Hallway after hallway we walked back through the decades, institutional beige 90s giving way to the muted green of the 60s, fading into the pale grey and dun of the 40s which always reminds me of navy ships and quonset huts. My heart started beating faster as we passed a small door into halls of whitewashed stone, the paint curled and bloated around pipes. It reminded me of Spanish forts in Florida, opened now for tourists to stand on grass-covered battlements and stand blinking in dark, close rooms without windows. Yet we did not stop until the paint gave way entirely to rough, unpainted red brick, and the bare yellow bulbs overhead were strange, antiquated things set in porcelain bowls in the ceiling that brought to mind CCC projects, grubby men working for a few of Uncle Sam's dollars, glad for work, any work, to keep them out of a breadline.
The final hallway was a stretch of doors on either side; heavy metal painted green with plates at head-height for viewing, and others at floor-level for the passing of trays. A gully ran down the center of the hallway, where water collected. All it was missing was a rat. I tried to focus on the General, who led the way, and the queer round scars at the back of her mostly-shaven head, but she moved quickly and the light was poor. The General strode down the hall, counting out the doors. At number VI, she stopped turned to face me. Her lips pulled back into a chimp's threat display; like if she had ever known how to smile, she had forgotten it. Wordlessly, she pulled the plate aside, and gave a nearly-mechanical shrug of her head, the kind a puppet gives when its string breaks suddenly.
I looked, and saw only darkness. But as I stared into the abyss, the voice came to me.
"The court of the Nephilim held forth to the Moroni, and said until them we wish to discuss the purchase of additional M4 carbines and light assault vehicles, for they are the weapons of righteousness of the Lord, with which we shall preserve the true faith and balance the budget of souls; for the legions of Baphomet have been in league with the Chinese and are procuring late-Soviet era Kalashnikov, and are providing training for the cambions of the seventh circle..."
Through the chatter my eyes adjusted to the frail form within, dressed in the bright orange shirt and pants, head shaven, eyes wide and staring, mouth working independently. His hands were encased in heavy mittens, and his head encased in a kind of padded helmet like boxers wear, the feet in slightly incongruous padded slippers. With a very soft colored crayon, he added to the mural on the wall, which depicted in great detail a six-winged figure riding an Abrams tank like a chariot, which was pulled by four white horses with flaming manes.
"The official term, these days, is glossolaliac radiotelepathy." The General chimed, "Type 4."
"Speaking in tongues." I said.
"Transmitting, actually. Type 4's like him are only receivers, tuned to...another spiritual dimension, let us say."
I cocked an eyebrow. "Heaven or Hell?"
The General slammed the plate shut, cutting off the string of babble.
"Neither and both, depending on your beliefs. The alien entities involved describe themselves and their surroundings in religious terms, but we have no way of verifying that information. The physicists are still having fun trying to figure out the cause of the condition; as near as they can tell it's caused by microtumors in the language-processing center of the brain, which allows the subject to interpret some sort of signal that they still haven't defined - except that they've ruled out EM, because it works in Faraday cages, but the name stuck. Right now they're betting on gravity fluctuations from higher mathematical dimensions, if you believe it."
The General turned then, heading down the hall.
"As you might have guessed, most suffers down the ages have been mistaken as madmen or prophets. A couple started their own sects. It wasn't until the 1880s that systemic exploration led to three important discoveries: First, that the glossolaliacs actually were in contact with alien entities," the General paused at the end of the hall, at a particularly heavy door, and swiped a card, then beeped something into a keypad, "Two, that in certain cases we could talk back to those same entities through them, and three, that the fucking Krauts and Frogs had beaten us to it."
I squinted at the sudden glare of track lighting as we moved into a hallway modified sometime in the 70s with bright orange foam pyramids on walls and ceiling, and a thick orange carpet with dark tracks worn in it. As the General closed the door behind us, I was suddenly aware of the oppressive silence - all the little sounds of the world suddenly locked away.
"The Communist Russians, God bless their Godless Marxist atheism, thought the whole thing was a crock of shit; our version of Psi-Ops, trying to get them to waste their time and money on a bunch of supernatural bullshit." The General continued. "The Nazis kept trying to tune into Valhalla and not liking what came out. The Chinese have started in on things - they were looking to contact previous incarnations of the Dalai Lama so the state could contact and declare and control the next one, and they stumbled in on it. Still, they were never one to turn down an information source."
I saw up ahead that the corridor opened up into a beehive shaped chamber, the foam pyramid-points looming accusingly from every direction. There was a dentist's chair there, upholstered in untanned cowskin, the scar of a scrape with barbed wire across the headrest. Beyond it, I could see what looked like an altar. She walked past the chair and headed straight for the altar - which, as I got closer, I could see was a desk-like slab of plastic and metal, with peddles like an organ and a small indented screen up top.
"Sit," she said, not looking back. I hesitated, then did as she commanded.
When she returned, she had put on - I guess they were vestments, a kind of purple-green shawl woven with symbols in gold. I could make out her rank, and a few letters of Enochian. Wordlessly, she began to tighten the straps at my wrists and ankles.
"Susceptibility is the first symptom," the General said, as she tied the strap around my head. "Open," she commanded, and I did, her deft hand forcing the rubber ball in until my jaw ached, crushing my tongue to the bottom of my mouth. Instinctively, I tried to bite down, but couldn't really budge it. "Can you breathe okay?" I tried to nod but failed, a gurgle came up from my throat and I blinked twice. "Good enough."
She left my field of vision then. I stared straight ahead - I had no choice - at the wall of orange spikes.
"You registered for the Selective Service Program before you started at seminary," the General's voice came from my right, along with the whirr and click of electromechanics. "Where you were infected by a passive version of the virus that causes the microtumors associated with glossalalia radiotelepathy. We don't know why, exactly. The forensic pathologists are still looking for the vectors of transmission. What we do know is that passive candidates can be activated by a concentrated, controlled exposure to different strains. When done in conjunction with activities on the...other side...we can pair subjects to create true two-way communication." The General stepped back into my field of view. She held before her a syringe - although in my mind, I could see it also as a golden chalice; the two images seemed juxtaposed in my vision. Contradictory, yet both true, both real. Her voice took on a strange double tone, a sliver of reverb and delay. She moved forward, simultaneously inserting the syringe into a hole in the center of the gag, and pouring a golden wine from the chalice.
"We are now drafting you for active service."
Our throat burned. Vision dimmed and expanded again, the sudden fever burning bright beneath unfamiliar skin, trying to flap wing-nubs that were no longer there, the strange burning weight of an erection, the gaping endless need below that...saliva ran down my chin, and my lips were cracked and dry, but there was no pain, not as I thought there would be pain, it was an effervescence, filtering through us, the music we could suddenly hear. Foul smelling hands dislodged the ball gag, removed the bit from my mouth. The figures loomed over us, searching, gazing, judging.
"Can you hear me now?" The General said. My mouth aped her words. Our hearts beat. Then I opened my cracked lips and replied. "Yes, we read you. Loud and clear."