Authors: Christopher Forrest
Beneath Mount Whitney
“I’ve got some info on those names Spider sent you in her email,” DJ announced.
“Who are they?” asked Caine.
“Their names have been purged from every government system I could get into,” DJ said. “It’s like they’re un-people from 1984. They’re not in any search engines either, such as Google or Bing. But I started looking for them in newspaper data bases. They all popped in the New York Times archive, complete with photographs of each man.”
Caine moved behind DJ’s station and fixed her eyes on the operative’s screen.
“All of these people,” DJ continued, “were written about in conjunction with their leaving public life in the nineteen sixties and seventies for various reasons. Here are some excerpts.
General Thomas Burmaster announced Thursday that he would be resigning as aide to the Secretary of the Army. He plans on spending more time with his daughters.
Colonel Alexander Frost of the United States Marines is presumed dead after a ten-day search in the Andes. Frost had been hiking in the mountains while on vacation.
Admiral Randall Seton, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was honored by the local VFW in Baltimore, Maryland last week. Seton was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease two years ago and will be relocated to a retirement facility in Virginia, according to family sources.
Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Allan Marshall could not be reached for comment on the latest nuclear arms treaty. Marshall and his wife live in a secluded residence in the Austrian Alps.
Former German scientist and NASA engineer, Dr. Hans Beemler, was paralyzed Tuesday in a car crash in Orlando, Florida. Beemler designed many components of the Saturn V booster that launched men to the moon in the Apollo Space Program. Because of national security reasons, the whereabouts of his convalescence will remain undisclosed.
“I found articles on several of these men’s associates, and many of them also simply disappeared from public life in the following decades,” DJ said. “But there’s one big problem.”
Caine stepped back from the station. “Which is?”
“Burmaster had no children. Frost’s passport reveals he never visited South America. As for Seton, he was never diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Marshall was unmarried and never lived in Europe. As for Beemler, there was no car crash reported in Orlando on the date specified in the rest of the article.”
“So you’re telling me that every article is bogus,” said Caine.
“Exactly,” said DJ. “Each was almost certainly planted by someone who wanted the locations of these men to remain anonymous.”
“Any theories?” said Caine.
“Not really. The government likes to play things close to the vest. This probably isn’t a new phenomenon.”
Caine crossed her arms, a pensive look shaping her attractive facial features into a frown.
“Spider works at the CIA and obviously thinks there’s some importance attached to these names,” Caine said.
Ambergris, bushy eyebrows raised, turned around and looked at the pictures on DJ’s screen. “I can attach importance to at least one name,” he said. “Look at a replay of the transmission Titan Six saw on the walls of the cube. The man seated in the middle is General Thomas Burmaster. Notice that he’s hardly aged a day even though it’s forty-four years later.”
DJ juxtaposed the two images side by side on her computer screen. “Damn,” she whispered. “It’s downright freaky.”
“DJ, check my email every fifteen minutes,” Caine said. “The disappearing personnel are somehow connected with the operation of the cube. Hopefully Spider will reestablish contact.”
“Understood,” said DJ.
The Cube beneath Mount Elbert
Titan Six exited the cylindrical elevator and found themselves face-to-face with the three men who’d spoken to them earlier during the video transmission projected on the walls of the room below. The man in the center was in his late fifties, a rugged, robust individual wearing a crisp khaki uniform with numerous military decorations. His short hair was gray, and his skin glowed with the energy and vigor of a much younger man.
He was flanked by a man in his sixties with longer, unkempt hair. Black-rimmed glasses were perched on a short, crooked nose, and he wore a white lab coat. The other man was in his late forties and wore a gray suit with no tie. His face was lean and angular, twisted in what appeared to be a perpetual scowl, his lips turned down like the mouth of a fish.
“Welcome, Titan Six,” said the man in the middle. “I’m General Thomas Burmaster. My colleagues are Dr. Hans Beemler and Mr. Allan Marshall.”
Hawkeye and Gator raised their weapons, but Burmaster merely laughed at the threatening display.
“Weapons will do you no good in this room,” Burmaster said.
The pistols and assault rifles held by Titan Six began to grow warmer and warmer until they became painfully hot and team members could no longer hold them safely. They instinctively opened their hands, allowing the weapons to fall to the floor with a clatter.
“What do you want with us?” asked Hawkeye, removing his helmet to confront Burmaster face to face.
“It’s the other way around, Mr. Hawke,” stated Burmaster. “You sought us out. As I told you before, you are uninvited. Intruders.”
“We were sent by the United States government,” Hawkeye declared, a decided note of authority in his voice. “I think that gives me the right to be here.”
“I wish I could explain the complex workings of government to you, Mr. Hawke, but alas, I simply don’t have the time to give you a civics lesson. Please step back to the wall behind you.”
Hawkeye replaced his helmet and spoke into his COM. “Stay where you are, T6.”
Burmaster smiled again as the wall advanced towards Titan Six.
Tank twisted his head. “What the — ”
“The wall moved!” Shooter said.
“So it did,” Burmaster said.
Beemler and Marshall smiled, too, although Marshall’s disproportionate facial features rendered his grin as the bizarre stare of a mutant.
“Interesting subjects,” Beemler said. “Maybe we shall perform some tests before they are eradicated.”
“I’m stuck to the wall,” Gator said. “I can’t move.”
“More than stuck,” Aiko said. “The wall is growing . . . ”
“Gummy,” said Tank. “The word is gummy.”
“We’re being sucked into the wall,” said Shooter.
Burmaster sat motionless, arms folded, looking pleased.
A minute later, Titan Six viewed the three men as if through a blue filter.
“We’re inside the wall,” Hawkeye said.
The Cube beneath Mount Elbert
“I’m feeling a lot worse, Ops,” Quiz said as he rolled up his shirtsleeve. “Whatever is attacking my body is now halfway up my arm.”
He removed his helmet and wiped his feverish brow.
Thin, black spider veins branched out across Quiz’s skin. He rotated his arm to see the full extent of the infection and saw that it was encircled by the dark veins. Judging from the throbbing in his leg muscles, he surmised that his legs were also covered with the same insidious lines.
“We have meds coming in from the Alamiranta,” Touchdown said. “Don’t worry — we’re going to get you out of there.”
“Thanks,” Quiz said lethargically.
* The medicine won’t make it here in time. *
How do you know that?
* You forget that I was many things in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Not only was I a soldier and an artist, but also an apothecary. *
Sitting on the floor, Quiz rubbed his eyes and looked up. Dante Alighieri stood above him five feet away. The poet had a traditional aquiline Roman nose and a broad forehead. His dark, deep-set eyes stared at Quiz. The forbidding gaze was offset by Dante’s thin lips, spread into a warm smile. He raised his arm, covered by the sleeve of his burgundy robe, and motioned to the cube.
* This is an unusual structure. I continue to sense life all around me. *
“You’re just a vision. An hallucination.”
“Who are you taking to?” asked Touchdown.
“Just my thoughts,” answered Quiz.
* I think you should communicate with me in thought as usual. I’ll still be able to hear you. We don’t want to reveal our secret to the good people in the Ops Center. *
But you’re not really standing there. I may be communicating with someone inside the cube. That could be dangerous.
* The cube is allowing you to project me beyond your brain. I believe that the hallucinations are a result of massive serotonin cascades in the right temporal lobe of the brain. In your case, however, I am a living entity with distinct energy that the cube has somehow identified. You have secretly wished for most of your life to speak with my actual form, and the cube has made this possible. If you desire proof, I shall remind you that you and DJ have been lovers for some time. Indeed, it was she, a former German operative, who helped train you in the martial arts and other forms of combat. *
Quiz held up his hand weakly. I cry uncle, Dante. I believe you, but what in the hell are we going to do?
* Hell. Speaking allegorically, maybe I shall have to reenact a pilgrimage from hell through purgatory and thence to heaven. Speaking from a literary perspective, it was one of my greatest hits, to use the vernacular of your generation. *
How are you going to do that?
* I’m not sure, but I was successful with Virgil and the lovely Beatrice. Have faith, my friend. I have an idea. *
Dante held out his arms, one aimed at the nearest wall, the other at Quiz. A slender column of pure white light emanated from the wall and entered Dante’s arm. Seconds later, the light emerged from his other arm, headed for Quiz.
What’s happening? I feel . . .
Quiz passed out.
* * *
“I’ve lost Quiz’s vital signs,” Touchdown said.
Caine wheeled around sharply. “Are you saying that he’s dead?”
Touchdown paused as he consulted his telemetry. “No, ma’am. Some kind of unknown energy is surrounding him. His body is in the same room, but I’m reading a solid energy field, not any kind of biometric data, such as temperature or blood pressure.”
Caine sighed. “I feel helpless. We have the most sophisticated technology in the world, and we can’t do a damn thing for Quiz.”
“Excuse me for correcting you,” stated Touchdown, “but that cube — that’s the most sophisticated technology in the world.”
Caine nodded and walked away.
The Cube beneath Mount Elbert
Burmaster, Marshall, and Beemler had left the room.
“It feels like the wall is starting to firm up,” Hawkeye observed. “Like this . . . this gel, or whatever it is, is getting harder.”
“Suppose it starts to morph into its hard metallic structure,” Tank commented.
“I’d send in Titan Four,” Caine said over the COM. “I’ll give you fifteen minutes to find a way out of the wall. After that, the Cavalry is coming.”
“It’s getting harder to move,” said Aiko. “I can only move my hand a few inches at a time, and this gummy stuff is offering a lot of resistance. Maybe we should try to imagine that we’re free. The power of thought worked before, so why not try again?”
“Give it a shot, Titan Six,” Hawkeye said.
Five minutes later, T6 was still encased in the living, gelatinous wall, like mosquitoes caught in amber. Pulses of bright light raced across the branching neurons that surrounded the team.
“Twelve minutes before T4 is summoned,” Hawkeye announced.
“We may not have that long,” said Gator. “The cube’s nerve fibres are growing around the trunk of my body and limbs.”
“He’s right,” said Tank. “Like all living cells, the nerves are branching out. They want to connect to our living tissue. The cube probably wants to absorb our energy. All cells are hungry.”
“Ambergris here. Can you reach your laser rifles? They had an effect on the Sents, which are similar in composition to the cube walls. If you can fire anywhere into the gel, it might be tantamount to a little electric shock therapy, a way of saying ‘Bad cell. You need to behave.’”
“I’m reaching for mine now,” Shooter said. “I have to cross my right hand to my left shoulder, where the rifle is hanging. Not gonna be easy.”
“Ten minutes left,” Hawkeye said.
“Damn,” said Shooter. “Between the bright pulses of light and these damn nerve tendrils, it’s hard to even see where my hand is.”
The gel was thickening, and its blue color was fading.
“I’m having trouble seeing the room,” said Aiko. “The wall is looking more and more metallic.”
“Eight minutes to go,” Hawkeye said.