After spending the weekend at Aunt Ann’s Portland house, I decided to do a little investigation at the Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital down at Twenty Nine Palms, California. If Aunt Ann’s theories had any truth to them, I wanted to find out. I owned it to her and mainly to Ben. If she was right, the Military could be responsible for Ben’s condition and even worse, Ben could be the subject of an awful inhumane experiment. I didn’t have much time. I had to be back to the Mulberry Ridge by 1200 hours on Thursday. My biggest problem was to make myself unnoticed at the hospital. I didn’t want to arouse any suspicions from Mission Control regarding my unauthorized visit to California. Aunt Ann insisted in buying the airplane tickets. - It’s really ok John. I’ll feel useless otherwise. Besides, Ben needs my help. Be careful. - said Aunt Ann right before I boarded my plane. I arrived in Los Angeles around 1600 hours. I picked up my car rental, paid by Aunt Ann’s credit card and made my way to I-10 heading east, towards Joshua Tree National Park. It was a pretty boring ride. I was expecting a lot more scenery. Unfortunately, Southern California is really over populated these days. I have clearance to enter Twentynine Palms Base with my papers from the PondPatrol Mission. But to avoid suspicion, I entered the base as a recruit trying to train with the USMC Air Ground Combat Center. It was a piece of cake. I was in. It was now 1900 hours. The sun was about to disappear behind the Mojave Desert. I drove around for a while trying to get my bearings in case something went wrong. I spotted the hospital building up north. I parked the car and walked towards the building. With my bad luck, as I approached the entry way, three jarheads were having a bit of a confrontation. Among them, was Corporal Padalino (a.k.a. “Night Rider”). He was the only person who could recognize me here at the base. The red haired Communications Officer knew exactly who I was. Padalino was the one keeping us awake with his radio calls, during our night guards back at the Mulberry Ridge. - Rats! If he sees me, I’m busted - I thought to myself. I kept walking, trying not to make eye contact with the men. I finally got in the hospital. - That was close! - I said out loud. - Can I help you? - asked me the nurse at the front desk. Caught by surprise I stuttered - Good…good evening madam, eh…I’m looking for some information about a patient. Kaplan, first name: Benjamin. She didn’t even look at me. It was probably good. She typed something on the computer and waited for a while. - Mr. Kaplan left the hospital 9 weeks ago. Is there anything else? - she then asked me. Of course I already knew that. So I went on and asked her if I could speak to the doctor in charged of Ben’s release. She looked at the computer screen and took a sip of her coffee. - Dr. Ivanov is out for the day, perhaps tomorrow afternoon. May I ask who are you? - the nurse asked puzzled. I tried to look as nonchalant as possible. - I’m Sgt. Roberts. Private Kaplan has been acting out a little weird lately; perhaps…hum…I was thinking perhaps Dr. Ivanov could see him again. That’s all. And where would the restrooms be? - The nurse pointed to the end of the hall. It was my chance. I told her “thank you” and walked across the waiting room. While the front desk nurse started to help someone else, I disappeared into the hallway labyrinths of the hospital. As I walked around, not sure about what I was doing, I kept thinking about the doctor’s name: - Ivanov...Ivanov…- I made a turn into a dark hallway. It looked like an empty wing of the hospital. Out of nowhere I heard footsteps echoing behind me. I tried to act lost. - Looking for something? - asked me a tall doctor whose name tag read: Dr. Bocanegra. I felt like a Broadway actor on opening day. - Yeah, I was told that Dr. Ivanov’s office was around here but I don’t seem to find it. - I told Dr. Bocanegra. With a thick Spanish accent, he replied. - No…no, no. Ivanov’s office is on the north wing. I can take you there if you wait till I finish with a patient. - It was risky. But it could be totally worth it. I followed Dr. Bocanegra around till we stopped by room # 305. There, laying down in a campaign bed, there was a guy staring at the ceiling. Dr. Bocanegra checked some charts and turned off the lights. - That was Lieutenant Landon. His parachute didn’t open till it was too late. He hit the ground pretty hard during an exercise last week. - said Dr. Bocanegra while sighing. We kept walking on the same hallway for a while. I tried to keep a nice paced conversation with the doctor, to avoid any questioning from his part. - Alright. What was your name again? - asked Dr. Bocanegra. - Roberts, Sergeant Michael Roberts - I said it with such confidence, I almost believed in myself. - Dr. Ivanov’s office should be down this hallway, to your left. I need to get going. Great to meet you sergeant! - said the doctor while getting on the elevator. It couldn’t have gone more perfect. I had just crossed the entire hospital accompanied by a doctor, without looking sneaky at all. I walked down the hall and found the office. “Adrian Ivanov - Chief of Staff”, the plaque said. The dammed door had a combination lock. I tried a few number sequences with no success. I was about to give up when I thought of Ben and Aunt Ann. I’m no Macgyver, but I have a few tricks under my sleeve. I pulled out Dr. Ivanov’s plaque out of the wall. It had a few magnets on its back. I aligned the magnets on each side of the lock and started pressing the buttons. - Got it! - I screamed excited, realizing I was being too loud. The door opened. I turned the lights on. The office was just like any other room at Twentynine Palms base. But it certainly looked like an office, with its USMC crest over the table and an American flag on the corner. I looked around and decided to search for clues in the computer. I found only information that I knew already. I scratched my head and decided to look in the trash basket on the floor. Nothing. -The file cabinet! - I thought to myself. I started to go through the folders. I went straight for the letter K: - Kaisermann …Kane…Here it is: Kaplan!!! The front of the folder had a “top secret” stamp on it. Inside of the folder, I found only a few pages and an X-ray of some sort. I leaned against the table and started to read the files. As I went through the notes my heart started to beat a little faster. I heard noises coming from the hallway. - Rats! I need to get out of here - I thought. I grabbed the folder, turned the lights off, peeked through the door and scrambled straight down to the x-ray room on the first floor. There, in front of the big gray screen I found truth on Aunt Ann’s suspicions. I had an X-Ray of Ben’s back and it didn’t look human at all to me. Ben was a lab rat on the loose. And someone was behind this whole scheme. Adrian Ivanov…Major Munsch…?