In retrospect, we should have realized it wouldn’t be that easy. After all, we’d all read the reports. It almost felt like we’d grown up with them.
It took the NSA, working with NASA and Google Earth, all of five days to find the Doorway. It was more or less where we all thought it would be: near a big tree on the grounds of an ancient estate in England. Getting permission from the British government to allow a US SOD team access took only slightly longer. I guess Whitehall still felt it owed Washington over that thing from last year.
So there we were, my team and I, doing final gear check. It felt surreal to be doing this on a nicely trimmed lawn, beside some meticulously maintained topiary and not more than a dozen meters from a freshly-painted white gazebo. Luckily, it was well fed and didn’t attack.
One by one, we called out our ready status, and the Captain stepped up to give us his traditional pre-mission pep talk. We’d all heard it so many times most of us ignored him until he finally rambled his way to the end and then said those fateful words, “Team, you have a green light. Go to red.”
“Huah!” we all grunted in unison, and the racket of bolts being pulled back on our M-4s was as oddly out of place in the pastoral setting as the rest of this entire mission. Really, it should have been an omen. Even Fernandez, with his obsession with superstitions, missed this one. Poor Fernandez.
Halsford had point. He approached the Doorway in classic text-book form and we stacked up on him. He looked at each of us to make sure we were ready and focused, then he flipped open the hatch and we all pointed weapons down. Nothing to see at first, just a dirt tunnel leading down. Ropes were tied around the nearby birch, and carabiners hooked to belts. We rappelled down. It was a long way to the bottom.
Halsford and the FNG took up positions in front of each of the two doors we found at the bottom, and we all shared a silent moment of amusement at how the FNG had to crouch to keep his weapon level with the imagined center-of-mass of anything that might come out of that second, 2′ tall door.
“Where are we?” I snapped as I unstrapped myself from the rope. First on, last off as the saying goes.
“We got it sir,” Adams responded smartly. I looked over to find him pointing at a table pushed up against the side of the room. And sure enough, there it was, just like the reports. The bottle, the cake, the key, the signs. Forewarned is forearmed they say, so Adams pocketed the key before reaching for the bottle. As he lifted it, he displaced the sign and it fell face-down on the table. That’s ok, we all knew what it said.
Update: This has been expanded into the first part of a chapter for a full-length novel. See more at the DWE page.