“Where do you two think you’re going?” asked General Stewart.
“Well sir, we were trying—”
“Pile, if I want you to answer a rhetorical question, I will let you know.” The general’s voice sounded like he was chewing nails. “Do you understand me?”
When Ryan didn’t respond, the general growled and said, “Answer.”
The clattering of machinery preceded the science team as it came back out of the airplane. Whatever their instruments had told them was very exciting. They barely took the time to wave in the medical team and pull off their helmets before they were whispering to each other in a corner.
A dozen people in white, featureless jumpsuits rushed into the cargo hold. In less than a minute, they were carrying out the six alien prisoners on stretchers. Each pair of medics held their stretcher over a silvery half sphere sitting on the ground. There was a hum and a click and the stretchers were locking in place, hovering on electromagnets.
The half spheres started moving on wheels hidden under their metal frames. The medics jogged along on either side. The machines, humans, and aliens were all following the green ribbon on the floor that led to Genetic Triage and Reclamation.
The general glared at Theo and Ryan all through the process of removing the aliens. After the door to the hangar closed on the last stretcher, the scientists dove back into the aircraft. They wheeled out the antenna with it still embedded in its gel shock-absorbing pad.
Ryan had only seen it in the dim light of the bird bird’s hold and under the perpetually cloudy skies on the surface. Now, in the bright lights of the hangar, it looked even stranger. The shape was unnerving, it looked more like a bird spreading its wings instead of an antenna, if birds had three wings and not two.
The metal wasn’t right either. It was dark, almost black, with an oily sheen even though it was bone dry. Right now the scientists were shining different laser lights at it and looking through various lenses. Ryan’s eyes kept darting between the general and the antenna. He didn’t know which one was making him more uncomfortable. One of the scientists came over and whispered something in the general’s ear. Then she dashed back over to her compatriots and got right back to work.
“We’re changing your schedules,” General Stewart said. “You’ll be in debrief for the rest of the day. We’re keeping you isolated until we figure out exactly what’s going on.”
Theo and Ryan exchanged a look. They still had their helmets attached, so they transmitted their thoughts directly to each other.
“I don’t like the sound of being isolated,” Theo thought.
“Yeah, kinda makes you think that it’ll go on for longer than the rest of the day.”
“Sir,” Ryan said out loud. “Can we ask what’s going on?”
“As soon as you need to know anything, you’ll be informed. Now follow me.”
After sharing another look and not really seeing any choice, Ryan and Theo followed the general. As they approached the hangar doors, they heard a commotion coming from the other side.