by the Training Instructors.” The instructors wore black slacks, black shirts, black baseball caps, and black sneakers. The only white on them was from the ID cards around their necks.

I got up and moved with the group into the shade of the building.

The Mexican Restaurant was a hot-box. It was sweltering inside--there were no lights, no power, and no air. The bathrooms had black and yellow police tape X’s across them with white printed DO NOT USE signs. I was directed to a table in the dim light and I sat, sweltering, head down. The heat suffocating me. When the time came, I thought, I was going to the Assembly Area--and I was going to keep going.

The idea of leaving without permission actually scared me. At the time that seemed perfectly normal. I was smarter than I thought.

I swayed in the chair. My hands felt clammy. I tried to imagine a sweating glass of cool water on the table--and some kind of Mexican meal. Cheese … shredded pork--NO! My stomach lurched and no police tape was going to keep me from going to the toilets and vomiting … assuming I made it.

I was standing when it happened.

There were three of them--one man with long hair, a black turtleneck and black cargo pants. He wore a tactical vest and carried the biggest gun I’d ever seen. He had two handguns--one under each armpit. He wore several packs of high capacity magazines.

The gun--an AR-15, I recognized on site, was fitted with a very real, very sharp affixed bayonet knife. He carried a single round green ball that I recognized as a handgrenade.

The other two were dressed similarly--but they carried silenced handguns instead of the rifle and they wore balaclava masks in the dim, sweltering restaurant. The explosions of gunfire were deafening.

That was when the screaming begin.

I fell to the floor as the man with the AR-15 began firing over my head. I could hear chairs fall--I could hear yells--someone on the ground with his hands over his ears, eyes squeezed shut, legs curled up mouth so wide open it was ugly.

I didn’t hear the whistle or the numbers--I ran--bolting for the rear exit.

I looked back to see one of the secondary shooters executing a man on the ground pointing and firing the handgun over and over. The rear door was a scrum of bodies--they were packed in it. I watched some of those at the door began to fall as the shooter leveled his gun at the panicked mass.

I vomited. It spilled out over a table and I staggered. On the ground, nearby, a woman with a red KILL CARD around her neck looked up at me. Her eyes looked glassy--wide … motionless. I screamed.

She blinked--a slow, lizard blink. The crook of her arm bore a small band-aid over the vein. I ran--for the front door. I had to get out. More whistle blows. I rushed past one of the masked shooters with his silenced pistol. He looked at me. Our eyes met.

I felt sure he was going to point the gun at me--but instead he said “Admin! Man In Distress--” And I felt my stomach go again as I stumbled towards the lit rectangle of the doorway. I was on my knees outside when the EMT reached me.

“Heat Stroke!” He was talking into a shoulder radio and kneeling by me. “Here--here.” He had a plastic water bottle. “Slowly--drink water.” He said it as two words. I took it. I felt his fingers in my neck--taking my pulse as he looked at his watch, counting beats and seconds.

“I want you to sit,” he said. “Keep your head lowered.” His hands moved on me--down my body, helping me sit.

That’s when he found my phone.

“What the fuck.” I looked up--and then he was talking into his radio “Electronic Recording Device. T. Odell. Op-Sec! Op-Sec.”

Our eyes met--and I knew it was time to run. I pushed off him. “I’m okay,” I said--I felt woozy and sick--but less sick than a moment ago. He grabbed me. “OP-SEC NOW!” and I pushed him hard--explosively and he went back into the wall of the restaurant. I bolted for the corner--straight into the Commander.

In my mind I ducked under his thickly muscled arm and darted right around him--like a football runner avoiding a tackle. In real life it felt like he hit me with a baseball bat when he stuck his arm out and it caught me across the face and nose. My feet came out from under me--and I hit the ground hard. My elbow screamed in pain and my eyes filled with water. I clutched my nose.

He hauled me up--and they were on me. I was forced, arms wrenched back, bent over, shoulders screaming in pain, to the tent. I felt someone extract my phone. They had a laptop Toughbook open on the table and I was forced into a chair while the EMT technician hooked a cable into my phone. I was panting--the phone was locked. I looked at them: if they were going to ask me for my password I was going to tell them to fuck themselves--until they threatened to hit me. If they did that I knew I’d cave instantly.

They didn’t. The technician brought up a window for some kind of software and I watched them bypass my password screen in seconds. The Commander looked at me

“Recording us?” he asked, his voice growling with aggression.

I shook my head. “No.”

His gaze was flat--lethal. “We’ll see,” he said. “We. Will. See.”

I watched a report materialize on the screen. Movies. Music. Web history. Email. Call list. App list. My phonebook.

I watched them dump it.

“What do we think?” asked The Commander.

“Uploading data,” said the tech. “No patterns yet.” The Commander nodded. He turned to me.

“Where did you get your code? You’re not FEMA trained. You’re not service.”

I shook my head. “Someone … mailed it to me. I’m a blogger.”

I almost said “I’m a reporter”--but something told me that would be a bad idea. He considered--then he leaned in, grabbed my cheeks in an incredible grip and tilted my head back so he looked down into my face.

“You blog do you?”

I didn’t answer.

“You think there’s a story here?” He actually smiled. There was nothing nice about it. I felt my body shaking. “Let’s give him a story,” he said, to the technician. “Let’s give him a story to tell.” I struggled weakly as the technician first took a long q-tip from a sterile tube and got it into my forced open mouth. He deposited the swab back in the tube and sealed it.

Then I watched with a kind of nightmare horror as I saw the tech take one of the needles and a vial from the plastic lock-box. I watched him draw a clear fluid.

“We’ll give you something,” said The Commander, “to write about.” I felt the little jab then and I made some kind of gurgling sound and he released me. I clutched my arm where the needle had gone in.

“What was that,” I said--I was filling with breathless horror. I felt panicked--like I was drowning. I held the tiny wound hard enough to bruise the skin. “What did you do to me?”

“It’s a kind of serotonin,” said The Commander, his voice a raspy hiss of sadistic delight. “It’s a kind of magic.”

I have a recollection of my car. Of someone accompanying me there--of my reflection in the glass and another’s behind me--pushing me. I don’t remember driving and that’s probably good: I don’t know what I did that day. Or the next. It was two days later that I pick up fully: terribly hungry, urinating against a wall of a closed supermarket. I felt dirtier than I ever have in my life. My face was unshaven. My hair a greasy mop.

I ached.

I didn’t have my watch, my wallet, my shoes or my phone. I made it back to my car and was relieved to find that it was open--that someone, possibly me, had filled the back with newspapers. My keys were on the passenger-side floorboard as was my wallet. I sat there, feeling empty. Then I fumbled with them--started the engine--and pulled out.

I would go to the police if I could--but I couldn’t imagine telling them anything that would make sense. I couldn’t imagine really telling them anything at all.

It was when I got home, that I learned that yesterday, at 5:30 in the afternoon, hundreds of miles away, a gunman armed with an AR-15 assault rifle had entered a Mexican Restaurant in Seattle and killed 8 people, wounding 12 more. He had used a homemade explosive device which had blown the legs off of one of the patrons.

I stared at the television in numb horror as I realized that whatever was happening to me it was only just beginning.

Continue to Chapter 4: Lacuna

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