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Authors: RB Stutz

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BOOK: Masked
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Once Caldwell’s group was able to
put those scattered pieces together, they were at once reorganized and
refocused. They operated under the cover of a specialized research and
intelligence arm of the U.S. Army. A General at the Pentagon oversaw their operations
and outside of him, their actual activities were unknown to anyone else. His
team’s directive was that they were to penetrate the secret government and stop
them from carrying out any further atrocities against the American people as
well as stop them from gaining any additional power in the government.

After telling us this, he paused
to clear his throat before going on. I couldn’t help but wonder why he was
telling us so much. If what he was saying was true, it was highly classified
knowledge was being poured out to a group of ex-comatose teenagers. There had
to be a reason why he was telling us so much and my mind could only find two
possible scenarios. Either, we would never be allowed the chance to repeat
anything we were told or we were somehow integral to what he was describing.
Just the fact we were victims of their virus was not enough to warrant full
disclosure of classified secrets.

I didn’t say anything and neither
did anyone else. For whatever reason he was telling us the whole story and I
was intrigued and ready for the punch line.

It turned out I didn’t have to
exercise any additional patience because the punch line was delivered.

“When you were ravaged by this
virus and taken from you families and friends, you were as good as dead.
Everyone knew there was a 100% mortality rate. Those who cared for you were
required to turn you over to attempt to stop the spread of the virus. As far as
you family members and the rest of the world still know, you’re dead.”

“Why wouldn’t you tell anyone?”
Alex shouted, outraged.

I couldn’t hold it in anymore,
his message was so blatant. “So get to the point. We’re officially dead and you
plan on keeping it that way. What is it you want from us,” I blurted out, anger
controlling my tone. I didn’t care if I was young and out of my league, that he
was some high ranking military official. We were stolen and being kept from our
lives. That pissed me off. I was growing tired of the slow procession to the
point.

“So are we prisoners here then?
We can’t go back to our lives?” Rachel shouted.

“Is what Michael said true?” said
Sara, more anger in her voice this time.

“Settle down, settle down,” Caldwell
said in reaction to our protest. “Please just let me continue. I’m going to
explain everything. You are not prisoners here, but I do have more to tell you.
Please, just let me continue.”

We all settled down. Everything
he was saying as well as what was left unsaid filled me with a fierce sense of
unease. I thought having to run through an hour-long presentation of facts
before being able to just explain what’s really going on didn’t leave much room
for trust. From my perspective, it all seemed to just be a crescendo of crap was
and whatever was at the top would probably smell worse.

 “Everyone who had a successful
treatment was in a coma. Vitals were good, but we had no idea if the coma was
temporary or permanent and what kind of permanent damage the virus had done,”
the colonel started again.

He went on to explain they decided
to keep the existence of a successful anti-virus quiet. The reasoning for this
was they simply didn’t want the group that had developed the virus to know there
was a cure. If they did, they might abandon their plans and move on to
something else that couldn’t be anticipated or countered.

If this shadow group remained ignorant
to the fact, and decided to carry out their plans, there would at least be some
ammo against them. In anticipation of this, massive supplies of the anti-virus
were manufactured and stores of it deposited all across the country.

Even with sufficient supplies of
anti-virus though, there would still be thousands of casualties if the virus
was re-released into the public. In order to try and prevent any further
attack, Caldwell and his group remained focused on identifying this group in
order to be able to stop them before they could do anything further. Public knowledge
of the virus was simply that it came and killed a lot of Americans and it
stopped spreading due to the efforts of the CDC quarantining all those who had
been infected.

News of the anti-virus developed
by Dr. Roberts and her team was quickly stifled; even from reaching to the company
they were with. Caldwell convinced Dr. Roberts and her team to join their group
to continue the research on the virus and head the production of the anti-virus
reserves.

James sneered. “Ok, so what
happens when we show up again after being dead for nine months? I expect there’ll
be a few questions. Hello mom, I don’t remember you but I wanted to let you
know I’m not dead. Can you show me to my room?”

“What about the others that woke
before us? What’s happened to them,” I said.

“It’s like you said before Mike,
it won’t be an issue. They have no intention of letting us go or know who we
are,” interjected Alex in a calm voice.

I guess he had decided he could
call me Mike. It seemed no stranger than Michael at the time. Both names were
new.

“Is that true?” Sara shouted.
“Are we really not going to be allowed to go home or even know who we are?”

“You just can’t take away our
lives like that,” Rachael added as she stood up, outraged.

“Please, please, please. Let me
explain,” said Caldwell shouting to be heard over the angry group of five
sitting before him, “Please. You need to listen. You need to understand all of
the facts.”

“You keep asking us to let you
explain and that you will give us answers, but please just cut the crap and get
to the point. What the hell do you plan on doing with us?” I blurted out
frustrated and angered at his dancing around the issue.

“You are all dead to the world. A
disease swept through this great nation of ours and you are the casualties.
Your families, your friends, they have all dealt with the pain of their loss.
As you think about what we tell you, please consider your families and friends
you were taken from. You may not remember who they are, but know they are
there. They have suffered through enough emotional pain and torment. Hopefully,
by now, they have started to move on. Hopefully, by now, they are working
towards being happy again. And what if they are? What if they have moved on? Do
you really want to upset their new found path towards trying to be happy again?

“Also think about their safety.
Think about the safety of everyone in this country. If you show up, alive and
cured of the effects from the virus, then the people behind this vicious attack
will know we have the cure and we may not be able to anticipate what their next
move will be. Exposing yourself as alive could be fatal to so many more thousands
of Americans, including those you have left behind. I am sorry for all you have
lost, but I am not sorry for saving your lives.”

He said the last part, raising
his voice some at the end and paused for a few seconds. Everyone was quiet.

“You, as well as all of the other
survivors thus far are in a unique position to help us stop something like this
from happening again. You do not exist except to those who are working
diligently to stop the group behind this atrocity. What we want to propose to
you is what we have proposed to the others before you. We want you to work with
us to help stop this group. We want to train you to help us infiltrate this
organization and stop any further atrocities.”

“What exactly are you proposing?”
I asked. “You want us to work in this facility? In what capacity? Are we even
qualified to help you? It doesn’t look like any of us are old enough to have
finished high school.”

“We want to train you to be field
agents to help carry out our mission. We will provide you with the knowledge
and skills you’ll need.”

James laughed. “Just because we
don’t exist doesn’t exactly make us qualified black op material.”

“Surely you’re kidding, right?” I
added, finding it hard to believe what he was telling us. “You’re going to take
a bunch of post comatose teenagers from various backgrounds and train them to
be secret agents? Aren’t there certain skill sets and proficiencies one must
possess in the first place? Don’t we have to be eighteen to join the military?”

No one else responded to the
colonel’s proposition, but waited for him to respond.

“Well, your qualifications do extend
beyond being officially dead.” He said.

He went on to explain when the
first few people started to wake up, they weren’t sure yet what they were going
to do with them. The best course of action they saw was to give new identities
and a new life somewhere outside of the U.S. Of course, they would need to be
monitored to be sure they didn’t attempt to find out about their past life and
blow the cover of the operation. The problems with that plan were the
uncertainty of whether the memory loss was permanent or not and once everyone
woke from their comas, there would be a lot of people to keep track of.

They held the first few for a
while. There were tests performed to ensure the virus was still benign and to
identify any long term effects of the exposure. What was ultimately revealed was
their DNA had been altered. They were unsure whether the alteration was a
result of the virus itself, the anti-virus, or a combination. Either way though,
a survivor’s DNA was definitely different than of normal human DNA. It was just
shortly after that discovery the survivors started to exhibit the effects of
the change.

CHAPTER 7

 

“What do you mean by altered?”
James asked. There was a pause. “Do you mean mutated? What does that mean to
us?”

“So we’re not human anymore? Is
that what you’re telling us?” Sara interjected.

Dr. Roberts stood up, stepping
beside Caldwell. “Yes, you are still human. You still have human DNA. The virus
has just… changed it slightly.”

“You said the first survivors
began exhibiting effects from the change? What’s going to happen to us?” 
Rachael demanded.

For me it was complete
information overload. My emotional switch moved between fear, anger, sadness
and worry. There was a lot of disturbing information to take in, we had died,
were essentially resurrected, in a coma for nine months, can’t go back to the
lives we had, probably will never remember anything from our pasts, are going
to be secret agents, oh yeah and have somehow been mutated. I think that was everything.
I guess it could have been worse, the list could have ended at we died.

Of course the good doctor didn’t
answer our questions, but left us hanging on her words. A simple explanation
wasn’t going to be enough.

“We’re not going to answer that,
but take you to meet some of the others who have been awake a bit longer. You
will better understand if you can see for yourself,” Dr. Roberts explained.

Masters and Batton stood to join
Caldwell and Dr. Roberts. “This way please,” Batton directed us to the door.

I looked at the others. We all
gave what looked like a coordinated shrug of the shoulders in a silent
expression of “what choice have we got?”

We stood and followed Batton out
of the room.

It was a short walk through a series
of plain grey corridors, much like the trip earlier that morning to the
conference room. We passed numerous doors; each identified by a four digit
alphanumeric combination, but saw no other people. Batton led us to a door
marked “TC15”, opened it and walked in.

We entered a large open circular room
with a high domed ceiling. It was the size of a large gymnasium and seemed to
serve that purpose. In the center was a square boxing ring and along the
perimeter, a three lane running track. The entirety of the large room’s floor was
covered in a black rubber-like material with various weight and strength
training machines and equipment scattered throughout. Old sweat and
disinfectant gave the room the odor that was familiar to this type of space. We
stopped just inside the room.

In the boxing ring, two people were
sparing, a guy and a girl, as well as another guy, probably in his early
twenties, watching just to the right of the ring. Upon entering the room, Batton
announced our presence in his bellowing tuba of a voice. This startled the guy in
the ring and allowed his opponent to get in a cheap shot across the right side
of his face before they stopped and turned to the door.

Caldwell came in from behind us a
few seconds later. “This way,” he motioned us towards the center of the room not
breaking his stride. We followed.

“So these are the newbie’s,” the young
man who had been observing the action in the ring said as we approached.

He was close to my height with a
pale face, green eyes and brown hair, cropped short. The black t-shirt he wore
was neatly tucked into his black fatigue pants, which were in turn tucked
neatly in his black combat boots.

“You guys are in for a treat,” he
grinned as we approached.

He seemed to be in good spirits. If
he was one of us, whatever they were going to show us couldn’t have been that
bad.

“This is Matthew,” Caldwell said.
“He has been awake for six months now and has been training with us ever
since.”

“How are you sir?” Matthew saluted.

“Doing well,” Caldwell said,
saluting back.

The other two came down from the
ring to greet us. They both looked close to our age. The guy was of average
height and build. His short brown hair was cut in a military faded transition
from his pale skin. I could see his emerald eyes moving between us, working to
assess us.

The girl was a few inches shorter
than the guy. She too had brown hair, fastened up in a ponytail, pale skin, and
green eyes. The smile she had on her perfectly proportioned face was warm and
seemed genuine. They both wore the same uniform as Matthew. Dark wet rings were
visible on the t-shirts around the neck line and under arms. It looked like
they’d been sparing for some time before Batton led us in to interrupt.

Even with a blushed sweat beaded
face, the girl was hot, no pun intended. Maybe it wasn’t the time to notice such
a thing, but so far every member of the opposite sex I’d met since waking was absolutely
beautiful, even the nurse and Dr. Roberts. What were the chances? I caught
myself and refocused my straying thoughts.

“This is Emily and Brian,”
Caldwell said as he introduced them. “Emily has been awake for about a month
and Brian for just over three weeks.”

“Hello,” Emily said.  Her smile brightened
even more. “It’s great. You guys are going to be amazed. I know they’ve
unloaded a lot of information on you today, but please consider their offer. I
didn’t know what to think at first but I’m glad I’ve stayed and am ready to
begin training.”

Brian just greeted us with a slight
smile and a wave.

“For now we’ll post pone the
introductions. There will be time later to get to know each other,” Caldwell
said trying to move things along. “Today, we are going to demonstrate to you
what shortly you will be capable of.”

At that, Sgt. Batton turned to
the three in black. “Are you ready for the demonstration?” He asked in his
bellowing voice.

“Yes sergeant,” Matthew shouted.
He turned to Emily and Brian. “Come on, let’s assume our positions,” he ordered.
The three spread to different positions in the room.

It was interesting the manner in
which Matthew and the others interacted with Batton seemed much more formal than
with Caldwell, even though Caldwell was an officer and much older. Maybe it was
just because Caldwell was more approachable, I don’t know. Also, if this was a
military operation, it seemed odd that Matthew and the others would just go by
the first names and not have any rank associated with them. Once I saw they
were set up to show us whatever it was, I put a pin in those thoughts to follow
up and get some clarification later.

They looked like they were set up
for some type of performance routine. Despite the previous hour of disturbing
information overload, my interest was piqued and I was curious to see what the
show would be about.

Col. Caldwell continued to
address us. “The young men and women you just met are like you. They have all
gone through the same painful ordeal and each has accepted our proposal. Mathew
has already been through the training and the others are set to train with those
of you who accept our offer. Each one of them has already experienced the
effects of the changes to your DNA and is here to demonstrate those effects.”

Caldwell paused.

“Starting at two to three weeks from
the point of your waking, you will begin to see the changes in yourselves. For
some of you, that will be soon. We hope that, by this demonstration, you will
see why you could be a valuable asset to our organization.”

Caldwell paused and looked to his
right. “Sgt. Batton, are you ready for the demonstration?”

“Yes sir,” Batton barked and then
nodded to Matthew, now standing next to a stack of large steel free weights.

At the signal, Matthew lifted one
of the large round metal discs in the stack with both hands, struggling to
bring it up to his chest. There was an exaggerated look of strain on his face
as well as the heavy breathing to go with it. It was quite obvious he was
playing up the effort it was taking.

Once at his chest, he smiled to
us, dropped one of his arms, pivoted and then threw the disc with no apparent
difficulty. It flew through the air like it was a light weight plastic Frisbee.
I felt a slight breeze as it hummed through the air just a few feet in front of
where we were standing. It traveled about thirty yards right to where Emily was
and she caught it one handed without any apparent difficulty. It was unreal how
gracefully she caught the large metal disc.

“Good throw,” she shouted to
Matthew as if they were playing a game in the park.

With only a second to pause,
Emily turned towards Brian, about forty yards away from her in a different
direction, pivoted, bringing her right arm inward and then threw the disc
towards him. The large metal disc again flew directly towards its target; Brian
caught it with his right hand with no more difficulty than Emily had.

Without a pause, Brian turned to
his right where there was a small stone wall near the exterior of the large
room, another forty yards away. I hadn’t noticed the wall which looked out of
place in a gym and seemed to have been just recently erected.

He threw the disc directly towards
the wall so fast that all I could see was a quick blurred streak. It made a
short high pitched hum before the wall exploded with impact, filling the room with
chips of stone. I felt a couple smaller pieces of shrapnel hit my body.

“Damn, that was cool,” said Alex,
just as the ringing was starting to leave my ears.

“I’m impressed.” My comment insufficiently
described my amazement. It was absolutely incredible.

“How heavy was that?” Rachael asked,
her mouth hanging open some.

“It was only fifty pounds. We
thought we’d keep it light for your initial demonstration,” Emily said with a playful
smile.

“How did they do that?” asked
Sara, utter amazement on her face.

“As you can see, some physical
changes have taken place,” Caldwell said. “The change to their DNA has altered
their skeletal and muscular structures. The result is highly elevated strength,
speed and reflexes. What we showed you was just a demonstration of what their
bodies are now capable of. I’m sure you can imagine the limitless possibilities
that can be achieved with this kind of strength and power.”

“So, just to be clear… We will be
able to do that?” I asked.

“Yes,” Caldwell answered.

“Damn cool!” Alex said again.

“Who is doing the next
demonstration?” Caldwell asked.

“I am sir,” answered Emily. She walked
towards the track as Caldwell continued.

I’d thought Emily was hot before.
After that demonstration of strength and power, she was amazing, a goddess. I
watched as her perfectly proportioned body moved towards the track.

“You’ve seen a glimpse of their enhanced
strength, now we will show you how fast they can move.”

Caldwell signaled Emily, now on
the track. At that she was off like a shot. I mean literally. She instantly was
circling the room at a speed that made it appear she was gliding above the
ground. The movement was quick and seamless, graceful.

“Wow,” said James without any
other comment.

“Man, this is so cool,” added
Alex.

Obviously, the demonstrations had
lightened his spirits and limited his vocabulary.

“How fast is she going?” I asked,
simply amazed.

“Emily averages a two minute mile
or thirty miles per hour. I’m about the same and Brian is a little bit faster,”
Matthew explained as Emily continued to circle the room.

We watched as she kept on for
another minute or so, it could have been longer, before suddenly, from about
thirty feet, she jumped directly at us. She flew through the air, a graceful
comet, not losing any momentum and landed just a few feet in front of me. I
jumped back slightly expecting her to fall into me. As she landed, her body drifted
forward for a second and then back as she regained her balance. I could smell
the sweat and feel the heat coming from her and I have to admit, I was a little
excited by the whole thing.

After fully stabilizing herself,
she did a curtsy and said “Ta da!” with a song and a smile on her face.

“Ok, now that was really cool,”
exclaimed Alex.

He was as acting like Charlie entering
the chocolate factory. His attitude sure had changed, which I guessed was the
point of the theatrics. I found I was lost in the moment, in awe of the
incredible feats they displayed and that what they were doing were things I
would soon be able to do as well.

“As you can see, the unique
talents you will soon possess could be invaluable our organization,” Caldwell
said.

“So you want us to be some sort
of super soldier?” Rachael asked.

“In a sense yes, the abilities could
give us the advantage we need to accomplish our mission,” Caldwell said.

“You can count me in,” Alex volunteered
a little too enthusiastically, obviously caught up in the moment.

“Wow, they won you over fast,”
commented Rachael.

“What can I say? It’s hard to
argue with a presentation like that. Besides, this sure beats what the
alternative probably is,” Alex said.

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