Authors: Christopher Forrest
The Cube beneath Mount Elbert
Quiz sat up and examined his arm.
“The infection is gone, Ops,” he said. “Not sure how it happened except — ” He glanced up at Dante. “Except to say that I was enveloped by some kind of healing energy field.”
“That’s good news, Quiz,” said Touchdown. “Stay put and await further orders.”
* All energy within living things has latent healing powers. The cube’s energy is formidable. *
So you healed me by channeling that light beam from the cube’s wall?
* In a manner of speaking, yes. I had to ramp down the cube’s energy output for the transfer, but I boosted your immune system. It’s possible, however, that I didn’t entirely correct the underlying problem, which is that your DNA is trying to rewrite itself according to a different template. The symptoms might return. We should try to locate Titan Six. *
This is a large structure with a labyrinthine system of passageways. I’ll ask Touchdown to guide us, but according to Ops, T6 is encountering quite a few traps.
The picture of a kindly man appeared on the wall. He wore a flowing white robe and had a gray beard. He appeared to be very old.
“May I be of assistance?” the figure asked as it stepped from the wall into the room.
It’s one of the Ancient! He thinks you’re one of them, Dante, because of your appearance.
“I am the accumulated knowledge of the elder named Parsus,” the old man said. “I am programmed to be your guide.”
* This man is like a hologram, only far more sophisticated. He is a representation of one of the Ancients who lived thousands of years ago. *
“Take us to our five friends,” Quiz said. “Um . . . please, that is.”
The Elder thought for a moment before a look of illumination spread across his face. “Follow me,” he said, bowing.
“Who are you talking to?” asked Touchdown.
“Some kind of hologram,” Quiz said. “Of an old guy. Really old.”
“There,” said Ambergris when Quiz had replaced his helmet and restored the video feed to the Ops center. “We’re seeing one of the Ancients for the first time. Simply fascinating!”
SURP Station 872
“Ops, a few of the soldiers are starting to stir,” Blade reported.
“Try stunning them again,” said Nguyen.
Titan Four raised their laser rifles and took aim.
“Ayeeee!” Jet screamed as he fell to the ground.
Titan Four spun around to find a dozen Sents behind them. Their photon tubes were glowing and charged. One burst had hit Jet.
“Fire,” Blade ordered. “Setting number — ”
The Sents fired first, hitting every member of T4. They then walked to the soldiers lying on the concrete next to the monorail. Their triangular heads pivoted methodically left and right, scanning the motionless bodies as well as those who were starting to regain consciousness.
They were communicating with their masters within the cube.
Central Intelligence Agency
Gwen stared at her screen in the security monitoring station. In the dim light of the room, the Sector Monitoring Chief could not tell that the employee who’d just returned from the Ladies Room was not Dorothy Meyers.
Think, Gwen told herself. You’ve got limited time, so use it. You’re at a computer station, one situated in a security station. You can gain access to almost anything.
Gwen began to type on the black keyboard in front of her. She entered the name of Grady McManus and his password, chesternimitz.
She was able to access the Senex file with no trouble, which again requested a clearance code, or CLEEK number.
She clicked on CAN’T ACCESS FILE, which brought her to a security question: WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE FRIEND?
Gwen hoped that the Sector Monitoring Chief wouldn’t notice that she was perspiring.
Favorite Friend? Maybe his dog, Nimitz.
It worked, and she was taken to a second security question: WHO IS THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE?
Gwen hadn’t the slightest idea about McManus’ love life.
Or did she?
Think, Gwen. You know the answer.
Of course she did. The Admiral had a mad crush on her.
She typed in “Gwendolyn Moss.”
The entire Senex File began scrolling down the screen, but the Sector Monitoring Chief, wandering among the stations, was headed in her direction.
There was no time to copy the file to a jump drive or disk.
Keep going. Trust yourself.
Gwen clicked on SELECT ALL and hit COPY. She then brought up a document page and hit PASTE.
The Chief was only fifteen feet away.
Her fingers hit the keys faster than she thought humanly possible as she brought up the screen for her personal ISP. She addressed a blank email to herself and attached the Senex file.
“My dear Gwen,” came a familiar voice behind her. “I must congratulate you on your ingenuity. You should be in the field in our covert European operations. Your Titan training was obviously quite thorough. But surely you knew that you’d be caught since all cameras in the halls saw your every move.”
It was the voice of Grady McManus.
Gwen hit SEND LATER and exited all screens. She then stood and turned to face McManus.
“Can’t blame a girl for trying, can you?” she said innocently.
“Chief,” said McManus, “bring Ms. Moss with me.”
McManus exited the security monitoring station, followed by Gwen and the Sector Monitoring Chief. They stepped onto an elevator and rode down twelve levels.
I had no idea the facility went this deep.
Exiting, they passed through a maze of tunnels, each darker and mustier than the previous one, before coming to a rusty panel the size of a garage door. McManus dusted off a keypad and entered a code. The door rose with an awful creak that made Gwen’s blood run cold.
Beyond the entrance was a high-tech corridor with cool blue lights recessed in the walls.
“I have some things to share with you, Gwen,” said McManus gravely. “Very important things.”
SURP Station 872
“I feel like I’ve been hit by a sledgehammer,” Eagle Eye said, rising to his feet slowly.
“Those little metal guys knocked us out,” Demon said, rubbing his temples and forehead.
“The one hundred soldiers!” Jet cried. “They’re gone.”
Blade and Tomahawk walked back into the clearing next to the monorail and maglev guideway.
“No trace of ‘em,” Blade said.
“They’re inside,” Touchdown informed the team.
“Stand by,” said Caine. “Touchdown is tweaking your BioMEMS to help you shake off the cobwebs. After that, be prepared to enter the cube on my command.”
“Understood,” said Blade.
The Titan Four leader suddenly realized something was very wrong. He turned slowly and surveyed the vault that was SURP Station 872.
“Mrs. Caine,” Blade said, “The tracks are empty. All maglev and monorail cars are gone. There’s no way back to the Ops Center — or anywhere else.”
The Cube beneath Mount Elbert
“Two minutes left before Mrs. Caine orders T4 inside,” Hawkeye said.
“My fingers are on my laser rifle,” Shooter said. “I just have to grab it and angle it away from my body before I pull the trigger.”
“Titan Four will be joining you regardless,” Caine said over the COM. “One hundred new soldiers have entered the cube. Now would be an excellent time to get out of that wall.”
“I show fifty of the soldiers closing in on your position,” Touchdown said.
“Where are our three hosts?” Hawkeye asked.
“They’ve relocated to the very top of the cube,” Touchdown replied. “I think they’re in the control room.”
“My finger is on the trigger of the TR5,” said Shooter.
“The soldiers are four levels below you and advancing,” Touchdown said. “ETA at your location, Titan Six, is five minutes.”
“The wall is thickening with each passing second,” Tank said. “The tendrils have surrounded me, and I can hardly see through the wall or membrane or whatever this is. I’m starting to see a metallic luster.”
Shooter strained with all of her strength to aim the laser rifle away from her leg. The barrel of the weapon budged an inch, then another.
“This will have to do,” Shooter said. “Firing now.”
A maroon beam issued from the TR5. The wall shook the trapped bodies of Titan Six from side to side, like fruit in a Jello mold.
“We got its attention,” Tank said.
“Fire again,” Hawkeye ordered. “Maximum setting.”
With only her index finger, Shooter raised the setting of the rifle to five and fired a second time.
“Shit!” Gator said. “The wall’s . . . melting!”
The wall was destabilizing, growing more and more liquid. Lights traveling along the neurons exploded in random bursts.
The entire wall glowed white before tumbling forwards, losing its cohesion. Titan Six rolled to the floor amid water, rubbery tendrils, gel, and bits of silver metal.
“Three minutes until the soldiers join you,” Touchdown warned.
“A portal’s opening up,” Hawkeye said. “Get ready to fire, T6.”
An old man stepped through the portal. Tank placed index his finger on the trigger of his assault rifle.
“Hold your fire!” Hawkeye ordered.
Quiz stepped through the portal next, following the old man dressed in a long flowing garment. A moment later, a third figure, dressed in a burgundy robe, stepped through the portal.
Central Intelligence Agency
Admiral Grady McManus sat at a desk in a small but elegant office. Gwen Moss sat opposite him, on the other side of the desk. The Sector Monitoring Chief had been told to remain outside.
McManus leaned forward, hands clasped on the desktop. He spoke in quiet, deliberate tones.
“I’m in the precarious position of having to reveal classified information to you,” he said.
“I’d rather you not,” Gwen countered.
McManus smiled thinly. “I’m afraid I have no choice, Gwen. You’ve reached a point of no return. If I sent you back to your post, you’d continue to investigate the Senex file.” McManus took a deep breath and sighed. “I’m afraid you can either join me in a classified operation or be terminated.”
Gwen didn’t need to ask if terminated meant being fired from the CIA. It didn’t. Termination meant death, a popular Company euphemism.
“Gwen,” McManus began, “do you place much stock in conspiracy theories?”
“Well, I don’t know. I’ve never really — ”
“Never mind,” McManus said, interrupting. “Unfair question. I’ll simply cut to the chase and get to the specifics later. You may have heard rumors of a government within the government. Right here in the United States. Those rumors are true.”
Gwen swallowed hard, her skin turning pale.
“It’s called, as you might guess, the Senex. It’s composed of one hundred men from the military and government, as well as scientists from the private sector — people who represent what President Dwight Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex. Its top leadership of twenty men is believed to be missing or dead because of false stories planted in newspapers many years ago. The other eighty are in well-placed positions of the federal government and industry.”
Gwen recalled the C on McManus’ cufflink. C, which stood for one hundred men, a secret senate within the United States government.
“With all due respect to President Eisenhower,” McManus said, “the Military Industrial Complex is a necessary component of modern life. Think of it like this: our forefathers realized that the government needed to have a system of checks and balances, and therefore we have three branches of government. But the problem is that there needs to be an additional check on all three branches, and hence the Senex organization. By and large, Senex allows the government to function normally but reserves the right to step in, shall we say, if it deems a course correction is needed.”
McManus paused and looked Gwen directly in the eye to see if she were following him. Though stunned, Gwen nodded silently.
“Senex was begun in late October of 1963 after JFK failed to stand up to the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We had our chance to destroy the Soviet Union with minimal casualties to our own citizens, perhaps ten million people in major cities. President Kennedy also had firm intentions to withdraw our presence in Vietnam. A courageous General named Thomas Burmaster realized that a civilian like Kennedy was not schooled in the arts taught in War College. He therefore began to recruit men who could be trusted to make the tough calls, men who he had withdrawn from public service, as well as men he kept inside the government in order to carry out the policies of Senex.”
Gwen’s jaw dropped. “Are you telling me that this Burmaster character had Kennedy assassinated?”
“I’ve made no such assertion, but I’ll paint in broad strokes. At times, Senex regrettably finds it necessary to intervene in the affairs of this nation and others. The CIA does it all the time, but Senex does it at a much deeper level. We must sometimes topple regimes, and that may or may not entail assassination of heads of state or members of their military and governing bodies, foreign or domestic. We also find it necessary to occasionally control technological and financial aspects of our government, as well as those around the world. All in the name of stability, of course. No one knows who we are, although conspiracy theorists have a field day speculating on the existence of some clandestine entity within the government. We allow them to dabble in various areas, such as Area 51 and assassinations, since shutting them down completely would arouse suspicion. They’re largely a bunch of crackpots who have benign websites that attract mentally unstable people. They pose no threat to Senex.”
“Why did you talk to my husband about my reassignment?” Gwen asked, her throat dry, her hands trembling.
McManus cocked his head and raised his eyebrows. “My original plan was to have you become my special attaché when I relocate to Boulder, Colorado in the very near future. In time, you would have been allowed access to more and more of the information that I’ve shared with you, although in such a fashion as to gain your sympathies.”
“In other words, you slowly brainwash those you recruit,” Gwen said.
“You do us an injustice,” said McManus, his voice slightly indignant. “The one hundred men of Senex need support personnel, and we like to think that we use legitimate powers of persuasion, not brainwashing.”
“A rose by any other name, Admiral.”
“We have an underground facility in Colorado that possesses technology only dreamt of by the civilizations of the world. Senex made this facility its headquarters in the late sixties while the government created a nationwide system of underground tunnels called the Secret Underground Rail Project, a way to move nuclear weapons around the country without being detected by Soviet satellites. It’s called SURP for short.”
“I’m not following,” said Gwen. “If the government made SURP, then it would know of this facility you speak of.”
McManus remained silent for a moment. When he spoke again, it was clear he was choosing his words with care. “The facility is thousands of years old, Gwen. Senex appropriated it for its own use since it was deserted. A few of those involved in the SURP Project were loyal to General Burmaster and told him of its existence. It’s located in an offshoot tunnel and was never included on SURP maps.
“Senex uses the facility because it has enabled us to develop technology and weapons faster than bureaucratic wrangling with Congress would normally allow. It also gives Senex enhanced surveillance and communications capabilities. To top it off, we regard it as virtually invisible and impregnable.”
“An advanced facility built thousands of years ago? That’s impossible.”
McManus settled back in his chair, his gaze still fixed on his captive audience.
“Humans have been around for longer than anyone suspects,” he said. “I’m afraid I can’t go into further details about that now. If you want to join my team, then one day I can tell you of wonders you’ve never imagined. I’ll even take you to our facility beneath the Rockies.”
Gwen knew that if she demanded to be released or declined the Admiral’s offer, she’d be summarily executed. She’d have to feign interest in the offer.
“Ben and my kids could relocate as well?” asked Gwen.
“That was the original plan,” McManus said. “If we could have brought you along slowly, your family’s presence wouldn’t have been a problem. But now there’s a risk that you’d tell Ben everything, and we can’t have that. They’ll be safe, but you have to leave them behind. A charred body, burned beyond recognition, will be found in your automobile after a terrible accident. The coroner will pronounce that it was you behind the wheel. After a sufficient time of mourning, Senex will find a suitable mate for Ben based on our files. In the long run, your family will be quite happy. If you decline our offer, there will still be an automobile accident and Ben will still become a widower. Why not choose to serve your country and live?”
“You have a file on Ben?”
“My dear Ms. Moss, Senex has a file on everybody.”