Authors: Christopher Forrest
Titan Six, Present Day
Aboard the Alamiranta
Titan Six was one of many paramilitary units employed by Titan Global. Headquartered aboard the former cruise liner Alamiranta, Titan Global used special ops forces for numerous missions: hostage extraction, anti-terrorist deployments, regime stabilization, intelligence gathering, scientific exploration, the destruction of crime and drug trafficking networks, and several sensitive military operations that the United States, as well as foreign governments, preferred to keep “off the books.”
Titan Global was run by Catherine and Demetrius Caine, of Caine Industries. Although they had bases, research facilities, and air strips in all corners of the globe, their center of operations was on the Alamiranta. Sailing international waters gave the Caine empire much-desired freedom and isolation. Caine Industries handled currency trading, oil and gas exploration, and dozens of business enterprises from the ship, which employed over two-thousand professionals and crew members.
And, of course, Titan special ops forces. The most elite unit was Titan Six, led by Michael Hawke, nicknamed Hawkeye. His brother Tank was second-in-command. Other members included Shooter, the sexy and aptly named Caribbean sharpshooter; Gator, former Army Ranger and machine gunner known as the ugliest soldier to ever serve in the military due to a flat nose and the thick unibrow over his eyes; and Japanese-born Pyro, ordnance specialist and former paratrooper with the Narashino Air Brigade.
The latest edition to the team was Saturo Aiko, the former commander of Chinese special forces called the Dragons of the Night. With short black hair and stunning looks, the sleek Aiko had defected to Titan Global on a recent mission when she could no longer honorably serve her superiors in Shanghai, whose methods and goals she’d come to regard as deplorable and dangerous.
Aiko was an expert in all forms of martial arts, and she was now engaged in training exercises with Titan Six in one of the Alamiranta’s many gyms.
Tank ran toward Aiko, who somersaulted backwards as the second-in-command passed beneath her. She pivoted and sent Tank sprawling to the mat with a powerful leg kick to his chest.
Gator had already begun to attack from her flank, but Aiko cartwheeled to her left, grabbed the gunner’s right arm, and flipped him effortlessly.
Gator grinned. “I think I saw her in The Matrix,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s possible for a human body to move with that kind of agility.”
Hawkeye winked at Shooter. “Let’s double up and see if we can take her.”
Hawkeye and Shooter charged Aiko from two opposite directions. The commander rolled forwards, sprang to her feet, and wheeled around. Advancing, she placed her hands on the shoulders of her attackers for leverage, leaped off the mat, backflipped, and curled a leg around the neck of each of her assailants.
“Damn!” Hawkeye cried.
In one fluid motion, Aiko flexed her thigh muscles, sending Hawkeye and Shooter to the floor.
“I’m seeing stars!” Shooter protested.
Aiko climbed to her feet, sweating and breathing in quick pants. “Anyone else?” she asked. “I’m hardly breaking a sweat.”
Hawkeye walked lazily to his former enemy.
“I’m sure as hell glad that you’re on our side now,” he said. “Maybe you can show us how to move like that.”
“Your body and the action must be one,” Aiko said. “You must see the move in your mind before you attempt it. You then become the maneuver without thinking about it.”
“I told you so,” Gator commented. “It’s that Matrix shit.”
Aiko looked at her watch and bowed. “I have an appointment with Dr. Nguyen. I need to go.”
Titan Six erupted into laughter.
“Ah,” said Hawkeye. “You’re going to see Grace, our own personal miracle worker. I think you’re going to be very surprised by what she has in store for you.”
“Let’s just say that you’re about to become a brand new person,” said Tank. “And Gator’s right about the Matrix. After you see Dr. Nguyen, you might even be able to give Keanu Reeves a run for his money. Get yourself a Hollywood agent.”
Aiko left the gym. “You people are very strange sometimes,” she said. “Very strange indeed.”
Shooter laughed. “She’s about to join the Strange Club for real.”
Beneath the Rocky Mountains
Quentin Durangue and Beverly Wallace were civilian employees of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They had the distinction of being both geologists and civil engineers. The Corps had hired them to assess the condition of the SURP network. In 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, détente had come to fruition, and nuclear disarmament was the subject of summit talks among the superpowers of the world. In 2012, however, more and more countries were seeking admittance to the once-exclusive club of nuclear nations. Many abandoned tunnels were already back in use. Others needed to be examined for structural integrity before monorails and maglevs could resume full-time schedules.
Durangue and Wallace arrived at a large vault beneath the Rockies via a short maglev car. It was located directly below Mount Elbert, the highest peak in the Sawatch Range in Colorado. Both scientists wore sleeveless down vests due to the chilly, damp conditions beneath the earth.
“It’s hard to imagine how much firepower must have been transported through these tunnels back in the day,” Durangue commented.
“Not to mention the delivery systems,” said Wallace. “Like the rockets that could strike enemy targets on other continents if the President gave the green light to NORAD.”
“Once more unto the breech,” Durangue said. “Looks like the nuclear chess game may have seen some opening gambits by India and Pakistan.”
“Maybe poker is a better analogy,” Wallace countered, shivering from both the cold and the thought of a re-armed world. “I think Iran and North Korea want to be dealt into the hand, too.”
“Let’s hope somebody raids the game,” Durangue said. “Meanwhile, let’s poke around and check out the specs on the vault. You could fit a ten-story building in here.”
Wallace wandered to the far right of the space until she encountered solid rock. Weak tungsten lights did little to illuminate the area, but they allowed the pair to see a few tools scattered across the floor, as well as some candy bar wrappers.
She ran her hands along the slightly moist walls as she paralleled the rock until her skin detected a different texture beneath her fingertips.
Wallace grabbed the flashlight hanging from her utility belt — a high-intensity Maglite ML100— and played the beam over rotting gray planks.
“Come take a look at this, Quentin,” Wallace called.
Durangue and his partner examined the crisscrossing boards, dusty and coated with spider webs.
“We’ve seen a few utility rooms, port-a-johns, and niches in caverns like this, but nothing that was boarded up,” Durange remarked. “Wanna take a look?”
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Wallace answered. “Our job is to survey the tunnels. Let’s earn our pay.”
Durangue and Wallace pried away the wooden planks with claw hammers, rotting boards splitting and falling to the ground with almost no resistance. Wallace shone her Maglite into the gloom beyond, moving the beam rapidly from left to right.
“A small tunnel,” she said, “but it sure as hell goes deep into the mountain.”
“Ladies first,” Durangue said, motioning with his hand that his partner should commence the exploration.
“Thanks,” she said, nervously eying Durangue. “You’re a real sweetheart.”
The two scientists proceeded slowly into the tunnel, which was ten feet high and seven feet wide.
“Why isn’t this tunnel on our maps?” Wallace asked.
“I imagine for the same reason that it’s boarded up. The U.S. military is most definitely not a transparent organization.”
They continued walking for a full minute before coming to an abrupt halt. The tunnel had turned into a corridor.
“Must have led to somebody’s office,” Wallace said.
“Somebody important. Sealed and completely off the grid.”
They moved forward tentatively.
“Place gives me the creeps,” Durangue said. “My skin feels all prickley, and . . . ”
“Like something’s not right.”
Wallace didn’t contradict her partner. “Yeah, but we’ve come this far. This is the kind of thing they sent us to find.”
They took another twenty paces.
“Holy shit!” Durangue said.
“This was a Top Secret area,” Wallace speculated. “Keypad access. Red telephones on the walls. Guards must have been posted.”
A thin draft of cold air was coming from the other side of a sliding door.
The pair looked at each other silently. Do we try to go in?
“The seal’s broken,” Wallace said. “We might be able to force the door open. You take the top and I’ll take the bottom.”
The door had apparently been stuck for over two decades in a partially open position. Its edge was two inches from the vertical groove it should have inhabited.
Durangue and Wallace curled their fingers around the exposed edge and pulled. The sliding door didn’t budge.
“The mechanism’s probably frozen,” Wallace said. “Again.”
Grunting, the pair applied pressure a second time. The door slid back with a whoosh as the scientists fell to the floor.
Climbing to their feet, Durangue and Wallace pointed their Maglites into the darkness ahead.
Durangue swallowed hard as tears came to his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” he said. “I should have come to see you more in that last year.”
Wallace looked sideways. “Are you all right? What’s going on?”
“Don’t you see her? It’s my mother.”
“Just take a deep breath, pal. It’s stress. Don’t let your mind play tricks on you.”
They advanced and then froze.
“What the living hell is that?” Durangue asked.
“Son of a bitch,” Wallace muttered.
A metallic wall loomed before them. It was silver, but occasionally glowed blue before growing slightly transparent.
Wallace took a slim rectangular form from her backpack and pulled up an antenna from its side. A red LED readout displayed constantly changing numbers.
“This mother is huge!” Wallace exclaimed. “It’s a friggin’ cube. Two miles on every side.”
Durangue had already moved closer to the enigma beneath Mount Elbert.
“Do you hear that?” Durangue asked. “It’s like some kind of weird music.”
He touched the surface of the cube, which turned blue, then orange. He faced his partner and smiled. “My mother says that everything’s okay. We’re safe.”
Mesmerized, Wallace also stepped forward and touched the metallic surface with her index finger. “It’s warm! It feels . . . good! So very, very good.”
Durangue and Wallace began to touch the cube in several places. They appeared ecstatic. Any fear they may have harbored had completely vanished.
“I’m feeling a little static electricity,” Wallace said.
Both scientists suddenly stepped back from the cube.
“What’s happening to you?” Wallace asked, looking at her fellow explorer.
Durangue stared blankly at his questioner. His face was growing dark, was disintegrating.
Wallace pressed her hands against her face. “My skin is on fire!” she said.
“Someone, help!” they both cried in unison. “Help!”
They sank to their knees, skin and organs falling from their bones in black, burning ashes. Two skulls beheld each other in disbelief as smoke rose from their deteriorating bodies.
Strange symbols and pictures swam across the glowing surface of the cube before it returned to its silver, metallic appearance.
A minute later, two skeletons lay on the floor of the cave in front of the cube, nothing more.
Aboard the Alamiranta
Dr. Grace Nguyen’s office and lab were in the Armory on Deck Three of the Alamiranta. The Armory was a nickname for the Advanced Research Projects Facility. It was originally formed by Catherine Caine, who had recruited top scientists from the Defense Department’s DARPA project, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Nguyen and her colleagues were continually developing cutting edge military technologies used by Titan Global.
Saturo Aiko sat on the exam table of Grace Nguyen, who motioned for Hawkeye and Tank to enter the room.
“You’re about to become part of Titan’s Enhanced Warrior Program,” Nguyen told Aiko.
“She’s already pretty enhanced, if you ask me,” Tank said. He blushed. “I mean in the military sense. And, um, the martial arts. Stuff like that.”
“You’re in superior condition,” Nguyen acknowledged, “but we can enable you to take your skills to an even higher level. Are you ready?”
“I suppose,” Aiko said.
“Okay,” said Nguyen. “Let me give you a final rundown so you can give informed consent. BioMEMS stands for Biological Micro-electronic Mechanical Systems. It’s essentially molecular technology, where we inject nanobots the size of molecules into your bloodstream. Your physical endurance, as well as your senses, will be greatly heightened. The nanobots can remove harmful toxins, pathogens, and chemicals from your bloodstream. They can also repair damage at the cellular level and deliver a number of naturally occurring chemicals to any part of your body, such as endorphins, adrenaline, oxygen, clotting factor, neurotransmitters, nutrients, T-cells to fight infection, and hundreds more. We even have nanobots that can give you night vision.”
“How are they activated?” Aiko inquired.
“Some of them function just like your body’s immune system, which is to say they’re programmed to respond automatically. But they also transmit information to Titan Global operations centers, where our technicians can remotely activate them to meet a specific need during missions.”
“You’ll feel different at first,” Hawkeye explained. “Maybe even invincible for the first few hours — and a little high — but you’ll grow used to the bots quickly.”
Aiko thought for a few moments and nodded. “I’m ready,” she said. “These nanobots have obviously given Titan Six superior tactical advantages in the past when fighting my Dragons.”
“Then roll up your sleeves everyone,” Dr. Nguyen said.”
Frowning, Hawkeye and Tank glanced at each other and then at Nguyen.
“We’ve already taken the injections,” Tank said. “Isn’t there a saying that you can have too much of a good thing?”
Nguyen smiled. “You know as well as I, Tank, that we’re always making improvements. We now have nanobots that can protect against genetic mutations, whether naturally occurring or those induced by an enemy. Shooter, Gator, and Pyro have already received their boosters.”
“I need to get a tattoo on my forearm that says ‘new and improved,’” Tank said. “You folks in the Armory must not get much sleep.”
The three soldiers received their injections.
“Hey, that one stung a bit,” Hawkeye complained.
Aiko looked at Nguyen and rolled her eyes. “Men are such babies sometimes, Grace. They always — ”
Aiko paused as she grew dizzy and fell from the exam table. Hawkeye and Tank grabbed her limp body and sat her in the nearest chair.
“Wow,” Aiko said, shaking off the effects of the injection. “That syringe carries . . . ”
She paused again, searching for the right English phrase.
“One hell of a punch,” Hawkeye said with a grin.
“Yes,” said Aiko. “A punch.”
She took several deep breaths and stood. “Everything is sharper, clearer.”
“You’ll have a second round of injections in a few hours,” Nguyen explained. “And more tomorrow. As Hawkeye said, your body will become acclimated over time.”
Dr. Nguyen touched her index finger to her earpiece. “You’re all wanted by Mrs. Caine in the Gallery. I believe there might be a mission in the offing.”
Hawkeye looked at the former Chinese commander and smiled. “You’re an official member of Titan Six now.”
“I believe the correct phrase,” said Aiko, “is ‘I’m ready to rock and roll.’”
Tank gave Aiko a thumbs-up. “Correct.”