Authors: Christopher Forrest
Central Intelligence Agency
Gwen Moss sat in an interrogation room deep underground. No single employee knew the entire layout of CIA facilities belowground, and although Gwen was aware that the Company used many interrogation rooms, she’d never seen a detention area like the one where she was now being held. The lights were dimmed, with the walls a medium gray color. Black leather chairs were arranged around a rectangular oak table. A flatscreen monitor was mounted on the far wall. Tall green plants sat in the corners, and framed landscapes gave the room a professional ambience. The room was definitely not for water-boarding. Gwen surmised that it was used for an entirely different style of questioning. To be sure, the doors were locked, and several guards were posted in the corridors outside, but the décor was not at all forbidding.
The flatscreen came to life, with the face of Grady McManus staring straight at Gwen from the center of the screen.
“Good evening, Gwen,” said McManus. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but we both know that you’ve become a little too interested in information that you shouldn’t be concerned with.”
“Exactly what would that be, Admiral?” Gwen asked.
McManus, who was wearing a white sports shirt with button-down collar, smiled and cocked his head. “Let’s not be naïve, Gwen. I’m talking about the Senex file. I had you followed after our meeting in the cafeteria, knowing that your curiosity was piqued by the folder I brought to lunch. It didn’t take you long to access some of my files at one of the spare computer terminals. My staff did some data recovery on the PC’s drive, and you were looking at page one of the Senex file.”
Gwen knew better than to deny the charge. She’d erased her browsing session, but nothing was ever really wiped clean from a hard drive, plus she knew that security cameras monitored all activity within CIA premises.
“You’ve got a file by the name of Senex,” she said. “I saw a few names, but I haven’t the foggiest idea what the whole thing’s about.”
“Why did you look it up in the first place?” McManus asked, his voice very steady, even pleasant.
“Because you called Ben and asked if we’d talked about my possible relocation. News to me, as they say. That, coupled with your secretive manner, was quite disturbing. As long as we’re putting our cards on the table, I guess I’m free to tell you that I don’t appreciate your flirtatious nature.”
McManus laughed. “Have I ever done anything inappropriate?”
Gwen paused. “I think the flirting itself is inappropriate.”
“Would you be able to find anyone to corroborate your accusation that I’ve been flirting with you?”
Gwen sighed heavily. “No, Admiral. I wouldn’t.”
“Then let’s stick to the matter at hand. Did you copy the names you saw on page one of Senex?”
This was a technical truth. Gwen hadn’t copied anything, but she had, of course, memorized the names.
“Have you told anyone what you saw?” McManus asked.
There was a long pause in the room as the screen temporarily went dark.
“I’m not sure I believe you,” McManus stated when his face once again stared from the screen. “There are very sensitive electronic monitoring devices inside the chair you’re sitting in. They can monitor blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and respiration. You just lied to me.”
“Maybe you need to get your chair examined and repaired,” Gwen said sarcastically.
Admiral McManus took a deep breath. “I was hoping you’d be more forthcoming, Gwen. I can make things much easier if you cooperate. You might even be able to return to your job, and we can pretend this never happened. It won’t even go on your record.”
“Exactly what do you want, Admiral?” Gwen asked.
“Quite a lot, actually. I’ll be there in person shortly. For now, think of your future. Your security. And, of course, your family.”
The screen went dark again as Gwen sat silently in the strange room. She didn’t think McManus would harm Ben and the kids, but she nevertheless said a silent prayer for her family.
The Moss Household
Benjamin Moss picked up his wife’s cell phone and dashed through a gap in the hedge at the rear of the property just in time to see a man in black clothing close the driver’s door of an SUV and speed away.
A Company job. Gwen had often told Ben that there were rumors of employee abductions no different than those seen in espionage movies.
Heart pounding, Ben knew exactly what to do.
He sprinted back to his home. The kids were in bed. Good. He didn’t need to deal with tears and panic now.
As he made the obligatory 911 call, he began backing up Gwen’s PC correspondence on disk and then erased her PFC. The CIA wouldn’t send anyone to confiscate her computer, but it would hack it the next time anyone used it to go online.
Ben breathed slowly and steadily. The police were on their way. In his report, Ben would mention that his wife worked for the CIA, not that the Company had abducted her. That would make the Agency squirm, and that wouldn’t contribute to Gwen’s safety at all. A missing CIA employee, even if not an active field agent, always garnered attention in the press, and attention is what the CIA did not especially care for, not in any form whatsoever. He felt sure that Gwen would be returned unharmed in a day or two, but notifying the police had been the right thing to do.
But Ben recalled the odd call from Admiral Grady McManus about Gwen’s reassignment to the Midwest.
His confidence waned. Would McManus threaten Gwen, telling her that unless she relocated under a pseudonym, her family might be in jeopardy? Yes, agents were sometimes brought in for questioning in the middle of the night.
Once in a blue moon, they were never heard from again.
The Cube beneath Mount Elbert
While Hawkeye and Tank sat under a shady oak, enjoying the company of their father, Shooter walked on the beach of a Caribbean island with her child and grandmother. The sun was glorious, clear blue water touching her toes on warm, white sand as they walked east.
Gator sat in the home of his parents, drinking a beer and speaking of the glorious battles he had waged for his country. The old couch in the den made him feel as if he were safe, secure. He thought he belonged in the room. He doubted that he would ever return to combat.
When the room had begun to glow orange, Aiko saw that her team members were becoming transfixed, no doubt caught up in some reverie or hallucination. Immediately, she’d closed her eyes, emptied her mind, and focused on a single point of light. Inside that light, she imagined Catherine Caine pacing about the Ops Center. Someone was attempting to tap her on the shoulder, to divert her attention. It was her former superior, Li Soo Yang, who was head of the covert Chinese forces Aiko had led.
Open your eyes, Saturo. I have wonderful things to show you.
Aiko knew that Yang’s voice was illusory. She maintained her concentration for several minutes before opening her eyes. The room no longer glowed orange, but her comrades were still seduced by some kind of spell associated with the walls.
Suddenly, five soldiers dressed in brown stormed the room. The new member of Titan Six was on her own.
The first soldier charged her, but Aiko simply stepped aside, grabbed his shoulder as he passed her, and sent him crashing into the wall. The others seemed startled. Two more charged her simultaneously. They stopped in their tracks, stunned, as their foe seemed to defy gravity — was it their imaginations that she was hovering in mid-air? — one palm raised and the other extended in the classic martial arts position assumed before an attack. Her legs were curled beneath the trunk of her body.
Aiko was actually moving forwards, landing behind the soldiers. She pivoted on her left leg, kicking one soldier to the ground while sending her rigid palm into the neck of another. Without a pause, she pivoted on her other leg, twisting her body one hundred and eighty degrees. Her fists were a blur as she sent powerful forward jabs at two more opponents. After hard blows to their chests, she somersaulted over the first soldier she’d dispatched. His face was red and angry as he ran at Aiko again, but she countered with a sharp blow to his neck. His eyes opened wide as he heard his own vertebrae cracking, his head tilted to the side. A groan escaped his lips as he sank to the floor.
“Status, Titan Six,” Touchdown said from the Ops Center.
“Aiko here. Titan Six seems to be hypnotized or in some other altered state. I have six bodies, all soldiers, on the floor and incapacitated.”
“Take the syringe labeled N-14 from your backpack,” said Touchdown, “and administer each soldier a single dose of tranquilizer that will keep them down until we can figure out a way to bring Titan Six back to the here and now.”
“Administering N-14 now,” Aiko said.
“Touchdown, give Titan Six extra norepinephrine,” Dr. Nguyen said. “A neurotransmitter responsible for energy and alertness.”
“Norepinephrine it is,” Touchdown said, typing in the appropriate command.
“Is anything happening?” Caine asked.
“Yes,” said Aiko. “Their bodies are shaking.”
“Shaking?” said Touchdown.
“Not shaking,” said Nguyen. “They’re seizing.”
The Cube beneath Mount Elbert
The former Chinese commander took several steps backwards. Her four comrades were all prostrate on the floor, their bodies shaking violently. She quickly grabbed gauze from her backpack, wrapped it around gel pens that each carried, and placed the gauze between their teeth to prevent them from biting their tongues.
“Awaiting orders,” said Aiko.
“If I give them serotonin, I might send them back into their hypnotic states,” Nguyen said.
Aiko stepped back and closed her eyes again. She had deduced minutes earlier that the room was thought-responsive, which is why she had cleared her mind and focused on her mission. She’d been exempt from the blissful trances encountered by the others. She now imagined each team member standing up straight, calm and alert. Hopefully, both the room and Titan Six would respond to her mental suggestions.
One by one, the bodies of Hawkeye, Tank, Shooter, and Gator relaxed, the seizures having passed. They slowly climbed to their feet, looking perplexed.
“I remember being in the room with the hexagons,” Hawkeye said, “and then a lab, but after that . . . everything’s a bit fuzzy.”
“I had the strangest dream,” Shooter said. “I was in the Caribbean.”
“I think we all had some strange dreams,” Tank said. He paused. “Hey, what happened here? Who are these guys on the floor?”
“I had to use . . . ” Aiko looked at Gator. “I had to use a bit of that Matrix shit, as you call it.”
“You laid low all six of these men by yourself?” Hawkeye asked incredulously.
Aiko nodded. “I’m sure the BioMEMS enhancements didn’t hurt either. But we must control our thoughts and leave this room before it causes more hallucinations.”
Hawkeye saw the portal through which the five soldiers had entered.
“Then let’s go,” he said. “Through the portal, everyone.”
* * *
“Four more targets up ahead,” Touchdown said into the COM link. “Humans. I presume they’re commandos like the ones Aiko fought. They’re armed.”
Titan Six was traveling through a long hallway. At the far end, a tall metal cylinder was spinning. A curved door in the cylinder slid back and two commandos stormed into the hall, assault rifles at the ready position.
Shooter fired at the one on the right, Tank at the one on the left. Both fell to the floor, but two more commandos immediately emerged from the spinning cylinder. Gator cut them down in seconds with his SAW.
“Is this some kind of bizarre shooting gallery?” the machine gunner asked .
“No more targets ahead,” Touchdown said. “The cylinder appears to be some kind of elevator.”
“We can’t go back into that weird room,” Hawkeye said. “Let’s take another ride, folks.”
Titan Six slipped through the revolving door ahead, which closed as the cylinder, now feeling more like a tube in a pneumatic system, rose straight up.
The tube came to a gentle stop. Titan Six stepped from the cylinder into an empty room. The entire surface of every wall turned white, and then displayed three seated men.
“Like four giant movie screens,” said Shooter, turning around and looking at the walls.
“Not far from the truth,” said the man in the center.
The three men were seated at a table, and they looked with curiosity at Titan Six.
The man in the center spoke again. “You’re very resourceful, Titan Six. Unfortunately, entrance to this facility is by invitation only. You will have to be terminated.”
“They look human enough,” Tank remarked.
“Oh, I assure you that we’re quite human,” the man on the screen said.
“Who are you?” asked Hawkeye.
“The keepers of the cube.”
The screens went dark and were replaced by metallic walls common to other areas of the cube.
“The portal’s gone!” Gator cried.
Hawkeye wheeled around. “Trapped again, Ops. At least we know there’s human authority behind both the Sents and commandos.”
“Roger that,” Touchdown said. “We’ve recorded everything. Sit tight for now. Maybe another portal will appear in one of the walls.”
“Use the time to run the sample from the Sent,” Ambergris said.
“Affirmative,” Hawkeye said.
The team leader turned three hundred and sixty degrees. The silver-tinted walls were vacant of any adornment or portal.
The keepers of the cube, he thought. Who the hell are they?