Area 51 Nightstalkers by Bob Mayer: Moms Nightstalker Protocol

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Moms reached into a pocket on her fatigues and pulled an acetated pad similar to what Nada was thumbing through. “This is the team Protocol. We don’t call them SOPs here. We call them Protocols.”

“More scientific,” Nada threw in. “Makes the Acme geeks feel better.”

Moms opened it to the first page. “Ms. Jones gave you her spiel. I just want to highlight a few things from my team leader Protocol for you.”

For once, Nada remained silent.

Moms began reading, but it was obvious she had the words memorized. “The most basic tenet of teamwork is honesty.” She paused and glanced at Nada. He raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. “Except when you have to lie to someone outside the team to accomplish a mission,” Moms finished her first rule.

Everyone on the team is a leader. Except when I make a decision.

We do everything as a team. Except when I tell you to do something alone.

Don’t get in a pissing contest with someone on a balcony. You just end up pissed on and smelly. If you have a problem with someone, especially one of the Acme Assets, let me know and I’ll deal with it. Which reminds me.” Moms reached into her drawer and pulled out a badge case and tossed it to Kirk. “You’re now a senior field agent of the FBI. Your photo ID will be here within an hour or so. That badge and ID will be enough to keep pretty much anyone you have to deal with who is on the outside off your ass. Someone thinks they outrank that badge, you send them to me.”

She looked back down at her Protocol. “Keep a positive attitude. Except when something has to be wet. Then you get nasty.” Kirk opened his mouth to ask, but she was quicker to the answer. “We’ve got three levels of missions here as determined by Ms. Jones. Dry, damp, and wet. Dry is something to be contained and further studied. So we want whatever it is intact.

“Damp is it’s to be contained, and if you can’t contain it intact, then you can break it.

“Wet is it’s to be contained by being utterly destroyed. Fireflies and Rifts are always wet.”

She had said the last without looking down. She glanced at the page once more to find her place. “Discipline and accountability stays inside the Nightstalkers. We are ultimately accountable only to the survival of the human race.”

Kirk blinked.

Moms looked him in the eye. “That’s no bullshit, okay?”

Kirk nodded.

Be on time.” She frowned. “I need to reorder those two.”

“I told you that last time—” Nada began but she waved him silent.

Keep your mouth shut about the team when outside the team. Or Roland will pay you a visit.”

“And it will be a wet experience,” Nada added.

Follow Protocols,” Moms said. “Even the smallest ones. And I, actually Nada, will be ripping Mac a new one for sneaking two extra beers while we’re technically on call.” Moms smiled. “And last but not least, keep your sense of humor. You’re going to need it.” She closed the book and raised her eyebrows. “Any questions or concerns?”

“No, Moms.”

What do Nightstalkers do?

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Moms sat behind one desk, Nada taking his place behind the other. They were standard government-issue gray desks and they faced the door from opposite corners of the CP. Surprisingly a plump armchair was in the center facing them.

Kirk suspected a trap, perhaps no support in the seat, and sat down gingerly. But the chair was firm. Even comfortable, which further aroused his suspicions.

Moms started. “Every unit I ever went into, when I met the CO, it was always a series of warnings. Don’t fuck up. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Behave. And I’ve walked into a lot of units in my time. Your experience?”

Kirk ran his career reel through his head. “The same, Ms. Moms.”

“Save the Ms. shit for Ms. Jones. There’s no Ms. Or Misters here. I’m Moms. That’s it. You’re Kirk. He’s Nada. I heard Doc out there. Just Doc. Got it?”

“Just Doc. Got it.”

Moms smiled slightly. Kirk noticed a bend in her nose and knew it had been broken and badly set a long time ago. Dee’s nose had the same crook. From Pads’s fist. Kirk pulled his mind back to the present as Moms continued.

“The ceremony outside is real. The people are real. We’re very happy to have you on the team.” She glanced to her left. “Right?”

“Oh, yeah,” Nada was pulling open a drawer in his desk and glanced up. “Thrilled beyond words.”

“If you notice, we don’t wear rank, we don’t have patches or tabs or badges. I know you’re proud of them, but we don’t do that stuff. We don’t do medals, we don’t do plaques or memorials or any of that. But you are still in the service, okay?”

Kirk nodded.

“We work for Ms. Jones. Who exactly she answers to, we don’t know and we don’t have a need to know. She did the ‘things that go bump in the night’ schtick, which she alternates with some other stuff for new people, but officially Nightstalkers is on call to deal with extraordinary emergencies. That includes incidents involving nuclear, chemical, and biological material. Doc will get you up to speed on what you need to know in that area and our special gear to deal with contingencies. A lot of the times we bring scientists with us. Nada interrupted him, but putting it simply, Doc is a genius in a whole bunch of fields I can’t even pronounce.”

“Yeah,” Nada snorted. “I remember you wrote Genius on the board when he in-briefed with Ms. Jones.”

Moms ignored him. “Doc has what we call the Acme list, after that company the Roadrunner always bought his stuff from in the cartoon.”

This time Nada actually laughed as he started piling up binders on his desktop. “Yeah, Mac wanted to call him Roadrunner. Beep beep. He’s always interested in figuring shit out. Keep an eye on him with that. You can get killed while figuring shit out.”

Moms continued. “The Acme list contains the names of a whole bunch of scientists who are on call to the government. We Zevon them—”

“Excuse me?” Kirk said.

“Zevon,” Moms repeated. “It’s an alert ring tone on their phones. You’ll understand soon enough; hopefully not too soon.”

“Good luck on that,” Nada muttered as he took out an alcohol pen and began thumbing through a pocket-sized acetated pad.

“Working with those from the Acme list can be a pain—”

“Working with Doc can be a pain,” Nada said to himself, checking the binders against his small pad.

“—but they’re the experts. They tell you don’t touch something, don’t touch it. They tell you to flame something, flame it. They tell you to run—”

“You’re fucked,” Nada said.

“True,” Moms said. She stared at Kirk as if reading him. Seeing how he was taking it. She must have liked what she saw. “Okay. There is an event that’s our primary mission, and actually prompted the founding of this unit many years ago. Something you’ve never heard of.”

“Join the rest of the world,” Nada said.

“Rifts and Firelies,” Moms said.

Kirk blinked and hoped for amplification.

“No, I can’t tell you what a Rift is,” Moms said, deflating his hope. “No one can.”

“Not even Doc,” Nada added.

“But Fireflies—” Moms began.

“We kill,” Nada finished for her.

“Fireflies come through Rifts,” Moms said. “Anywhere from one to fourteen, which happened back in ’68, and is the record.”

That must have been a motherfucker of a firefight,” Nada said enviously.

“Doc will give you more info on this topic,” Moms said, “but simply put, Fireflies are things that come through Rifts, and our best guess is that they are some sort of energy being or probe that can take over an animate or inanimate object.” She stopped because of whatever she was reading on Kirk’s face.

“They can go into things and animals,” Nada tried to explain. “And take them over. So anything around you can be under the control of a Firefly.” He thumped his desktop. “A Firefly could get into this desk, then slam shut the drawer when I put my hand in to get something. With enough force to chop my hand off, ’cause they enhance whatever they’re in. You kill an animal they’re in, it ain’t enough. It’s got to be flamed to cinders. Roland does most of the flaming. Once the creature is reduced to pretty much nothing, the Firefly floats out of the body and dissipates.”

“They can’t jump from one place to another,” Moms said. “Once they go in they’re stuck—”

“Until we obliterate what they’re in,” Nada said.

“They can’t go into people,” Moms said.

“Not that we know of,” Nada warned. “Or yet. Whichever.”

That one stopped Moms for a second, then she went on. “If they get into an inanimate object, then we have to blast it, break it down, crush it, blow it apart—whatever—depending on what the object is. There is a critical point at which the object no longer has what Doc calls a sufficient level of integrity that the Firefly can survive in, so it finally just lets go and leaves and dissipates. I know this is all a bit much, but like I said, Doc can explain it better and more thoroughly. Okay?”

Area 51 Nightstalkers: The naming ceremoney & Kobayashi Maru

“Your answer?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

There was the grinding sound of a shredder operating in the darkness. “That was your service record. Winthrop Carter no longer exists,” Ms. Jones said. “You may go and learn what name options the team has chosen for you.”

He got up and went to the door. It swung open before his hand touched the knob and Nada was waiting for him, pulling him into the Den, the door swinging shut behind. On one of the whiteboards five names were written, each in a different color:

Slick

Know

Cheetah

Fred

Kobayashi Maru

“Gentlemen,” Moms said. “Please read your choices and explain where needed,” she added with a quizzical glance at Eagle.

Roland spoke first. “I think we name him Slick. ’Cause what he did in Ranger School was, well, slick.” The big man flushed red.

Moms was next. “I think we call him Know. Because we all know the n in Ranger stands for Knowledge.” She said the old joke with a smile to take away any possible sting.

Mac was standing next to a plastic garbage can. “Shoot, we call him Cheetah, ’cause that’s what he is. Fast and smart.”

Nada was frowning, but that was Nada’s usual look. “Fred. Every team needs a Fred.”

“My choice,” Eagle began, “is—”

“We ain’t using two damn words,” Nada interrupted. “You know the rule. One name. An easy word. And one that won’t confuse us, so I think Know is out, sorry, Moms.”

“It’s okay,” Moms said, meaning she’d never been in.

Ms. Jones’s voice came through the door, surprisingly vibrant. She always sounded perky during the name-choosing ceremony. “What did you write, Mister Eagle?”

“Kobayashi Maru,” Eagle said. “I know the rule about one word and—”

“I believe,” Ms. Jones said, surprisingly interrupting Eagle’s attempt at explaining, “I know where you are going with this. From the old American television series Star Trek. I watched it as a child in the former Soviet Union. Yes, we had a television. The test that was lose-lose, where choosing either way was wrong. And Captain Kirk cheated on it by reprogramming the computer. Very interesting.”

There was a silence as they waited on Ms. Jones to make her ruling now that she had all the entries.

“The thing I liked about what our new team member did,” Ms. Jones said, “was not reprogramming the computer. Any fool can reprogram a computer. Even the Photoshopping of the score sheets was to be expected. But he did all of them, not just his own. So they would all look alike and his wouldn’t stand out. And weathering them. That was the nice touch. Welcome to the team, Mister Kirk.”

Kobayashi Maru:

Area 51: Nightstalkers: Truth doesn’t just set you free. It keeps you alive…

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by Bob Mayer

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“Truth doesn’t set you free,” Ms. Jones said. “It just keeps you alive in the Nightstalkers.”

Carter blinked in surprise. “Task Force 160? I thought they were at Campbell and—”

“Not those Nightstalkers,” Ms. Jones said with a hint of frost. “When Task Force 160 was formed in 1981, we switched our name to Nightstalkers also, because it’s always best to have a cover behind some other classified unit. As you just indicated, it works for misdirection. We prefer to be a shadow inside of a shadow.”

“What were you called before that?” Carter asked.

“That is not important,” Ms. Jones said. “And, as a bonus, Nightstalkers was appropriate. As I told you, we’re the ones who man the walls against the things that go bump in the night. Do not make me repeat myself. How did you pass Ranger School when you should have flunked?”

“I cheated, ma’am.”

“Very good,” Ms. Jones said. “How?”

“I knew they were gonna flunk me for sassing back at that RI. But he made a comment about my sister, and he didn’t even know I had a sister. Got two actually. So I snuck out the night before graduation. Everyone else was wiped out. The last night, after the last patrol, after the entire course, everyone reaches their limits and just collapses.”

“But not you.”

“I knew they were gonna flunk me.” Carter flushed as he realized he’d repeated himself. “I couldn’t flunk. I needed to graduate.”

“For the tab?” This time it was a question.

Carter swallowed, but he was too far down the alley of truth and the walls were closing in. “No, ma’am. I needed the pay bonus.”

She didn’t ask what for, which surprised him. “How did you cheat?”

“I snuck out. Went to the command shed. Stole a smart phone they use for commo. Hacked into the system. Changed my grade.”

Ms. Jones waited.

“Then I got all the score sheets. Took them over to the admin shed. Scanned every one on me. Photoshopped all of them and changed mine to passing. Took them all out into the swamp. Roughed them up and stained them like the originals. That took a while, as I had to dry them off afterward to make them look real. Put them back.”

“They knew you cheated.”

Carter remembered the uproar, the RIs swearing the forms with their signatures weren’t right, that the computer was wrong. The sheets were wrong. “Yes, ma’am.”

“But they graduated you because the computer said so and they were afraid you would appeal and lawyers would get involved and it would be a mess. Easier to move you on.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What a sad state the army is in when an RI just can’t flunk a student with his word as a soldier and that a computer can overrule him. It’s a recipe for disaster. I predict you’ll see a similar disaster like that if you say yes to my question. Which, of course, is why you’re here.”

Then Ms. Jones gave the why we are here speech. When she was done, she simply asked: “Can you live with that?”

Another Nightstalkers Excerpt: Things that go bump in the night…

“You’re meeting Ms. Jones,” Nada said, stopping in front of a surprisingly flimsy and ill-fitting door, the antithesis of everything Carter had seen since entering the complex. “You listen to her very carefully.”

The door to the left opened and a tall woman in fatigues stepped out. The way Nada shifted his posture, Carter realized with surprise that he answered to her, so he stood a little straighter.

“I’m Moms,” the woman said.

Moms? Carter was trying to take it all in.

“I was just telling him to listen carefully to Ms. Jones,” Nada informed her.

Moms nodded. “Listen to her offer. Then you get to say yes or you get to say no. There’s no shame, no blemish on your record for saying no.”

“No is the easy way,” Eagle yelled from across the room.

“No is back to the world,” Mac added.

“Hush,” Roland scolded the other two. “Moms is talking.”

Moms put a hand on Carter’s shoulder. “You understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Mac laughed. “He ain’t got a fucking clue.”

Moms nodded at Nada. He rapped on the flimsy door, rattling it on the hinges. Then he swung it open and indicated for Carter to go in. “Take the seat in front of the desk. Do not get out of the seat until dismissed, then come straight back out here. Anything else and I’ll kill you.”

He said it so matter-of-factly that Carter only realized he was serious after taking three steps into the room. A hard plastic chair faced a massive wooden desk. The smooth surface of the desk was unmarred by any phone, computer, or knick-knack. Behind the desk was a huge wing-backed chair, the occupant completely in the shadow cast by the large lights pointed directly at the plastic chair.

Carter sat down, hands on his knees, feeling like he’d been called into the principal’s office and he’d done something really bad—like burn down the school.

The voice startled him, not only with the accent, but the suddenness. “You do know, of course, that someone has to man the walls in the middle of the night? The walls between all those innocents out there who lay their heads down on their pillows every evening, troubled by thoughts of such things as mortgages, or their pet is sick, or their child is failing in school? The normal things people should worry about. There are even those who have grave, serious worries, such as just being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given weeks to live. But the things we, here, worry about, they are far graver than any of those worries.”

Carter didn’t know if she was really asking or if it was a test, so he followed Uncle Ray’s advice and said nothing.

Ms. Jones continued. “Someone has to worry about those things that go bump in the night, and let me assure you, young man, there are things that go bump in the night.”

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NIGHTSTALKERS: THE RANCH & MONTY PYTHON’S ANNOYING PEASANT

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Area 51 Nightstalkers by Bob Mayer

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by Bob Mayer

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To Carter, it just looked like an old deserted filling station out in the middle of the desert. Colonel Orlando was driving the battered Jeep, which was the latest in a bunch of strange things to happen ever since he’d been “tested” back in the ’Stan.

Since then, Orlando hadn’t said two words, ignoring every question Carter had thrown at him, and using the defense of that silver oak leaf indicating his rank to treat Carter like the staff sergeant he was.

Except after landing at some incredibly long runway in the middle of Nevada, the colonel had gotten in the driver’s seat of this old beat-up Jeep that had been waiting for them. A colonel driving for a staff sergeant wasn’t normal, even for the elite army. They’d been bumping along for over an hour now, leaving the runway and the hangers, and the guards and all that far behind.

Two minutes ago, Orlando had turned off the hardtop road onto a dirt road, passing a plywood sign spray-painted none too steadily with the warning No Trespass: We Will Shoot Your Ass along with a skull and crossbones also crudely sprayed onto the wood next to the words. Now the old gas station was ahead on the right and Carter could see three guys shooting a beat-up basketball at a metal rim set about eight feet off the ground on a leaning light pole. He knew right away they were Special Ops, even though two had long hair. It was the same way at Bragg, where you could always tell the difference between guys in the 82nd Airborne, not exactly slouches, and someone in Special Forces. They looked different because they were different.

The three didn’t even look over as Orlando screeched the protesting brakes of the Jeep, bringing them to a halt a hundred yards short of the station. Carter saw the reason. Two men had materialized from spider holes, weapons at the ready. Carter blinked as a red laser designator wavered over his face, settling in between his eyes. Shifting his glance to the left, he saw Orlando also wore a red dot.

A third man, who must have been in a hole, too, came up from behind. He held some weird device and flashed it in Orlando’s eyes. It beeped, and since the colonel wasn’t shot, Carter assumed that was a positive beep. All three wore ghillie suits with black fatigues underneath and no sign of rank or unit, so Carter figured they were contractors. He’d seen a ton of them in the ’Stan and Iraq. The guard started to go around the rear of the Jeep—not crossing the line of fire of the others—when Orlando spoke up.

“He’s the new one.”

The guard nodded, looking vaguely disappointed for some reason, as if Carter were stealing his role in the school play. “Proceed, Colonel.”

Orlando put the Jeep into gear, the clutch protesting loudly.

One of the three, a tall black man whose left side of the face was terribly scarred, took a long shot and it flew past rim and pole into a pile of old tires, sending them tumbling. A rattler came buzzing out, trying to see who’d interrupted its late-day nap.

“Yo!” one of the others, a big hulking guy with what Carter initially would have called an honest, happy face, yelled. “Eagle got a snake.”

“I hate fucking snakes,” Eagle said.

“Tell Doc about snakes,” the third guy said with a Texas drawl. He was a young Tom Cruise look-alike, handsome in a way that initially irritated almost every man who met him.

“Fuck you, Mac,” Eagle said to him as he drew a Mark-23 from under his T-shirt and fired, hitting the snake in the head, and firing again, hitting the stump.

“No one would think you were any army of one,” Mac said. “Afraid of snakes.” He stepped over the body and retrieved the ball. “We used to eat rattler back home in Texas. Tastes like chicken.”

“Bet you had to eat rattler,” the big guy said, with all seriousness. “My mom used to make us pine bark soup flavored with pine needles.”

“You had one fucked-up childhood, Roland,” Mac said. “We ate it ’cause we liked it.”

Carter got out of the Jeep as Orlando did. Now that he was closer to the big man, he could see that thing deep in Roland’s eyes that belied his genial face. The man was a killer.

The three finally decided to notice the newcomers.

Eagle nodded at Orlando. “Colonel.”

“Eagle. Roland. Mac.” Orlando nodded three times, like he was blessing them or asking permission to pass, it was hard for Carter to tell. “Been a while.”

“It has indeed, sir,” Eagle said. He looked at Carter. “Must be an officer. He isn’t covered in shit.”

Orlando was the only one who got it and he laughed as he got back in the driver’s seat. “You gentleman have a fine rest of the day. Until next time.”

Carter hastily grabbed his duffel out of the back of the Jeep. And then the colonel was gone in a cloud of dust. Carter stood there, uncomfortable in the late-day sun, duffel bag weighing on his shoulder, his camos drenched with sweat. He knew they were reading the cues on his fatigues: Ranger Tab, left shoulder; Ranger Regiment scroll, right shoulder, meaning combat service with the unit; Combat Infantry Badge; Master Parachute Badge; Freefall Parachute Badge; Scuba Badge.

Most people were impressed.

These were clearly not most people.

“Where do I report?” Carter asked.

“Get a grape soda,” Mac said as the other two turned back to the basketball and their game.

“I don’t want a grape soda.” Carter regretted the words as he spoke them.

Mac laughed. “Buddy, no one wants a grape soda, but one time me and this hot little cheerleader, all we had was some Jack and some grape soda, and it worked then. It’ll work now,” he added, nodding toward the rusting soda machine leaning against the side of the station.

Carter went over. The peeling labels indicated he could get Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, Orange, or Grape. Twenty-five cents. He reached for his pocket, then realized he didn’t have any change. Before he could turn, Eagle called out.

“Just push the button. And make sure it’s grape. You don’t want the orange, trust me.”

Carter hit the grape button.

With a hiss of escaping air, the soda machine slid to the side and a stairway beckoned, cool air blasting out.

Carter hesitated.

“You got eight seconds,” Eagle added as he took a shot. “Or it will shut on you.”

Monty Pythons Annoying Peasant:

Area 51: Nightstalkers: The Courier

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by Bob Mayer

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It started with the pretty postdoc who was the point of contact at the University of Colorado.

The Courier had been up all night partying at one of the frat houses, only two years removed from college himself. Or, more accurately, two years removed from his single year of college. After being kicked out of college, he doubled down on that year sucking dirt in the Marines, including a year at Bagram Air Base on the perimeter guard post, shooting at a whole bunch of nothing and basically being bored to tears. The stories he’d told the wide-eyed rich kids at the party were true—that is, if the older grunts who’d told the stories to him in the first place had been telling the truth.

So at the end of his year in ’Stan, when the contractor came calling with offers of big bucks and lots of time off for combat-experienced Marines (they considered a year in-country combat experience, so the boredom counted for something), the Courier had signed on the dotted line and kissed the Corps good-bye. The deal had turned out sweeter than he’d expected. They didn’t send him back to the ’Stan but rather to the Depot.

Like any other gig, though, there were drawbacks. One was the implant. The gruff retired gunny sergeant who’d taken him through Depot processing at Area 51 had told him it was a minor physical procedure—he wouldn’t feel a thing—and the actual device only had to be worn during the time when he was working. During his two months off for every one on, why, no problem, he could leave it at the Depot. That was where guys like him, the Support for a bunch of high-speed people called the Nightstalkers, were stationed. Underground on the Area 51 military reservation in the middle of no-fucking-where, Nevada. It sounded a lot cooler than it was, both figuratively and literally.

The gunny hadn’t been totally up front. The actual procedure was sticking some long, really thin wire into his chest. It left the tiniest of nubs sticking out just center and below his left nipple. That wasn’t coming out as long as he was in Support. Then when he came on duty they strapped a belt around his chest that had a matchbox—scratch that, he wasn’t old enough to have used matchboxes—an iPod Mini–sized device right over the nub and connected it to him.

When he’d asked what the device was for, the old gunny had told him: “So we can track you and make sure you’re okay. We don’t want nothing to happen to you, sonny-boy.”

So, okay, for one month’s work and two off, he could deal with it. And, of course, for the pay. That was ten large every month, even the ones he wasn’t working. The Tea Party would have a fit.

They gave him some guns, a souped-up, armored van, a thick binder full of what they called “protocols,” and a handheld device the gunny called an Invoicer (the way he said it indicated it was capitalized, like a lot of stuff around the place). It contained his deliveries for this tour of duty.

“Like a FedEx driver?” the Courier had asked.

The gunny had just glared at him for a moment, then shook his head. “Read the Protocols, sonny.” The gunny had looked about as if the walls had ears. “You do good on Support, there’s a chance you make the team out at the Ranch. They’re short one body on the ’Stalkers. Been short a while. Ms. Jones is real picky about who makes the team.”

What are we, back in high school? the Courier thought but did not say, having had experience with gunnies in the Corps.

The key to being a Courier, the gunny explained, was to keep a low profile. A single panel truck, a single man, playing it cool, wouldn’t draw attention the way a clearly armored vehicle and escort convoy would.

Whatever, the Courier thought.