Chapter 1 – The Conference Room
The chicks were still screaming. Lloyd would have thought they'd have gone hoarse by now, but nope. Every time the door opened and the fishzards came in and grabbed somebody else and dragged 'em out, the chicks started in screaming again.
They were stopping sooner, though, and every time, their voices seemed a little bit rougher. That was something, at least.
Lloyd had a plan. He was back in the corner, with a couple of chairs tipped over on their sides in front of him. He wasn't budging. He'd thought of it first -- right after the first time the fishzards had come in and grabbed Felton and dragged him out. A lot of the other people still in the room were staring at him enviously -- well, him and Barker, who had seen what Lloyd was doing and immediately gone and copied him in the other corner. Barker wasn't budging, either. They'd probably be the last two left in the room.
Unless the fishzards got bored and left first. Or a SWAT team broke in to rescue everyone. Or something.
There had been six chicks at first -- Denise and Roxanne from Marketing, where Lloyd and Barker and Felton worked, and a bunch from somewhere else -- probably Sales, they were right down the hall. Lloyd vaguely recognized one of them, a blonde with a pretty face and gigantic jugs, from seeing her around in the halls, but he didn't know her name.
And she wasn't all that pretty now; in between the bouts of screaming, she'd been crying. Well. All the chicks had been. And to be fair, some of the guys had been screaming, too. And Lloyd felt like crying, he just didn't think it would do much good.
"You read all that science fiction stuff," some guy from Sales was saying now.
Lloyd looked over at him. "What?"
"I've seen you in the break room. You read that science fiction stuff," this guy... Lloyd had no idea what his name was... repeated.
Lloyd wanted to laugh. So he did. But the laugh itself sounded kind of high and cracked.... Lloyd didn't like that at all. So he stopped laughing. But it was like a flashback to his early 20s, when science fiction was still a niche thing and only weirdos knew anything about it. Nowadays, sci fi was everywhere... it even had its own cable channel.
"So?" Lloyd said, finally.
"So what are these things? What are they doing? What's going on?" the other guy demanded.
Lloyd rolled his eyes. "I real science fiction so I know what these things are? You're stupid."
"No, really," the blonde with the big jugs said. She must have overheard... well, the conference room where the fishzards had stuck all of them wasn't that big. "I mean, you know, of course nobody knows but can you like guess or something?"
Her voice really was pretty hoarse. In fact, she was barely whispering. She'd had to crawl closer to Lloyd to talk to him. Lloyd didn't mind... although he told himself not to get attached.
In fact, now they were all crawling over towards him. Even Barker in the other corner was cocking his head towards Lloyd.
"Jesus Christ," Lloyd kind of groaned, "you guys have all seen Star Trek and Star Wars. You know as much about crap like this as I do."
"Yeah," Roxanne, from his department, said, "but you READ. You know book stuff. Come on. What's going on here?" Roxanne was a heavyset light skinned black woman who normally spent most of her time at work (as far as Lloyd could tell) bitching with two other black chicks, Kendra and Marshina, about pretty much everything, including how stupid nearly everyone except the three of them were. Neither Kendra nor Marshina had been shoved into the conference room, though. Maybe they were already dead. Or, since they were so smart, maybe they'd escaped.
Lloyd doubted that shit greatly, though.
"Yeah, Lloyd," Barker called from over in his corner. "You probably do have a better idea what's going on that any of us. Tell us what you think."
Lloyd kind of wanted to pound the back of his head against the wall and scream. All his life people had looked at him like he was some kind of freak because he liked to read. HBO made a TV show about A Song Of Ice And Fire and suddenly everybody loved Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, but they were kind of fucking late to the party... Lloyd had been a Ned Stark fan for twenty years. The real Ned Stark, not that wanker played by Sean Bean. So this was what it took for his literacy to get any kind of respect? An alien invasion? Fucking green dudes who looked like they were half fish, half lizard show up at his work and shove him and a bunch of other people into a conference room and suddenly he was some kind of fucking guru?
"What do you THINK is going on here?" Lloyd finally said.
That was a good idea. They all started talking at once. Although from what Lloyd could hear, none of them really knew much. These lizard-fish guys had just appeared, apparently... nobody had noticed where they'd come from. And they had some kind of metal sticks in their hands that lightning bolts came out of, a couple of people said. Lloyd hadn't seen any lightning bolts, but one of the fishzards had kind of grazed him with a metal rod while he was being shoved into the conference room and it had felt like... well, Lloyd had never been tasered but he had brushed up against the electrical fence on his step-grandfather's farm once, and it had felt like that, but worse. So lightning bolts... yeah, that figured.
"So they've got tasers," Lloyd said, finally.
"Brad Angrazi tried to run," one of the other chicks -- an older woman Lloyd didn't know -- said. "The green alien thing shot a lightning bolt at him and he had smoke coming out of his mouth and ears when he fell down."
"Worse than tasers," Lloyd said. "Okay."
He already knew it was worse than tasers, but he was stalling for time.
Lloyd didn't really know any more than anyone else, but he had been paying attention. The fishzards had been coming in and grabbing someone new about every forty minutes. There were 17 other people left in the room besides Lloyd. That gave him around 680 minutes... 11 and a half hours... before the fishzards were down to him.
And he had a plan. It wasn't much of a plan, but it was better than nothing. He hoped.
"Why did they put us in here?" one of the other guys said. He had tears on his cheeks. "Why do they keep coming in and... getting one of us?"
Lloyd shrugged. "Why do you think? Maybe they're questioning us, one by one." Maybe they're having a barbecue, Lloyd thought to himself, but didn't say out loud. Maybe humans are like Chinese food to them... half an hour later, you're hungry all over again.
"But they don't bring anyone back," Big Jugs said.
Lloyd spread his hands. "What do you want from me? I'm not on their fucking email list. I did not get a copy of their marketing strategy."
They all just stared at him, like kids on a school bus staring at the driver. Or cows. Stupid fucking cows, waiting for someone to show them which was to go.
"Okay," Lloyd said, sighing. "I don't suppose any of us have a gun or anything?"
He wasn't going to tell any of them his plan... his plan wouldn't work if everyone tried it. But maybe he could stir them up into trying something else, that would help his plan. Couldn't hurt.
Of course nobody had a gun. You weren't allowed to bring guns to work. Lloyd had read a pretty good zombie novel one time where one of the characters was a redneck who brought his gun to work with him every day anyway, but there wasn't anyone like that here.
Plus, gun against lightning bolt wand... not good. One gun against a whole bunch of lightning bolt wands... really not good.
In fact, nobody had much of anything that would be useful as a weapon. Lloyd had a pocketknife. A couple of the other guys had multitools. As an arsenal to deploy against alien fishzards with lightning bolt wands, it seemed kind of unimpressive.
Everyone had a cell phone, and Lloyd was a big believer in the power of communications and all that knowledge is power stuff. But the cell phones wouldn't work... hadn't worked since the fishzards showed up. They wouldn't even power up. Which also argued for some kind of fishzard technical mastery of electricity, or something.
When they'd all been gathered up (a lot of them screaming) and shoved into the conference room, hardly anyone had brought anything with them. A lot of the women had left their purses in the drawers in their desks where they locked them up during the day. But Lloyd had grabbed his briefcase/bookbag -- what some guys called a 'man-purse' -- as the fishzard was dragging him out of his chair, so he had it with him. It had a few things that might help... or not. He'd have to wait and see.
"We could bust out of here," the guy from Sales whose name Lloyd didn't know said.
Three walls of the conference room were solid... wall stuff... plaster, probably, Lloyd wasn't sure what was under the unobtrusive light blue paint. But the wall that faced the hallway was frosted glass panels filling the space between wooden beams. The glass was thick, but they could probably break it, if they slammed one of the chairs into it hard enough.
"And then what?" Lloyd asked.
The guy from Sales shrugged. "I dunno. Run, I guess. Head for the fire exits."
"All right," Lloyd said. He hadn't wanted to do it. All he wanted to do was sit back in this corner and hopefully survive until it got late and everyone else in the room went to sleep. Then he could put his own plan into operation. In the meantime, he'd been ready to sit there and let the fishzards grab somebody else every forty minutes, as long as it wasn't him. All he wanted was to just mind his own business. It pissed him off that these idiots were going to make him do all their thinking for them. But maybe he could make that work for him. "So I guess we can sit around in here and wait for them to drag each of us out, at which point, we'll each get some idea what they want with us. Or, we can smash out one of those glass panels and make a run for it."
And that got everyone talking again. That was good. More time wasted. He figured if they stayed here nearly all of them would die, and if they tried to escape, well, probably nearly all of them would die, too. But either way, he could try out his plan. Which probably wouldn't work, but it seemed to be more of a plan than anyone else had.
About four of them had gotten their cell phones out again now. It was stupid, but every once in a while someone would take their phones out again and try them anyway. Like they were just going to start working again, when it was obvious that the fishzards had done something to make them not work. People might as well just throw them in the metal trash bin over in the corner. But they wouldn't.
Lloyd didn't think, when it came down to it, that anyone was going to really be willing to smash out. People were, as a general rule, too sheeplike for that shit. If there'd been an actual honest to god alpha male in the room... or an alpha chick, whatever... then these idiots wouldn't be asking Lloyd for directions.
But they were, and maybe he could make that work for him.
The talk had died down again. Now they were all looking at Lloyd again. It annoyed him even more. "I don't know what the fuck you're all looking at me for," he said. "Swear to God, I don't know anything more about these things than any of you do."
"But you do," Big Jugs said. "Please. You read all these stories. You must be able to figure out things. Like what kind of aliens these are... do they have weaknesses? Can we make weapons?"
The guy from Sales was looking at the bottom of one of the chairs Lloyd had barricaded himself in the corner with. "Hey," he said. "These chair legs look like they unscrew. We could unscrew them. They'd make good weapons."
Lloyd shook his head. "The chair legs are metal," he said. "These fishzards use electrical weapons. You really want to go up against one of them with a metal rod?"
A kind of sigh went through everyone else. "Well," Big Jugs said, "see? That's smart. So what would you suggest?"
Lloyd wanted to say 'I'd suggest you crawl over here and have a lot of sex with me because the fishzards are gonna drag you out of here soon enough', but he didn't. That kind of shit offended chicks, Lloyd knew. Even when they were about to die. Chicks were just ridiculously sensitive to shit like that.
What he did say was "Like I said before. We can all sit here and wait while they drag us out one by one. If we do that, eventually each of us will find out what's happening to the people they drag out. Of course, they probably aren't dragging people out to give them ice cream sundaes."
Everyone continued to stare at him, all cow eyed. Idiots.
"Or, we can try to break out. As this guy over here says," Lloyd nodded towards the Sales dude. "We could probably bust the glass out of part of that wall and all of us run."
"They'd just kill us," said another guy... a young guy, maybe mid 20s, with a shaved head and a lot of tattoos on his arms. "They'd mow us down with those lightning rods."
Lloyd shrugged. "Probably," he said. What he didn't say was 'They'd get some of us, sure, but at least a few of us... or one of us... might manage to get away while they were distracted with the crowd.'
Now Big Jugs spoke up... although her voice was so shredded she could just barely be heard. "Or," she said, "we could wait until they come for one of us..."
In another thirty minutes, Lloyd thought.
"...and then we could all attack at once!" she continued. "If we could knock one of those creatures down and take one of those rods..."
Lloyd didn't think that particular idea was likely to work... he had a theory about how those lightning bolt throwers actually worked. But he planned to keep that theory to himself. If he was right, it could make all the difference when he made his own escape attempt...