Van’s flashlight illuminated all the cave’s dark corners. But it wasn’t a cave. It was a huge room with four sides, including the entrance. The ceiling was at least forty feet high and smooth.
He walked to the wall opposite the entrance. Tapping on it with the butt of his knife, he discovered that it appeared to be the same metal he touched—painfully—earlier. There was a vertical seam in the middle, suggesting the wall was another door. A big one, like a hangar door.
A door here in a mountain? Two of them? Who built it? No evidence the government did anything here, he thought while continuing to look around.
On the far right was a control pad. Fear was overcome again by curiosity, and he walked over to the pad and placed the beam of his light on it. There were no numbers or characters of any kind, just a faint green glow. Not knowing anything better to do, he held the flashlight with his left hand and placed his right palm on the pad as he had done in some of the secure buildings he worked in as a consultant. As he drew his hand away, he saw the same symbol of wings that were burned onto his hand. Then the pad went bright green.
Van jumped with surprise when, again, the earth trembled and screeched. He turned, and before the signal from his brain to run reached his legs, the first entrance door closed from top to bottom with a clang and a crunch. To his dismay, he watched the door crush right through the rocks and dead tree trunks he placed as a safety measure, proving them useless.
His mouth went dry as cotton and chills went up his spine. Shit, I’ll be trapped in here forever!
Just as the entrance door closed, however, he heard another noise behind him. He pivoted in the direction of the noise in time to see the inner door split in two and open. Bright lights came on in the new area. He relaxed a little, feeling less trapped. But this should not be here, he thought. Then, in a now-predictable swing of emotion, his fear gave way to curiosity, and he stepped through the opened door.
The second room was larger than the first—wider and deeper. The walls were white and the floor a light shade of glossy gray. Like an aircraft hangar, he realized. The mystifying part was it was nearly empty. The only disruptions to the clean, even walls were a large flat-screen TV with another control pad next to it and what looked like a dentist’s chair to the right of that. He hated dentists.
Van strode to the wall with the TV and, as he had done for the second door access, placed his palm on the control pad. But nothing happened. He held his hand in place, longer this time. After a worrisome amount of time passed, the wings he expected appeared and the pad glowed bright green, just like the other one. He removed his hand from the screen, expecting something to happen, but it didn’t. Turning to inspect the rest of the room, he saw out of the corner of his eye the view screen come alive in a swirl of color, forming into an image of a person. It looked familiar, and, well, it should since it was a perfect image of him.
If not for the coolness of the room, Van would have been sweating again, but he kept it together. Without thinking, he said, “Hello?”
In response, the image smiled but said nothing. The image had dark brown hair with a wisp of gray at the temples . . . just like his. Emerald-green eyes, trim, tall body, long fingers, and a handsome face . . . just like his. The head was perceptively larger than normal, but still bore pleasant features . . . just like his. And finally, what appeared to be about two days’ growth of beard. Yes, just like his.
“Who are you and what is this place?” asked Van, this time with less patience, a little anger, and with his fists clenched hard. But again, there was no immediate response.
Just as he was about to yell out his questions in less diplomatic terms, his image said, “I am the Caretaker.”
Recovering his composure and relaxing a little, Van sat down on the foot of the long chair next to the screen and asked, “Caretaker of what?”
“Caretaker of the Secrets of the Host.”
Suspecting an endless series of questions might not be the easiest and fastest way to satisfy his curiosity, Van folded his arms and said, “Tell me about this Host and why you’re here.”
The Caretaker began a brief and fascinating story.