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Authors: Christopher Forrest

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Titan Six

The Cube beneath Mount Elbert

 

“How do we get out of this corridor?” Gator asked.

“Not sure,” Hawkeye said.  “Ops, do you have any readout on this thing?  Can you guide us farther inside?”

“Negative,” Touchdown replied.  “I’m still trying to calibrate my instruments to whatever materials the cube is made of.”

“Understood,” said Hawkeye.

An oval portal magically appeared at the end of the corridor.  Someone was approaching Titan Six.

“Oh my God,” Shooter said.  “It’s the same kind of creature I saw out the window of the maglev.”

The slender creature appeared metallic, but it had arms and legs that moved as fluidly as any human body.  Holding a slim metallic tube only an inch in diameter, it was humanoid in appearance, five feet tall, and had a triangular-shaped head with rounded corners.  It had circular black eyes, but no other facial features.

Gator raised his SAW, but Hawkeye gently pushed the muzzle down and shook his head.  “Let the creature make the first move,” he whispered.  “If it raises that tube, that’s a different story.”

Follow me.  I am Sentinel 12.

The creature had spoken telepathically to all members of Titan Six.

“This is starting to add up,” Hawkeye said, waving his team to follow him and the creature.  “This sentinel, or whoever else might be in this cube, is expecting us.”

“Or someone like us,” Tank said.  “Maybe soldiers.”

Hawkeye nodded his agreement.  “Reasonable assumption.”

The team entered a room, twenty feet by twenty, that was illuminated by several wall-mounted light panels.  Smooth granite rectangles rose from the floor in the center of the space.  Ten oval portals in the right wall admitted bright light from an adjoining room.

Sentinel 12 spoke again.

Please place your hands on the palm identification stones and then proceed to the decontamination area to your right.

The sentinel’s head pivoted left and right as it communicated.  Its ominous black eyes were mere camera lenses that could not rotate like human eyes.

“Is thing a robot?” asked Shooter.

“Negative,” responded Quiz.  “Judging from the cam view I’m getting from your helmets, it has no joints, such as knees or elbows.  It’s a Sent.”

“A what?” asked Hawkeye.

“A sentient being,” Quiz said.  “Also a sentinel.  Sent is an abbreviation for both.”

The Sent repeated its directions.

Please place your hands on the palm identification stones and then proceed to the decontamination area to your right.

“We’ve got a big problem, Ops,” Hawkeye said.  “The Sent is about to find out that we’re not the guests they’ve been expecting.  Recommendations?”

“Ambergris here, Mr. Hawke.  Just follow instructions and see what happens.  It’s better than outright defiance.  Hopefully, it’ll buy some time.”

“Agreed,” Hawkeye said.

The members of Titan Six reluctantly placed their hands on top of the granite rectangles.  The stone beneath their palms and fingers glowed red momentarily.  Each member then walked through one of the ovals to the right.  Dozens of clear glass tubes extended from the ceiling.

“I bet those are to disinfect visitors,” Tank said, pointing to the tubes.

Hawkeye, the last to enter, surveyed the new chamber as a loud humming sounded.

“Identity unconfirmed,” said a female voice.  “Repeat, identity unconfirmed.  Sents to the decontamination chamber.”

“We’ve officially crashed somebody’s party,” Hawkeye said.  “Weapons at the ready.”

Six Sents entered through the portals, their slim tubes raised and aimed at Titan Six.

“Fire!” Hawkeye commanded.

Bullets lodged in the shiny skin of the Sents, who began to advance.

One by one, the bullets popped out of the metallic skin of the Sents, the points of penetration glowing orange for a brief second.

“Their skin is very resilient,” said DJ.  “It literally stopped the bullets and then ejected them.”

The Sents advanced farther, their tubes glowing white.

 

Ops Center

Beneath Mount Whitney

 

“That monorail from the Adirondacks is almost at 872,” Touchdown said.

“Life signs?” Caine asked.

“Still one hundred humans, as red-blooded as you or me.”

“How will the soldiers enter the cube?” DJ asked.  “The original corridor at the SURP station was boarded up.”

“I read a much smaller tunnel on the far right of the station,” Touchdown said.  “It, too, leads to the cube, but the tunnel entrance is camouflaged by indigenous rock.”

“Keep an eye on it,” Caine said.  “Meanwhile, I want a plan for Titan Six.  Work the problem at hand, ladies and gentlemen.”

“Titan Six,” said Quiz, “use your TR5 Laser Rifles.”

The TR5 was a new weapon developed by the Research and Development team in the Armory.  It was an enhanced version of the Army’s TR3, which was used to stun enemies, not kill.  Depending on its setting, however, the TR5 had lethal capabilities.

“The TR5 might be able to disrupt the molecular structure of the Sents,” Quiz said.

“My instruments are calibrated now,” Touchdown said.  “I don’t have any schematics yet on the architecture of the cube, but I’m picking up energy signatures inside it.  Not Sents.  Humans.”

“When it rains, it pours,” Hawkeye said.

 

Titan Six

The Cube beneath Mount Elbert

 

The tubes held by the odd-looking Sents glowed more brightly.

“Duck!” Hawkeye ordered.  “Hit the deck!”

Photon bursts discharged from the tubes, flying over the heads of Titan Six.  Each burst struck the far wall of the room, leaving a charred, black spot on the silver metal.

Titan Six rolled in different directions to avoid giving the Sents stationary targets. 

Shooter was the first to retrieve her laser rifle, mounted on the side of her backpack.  It was short and compact.  She flipped its activation switch and pulled back the rifle’s bolt to a notch marked SETTING THREE.  She aimed for the Sent on the far right and squeezed the trigger of the TR5.  A concentrated red beam hit the Sent in a nanosecond.

Tank and Aiko followed suit, firing their laser rifles in unison.  Hawkeye and Tank fired as well, with Shooter already aiming at Sent number six.

The laser beams scored direct hits.  The Sents froze, their heads tilted back, immobile.  The laser beams had destroyed small areas of their metallic skin.

“We’ve stopped them,” Shooter observed, “but only temporarily.  I think they’re repairing themselves.”

Inside the wounds, metal meshes were rapidly forming, with liquid coalescing around the latticework and solidifying.

“Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” Tank asked.

“As near as I can tell,” Ambergris said from the Ops Center, “the Sents are very similar in chemical composition to the cube itself.  They’re AI, artificial intelligence, but they’re not robots.  Hawkeye, can you bag and tag a bit of that liquid from one of the sentinels before they become active again?”

“Affirmative,” Hawkeye said, reaching into his backpack as he approached the Sent on the far left.

“Make it quick,” said Caine.  “You probably don’t have much time left.”

“I’ve got a readout on parts of the cube’s layout,” Touchdown said.  “Complete with holographic display.”

Caine turned around to look at the round holographic projector similar to a larger version in the Ops Center aboard the Alamiranta.  A 3-D display of that portion of the cube inhabited by Titan Six was slowly rotating on a pedestal.

“Go back through the oval portals,” Touchdown said, “and then — ”

The sound of gunfire erupted through the speakers of the Ops Center.

Gator opened up his SAW, mowing down five soldiers in brown fatigues.

Two more soldiers jumped through the portals into the decontamination room, but Shooter was ready with her Calico M960.  She got off four clean shots in succession.  The soldiers spun around, blood pooling on the front of their shirts — precise shots through the hearts of each.

“I’ve got the liquid sample,” Hawkeye said.  “We’re going back into the ID room.”

“Proceed to the original corridor where you entered the cube,” Touchdown said.  “A portal has appeared at its end.  You’ll find yourself in a round chamber that splits into six additional corridors.  I’m showing human and Sent activity in five of them.  Take the second one from the left.”

“Where does it lead?” asked Hawkeye.

Touchdown pivoted in his chair and consulted the holographic display.  “To a room that seems to have a wall resembling a beehive.”

“A beehive?” said Hawkeye.

“Correct,” said Touchdown.  “Right now, it’s the road less traveled.”

“Roger that, Ops.  Let’s hope we don’t encounter giant bees.”

“You need to regroup, Mr. Hawke,” Caine said.  “Report as soon as you know anything further.”

The ID room was beginning to glow a bright red.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Hawkeye said, still recalling the skeletons of Durangue and Wallace.

The team retraced its steps and entered the corridor Touchdown had described.

Two minutes later, Titan Six stood in a new room, metallic and silver like the others they’d encountered.

“You nailed it, Touchdown,” Hawkeye said.  “One wall is a metallic hive.  Connected hexagonal chambers reach up to the ceiling.  Typical honeycomb structure.  Must be thirty feet high.”

“What’s inside them?” asked Quiz.

“Hawkeye moved closer to the lower hexagons, aiming a Maglite inside several chambers.

“Good God!” he cried.  “They’re — ”

 

Ops Center

Beneath Mount Whitney

 

“Communications have been disrupted,” Touchdown said.

DJ tapped the keyboard at her station, examined her flatscreen, and turned to Caine.  “The interference from the cube isn’t being caused by any form of normal radiation.”

“Every living organism gives off an electromagnetic signature,” Ambergris said.  “If my theory that the cube is alive is correct, then it can be expected to emit a certain electromagnetic signature.”

“Can you analyze that signature?” asked Caine.

Ambergris turned back to his station.  “I’m working on it, Catherine.  I’m breaking down the varying wavelengths coming from the area near 872, but there’s a lot of rock between the Ops Center and the cube.”

Caine paced thoughtfully around the Ops Center.  “Deploy Titan Four, Touchdown.  We’re obviously dealing with advanced technology that we’re trying to figure out on the fly.  Have T4 take a maglev to Station 872 and await further orders.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

Central Intelligence Agency

Langley, Virginia

 

Gwen sat at the desk in her office, troubled.  McManus had clearly tried to hide something.  He’d made sure that he turned the Senex folder face-down when he placed it back on the lunch table.

She Googled “senex” and learned that it was the Latin word for “senate.”

But the C on his cufflinks — did it really stand for Charles?

Maybe, or it might represent the Roman numeral for 100.

That would make perfect sense.  The United States Senate was composed of exactly one hundred members, the most powerful and exclusive governing body in the world, and Admiral McManus testified on a regular basis before various Senate subcommittees on Intelligence and Defense.

This still didn’t explain why the word “senex” was on a file tab, however, one that McManus had not intended Gwen to see.

Another thought crossed Gwen’s mind: McManus had recently talked about his vacation to Hawaii.  During this time, however, he’d sent Gwen an email — complete with a smiley face at the end; how dreadfully saccharine — but Gwen, out of curiosity, had looked at the metadata that underlies every email correspondence by using a simple right-click of her mouse.  McManus had been in St. Louis and Denver, not Hawaii.

None of my business, she thought.  The less I think about him, the better.

But something else was nagging Gwen: McManus had called her home the week before, when Gwen was out shopping.  He’d grilled Ben for over ten minutes as to whether she had discussed her possible relocation to the Midwest.  Ben had been very hurt that Gwen hadn’t brought up the subject until she reassured him that that no one at the Company had approached her about reassignment.

As far as Gwen was concerned, the CIA could keep all the secrets it wanted.  It was, after all, a clandestine organization.  But McManus was holding something close to the vest that affected her and her family, and her maternal instinct dictated that she do some snooping.

She left her office and found a cubicle with a computer terminal, one of many that employees could use if their own PCs were offline for any reason.  The Company, for example, scanned all computers at least once a month to look for security breaches.

She called up the main directory and typed in the following name: McManus, Grady Charles.  But his password — it could be anything.  She tried “senex,” but the password was declined.

She had two more tries before the system locked her out.

McManus was divorced, and she didn’t know the names of his children.  Well, there was one obvious name to try, although she doubted that she would be so lucky as to hack the files of an admiral at the CIA by using such a simple password.  She typed in “Nimitz,” the name of his Golden Retriever.

PASSWORD DECLINED

 

But the dog wasn’t named Nimitz for nothing.  The Navy legend was obviously of some importance to McManus.  Gwen typed in the deceased admiral’s full name, leaving no spaces: chesternimitz.

The screen changed quickly.

WELCOME, ADMIRAL MCMANUS

 

She was in.

Gwen then typed “senex” in the search field.

Another password prompt appeard.

“Damn,” Gwen muttered under her breath.

She typed “C.”

PASSWORD MUST BE AT LEAST TEN CHARACTERS LONG.

 

Gwen typed “CCCCCCCCCC.”

The following appeared.

SENEX FILE 14-612

 

TOP SECRET – EYES ONLY

 

The Senex file consisted of a list of five names on the first page, nothing more.

General Thomas Burmaster, United States Army

 

Colonel Alexander Frost, United States Marines

 

Admiral Randall Seton, United States Navy

 

Allan Marshall, Assistant Secretary of Defense

 

Dr. Hans Beemler

 

Gwen hit “page 2,” but the screen didn’t respond.

TO CONTINUE, PROVIDE YOUR CLEEK

 

Gwen had no idea what McManus’ clearance number might be.  All CIA personnel had numerous passwords, code names, and cleek numbers, “cleek” being a nickname for the phrase “clearance code.”  For now she’d gone as far as she could.

Using both Google and CIA data bases, Gwen searched for the names she’d found: Burmaster, Frost, Seton, Marshall, and Beemler.

NO MATCHES FOUND

 

Something was definitely amiss, and Gwen knew exactly what she would do.  If anyone could attach significance to the names, it was her old boss, Catherine Caine.  She’d send Caine an email from her personal PC at home.

 

BOOK: Titan Six
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ads

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