Entry 8 – Arizona
As it turns out, business jets are not only comfortable, but also fast. A little over two hours into the flight, I was woken by a gentle nudge. The assistant was bringing me refreshments and was reminding me it wasn’t much further. The pilot was really hauling ass, I thought. I had no idea of the speed the sleek machine was capable of. The plane was descending but instead of what I expected – the Phoenix skyline, all I was seeing was an endless reddish desert pocked with silver and grey marks of settlements.
By the time I was finished eating, the plane was clearly on its final approach with what looked like an army base below and in front of us. The installation was huge with several rows of military planes nested right next to the main runway and swarms of people surrounding them. That’s when I noticed we weren’t alone. Two dark grey, predator-like shapes were trailing us, mirroring our every move.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of interesting things for my age but being escorted by two F-16 fighter jets wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t sure who they belonged to, either the Arizona National Guard or the U.S. Air Force, but neither bode well. The attendant was perfectly calm though, and it would be a cold day in hell before I lost my nerve before a lady (how wrong I was on that account...), so I just sat there and tried to look somewhat bored, as if something like that happened to me every day.
The landing was as swift as it was unexpected. The attendant sat down, strapped herself in and looked at me to make sure I was doing the same. The jet dropped the last few meters as if the pilot was trying to put all this behind him as quick as he could. I heard some muted chatter from the cabin and then we were standing still in the middle of a military base underneath the hot Arizona sun. Slightly dizzy, I picked myself up, grabbed my bag from the seat next to me and got out through the plane’s open door onto the blazing tarmac.
The heat was almost unbearable but the Private before me seemed completely comfortable and was barely breaking a sweat. I, on the other hand, was cursing my leather jacket immediately and was desperately patting my pockets for sunglasses. Not having found them, I was left squinting at the man as the Learjet behind me closed the door and began to spool up its engines.
The soldier simply waved me over without saying a word and began to make his way towards a nearby Humvee. Despite him pointing towards the rear door, I decided to ride shotgun in vain hope of learning something more, but my taciturn host did nothing but drive, only stopping at the base’s gate and exchanging a few quick words with the guard. I had the distinct feeling he wasn’t happy being stuck with the taxi driver duty, but much like me, he was left with no choice.
It wasn’t a long drive though. Some thirty minutes of back roads later, we arrived at what looked like a massive tent camp housing dozens of men and women. Hearing our engine gave a few of them a pause; some turned around to check out the new arrival but most paid us no heed. We stopped near a dusty opening surrounded by armored vehicles of various types, including some tanks.
The place was bustling with activity, everyone busying themselves with all sorts of preparations. They were all wearing nondescript military fatigues with a Perihelion patch on the right shoulder, but each outfit was personalized to a high degree. Scarfs, baseball caps, gloves, sneakers... it was clear that whatever the commanding officer’s approach to discipline in this place was, it did not include proper regulation uniforms.
The driver, clearly desiring to get the hell out of there, didn’t even bother to say his goodbyes. As soon as I stepped out of the car and closed the door, he revved the engine, turned around and sped off. Murdoch clearly had some ties to the U.S. military, but they either weren’t very strong, or the message didn’t get to the rank and file.
And there I was in the middle, one day a loser in a decrepit flat, the next day in the middle of nowhere, waiting for his assignment and surrounded by unfamiliar faces with no idea what to do or expect. And that was the problem. Everyone looked pretty professional. These weren’t some cheap ass kids playing soldiers who barely knew how to hold a gun. From the way they moved, more than half of the camp troops were definitely ex-military (not necessarily the U.S. military though). Their vehicles, as far as I could see, were freshly painted, but also personalized to a degree. Hell, I even caught a glimpse of a black Terminator in the back. These guys knew their stuff. How the hell was I going to fit in?