Authors: Christopher Forrest
Aboard the Alamiranta
The Gallery, where Catherine Caine held most of her briefings, was an area of the ship that caused most people to gasp, as if they had just entered the Smithsonian. The expansive area was part library, part museum. It had three levels, connected by glass platforms, walkways, and stairs that seemed to float in the Gallery’s subdued bluish lighting. Even heads of state marveled at the cultural diversity of the collections, which represented Jurassic Period fossils as much as twentieth century art and technology — and everything in between.
At the rear of the Gallery was a mahogany conference table, where Titan Six was now seated. Also present were Titan’s main support personnel. Dr. Joshua Ambergris was one of Titan Global’s chief scientists, a man who had made amazing discoveries in numerous areas of research. David Denton, nicknamed Quiz, was not only a computer specialist but a scientist in his own right. DJ was a beautiful technician and former German operative who sometimes accompanied Titan Six in the field. She was also Quiz’s sexy and aggressive lover. Touchdown was a soldier who usually manned the Ops Center aboard the Alamiranta during unit deployments and was the chief liaison between the ship and Titan combat units.
Catherine Caine opened the briefing. In her early fifties, she was charming, intelligent, and quite beautiful. Her dark hair and high cheekbones crowned what was a remarkable figure for someone advancing through middle age.
She was also a force to be reckoned with if a showdown of wills occurred.
“Ladies and gentleman, I’ve been notified by the Department of the Interior that the Corps of Engineers lost contact with two of their scientists in a coast-to-coast tunnel system beneath the continental United States. The tunnels are especially extensive beneath mountain ranges, and they haven’t been used in twenty-one years.”
“The tunnels were used to transport nuclear warheads and missiles until 1991, when Communism fell on hard times,” Dr. Ambergris stated.
“The federal government doesn’t want to lose more personnel or possibly risk exposure of the classified underground network. Their aim is to make the system, called SURP, operational again, but knowledge of the system could be embarrassing at a time when the U.S. is trying to stop nuclear proliferation. They have therefore removed all personnel from the tunnel system.”
“And requested Titan to do their recon for them?” Hawkeye asked.
“Exactly,” said Caine. “Titan Six will explore an area beneath the Rocky Mountains, where contact was lost with Quentin Durangue and Beverly Wallace.”
A picture of the Corps scientists was displayed on a widescreen viewer behind the conference table.
“Your mission, as originally requested by the government, was to locate Durangue and Wallace, assess the condition of the SURP network, and to begin mapping large sections of the tunnel system. That mission has been modified somewhat.”
“Here it comes,” said Tank. “Somebody’s discovered aliens beneath the Rockies.”
Tank shifted uncomfortably in his chair as Caine raised her eyebrows. Had he come closer to the truth than his joke implied?
“Titan engineers were dispatched a few days ago to the last known location of the scientists,” Caine continued. “This is what they found and began excavating.”
A picture of a metallic cube appeared on the viewer. Three sides were now visible thanks to the excavation done by Titan Global.
“We have no idea what it is,” Caine declared, “although some of our engineers have become very sick. The nature of their illness is unknown, which is why they’re being flown back to the Alamiranta for quarantine in Grace’s labs. Some are hallucinating. The one thing I can tell you with complete certainty is that our people on site have determined that the cube was not made by the United States when SURP was constructed during the Cold War. The metallic alloys on the surface of the cube are unknown.”
“How could the government not know of the existence of such a huge structure in its own network?” Shooter asked.
“Excellent question,” Caine said. “The cube was buried at the end of an offshoot tunnel and isn’t on any original schematic for SURP.”
“Somebody knew it was there, but it wasn’t anyone in the United States government, as far as we can tell,” Dr. Ambergris said. “That’s the great mystery.”
Hawkeye let out a low whistle. “Unknown technology right beneath the nose of the feds. Intriguing.”
“To say the least,” Caine said. “Our engineers are already setting up a remote Operations Center beneath Mount Whitney in California on the edge of the Sierra Nevada Range. From there, Titan Six will travel underground to Colorado to a point beneath Mount Elbert. Titan engineers have repaired a maglev train formerly connecting the two areas. Insertion will be completely covert. We deploy tomorrow. Titan personnel, including Titan Six, will be flown to California via stealth helicopter.”
“If we meet any Martians, I hope they’re friendly,” Hawkeye said.
Tank chuckled. “Maybe this is where somebody kept those little dudes from Roswell.”
Catherine Caine stood, but she wasn’t smiling. “I have no idea what you’re going to find. The cube may be benign. Or it may be one of the most dangerous challenges we’ve ever faced.”
The meeting adjourned, with Tank’s moment of levity having passed quickly.
Central Intelligence Agency
Gwendolyn Moss was a former Titan Six operative who had taken a job with the CIA after marrying a man from Alexandria, Virginia. She still exchanged occasional emails with Catherine Caine, but her days of parachuting from planes and storming the palaces of dictators, machine gun in hand, were over. She found it hard to believe that her Titan Six handle had been Spider. She now had two lovely children, and she enjoyed her work with “the company,” and the CIA was known. She was currently assigned to sector G-7, which assessed nuclear capabilities of foreign governments and monitored imminent threats.
The thirty-six-year-old Moss was walking through one of the hundreds of underground corridors beneath Langley when warning panels on the walls began to flash red. She rushed to the Situation Room on Level 3, where several viewers similar to IMAX screens displayed images of inbound missiles on a global map.
The lights in Sit Room 1 were dimmed, making the DEFCON 4 screen all the more visible. Six birds were headed towards Washington and New York at an altitude of 30,000 feet. The warheads were represented by red triangles on the main board at the front of the large room. Personnel at dozens of stations listened to the info coming through headsets with studied, calm concentration. Two four-star generals walked around the room, overseeing the activity at various stations. Admiral Grady “Fletch” McManus sat in the command chair on the second tier of the Sit Room.
Gwen knew that identical SIT Rooms at NORAD and the Pentagon would also be monitoring the inbound targets.
“Going to DEFCON 3,” McManus said into his headset with no inflection. His voice could be heard throughout the room.
Gwen sat at a desk on the side and logged onto her computer. Her job was to track the missiles backwards to their point of origin, if possible.
The DEFCON system ranged from 5 to 1, with DEFCON 1 indicating nuclear war had begun. DEFCON 3 indicated a heightened readiness to counterattack.
Gwen was puzzled. If her telemetry was correct, the inbounds had been launched from Libya. Current intel indicated that Libya had neither enriched uranium or viable delivery systems that could reach the United States.
But that’s why the Company existed. Intel was always changing. Nothing was taken for granted in the nuclear chess match that the nations of the world engaged in daily.
“DEFCON 2,” said McManus. “Stations one through five, please verify your readings with NORAD. Stations six through ten, sync your screens with the Pentagon’s retaliatory intentions.”
Gwen’s hands were clammy. DEFCON 2 meant that nuclear war was imminent.
Tense minutes passed. The triangular targets on the main board were only five hundred miles from Washington and New York.
“ICBMs fueled and ready,” McManus said coolly. “Counting down now. Ten, nine, eight . . . ”
Gwen thought of her two children and glanced at her wristwatch. They would be eating lunch in the school cafeteria. Tuna salad sandwiches prepared by her husband Ben.
She stared at her screen intently, blue eyes narrowed beneath long blond hair.
“ . . . seven, six . . . ”
The lights in the Situation Room returned to normal fluorescent strength. Groans were heard around the room as techs stood and rubbed bloodshot eyes
“Simulation complete,” said an automated, impersonal female voice. “Now at DEFCON 5.”
DEFCON 5 was a complete stand-down and the norm for missile defense. It signaled no threat whatsoever.
“Thank you, ladies and gentleman,” McManus said. “Nicely done.”
Gwen let out a long sigh. Some simulations were announced. Others, such as the one that had just been staged, were not. Unannounced drills never failed to leave her exhausted.
She logged off of her computer, rose, and walked toward the rear exit of the Sit Room. Above her, McManus winked and gave her a thumbs-up.
McManus was Gwen’s sector chief, and although she had never told Ben, she was almost positive that the fifty-year-old Admiral had been flirting with her for several months.
Colorado, Beneath the Rocky Mountains
Titan Six sat on the maglev heading for their destination beneath Mount Elbert. The team consisted of Hawkeye, Tank, Shooter, Gator, and Aiko. They sat on the cushioned seats as the maglev cruised through tunnels at a smooth, controlled 285 mph.
“This place is creepy,” Gator said as he checked his gear. “Not many lights.” He wiped down the barrel of his SAW, an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. “Feels haunted.”
Gator’s team members looked at him and exchanged nervous glances. In truth, they all felt the same way.
The maglev passed an occasional halogen lamp mounted on a rock wall, but most of the original lighting had been regular tungsten bulbs encased in wire mesh that was typical for military instillations in the 1960s. Many of the latter had burned out years ago.
Shooter, who had been putting a clip into her Calico M960 semi-automatic carbine, began to massage her temples.
“I’m getting one hell of a headache,” she said.
“My ears are ringing a bit,” Aiko complained.
“Might be the high-speed trek through all this darkness,” Hawkeye said. “I find it a bit disorienting myself.”
“For me, it’s nausea,” said Tank.
“Just hang tight, everybody,” Hawkeye advised. “We’ll arrive at SURP station 872 in about thirty minutes.”
The train decreased in speed as Hawkeye checked his helmet visor, which could display tactical information, BioMEMS readouts, and anything Touchdown wanted to relay to Titan Six. He jumped in his seat as Shooter screamed.
“There’s somebody out there!” Shooter cried.
Titan Six pressed their faces to the windows of the car.
“I don’t see anything,” said Aiko.
“Maybe it’s that headache, Shooter,” Hawkeye suggested.
“No, somebody — or some thing — was out there,” Shooter protested. “It was a slender person. I mean, it was glowing blue and holding a gun. At least I think it was a gun. It looked too narrow to be rifle, and it had no stock.”
Tank glanced at his brother. “Some of the engineers were hallucinating. Maybe we’re all coming down with whatever they’ve got.”
“Then we’re hallucinating the same thing,” Gator said. “I just saw the same blue creature outside of my window.”
“We’re still going pretty damn fast,” Hawkeye said. “Let’s wait and see if we’ve got company waiting for us at 872.”
Aiko was the first to cover her ears tightly with both hands. “What is that noise?” she shrieked. “It’s unbearable.”
A whining sound, like that of some giant insect, grew louder and louder as it rose in pitch.
Within seconds, all other team members covered their ears too as the high-pitched whine filled the train car. Its pitch climbed into the inaudible sound spectrum.
Aiko slumped to the floor. Tank and Shooter collapsed next.
As the maglev came to a gentle stop at Station 872 beneath Mount Elbert, all members of Titan Six were on the floor of the aisle, unconscious.
Beneath the Adirondack Mountains, New York State
The sleek blue and white monorail glided into a well-lit station of the SURP system. One hundred troops, young soldiers dressed in dark brown fatigues with no logos or insignias, marched onto the station platform in a double line. They walked with standard military precision, their faces blank, expressionless. Each man, hair buzzed to the scalp, carried a brown army-style sack, brown cloth cinched at the top with a drawstring, containing clothes and personal effects.
Silently, they proceeded to a second monorail train on the far side of the station. A tall, burley man holding a clipboard checked off their names as they boarded the second train.
A loud horn sounded, and the train slid forward into the eerie darkness of the secret tunnels.
Aboard the high-speed monorail bullet, the troops relaxed. Some played cards, others pulled out a novel and began to read. Others talked quietly among themselves about sports, their latest romantic conquests, or what they would do in their spare time during the upcoming six-month troop rotation. None of the soldiers spoke English, and their native tongues represented various Eastern European languages.
The train gained speed and branched into an adjoining tunnel, headed southwest.